Player Profiles 2020: Arizona Diamondbacks Bullpen

Rick Graham breaks down the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen for the 2020 season.

With a 4.26 ERA in 2019, the Diamondbacks actually had the 12th-best bullpen ERA in all of baseball. With the end-of-season bullpen returning, and the additions of Junior Guerra and Madison Bumgarner to the rotation, this unit should only get stronger. There’s plenty of young starting pitching in the organization, but with a rotation that looks occupied for the foreseeable future, some starters will likely work out of the bullpen next year. It’s also rumored GM Mike Hazen is still looking for one more bullpen piece as well. This should create some position battles this spring, with there being at least one, maybe two Opening Day roster spots up for grabs. Of course, there is the chance they fail to sign another reliever, and Robbie Ray could still get traded by March. For now, this bullpen looks to be a safe, yet mostly low-upside source of saves and holds for 2020.

 

Diamondbacks Projected Bullpen

 

CloserArchie Bradley

 

With a lively fastball that gets into the upper 90s to go along with an even livelier personality and a curveball that reached a career-high 5 pVAL, Bradley surprisingly wound up stabilizing the ninth inning for the Diamondbacks down the stretch last season. Nevertheless, it was still a rough start to the season for Bradley, who finished the first half with a 4.95 ERA and 1.73 WHIP following a disastrous two-month stretch from May through June. He was able to turn things around in the second half, converting 18 of 19 save chances while posting a 1.71 ERA and 1.07 WHIP after the All-Star break.

When digging into the peripherals, it appears the biggest reason for Bradley’s second-half turnaround was pure luck, as his K-BB% dropped eight-tenths of a point, and both his FIP and xFIP rose more than .25 points each. His velocity also seemed to decline as the second half progressed and his swinging-strike rate dropped 3.1 points, which at just 8% ranked 162 out of 171 qualified RPs. He also saw his BABIP go from .398 in the first half to .250 in the second half and his HR/FB rate drop close to three points. Bradley has likely settled into the reliever we’ve seen the past two seasons, which as a closer, still makes him fantasy relevant. Just be prepared for the Fernando Rodney-esque rollercoaster you may find yourself riding if you draft him.

 

SetupKevin Ginkel

 

After tearing up the minors through July, Kevin Ginkel got his first taste of MLB action in early August, finishing the year with a mighty productive 24.1 innings at the MLB level. That should surprise no one as Ginkel has been largely impressive at every minor league stop he had made since being drafted in 2016. While you won’t see him run his fastball into the upper 90s, his somewhat funky delivery and plus slider (6.4 pVAL, 21.4 SwStr%) do a great job of keeping hitters off balance. Sure he was helped out by a .228 BABIP in Arizona, but even with some regression, he looks like a steady contributor as a high-2.00, low-3.00 ERA reliever.

Ginkel’s overall numbers last year between Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB were on an elite level, totaling a 90/22 K/BB ratio while allowing just 11 earned runs and 34 hits over 58.2 innings. Take away the minor league numbers and he still proved to be a plus swing-and-miss arm (14.1 SwStr, 29.2 K%), able to keep a walk rate under 10%. While we shouldn’t expect him to finish near a 1.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP again, Ginkel’s success at all levels of baseball bode well for his future as a staple in the Diamondbacks bullpen. He’s definitely a name you want to keep an eye on in all formats, as he certainly has the ability to take over as closer, should Bradley falter early on.

 

Setup – Junior Guerra

 

Newly signed Diamondback Junior Guerra features a three-pitch mix with a two-seam fastball, splitter, and a curveball. While the fastball and curve get mixed results, Guerra’s splitter remains his big out pitch. In his first year as a full-time reliever, Guerra did see a boost in fastball velocity, up over one mph from 2018, and spin rate; however, it did not result in any improvements to his swing-and-miss ability. In fact, his K% and SwStr% numbers from last year look almost identical to his 2018 and 2017 numbers. This shouldn’t be the case for someone going from starter to reliever, as these numbers theoretically should have ticked up. While he wasn’t able to make gains in that department, he did manage to limit hard contact at a high rate, with only 29.5% of contact against him being “hard hit” (exit velocity 95+ mph).

In what is somewhat of a recurring theme in this preview, Guerra’s 2019 season was a tale of two halves. After spending the past two seasons in the Brewers rotation, Guerra started 2019 in the bullpen. After a great first month, things started heading south in May, and he entered the All-Star break with a middling 4.18 ERA and 1.23 WHIP and out of his setup role. After the break, he was able to get right again and finished the second half with a 2.72 ERA, and 0.99 WHIP. However, a .192 BABIP and a 4.88 xFIP in the second half aren’t exactly encouraging. In Guerra, Arizona should have a guy who can eat innings in the middle of games, limit hard contact and hopefully be an average middle reliever. Relying on him for 20+ holds again in a setup role, though, that wouldn’t be an ideal situation.

 

Middle – Yoan Lopez

 

Whereas Guerra was a master at limiting hard contact last season, Yoan Lopez finds himself on the other end of the spectrum. Lopez’s 44.4% hard-hit rate ranked toward the bottom of the league last season. Also unlike Guerra, Lopez had a great first half, while melting down over the second. With a 1.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP at the break, Lopez actually looked like the potential favorite to replace Greg Holland. Things took a turn for the worse in the second half, though, as Lopez ranked toward the bottom of the league in multiple categories. His 6.9% swinging-strike rate was second-worst among 171 qualified relievers, while a 13.9 K% ranked fourth-worst.

While there is certainly upside in Lopez’s arm, he has yet to fully capitalize on his upper-90s fastball and plus slider. His slider had 6.0 pVAL last season and a 15.7% SwStr rate. He throws the pitch close to 40% of the time, so that isn’t the problem, although it’d be nice to see something closer to a 50-50 split between slider and fastball. With just a 6.4% BB rate in 80 games pitched, it seems to me like Lopez may want to start working the corners and even out of the zone a bit more often to limit his fastball from getting hammered. As bad as all the metrics may seem, and yes, they are bad, I think a few fundamental changes to Lopez’s approach could make all the difference going forward.

 

Middle – Andrew Chafin

 

Despite the new three-hitter minimum rule, lefty Andrew Chafin‘s job should be safe for next season. The overall splits from last season don’t show much of a drop-off (.258/.313/.363 vs. .256/.341/.372), with the lone exception being walk rate (11.1% vs. RH, 5.9% vs. LH). Nothing much has changed in his arsenal in recent years, which includes a low- to mid-90s fastball and a slider that gets plenty of swings and misses (27.1 SwStr%).

2019 marked Chafin’s third consecutive season with an ERA under 4.00 while also posting a career-high 23 holds, which was 15th-most among pitchers last year. He also saw career highs in both swinging-strike percentage (15.5% ) and K-BB rate (22.2%), with each ranking 25th and 31st among all qualified relievers, respectively. While not the most exciting reliever out there, Chafin’s made a case to be owned in deeper holds formats to start the 2020 season.

 

Middle/LongMatt Andriese

 

It was surprising to some that Matt Andriese was tendered by the Diamondbacks about a month ago, but the five-year veteran has become a dependable, albeit unspectacular, innings-eater for the team. Despite ERAs of 5.26 and 4.71 over the past two seasons, his 3.58 and 3.82 SIERA totals suggest better times are to come. Still, the fastball/changeup specialist will likely serve as the team’s long reliever and mop-up guy for 2019, giving him almost no fantasy value.

 

Watch List 

Stefan Crichton, Silvino Bracho, Jimmie Sherfy, West Tunnell 

 

Outside the potential SPs-turned-RPs (Jon Duplantier, Alex Young, Taylor Clarke, etc.), there remains plenty of bullpen depth that likely will begin the year in Triple-A. Stefan Crichton deserves an Opening Day roster spot following a solid 2019 campaign, but following the addition of MadBum, likely finds himself on the outside looking in.

Silvino Bracho missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, but was quite effective in 2018, posting a 3.19 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 15.4% swinging-strike rate over 31 IP. Jimmie Sherfy, once a top relief prospect, mostly struggled in 18.1 innings at the MLB level last year, but his 20.5 K-BB% can be seen as promising. West Tunnell was impressive at High-A and Double-A last season, working as a closer at each stop and should be in line to make his MLB debut sometime in 2020.

 

Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Rick Graham

Rick resides in the Boston area and has experience as a player and coach at the collegiate level. He has been covering relievers for Pitcher List since 2017.

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