Five months ago, when we published our blurb reflecting on Richard Bleier’s 2021 season, it started as such: “There are three guarantees in this world: death, taxes, and sub-3 ERA’s from Richard Bleier.”
As advertised, Bleier was up to his old tricks in 2021, completing his fifth season with an ERA below 3. Now, he may not have done it in the sexiest of fashions, but the point of the matter is he did it. Even accounting for Miami’s pitcher-friendly conditions, he had a 142 ERA+ to go along with a 0.98 WHIP and 0.6 HR/9 in 58 innings pitched.
Since joining the Marlins during the COVID-stricken 2020 season, Bleier owns a 2.89 ERA in 71 2⁄3 innings. That mark ranks 30th among relievers with at least 70 innings pitched in that span, but his adjusted 3.02 FIP puts him safely within the top 20.
Bleier’s style is truly unique. He gets by with well-below-average fastball velocity (9th percentile in MLB) and a low K-rate (22nd percentile). That doesn’t derail him because hitters continue to chase outside the strike zone with alarming frequency (98th percentile) and he refuses to issue walks that contribute to blow-ups for other relievers. Who’s to say when the left-hander’s reign of run prevention will cease?
Early in 2021, Bleier was burned by several uncharacteristic mistakes. Despite stabilizing as the season progressed, he posted the highest barrel rate of his career (4.1 percent). Remarkably, though, he still managed to finish in the 95th percentile in that category.
Detractors can also point to his numbers in high-leverage situations, with opponents posting a .730 OPS and tOPS+ of 141 across 80 plate appearances. The Marlins could have a brief vacancy in the closer’s role with Dylan Floro ramping up more slowly than the other arms. For as much as Bleier has accomplished in his career, he’s most likely going to be utilized in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings regardless of Floro’s status.
Bleier fared better in loanDepot Park than he did on the road, pitching to a 2.51 ERA and 8.8 K/9 compared to a 3.38 ERA and 4.9 K/9 away from Miami. Do with that information what you will, but it is important to note that Bleier posted a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio on the road (8-1) than he did at home (7-1).
The soon-to-be 35-year-old was recently rewarded with a 2-YR/$6M extension to keep him with the Marlins through at least 2023. The deal also includes a club option for 2024 that could bump the contract total value up to $9.5M.
For a bullpen that was plagued by far too many blown leads and inconsistencies a year ago, it’s nice to know the Fish have their own “Tricky Dick” ready at Mattingly’s beckon in Richard Bleier.