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Should the Atlanta Braves target this bullpen arm?

The Braves bullpen has been elite, but could they target a solid arm to upgrade?

MLB: General Manager’s Meetings
Should the Braves make a move for this bullpen arm?
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star week festivities have begun, which means that trade deadline season is quickly approaching us. The Atlanta Braves are in the fortunate position to where they do not really have any “needs”. However, teams could always use some upgrades and depth depending on the price.

It is pretty evident that after the Atlanta Braves historical month of June, and being on pace to have the most runs scored per game above league average in franchise history since 1897, that offense will not be the priority.

This leaves pitching. The Atlanta Braves have been no slouch in this arena either. Even with missing Fried, Wright, and Soroka for most of the season, the Braves’ rotation are second in the NL in ERA, fifth in the NL in xFIP, and sixth in the NL in fWAR.

Soroka has not been the dominant force he once was quite yet, but he has been a positive addition, and Fried has started his rehab assignment.

As for the bullpen, they have lost guys like Dylan Lee, Jesse Chavez, and Danny Young yet have managed to still be very good. The Braves bullpen is first in the NL in fWAR, first in ERA, and first in FIP. To be fair, they are fourth in xFIP so we could see some regression, but still this has been an impressive group.

Combine that with the fact that the member of the bullpen with the highest ERA is A.J. Minter with a 4.91 ERA, it gets even more promising. In his last twenty appearances, Minter has only given up three ER and has an ERA of 1.56.

Who should the Braves target?

Ultimately it will come down to the asking price and if it fits what the front office is willing to give up, but in a vacuum it appears that the rotation would be the easiest to upgrade in terms of filling out the back end with someone who could also help in the playoffs.

The issue is that this year’s crop of potential rotation trade pieces from selling teams is pretty thin. It is basically Lucas Giolito, large gap, then possibly Shane Beiber if the Guardians decide to sell. After that there are a handful of guys that would be the fourth or fifth best starter on the Braves. Arms like Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals, or Michael Lorenzen and Eduardo Rodriguez of the Tigers.

Could the Braves target one of these arms? Absolutely. Who knows, Alex Anthopoulos has come up with many well executed trades we never saw coming.

That being said, even though the bullpen has been stellar, there is a good chance that at least one bullpen arm will be targeted. This is not to say the Braves should only target a bullpen arm, but let’s look at one particular bullpen piece that could potentially make sense for the Braves.

Scott Barlow (Kansas City)

Barlow is not a big name closer that makes headlines, but he has been a top tier reliever for the past few years. In fact, since the start of 2021, Barlow has been fourteenth in all of MLB in fWAR for relievers.

If you look at his surface numbers this year, it may seem weird that someone with a 4.09 ERA should be targeted, but there are far more variables than that.

As we have seen with Minter, ERA can be extremely volatile with relievers due to their limited amount of innings in comparison to starters.

Let’s explore some of the reasons to look beyond that 4.09 ERA. Barlow’s expected ERA (xERA) is actually much lower at 3.57, which puts him in the best 30.0 percent of the league. His xFIP is 3.18 showing he has also been a victim of bad defense behind him. FIP is by no means a perfect stat, but a gap of 0.91 between his ERA and xFIP definitely tells a story. The odd part is that Royals have a good defense being ranked sixth in MLB in Outs Above Average (OAA).

Barlow has also been a victim of a low strand rate of runners LOB and somewhat high BABIP. His career strand rate is 77.6 percent, but this year it is a much lower 67.8 percent. His career BABIP against is .303 and this season it is .316.

In other words, Barlow is due to see his ERA drop by a significant amount if he continues to pitch the way he is right now.

Barlow’s walk rate is a bit concerning at 11.3 percent, which is the second worst of his career and the bottom 15.0 percent of MLB, but pretty much everything else looks good on his Statcast sheet:

· Average EV – Top 4.0 percent

· Chase Rate – Top 5.0 percent

· Hard Hit – Top 7.0 percent

· Strikeout Rate – Top 11.0 percent

· Swing and Miss Percentage – Top 16.0 percent

· Expected Slugging Against – Top 19.0 percent

· Expected Batting Average Against – Top 30.0 percent

· Barrel Percentage – Top 40.0 percent

He leans heavily on his slider. Over the past three seasons he has pitched his slider 46.4 percent, 44.6 percent, and 43.7 respectively. This season hitters have a .180 batting average and .241 slugging percentage on the pitch.

He has opted to cut back a slightly on his slider to add in more sinkers. Last season he only pitched six sinkers the entire year, but has been pitching it 4.2 percent of the time. It is an extremely small sample size, but hitters have a .333 batting average and .333 slugging against it. Although, their xBA has been .144, and their xSLG has been .156 against it.

Barlow’s biggest issue has been his fastball. Hitters have crushed it pretty much his entire career. This season, hitters have a batting average of .476 and a slugging percentage of .762 against it. He only pitches his 4-seamer 22.6 percent of the time and has also replaced some of his 4-seamers with sinkers.

Should the Braves think they can find a way to alter his approach a bit, they could find a solid arm that could help them continue to be a dominant force. Three of Barlow’s four pitches have an xBA lower than .212 and xSLG lower than .283.

Something else to keep in mind is that Barlow is under team control through 2024, so he could also help the Braves next season as well. Currently the Braves are scheduled to potentially lose Joe Jimenez, Jesse Chavez, and Lucas Luetge via free agency after this season. Chavez and Jimenez have both played large roles in the success of this season’s bullpen.

In Summary

Ultimately, it will come down to if the Braves front office are comfortable with the price tag on Barlow. Teams could potentially get in a bidding war, driving up the price behind the scenes. It would be shocking if the Royals hold onto him past the deadline as he should be one of the top sought after arms at the deadline, and they have no reason to keep him since they will not be competitive in the near future.

Put in the comments which bullpen arm you would like to see the Braves target.

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