Atlanta Braves 2024 season preview: No trouble with the curve for Pierce Johnson

Pierce Johnson proved the Braves were right to bet on him last Summer but what should they expect in 2024?

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Pierce Johnson 2023 Recap

Acquired near the end of July for pitchers Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon, Pierce Johnson had a bit to live up to for this writer who was higher on Victor Vodnik than most despite his injury history. But this review isn't about Victor, but is about Pierce who was 1-5 with a 6.00 ERA and 1.846 WHIP for the Colorado Rockies.

For those who box score scout, the acquisition opened up a ton of questions with most of them simply being "Why?" The why was quickly answered as Pierce was absolutely dominant for the Atlanta Braves. In 24 appearances, Pierce pitched 23.2 innings and had a 0.76 ERA (2.83 FIP), and 0.887 WHIP thanks to having a minuscule 1.9 BB/9 rate and a robust 12.2 K/9 rate.

How did Pierce Johnson turn it around in Atlanta? Well, you can thank his curveball. On the season, Pierce threw his curveball 58.9% of the time, his four-seamer 35.2% of the time, and a slider 5.9% of the time - essentially making him a two-pitch pitcher.

While his fastball was worth -8 runs according to Baseball Savant, his breaking run value was at 4 - making his curveball by far the most effective pitch in his arsenal, and the overwhelming reason why he had a 33.3% chase percentage, and 91% whiff percentage. More easily said, his curveball made hitters expand the zone resulting in more swings and misses.

This elite chase rate was one of the factors that led to the Braves re-signing Pierce in October to a two-year deal worth $14.25 million.

What's in store for 2024?

It's safe to say that Piece has a guaranteed position in the Braves bullpen and thanks to some great work after his acquisition, he's won over the trust of manager Brian Snitker. While his splits are just okay... he allows far less power against right-handed hitters which is understandable given his great curveball that has some slider-like tendencies.

His combined 12.93 K/9 rate makes him an extremely attractive option for Brian Snitker, but his career 4.39 BB/9 rate does make his inclusion in high-leverage situations a bit to ask for. Most projections have Pierce on tap for 55-60 games, roughly at 12 K/9, and a 3.5-3.8 ERA. If he limits his walks to what projections are saying (3.6 BB/9), Pierce will be an extremely important piece of the Braves bullpen that can be utilized in several different situations.

With his moderate splits that favor right-handed hitting - you could imagine a scenario where Pierce is brought in more frequently against righties or in situations with multiple right-handed hitters.

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