2014 Fantasy Baseball: Brad Boxberger, The Next Great Reliever?
Relievers don’t garner much interest unless they occupy the closer role. It’s just the way it is. As we know, though, closers – and bullpens in general – change on a whim. So, this week, I’ve spent a lot of time planning for next year, or at least thinking about it.
In Tuesday’s Rookie Report, I focused mainly on Ken Giles, Philadelphia’s flamethrowing new addition, who just happens to not have a sexy fantasy role. Only Jonathan Papelbon and, maybe, Antonio Bastardo stand in his way of being Philly’s closer. If I were running the show, he’d be chosen over Bastardo, but I’m not. Giles isn’t today’s man, though, Brad Boxberger is.
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Tampa Bay finds bullpen pieces often, and Joe Maddon does a fantastic job of maximizing each arm he carries, putting each pitcher into good situations as often as possible. Jake McGee wasn’t supposed to be Tampa Bay’s closer this season. Late-ish signing Grant Balfour was. It didn’t work out that way. McGee was/is better, therefore, the role is his. And probably will be for a little while. Boxberger, though, has carved out quite a role for himself in Tampa’s bullpen.
First of all, Boxberger’s velocity has been in uncharted territory all season. Before this season, he had never averaged more than 92 mph on his fastball, but it’s a tick over 93, so far and his change-up is up a little, too.
The increase in velocity has allowed Boxberger to miss more bats, which wasn’t a huge issue in the first place. Boxberger’s strikeout percentage is better than 41%, bested only by Aroldis Chapman. His walks, forever a problem, have also disappeared this season, dropping nearly 6% thanks to more first pitch strikes and more pitches in the zone in general, which can maybe be attributed to a new release point.
Boxberger’s money pitch, in my opinion, is his change-up. Sure, it levels the playing field versus lefties, but it’s damn near unhittable, anyways. Hitters chase it 41% of the time it’s out of the zone, resulting in weak contact and empty swings. In gif form, a 81 mph change-up, courtesy of this link, which also features a good bit of mid-nineties heat.
Words and numbers are one thing, watching Major League hitters rendered helpless is another. Between his improved command – chalk that up to Tampa Bay shenanigans, I guess? – and his devastating two pitch mix, it’s not hard to see why hitters have struggled so much.
Jake McGee is good, one of the best relievers in the game, in fact. But Boxberger is no slouch and is only a home run problem away from being an absolute force. If he’s able to iron out his issues going forward, he’s going to be fantasy relevant. More and more fantasy leagues are beginning to blend the saves category with holds. If that’s the case in your league, Boxberger is already relevant and has been for the majority of the season. Even if your league doesn’t give credit for holds, though, high strikeout relievers still have value – evidenced by Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, and Pat Neshek. As long as Boxberger’s velocity holds, he’s going to be good. And if he keeps more balls in the yard, he’s going to be great. According to xFIP-, he’s been the fifth best reliever in the majors. The only thing holding him back is his home run rate. If that can be solved … oh buddy.