Atlanta Braves Bullpen: Ahead of the Curve

Alex Anthopoulos and company have quietly built a Braves bullpen that is one of the best in baseball just in time for the three batter minimum rule. This is going to be one of the biggest reasons why Atlanta is going to be a force in the 2020 season and potentially win its third straight division title.  

Braves Bullpen: A 2019 vs. 2020 Comparision

The Atlanta Braves have completely re-invented their bullpen from just a year ago. This time last year, A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino were penciled in to the late inning roles. Last season the Braves took a flyer on Josh Tomlin, waited Darren O’Day’s injuries out, and used some of that glorious prospect capital to make several key additions. They added Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene all in late July to propel the team into a division winner. 

The Braves then made the first big splash of the offseason by inking former Giants closer Will Smith to a 3 yr/40 million dollar deal. They followed up by re-signing Martin and O’Day before adding viral sensation Chris Nunn. The Atlanta Braves bullpen in less than a year has gone from a back of the pack group to now being one of baseball’s most feared bullpens.

Rule Changes: The 3 Batter Minimum

If you are this far into this article about the Braves bullpen, then I’m assuming you already know that MLB has altered how teams will be able to utilize their bullpen this season. Pitchers must now face a minimum of three batters unless they are effectively ending an inning. This has essentially destroyed one batter specialists. I believe that this rule change will have a much larger impact than many are expecting. Relievers capable of getting through a full inning of work will become even more valuable.

Teams with weak bullpens and lesser depth will be exposed even more throughout a full 162 game slate. This could change how teams are structured by adding a greater emphasis to a strong bullpen in the future. I believe Alex Anthopoulos has recognized this early and that is why he has spent over $40 million to ensure the team will have the pitching needed. Bullpen arms are going to be expensive at the deadline this year more than ever before and Atlanta may not have to make a single bullpen addition.

Braves Bullpen: The Depth

Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, Luke Jackson, and Darren O’Day will likely headline the bullpen this season barring injuries. I don’t believe people realize just how many quality arms this organization has. The Braves arguably have more depth in the bullpen than any other team in baseball. If there is ever an injury or lack of performance, Braves fans should not fear. The names below all have seen or are capable of seeing major league action this summer.

Right handers- Josh Tomlin, Chad Sobotka, Patrick Weigel, Jacob Webb, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Jeremy Walker, Huascar Ynoa, Jasseel De La Cruz

Left handers- Tucker Davidson, Grant Dayton, A.J. Minter, Phil Pfeifer, Thomas Burrows, Kyle Muller, Chris Nunn, Chris Rusin, Sean Newcomb (rotation permitting).

Who’s Coming?

The Atlanta Braves have a bevy of relief pitching prospects that could all make an immediate impact. Most of the guys mentioned would be excellent options for the few spots available in this bullpen. The competition for those spots is going to be harsh all season long. The pitchers will be expected to perform, otherwise, the guys above will be waiting in the wings. My breakout candidates to solidify themselves as bullpen stalwarts this year are Patrick Weigel, Jeremy Walker, and Tucker Davidson.

Each has been impressive and would likely be penciled into the opening day staff on most teams. A.J. Minter could also be one to watch for. He could potentially return to his 2018 form after the off-season has allowed him to fully recover from his injury last spring. The most important factor for all of these guys will be the command of off-speed pitches. Whoever has the best command of his pitches will likely end up being the biggest bullpen factor this year.

Thanks for reading our piece on the 2020 Braves Bullpen. If you enjoyed this piece, you may like our piece on the Braves Non-Roster Invitees as there are players in there that could factor into the 2020 bullpen.

Long Live Braves Journal!

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

20 thoughts on “Atlanta Braves Bullpen: Ahead of the Curve”

  1. Haven’t really given much thought to this lately, but the 3-batter rule is going to change things a lot as far as who’s employable. Guys like Chad Sobotka, who can strike out the house or walk it, would be way too risky in close games, even if just being asked to close out an inning. In these last few years, nearly every team has a Sobotka, letting the player grow in low-leverage situations, but could you imagine this?

    Braves up 7-0 in 7th inning. In comes Sobotka.
    Batter 1, walk
    Batter 2, walk
    Batter, 3, walk.
    Snitker pulls him, bases loaded, 0 out.

    Seriously, this rule is stupid.

  2. Serious counterpoint: I love this rule. We we were getting to the point that a player needed 96+ or a wicked secondary pitch just to get into a team’s bullpen rotation. Weeding out the guys who have nothing other than velocity will make room for pitchers with deeper repertoire’s and better control. Maybe strikeouts will even diminish!

    Besides, have you seen Sobotka swing a bat? Pathetic!

  3. Yeah, it’s funny, given my role in the last thread as the anti-progress stick in the mud, but I actually don’t have a serious problem and kind of like the anti-specialist rule. It’s clear that mid-inning pitcher changes are one of the biggest things that affect pace of play, and seeing a guy come in to face a single batter, then immediately get yanked again, kind of sucks. Any rule change that hurts people who can’t afford to be left in to face more than one hitter, and therefore benefits people who can face men of both handednesses, is fine by me.

    And I hadn’t quite put it together before reading this post, but I think AA may have been even savvier in targeting the bullpen than I previously understood. Relief ace-type arms just seriously increased in value with this rule change, and he picked up several and signed them to multiyear deals. (What may have looked like a slight overpay under the old relief pitcher economics, may not be an overpay now.)

    That means that we’re likely going to be in a better position than some other teams, and better able to ride through a potential run-on-banks situation at the deadline, where teams realize just how few reliable 3-out firemen they have in their pen.

  4. Speaking of catching a game together, I’m going to CitiField for the Tax Day Matchup between the Braves and Mets. Anyone who wants to meetup during the game should let me know by writing to april15@marginalutilityllc.com

    And to AAR: see what you get when you stick with principles? Pitchers who can face more batterz have more skillz. So this rule change follows the same principle that the anti-DH stance displays. So you can be consistent asking for some changes and not others.

  5. I didn’t hit this in the article, but I’m also curious to see whether this rule will lead to more injuries for relievers with the innings likely going up. It may be something where bullpen arms tire out towards the end of the season if not used properly. It may end up having no affect at all, but definitely interesting to think about.

  6. I’m not sure injuries will go up. What we will see is a reversal of the decades-long decrease in average batters faced per relief appearance. It is telling that nobody with a season of more than 50 innings averaged less than an inning per appearance before Rick Hunnicutt in 1991. Now, over half of MLB relievers average less than an inning per. As for the injuries, I believe that full innings with a day or 2 between most outings allows for more recovery than a guy who pitches 2/3 of the games for 1 batter.

  7. @5, exactly! Generalists are more fun than specialists, and rules that reward people for being generalists are more fun than rules that reward people for being specialists. (That’s certainly something I like about Bear Bryant — on his insistence, his boys played both sides of the ball.)

  8. I don’t draw a hard and fast distinction between generalists and specialists. If a specialist hurts the game, remove him. If he helps the game, keep him. And the same for generalists. I think the needs of the sport take precedent over that distinction.

  9. @6 I think they’ll just have to monitor workload and rest better, more pitching means they should have more rest. If we see guys that we’re throwing 60-70 innings all of a sudden shooting us fo 90-100 that’s where injuries will come in.

  10. Just about any change is going to have unintended consequences, and figuring those out and getting ahead of the competition is an edge, so kudos to AA if that’s what he’s done here.

    Regarding injuries, in theory you should need fewer pitchers on a given day if guys are mostly throwing full innings. On the other hand, with 2 outs there’s little incentive not to go back to matchups.

  11. @9, the thing is that what counts as hurting the game is what’s up for grabs in this debate. AAR, JonathanF, and me all think that specialists hurt the game in virtue of making the game less interesting (or less good aesthetically in some other way, pick your favorite–note AAR’s “generalists are more fun!”).

    I’m not sure what to make of your claim about the needs of the sport. I’m literally not sure what that means.

  12. Ender Inciarte is the stupidest baserunner on the team. Just got himself doubled off on an infield single where he took too long of a turn.

  13. I made this point back when the Braves signed Will Smith. I saw it as trend setting. If your pen pitchers have to go a full inning, what better way to approach it than with a pen full of established closers? These are guys who have made their names, for the most part, by getting those last three, toughest outs. The three batter rule shouldn’t faze these guys. It’s who they are!
    I’m glad one of you fellows brought this up. I’m a bit surprised the nay-sayers haven’t jumped you, like they did me.

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