Sean Newcomb was on his way to being an All-Star starting pitcher in the first half of last season. Through June, he was 10-2 with 90 strikeouts and a 2.71 ERA, featuring a deceptively fast heater with a curve that falls off the table. But in the season’s final three months everything changed.
Control problems have always haunted Newk, and at this level, they can make the most talented pitchers look below average. He was allowing a hair over three walks per start from July on, resulting in a 4-7 record and 5.45 ERA despite batters only hitting .245 off of him. And unfortunately, those same concerns followed him into 2019. In his first three starts, he only completed 12.1 innings and walked eight batters leading to six earned runs. As a result, the Braves chose to send him to Gwinnett.
Newcomb returned to Atlanta in early May but in a different role. The Braves opted to ease him back in as a reliever, hoping he would learn the same lesson that Max Fried did in the bullpen last season – trust your stuff and attack batters. Newcomb did just that, becoming the Braves most reliable arm out of what was a faltering bullpen at the time. He quickly turned into an Andrew Miller-Esque type lefty weapon in relief – somebody that could go multiple innings in high-leverage situations.
In his first 16 appearances out of the pen, Newcomb might have been the best reliever in baseball. He only allowed two earned runs in 19 innings – good for a 0.95 ERA. The reason for that? He stopped walking batters. Newcomb surrendered just two walks over that span compared to 21 strikeouts. Both of his runs allowed came courtesy of solo home runs.
Now those type of numbers aren’t sustainable over an entire season, but from May 6th to July 26th, Newcomb appeared in 28 games (34.1 innings) and had a 1.31 ERA with 34 strikeouts. He was the best weapon the Braves had coming out of their bullpen. Until, of course, Alex Anthopoulos went and added three arms at the trade deadline to help patch up Atlanta’s most glaring weakness.
Bringing in Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene was supposed to take some pressure off of arms like Sean Newcomb and Luke Jackson, who carried the Braves’ bullpen for over three months. The combination of the five gives Atlanta one of the most profound relief cores in all of baseball. However, while Jackson has thrived in his new role, Newcomb has begun to look like the starter that was demoted back in April.
In his last 14 appearances, the southpaw has allowed 11 earned runs in 12.1 innings. The problem is a familiar one from the past – walks. Newk has surrendered ten of them over that span. He’s also allowed five home runs, which is atypical but stands out a lot more when there are multiple runners on base.
With Newcomb, it’s all between the ears. Batters have always had a challenging time making solid contact against him. Free passes have always led to his demise, and when he’s walking people, the pitches usually aren’t even close. Despite his recent struggles, the Braves bullpen has been the best in the majors since the middle of August thanks to their new acquisitions. It just goes to show how much potential this group has as a whole. Everyone in Braves Country is aware of what Newk can do coming out of the pen. The team needs him to shake off the cobwebs and be the pitcher he was from May to August because that Sean Newcomb is a unique weapon that is so valuable come October.