Positional Preview: Bullpen Locks – Vizcaino, Minter, and Freeman

Positional Preview: Bullpen Locks – Vizcaino, Minter, and Freeman

It’s hard to overstate how bad the pen was last year. They were near the bottom of the league in almost every category, and with the equally poor starting rotation, they logged a lot of innings. The lack of depth meant the bullpen was taxed all year, leaving Snitker with few quality options to use in the late innings. I’ve already written up Peter Moylan earlier in Spring Training, and there are 3 more locks to begin the season in the pen.

Arodys Vizcaino

Every bullpen needs guys like Vizcaino. And on a bad team last year, he led our relievers in fWAR. Considering he’s been traded for twice by us, it seems like Vizzy has been around for a long time. In reality, he’s only 27 years old and is currently signed to a $3.4M deal. Next year, he will probably become too expensive for the Braves depending on how the relief corp shakes out this year.

Arodys can be electric, averaging a 10.18 K/9 in his career, but his issue has been staying on the field. He’s missed significant time in almost every major league season of his career, and his 57.1 IP last year was a career high. It’s hard to rely on him as your team’s closer, but if he’s healthy, he will undoubtedly begin the year as the team’s closer and stay there until if/when Minter unseats him. He could be a trade candidate by July.

A.J. Minter

This is your closer of the future, assuming health. For a reliever, he’s had a tremendous amount of hype, but his health has been the only thing that’s held him back. He had Tommy John surgery before he was drafted in 2016, and the Braves have been really careful with him. But in just 15 IP last year, he was third in the bullpen in fWAR. He struck out 15 per 9 (!!), avoided walks and homers remarkably (1.20 and 0.60 per 9 respectively), and he had not had a fluky BABIP (.387), his ERA would have been much shinier. Accordingly, FIP loved him to a 0.96 reading. Of course, that was in only 15 IP.

The Braves now say that he’s working with no restrictions. With that said, I think it would be unrealistic to expect more than 60 innings from him this year. But nonetheless, he has the potential to be singlehandedly more valuable next year than the entire bullpen was last year. The unit produced a total 1.1 fWAR, but if you include only positive contributors, Minter’s value last year extrapolated out to 60 IP would out-pace the top 3 contributors in the pen combined. Bottom line, AJ Minter could be a one-man wrecking crew compared to the guys that filled high leverage situations last year. Typically, even the best relievers may not be mentioned with a team’s most elite players, but Minter has the potential to be one of the most valuable players on this club.

Sam Freeman

Light on lefties, the Braves will almost certainly have Freeman in the pen. A nice find off waivers last year, Freeman turned in a strong year having to do some heavy lifting in the pen. Used in more high leverage situations than you might think, he pitched 60 innings, a career high, in 58 appearances. His ERA looked great (2.55), but his FIP stood strong as well at 3.34. He was able to rack up the strike outs (8.85/9), and limited homers to about a half of a gopher per 9, with his only real issue being a walk rate around 4 per 9.

With the 27th-ranked bullpen in baseball, the Braves were forced to use Freeman for full innings, if not more. But his splits show that he’s significantly more effective against lefties than righties. Lefties struggled to a .190/.262/.245 line, whereas righties hit a good bit better against him with a .233/.340/.313 clip. But with the struggles of the starters at times, the lack of depth in the bullpen forced platoon splits to be a luxury that Snitker could not capitalize on. This year, a deeper pen will increase the value of a guy like Freeman. If Vizcaino, Minter, and some of the other bullpen candidates can consistently pitch the 7th-9th inning spots, Snitker can be more free to use someone like Freeman in a role that fits him better. A deep pen could see him really flourish.

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