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2020 Marlins Season Review: Brad Boxberger

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The Marlins gambled on Boxberger’s mid-career reinvention and it paid off.

MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

During a year in which the Marlins made a record number of player transactions, one of the few constants on their roster was...Brad Boxberger?! That’s right. Officially signed at the very beginning of spring training, Boxberger used 2020 to re-establish himself as a formidable major league reliever, and he even received his first taste of MLB postseason action along the way.

Boxberger’s MLB career stats
Baseball-Reference

The former American League All-Star got a headstart on his 2019-20 offseason when the Reds released him from his minor league contract last August. From there, he sought advice from the player development experts at Driveline Baseball, who tweaked his mechanics and pitch mix, as Lance Brozdowski detailed.

Boxberger impressed in front of scouts during a throwing session in January. Having overhauled their relief corps over the winter, the Marlins invited him to camp on a deal that would pay him $1 million if he made the Opening Day roster.

The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered spring training two weeks early, but that was more than enough time for Boxberger to demonstrate that be belonged back in The Show. He allowed only two baserunners in six Grapefruit League appearances (6.1 IP) while recording eight strikeouts.

Coming out of summer camp, manager Don Mattingly indicated that Boxberger, Yimi García and Brandon Kintzler were his most trusted late-inning arms. Excluding the time that García missed on the injured list, that’s essentially what the bullpen hierarchy was throughout the campaign. Mattingly only used Boxberger in the seventh inning or later (with the exception of shortened doubleheader games).

Boxberger blew a two-run lead to the Blue Jays on Aug. 12—an insane game that the Marlins eventually won in extra innings—but in each of his other 15 outings through the first week of September, he held opponents scoreless. His effectiveness waned down the stretch (5.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K in 7 G to finish the regular season). Fortunately, the Fish prevailed in all of those contests.

In Miami’s, postseason matchups against the Cubs and Braves, the 32-year-old contributed 3 13 hitless innings.

Additional Stats

  • Boxberger’s average fastball velocity was 92.5 miles per hour this season, a big uptick from 2019 (90.0 mph) and right in line with where he was several years ago when he had a stable gig for the Rays.
  • The changeup didn’t have as much vertical drop as he’s become accustomed to—an average of 36.3 inches, according to Baseball Savant, instead of his usual 40-plus inches. Opponents had a .333 batting average and .481 slugging percentage against it.
  • For the first time in his nine-year major league career, Boxberger allowed more ground balls than fly balls.

2021 Outlook

With Francisco Cervelli choosing to retire, Brad Boxberger is the most valuable Marlins player entering free agency. He is represented by Paragon Sports International.

Attempting to predict contract values is difficult coming off a year in which the pandemic dramatically impacted MLB revenue, but it’s safe to assume that 1) Boxberger’s bounce-back season merits a major league deal, and 2) he won’t need to wait until mid-February to get it.

In addition to all the prominent 2020 Marlins relievers who remain under club control, intriguing homegrown ‘pen options for next year include Max Meyer, Edward Cabrera, Alex Vesia, Jordan Holloway, Jorge Guzman and Johan Quezada (aside from Meyer, all are already on the 40-man roster). My gut tells me that the Fish will put their trust in them, while Boxberger lands elsewhere.