Braves 2021 Player Review: Sean Newcomb


Sean Newcomb has had such a weird career. You remember that he was the centerpiece of the Andrelton Simmons trade, and that wasn’t his fault. Simmons was a beloved player who had significant team control. I felt like Andrelton might have made sense in the team’s future plans, so I hated the deal at the time. But the deal they got was probably one of the best ones they were going to get, and that was also not Newcomb’s fault. But it instantly set some unrealistic expectations on a guy with a big fastball who always struggled with his command throughout the minors. The fact that he kinda-sorta looked like Jon Lester and had a similar build and delivery didn’t help the situation one bit.

And as a 25-year old, he had one of the better seasons by a Braves starter in the last several years. His 1.6 bWAR in his one full season as a starter in 2018 would have made him a solid 4th or 5th starter for every Atlanta team in the last few years. Nonetheless, after 4 starts in 2019 that showed that he would probably always have a tenuous relationship with the strike zone, he was demoted to AAA and came back as a reliever. The results were very promising: 3.04 ERA in 51 appearances, though his command would be a concern. As a result, his FIP was a full run higher than his ERA.

In 2020, he was moved back to the rotation, but after 4 putrid starts, the experiment was once again over, and this time probably for good. In the shortened season, he would not return to the major league roster. Atlanta undoubtedly concluded he just simply can’t be trusted with a rotation spot.

2021 was another weird season for the man with the weird career. He had lots of highs. He allowed 0 ER in 22 of his 32 outings. Some of those outings were completely dominant: he struck out the side twice, he got at least 5 outs 4 times without allowing a run, and 9 of those outings included at least 2 strike outs per inning. He also had his trademark lows: he allowed at least 2 runs in 4 of those 32 outings. At least 2 walks in 6 of those outings. As a result, the man just can’t find himself on the Atlanta roster consistently, and he would once again be shuttled back and forth to AAA in 2021. He was left off Atlanta’s postseason roster. Atlanta now undoubtedly concluded he also can’t be trusted with a consistent bullpen spot.

What should Atlanta do with him in 2022? He still has plenty of team control, even if his left arm possesses little. He’ll make less than a million dollars in 2022. I’d rather have him than not have him, at least. Who knows, maybe he’ll figure it out one day. And I think you just have to take him day-by-day, week-by-week as a pitcher. I’ve always liked Newcomb. I hope he figures it out.

32 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Sean Newcomb”

  1. Newcomb HAS to harness command. It is truly that simple for me. If he can command the zone, he can be one of the best relievers in baseball.

  2. I’m with Smitty. We had the right idea and then decided to get cute again last offseason (likely partially because Newk wanted the opportunity to try and start again) and it obliterated his season. Leave him at reliever, tell him that’s what you’re doing and that he will never start again for the Braves (outside of potentially as an opener if we need it at some point) and that he’s a reliever now and if he’s willing to go along with that, see where it goes. If upon this news he asks to be traded or released, do as he wishes.

  3. Also, @AAR from the tail end of the last post: I would put High Pockets Kelly in the Hall of Fame for the name alone. That question (“Does he have a goofy turn-of-the-century name?”) should go on the Keltner list, as far as I’m concerned.

  4. @3

    That might be true, but I’m also not sure how much he’s actually worked on his command in the offseason. In two offseasons we’ve seen a HUGE growth in either his spin rate or his velo, but command continues to slip. Maybe it just is what it is and I’m straw grasping, but if he wants a professional career, he better find command…or, at the least, control.

  5. Newcomb is another guy I think the Braves’ “use whoever’s fresh; the cream will rise” philosophy of pitching development failed. He always showed flashes, but it never seemed like the organization had a plan for him; two or three bad outings and they’d scrap everything and try something else.

    You’ll never convince me he would have been worse off if they’d just decided on a role for him and stuck with it, even if he had a bad month. He had the ability to get guys out, properly deployed.

  6. Newk is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Can look like Matzek somedays and tries to pitch like Luuuuuke effing most days – getting batters out by throwing balls. And honestly, watching him miss by 3 inches consistently makes me want to accuse hime of nibbling way too much, way too often. Luuuuuke started to figure out you have to get ahead, win the first pitch. Feel like Newk could be elite (always have in some capacity) if he’d just say eff you nerd, here it is, try to hit it. If he took the same approach as Matzek, he could be something special in the late innings.

  7. I can’t believe that Newcomb hasn’t tried to fix the thing that’s earned him numerous tickets on the minor league shuttle. I just don’t buy that his command is a thing that he’ll improve by working hard at it, just like no matter how hard Andruw worked at it and no matter how many times he changed his stance, he never could fix the hole in his swing against low-and-away sliders.

    If he has a prayer of fixing it, he’s going to need a change of scenery. I am utterly convinced he will never put it all together in Atlanta.

  8. It just depends on what you mean by “fix” his command. He’s not going to be a guy that only issues one walk per 9. But 3 of the top 30 and 9 of the top 60 relievers per fWAR last year had walk rates above 4 per 9. Matzek walked over 5 (!!) per 9 across the entire season. If Newk wants to focus on being unhittable and can actually become more unhittable, then you’re probably willing to allow him to be as effectively wild as those other guys. Now, he struck out almost 12 per 9 last year, so I don’t know how he can do that. But if he goes to Driveline, and they figure out how to help him make one of his pitches look a little different coming out of his hand to create more swing and misses instead of walks, then that might be all he needs to clean up that walk rate enough to be a lights out reliever.

    You strike out 12 per 9, you’re not far from being a really good reliever.

  9. Not far as the crow flies, but you still may never get there. Mauricio Cabrera had one good big league year… and that was it. I bet he would’ve done anything to get back to the Show.

    I can’t speak to what’s in his heart, but I’d bet that Newk would love to hit his spots if he only could.

  10. If our Newk could just learn to breathe through his eyelids…

    Or perhaps wear a certain garment under his uniform.

  11. @14 Cabrera just had velo. That was his one plus skill. He never demonstrated the strike out ability Newk has.

  12. I follow these guys in the offseason. While I’m not saying it was all he was working on, those things mentioned were the things covered in the pieces. Point being, if your primary focus for two off seasons was spin rate AND velo, all the while knowing that increasing spin and adding velo will make command harder to find, then did ya really work at it?

  13. I don’t know, man. And fair enough that you follow more closely than I do. I just don’t like the frequent narrative of “he’s not trying hard enough.”

    Improving command is incredibly hard. Every single pitcher would love to do it. It’s not just a matter of effort. Many years ago, I remember that Keith Law had skepticism that Newcomb would ever be able to achieve consistency, for mechanical reasons: as I recall, the diagnosis at the time was that he had a motion that he had trouble perfectly repeating. So, if he’s not perfectly repeating the motion, of course he’s going to have trouble perfectly hitting his spots.

    In other words, improving his command could literally require changing his mechanics. Or maybe it’s just not one of the gifts that his golden left arm possesses. Either way, I’m skeptical that it’s something he can just improve by working at it. It’s the single reason he has not established himself in the major leagues.

  14. I’d like to know if there are any examples of pitchers who found control in their late 20’s. Like Alex, I don’t think he’s ever going to find it.

  15. Dream Ceiling: Somewhere in the direction of Sandy Koufax (or maybe Tyler Matzek)

    Current Reality: Pointing more toward Steve Dalkowski

  16. The first pitch Sean Newcombe ever threw as a Brave in the Major Leagues was a huge, high, laughably slow curve, strike 1. A parody if you like, but were you in on the joke?. He was trying to say something to us all, he had plenty more to offer – it was not for us to wonder why, at the time. But very shortly thereafter this artifice was explained by some as stemming from a post on these pages by a senior writer, a day or two earlier, admitting to being almost emotionally overwhelmed for the first time ever as a Braves fan by seeing Andrelton’s sublime talents being thrown away on a one pitch hurler who couldn’t even throw that straight.

    Sean was making his counterpoint. He had a heck of a curve too, did you see it, stop picking on his fastball.

    So there you have it. It didn’t solve the problem at that time of course, for Sean or the Braves. But, hey. Be nice.

  17. Found the Law quote I was referencing, re: Newk. Here it is, from August 2020:

    “I don’t think he’ll ever repeat his arm stroke enough to throw strikes. He’s so loose that there isn’t really an easy way to fix it to improve the path of his arm or how close he gets to the same release point. He’s always going to be wild, unfortunately.”

  18. @22–that’s interesting, because to my untrained eye I assumed that his mechanics ought to lead to good command. That is, he has kind of an easy uncomplicated delivery (unlike, say, Alex Wood). Like several of you, though, I have concluded from his results that he will never develop command. And that probably is mechanical. You’ve got to able to repeat your delivery to make the ball go where you want it to.

  19. Once again, you have to define what it means for Newk to fix his control. He’s had BB/9 as low as 3.8 (when he came back as a reliever in 2019) and as high as 7.5 (last season). He’s obviously demonstrated he can avoid being a complete loose cannon at times. So I dunno.

  20. @19, Koufax & Randy Johnson were the first two I thought of. Koufax pitched parts of six seasons through age 24 with BB/9 of 4.4-6.0 every year. At ages 25 & 26 it was 3.4 & 2.8, then starting at age 27 his last four years were all between 1.7 and 2.1. Johnson had high BB/9 rates (mostly 4-6) through age 28, mostly in the 3s at 29-34, and in the 2s & 1s from 35-45. I’m sure there have been others, and even more who haven’t ever gotten their control under control, so to speak.

  21. Halladay was also about a 6 BB/9 for his first couple of years before and wound up averaging 1.9 BB/9 for his career.

  22. The first 12 (!) years of Nolan Ryan’s career were all either over 5 or just a smidgeon below The next 15 (!!) were all below 4, or just a smidgeon above.

  23. Across the 8 seasons of Jonathan Sanchez’s career, he averaged 5.0 BB/9. Across the five seasons of Sean Newcomb’s career, he’s averaging 4.8 BB/9. (For that matter, for the 12 seasons of Russ Ortiz’s career, he averaged 4.7 BB/9.)

    Y’know, I just think Sanchez is a better comp for Newk than Roy Halladay.

  24. Of course Alex, I think we were just discussing how many instances there were of pitchers “finding” control later in their careers.

  25. @28: I mean, if you want to get all mathematical and probabilistic and stochastic about it, Alex, you’re right, but never forget that Joaquin Andujar summed up baseball in one word: “You never know.”

  26. You’re right, of course, but if Sean Newcomb could twirl it like Joaquin Andujar I wouldn’t be such a crabby ole git :)

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