The Atlanta Braves bullpen has been fantastic. They entered last night ranked fifth in MLB with a 3.72 ERA and first in strikeouts with 717. Much of their success comes from the well-established stars like A.J. Minter, Collin McHugh and Kenley Jansen.
Unfortunately, Jansen won’t be available for a while. However, with Minter or Will Smith likely taking over the closer role, Braves fans need not worry. These little-known bullpen arms have been quietly getting the late outs the Braves need.
Chavez doesn’t make any sense. He had a career 4.52 ERA before being traded to the Braves last season. Then he posted a 2.14 ERA and 2.01 FIP in 33 innings. The Braves let him walk in the offseason, and the Cubs picked him up. After allowing four runs over 5.2 innings, the Braves traded for him in exchange for Sean Newcomb. Now he has a 2.19 ERA and 2.08 FIP with the Braves in 24.2 innings.
Every expected stat indicates that Chavez shouldn’t be pitching in the major leagues. But as long as he keeps opposing teams off the scoreboard, Brian Snitker might as well keep running him out there.
The Braves weren’t expecting all that much from Stephens after signing him last offseason following a stint in the Mexican League. But he’s thrown 24.2 innings with a 3.28 ERA and 3.41 FIP. His low strikeout rate should keep him out of the highest leverage situations, but unlike Chavez, the analytics back up his performance.
Stephens is in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity allowed and 78th percentile in expected ERA. And there’s reason to believe he can improve. His curveball spin rate is elite (97th percentile), so there’s potential for his mediocre strikeout rate to rise.
The rookie Lee has only thrown 16.0 innings. However, he’s allowed just two earned runs over that span for a dazzling 1.13 ERA. Sure, he’ll regress because he has a higher (but still excellent) sub-3.00 FIP, and his spin numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping. But the 27-year-old dominated in AAA both this year and last. His subpar strikeout rate in the majors should increase dramatically. Lee has the potential to be a solid backend of the bullpen guy for years to come.
With Jansen out, these lesser-known arms will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves, and they’ll need to. Tyler Matzek will return soon, and you shouldn’t forget that elite closer Kirby Yates might be able to join the Braves later in the season. Add in Kenley Jansen, and the ones that don’t perform will find themselves off the roster.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire