Before yesterday’s forgetful loss to the Kansas City Royals, Brian Snitker informed us of some unfortunate news. One of the bullpen saviors this year, Jacob Webb, is having more trouble returning from his injury than initially expected.
Webb was placed on the 10-Day IL on July 15th with a bone bruise in his elbow. The diagnosis is much more promising than it could have been, but he’s still a couple of weeks away from re-joining the team. His 1.39 ERA in 36 appearances was one of the catalysts that drove Atlanta’s bullpen ERA to the top of the National League and third in all of baseball. In his absence, the Braves have slipped to seventh in the MLB and a tie for second in the NL. It’s no time to panic, but it does put more pressure on Alex Anthopoulos before next week’s trade deadline.
Webb’s injury, coupled with the continued struggles of A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka, Touki Toussaint, and Wes Parsons paint the picture of an extremely flawed group. The Braves don’t strictly need a closer; they need relief help up and down their bullpen.
Minter should no longer be counted on for the rest of the season. His ERA is sniffing eight and is walking 7.4 batters per nine innings! Unfortunately, this looks like a developmental issue just as much as it does a mental one. He needs to be in AAA for the rest of the year and focus on returning to the MLB in 2020.
Sobotka’s story isn’t much better even though his ERA is 2.5 runs lower. He’s also walking batters an extremely high rate (4.5/9 innings) and has a knack for giving up the longball. There’s a glimmer of hope he can turn things around down the stretch, but Atlanta should not be counting on him.
The Braves are high on Toussaint’s future; whether it is as a starter or in the bullpen. But he became unreliable as well and was eventually demoted in AAA for Wes Parsons. Like Minter, Toussaint should spend the rest of the year figuring things out with Gwinnett. And as for Parsons, we have seen multiple times he is not the answer.
Even when Jacob Webb returns, there is no guarantee he is as effective as he was before. Beyond coming back from elbow issues, which is never easy, Webb benefitted greatly from a much lower BABIP (batting average on balls in play) than league average. A normal BABIP sits around .300 – Webb’s is .233. That leads to a FIP of 4.30, suggesting he is long overdue for a streak of poor luck. I like Webb and feel like he will have a long career for Atlanta coming out of the pen, but it is foolish to assume he will continue to put up a sub-two ERA post-injury.
There’s no point in arguing over what the Braves need more – starting pitching or bullpen help. The answer is both, but while they may only need one starter, they are going to have to add a couple of arms in relief. They don’t all have to be top-of-the-line closers; some of them can come from the bargain bin as the Braves found with Brad Brach and Jonny Venters last season. But this is more than a ninth-inning problem – this is a bullpen problem. Atlanta needs to add at least a couple of relief arms, and I expect them to before the July 31st deadline.