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2018 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Jesse Biddle

Biddle burst onto the scene earning a spot in the Braves bullpen after just four games in 2018 — a well deserved promotion. Biddle, a former first round draft pick, appeared to be at full strength following Tommy John Surgery in 2016 and it showed, as he made quick work of hitters in Gwinnett before being promoted to Atlanta, where he would stay the rest of the season. In those four games for Gwinnett, Biddle pitched six and a third innings where he accumulated a 11.37 K/9, 1.42 BB/9, and 0.00 ERA. This was following an extremely strong 2017 when he went 2-4 in 27 games with a 2.90 ERA and 9.6 K/9 rate.

Upon being promoted to Atlanta, Biddle provided large amounts of value before eventually suffering from what appeared to be fatigue and wearing down near the end of the season. His 60 appearances in 2018 were by far the most he’s pitched in for his career so it is definitely understandable that he faded later in the season. His 4.4 BB/9 rate was the highest he’s had in a season since 2015 but he still put together a very solid season.

Biddle initially showcased reverse splits throughout the season, and ended up finishing the year holding lefties to a .751 OPS, and righties to a .586 OPS. His FIPs were 4.45 against lefties and 3.30 against righties, but the xFIPs showed a more expected pattern at 3.45 against lefties and 3.64 against righties. But, these season-long stats obscure the weird fact that through the season’s halfway point, he had an FIP of over 7.00 against lefties and an xFIP over .025 higher against them. After that halfway point, however, his FIP and xFIP against lefties were right around 3.00, and were close to or above 4.00 against righties. It probably doesn’t make sense to expect him to continue to post any reverse splits going forward, but it was fun while it lasted.

The walks were definitely an issue, and decreased some of his value, as hitters had an OBP of .318 against him, and Biddle was yet another member of the bullpen with a double-digit walk rate.

Bottom line, what did Biddle do in 2018? Biddle went 6-1 with a 3.1 ERA, and 1.272 WHIP. He limited right handed hitters to a .194/.310/.276, and lefties to a .253/.330/.421 line. He put up a pitching triple-slash of 76/97/88 (ERA-, FIP-, xFIP-) and a pretty strong 1.10 WPA on the year, driven by some life-saving outings of shutdown relief in extra-innings situations. However, he was far from a dominant reliever in this age of ridiculous bullpens, and earned only 0.2 fWAR (0.7 RA9-WAR) on the year.

Will he be on the roster in 2019? Now several years removed from TJ surgery – Biddle should be absolutely unleashed in 2019.

What will he do next year? Biddle could bring the walks down to what should we expect (~1.8-2.5 BB/9), and become a highly serviceable relief pitcher used in high leverage situations for the Braves.

Highlight of 2018: Biddle did some crazy yeoman’s work in June. On June 2, he pitched three scoreless extra innings against the Nats, striking out eight while allowing just four baserunners. The Braves lost shortly after he departed the game. Then, on June 22, he did the same thing to the Orioles, this time striking out only three but making each of his frames perfect. Once again, the Braves couldn’t score and walk off while he was pitching, and they gave up the winning runs as soon as he departed the game.

Lowlight of 2018: Biddle had a really bad meltdown on August 11, one that can’t even be laid at the feet of a desire to use him against righty batters. He came in to pitch the eighth holding a one-run lead against the Brewers, and his day went as follows: made an error on a comebacker by Christian Yelich, allowed a single to Lorenzo Cain, allowed a two-run, go-ahead double to Mike Moustakas, allowed a single to Ryan Braun, finally got an out on a fielder’s choice at home, pulled from the game. The Braves wouldn’t score again and ended up losing the contest.

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