Sean Newcomb once again flashed a lot of potential for the Atlanta Braves but simply wasn’t able to put it all together for a full season. He turned a solid first three months of the year, but struggled at times in July and down the stretch. He seemed to recover his footing a tiny bit in the postseason but questions persist about his command and if he can ever truly realize his potential or at least be a little more consistent.
While the results were significantly different, the underlying numbers suggest that Newcomb’s first half wasn’t that different than the second. He posted a 3.51 ERA over his first 19 starts but saw that balloon to 4.58 in 12 appearances in the second half. Interestingly his FIP and xFIP was actually lower in the second half. Additionally, his strikeout rate increased after the break while his walk rate was slightly lower.
The most significant difference came in BABIP with opponents hit .255 in the first half versus .304 in the second. His walk rate was down slightly from 2017 but was still at 11.6 percent. He was able to escape a lot of damage in the first half but he wasn’t nearly as fortunate after the All-Star break. While his xwOBA did rise about .010 between the two halves, the wOBA opposing batters posted increased by closer to .025 from the first half to the second, meaning that plain old bad luck was at least partially responsible for his decreased run prevention.
Newcomb threw his changeup more in 2018 at the expense of his curveball but overall there wasn’t that much of a difference in him from 2017 to 2018. He was worth 1.3 fWAR in his rookie season and posted 1.9 in 2018. While he lowered his ERA to 3.90 while tossing a career-high 164 innings, his peripheral numbers were much closer to the previous season. He posted 4.19 FIP in 2017 versus a 4.14 mark in 2018. His ERA+ was 101 in 2017 and 104 in 2018. His FIP- went from 98 to 103; his xFIP- went from 105 to 107. If anything, probably the most disappointing thing about Newcomb’s 2018 was that he didn’t really do anything other than end up the same pitcher he was during his first season in the majors. Moreover, he got fewer whiffs while throwing fewer pitches in the zone overall, and while this didn’t specifically hurt him, both of those mini-trends are somewhat concerning.
Despite his inconsistency with his command, Newcomb has shown the ability to be downright dominant. He nearly no-hit the Dodgers in late July and allowed one earned run over two appearances in the Division Series.
Newcomb was essentially a league average starter again in 2018 and that in itself is a valuable commodity. If he can refine his command then a top half of the rotation performance is in play. If not, he is going to be prone to ups and downs like what we saw from him in 2018.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Set career-highs across the board in what was his first full season in the majors. Was essentially a league average pitcher who was hurt by command issues but flashed top of the rotation potential.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? Barring an unexpected trade, Newcomb should slot into the middle of the Braves’ rotation again in 2019.
What is he going to do next year? Probably more of the same. If he can find a way to lower the walks then like Mike Foltynewicz, he could take a significant step forward. If not, then he is going to be prone to the many ups and downs that have plagued him over his short career.
Highlight of 2018: Newcomb came within one strike of no-hitting the Dodgers in late July.
That was just one of a number of dominant outings he had in 2018: in May, he allowed just three baserunners while striking out the Mets for seven innings with an 8/1 K/BB ratio. He also dominated the Rays, Padres, and Marlins in May and June, throwing six scoreless in each of those starts and allowing just five baserunners.
Lowlight of 2018: Allowed 44 hits and 27 earned runs in 32.2 innings in a seven start stretch from August 12 to September 16. That stretch featured a crazy .381 wOBA-allowed on the back of an elevated-but-not-so-deadly .332 xwOBA-against. The real killer in that span was a start where he allowed six runs in four innings to the Rays, including two homers. Bookending this stretch were two horrific outings against the Brewers and Nationals, where he allowed 10 runs in seven innings of work, generating almost no whiffs and posting a combined 5/4 K/BB ratio.