In what has become an annual ritual, the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks will do yet another rebuild of their bullpen arms, including a new closer.
The Diamondbacks have had inconsistency in their bullpen the past few years. They have struggled to hold one-run leads and have given up too many home runs. Some of that can be attributed to the starting staff struggling to get into the sixth inning, which has caused an over-used bullpen. Another reason is their financial situation; they just cannot afford to get the big-name relief pitchers at this time.
Along with new setup pitchers, the Diamondbacks will have a new closer for the 2021 season — again. The team signed Fernando Rodney in 2017 and traded for Brad Boxberger in 2018. Greg Holland was signed for 2019. Recently signed for the 2021 season is Joakim Soria.
The only year a new closer wasn’t signed was 2020. Archie Bradley was already on the team, so no trade or signing was made. Bradley ended up being traded, thus the need for Soria.
With the signing of Soria this team is searching for stability from their closer. Nobody knows what makes a good closer, but a veteran in Soria who turned down bigger offers provides a steady presence in their bullpen. When Soria is in the “groove” he is a pitcher who doesn’t give up many home runs and doesn’t walk many batters.
As we know, Lovullo likes to create competition in spring training and has not named Soria as the closer. Stefan Crichton assumed the role of closer for the remainder of 2020 after the Bradley trade. He finished with five saves out of six and a 0.96 ERA in ten games and is in contention for the spot.
Which pitcher will Soria be for the Diamondbacks? The 36-year-old has shown he can be a dominant “lights-out” closer. He is a veteran of 13-year big league seasons, has 223 career saves, and is a two-time All-Star.
Soria has been consistent with his ability to work the bottom of the strike zone and shows he can handle the situation with runners on base. However, when he misses the strike zone, he has been hammered. This has cost him closer roles with the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox. When he has slumped, it is related to his walk rate increasing and his strikeout rate decreasing.
However, if Soria does win the job, he gives the Diamondbacks a solid closer option. He knows how to exploit a hitter’s weaknesses to induce weak contact or get that big strikeout. And, he has shown this against both right-and left-handed batters.
Since the Winter of 2016…
Since becoming the Diamondbacks general manager and manager in the winter of 2016, respectively, Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo have had to reconstruct the bullpen every year. This has mainly been due to lack of consistency from the “core” of relievers. No relief pitcher is still on the team from when Lovullo took over.
Taylor Clarke, John Duplantier, and Alex Young will be battling for the fifth starter spot in spring training. The two who don’t win the starting position could serve in the bullpen as long relievers. Both Clarke and Young have had effective stretches in the bullpen and, if not called upon in the rotation, can be a long reliever. Returning along with Crichton are Kevin Ginkel, Yoan López, Riley Smith, who pitched briefly last season, and Taylor Widener.
New relievers signed will be competing for a roster spot for 2021. Spring training will have a focus on these guys. There could be up to as many as six new spots.
Right-hander Humberto Castellanos, recently claimed from the Houston Astros, will be given a chance at a spot. Right-handed Chris Devenski and southpaw Ryan Buchter, recently signed to minor league deals, will be given an opportunity to win a spot on the big-league roster. Even though Taylor Guilbeau was designated for assignment, he, too, will be invited to spring training.
Relief Pitching Is Changing
With the game changing so much in the last decade, the importance of the final nine outs has taken center stage. We know closers are going to blow saves and the bullpen will fail to hold a lead. The key to that being the sporadic is forgetting about what happened in the previous game(s) and move on.
Sometimes that is easier said than done—especially for the Diamondbacks bullpen the past four years.
Fernando Rodney, Brad Boxberger, Greg Holland, Joakim Soria, Archie Bradley, Stefan Crichton, Torey Lovullo, Taylor Clarke, John Duplantier, Alex Young, Kevin Ginkel, Yoan López, Riley Smith, Taylor Widener, Humberto Castellanos, Chris Devenski, Ryan Buchter, Taylor Guilbeau