The Atlanta Braves made some significant additions to their bullpen before Wednesday’s trade deadline adding Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon to the mix. The additions come not a moment too soon as Atlanta’s current bullpen makeup has seen increased struggles of late.
The additions of Greene, Martin and Melancon give the Braves three relievers that are capable of pitching at the end of games. Atlanta hasn’t announced who will be the team’s closer but it seems likely that Greene would get the first shot considering his success in Detroit. Melancon and Martin have the versatility to close out games or settle into a setup role.
Those additions will allow the Braves to redeploy their current bullpen into different roles and use some holdovers in lower-leverage situations. Here is a player-by-player look at the current bullpen with thoughts on each.
Sean Newcomb (LHP) - Newcomb has had some hiccups of late but overall has performed well in a relief role. He is a multi-inning option who could be particularly effective pitching in the sixth or seventh innings following a starter, or bridging a shortened outing to the rest of the relief corps. Overall, Newcomb has been the team’s second-most-effective reliever to date but has seen his walk rate creep up and up as the season has gone along.
Anthony Swarzak (RHP) - Like Newcomb, Swarzak has struggled of late, allowing runs in each of his last three appearances, but has otherwise been a solid performer since he was acquired via trade from Seattle. He recently spent a 10-day stint on the Injured List due to shoulder inflammation and you have to wonder if health is a reason for his recent struggles. Still, he looks like a part of the bullpen going forward, at least for now.
Josh Tomlin (RHP) - Tomlin was a late addition to the roster in Spring Training and has made the most of his opportunity. He has served mostly in long relief or mop-up duty. It isn’t always pretty but he has done what has been asked of him. He’s pretty much the generic mop-up guy every team has hanging around.
Jeremy Walker (RHP) - The Braves could opt to send Walker back to Triple-A and recall him when rosters expand in September. That may be the likely result but he has looked ready if needed and/or if injury strikes.
Luke Jackson (RHP) - Jackson was the feel-good story of this bullpen for most of the season but the wheels have come off lately. He’s gone from a guy that was DFA’d multiple times last season and barely made the roster out of Spring Training to the team’s closer this season. However, he has struggled of late allowing 17 hits, 10 walks and 10 earned runs over his last 14 innings. Overall, Jackson was dominant upon acceding to the closer role in May, but was a little worse in June and has been terrible in July (7.34 FIP with a rising 4.53 xFIP). His peripheral numbers are still solid and perhaps putting him in some lower leverage situations can get him back on track.
A.J. Minter (LHP) - Minter is probably the biggest surprise out of this group considering that he came into the season penciled in to take over the closer position. However, he got hurt in his first Spring Training appearance and it hasn’t gotten much better for Minter since: he has a 7.24 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 34 games. Even worse, he has allowed eight hits, six runs and seven walks in his last six innings. Minter already got sent back to Gwinnett once this season and you have to wonder if his roster spot is secure.
Chad Sobotka (RHP) - Like Minter, the Braves showed a lot of confidence in Sobotka coming into the season after a cameo appearance at the end of 2018 and a few outings in the NLDS. The results have been mixed at best and like most of Atlanta’s relievers, Sobotka has struggled of late. The Braves encouraged Sobotka to use his slider more, and it’s been effective as he’s ramped up its usage, limiting opposing batters to just a .133 batting average against. However, his fastball and command have been poor, and as a result, he hasn’t really helped the team more than he’s hurt it so far this season. He is another guy that would likely benefit from working in some lower leverage situations to try and regain some confidence.
Jerry Blevins (LHP) - Blevins was already DFA’d by the team once this season and his roster spot would appear to be tenuous. His value is against left-handed hitters where he has a 1.69 ERA and a .162 batting average against this season. He has a 6.10 ERA and a .279 opponents average against right-handers. If the Braves want to hang onto him as a specialist that is one thing but they should severely limit him facing right-handed hitters in any situation. However, they haven’t shown that much inclination to do so: Blevins has faced 53 righties and 43 lefties so far this season, and only six of his 28 outings have been lone-batter affairs. It’s somewhat surprising he’s lasted on the roster this long, given how uninterested the Braves appear to be in properly deploying him before the three batter minimum potentially crowds him out of the league.
In addition to those above, Jacob Webb had his rehab assignment transferred to Gwinnett on Wednesday and is nearing a return after being sidelined due to elbow soreness. His elbow will be a concern for the remainder of the season, but Webb had good results out of the bullpen, posting a 1.39 ERA in 36 appearances. He will likely push someone else off the active roster when he is ready to return. His peripherals are somewhat concerning (4.31 FIP, 5.13 xFIP) but he hasn’t paid the price for them yet.
Other relievers that could factor into the equation in September include Grant Dayton, Patrick Weigel and Huascar Ynoa.
Atlanta also has some questions to answer with the rotation, which was not something that they were able to address at the deadline. Right now the focus centers on Kevin Gausman who is scheduled to start Friday’s game against the Reds. If Gausman continues to struggle, he could find himself in the bullpen where his two-pitch arsenal (despite claims he developed new pitches on his rehab assignment) would likely be more effective.
Mike Foltynewicz has endured a lost season since a sore elbow set him back in Spring Training but he has pitched well of late at Gwinnett and could see another opportunity in the rotation. The Braves also have Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright, all of whom could fill in as starters or in relief roles in September. Toussaint already spent a lengthy part of this season in the major league bullpen. Wright has struggled in a starting role at the major league level but could be recast as a reliever down the stretch if needed.
Today’s additions might not have been the splashiest moves made at the deadline but it did a lot to add depth to a bullpen situation that was sinking fast for Atlanta. At the least, they now appear to have several options to work with.