2019 was a strange season for Sean Newcomb. He entered the season with a reasonably firm grip on a rotation spot, but after just three starts of allowing 6 combined runs in 12.1 innings the Braves decided a change of scenery would do him some good. Newcomb transitioned into a bullpen role where he turned in seven straight scoreless appearances and really found his groove. Let’s take a look back at this roller coaster of a season for him.
Statline: 55 games, 4 starts, 3.16 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 4.61 xFIP, 4.46 SIERA, 8.56 K/9, 3.82 BB/9, 0.4 fWAR
What went right?
Newcomb has long been lauded as one of the highest ceiling prospect arms out there. However, he is also well known for his ability to pile up pitches in a hurry. So, a move to the bullpen was a natural solution right? Well it’s not actually that simple. Newcomb also tends to walk guys in bunches which is absolutely terrifying in short appearances. Thankfully, Newcomb was able to find a repeatable delivery with more consistency in his release point and as a result threw strikes when he needed to.
Here is a running line on Newk’s horizontal release point. You’ll see how much his release point has dropped since coming into the league:
Now, take a look at his vertical release point and notice how much more consistent it became in 2019. Notice the flatter lines with less variation (aside from a spike in his changeup release):
Nobody just magically gets better by moving into the bullpen. As you can see Newcomb made some solid adjustments to get more consistent deliveries and his stuff has always been good. It’s just by fate that the adjustments coincided with a move to the pen.
What went wrong?
More things went right for Newcomb than wrong this season, but you also have to put in perspective that the Braves traded (arguably) one of the five best defensive shortstops to ever play baseball for a young reliever. Not to say that they knew Newcomb would struggle as much to begin with, but Simmons is far more of a sure thing than Newcomb was/is. Regardless, that is in the past and the Braves have to be pleased knowing that they have a solid left-handed relief option that could be stretched out and started if needed. They also likely would enjoy seeing Newk’s strikeout numbers come up just a bit.
Newcomb will almost assuredly be a part of this team if he isn’t traded this offseason. That is definitely a possibility, however unlikely, with the pitching surplus Atlanta has pounding on the Major League figurative door. It might also be interesting to note that Newcomb is also a candidate to return to the rotation if the Braves were to decline Julio Teheran’s team option this offseason. That also seems unlikely though with so many young starters striving for their first chance. With almost 90% certainty, Newcomb will return next season in the seventh inning/extended relief role.