The Bullpen Rollercoaster

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.

55 thoughts on “The Bullpen Rollercoaster”

  1. Can’t really fault the analysis here. Rob’s right and my Chicken Little concern about the bullpen appears to have been overblown — AA made some very effective moves to take a horribly ineffective corps and turn it to a very cromulent one. We don’t have O’Ventbrel, but we went from a below average pen to an above average pen.

    Of course, it’s not hard to win games when Donaldson, Albies, and Acuna are all hot, since Freddie’s Freddie and Swanson, Riley, and the catchers have traded off their own hot streaks. Thus far, the Braves have avoided their June swoon. What will happen when the bats cool off? Will we lose a lot of 4-3 games and tear our hair out when Snitker calls on Huascar Ynoa in the 8th?

    There are going to be a lot of relievers on the move in July as teams like the Dodgers try to shore up the bullpen. I’m betting AA will stay mostly quiet. Hopefully our young guys (including Wright, Wilson, Toussaint, etc.) can step up, or otherwise we’ll have to go dumpster diving again.

  2. Good job, Rob. I LOVE that AAR sounds like a crusty old man. It takes a lot of pressure off Blazon, Tfloyd and the rest of us geezers. I expect AA will dazzle us with a bullpen find or two before long.

    Go Braves.

  3. Anthony Swarzak explains to FG the history of his slider.

    “I first started throwing a slider in 2010, after I got sent down from the big leagues for the first time. Before that I was a four-seam, curveball guy. I brought a slider back to the big leagues in 2011, but it didn’t really get better until probably 2013. Then, in 2016, my slider started getting a little harder; more velo. I started thinking cutter when I threw it — that was to make sure it didn’t get loopy — but it’s still a slider. It has depth. There’s nothing funky about the grip, or anything like that. I just grab it and throw it as hard as I can.

    “I started throwing it more when I got to the Yankees [in 2016]. I was trying to make that team. I did that; I made the team. That’s when I started throwing it over 50% of the time. I was striking guys out with it, so they kept sending me back out there.

    “The way I was doing things before hadn’t been working. I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to throw more offspeed pitches.’ That’s really all I did. The more I threw my slider, the more I got comfortable with it. I developed a better feel and was able to start shaping it a little differently at times. Like anything else in the world, the more you do something, the more feel you get for it.

    “My wife is actually who prompted me to start throwing more sliders. We were sitting at home, watching the playoffs, and she said to me, ‘Anthony, these guys throw a lot more offspeed than you do.’ So I started throwing more offspeed.”

  4. Excellent analysis on the bullpen. I think Jackson still has a place in the pen and I don’t think he’s turned into a pumpkin, but it seems clear to me that he shouldn’t be our closer. If Minter has really righted the ship, he’s a possibility, but couldn’t we get 3 months of a really good relief pitcher for a 30 to 60 prospect?

  5. I like a young pitcher coming up and then getting immediately sent down. Let him get a taste of success at the highest level, and then send him back. For a guy that walked 10 in 16 innings at AAA, Ynoa threw 2 walk-less innings in the big leagues. That’s gotta have an impact.

    As for Sobotka, he didn’t appear on a professional mound from 4/28 to 5/23. He pitched on 5/23, 5/25, 5/29, 6/1, and 6/5, but hasn’t pitched in the 12 days since. There’s got to be some injury going on with him.

  6. I suspect we’re going to see lots of peaks and valleys with this group. They’ll have stretches where they look, as noted upthread, cromulent, followed by stretches where they look like a garbage fire that has itself been placed in a dumpster and then lit on fire.

    Bottom line for me is, were we starting a playoff series today, I’d be pretty horrified at the idea of this group trying to protect a slim late-inning lead. Reinforcements are still needed. Luckily we still have plenty of time to get them.

  7. I’m sure the prospect equivalent of bonus pool money for the 2019 equivalent of Brad Brach, at minimum, is a deal the Braves will do. Remove Brad Brach and insert Jonny Venters as well.

  8. By the way, if you look at the collective performance (and money paid) to this year’s free agent relievers vs. the relievers acquired at last year’s deadline and what they did for the next club, it seems the money move is dealing off C+ prospects and bonus pool money at the deadline for a guy currently pitching well.

    With that said, we took back a whole lot of money on O’Day’s deal and we have nothing to show for it. But Swarzak (so far), Venters (even including his struggles this year), and Brach collectively have been fantastic since AA started trading for relievers.

  9. @12 Probably more accurate to look at O’Day as being part of the cost for a half season of quality Gausman + gamble of Gausman becoming a rotation fixture.

  10. Small quibble, but Winkler was optioned already when they called up Ynoa. Now Dayton is up for Ynoa, and there’s a chance he is up for good after being really good in Gwinnett.

  11. I think AAR has been playing us. Chief was his “I feel negative” character. Now, AAR knows the negative is such a bad case, he has let the character of Chief go.

  12. Nice work, Rob, and exactly what I’ve been saying. (Which makes it even nicer…) You’re now just one step from the final observation, which is that bullpens are readily available at reasonable cost for management that knows how to manage and juggle talent. This is the central underlying principle to the Moneyball point that closers are overrrated, or at least overpaid. When teams like the Nats have a dumpster fire bullpen, they lack the competent management to pour water on the fire and send for a new fleet of empty dumpsters.
    There is still an issue, since you’re still going to blow saves. This might be a critical playoff issue, but is far less so in the regular season with a team that has way more come-from-behind late victories than blown saves. The old Braves addressed this with late season closer pickups: I’m thinking here of Reardon (acquired August 30th) and Alejandro Pena (acquired *twice* in the last week of August)

  13. Ynoa looked great. I hope he gets another look before long.

    Something worthy of note is the Braves tendencies with guys who have been Tommy John victims. They’re only pitching once every 3-4 games. Dayton has been on of those guys. This is likely the reason why he hasn’t been brought back up and will likely be the reason he’ll get sent back down when a fresh arm is needed. I admire the dedication to the long game by AA, and also the willingness to take decisions out of his manager’s hands.

  14. Right. Dayton had been used three out of four days, so Ynoa was the call. Ynoa is RH, and with the likelihood of Keuchel pushing either Gausman or Folty to the pen, they need a LH more.

  15. I note that Soroka has reversed his reverse-Samson. Far more important than the fact that he’s pitching against the Mets.

  16. Good call, braves14. It’s like I mentally corrected myself in the last paragraph with having an 8-man pen that didn’t include Winkler.

    Little advice for the young bloggers out there: proofread your posts. Dadgum, that was littered with typos. I wrote it, took a long phone call, then realized, “Oooh, crap, gotta get this thing up.”

    With Dayton replacing Ynoa, I think the next move, logically is Gausman replacing either Touki or Blevins. Would think Blevins becomes redundant should Dayton be able to handle the load. But Gausman would probably be your long man until he gets comfortable, so Touki would become a little redundant as well.

  17. I’m not in favor of the designated hitter, but watching McCann run, I think he makes a serious argument for a designated runner.

  18. Good Lord, this team.

    When was the last time we had an offense like this? The Sheffield/Andruw/Chipper era?

  19. It’s time to get a new song instead of playing Spider-Man every time there is a mound visit.

  20. @44

    I’m all for Percy Faith’s “The Syncopated Clock” in that scenario. Or just let the best organist in baseball do his thing.

  21. It is so satisfying to beat the mess out of our division. I could watch this every day for the rest of my life.

  22. The Braves have scored 75 runs in their last 8 games. From July 14th-16th 2006, the Braves scored 65 runs in only 5 games, and scored enough runs around that core to beat 75 in 8 games several times. I would note that that team finished under .500. (You’re welcome, Chief.)

  23. As mad as I was (and still am) about being lied to by the leadership, these players are doing amazing things right now. Imagine a world where these guys were simply honest with the fans. Heck, even the TV deal isn’t as bad as once thought. Imagine…

  24. Did you shudder just a little when Chip rolled out the basics of Cano’s contract with the Mets last night?

    From memory, 20M a year through 2023.

    Boy o boy, stupidity knows no bounds. Please, Sir, can i change my mind?

    I know there are several others, some costing even more, but this baby, here in our little homey NL East, horrifies.

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