In Baltimore, Brach appeared in 42 games where he compiled a 4.85 ERA, 4.4 BB/9, 8.8 K/9 and a 1.769 WHIP. The Braves saw something they liked and bought low on the reliever — with GM Alex Anthopoulos making it known that they wanted to help him tweak a couple of things to get back to where he was during that fantastic 2016 season where he went 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 71 games. He was acquired by the Braves in an unusual way, as the Braves traded $250,000 of their international slot money, money they could not use, to get the righty in hopes that he could rebound over the remainder of the year.
The walks were certainly an issue for Brach as his line of .239/.376/.286 in high leverage situations makes you both happy and sad at the same time. Brach also showcased a definite platoon situation coming into the 2019 season as lefties hit .327/.423/.415 off of him, while righties hit .242/.297/.395. In the end, Brach finished his season with a 4.88 xFIP against lefties but a 3.79 xFIP against righties. With the Braves, 38 out of the 99 batters he faced were lefties, and he allowed a 3.79 FIP / 4.82 xFIP to them, compared to a perfectly fine-to-good 2.75 FIP and 3.55 xFIP against righties. As usual, usage tended to be more of an issue than skillset.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? While he certainly wasn’t the Brach of 2016, he still provided a ton of value for the Braves as he went 1-2 with a 1.52 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, and 3.12 FIP while having one of the unluckiest seasons of his career as he had a .344 BABIP and a wOBA that exceeded his xwOBA-allowed by over .025. Still, if some Braves fans are glad to part ways with him, that’s not surprising: he somehow managed a -0.34 WPA in 27 appearances, and gave up the runs that ended up eliminating the Braves from the postseason.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? The Braves probably could re-sign him if they were so inclined, and he might represent a cheaper option than other relievers on the market. But, with declining velocity and an inability to pitch well against lefties, he may not be the next option. When in doubt, take the field over the idea that Brach is going to sign with any one particular team, whether it’s the Braves or not.
What is he going to do in 2019? A return to his normal luck (career .284 BABIP) could help Brach return to his former glory. While the diminishing K rate (8.62 K/9) is a bit of a red flag, along with the diminished control (4.02 BB/9), relievers are so volatile that predicting one thing or another doesn’t seem too safe. Brach could continue to decline and end up just a generic relief option next year, or he could bounce back and post a high-quality relief season.
Highlight of 2018: After the Braves won another crazy game in the desert following Dansby Swanson’s scamper home on a wild pitch, Brach slammed the door on the Diamondbacks with a scoreless bottom of the tenth. That last fly out he got was momentarily scary given how treacherously the Atlanta bullpen had pitched around that time (they had allowed three runs late in this very game), but settled neatly in a glove to give the Braves a win.
Lowlight of 2018: Two things come to mind here, and they’re very different, yet also kind of the same. One was an absolutely brutal outing that tanked Brach’s WPA well into the negatives for his Atlanta tenure. Facing the Rockies with a one-run lead in the ninth, and saddled with a Dansby Swanson error to lead off the inning, Brach ended up allowing not just the tying run, but two additional runs after getting two outs in the inning as part of a miserable four-game sweep endured by the Braves at SunTrust Park. Brach was for some reason made to pitch to three lefties in the sequence, each of whom reached base, and two of whom got the game-tying and go-ahead hits. On a usage basis, it wasn’t really his “fault,” but it was brutal anyway.
Which, of course, brings us to the fact that Brach was on the hill when David Freese hit the squibber back up the middle that took away Atlanta’s last lead of the season, and led to their elimination from the postseason a few innings later. Again, not really his fault, as he got the weak contact with two outs he wanted… it just ended up in the wrong place. So it goes.