Getting significant help for a beleaguered bullpen may not be easy this Winter, but the source for that help might be had from places you might not expect.
What was the single biggest problem for the bullpen of the Atlanta Braves in 2018? Note: it doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. Let’s check the final ranks:
- Strikeouts per 9 innings? 14th in the majors. Decent
- Innings pitched? 10th fewest… that’s a good thing.
- Batting average against? .238 ranked 12th best… not a problem
No, while the above numbers don’t show ‘domination’ by any stretch of imagination, the problem was walks. 4.41 per 9 innings… worst in all of baseball.
Given that fact, it’s actually kinda remarkable that the relievers only were 7th worst in WHIP (Walks+Hits per inning pitched). Either way – it’s become painfully obvious that while strong bullpens are not necessarily needed to win the regular season, they are essential to win playoff games.
A New Landscape Emerging
Using that as a backdrop, an interesting phenomenon seems to be developing already during this off-season: that there are oddly few teams that seems to be interested in making a serious push to be contenders for 2019.
The rest would argue that they are trying to be competitive, but the definition of this term could vary wildly.
We’ve talked about this already – particularly that the American League has practically gone ahead and conceded most of its playoff spots.
You could make the argument that Tampa Bay will do its best to unseat Boston or New York, but you’d have to expect a couple of very bad things to happen for either club to dip below 90 wins next season.
The National League should be in better condition, particularly in the East and Central Divisions. The West? Probably still belongs to the Dodgers.
Rebuilding with New Tools
Where am I going with all of that?
You can point to something around 14-18 clubs that will not be division contenders in 2019. That means the math involving “rebuilding” has suddenly changed.
It used to be the Astros alone going with the full rebuild path. Then the Cubs. Then the Braves, White Sox, Phillies, and Padres. Now we’re in double-digits.
You can’t simply rebuild using the draft any more… Top 3 draft picks are scarce. Some of these clubs won’t even crack the Top 10. You must use the trade market to rebuild instead.
As a result, I expect a lot of “bottom feeding” trades. Deals in which contending clubs are stripping the lower teams of any/all assets of value.
And the easiest categories of commodities available? That would be Relief Pitching.
What exactly are we looking at here?
When Fred Owens started hunting for bullpen (or any kind of) help in our simulation, he was checking those rebuilding clubs… the faux Orioles, Padres, Blue Jays, and others were relatively receptive to the inquiries.
The same should be true in real life this Winter… it’s simply the smart thing to do since this represents a different potential stream of prospects than what a draft might bring.
I checked on relief pitchers: those with 40+ innings over the past 2 seasons and with the lowest walk rates. Here’s some names…
- Robbie Erlin (Padres)
- Juan Nicasio (Mariners)
- Chris Martin (Rangers)
- Ken Giles (Blue Jays)
- Jesse Chavez (free agent)
- Edgar Santana (Pirates)
- Alex Claudio (Rangers)
- Scott Oberg (Rockies)
- Tony Watson (Giants)
- Craig Stammen (Padres)
I could go on for quite a while.
Now there are reasons you might or might not want some of these particular pitchers; but for what it’s worth, these players represent 10 of the best 15 in walk rates over 2017-18… and they all play (or played) for clubs that may face struggles in being contenders in 2019.
Some of these pitchers (Diaz, for example) are indeed going to be expensive to obtain. But many aren’t… a level minor A or A+ prospect of some ilk might be enough to get most relievers – even some with good track records.
So when trades start happening this Fall, you might want to look at this list again. Walks aren’t the most important thing to consider when acquiring pitching… but it is close to the case for Atlanta.
Now the trick will be whether the Braves can get some of these guys before the rest of the league figures out what ‘stores’ Atlanta is shopping in… and why.