So here we are, looking back on everything that took place during the Winter Meetings and it’s looking like the Braves won’t be leaving San Diego completely dormant when it comes to the Hot Stove action. While Atlanta didn’t make the splash move for a shortstop or a left fielder (or maybe even another catcher? I don’t know, it’s been a weird week, y’all) that everybody’s been waiting for, they did make a pretty nifty acquisition that is going to leave the team in a better place than where they were when the Winter Meetings began.
Again, they didn’t acquire a big-name free agent but you can do a lot worse than adding a reliever like Joe Jiménez to your bullpen, right?
Welcome to the A, Joe Jiménez! pic.twitter.com/9ERKeQLLhq— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) December 8, 2022
The Detroit Tigers had been expected to trade Joe Jiménez around last season’s trade deadline and when that didn’t come to fruition, they very likely tried to keep him around on a contract extension. While Jiménez would’ve been very nice for the Tigers to keep around, it turns out that their contention window is still pretty far away. When that’s the case, relievers become valuable trade chips and so the Braves came calling.
When it comes to the prospects leaving Atlanta for Detroit, I do have to admit that I raised an eyebrow when I saw that Justyn-Henry Malloy would be included in the deal. Malloy had himself a breakout season on the farm where he skyrocketed up the prospect rankings and suddenly found himself on the radar of minor league observers. I figured that he would’ve been a keeper for the Braves and I can definitely understand some fans feeling like letting Malloy go might be a mistake. At the same time, the Braves aren’t really in a position to wait and see what they’ve got with some of their prospects and if they have a chance at bringing in some decent talent via trade, they’ve got to do so.
With that being said, all you have to do is look at Joe Jiménez’s StatCast profile and it’s pretty easy to understand why the Braves were more-than-happy to part ways with one of their top prospects in order to acquire the soon-to-be 28-year-old reliever from the Tigers.
Joe Jiménez had himself a breakout season in 2022, where he emerged as one of the better relievers in baseball as a high-leverage arm. The big key to Jiménez’s big season was that he was able to post a career-low in walk percentage (5.6 percent), a career-high in strikeout percentage (33.3 percent) while also posting a career-best ERA- of 91 and his 51 FIP- obliterated his previous career-mark. That’s exactly what you want out of a reliever and he’s definitely going to keep up the high standard that the Braves have come to expect from their bullpen in recent seasons.
So now the main question is whether or not this is a sustainable bit of production for Joe Jiménez going forward. Naturally, it’s a positive to see that Jiménez had a somewhat similar year in 2018, where he had a 8.2 percent walk rate, a 29.2 percent strikeout rate, an ERA- of 99 and a FIP- of 68. 2022 wasn’t Jiménez’s first rodeo in the land of 1.4 fWAR and the Braves will surely be hoping that he’ll be making a return visit to that land (or even further North of that mark) in what will be a contract season for him.
If you’re worried about regression, that’s actually a valid concern since we all know that relievers can be volatile from year-to-year. Still, the fact that Joe Jiménez’s slider has been very good for the past couple of seasons could be soothing to see. Opposing hitters only hit for .182 Batting Average against Jiménez’s slider, with the Expected Batting Average being a shade higher at .187. This was after he got a little unlucky in 2021 where batters hit at a .217 clip against his slider while the xBA was actually at a palty .157. Jiménez’s slider has been tough to deal with for a couple of seasons now and I can’t see that changing going forward.
It’s all down to whether or not Joe Jiménez can keep it going with his other two pitches: The fastball that he was averaging 96 miles per hour on last season and the changeup. While Jiménez’s four-seamer isn’t his main put-away pitch, he did manage to rack up 48 of his 77 strikeouts last season with that pitch. The last time he pulled off a feat even close to that was back in both 2018 and 2019, which is when he picked up 55 strikeouts with the fastball in each of those seasons. He’s proven that he can get some punch-outs with his heater and if he has another season of that type of production with his fastball while also continuing to throw a formidable slider, then this could end up being yet another good season on the mound for Joe Jiménez.
Assuming that Jiménez can indeed keep this going, he should slot into any one of the late-inning relief roles that you can think of. He likely won’t be the regular closer since that’s why they brought in Raisel Iglesias but if you’re looking for someone to carry the baton in, say, the seventh or the eighth inning then Jiménez appears to be the man for the job. It also wouldn’t be shocking to see Jiménez close some games in a pinch, if needed. It’s actually exciting to think about the options that Atlanta will have for the back-end of their bullpen. The Braves had one of the best relief corps in all of baseball last season and it would be quite shocking if there was a significant drop-off in 2023 when it comes to that crew.
To sum things up, I still can’t say that I’m super enthused about losing Justyn-Henry Malloy — especially after the season he just had. With that being said, trading prospects of that quality is the price of doing business if you want to continuously contend for titles. While the Braves still have some areas on their roster that should be addressed in this offseason (and I already mentioned those areas at the very top), this is still a very good-looking team on paper. This should be another Postseason contender and one thing that certainly helps is having a strong bullpen. The addition of Joe Jiménez came at a bit of a cost, but it should end up being worth it if the Braves are back in their familiar spot of playing October baseball next season.