As the Atlanta Braves are about to embark upon a strange new horizon in 2020, we attempt to sort through how the myriad of modifications will impact the players.
Atlanta Braves lefty Sean Newcomb was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Angels and traded to the Braves along with Erick Aybar in exchange for Andrelton Simmons prior to the 2016 season.
It hurt to see Simmons go but the upside in this deal was with Newcomb. The excitement reached a fever pitch when he debuted on June 10, 2017, against the New York Mets in Atlanta.
Newcomb went 6.1 innings with seven strikeouts, two walks, and just three hits while allowing one run.
His big curveball was on display as both Atlanta fans and Mets' players marveled at it as it swerved out of the air, over the plate, and into the catcher's mitt.
Over his first two seasons with the Braves, he continued to show flashes but struggled with consistency. He went 16-18 in 264.0 innings with a 4.06 ERA. Not too shabby. Newcomb racked up 268 strikeouts and 138 walks in that time. His 4.7 walks per nine helped contribute to his 1.420 WHIP in that time span.
Last season, Newcomb was sent to Triple-A after an outing against the Mets in which he made it just 1.1 innings and gave up four earned runs. He had walked eight batters in his first 12.1 innings. He was recalled in early May and began coming out of the bullpen.
Newcomb made his debut out of the pen for the season in Los Angeles against the Dodgers pitching a clean sixth and seventh, allowing just one hit and striking out two. Newcomb became a utility knife for manager Brian Snitker. He could be used as a lefty specialist to get just one out, or come in and pitch 4.2 innings to earn the win as he did against the Pirates on June 19, striking out six and allowing no runs on one hit with zero walks.
After his move to the bullpen, Newcomb's stats revealed that he was more effective in smaller doses. Once he was moved to a relief role upon his recall in May, he pitched 56.0 innings posting a stellar 2.89 ERA. He struck out 60 batters and walked just 21, lowering his walks per nine from 5.8 (before being optioned in April) to a much more palatable 3.375 BB/9.
Atlanta Braves - Sean Newcomb, 2020 MVP?
So, why would he be a candidate to rack up a bunch of wins for the Braves in 2020? With the rush to return to action, pitchers aren't going to be in mid-season form until around...probably mid-season. There's probably going to be a lot of three-inning outings, unfortunately.
Playing only 37% of a normal schedule makes each game exponentially more important. There should be a lot of short leashes for starting pitchers this season.
The long man with the skills that pay the bills in the pen is likely to be Newcomb.
This is assuming he doesn't earn a starting role of out the three weeks of summer training they get.
Newcomb has a chance to an MVP-type player for the Braves in an unusual role during an unusual season. He can assume more of a bulk role like Ryan Yarbrough of the Tampa Bay Rays has had the past couple of years. Like a starter that takes over in the middle of the game with a fresh arm and nasty stuff.
I don't know if the drastic change in his numbers after being re-called in May had more to do with making adjustments or if he truly benefited from coming out of the bullpen, but it certainly bodes well for Newcomb and the Braves in 2020.
If he can replicate the type of numbers he had out of the pen last year, he could prove to be a very critical weapon in 2020.