What to make of the new Atlanta Braves bullpen?

Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) hugs future Atlanta Braves teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) hugs future Atlanta Braves teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

It took until the last possible minute, but the Atlanta Braves secured one of the best relievers traded this week.

The addition of Pittsburgh’s Richard Rodriguez to the bullpen of the Atlanta Braves will give Brian Snitker a dynamic that he hasn’t had this year for the late innings:  choices.

Rodriguez is a right-handed closer, and this complements well with the left-handed Will Smith to permit the Braves to play ‘matchup’ against same-sided hitters when the opportunities present themselves.

In looking at the performance of each pitcher, there really isn’t a huge “splits” bias, but that can still have an effect on individual batters:

    • vs. RHH in 2021:  .218 average, .674 OPS
    • vs. LHH in 2021:  .195 average, .554 OPS (‘normal split’)
    • vs. RHH (CAREER):  .240 avg., .722 OPS
    • vs. LHH (CAREER):  .221 avg., .628 OPS (also a normal split)
    • vs. RHH in 2021:  .185 average, .493 OPS
    • vs. LHH in 2021:  .203 average, .548 OPS  (‘normal split’)
    • vs. RHH (CAREER):  .250 avg., .706 OPS
    • vs. LHH (CAREER):   .203 avg., .611 OPS (‘reverse split’)

Rodriguez has to be given some credit for many of the wins that the 38-64 Pirates have posted this year:  a 4-2 record with 14 saves and a 2.82 ERA definitely helped that team.

Rodriguez appears to be in a bit of an adjustment phase since the “sticky stuff” ban:  his ERA for the season hit 1.78 on June 25th (just after umpires started inspections) and has risen to .282 since.

This came as the result of 3 outings (Milwaukee, Mets, Giants) in which he gave up 3, 2, and 1 runs respectively.  In the other 6 most recent outings, he’s walked 1 and allowed just 2 hits, though his strikeouts are a bit down over that period of time.

The addition of Rodriguez means that someone in the current bullpen configuration will be dropped.  That could end up being Sean Newcomb, who has been used sparingly (twice) since returning from Gwinnett.  He pitched last as part of the July 26 doubleheader… and had a solid inning for the first time since June 15th.

A surprise about the Atlanta Braves bullpen

As much as this bullpen has been maligned… and that’s come from this writer as much as anywhere else… they’ve actually been quite serviceable over the past couple of weeks.

We complain when a 1- or 2-run lead can’t be held, but it’s a fact that the offense of the Braves should share in that blame by not scoring enough to help out the pitchers.

Let’s check the numbers (MLB Relievers by team):

  • FULL SEASON:  Braves rank 17th in ERA (4.41)… more or less tied with the Pirates and Cardinals for 17th-19th positions.
  • LAST 30 DAYS:  Braves rank 4th in ERA (3.23)
  • SECOND HALF (since All-Star break):  Braves rank 6th (3.22 ERA)

So while we had been clamoring for at least one (and perhaps two) new bullpen arm(s), the relievers we already had have been quietly doing a decent job.

This — along with the job that the rotation has been doing (7th in ERA over the past 30 days) — came together to allow Alex Anthopoulos to be perhaps a bit more selective in how he used his resources this week in trades.

The result is what we’ve seen:  just one bullpen arm acquired today (albeit a good one) and 3 outfielders to add to the 4th (Joc Pederson) already added to the house.

The New Bullpen?

So this is how the bullpen might line up starting… tomorrow?

  • Jesse Chavez
  • Shane Greene
  • Luke Jackson
  • Chris Martin
  • Tyler Matzek
  • Edgar Santana
  • Josh Tomlin
  • Richard Rodriguiz
  • Will Smith

On paper, that’s a pretty solid group… particularly when they pitch to their capabilities, which is indeed what we’ve been seeing as of late.

There are some who have been continuing to struggle a bit:  in the last month, Tomlin, Greene, A.J. Minter (now in AAA), and Newcomb all have ERAs above 4, but the rest  have been doing quite well.

Given their respective roles, Brian Snitker has the ability to use some of these “lesser” relievers in low-risk or “mop up” kinds of roles.  That will limit the damage and hopefully allow them to get straightened out without harming the team.

That’s been part of the problem that the Braves had been facing up until now:  Snitker has occasionally been forced to use struggling pitchers in less than ideal circumstances.

Next. Late Additions as the deadline falls. dark

Hopefully that will now be easier to manage with the addition of Rodriguez… and in turn, the Braves should be able to manage the ends of games better overall — while their newly revamped bench gets their chances to win some games.