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Jacob Webb is Seizing the (O’)Day

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With Darren O’Day unavailable due to injury, Jacob Webb has emerged as one of the Braves’ best relievers.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When the Braves acquired Kevin Gausman at last year’s trade deadline, it seemed like more of a necessary move than a team acquiring a true difference maker. The Braves paid a reasonable price for a mediocre pitcher who they felt could improve once on their team. The did not have to pay a massive price like other teams had to for other potential targets (WE AREN’T THE PIRATES!!!!!). Part of the reason for that was because the Braves were willing to take on the $9 million commitment in 2019 for the injured Darren O’Day.

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Media Day Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

O’Day suffered a Grade 2 hamstring injury nearly a year ago, and surgery was the eventual outcome that ended O’Day’s 2018 season. The Braves knew they would be without his services last year, but hoped that he would be able to recover to take on a valuable role this year. Unfortunately, those hopes were derailed due to a forearm issue suffered in spring training. Since then, there has been very little information about his rehab, with the last update being that he was transferred to the 60-day IL to make room for Dallas Keuchel.

While there is hope O’Day could contribute sometime after the All-Star Break, it likely is not wise to depend on the production of a 36-year old reliever who has not pitched in over a year due to multiple injuries. Furthermore, the potential for injury and the cost associated with O’Day brings a few questions to mind.

  1. Why were the Braves willing to take on an injured mid-30’s reliever at a $9 million dollar price tag?
  2. How did O’Day earn that big of a payday in the first place?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Both of these questions are answered by a simple statement: Darren O’Day has been one of the best non-closer relievers in major league history.

Disputing whether a reliever is worth a 4 year, $36 million deal, whether he is a closer or not, is an entirely different subject to debate. What is hard to debate is that few, if any, relievers who have rarely recorded a save in their career were more worth that type of commitment than O’Day. Relievers are very risky investments due to how rare it is for them to be consistent. Not only has Darren O’Day been consistent, he has been consistently dominant.

Only 67 relievers (pitchers who have pitched out of the bullpen in 80% or more of their career appearances) have produced a mark of 16 WAR or higher in their career. O’Day’s 16.3 career WAR ranks 64th on the list. However, O’Day is one of only ten relievers on that list with less than 100 saves in their career. O’Day is one of only three relievers on this list who has less than 25 saves in his career.

Teams historically have made their best reliever their closer. However, O’Day’s lack of saves in his career should not devalue his dominance. Of the 67 relievers referenced above, only three of them have pitched less than 600 innings in their career and still registered more than 16 WAR. Those three relievers are Craig Kimbrel, Alroldis Chapman, and Darren O’Day.

O’Day’s dominance is not do to a historic single season. He has been consistently dominant through out his career. Only 32 relievers in baseball history have had five or more seasons in which they produced 2 WAR or better each season. O’Day and Mike Stanton are the only two among those 32 relievers who have achieved that without ever producing higher than seven saves in a single season.

Overall, for his career, Darren O’Day is one of only six relievers who has thrown more than 550 innings and has a career 2.60 ERA or lower. The amazing thing about O’Day’s career is that the majority of it has come versus the AL East. For the early and middle part of this decade, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays featured some of the best offenses in the league. In just over 153 innings against those three clubs in his career, O’Day has registered a 2.23 ERA. Beyond O’Day being dominant overall, he has consistently done some of his best work against some of the best offenses in the majors throughout his career.

Simply put, Darren O’Day has been one of the best relievers not just in his career, but in MLB history. His lack of saves likely means he will never truly get credit for how amazing he has been, but it does offer proof has to why the Braves were willing to take a risk on him. As mentioned above, that risk has not paid off as of yet, and it left the Braves without a dependable arm in a bullpen that has been an adventure all season.

As the Braves attempted to figure out the bullpen in early April. they decided to take a look at relief prospect Jacob Webb. While Webb certainly was an intriguing option many felt would eventually get a shot, he was never a top prospect, missing the Braves top 30 for 2019. However, since Webb has made it to the majors, he has done nothing but impress.

Webb is the first Braves reliever since 2012 to record an ERA below 2.50 through the first 24 innings of his major league career. A secret to Webb’s success has been his ability to prevent runners from scoring. He is just the fifth Braves reliever since 2000 to post an LOB rate of 86% or better with at least 20 innings pitched.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, Webb has allowed six runs, which have come in just four of his 27 appearances this year. It is worth noting that metrics suggest Webb has had some luck contribute to his good numbers this season. However, he still has consistently delivered when called upon. While the Braves bullpen as a whole has likely been a disappointment, Webb certainly has played a part in helping it improve since the beginning of the season.

If Darren O’Day can return and provide some value to the Braves after the All-Star break, it certainly will be big boost during a likely playoff push. A reliever of his caliber likely would have helped the Braves have an even bigger division lead than they do now. However, though it has not worked out that way, Jacob Webb has stepped up to be a dependable option himself.

The dominance and dependability of Darren O’Day is something that Braves fans may never get to enjoy in person. Instead, they have been able to see Jacob Webb develop into an critical part of the Braves bullpen. Webb will likely never be as quality of an option as Darren O’Day, but he has done a wonderful job filling in for O’Day this year. While one should be appreciated for his career and the other for his debut, they both hopefully will contribute to what could be a special season for the Braves.