Show the bullpen some love

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 04: A.J. Minter #33 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 04, 2022 in New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 9-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 04: A.J. Minter #33 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 04, 2022 in New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 9-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

In today’s baseball, a good bullpen can go a long way to team success and the Atlanta Braves are no exception. Multiple quality arms allows for a manager to shorten a game. It’s no longer common for a starting pitcher to get through a lineup three times on a given night, so games are often decided by a battle of the bullpens. As a result, the best teams need more than just a couple guys they can depend on once the game gets to bullpens. Luckily for us, our Atlanta Braves have had one of the deepest bullpens that’s ranked among the leagues best for a few years in a row now.

Since the 2020 season, the Braves relievers have posted these rankings among NL teams:

  • 2nd in ERA (3.51)
  • 2nd in fWAR (13.1)
  • 2nd in FIP (3.73)
  • 2nd in SIERA (3.73)
  • 3rd in HR/9 (0.98)

Going into the 2020 season it was clear Alex Anthopolous wanted to turn the bullpen into a strong point for the Braves. There was a lot that went wrong in the 2019 NLDS against the Cardinals, but the bullpen is what stuck out to AA.

At the conclusion of each baseball season AA has made it a priority to establish a trustworthy bullpen. It’s never the same formula, but it often generates the same results. Relievers in general are very volatile in performance. They can be an All-Star one year and DFA’d the next. AA knows this, and he seeks out pieces that his group projects to succeed and compliment the other bullpen pieces. Not only that  he also looks for clubhouse fit and wants the bullpen pieces to compliment each other. The bullpen itself is always a close-knit group of guys and can be there own group separate from the team, it makes sense to have a group that keeps things light and fun when they’re together.

The 2022 Night Shift

Last season was the best version of an Alex Anthopolous bullpen we have seen to date. And that was without Luke Jackson and prime Tyler Matzek, who was pitching on an elbow that would require Tommy-John surgery later in the season. Both Jackson and Matzek were late-inning stalwarts in the magical 2021 postseason that ended with a World Series. The 2022 Braves weren’t reliant on one electric reliever like an Edwin Diaz, Emmanuel Clase, or Devin Williams. And that’s not a knock on any of our guys, A.J. Minter and company are electric in their own right, they just get it done in a different way. Instead the were dependent on what was perhaps the largest amount of quality arms in a bullpen. So many interchangeable pieces that made up a very effective group.

Jackson Stephens earned his spot in the bullpen and essentially became the Braves mop-up guy. He was there to eat innings when things went awry. You usually don’t think as someone in that role as a guy that can be super productive, but Stephens finished the year with a 0.4 fWAR, 3.69 ERA, and 3.54 FIP. You will certainly take that from your long relief option.

It was often said by manager Brian Snitker that Jesse Chavez was one of the best players he’s ever had in a clubhouse. The 2022 season itself was an adventure unlike many others for Chavez, but the results were very similar to what he gave the Braves in 2021. He produced a 0.9 fWAR, 2.72 ERA, and 2.89 FIP with the Braves last season, and more importantly it was his versatility. The ability to give you multiple innings one night, or get high-leverage outs another that made him an important piece to this group.

If there was an award for least talked about piece in the bullpen, that would certainly go to our guy Dylan Lee. He had made some impressions last season (enough to garner a start in the World Series) but he was still very new for Braves fans. As Lee worked throughout the season he continued to impress. It got to a point that many Braves fans were wondering, how is he so good? As Mitchell explains in the article its a bunch of different factors that make Dylan Lee who he is. And for 2022 that turned out to be a guy who produced a 1.1 fWAR, 2.13 ERA, and 2.66 FIP.

I desperately wanted to make this article a Collin McHugh praising. In my opinion he was the unsung hero of the bullpen. His ability to cover multiple innings and bridge the gap to the late-inning options did not go unnoticed on my end. But for the purposes of this article I will just throw some stats at you, 1.4 fWAR, 2.60 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and show you a video of something he is quite good at, spinning a baseball.

Raisel Iglesias was the most dominant reliever in baseball after the trade deadline. AA turning Sean Newcomb into Jesse Chavez, and then turning Jesse Chavez and Tucker Davidson into Raisel Iglesias is legendary stuff. Especially when you consider Newcomb has since been DFA’d and Chavez was claimed off waivers by the Braves a month after he was traded.

Iglesias wasn’t just a good deadline acquisition by AA, he was an addition that will benefit them for years to come, as he will earn $16 million each season through 2025. From the trade deadline until the end of the regular season, Iglesias led all relievers with a 0.33 ERA. That’s just ONE earned run in 27 innings pitched.

The leader in innings pitched (70) and fWAR (2.1) among Braves relievers was no other than A.J. Minter. He was so dependable all year for Atlanta. Minter led Braves relievers in: K-BB% (29.2), xFIP (2.68), and ERA (2.06). He really cut down on his walks in 2022 and benefited greatly from it. Minter felt like the most steady piece of a great bullpen all season.

Finally we wrap things up with last years closer Kenley Jansen. Despite some rocky times in 2022 for the long-time Dodgers closer, Jansen was better than most fans think for the Braves. For 2022 he posted a 1.1 fWAR, 2.34 xERA, 32.7 K% and did lead the NL in saves with 41. Despite those numbers it was tough to envision a reunion with Jansen in 2023, and he has since signed with the Red Sox on a two-year, $32 million contract.

Outlook for the 2023 Bullpen

As mentioned before, each season brings forward a new formula to the Braves bullpen. We’ve already seen Jansen leave in free agency and Jackson Stephens has been DFA’d. But as he does every offseason, AA wasted no time in acquiring new pieces for this bullpen. On November 11th, he signed right-handed reliever and former Tampa Bay Ray Nick Anderson, as he attempts to come back after missing the entire 2022 season due to injury.

On November 15th, he made a buy-low acquisition on Dennis Santana, and finally on December 7th, he traded outfield prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy and relief prospect Jake Higginbotham for Tigers reliever Joe Jiménez. Someone I’m not sure a lot of Braves fans had on their radar.

As things stand now, I expect Iglesias to slide into the closer role for the departed Jansen, Minter and Jiménez to be the late-inning high-leverage guys, McHugh and Lee to be the bridge guys, and others to find their own roles. That being said, each season produces new results especially among relievers. Whatever the recipe ends up being, I expect the Braves to once again rank among the best in terms of bullpen production.

This looks to be an exciting and potentially dominate group on paper. But we won’t know for sure until guys find their roles in the bullpen. What do we expect from this projected 2023 group? Let us know in the comments.

Next. The Paradox of Dansby Swanson. dark