Braves: Taking a look at the battle among lefty bullpen arms

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The MLB season may not start for a while, but they are going to do everything in their power to make sure games are played, and a champion will be crowned for 2020. That will likely mean less off days, more double-headers, and expanded rosters for at least the first month of the season, opening up three extra spots, which should make it all but a guarantee that another lefty — not named Will Smith — makes the Opening Day roster.

Philip Pfeifer

With the Braves optioning 27-year-old prospect Philip Pfeifer to Gwinnett already, he’s unquestionably on the outside looking in at the moment, but he looked mighty fine in Spring Training. The southpaw tossed 7.1 innings while allowing just one earned run on five hits and two walks. Perhaps most impressively, Pfeifer struck out 10 — good for a 12.3 K/9. There’s no reason to believe he will be on the Opening Day roster, but he is on the 40-man and will be just a few miles down the road in Gwinnett. If the others on this list don’t take advantage of their opportunity, Pfeifer should receive a shot sooner rather than later.

Chris Rusin

Rusin is a veteran lefty that has had an up and down MLB career, but he’s just a couple of years away from posting a 2.65 ERA in 60 appearances (85.0 innings) — with Coors Field being his home ballpark. However, he followed that up with an abysmal 6.09 ERA in 49 appearances (54.2 innings), but his FIP was a much more respectable 4.64, so some porous luck played a factor. Like Pfeifer, Rusin was extremely effective in Spring Training, pitching 8.2 innings and allowing two runs on six hits. He notably did not walk a single batter and racked up 12 strikeouts — good for a 12.5 K/9. When Spring Training was suspended, Rusin was still on the major league roster, but given that he is not on the 40-man, the next guy on this list probably has the best chance of making the Opening Day roster.

Grant Dayton

Dayton’s had success nearly every time he’s been in the majors. He recorded a 2.05 ERA with a 13.3 K/9 as a 28-year old rookie for the Dodgers in 26.1 innings. The following season, 2017, wasn’t his year, however, as Dayton posted a 4.95 ERA before suffering a torn ligament in his elbow, which led to Tommy John Surgery. He finally returned to the majors in 2019 with the Braves, after Alex Anthopoulos acquired him via trade, and pitched rather well, allowing just four earned runs in 12 innings (3.00 ERA). Although his 6.21 FIP suggested he was a bit lucky, and that might be why the Braves were hesitant to give him many opportunities, even with the bullpen struggling as mightily as it did.

Dayton was awful in Spring Training, giving up seven earned runs on ten hits and three walks in 5.2 innings, but I’m not sure how much weight the Braves will put into that small sample size. Given he is currently on the 40-man and has no options remaining, Atlanta might want to give him at least one more shot before losing him to another team altogether.


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