Brandon Kintzler was not only the most experienced pitcher on the 2020 Marlins roster, but also among the club’s most valuable. He brought stability to the back end of the bullpen and a sense of humor to the clubhouse and his media sessions. Now for the big $4 million question: Will the Marlins make another bet and bring him back for another season?
Coming off a strong 2019 campaign with the Cubs (2.68 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 1.02 WHIP in 57.0 IP), the veteran right-hander lingered on the free agent market much longer than expected. However, there was always the expectation that he’d receive a guaranteed major league contract. With a couple weeks to go until spring training, the Marlins agreed to terms with him on a one-year, $3.25 million deal that included a club option for 2021.
Miami coveted Kintzler’s consistency and closing experience, while he had confidence in the team’s young talent. From the very beginning of his Marlins tenure, he was first in line for save opportunities, and manager Don Mattingly never wavered from that.
Outside of a Feb. 28 blip (0.0 IP, 1 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 0 K), Kintzler breezed through his six Grapefruit League appearances. He returned to his offseason home in Nevada during MLB’s COVID-19 hiatus and allowed a minor league catcher to stay there. That gave the 35-year-old a readily available throwing partner to keep him sharp.
Kintzler finished off both of the Fish victories over the Phillies in their season-opening series. That’s when the infamous virus outbreak sidelined most of the Marlins relievers, but fortunately, Kintzler was one of the few who never tested positive.
The Marlins resumed their season on Aug. 4 vs. the Orioles. Unfamiliar and unable to trust his new ‘pen reinforcements, Mattingly used Kintzler on three consecutive days. The former All-Star delivered back-to-back-to-back full innings to secure each of those wins.
Through July and August, Kintzler pitched only twice at Marlins Park. He was the losing pitcher both times, surrendering ninth-inning home runs to Adam Duvall (Aug. 15) and Michael Conforto (Aug. 19). The Duvall one was especially deflating because it overshadowed Monte Harrison’s first career homer that tied up the game in the previous inning.
Overall, Kintzler converted 12 of his 14 regular season save opportunities (85.7%). He rarely missed bats—13.9 K% and 6.3% SwStr% were both far below his pre-2020 career rates—but induced double plays when he needed them most. The man they call “Salt” totaled seven of those, which led all MLB relievers in 2020.
The last of those GIDPs was the one that officially snapped the franchise’s postseason drought:
THERE IT IS! THERE IT IS!— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 26, 2020
The Marlins did it. pic.twitter.com/cQcTeq4mNd
Kintzler took the mound in three postseason contests, including an effective yet uncharacteristic performance in Game 2 of the National League Wild Card Series where he struck out three Cubs batters.
- The gulf between Kintzler’s ERA (2.22) and FIP (5.00) was one of the largest in the majors (min. 20 IP). Meanwhile, his wOBA (.293) and xwOBA (.316) were much more comparable.
- His average fastball velocity dipped to 91.3 miles per hour (92.6 mph in 2019). He pretty much ditched his four-seamer—98.1% of his fastballs were sinkers, according to Baseball Savant—which may have something to do with that.
- Kintzler continues to alternate between dominating left-handed batters (2017 and 2019) and struggling against them (2018 and 2020). Of course, we’re dealing with a microscopic sample size here (.300/.396/.475 slash line vs. LHB in 48 PA this season).
High Points: Closing out Sept. 25 win vs. Yankees to clinch postseason berth and Oct. 2 win vs. Cubs to clinch NL Wild Card Series
Low Points: Allowing game-winning home run to Adam Duvall on Aug. 15 and 10th-inning walk-off rally to Rays on Sept. 6
I would not hesitate to exercise Kintzler’s $4 million club option, but hey, it’s easy to spend other people’s money. To be more precise, this will be a $3.75 million decision for the Marlins who owe the 36-year-old a $250,000 buyout if they decline the option.
Should you bet on Kintzler to repeat his 2020 success over a full-length season? Probably not. However, he has a relatively high “floor” thanks to his knack for getting ahead in the count and keeping balls on the ground, plus he is many years removed from his last significant arm injury (strained rotator cuff in April 2014).
Retaining Kintzler does not mean he needs to be the Marlins closer—Yimi García is a legitimate challenger for that role. The front office should be pursuing accomplished relievers this winter via trade and free agency, regardless. Parting ways with Kintzler is somewhat tolerable if those savings go towards the acquisition of, say, Liam Hendriks or Trevor Rosenthal.
Perhaps the Marlins will decline Kintzler’s option and attempt to negotiate a slightly lower 2021 salary. It’s difficult to say how much he’d earn as a free agent coming off what was a painful financial year for all MLB teams.
Over/Under 12.5 saves for Brandon Kintzler next season?
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