Atlanta Braves: Can This Pitcher Be The X-Factor Down The Stretch?

The Atlanta Braves are in the thick of the playoff hunt, and would benefit from steady output from the bullpen

It has been the same old story all season long it seems. The bullpen has been the Achilles heel of the Atlanta Braves. There were some steaks where the bullpen was dominant, but just as many streaks where they were not.

Of course, Brian Snitker has made some mistakes with bullpen management, but there have also been cases where it would not have mattered who he put out there. For example Tyler Matzek, who looked like he could be the anchor for this bullpen with a streak of 20 games from July 11th through August 29th gave up 0 earned runs.

It is probably safe to say that maybe .143 batting average of balls in play (BABIP) during that streak has caught up with him, as Matzek has given up 6 runs in his past 4 games.

There are multiple other similar examples in the bullpen as well. A.J. Minter looked to have figured things out when he was sent down to AAA.

He was called back up and had 8 straight appearances where he did not give up a run, while striking out 15 in only 9 innings. Then, Minter was promptly shelled for 2 earned runs in 0.1 innings against Colorado on September 4th.

Chris Martin is now a liability with it being pretty obvious that he was using foreign substance, which is a different story for a different day.

Jesse Chavez looked like he could be an option with a 1.23 ERA in his first 14.2 innings. Since then, Chavez has a 5.00 ERA, .297 batting average against, .350 OBP against, and .728 OPS against.

The list of streaky performances from the bullpen is extensive and has been a headache for everyone involved, but is there an X-factor that could help the Atlanta Braves bullpen down the stretch?

Can Jacob Webb be the X-factor that the Atlanta Braves desperately need?

Kevin Pillar and MLB fans alike will not soon forget what happened on May 17th when Jacob Webb hit the Mets outfielder in the face with a pitch. Brian Snitker then put Webb in a game 3 days later in a high leverage situation when, at the shock of no one, Webb gave up 3 hits and 2 runs (1 earned) while only being able to record 1 out.

The human psyche seems to remember the bad over the good, especially with something graphic like this hit by pitch, combined with the poor performance right afterwards.

Since then, Webb has been fantastic

Atlanta Braves’ Jacob Webb has quietly been one of the best relievers in MLB since his debut.
Since that horrible outing that seems to stick in people’s minds on May 20th 2021, Webb has made an appearance in 8 games, giving up a whopping 0 earned runs. Yes, you read that correctly: Zero.

[ed. note:  that stat doesn’t include last night’s wipeout of the Nats in the 10th inning.]

Batters have had a ridiculously low slash line against him hitting .147/.216/.147 against him in his 10 innings pitched.

It is important to realize that small samples of 10 innings are never a good idea to lean too heavily on when evaluating a player’s future performance. However, Jacob Webb has been very good since he made his debut on April 16th, 2019.

For his career in 67 games and 67.1 innings pitched, his stats are fantastic:
·       2.00 ERA
·       230 ERA+ (130% better than league average)
·       8.4 Strikeouts per 9 innings
·       2.52 Strikeouts per Walk (SO/W)
·       1.233 WHIP

As far as expectancy stats go in his 67.1 innings, he has not been too shabby either according to Baseball Savant:
·       Expected ERA (xERA) – Never higher than 3.68 in a season
·       Expected Batting Average Against (xBA) – .221 (.235 in 2021)
·       Expected Slugging Against (xSLG) – .359 (.375 in 2021)
·       Expected Weighted On Base Average Against (xwOBA) – .286 (.294 in 2021)

If you do the math, that means the expected slash line against him in 2019 has been .235/.286/.359 with an expected OPS of .645. His actual slash line against him has been .230/.305/.369 with equates to a .674 OPS.

Just for what it is worth, the league average slash line against is .247/.320/.422 with an OPS of .742.

As can be seen with his comparisons of expected statistics versus actual statistics, Webb has actually been slightly unlucky. These numbers suggest that pitching at the same rate, his on-field results will improve.

Just for reference on how good a .674 OPS against a pitcher is, former Atlanta Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte, who is a notorious light hitter, only had 1 stretch of 98 games where his OPS was under .674.

If Jacob Webb can continue to pitch as he has since his debut, he could be the reliable bullpen arm down the stretch that the Atlanta Braves have needed all season long.