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2023 Braves Season in Review: Raisel Iglesias

Iglesias did pretty much what he was supposed to, which was way better than any potentially-likely alternative

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Raisel Iglesias shrugged off an early-season injury to clock in another pretty-much-expected, really good reliever season, making him a low-drama, backend performer that contrasted with some of the personnel issues the Braves had with their other relief options.

How Acquired

The Braves acquired Iglesias from Anaheim at the 2022 Trade Deadline, sending Tucker Davidson and Jesse Chavez the other way, while absorbing the entirety of his remaining salary, which totaled about $51.5 million at the time. With $16 million owed to him annually, Iglesias has $32 million left on his contract. Chavez, of course, re-signed with the Braves later that season; Davidson spent about a year with the Angels before being DFAed and traded to the Royals, and then later claimed by the Orioles on waivers.

What were the expectations?

Since moving to a relief role, Iglesias has been very consistent in providing elite-tier relief seasons. Aside from a very high HR/FB that hurt his 2018, Iglesias had managed at least 1.0 fWAR, and often much closer to 2.0, in his other five relief years. (He also did the same in 2016, in which he transitioned to relief.) As a result, it was hard to expect something other than the same high quality relief work, with him ending up somewhere between 1-2 fWAR, for 2023. ZiPS, for example, projected Iglesias to finish with 1.5 WAR in under 60 innings of work, which... yeah that made all the sense in the world given what he had done to date.

2023 Results

No one was surprised at the season Iglesias actually turned in, given the expectations: a 62 ERA-, 75 FIP-, and 76 xFIP-. Both his ERA- and xFIP- matched his 2022 values; his FIP went up due to a normal (as opposed to low) HR/FB, but it didn’t tank his season or anything. He amassed 1.50 WPA and a 28/8 shutdown/meltdown ratio, and came in right at 1.0 fWAR despite missing the first month-plus of the season with a strain of his throwing shoulder.

The only thing keeping him away from a 1.5ish fWAR pace was the aforementioned HR/FB, but given that he managed a 1.0 fWAR relief season in just 55 23 innings anyway, and given that his xFIP was still excellent, it’s hard to care too much about a half-win of undershooting expectations here.

What went right?

Iglesias went absolutely ham in the summer, once the shoulder injury was behind him. From June through August, he had a 52 ERA-, 55 FIP-, and and 57 xFIP-, to go with a 17/3 shutdown/meltdown ratio. From July 20 through August, he had one of those insane relief runs — literally zero runs scored while he was on the mound in 17 appearances, a 24/5 K/BB ratio, adding up to a 31 FIP- and 57 xFIP-, while grabbing ten shutdowns (and obviously zero meltdowns).

Pitch-wise, Iglesias (re)discovered the amazing performance of his non-fastballs. His changeup xwOBA-against was .197, the second time in his career it placed under the .200 mark; his slider xwOBA-against clocked in at .146, falling under .200 for the first time since 2018. Neither pitch actually had amazing shape, so the massive success of these two pitches was about location and sequencing (not so much command, since his slider command wasn’t great, though offset by its great spin deflection).

As far as a memorable Iglesias outings, one was probably on June 8 against the Mets, in the inning before Ozzie Albies’ three-run walkoff homer in extra innings. Pitching the top of the tenth with the ghost runner starting on second, Iglesias got three straight outs (infield lineout, strikeout, strikeout) to set up the victory. He was also on the mound for this insane play later in June, where the game ended due to a bunch of just-because circumstances all coming together in the Braves’ favor:

What went wrong?

Much of what went wrong can be traced back to the shoulder woes. Not only did they cost him about a sixth of the season, but Iglesias’ May was pretty rocky after he returned — 70/93/114 in his first 13 outings of the year, which included three meltdowns to his six shutdowns.

He also faded a bit in September, allowing three of his seven homers on the year in 11 appearances, including back-to-back outings where he got taken deep by a Phillie in Citizens Bank Park. 74/128/107 isn’t really what you want to see from your top reliever as the season winds down, but the Braves were mostly playing out the string at that point, so it didn’t really matter.

Pitch-wise, Iglesias posted unfortunate .400+ xwOBAs-against on both his four-seamer and his sinker. While this was offset by him using his changeup more often than either fastball and how good his non-fastballs were, it’s somewhat of a strange happenstance given that his fastballs were very good for fastballs over the past few seasons. While he’s been effective in the past with poor-performing fastballs, those seasons tend to tie into more homers allowed (as they did in 2023), so the Braves will hope that things get better in that regard going forward.

Iglesias also worked three of the Braves’ four NLDS games, posting a 2/0 K/BB ratio in 2 13 innings. This isn’t really a thing that went wrong directly, but given that two of those outings came in losses and he didn’t get a chance to actually have his pitching matter all that much was kind of a bummer.

By far Iglesias’ worst outing was probably on May 14: he came in with a one-run lead, nearly gave up a game-tying homer to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that ended up becoming just a very scary single, but then failed to regroup, as a walk and an infield single loaded the bases and set up a two-out bouncer that gave the Blue Jays a walkoff win. The outing wasn’t purely horrible for Iglesias, but was indicative of how difficult anyone’s job is pitching-wise when they don’t strike out opposing batters.

2024 Outlook

The Braves have made a lot of reliever additions so far during the 2023-2024 offseason, adding additional payroll obligation to a relief corps that already has Iglesias being paid $16 million annually for the next two seasons. While that’s a lot for a guy projected to only provide about 1 WAR going forward, it is what it is at this point.

In any case, the Braves will be relying on Iglesias to co-lead the bullpen along with A.J. Minter. He’ll probably do the same thing he has as a reliever for over a half-decade at this point, but a random down year wouldn’t be that weird, either — after all, his fastballs were horrid in 2023, and it wouldn’t take much to upend his production in a typical reliever small sample.

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