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Exploring the Braves’ options at closer

Raisel Iglesias is expected to take over at closer, but who else could see some save opportunities?

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Four Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Raisel Iglesias is coming off of yet another solid season. The former Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds closer posted an xERA of 3.10 last season to go along with a K percentage of 31.7 with both numbers ranking in the 80th and 92nd percentile in baseball respectively. However, like a lot of relievers, Iglesias is prone to some shaky stretches. In 2022, prior to joining the Braves, the eight-year vet pitched to a 4.04 ERA, posted a WHIP of 1.07 and had a K/BB ratio of 5.3 in 35 ⅔ innings.

The script completely flipped for Iglesias when he joined Atlanta as he had a minuscule 0.34 ERA only allowing one earned run throughout his Braves tenure. In addition to that, his WHIP dropped down to 0.84 and his K/BB ratio improved to an even 6. The most notable difference was he allowed five home runs with the Angels compared to none with the Braves. Home runs can be a bit unpredictable and more often than not tend to settle to the mean overtime so we can’t look too deep into that change.

However, despite Iglesias becoming one of the best relievers in baseball in his time with the Braves it is a far question to wonder if we could see him handed a short lease if he struggles out of the gate this season. The Braves have some under the radar relievers who could steal some of Iglesias ninth inning appearances in the event Brian Snitker gets impatient at any point.

A.J. Minter is the first name that jumps to mind when looking at who could usurp Iglesias from the closer’s role. The southpaw proved his strong 2021 season was not a fluke and instead improved significantly from there. He was in the 96th percentile in xERA, xBA and K percentage in addition to being 90th in whiff percentage and xSLG. On top of his elite numbers there, Minter had some of the best all-around stuff amongst relievers. His cutters spin rate of 2,603 RPM would’ve been 4th in baseball had he qualified and his four seamers RPM of 2,425 would’ve placed sixth, right between Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. His cutter’s average horizontal movement of 5.1 inches was tied for 17th amongst qualified pitchers. His changeup, his third most used pitch was also elite. Its spin rate of 1,650 RPM’s would’ve sat alone in 25th had he faced enough batters.

Another reliever who could step in and steal some of Iglesias’ save opportunities is 2018 All Star Joe Jimenez. The former Detroit Tiger had far and away the best season of his career last season. He struggled to limit hard contact as he was below average in average exit velocity against, hard hit percentage and barrel percentage. However, those three statistics aside, Jimenez ranked in the 74th percentile or better in every other key analytic. Jimenez throws 3 pitches, but he is heavily reliant on his four-seam fastball which he throws 63.7% of the time. His fastball is dominant and is arguably one of the better four seamers in the league. It has a spin rate of 2,461 RPM which would’ve ranked fifth had he qualified. Additionally, its vertical movement and horizontal movement both ranked well above average. There is a chance with the quality of his four seamer that Jimenez ends the season as the Braves best reliever.

A final reliever and sleeper who could enter the fray to steal some saves away from Iglesias is Kirby Yates. The 35-year-old is an unknown commodity as he has only thrown 238 pitches since the start of the 2020 season. However, prior to that Yates was arguably the best reliever in baseball as he posted a 2.22 xERA in 2019 and looked unhittable at times. There’s a chance Yates is DFA’d early in the season because he might simply not have it anymore. Although, he is a name to keep an eye on because of his track record.

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