I’ve noticed a trend lately.
Over the last few seasons, the Braves’ pitching staff has flip-flopped on each end, leaving one part thriving and the other struggling. In 2019, Atlanta’s desperate need was fixing the bullpen. At the end of the season, their combined ERA was 4.19, even after acquiring Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon before the trade deadline.
Alex Anthopoulos then added Will Smith — arguably the best reliever on the market last offseason — forming one of the best relief cores in baseball.
This season, the other end of the Braves staff got the short end of the stick.
Bad News, Good News
The Braves lost Soroka, Hamels, and Folty before the summer heat hit Hotlanta, leaving Fried and the rookies to clean up the mess. AA had to gamble on his young arms, who — while thriving in the minors — had yet to make a noise of any kind in the majors.
Here’s how that turned out.
"We're making the most of it and having a good time with it."
3 shutouts in 4 postseason games.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) October 7, 2020
What we got from the band of young pitchers, that I am now calling Jethro Tull because of Ian Anderson, is rivaled only by the legendary “Big 3” in terms of historical Braves pitching. The 2020 knock around staff finished third in the NL in wins, seventh in combined ERA, third in innings pitched, and fourth in home runs allowed.
The most astounding of all remains the performances by Fried and Anderson, coupled with the Big Four in the bullpen of Matzek, Greene, Smith, and Melancon. The core six combined for a 2.20 ERA with an 18-7 record and 193 Ks through the shortened season.
However, with Shane Greene and Mark Melancon currently testing free agency, additions to the relief core must be made. Bringing one or both of them back would be fantastic, but the Braves could be looking to upgrade, and there are plenty of places for Anthopoulos to turn — like the San Diego Padres Kirby Yates.
Now, before everyone gets all up in arms and tries to tell me he’s too good and expensive for AA to even look at, let’s look at the facts for a second — not just Yates’ facts, but Braves facts as well.
Since AA showed up, he has shown us that he believes strongly in the one-year deal. He relishes letting players bet on themselves, giving them a chance to prove their worth, especially after a season or two in the gutter or on the injured list.
Kirby Yates might be the most proven candidate for an AA one-year than any of his past signings combined. He broke out into a stud in his first full season with San Diego, posting a 2.14 ERA and saving 12 games in 65 appearances. The following season, he achieved more in less time, posting a 1.19 ERA with 41 saves and 101 Ks in 60 games.
Unfortunately, 2020 treated Yates the same way it treated all of us.
SD #Padres getting hammered with key injuries losing cleanup hitter Tommy Pham and now All-Star closer Kirby Yates who’s expected to miss rest of season.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) August 18, 2020
Yates went down towards the conclusion of the shortened campaign, ending his season and apparently his tenure with the city that made him known across the league. Now, he’s in recovery and looking to find a new team to secure wins for.
Just Do It
It just makes sense. Young superstar, last season plagued by an injury, obviously looking to prove himself. Yates has an AA target on his head bigger than anyone I’ve ever seen; he’s an ideal candidate to join the Braves on a one-year contract. Atlanta has a stable of starting pitchers after the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly; that shouldn’t be a problem for them in 2021. Now, they just need to keep tweaking that bullpen. Yates could be the shutdown closer the team has been trying to find since Kimbrel was traded.
Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire