I really have to give it to Anthopolous on the way heâ€™s assembled the pens here in Atlanta. I have this blind spot in thinking that if you have 4-5 good arms, thatâ€™s good enough to have a good bullpen. And every year, Iâ€™m just so wrong about that.
The big offseason move before Spring Training was that the Braves signed Collin McHugh. I thought thatâ€™d be our big pickup, and I liked the move. And even after Luke Jackson went down with TJ, I didnâ€™t think the Braves would do much about it. Instead, AA signed Kenley Jansen, which really surprised me. So the Braves set sail with this Opening Day bullpen:
It looked good on paper, and more importantly, I figured AA would make the bullpen right either way.
Thornburg ended up being ok in a handful of outings, but he became a 40-man crunch, so he was DFAâ€™ed. Newcomb was out of options, so he got a few outings out of the gate, and then was traded for Jesse Chavez. â€œGetting traded by Atlanta for Jesse Chavezâ€ is a fate many men experience.
But the bullpen that Atlanta rode simply couldnâ€™t replicate its success in 2022. Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, and Luke Jackson, three key pieces of that 2022 postseason pen, combined for 80.2 innings pitched and a 3.93 ERA. AA was smart to see that they were not each going to be 60-70 IP late inning relievers. Darren Oâ€™Day also struggled.
So, as is usually the case, the bullpen was under construction for most of the year, and Minter, Jansen, McHugh, Chavez, and Dylan Lee carried the freight for the majority of the year. This was Leeâ€™s first full season in the major leagues, and he showed why he was worth a 40-man roster spot for so long. Lee will be around for a while. Jackson Stephens also started to develop a bigger role as the season went along, and heâ€™s got lots of control.
At the deadline, the big pickup for the bullpen was trading Jesse Chavez and Tucker Davidson for Raisel Iglesias. Chavez would then be DFAâ€™ed by LAA and be back in Atlanta by the end of the month, and Iglesias was one of the most unhittable pitchers in all of baseball down the stretch, pitching 26.1 innings and giving up exactly 1 earned run. Thatâ€™s a video game-esque 0.34 ERA. This was a trade that definitely worked out for Atlanta down the stretch, and Tucker was never going to see the rotation any time soon.
We wonâ€™t talk about the postseason.
For the season, this was a very good pen. They pitched the 23rd-fewest innings but we were 2nd in fWAR, 4th in ERA, and 8th in WPA. So once again, AA had built a great pen.
Kenley Jansen and Jesse Chavez are free agents. Fortunately, almost everyone else in the pen under team control. I would expect Atlanta to sign another reliever in Kenleyâ€™s tier, and they can undoubtedly have Jesse back if they want him.
Luke Jackson should be back before the midway point of next year, but Tyler Matzek will be out all next year. So Atlanta has a lot of potentially reliable guys for next yearâ€™s pen:
Luke Jackson (in some capacity)
Guys on the 40 man who could end up in next yearâ€™s pen:
So if they add one more arm in Kenleyâ€™s tier, then that will leave a couple free spots for guys to compete for. My hope against hope is that Mike Soroka will make this recovery, and getting him some low leverage, short outing work in the pen might be a great way of getting him back in. But if weâ€™ve learned anything in AAâ€™s tenure, weâ€™ll have another good bullpen next year.