by David A Marcillo
Spring Training has just started, but Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly has already revealed his hand. While he stopped short of naming new Marlin Brandon Kintzler as the team’s closer, he implied it very heavily. Mattingly said Kintzler has, “the most closing experience” and gave reporters plenty of other reasons to make the jump to call Kintzler the team’s ninth-inning man.
Kintzler, 35, was signed to a one-year, $3.25 million deal by the Marlins this winter, with a club option for 2021. He spent 2019 with the Chicago Cubs and has previously pitched for the Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, and Milwaukee Brewers in the past. He was an All-Star in 2017, and his best statistical season is a toss up between 2013 and his All-Star year.
Kintzler was very good last season, posting a 2.68 ERA with 17 holds in 57 innings pitched. He’s never been a huge strikeout guy, as seen by his career 17.1% strikeout rate, but he usually is able to keep opposing batters to hit the ball on the ground. Ground balls can turn into hits, sure, but they can also turn into double plays and won’t become home runs. Fly ball pitchers can be scary to watch (when they pitch for the team you root for) because of an increased propensity to give up the long ball, but Kintzler’s ground ball tendencies have kept him at a strong 0.78 HR/9 for his career. Advanced and predictive stats show a solid reliever as well, with his career SIERA sitting at 3.60, a few points better than his 2019 3.81 mark. xFIP also views him favorably, his career mark there is 3.78 after a 4.06 in 2019.
Most of all, Kintzler brings experience to a young bullpen. The Marlins bullpen has some high-upside arms, but very little experience and a very volatile floor. Kintzler’s presence in the ninth inning will likely be an excellent source of confidence for the rest of the bullpen. The consistency, not only of Kintzler’s pitching but also of his role, will be a nice change from last season’s closer carousel.
Kintzler as closer is also smart because he does well against hitters on both sides of the plate. In fact, he was actually better against lefty batters last season (.217 wOBA) than he was against righties (.302 wOBA). Keeping him in a ninth inning role will allow him to face both lefties and righties, and won’t allow manager Don Mattingly’s bullpen management struggles to affect the late game as much as it has in previous seasons. Also, Kintzler pitched well in 2019 in high leverage situations. He allowed just a .248 wOBA in his high leverage innings, compared to a .273 mark in low leverage and .275 in medium leverage. He was solid overall in all situations, but some pitchers thrive with the pressure and it seems like Kintzler may be one of those (although there was a very small sample of him in high leverage situations for 2019- just 10 2/3 innings).
Kinztler as closer is a solid move for the Marlins and should be a nice anchor to a high-upside but extremely volatile bullpen. Usually, you’d want a guy with huge strikeout numbers in the closer’s role, but even with his lack of swing-and-miss stuff, Kintzler should provide the Marlins with plenty of good innings. He reportedly predicted 40 saves for himself, and while that may be ambitious, 30 could be well within reach as long as he stays healthy.