Braves: Is the bullpen really that big of a concern?

spring training

In the grand scheme of things, the Braves really didn’t suffer from very much turnover this offseason. And with the anticipated re-signing of Marcell Ozuna, practically the entire 2020 offense returns. Plus, two November signings has the Atlanta rotation looking much more formidable compared to last season. So all-in-all, on paper the Braves are essentially the same team as last year… maybe even better once you account for a few bounce-back candidates.

Three relievers — Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Darren O’Day — that combined to account for nearly 25% of the bullpen’s innings in 2020 are, however, no longer on the roster (granted, Greene is still unsigned as of Thursday evening). And according to many in Braves Country, that’s concerning. 

The Bullpen

But let me remind you of 2019, a year in which Atlanta’s bullpen wasn’t very good. In fact, that season the relief core was the Braves biggest weakness as the group finished 18th in the majors in reliever WAR and 15th in FIP, despite finishing within the Top-10 on offense (on the way to the club’s second-straight NL East title and a 97-win campaign). 

These were the most-used relievers two seasons ago, ordered by appearances:

The three listed above accounted for roughly 40% of Atlanta’s bullpen innings in 2019. At the top is Jackson, who was the Braves primary closer that season, racking up 18 drama-filled saves. Starter-turned-reliever, Newcomb, wound up turning in a rather impressive campaign once in Atlanta’s bullpen, posting the best ERA of his big league career. And the 34-year-old Tomlin was used heavily as well, also putting together a career-best ERA.

As you may notice, all three will be in the Braves bullpen again this coming season. Although, thanks to several solid additions over the last few seasons, they won’t be depended on as much.

This year the Braves will return star lefty Will Smith and what appears to be a rejuvenated A.J. Minter, not to mention last season’s out-of-nowhere breakout, Tyler Matzek. Plus, given the surplus in the starting rotation, there’s a grocery list of current and former prospect arms on the 40-man just waiting for a chance to contribute out of the ‘pen.

The definition of depth

And that’s not even counting the three pitchers Atlanta signed this offseason: Carl Edwards Jr., Nate Jones and Victor Arano — all of which have had success in the majors at some point.

So sure, on paper the Braves’ bullpen isn’t expected to dominate in 2021. FanGraphs Depth Charts has Atlanta finishing at no. 13 in the majors (though no. 2 in the NL East behind the Mets). But I think it’s obvious that there’s more potential with this group compared to 2019, which makes me a lot less worried.

 

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