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2022 Marlins Season Preview: Anthony Bender

Bender staked his claim as the best story for the Marlins in 2021.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Feel-good storylines are hard to find on a club that had a 67-95 record. One of the few on the 2021 Miami Marlins was the meteoric rise of reliever Anthony Bender.

Early in his professional career, the right-hander labored through the Royals and Brewers’ farm systems, where he posted a 3.30 ERA over 239 23 innings but averaged less than a strikeout per inning (7.4).

With no minor league season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bender found himself pitching in independent baseball for the Milwaukee Milkmen. Frankly, there wasn’t much about his production that hinted at a career turnaround.

Anthony Bender’s professional career stats
Anthony Bender’s professional career stats

But as soon as Bender reported to Marlins camp the following spring, it was apparent that he possessed special stuff. The rookie would go on to post a 2.79 ERA and 10.4 K/9 in 60 games.

Not only did he prevent runs 50-percent better than the league average in 2021, but Bender did so while pitching in an average leverage index (aLI) of 1.33. Debuting on May 5, he started his career with 21 23 brilliant innings before allowing his first earned run on June 29.

Bender’s hard sinker and seldom-thrown four-seamer (1.2-percent) placed him in the 93rd percentile of average fastball velocity among MLB qualifiers. Those high-90s weapons generated a minus-3 run value in his first stint in The Show.

It was his slider, though, that proved to be his most reliable weapon, limiting hitters to a .162 BAA and 43.6-percent K-rate. Among 112 pitchers to have at least 100 plate appearances end on a slider, Bender sat inside the top 15 in xSLG (.245), and 18th in Whiff% (45.2).

Can we trust Anthony Bender to sustain this? Reliever volatility is as real as the sky is blue.

What is certain with the team is the absence of incumbent closer Dylan Floro, whose build-up for the 2022 season has been slowed by arm soreness. He is seemingly a couple weeks away from rejoining the active roster.

Bender’s peripherals actually look better than Floro’s. The 2021 season saw him post a 3.72 ERA in 9 23 innings worth of 9th-inning ball.

Anthony Bender’s percentile rankings, 2021

As he did the previous spring, Bender completed the Grapefruit League with a perfect 0.00 ERA, striking out 6 over 5 23 innings, even flashing a seldom-used changeup at times. His performance against left-handed batters could benefit from his willingness to throw it.

With that extra element in his repertoire, it would be unsurprising to see Bender get a few early-season save chances.