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:
- Collin McHugh (40.2 IP)
- A.J. Minter (39.1 IP)
- Kenley Jansen (35.2)
- Will Smith (34.2)
- Jesse Chavez (33.2)
- Jackson Stephens (29.2)
- Spencer Strider (24.1)
- Dylan Lee (24.0)
- Darren O’Day (21.2)
- Tyler Matzek (18.2)
- Jesus Cruz (8.2)
- Tucker Davidson (2.2)
- William Woods (2.0)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.