A Braves Checkup: Relief Pitchers

If one were to count Mike Ford, the Braves have utilized 16 relievers in the first half of the season. Two of them, Sean Newcomb (who was traded for Jesse Chavez) and Tyler Thornburg are no longer in the organization. If we’re not counting Mike Ford and the above 2, the Braves have 14 pitchers in the org that have made a relief appearance. Those pitchers, in order by innings, are:

  1. Collin McHugh (40.2 IP)
  2. A.J. Minter (39.1 IP)
  3. Kenley Jansen (35.2)
  4. Will Smith (34.2)
  5. Jesse Chavez (33.2)
  6. Jackson Stephens (29.2)
  7. Spencer Strider (24.1)
  8. Dylan Lee (24.0)
  9. Darren O’Day (21.2)
  10. Tyler Matzek (18.2)
  11. Jesus Cruz (8.2)
  12. Tucker Davidson (2.2)
  13. William Woods (2.0)
  14. Silvino Bracho (1.0)

In this exercise, I’m going to omit pitchers that aren’t worthy of discussion whether it be lack of innings or a change in roles. Those players are Strider, Davidson, Woods, and Bracho. That leaves us with 10. Let’s get it.

Collin McHugh

McHugh has been McHUGE for the Braves this year. His Statcast page is blood red in nearly every category except velocity and nothing is easy for hitters when he’s spinning…and he’s always spinning. The Braves put him in games when runners are on and, for the most part, he delivers. Already he’s inherited 26 runners and only 8 have scored. With his hard-hit rate sitting at 89% on Statcast (that’s a good thing), Collin will continue to be utilized in high leverage innings and what a weapon that is for Brian Snitker.

A.J. Minter

What happens when a player works to add velocity over the offseason and accomplishes said goal? You go from near-mint to mint in 6 months. Minter’s average FB velocity is up 0.7 MPH, the slider is up 1.6, and the change is up .4. Now none of this matters if there’s no location, but by god, Minter is locating! his walk rate has cut in half from 2020 and 21 numbers and his strikeouts are coming in bunches at nearly 12 per 9. Glancing at his Statcast page, you’ll see red in all the areas that matter for relievers and his 2022 WAR has already surpassed all of his previous years.

Kenley Jansen

Braves fans are frustrated with Kenley. He had a 2.22 ERA last year with the Dodgers and he currently sits at 3.53 with the Braves through 22 games. He’s also blown 4 games this year. Are the Braves getting the same Jansen that the Dodgers got for a dozen years? The answer is yes. All of Kenley’s advanced metrics over at Statcast point to bad luck, and his xERA over at Fangraphs is 2.08. It’s easy to feel disappointment with his current output, while also expecting good things down the stretch from a 1st ballot hall of famer.

Will Smith

“Not very good AND expensive? I’ll take it!” If you own a Landrover, you and Alex Anthopoulos have something in common. Will Smith has an option for the 2023 year, but there’s no option for Anthpolous other than letting expensive and whiny mediocrity walk. Smith has been opposite of good. Yes, he’s only carrying a 3.89 ERA, but his 1.5 WHIP is more telling than the ERA and his K/BB rate is even more telling coming in at 1.9. That’s not going to work in any leverage, but it’s well past time that Will moves on from a high leverage role. We will always have World Series Will.

Jesse Chavez

“Sean Newcomb was traded to the Cubs.”

“Great trade. Who did we get?”

I’ve been saying for years that Sean Newcomb, with his high velocity and first round draft pedigree, still had trade value and I WAS RIGHT…I guess. The Braves sent Newk to the Cubs and the Braves received the guy that wears cool hats. Newk since, has been DFA’d, outrighted off the 40-man to AAA, and is carrying a 5+ ERA. Meanwhile, Chavez has been an absolute force out of the Braves bullpen carrying a 2.34 ERA over 34.2 IP. The wonderful thing about his production is that it seems legit. He’s not walking many, is striking out a ton, and seems ok filling any role that the Braves need on any given night. That’s real value.

Jackson Stephens

It might not last, but holy smokes, what a find Jackson Stephens has been for the Braves. Like McHugh, Stephens is really good at limiting hard contact and inducing groundballs. Like Chavez, he seems like a plug and play reliever, appearing in innings 4-10. Admittedly, he’s not been great in late innings, but he’s been great when the Braves needed innings in a pinch. With the limit of 14 pitchers on an MLB roster and the Braves getting Kirby Yates back at some point before the end of the year, Stephens will have to keep showing that he’s legit and not just a flash in the pan. I think he has it in him to stick.

Dylan Lee

What happens when you walk very few and strike out a lot of people? For Dylan Lee, it means that you get to stay in the big leagues. There’s some things not to like about Lee. His spin rate isn’t great, FB velo is just average, and his BABIP against is .238, but until he stops getting results, the Braves will keep him around because lefties can’t hit him.

Darren O’Day

The return of Darren O’Day to the Braves hasn’t been as rosy as the original. He’s carrying a 4.15 ERA and there’s not much fluke in it. However, all of his advanced metrics on Statcast look promising and I’d be willing to bet that O’Day, if given the shot at a full year with the Braves, will have his ERA down in the low 3’s/high 2’s before the year is over.

Tyler Matzek

We all know the Matzek story. It’s a brilliant one. We all know that story received the cherry on top when he came in to clean up Luke Jackson’s self-made mess. Here it is if you want to see it. None of that matters in 2022 and the biggest scare at the moment is Matzek might not be fully healthy. His fastball velo is down as well as his strikeouts. His ERA is only 3.38, but he’s carrying a BABIP against of .170 and I don’t have to tell most that the number isn’t sustainable. Hopefully, with the shoulder rehab and rest prove to be good for Matzek’s arm as there’s no other reliever on this squad that I like to watch pitch.

Jesus Cruz

Cruz is the unfortunate reminder that, for a fringe player, this game can be brutal. In 6 games with the MLB club, Cruz carried a 1.50 ERA (2.94 FIP) and only 1 run, 4 hits, and 2 walks. Each of those 6 appearances were for 1 innings. Then, on his 7th appearance, a game in which Ian Anderson wet the bed, Cruz was brought on with 2 outs in the 3rd inning, and was expected to cover multiple innings, something he wasn’t doing at Gwinnett. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out well for Cruz, he got pummeled, then his pocketbook got even more pummeled as he was sent back to Gwinnett after the game. Like Jackson Stephens, I feel Cruz has a spot on the MLB club. He’s pitching well down at AAA and I hope he gets another chance to prove his worth when the rosters expand to 28.

Needs: With Kirby Yates coming back late August or early September, I think this team is pretty much set with relievers. However, adding a top flight arm is always a good thing, especially if it means Will Smith doesn’t pitch anymore important innings down the stretch.

Author: Ryan Cothran

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

46 thoughts on “A Braves Checkup: Relief Pitchers”

  1. It’s true… the bullpen has been this club’s secret weapon so far.

    The 2 high-profile/high-leverage guys have had their palpitation-inducing moments (witness Will Smith’s near-nightly Don Stanhouse act) and I’d love to see Matzek return to form, but overall… just really good. Eg. – Lowest ERA in NL (3.14), 2nd fewest HRs allowed (31).

    Unless I’m missing something, very generous on Jansen. If you ask me, the only way he’s getting into the Hall of Fame is if he buys a ticket.

    Ah, Braves baseball returns…

  2. Niiiiiiice. Interested to see who they got over slot with later.

  3. I like our draft. Top end potential with the arms instead of “safe” picks with average stuff.

  4. speaking of crazy trades, how little do you think we could get away with throwing in if in addition to Soto, we agreed to take Strasburg and Corbin. like maybe just pina and Mueller?

  5. Loved the article, but on Smith I would be a little more charitable (though less alliterative) and say we’ll always have 2021 Postseason Will. No runs in 11 mostly high-leverage innings, giving up only 5 singles & 3 walks was pretty amazing. Doesn’t have much predictive significance for the second half of this year, of course.

  6. B+ if Minter steadies himself. Relief pitchers are like politicians. Very unpredictable. An ERA of three means a run given up every third appearance. Often not good enough. Especially when you have a narrow minded manager who rarely uses a pitcher more than one inning. So you ask four relievers to throw 4 shutout innings too often. Where have all the inning eaters gone? How were all the pitchers able to pitch complete games, going at least three times through the lineup? Can I help you out on the answer?
    They know how to pitch, most of today’s crop only know how to throw. The mental side of pitching is lost on most. Damn sad.
    Daniel Ratliff added to my concerts.
    Ruth Eckert Hall in St. Pete.
    Please enjoy tonight’s game. A chance to see a young old timer pitch.

  7. Agree with Ryan’s analysis. The bullpen has been overall great, and overall its greatness has been in its depth more than the presence of one or two bullpen aces. Great as Minter’s been, this does not feel like a classic O’Ventbrel pen where two or three guys are head and shoulders above the rest. Instead, this feels like a pen FULL of guys who are somewhere from good to very good.

    @9 and @10, sad to say that neither of those updates is surprising.

    Can anyone with Insider access briefly say how he thinks we did?


  8. Atlanta Braves

    (1/20) 27. Owen Murphy, RHP, Riverside Brookfield HS (IL) (45 FV)
    (1/35) 49. J.R. Ritchie, RHP, Bainbridge HS (WA) (40+ FV)
    (2/57) 66. Cole Phillips, RHP, Boerne HS (TX) (40+ FV)
    (3/96) 122. Drake Baldwin, C, Missouri State (40 FV)
    (6/185) 155. Seth Keller, RHP, Hanover HS (VA) (40 FV)
    (7/215) 183. Adam Maier, RHP, Oregon (35+ FV)
    (4/125) 227. David McCabe, 3B, Charlotte (35+ FV)
    (2/76) 245. Blake Burkhalter, RHP, Auburn (35+ FV)
    (5/155) HM. Ignacio Alvarez, 3B, Riverside JC (CA)
    (11/335) HM. Ian Mejia, RHP, New Mexico State

    I planted a flag firmly in the “biggest Owen Murphy fan in draft media” camp, but the Braves might have found a way to be even more bullish than I was. Teams thought he’d go in the 30s or 40s for an over-slot bonus, but he might have been the player in the draft with the most plus abilities relative to his draft position. These are all important components to a player winning coin flips in the draft room: at least plus makeup, at least plus physical ability, football standout, pro prospect as an infielder, physical tools that show up in his delivery/command, Trackman-friendly if not class-leading characteristics/shape to both his fastball and breaking ball, cold-weather prospect with limited baseball reps compared to Southern ones. This adds up to a Jack Flaherty-like upside and a similar draft day status. I’m terrified of taking prep righties for $2 million-plus because the track record is largely yikes, but I’d be excited to give Murphy the (I’m guessing here) $2.5-3.0 million I think the Braves will be giving him.

    The upside prep righties parade didn’t end here, with Ritchie, Phillips and Keller. Ritchie is a silky-smooth projection type who’s already tickling some 97s and showing above-average stuff, but not necessarily late into games. Phillips is a gifted pure power arm up to 99 mph early this spring who mixed in a plus curveball but had Tommy John by mid-spring. He’s a stuff-over-command type with some relief risk, but scouts also rave about his makeup. Keller was a personal favorite as a two-way player with three above-average pitches and exactly the kind of attitude you want from a shorter prep righty who probably isn’t a traditional starter. These were some bold swings and I love it.

    The rest of the class is solid but won’t animate me quite as much. I’ll guess Burkhalter is a money saver to pay those prep arms, but he could move quickly with a heater up to 98 mph and a nasty power 88-90 mph cutter. McCabe has easy plus raw power but might be a right/right first baseman. Maier was a late bloomer with a data-friendly plus mid-90s heater and plus breaker on the Cape but was shelved with an elbow issue much of the year. Baldwin is a decent defender who had a breakout offensive year. Alvarez is a bat-first third baseman with an excellent approach. I’m almost certain I filed a follow report on Mejia as a projectable popup high schooler in the fall of 2017 before I left the Braves to reenter media, so I’ll be taking full credit if he ends up being a big leaguer.

  9. Alex,

    Kiley loved pick one at a higher slot than Nraves actually paid. Loved the next 3 as high upside. Not as high on Burkhalter. He also said he had 1b Mejia on his 2017 high school players to watch that he turned in to the Braves right before he went to Fangraphs. Almost as glowing as it could have been.

  10. 14 — It’s way too early, but only one 45 FV and the rest 40 FV or worse isn’t very promising.

  11. 17 — I don’t get that one. Don’t they already have a first baseman they can’t find any playing time with Dom Smith?

    Edit: I guess they could platoon Vogelbach with JD Davis at DH, and probably will.

  12. Can anyone explain to me why this game is blacked out on the MLB app in the Philadelphia market? I’ve never had this issue before.

    It says it’s on of the Free Games of the Day. Why w Lu do that keep me from watching?

  13. Another hbp with 2 strikes on a back foot slider…geez..get it right for goodness sakes

  14. @14, thank you!!

    Sounds like a good review but more of a good than a transformational class. Ultimately, the Braves needed to restock and they seem to have wound up with a bunch of projectable lottery tickets. Sounds pretty good, if not thrilling.

  15. Unreal. If you can’t throw the back foot breaking ball, stop throwing it. He has hit like 12 people with that pitch. Stop already

  16. Cano left because of dizziness. Cue the “he didn’t want to face Ohtani” posts.

  17. Great spot for Hancock up 8-0

    Or not…geez one pitch

    Should have had him pitch to RAJ in the derby

  18. Is there another franchise who has spent more to be futile for a decade?

    Moreno has spent close to a billion or more in guaranteed contracts in the last decade and… they’ve done nothing notable since Obama’s first term.

  19. Great ‘mid-cap’ Ryan!
    Appreciate the data on Jensen, and ‘bless-his-heart’ WS, did service that most important stretch last year, but lord his ego must be fragile.
    Thoughtful analysis! Thanks.

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