This player preview was writtin by Victor Wei, who posts here as VictorW.
Manny Acosta spent eight seasons in the minor leagues between the Yankees and Braves before becoming a September call up in 2007. Acosta impressed the Braves by putting up a 2.28 ERA while showing off his 96 MPH fastball, solid slider, and good changeup. This performance was above his head, as his ERA masked an unsustainably low BABIP and alarming walk rate. Acosta's fastball and strikeout rates, however, were very real and it appeared that the Braves had found a solid reliever with plenty of upside.
In 2008, Acosta's walk rate improved, but his strikeout rate plummeted from 8.37 to 5.26 Ks per 9. Fireballers like Jamie Moyer and Jorge Campillo fanned batters at a higher rate than that. Despite these struggles, Acosta still outperform his peripherals and produced a 3.57 ERA in 2008. It was rather surprising that Acosta managed to pull that off because his K/BB ratio was an atrocious 1.19 in 2008. To put this in perspective, that ratio is worse than the career numbers of Mark Redman (1.84), Dan Kolb (1.32), and Danys Baez (1.82) [Editors note: after hearing those names I vomited a little in my mouth.]
Acosta's sudden decline may be explained by his loss in velocity. Between 2007 and 2008, his fastball dropped to 94.5 MPH while losing some movement. Additionally, his slider lost about a MPH of speed as well. Combine this with Acosta's always-questionable control, and it makes sense that Acosta's production fell.
The Braves' bullpen usage didn't help Acosta either. As injuries decimated the pitching staff, Acosta simultaneously inherited the setup man and closer role. I know I wasn't the only one scratching my head when watching Acosta trot out for multi-inning saves where he needed to go through six batters to get through the first inning. Bullpen misuse and overuse was a common theme among Braves relievers in 2008 and made the unit look much worse than they actually were.
With the bullpen healthy, slotting Acosta down the relief depth chart along with shorter outings should improve his performance in 2009. Acosta, however, may not get a chance to perform in Atlanta. The Braves' bullpen logjam includes Soriano, Gonzalez, Carlyle, Bennett, Campillo, Moylan, Boyer, and a LOOGY or two. Moves will definitely have to be made, and Acosta may find himself in Gwinnett or on another club.
Acosta will probably approach his 2007 performance and give whatever team he's on a cheap, solid low leverage reliever with some upside from his fastball velocity. For Acosta to take the next step, he'll need to improve his command. Walks have always been a problem for him, spanning all the way back to his 18 year old season in Rookie ball. If Acosta can ever figure out how to locate his pitches, then he will become a very good or even dominant reliever because his fastball is as good as anyone's.
Another fantastic preview by Victor!