Atlanta Braves 2023 season review: The closer may need to abandon this pitch

Raisel Iglesias quietly had another stellar season for the Braves. Long gone are the days of nervous ninth innings, thanks to Raisel's stability on the mound. However, one pitch may be holding him back from complete dominance.

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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When you win 104 games as a team it presents plenty of opportunities to nail down saves. In most of those save situations the Braves turned to the reliable 34 year-old Raisel Iglesias. As has been the case for most of his career, Iglesias had another solid 2023. When you peel back some of the numbers, his season was even more impressive than you may remember it.

However, there is one pitch Iglesias threw at a 17.6% clip that didn't yield the results he was looking for. We take a look at if it's another case of baseball being baseball, or if there is more to this intriguing statistic. Let's take a look at back his 2023 season and decide.

Reach for the sky

In 2023 Iglesias nailed down 33 saves in 37 save chances. He had a 2.75 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings pitched. When he got the opportunity to close games out, they often ended with him pointing to the sky in his signature victory pose.

All of his baseball savant metrics were strong in 2023. These are highlighted by his 89th percentile ranking in xERA (3.16), 99th percentile in chase% (35.4%), 89th percentile in whiff% (32.7%), and 88th percentile in K% (29.4%). All great swing and miss type numbers you want from your closer.

Taking a look at his pitch breakdown, Iglesias utilized his lethal changeup the most, throwing it 35% of the time. That changeup had a positive five run value, .197 xwOBA, and batters whiffed on nearly 41% of their swings against that pitch.

Iglesias' next most used pitch was his four-seam fastball, which was used 31.7% of the time. He also threw a sinker, although used less frequently at 17.6% of the time. His four-seamer was around league average in terms of run value, but his sinker really got hit hard, finishing with a -9 run value for 2023. Batters slugged .704, had a .588 wOBA, and 62.5 hard-hit% against his sinker.

Conversely, his slider (thrown 15.4% of the time) had a positive seven run value. Hitter's had a .056 slugging percentage, .084 wOBA, and 44.7 K% against the Iglesias slider. The problem for Raisel was the reluctance to use both his sinker and slider against left-handed hitters.

When Iglesias faced right-handed batters, he utilized his four pitch mix nearly evenly. He threw 428 total pitches to righties, with each pitch hovering around the same usage. His most frequent used pitch against RHH was his slider (113 pitches), and his least frequent used pitch was his four-seamer (99 pitches).

Against left-handed hitters both the sinker and slider where nearly abandoned, being thrown a combined 67 times out of the 442 total pitches he threw to LHH in 2023. If Iglesias can find a comfort throwing that stellar slider more often to left-handed batters he may be in for a more successful 2024 season.

As we circle back to the question this article posed, that being whether Iglesais needs to flat-out abandon his sinker as a whole, we reach an interesting dilemma. Yes, his results when throwing sinkers in 2023 were poor, but that hasn't been the case for his career. From 2020-2022 his sinker actually had a positive run value in each season.

The real factor here is noticing in 2023 Iglesias threw his slider a career low 15.4% of the time. Throughout his career, Iglesias had never finished a season with his slider usage being below 26 percent. Of course, the uptick in his changeup usage (especially against RHH) played a big part in that. So, the solution to that may not to be throw fewer changeups - given that is a really good pitch for him - but rather throw fewer sinkers, and more sliders.

With all this said, Iglesias was still really good in 2023, producing a 1.2 bWAR in just 58 games. Successful pitchers always adapt as they age, and Iglesias is no exception. No matter how he divides up his pitch mix in 2024, Fangraphs steamer projects him to 3.58 FIP, and 3.59 ERA next season for the veteran closer. Hopefully, that means a lot more victory sky point poses for Braves fan's in 2024.

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