Early in the season, it was announced Luke Jackson would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the year, and now Tyler Matzek is dealing with shoulder issues. Thankfully, Matzek’s MRI came back negative, so he should be back in a few weeks. For most teams, losing two top relievers would be a reason to panic. That isn’t the case for the Braves, who came into the season with arguably the best bullpen in the majors on paper, and it’s only gotten better, thanks to contributions from some unexpected sources.
Most notably, Spencer Strider has become a weapon in relief. In his last five appearances (11.2 innings), he’s struck out 18 batters and recorded a 1.42 ERA with an even more ridiculous 0.01 FIP. Strider’s fastball/slider combination has proven to be nearly untouchable, and it seems he’s beginning to figure out how to get outs at the highest level. Eventually, I believe the Braves will try him out as a starter, but while Matzek’s on the IL, Strider will be relied on to pitch in high-leverage situations in the late innings.
Jackson Stephens has also been a pleasant surprise early on in 2022. He’s appeared seven times for the Braves, completing 12 innings with a 1.50 ERA. Expect him to also contribute in some more stressful situations with Jackson and Matzek on the IL.
Those two have added to Atlanta’s depth in the bullpen, which is critical over a 162-game season, but the primary reason this relief core is in good hands is because of the guys at the top. Kenley Jansen has been almost unhittable so far this season. He’s nine-for-ten in save opportunities with a 2.70 ERA, but his 1.17 FIP, 0.660 WHIP, and 11.9 K/9 paint a much better picture of just how outstanding he’s been.
Jansen’s Baseball Savant page is also flat-out ridiculous. He’s in the 99th percentile or better when it comes to xERA, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA. Jansen is also ins the 96th percentile for K%. For the first time since Craig Kimbrel was donning a tomahawk across his chest, the Braves have a dominant closer.
However, Jansen might not even have the most impressive numbers among Braves relievers. A.J. Minter‘s success from last year’s postseason has carried over to this season, and he’s become a weapon for Brian Snitker to utilize in high leverage situations. Through 18 appearances, Minter owns a 1.53 ERA, 0.88 FIP, 0.736 WHIP, and 13.8 K/9.
As you can imagine, Minter’s Baseball Savant page is equally as eye-popping. He ranks in the 99th percentile in K%, xBA, xERA, and xwOBA, 98th percentile in xSLG, and 95th percentile in HardHit%.
The Braves also have a couple of other pretty good options in Will Smith and Collin McHugh. This group — without Jackson and Matzek — is still one of, if not the best in the majors. And while Jackson will miss the rest of the season, Matzek will be back before long, and the Braves still expect Kirby Yates to contribute at some point later in the year. In the past, Atlanta has been known for melting in the late innings. It’s nice to finally watch a group that is no longer the leading cause of heart attacks in the southeast from the months of April-October.
*All stats are from before Wednesday’s game against the Brewers*
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire