Braves: Collin McHugh, not Will Smith, deserves the high leverage situations

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With Kenley Jansen out, somebody has to take over the closing duties for the time being. Yesterday, it was A.J. Minter, who did a flawless job of shutting down the Phillies. However, Brian Snitker told the media before the game that Minter and Smith would both get opportunities to close, and while I’ve come to expect nothing less from Snit–whose blind loyalty to Smith has been the most perplexing aspect of his managerial career–I beg him to give those other opportunities when Minter isn’t closing to a much more deserving candidate, Collin McHugh.

Let’s start with Smith. Outside of a tremendous postseason run last year–which he deserves recognition for–he’s been a below-replacement level reliever ever since signing with the Braves. This season, he’s accrued -0.3 fWAR, and he’s accrued a total of -0.5 fWAR over the last three years. In every season with Atlanta, his FIP has been above four, and currently, his 4.93 FIP is the worst of his career to go along with the worst strikeout rate of his career and highest walk rate of his career. Smith has the numbers of a reliever that should strictly be used in low leverage situations, and while the Braves may be desperate because of the injuries to Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and Kenley Jansen, they still have better closing options than Smith.

When Minter needs a day off, McHugh should be next in line to pitch the ninth. He came in yesterday and was brilliant over 1.2 innings, striking out four without allowing a hit or a walk, which is in line with who McHugh has been for a while now. Following a shaky start to his Braves tenure, he’s been elite over his last 15 outings, posting a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 innings. And unlike Smith, this is who McHugh has been for quite some time.

Last season, McHugh proved to be one of the best relievers in baseball for the Astros. He recorded a 1.55 ERA over 64 innings, and his 2.12 FIP suggests there wasn’t much luck involved. There’s a reason why MLB Network ranked him the sixth-best reliever coming into the season.

With so many guys out, Snitker doesn’t have much choice but to trust Smith in some situations. But when McHugh is well-rested, and when other guys return, there’s no reason Smith should be used in high leverage situations. The Braves have other high-quality options, and it’s time they start being used like it on a consistent basis.

Photographer: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire

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