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Walks undoing solid start by Braves’ bullpen

The Braves were able to cover it up early but control issues by the bullpen are undermining a solid start.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

A series of walks by the bullpen once again proved costly to the Atlanta Braves in Monday’s 10-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Walks is becoming an unfortunate theme of late for most of Atlanta’s relievers and it is undoing what was a solid start to the season by the bullpen.

Three Braves’ relievers allowed seven hits, eight runs and four walks in just 3.1 innings Monday night against the Reds. Those four walks added to their league-high total of 61 which is 16 more than the Marlins who are 29th. Add to that seven intentional walks, six hit batters and seven wild pitches and you see just how much self inflicted damage the bullpen is absorbing.

And early on it was able to absorb it for the most part. Even with Monday’s implosion, Atlanta’s relief corps has been worth 0.6 fWAR which is 11th in the league. If you are going to allow all of those extra base runners then it helps to have a .207 opponents average and you simply can’t give up home runs which Braves’ relievers haven’t allowing only two all season.

However, this is a trend that they simply won’t be able to continue. All of those extra baserunners have been coming back to haunt the Braves of late. Perhaps the most concerning issue is that other than Daniel Winkler and Shane Carl, this is a pen-wide issue for Atlanta.

The numbers are somewhat comical. Sam Freeman, who by the way is holding opponents to a .161 average, has walked 10 in 9.2 innings. Jose Ramirez, who is currently on the DL, was even worse walking eight in 6.1 innings. Peter Moylan has walked six in 6 innings.

A.J. Minter’s strikeout-to-walk ratio last season was stellar but he too has been bitten by the bug totaling seven walks and nine strikeouts in just 10 innings. Arodys Vizcaino has seven walks in 10.2 innings. You get the picture.

If not for the Houdini acts by Carle and Winkler, this bullpen would be in much deeper trouble.

So what is the answer? The Braves have had a revolving door in the back half of the bullpen so far but this issue isn’t going to be corrected by a simple promotion or demotion. They can either look for help outside the organization or hope for some internal improvement.

Vizcaino’s walk rate is right in line with his career average so we probably shouldn’t be looking for too much there. Nearly everyone else is operating way above their career averages. Minter probably won’t be able to recreate the 3.3% walk rate that he had in 2017 but can certainly better the 18.0% that he currently holds. Moylan’s career walk rate is 10.0% so his 17.7% should improve.

It certainly isn’t an easy problem to solve as you can’t simply replace an entire bullpen. While it is easy to point to that loss in Chicago on April 14 as the biggest sign of trouble. However, this is a problem that has existed the entire season, they just did a good job of limiting the damage. That can’t be expected to play out over a full season and this regression wasn’t hard to spot. Finding an answer might be.

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