The Miami Marlins traded their closer, Steve Cishek, to the St. Louis Cardinals last season. At the time, the return was said to be “no one” or “just a warm body.” That “no one” was reliever Kyle Barraclough, the closer in Double-A for the Cardinals at the time of the trade.
Barraclough pitched in Double-A in the Marlins organization, logging only four innings before receiving a call up to the big league club. He then pitched 24 1/3 innings at the end of the season, posting a respectable 2.59 ERA with 11.10 K/9. The concern with Barraclough has always been his control, and that showed up a bit in his cup of coffee in 2015, as he posted a 6.66 BB/9 rate.
The right-hander began the 2016 season as a member of the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs bullpen. There, he tossed six innings, striking out nine batters and walking just one. It appeared Barraclough had found a way to control his pitches better, but it was only a six inning sample. Still, he earned a call up to the Marlins bullpen. In thirteen innings spread across sixteen games since then, Barraclough has pitched to a 2.77 ERA and a 2-1 record. He has an elite 15.23 K/9, but a still troubling 5.54 BB/9.
“Bear Claw” ranks first in the National League and third in Major League Baseball in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) for pitchers with a minimum of ten innings pitched. He is behind only elite New York Yankees relievers Dellin Betances (17.65) and Andrew Miller (16.09). His excellent results so far, including a somewhat rough stretch recently, are backed up by advanced metrics. He has a 2.80 FIP/2.90 xFIP and a 2.75 SIERA. His .370 BABIP allowed is certain to come down, so if he can limit his walks only a little more, he could suddenly jump into elite bullpen arm territory.
Originally seen as a throw-in as a piece of a deal for a struggling reliever, Barraclough has a chance to carve his name into the Marlins bullpen for a long time to come. With Carter Capps returning next season and David Phelps suddenly looking like an elite reliever himself, the Marlins bullpen could become quite a strength in the near future.