I just want to give some thoughts on the pen. There’s been much anguish over The Sliderman’s recent blown saves, so here’s some food for thought.
In the first month of the season, the Braves had a 4.41 ERA, 17th in baseball. In that one month, we used 16 different guys in relief. Many notable dumpster fires include Jonny Venters giving up 5 runs in 2.2 IP. A.J. Minter had an ERA over 9 and was getting clobbered to a BABIP of .400, and Sobotka logged the second-most innings and had an ERA near 9. Shane Carle was really bad too. 8 of those 16 had negative fWAR.
Then it really bottomed out. For first 3 weeks in May, the bullpen ERA was 4.84. Six guys, almost an entire pen, had ERAs over 9 during that time. From that list, Shane Carle has yet to return, Jesse Biddle was traded to Seattle, Jonny Venters was given his release, and A.J. Minter spent almost a month in AAA. So changes were indeed made.
Since then, the bullpen seems to have righted the ship. Since May 22nd, the bullpen ERA has been 3.16, a huge improvement. And after using 16 relievers in the first month, they have used only 10 relievers in the last month, one of which was the newly recalled Huascar Ynoa. Your eyes have been telling you right; everyone has been pretty good, and Dan Winkler has been quite bad. Winkler’s rocking an ERA over 9, the only ERA over 4 in the entire pen. Anthony Swarzak has been incredible over the last month: 1 ER in 12.1 innings, unhittable .125 BABIP, strand rate at 100%, the whole deal. Josh Tomlin has been effective in a multi-inning, low-leverage role. Swarzak, Tomlin, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb, and Jacob Webb have pitched over 60% of the total bullpen innings during that time, and they have all had sub-3 ERAs.
When Keuchel is put on the 25-man roster, we will probably see Dan Winkler optioned, so you’re probably going to see the bullpen I just listed, plus A.J. Minter (1 ER given up in his 3 appearances since returning), Blevins, and either Kevin Gausman or Touki. That bullpen has a 2.87 ERA in the last month with Touki actually being the “worst” reliever.
You might think Luke Jackson is coming back to earth, but let me give you some food for thought. Remember when I said that Minter was getting tagged to a .400 BABIP clip? That is as bad as it sounds. And if a guy that has a low strike out rate, high walk rate, and high homer rate also has a high BABIP, then you can pretty well conclude that the dude is just not getting folks out. In the last two weeks, Luke has put up a 11.81 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9, and a .412 BABIP. The BABIP just really sticks out as a scenario where maybe he’s been the victim of some bad luck. Everything else looks really good. So I would wait to conclude that he’s turned back into a pumpkin until he gives up a few to several more runs.
We’re still short an elite arm for the stretch run and potentially a deep postseason run, but maybe not. The bullpen seems to be largely stabilizing. It’s not much of a carousel over the last month. Biddle is gone. Venters is gone (sadly). Shane Carle is probably gone-ish. Jackson, Newk, Swarzak, Webb, and Minter are probably going to be given the bulk of the innings until they prove they can’t fulfill their roles. The spots occupied by Blevins, Touki, and Ynoa are probably in contest with Dayton, Gausman, and Sobotka. But if this pan continues to pitch really well over the next couple months, you’ll probably start getting really excited about the pen. And opposing hitters won’t.