Braves: Checking in on former players from the 2020 roster

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By my count, when including all players that logged at least one game in the majors during the 2020 campaign, 16 players — nine pitchers and seven hitters — from the Braves MLB roster last season are now no longer part of the organization. (I’m not counting former Braves pitchers, Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka, given they were both traded to the Brewers — in exchange for Orlando Arcia — after the 2021 season had already begun.) Some of those players chose to leave, and some evidently didn’t draw enough interest from Atlanta’s brass to bring back, but either way, all were once Braves… and now they’ve moved on. I’m sure there are a few you could name off the top of your head that you wish were still in Atlanta, and right now, that may very well be true considering some of the issues currently impacting the 2021 team. However, with just 22 games completed so far, there’s a lot more season to go, and we still don’t know what’s in store later on down the road.

And really, this post isn’t meant to serve as any judgment towards the Braves moves last winter. It’s more or less for informative purposes as some of these former Atlanta players have found themselves in some rather interesting situations relative to a season ago. Perhaps once the 2021 campaign is over, we can look back and determine whether the team made the right choice letting some of these guys walk. 

 

Hitters from 2020

 

Adam Duvall, OF

2021 team — Marlins

The obvious player from last season’s hitters is outfielder Adam Duvall, who should now be required to register as a Braves Killer after he combined for seven hits, three home runs and eight RBI during a four-game series versus Atlanta from April 12-15 this season. The fact that Duvall played so well in his 57 games with the Braves in 2020, coupled with his team-friendly $5-million salary this year, makes it feel like Atlanta really missed out on an excellent fourth-outfielder for its roster in 2021.

 

Tyler Flowers, C

2021 team — N/A (assistant for the Braves)

Flowers is another notable former Brave from the last several seasons, and many were expecting the 35-year-old to return to Atlanta for another year, but the team was comfortable committing to both Travis d’Arnaud and Alex Jackson for the 2021 season. Our own Sam Peebles reported a week ago — at Tomahawk Take — that Flowers has joined the Braves in a non-player capacity and is expected to help the team with its use of analytics. 

 

Charlie Culberson, UTIL

2021 team — Rangers

You can’t help but miss Charlie Culberson, and though he only managed 1.2 fWAR combined for the Braves from 2018-20 (albeit in only 473 total PA), his presence as a fan favorite and solid teammate will forever be missed. And most of all, Culberson currently has two homers and a 125 wRC+ down in Texas, which are numbers that would’ve been nice in Atlanta this season. 

 

Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

2021 team — Chiba Lotte Marines (Japan)

His time was short for the Braves last season, but Hechavarria did everything you could’ve asked for while in Atlanta as the infielder hit .254 with strong defense in 27 games. This past December, the 32-year-old Hechavarria signed a one-year contract with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the NPB (in Japan), and so far, he’s killing it overseas; through Monday, Hechavarria is 11 for 27 (.407 AVG) and has scored five runs in eight games.

 

Matt Adams, DH

2021 team — N/A

In late July last season, the Braves brought Adams in on a minor league pact, and overall, he logged 16 games in Atlanta. The burly slugger couldn’t quite tap back into his glory days from when he was a big bat for the Cardinals (and for a spell… with the Braves) as Adams managed just a 44 wRC+ in 2020. After being released this past September, the 32-year-old remained unsigned this offseason.

 

Scott Schebler, OF

2021 team — Angels 

If you don’t remember Schebler being with the Braves last season, that’s understandable given he played in just one game and logged only one PA. On April 16 this year, the Halos picked up his contract, and so far in 2021, Schebler has produced just a 36 wRC+ in 22 PA as a back-up outfielder. 

 

Nick Markakis, OF

2021 team — N/A

Even with his eventual decline, you must admit Markakis was a fun player to watch during his six seasons in Atlanta (2015-20). The veteran outfielder averaged just under 1 fWAR (0.9) as a Brave, topping out with a 2.6-WAR campaign in 2018 when he slugged 14 homers and hit .297 in 162 games (114 wRC+) — a far cry from what he put together last season, when he hit a career-low .254 with one homer in 37 games (88 wRC+). Regardless, Markakis was a gamer, and on March 12, he retired having completed a helluva MLB career.

Did you miss any of the hitters from above? All seven of these former Braves combined to post -0.3 WAR in 2020, with Duvall (0.5) and Flowers (0.4) being the only two to finish the year above replacement-level. 

 


 

Pitchers from 2020

 

Mark Melancon, RP

2021 team — Padres

I know Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is kicking himself right now, for Melancon is exactly the right-handed reliever Atlanta’s bullpen needs this season, and for a 2021 salary of… wait for it… $3 million (!), the 36-year-old is killing it out West with the Padres. No one really knows what the negotiations really looked like this past offseason, but considering Melancon’s 2.78 ERA and 11 saves from last season, you would’ve thought the Braves could’ve done something to bring the veteran back. Either way, it appears Melancon’s declining K rate from 2020 was just a freak occurrence, because in San Diego, he’s averaging nine punchouts per nine innings to go along with a solid 0.82 ERA through his first 11 innings. 

 

Shane Greene, RP

2021 team — N/A

It may be hard to believe, but Greene actually produced just as much WAR last season as Melancon, while pitching to a luck-induced 2.60 ERA (4.75 xFIP) in 28 innings. I thought for sure the former Tigers closer would be back for another round in Atlanta in 2021, but Greene joined Melancon and Darren O’Day out the door this past winter. It’s weird; I haven’t seen anything in terms of teams having interest in Greene this season as the 32-year-old righty remains unemployed. 

 

Darren O’Day, RP

2021 team — Yankees

As mentioned above, O’Day also moved on after the 2020 campaign, and so far, the veteran lefty has been a tough cookie to hit coming out of the Yankees bullpen this season; in eight innings, O’Day sports a 2.25 ERA with 10+ strikeouts per nine. Coming to the Braves in that Kevin Gausman deal back at the trade deadline in 2018, we never really saw O’Day log any real innings until last year, and the small sample was strong as he finished the shortened season with 12.12 K/9 and 1.10 ERA. 

 

Robbie Erlin, SP 

2021 team — Nippon-Ham Fighters (Japan)

Remember when Erlin tossed four innings of one-hit ball against the Marlins back on August 16 of last season? I do. And given his start prior to that featured four earned runs in 2 ⅔ frames versus the Phillies, I thought… maybe this guy can stick it for a few weeks in the rotation. Well, Erlin did last four more outings, plus a relief appearance. But in those five games, he combined to surrender 18 runs from 23 hits to go with five homers in 16 ⅔ innings, effectively ending his days as a Braves pitcher. Get this, though: so far in 2021, Erlin is sporting a 3.00 ERA in his first two games in Japan… albeit in just two relief appearances.

 

Mike Foltynewicz, SP (Rangers) / Jhoulys Chacin, SP (Rockies) / Cole Hamels, SP (N/A) / Chris Rusin, RP (Rockies)

I’ll combine all four of these short-timers from 2020. Foltynewicz probably deserves his own paragraph considering his time in Atlanta, and I always loved Folty until he started losing his mind out there on the mound, but the struggles just continue for the 29-year-old as he owns a 5.32 ERA with Texas in four outings so far. 

Chacin was supposed to provide starter depth last season but both of his outings came out of the bullpen, including one good one and one bad one, so… meh. The 33-year-old righty is now a reliever for Colorado in 2021, barely surviving with a 6.00 ERA and 4.98 FIP in nine innings.

The Cole Hamels experiment was a failure, but I certainly don’t blame Anthopoulos for trying, and really it was a smart move… if only the GM could’ve predicted the future. Hamels’ injury allowed him just one start, when he allowed three runs from three hits in 3 ⅓ innings versus the Orioles. Hamels is still trying work his way back to pitching, though he went unsigned this past offseason. 

A recipient of a minor league deal by the Braves in January of 2020, Rusin only made one regular season relief appearance for Atlanta last season after pitching decently in Spring Training last year. In long relief versus the Mets in early August of 2020, he allowed three runs in 3 ⅓ innings, and the next day, Rusin was DFA’d. The 34-year-old lefty signed another minor league pact with the Rockies earlier this month, though he hasn’t logged any MLB innings thus far in 2021. 

How much do you miss those three regulars from the Braves bullpen last season? Looking at Atlanta’s relief issues so far in 2021, I’ll admit it would be nice to have at least one of them. In 2020, the nine pitchers above combined to post zero WAR for the Braves, with the trio of Melancon, O’Day and Greene each leading the way with 0.3 WAR apiece.

 


 

This is definitely an exercise worth revisiting towards the end of the 2021 season… so stay tuned.

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