Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is The Braves' Bullpen Really This Bad? - Does Alex Anthopoulos Need to Make a Move?

The Braves currently find themselves leading the National League East. However, as the season grows it's becoming more apparent that the Braves have some major issues in their bullpen. The bullpen has been hit or miss and lately, it's been more miss. While it's easy for most fans to point to the duo of Peter Moylan and Sam Freeman as two of the biggest problems, I think the bullpen issues go beyond two guys who have struggled. Brian Snitker's bullpen management has been questionable ever since he took over for Fredi Gonzalez. To me, his biggest issue is his hesitance to use his best relievers in high leverage situations early in games. Snitker has a tendency to pull his starters around the fifth and sixth innings, which is understandable given the youth in the rotation, however he tends to let his worst relievers pitch critical innings in the middle of games.

(Kevin Cox - Getty Images) 

Take a look at the game today against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves pulled starter Sean Newcomb and replaced him with Sam Freeman. Freeman took over in the 7th inning and proceeded to give up three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Freeman, at best, is a lefty specialist, yet Snitker continues to let him be exposed against right handed batters. For reference, Freeman has a .178/.315/.364 slash against him when facing lefties. His biggest issue is his command as he walks way too many batters to be an elite reliever in the bullpen. To make matters worse, Snitker still brought in A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler to pitch after the lead had been given up by Freeman. Again, why not use your higher leverage relievers before you bring in the preverbal white flag guys (Freeman and Moylan)? If you're going to use them when there's no lead to protect, they're being wasted.

Snitker seems so set on going by the book that he doesn't realize that sometimes, the most important inning of the game occurs before the ninth inning. While other teams are allowing bullpen guys to act as an "opener", the Braves continue to pull their starter early and follow them up with the worst options in the pen. I know that this is an approach that many don't agree with, but when your starters are only going five or six innings, wouldn't it be interesting to start the game with someone like Minter or Carle and then bring in your starter to pitch the middle of the game? After that, you can hand it over to your other top two or three options and the game would go the same way. Instead of pulling your starter in the fifth or sixth inning, you're able to let them pitch deeper into the game and it solves the issue of having to use your worst options early on in the game. I don't see the Braves doing anything like this and I don't think Snitker or the Atlanta media would allow such a drastic change that goes against the "traditional book" of baseball. When the Braves played Tampa Bay and San Diego earlier this season, Chip Caray and Joe Simpson both made their share of jokes at the idea of an "opener." Needless to say, the Braves don't seem to be the most progressive team, even after hiring Alex Anthopoulos.

With that said, do the Braves need to make upgrades to the bullpen? I think that depends on whether or not Anthopoulos believes his team can truly compete for a playoff spot in 2018. This team is contending much earlier than anyone could have expected, but do they trade their minor league depth for a late inning reliever? To be honest, I think they need to stand pat with what they have and only make a minor move to try to solve some of the bullpen issues. I don't think it's worth trading away depth to make a failed playoff run in 2018. I'd save those prospects for bigger moves in the off-season. The cost for high end relievers has skyrocketed over the past few years and I just do not think it's worth it to go after someone like Brad Hand or Raisel Iglesias. While they're both great relievers, I think there's still a lot of issues with this team. Third base is still a huge question mark and Dansby Swanson still isn't living up to the hype or expectations placed upon at shortstop him by the media. Basically, the issues with this team go beyond the bullpen. Snitker, shortstop, third base, and the bullpen are all massive question marks. Fixing one with a high cost relief pitcher (high cost = top prospects) does little to solve the pressing issues with this team. It's just putting a bandaid on one issue and leaving the others to be exposed.

I think the biggest move Atlanta could make is to fire Brian Snitker. While some fans seem to think he's a great manager, there's a growing divide amongst fans who think he cannot manage the bullpen effectively. As you can tell, I clearly think he does a poor job of managing the bullpen. This bullpen may not be "elite", but there's enough pieces there to win many games. However, Snitker continues to mismanage the pen, which causes games to go 15 innings and causes the bullpen to be overworked and not effective as time goes on. Anthopoulos needs to bring in a fresh face to complete the rebuild in Atlanta. Brian Snitker still represents the old ways in Atlanta and to be honest, it feels like he brings complacency. In a perfect world, Atlanta would go after someone with no previous ties to the last coaching staff. It's time to look past the Bobby Cox disciples like Fredi Gonzalez and Brian Snitker, as they all seem to make the same mistakes with bullpen management and in-game tactics. Brian Snitker is the type of manager to pinch-hit for a pitcher with a position player, just to have him bunt. Yeah, that's not how you win games in 2018........

Anthopoulos has some big question marks that he needs to correct at some point. I think Snitker will finish up the season managing the Braves and they'll remove him in the off-season. The Braves are now a very attractive option for all mangers and it's clear they're no longer set on "tanking" to rebuild. Much like the Astros years ago, it's time to let the old-school manager go and bring in someone who's open to trying new approaches. The Astros found their manager in A.J. Hinch (after firing old-school baseball guy Bo Porter, who ironically works with the Braves now), the Braves need to figure out who can take their roster to the next step. I can't speak on who they should go after, but with Dave Martinez and Gabe Kapler managing division rivals, the Braves will have to make sure they find someone who can match up with them tactically, or else they risk their "rebuild" never getting over the hump. This off-season will be huge for the Braves franchise and it'll be interesting to see what Anthopoulos decides to do. A lot could be solved with getting a new manager and signing a free agent bat or two. Manny Machado would be a great upgrade at shortstop and they should still have plenty of money left to make another splash or two. Until then, we'll just have to see how the 2018 season unfolds. 

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