If you’d asked most Braves fans and followers alike what the team’s priorities were ahead of the 2022 Trade Deadline, chances are that few of them would’ve readily listed bullpen help. So, naturally, bullpen help is exactly what they got. Expensive, but effective, bullpen help, in the form of Raisel Iglesias.
With what felt like approximately 23 seconds remaining until it was pencils down at the Trade Deadline, Alex Anthopoulos threw together an unexpected carousel move, sending Jesse Chavez and Tucker Davidson to the Angels in exchange for Iglesias (of course, in an iconic turn of events just 27 days later, the Angels released Chavez, and the Braves brought him back). The Braves inherited the remainder of Iglesias’ contract, a four-year, $58 million deal that he and the Angels had just agreed to prior to the 2022 season. The reliever earned $10 million in 2022 and is set to earn $16 million in each of the next three years as a feature of the Braves’ pen through 2025.
What were the Expectations?
Iglesias was the Angels’ closer, but it was clear that he would not unseat Kenley Jansen for that role with Atlanta, as he hadn’t had that great of a year for Anaheim when he was acquired. The Angels had signed onto the four-year deal following arguably the best season of Iglesias’ career in 2021 (2.0 fWAR in 70 innings), but the first part of 2022 didn’t quite stack up—prior to the trade, he had posted a 102 ERA-, 78 FIP-, and 77 xFIP-, with a super-negative WPA.
Iglesias’ acquisition, though, was ultimately meant to strengthen an already-deep Atlanta bullpen, and as you can tell from the line above, there was little reason to be concerned that Iglesias’ middling run allowance mark was deserved, or that his 11-8 shutdown/meltdown ratio was really his “fault.”
And strengthen the bullpen Iglesias did. The righty reliever was nothing short of lights out in an Atlanta uniform, as all the shenanigans that tanked his ERA in Anaheim dissipated, and then some. In 26 1⁄3 innings pitched over 28 regular season outings, he gave up just one (1!) earned run, good for an ERA of 0.34 (ERA- = 8). He allowed 17 hits — just three of which were for extra bases — and struck out 30 while only walking five. His FIP- as a Brave? 40. Meanwhile, his xFIP- didn’t really budge, from 77 with the Angels to 74 with the Braves, showing that Iglesias’ effectiveness didn’t really change as a result of the trade, but he benefited from basically everything it was possible to benefit from when he put on an Atlanta uniform.
Iglesias, also added a scoreless frame in the Braves’ 3-0 win in NLDS Game 2. His worst outing was his last, but it was in NLDS Game 4, when just about nothing was going right for the Braves. He allowed three hits — his first time allowing more than two hits in an appearance for Atlanta — and walked one to give up a run while recording just one out. Was it literally the entire sack of good fortune he toted since the trade evaporating all at once? You tell us:
What went right? What went wrong?
Aside from that one NLDS outing, virtually nothing went wrong for Iglesias, so that takes care of that question.
In looking at what switch flipped between his time in Los Angeles and Atlanta in 2022, one metric in particular stands out: grounder rate. In the first few months in Anaheim, Iglesias tied his career low, getting ground balls just 29.9 percent of the time. In Atlanta, however, that percentage shot up to 40.6 percent, and he has historically been at his best when posting a similar breakdown. That said, his xwOBA was still quite good with the Angels (.290), so it’s not like he was getting hit hard while batters were elevating or anything.
That is, though, when opponents could even make contact. Over 2022 as a whole, Iglesias ranked in the 92nd percentile or better league wide in strikeout percentage (92nd), whiff percentage (93rd), and chase rate (97th).
Raisel Iglesias of the Atlanta Braves. pic.twitter.com/ZKe6IgXfSh— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 6, 2022
An example of how Iglesias was seemingly blessed after the trade? On August 22, he preserved a 2-1 lead in the eighth against the Pirates despite a leadoff walk to whomever Bligh Madris is. The Pirates randomly bunted Madris to second for an out, then hit a weak fly out, and then ended the inning on this 50-50 groundball that ended up being super-easy for Dansby Swanson given the Braves’ positioning (but probably gets through if Iglesias is wearing a uniform with a halo on it):
That said, also check out this play, where Iglesias somehow got Jean Segura to hit into a double play on this pitch:
With Jansen off to the Red Sox, it seems that the Braves have their closer already in-house in Iglesias. If Iglesias has results half as fantastic as he did in 2022 for the Braves, he’ll be a welcome adjustment from the last few years of non-postseason Will Smith results and a Jansen who was fine but not quite lockdown in his single year with the Braves. While it’s obviously unrealistic to expect Iglesias to post long-term numbers like those from the latter months of 2022, the reality is that he’s been pretty crazy-dominant going back to 2020: in 155 innings spanning 154 appearances over the last three years, he has a 60 ERA-, 60 FIP-, and 64 xFIP-.
The Braves are paying a hefty price for Iglesias’ services, to be sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a much better reliever to splurge on if you were committed to doing so.