The Arizona Diamondbacks resisted the urge to spend lavishly on their bullpen. They are reaping the rewards so far in 2018.
Last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen recorded a very respectable 3.78 ERA good for 2nd best in the NL. Despite the units’ success, the team’s management dedicated a fair amount of energy this past winter to upgrading it. And their efforts have paid off. Through the first half of 2018, the bullpen owns a collective ERA of 2.57, just 0.03 off the Astros for the best in all of baseball.
The Rockies famously committed $106 million to the bolstering of their bullpen in the offseason. The bold move has turned out to be an experiment with embarrassing results. Their 5.45 ERA gives them a comfortable lead for worst in the majors, .37 ahead of the 29th place Royals.
The Rockies have a shocking $49 million (over ⅓) of their payroll committed to their bullpen. The D-backs, with their far superior performance, and limited flexibility given their massive Zack Greinke contract are spending just $15 million in 2018 on relievers.
Mike Hazen and his team have managed to assemble one of the best bullpen units in the league for cheap. This is exactly the type of thing that the management of a middle market team with a limited budget needs to do on a consistent basis to succeed.
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The two most impactful moves the team made were the acquisitions of Brad Boxberger from Tampa Bay and Yoshihisa Hirano from the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League. The two join Archie Bradley for an imposing 7th-8th-9th inning combination that has become so important to MLB clubs in recent years as starters’ pitch counts decline.
This past weekend, D-backs traded for Brad Boxberger and subsequently signed him to a one year deal for $1.85 million. His bargain basement contract ranks him as the 25th highest paid closer in the league. Boxberger has blown a few saves and made things a little too interesting here and there, but with an ERA of 3.56 and 20 saves – he’s been solid.
The home-grown, $582K-making Archie Bradley has been brilliant. With his sub 2.00 ERA and fan-captivating personality, he’s been everything the Diamondbacks were hoping for.
The real stroke of genius though, was Yoshihisa Hirano. Yoshi, as he asked Arizonans to call him, just had his franchise-record scoreless inning streak of 26 innings snapped Wednesday. On a team that lacks a shoe-in for the All-Star Game, there’s a strong case to be made that Yoshi should represent the D-backs in D.C. next week. His impressive 1.47 ERA ranks 7th amongst NL relievers and is a better mark than he ever posted in Japan, which is remarkable considering the massive adjustments imposed by a different language, better competition, and different baseballs.
It’s possible that Yoshi’s start is an anomaly and his numbers will regress towards the mean as the season wears on. But then again, maybe he’s just a fit in the MLB. He said his time competing in the WBC last year made him feel like he could handle the move to America: “Being on the mound actually using the major league baseballs that we might be using. I felt comfortable.”
There were other teams looking at Hirano, but there was no massive bidding war. The D-backs were able to snag him for just $6 million over two years. This put the total value of the team’s ever so important 7th-8th-9th inning trio at less than $10 million – less than half the yearly salary of injured Giants closer Mark Meloncon.
The D-backs May Not Be Poor Forever
The massive television deal the Diamondbacks made with FOX Sports Arizona in 2015 reportedly guarantees the club more than $1.5 Billion over 20 years. This represents an additional $50 million/year in revenue that has been reflected in 2018’s franchise high $138 million.
The Arizona Diamondbacks wealth still pales in comparison to its division rivals in LA and San Francisco, but the gap is closing. If management can assemble a league best bullpen (and a division leading team for that matter) on a slim budget, it’s exciting to think of what they might be able to do with an average one.