The Atlanta Braves have been very active this off-season in the trade market. Many of the trades seem to involve taking on salary for players of interest. The Kelenic trade has been the biggest move so far, but one that seems at first a bit puzzling is the move that brought in Ray Kerr. This trade was even more interesting now that the Braves essentially paid for Matt Carpenter’s contract to just release him to bring in Kerr.
We may never know exactly what goes on behind closed doors of the front office, but we can make some assumptions as to why this trade was made.
Let’s dissect this move and what Kerr brings to the table. First, it is clear that the Braves lacked lefty relievers last season. The only LHP relievers the Braves had that pitched were A.J. Minter, Brad Hand, Danny Young, Lucas Luetge, Dylan Lee, and Taylor Hearn. Only 161.1 innings were pitched by a lefty reliever and 40.1 percent of those innings were by Minter alone.
It is clear that the front office sees this as an area to upgrade/add depth with adding Aaron Bummer as well this off-season.
It is fair to say that adding another starting pitcher would be nice, but when you have team that led MLB in fWAR in 2023 with a roster that is largely still the same, it gives you the ability to take on salary to tweak areas like adding lefty relievers of interest.
Essentially, it appears the Braves are paying up front for educated guesses on players that could break out in areas on their roster that could be improved with multiple years of team control left at a cheap price in the future. Of course, odds are that these moves are based on actual analytical research and not just gut feelings, so let’s look deeper into the possibility of why Ray Kerr was intriguing besides the fact that he is a lefty.
In 27.0 innings of work at the MLB level in 2023, Kerr had an ERA of 4.33 and a FIP of 4.18, which are both slightly worse than average. In terms of ERA+, which factors in environment, he was 5.0 percent worse than league average in terms of preventing earned runs.
It should be pointed out that ERA is extremely volatile in small sample sizes.
However, in AAA he had an exceptional 2.25 ERA in 36.0 innings. In both AAA and MLB he showed solid strikeout numbers. He struck out 30.7 percent of hitters in MLB (11.7 per nine innings), and 29.0 percent in AAA.
For reference, Joe Jimenez was second among all Braves relievers (minimum 10.0 innings) with the same 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Obviously it seems the Braves front office loves high strikeout guys, since Pierce Johnson led the relief core with 12.2 per nine and he, like Jimenez, signed an extension this off-season.
He obviously misses a lot of bats with such a high strikeout rate. Hitters had a swing and miss rate of 32.2 percent of the time against him. Had he had enough pitches to fall into the “qualified” category, he would have been better at missing bats than approximately 85.0 percent of MLB.
Kerr has some exciting stuff. His fastball averaged 96.0 MPH. Only 15.0 percent of MLB pitchers averaged a fastball with a higher velocity. For reference, the average 4-seamer last season was 94.2 MPH. It makes it even more impressive if we look at only LHP. LHP averaged a full MPH lower at 93.2 last season.
He was also better than league average at preventing walks as well in his limited action last season. The league average was an 8.3 percent rate, whereas Kerr’s was lower at 7.9. However, over his six season tenure in the minors he did walk 11.6 percent of batters.
Outside of missing bats, he does have some red flags. When players did make contact last season, they made solid contact quite often. His xwOBA on contact was an alarming .453, and his hard hit percentage against was 46.4 percent. For reference, the league average of hard hit percentage against was 39.4 percent.
Of course, these are small sample sizes, so they could be volatile, and Kerr has some incredible ability to miss bats that has been the case for most of his professional career (including minors).
Kerr has a minor league option remaining so there is a chance that Atlanta stashes him in the minors as a depth option this season. Should the Braves pitching lab be able to unlock his potential, he is under team control through the 2029 season.
Taking on Carpenter’s salary, just for this season for a player that could potentially contribute for six more years could end up being one of the better moves made in MLB this season should it work out.