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Braves Mailbag: Rotation plans, 2022 outfield, Will Smith and more

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We hit on a variety of topics in this week’s mailbag.

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves have surged to the top of the NL East standings and it looks like we are going to a race from now until the end of the regular season. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for this week’s mailbag. Let’s get to it!

After talks of Huascar Ynoa returning & being in the pen, it now appears that he’s going right back into the rotation. His emergence early in the season as a good SP option was arguably the most pleasant surprise of the season’s first half (there weren’t many to choose from). What should our expectations be for him over the season’s final few weeks?

Well if his debut was any indication, he is going to pick right up where he left off. Had I answered this question before watching his start this week, I would have said that I wasn’t sure that it is fair to put lofty expectations on him. He missed a large chunk of the season and while he was really good early, it was a small sample. I think the hope is that he can come in and provide quality innings. If you can get that out of Ynoa and Ian Anderson, who will be returning soon as well, and add it to Charlie Morton and Max Fried, then that has the makings of a very solid rotation for the stretch run. As far as expectations, Ynoa is tricky — he morphed from a fringy roster addition to someone pitching like a top-level starter seemingly overnight, but it’s still been just 50 innings of great work. Maybe you split the difference and figure he’ll give the Braves average production from here on out, but it’s tempting to believe that he can just keep on rolling.

The Braves roster at the present time has zero backup infielders. Despite the fact that Ehire Adrianza can be used as an infielder, wouldn’t it be an improvement to add Orlando Arcia, Johan Camargo or another to the roster in place of Abraham Almonte, Jacob Webb, Edgar Santana or Josh Tomlin?

No, I don’t think so because Ehire Adrianza is an infielder by trade, no matter how much the Braves have had to use him in the outfield this season. If the Braves need a backup infielder, then I would be comfortable with Adrianza starting at third base or second base. You probably don’t want to run him out at shortstop every day and in that situation we would probably see Orlando Arcia. Could they operate with one fewer pitcher? I think the answer is clearly yes, but I don’t see anyone that I am in a rush to add that is going to move the needle either. It wouldn’t be a Braves mailbag if someone didn’t mention Johan Camargo but I really think that ship has sailed.

What are the chances Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson or Adam Duvall come back next year? I hope we can keep them all.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions at this moment and I think it is best to wait and see how the rest of the season unfolds. For one, we know that Ronald Acuña Jr. will return at some point next season. We have long suspected that the DH will come to the National League in 2022, but that hasn’t yet been confirmed. The Marcell Ozuna situation will also need to be addressed at some point. Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are still around as well. I don’t think that all three of these midseason additions will return, and if I were ranking them right now I would go Duvall, Pederson and then Soler. Again, we need to see how things play out down the stretch.

Has there been any indication given as to who goes to the bullpen with Ynoa back and Ian Anderson returning soon? With Ian’s max innings as a pro at 135 is Smyly an opener for Anderson to keep his innings down? Does Touki stay in the rotation since he’s pitching better than he ever has and is really nearing his last chances to prove he’s a starter?

Brian Snitker has been asked about this a couple of times over the last week, but he hasn’t really given any indication as to how the Braves will handle it. He has said multiple times over the years that these situations tend to work themselves out and that has often proven to be true. With two off days next week, it feels like Anderson will likely make one more rehab start. A six-man rotation has been talked about, but I am not much of a fan of that idea given the division chase with a couple of West Coast trips still on the schedule. If they do go that route, I can’t imagine it would be a strict six-man rotation because they are going to need Charlie Morton and Max Fried pitching as much as they can.

I really like the piggyback scenario but I would pair Toussaint with Smyly in that regard once Anderson is back. That would keep Toussaint at least reasonably stretched out should Anderson or Ynoa struggle or if Fried or Morton need an extra day of rest here and there. For me, this is the big storyline for the rest of the season and I want to see how it plays out.

With rosters being expanded to 28 on September 1, what positions are likely to be addressed?

Good question and it is one that I haven’t given a lot of thought to. I might be in the minority, but I am not a fan of the 28-man roster limit as I used to really look forward to the expanded roster as an opportunity to see some guys that you might not have seen throughout the season. By limiting it, the easy answer would be two pitchers. Maybe a guy that could pitch multiple innings like Kyle Muller or just two more relievers like Sean Newcomb and Jacob Webb. Maybe they consider a third catcher, but Gwinnett’s season doesn’t end until September 30 and they wanted William Contreras playing every day when he was sent down. They could also go with an infielder like Arcia, but if I had to bet money then it would be on the bullpen.

I understand that we need several arms in the bullpen for each game. Having said that, is it necessary to have as many as we have? There have been situations where we could have used one or more players for pinch hitting, etc but we only had the backup catcher left (can’t use him to pinch hit).

I think it is safe to say that teams would rather run out of bench players than bullpen arms. It is frustrating to see a game go to extra innings and for the team to be out of bench options when the pitcher’s spot comes up. However, that is a one-game problem. If you are operating with a short bullpen though and a starter leaves after one or two innings, that can mess up a whole series. Yes, they would have the opportunity to add a fresh arm, but I think in this instance they have chosen to go with the security of having a lot of options in the bullpen.

I mentioned this above but it isn’t like the Braves have anyone in Triple-A that looks like a good bench option. They have already made it clear that they want Contreras to play every day, so cross him off. I would say the same would apply to Cristian Pache as well. Camargo has put up good numbers for the Stripers but is 0-for-18 at the major league level this year and simply hasn’t performed in a long time. Arcia’s .204/.264/.347 line in 53 plate appearances doesn’t give immediate confidence that he could be successful in a bench role either, especially given his track record.

With Atlanta now having more than one viable option to fill the role of closer, will we at any point see options other than Will Smith actually be used in save situations (other than when he needs rest)? Although Smith hasn’t blown a large percentage of save opportunities, his habit of creating his own issues by walking or hitting batters outing after outing is definitely concerning.

Am I the only one who believes that Will Smith should not keep the closer role ? He has only a 25% “ clean “ innings rate and would have blown his third save in the last two weeks yesterday were it not for a miraculous defensive gem by Riley after issuing two more ninth inning walks. It’s time for Rodriguez to show why we traded for him.

We have now entered the Will Smith portion of the mailbag. Before we start, can we talk about how dumb “saves” are in general? If that stat wasn’t something that was tracked, then we likely wouldn’t be having this conversation. You can get a save by pitching three innings in a game you are winning 10-0. You can enter a game with a three run lead, allow two runs and load the bases, but still get the save if you record the final out.

I think the way Snitker has used Richard Rodriguez is how the entire bullpen should be used. It should be matchup-driven. If that means using Will Smith, Tyler Matzek or Chris Martin in the sixth inning, then so be it.

However, it isn’t up to me and the bullpen is still an area of the game that most teams take the old school approach to. No, I don’t think we are going to see Smith moved out of the closer’s role anytime soon. Let’s be clear about something else first. Smith’s results have not been bad. There are some underlying things like his occasional inability to work a clean inning that are concerning, and I for one don’t really feel comfortable when he comes in, but largely he has gotten the job done. His recent issues have knocked him out of top-30 (and top-60...) reliever status, and we’re seeing everything creep towards his xFIP, but the Braves probably aren’t too upset given that he’s second in the team’s bullpen in WPA with Tyler Matzek just a big ahead of him. He isn’t Dan Kolb. I’d like to see them mix it up, but I don’t see a change coming. Maybe a couple more horrible implosions forces the Braves’ hand, but his current rate has been about two implosions a month, so if he finishes out August without further issues (he’s already melted down twice this month), the Braves probably won’t do anything.

What do the young pitchers need to do to prevent AA from having to sign a veteran pitcher in the offseason (like always)? Isn’t Max the veteran now?

I don’t think it is as much about signing a veteran as it is about adding depth. The old saying is that you never have enough pitching and I think this season has been a good example of that. So while the Braves are going to have some questions to answer with a lot of their young guys in the near future, Alex Anthopoulos won’t hesitate to add another arm this offseason if he thinks it makes the club better.