Box ’em up! Boxberger thriving in closer role for the Diamondbacks
PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks’ closer Brad Boxberger has quietly become one of the biggest weapons in Torey Lovullo’s arsenal and a strong contributor to the D-backs’ 23-11 start.
“Brad Boxberger follows a game plan as good as anybody,” said Lovullo after Sunday’s win against the Houston Astros. “He pounds the zone. He, once again very similar to Matt Koch, knows what he wants to get to and doesn’t get rattled. He’s able to slow the game down and hit some spots with some key pitches in key locations.”
This season, Boxberger has converted all eleven of his save opportunities in eleven scoreless innings, which is second in the National League behind Colorado Rockies’ Wade Davis with 13 and third in all of MLB.
He has a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched and has only allowed three earned runs and 12 hits.
His numbers so far are reminiscent of his All-Star caliber seasons in Tampa Bay as a reliever, where he had a 2.37 ERA in 2014. In 2015, he saved 41 games for the Rays and was a part of the American League All Star Team.
Boxberger sustained two injures in 2016, a torn adductor brevis muscle that required surgery and a strained left oblique shortly after his return, which sidelined him for the majority of the season.
He then suffered a setback in 2017 with another set of injuries, a lat strain and a forearm ailment, which restricted him to only 29.3 innings pitched for the Rays with a 3.38 ERA.
This offseason, the first move the D-backs made was trading right-handed pitcher Curtis Taylor for Boxberger. There was some minor competition during Spring Training between Boxberger, fellow new D-backs acquisition Yoshi Hirano, and fan-favorite Archie Bradley to be the closer, but in the end Boxberger won the position.
He has become a formidable duo with Bradley as a 1-2 punch late in games for the D-backs. His calm demeanor as a closer is a stark contrast to the vibrant energy Bradley brings in his set-up relief role.
Bradley, who has a 1.42 ERA, a 9.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings pitched and is tied for the most holds in the MLB with Juan Nicasio of Seattle at 12, is having another outstanding season in the bullpen for Arizona.
Although he was a candidate for the closer position, his versatility as a relief pitcher was too valuable to this team.
The D-backs have nine one-run victories so far this season, and both of these relievers have been a big part of that. Offensively, the team hasn’t been performing as well as expected. Arizona is ranked No. 29 in hits at 253, No. 28 in batting average at .221 and No. 15 in RBI at 141.
They haven’t been overpowering opponents like last season, when they had a +147 run differential.
What Boxberger, Bradley, and the bullpen have done with the help of Dan Haren and the D-backs coaching staff in regards to preparation through analytics has been vital to the success of this team this season.
Arizona’s bullpen is ranked first in MLB in ERA (2.19), opponent batting average (.192), runs allowed (33), WHIP (1.04) and holds (30). They are second in saves (13) and tied for first in save conversion percentage.
And though it remains to be seen if the injuries to the starting rotation will impact the bullpen, Boxberger has been shutting down games in every opportunity he’s given.