Diamondbacks believe in a changing bullpen philosophy
Closers in Major League Baseball have, for a long time, been valued more than the relievers that set them up.
The former will always deal with shaking off more high-profile mistakes. Yet, setup men can face the opposition’s best batters, and few games are won or lost in one inning.
With that, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen believes in a new bullpen philosophy that dictated the offseason moves, not to mention Arizona’s decision to name Brad Boxberger the closer over the returning Archie Bradley and newcomer Yoshihisa Hirano.
“We spend an equal amount of time discussing both (closers and setup relievers),” Hazen told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Those things in combination matter.
“I will say that the ninth inning, it does take a mentality to be able to move beyond losing a game for a team.”
The last point is why the D-backs front office felt compelled to name Boxberger the 2018 closer, effectively putting Bradley and Hirano in setup roles. Boxberger had an All-Star season in 2015 — his only year as a closer — and that’s more of a resume than either of the two competitors who auditioned for the closing role this spring.
While Boxberger’s All-Star campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays was three years ago, it was a more sure bet over trusting Hirano, a 34-year-old rookie out of Japan.
The decision was more questionable because of Bradley’s 2017 season in which he recorded 25 holds with a 1.73 ERA as a setup man to then-closer Fernando Rodney.
Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo believe Bradley’s role isn’t a less important one than Boxberger’s. Their goal was to put more than one potential closer on the roster. Naming a closer at all, perhaps, is more about managing routines than anything.
“We wanted to build out as many guys that had the option to go back there as possible knowing that — I think one of the things we’re really trying to hone in on is, ‘What does it mean for reliever health to put different guys in different spots and not have to run one guy into the ground?'” Hazen said. “You guys remember plenty of times last year — look, we’d be on a two-game winning streak and Archie would pitch the seventh … then the next day we’rd run him out there for another inning and going for win No. 3, Archie wasn’t available.
“Look, we have complete confidence in Archie Bradley pitching in any role in the back end of the bullpen from the sixth inning to the ninth inning. And he’s going to pitch in all of those situations, I would imagine, at some point this year — as will Yoshi as well.”
But is the rest of MLB trending in the direction of the Diamondbacks, who no longer believe in distinguishing setup men from closers in terms of value?
Hazen believes so.
“I think the market is clearly valuing this appropriately over the course of multi-year deals for significant amounts of money for quote-unquote middle relievers to non-save type relievers,” Hazen said. “I think that shift has clearly started in the free agent market. What happens in the arbitration market, I don’t know.”