Position: Right-Handed Reliever
2016 Stats: 68 IP, 20.1 K%, 9.0 BB%, 2.25 ERA, 2.99 DRA, 1.5 WARP
Why He Fits: Ziegler has been one of the more underrated relievers in baseball for quite some time. The side-winding right-hander made his debut in 2008 with the Oakland A’s, and ever since he’s posted more than 1 WARP in all but two of his Major League seasons, peaking with 2.1 WARP in Arizona.
While we don’t have anything so far directly linking the Cubs to Ziegler, the front office has said that they might not necessarily be looking to pay the money necessary to get a big name closer like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen. If they aren’t, they might look more towards buy low options or less expensive quality relievers. Brad Ziegler certainly fits the mold of the latter. While Chapman and Jansen are likely looking at high eight figures or even nine figures for their next deal, Ziegler is projected to get just 2 years and $16 million by MLB Trade Rumors and 3 years and $21 million by Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.
Ziegler would be an absolutely perfect match for the Cubs phenomenal infield defense. His 65% ground ball rate last year (67% for his career) was among the best in the league, allowing him to get plenty of work for top infield defenders Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo. In addition to his ability to get ground balls, Ziegler is also great at limiting damage. Last year he allowed a .235 TAv and that number is even lower for his career at .226. Along with that number comes an ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. His HR/9 in 2016 was .3, which matches the number he has put up for his career.
His ability to keep the ball on the ground, in the ballpark and away from the barrel of the opponent’s bat all adds up to a really quality reliever. He even saw an uptick in strikeouts this past year, all the way up to 20.1% from 13.7% in 2015, though his K rate has fluctuated throughout his career. His career rate currently sits at 16.6%.
Why It Won’t Work: While the Cubs could definitely use some bullpen help, most would point to two specific areas where they need to add. Those are a truly elite closer (Think Chapman, Jansen or even Melancon) and left-handed relief. The one area where the Cubs have quite a bit of depth, especially in the middle to late innings is from the right side. Currently penciled into the 2017 bullpen are Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm. They also have some quality arms in AAA that might be able to step up including Felix Pena, Pierce Johnson, Jose Rosario, Spencer Patton or even Armando Rivero. Because of this, spending cash on improving their right-handed reliever depth might not be the best use of funds.
In the playoffs, we saw the value of impact relievers. Guys like Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Cody Allen all played huge roles in their team success. While he is very good, I would not classify Ziegler as an impact reliever. With the construction of the current pen, he might be no better than the third or fourth option from the right side. While he would absolutely improve the depth of the Cubs pen, he’s not that kind of impact reliever that the Cubs would ideally want to add.
In addition to just true player depth, the Cubs will also be spending a decent amount of money on their right-handed relievers in 2017. MLB Trade Rumors projects Pedro Strop to make $5.5 million and Hector Rondon to make $5.7 million, so spending $8 to $10 more million a year on another right-handed reliever might not be the best use of funds.
Alternatives: There is a wide range of right-handed relievers that the Cubs could go after that come in all shapes and sizes. Joe Smith would be what we call a poor man’s Brad Ziegler, being that he is also a ground ball inducing sidearmer. In addition to Smith, there are also former closers that include Sergio Romo, Drew Storen, Fernando Rodney, Koji Uehara, Greg Holland, Joaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla and Jonathan Papelbon. The rest of the right-handed options include Trevor Cahill, Joe Blanton, Neftali Feliz, Daniel Hudson and Fernando Salas.
Lead photo courtesy Rick Osentoski—USA Today Sports Images