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Braves Mailbag: Joc Pederson’s role, Playoff Rotation and more

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Our final regular season mailbag is here

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

We have made it to the final week of the regular season and the Atlanta Braves are trying to nail down a fourth straight division crown. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen this time around, but the Braves apparently got the shot in the arm they needed at the Trade Deadline, so here we are.

Here is our final mailbag of the regular season. I have had a ton of fun doing these so a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to send in questions. Let’s get to it!

How come Joc Pederson is in Brian Snitker’s doghouse? Joc has played well since being acquired, but lately he’s been relegated to one start a week. Did he run over Snit’s dog after a home ball game?

Who said Pederson was in Snitker’s doghouse? He has played well since he was acquired, but not quite as good as the other options. Part of that could be that he hasn’t had as many consistent opportunities of late, but the Braves have been grinding for a playoff spot and Snitker has been riding the hot hand. Let’s take a look at the numbers since coming over to the Braves:

  • Pederson: 184 PA, .250/.326/.421, 6 HR, 99 wRC+, .336 xwOBA
  • Adam Duvall: 200 PA, .234/.295/.527, 15 HR, 112 wRC+, .348 xwOBA
  • Jorge Soler: 223 PA, .264/.348/.508, 12 HR, 125 wRC+, .360 xwOBA
  • Eddie Rosario: 84 PA, .280/.345/.600, 6 HR, 143 wRC+, .392 xwOBA

A quick glance at those numbers shows why it has been hard to find time for Pederson. I think there is a good chance that Rosario cools off considerably at some point but they can’t take him out of the lineup as long as he is hitting like this, and there’s basically no season left for his Braves numbers to really tank. Duvall’s power has been a huge boost to the lineup and he somehow seems to work in center this year, and Soler has been the most well rounded player of the bunch offensively. Combine this with the fact that Duvall and Rosario have fielded better than Pederson by OAA this year, and that Pederson actually has a Statcast-measured Jump metric that’s worse than Soler’s, and your answer seems pretty clear.

Pederson has playoff experience and I wouldn’t be surprised if he worked his way back into the mix over the next week. Having four quality options for three spots strengthens the bench and is a good problem to have — no more plugging in Cristian Pache if someone goes down with injury, as happened in last year’s NLCS.

What do you see as the plan for the future at SS? Do the Braves try to sign Swanson to an extension? Do they go for a free agent shortstop this offseason or count on one of the minor league prospects to be ready to replace him?

This is a good question and it is worth thinking about over the offseason. It would be interesting to know if Swanson would be open to an extension, given that he is so close to free agency. On the flip side, how much do the Braves value Swanson and what would they be willing to commit to keeping him at shortstop beyond the 2022 season?

Swanson has proven that he is a fine defender and has reached double digits in home runs for four straight seasons. He will finish 2021 with at least 27 homers and has produced a career-best ISO of .203; his wOBA has started to dip slightly under his xwOBA again, an issue that’s plagued him for much of the year.

I can’t see the Braves chasing one of the big name free agent shortstops this offseason. I see Braden Shewmake as more of a utility player than everyday shortstop. Vaughn Grissom put together a solid season but finished the year in High-A and there are questions as to whether he will stick at short or move to third. A trade is always possible but at this point, my guess is Swanson is Atlanta’s shortstop again next season and that they won’t address the position long-term right now, unless a path to an extension presents itself.

With Drew Smyly gone at the end of the year, do the Braves fill the one of the two starting spots externally? What do you think of an AA/Syndergaard reunion?

By signing Charlie Morton to an extension through at least next season, the Braves’ rotation for 2022 appears to be largely set. If everyone stays healthy, Morton would join Max Fried and Ian Anderson in the first three spots. Huascar Ynoa probably has an inside track to a spot as well and then the Braves have a lot of internal options that could be in a competition for the remaining spot or spots: Kyle Muller, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson are some that come to mind. Don’t sleep on Bryce Elder either. Hopefully Mike Soroka rejoins this group at some point next season as well.

So there are plenty of internal options, but as the saying goes, you can never really have enough pitching. Alex Anthopoulos has shown that he is a fan of the one-year deal and I wouldn’t be shocked if he added another starter to the mix if the opportunity presented itself. Obviously, I wouldn’t think that upgrading the rotation would be as high up the list as in the past couple of seasons, but I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea either. There is a chance that some of those internal options end up in the bullpen as well, so it isn’t hard to see how they could benefit from another starter.

If Huascar Ynoa struggles in his next start, what are the chances the Braves look at someone else (Touki, Smyly, Muller, Wright) to start Game 4 of a potential Division Series? Would they consider a bullpen game?

I think a bullpen game is in play. Some combination of Ynoa, Jesse Chavez and Drew Smyly would be a possibility. Kyle Wright pitched well down the stretch, but I am hesitant to list him as an option if he doesn’t get into the mix somewhere over the final week. Same applies to Kyle Muller. Would they consider any of them for the playoff roster without a tune up at the major league level? It is possible, but seems unlikely without an injury. One thing to consider is that Ynoa’s pitch mix makes him pretty vulnerable to the third time through the order, and he’s been incredibly dominant all season until he gets 18+ batters into a game. Who starts may not matter as much as who pitches a bunch, but it’s important not to conflate Huascar Ynoa struggling with Huascar Ynoa being asked to do something he may not be able to given his pitching profile.

Why don’t the Braves just DFA Smyly with so little time left on his contract, as they have many lefty bullpen options and he didn’t even do well in relief a few days ago?

Because there is a scenario where they need him. There are enough question marks around Ynoa and Ian Anderson, who pitched well in his last start but has seen his velocity dip since his return from the Injured List. In a five-game series, the Braves aren’t going to be able to mess around. If a guy is struggling, then they are going to have to get him out and if that happens, they will have to cover those innings somehow. Smyly has pitched okay a few times out of the bullpen, and a curveball-heavy approach should do fine once through the order.

If Spencer Strider might be available for the playoffs with some sort of appeal, would the same apply to Muller and Wright?

Muller and Wright are already on the 40-man roster, so they wouldn’t need an appeal to be added. I think there would probably have to be multiple injuries for the Braves to consider Strider. He has had a great season no doubt, but having him debut in the majors in the postseason seems pretty outlandish to me unless it is simply a necessity.

It will be awkward to replace our closer as we approach the playoffs, but it has to be done or we’re just wasting our time in the postseason. I think Luke Jackson is our best bet but really most anyone else on the staff would be better than Smith.

It seems like every week that I do this mailbag that I am forced to defend Will Smith in some way. I am not going to do that this week because it doesn’t matter what any of us think. My opinion is that it is flawed thinking to designate a “closer” for a certain inning in the first place. My feeling is that you should play the matchups to win the game and not ignore them to get a particular pitcher a save. You need look no further than the Tampa Bay Rays as a shining example — they have baseball’s best bullpen, 14 players with at least one save, traded the closest thing they had to a “closer” midseason, have three relievers with average leverage this season on par with how the Braves are using Will Smith, and have used 16 relievers with personal average leverage equal to league-average or higher (the Braves only have nine, and two of those were Nate Jones and Grant Dayton). The goal should be to build a versatile bullpen from top to bottom and then utilize it. Don’t hamstring it by signing a player to do one particular job.

What do you think the bullpen will look like for the playoffs?

Good question and we will explore this further if and when the Braves punch their ticket to the postseason. I haven’t given it much thought yet but for fun let’s assume they will carry 13 pitchers for the NLDS. Then I would go with:

Charlie Morton
Max Fried
Ian Anderson
Huascar Ynoa

Drew Smyly (L)
Tyler Matzek (L)
A.J. Minter (L)
Will Smith (L)

Luke Jackson (R)
Richard Rodriguez (R)
Jesse Chavez (R)
Jacob Webb (R)
Chris Martin (R)

We will look at this closer after the regular season but here are some concerns. For all of the talk about Smith’s struggles, Chris Martin hasn’t been inspiring most of the season, either. In his last 10 appearances, Martin has allowed six runs in just 8 2/3 innings. Since joining the Braves, Richard Rodriguez has a 2.59 ERA but a 6.37 FIP and is allowing homers at a 2.22 HR/9 clip. Perhaps more concerning is that he is averaging just 3.33 K/9 in his 25 appearances with Atlanta. Regardless of what happens with Smith, a lot of the relief work is trying to get the ball to Jackson and Matzek, hoping Jesse Chavez somehow continues his bizarre renaissance, and hoping nothing tragic befalls the Braves when A.J. Minter is pitching, as happened repeatedly this season.