by Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
The Atlanta Braves They started rolling.
Leftover league clichés aside, the Braves legitimately played a tottering and lackluster baseball brand during the first two months of this season; As the June 1 matches approached, the club was 23-27. Since then, they’ve won six in a row resulting in a very easy part of their schedule, with a streak against the Pirates, Nationals and Cubs. Atlanta still has a lot of work to do to capture the Mets’ leading team, but the upcoming donuts will definitely help.
Despite the club’s disappointing start, there were some bright spots. Ronald Acuña Jr. is back from injury and looks like his brave old self. William Contreras thrived to become one of baseball’s top players. And the team’s goal, which was Atlanta’s Achilles heel in the first half of last season, before the team’s post-season run, was astonishing.
In fact, as of June 6, the Braves’ reducers are incorporated in a 3.17 ERA, sixth place in baseball. The pen is also first in the league in the war, strikes in the nines and FIP.
And while these bulls dominated in October to help the club win their first title in 25 years, there was an astonishing amount of turnover. Luke Jackson, whose devastating curve ball scooped a seventh inning for Atlanta last year, tore up the Champions League in spring training and underwent Tommy John’s pre-season surgery. The story of Tyler Matzic’s brilliant comeback was interrupted after the left-winger struggled early before landing on the injured list. And Will Smith, a consistent and reliable closer from last season, has been subpar in his new role as setup man.
So how was this unit so good? There are three main reasons.
1. Every old person
Well, not exactly everyone. Spencer Strider is only 23, Jackson Stevens and AJ Minter are 28, but every other dweller is over 30. Kenley Janssen is 34, Colin McHugh is 35, Jesse Chavez is 38, and Darren O’Day is 39. Well she is! The average lifespan of entire bulls (if you include pitchers with more than 10 runs) is 32, which is the oldest in the MLB.
Now, age doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but in terms of reliable reliability, it usually does. Thinners that are consistent enough to hit your mid to late thirties are more than certain than the random Jimbo recalled from Triple-A. Jansen is one of the most reliable painkillers in baseball history. McHugh, Odi, and Chavez have been big, dependable pioneers for more than a decade. This is important in the long run.
2. These bulls are expensive
Each season, a few teams choose to spend a bunch of money to support or rejuvenate the bulls. This year, Atlanta was one of those teams. Perhaps this entire article will come down to just this paragraph — or even this sentence: Right now, the Braves spend more money on their rosters than any other team in the National League.
List building isn’t always rocket science. If you want good painkillers, you can mix up a magic potion of nameless guys like Rays, or you can go out and spend real money on real painkillers. Last winter, GM Alex Anthopolous opened the checkbook for Jansen (1 year, $16 million), McHugh (2 years, $10 million), Kirby Yates (2 years, $8.25 million) and Audi (1 year, $1 million), And Will Smith is in the final year of a three-year, $40 million contract.
When you add on the arbitration contracts for Jackson, Minter, and Matzik, about $35 million has been allocated in Atlanta’s budget. The only team in the same neighborhood is the Chicago White Sox, which along with Liam Hendrix, Kendall Grafman and Joe Kelly spend about $36 million on their pen. For comparison, Oakland A has $50 million payroll for their entire team.
This level of investment is critical. Youth development is important, yes, but it’s clear that Anthopolous has made it an organizational priority to target and sign trusted, experienced painkillers to secure the back of the game. It has succeeded so far.
3. A.J. Minter
Minter’s numbers for the full season last year were good, not great, but if you look at his splits, you’ll find a different picture in focus. Down the stretch, Minter was exceptional, and he carried that into the post-season. This year, he’s taken it one step further, increasing his hit rate from 25% to 37.8%—one of the biggest jumps in baseball.
The left hand has three extra pitches (fast ball, chopper, curve), and can throw them all for strikes, which is a rarity for a bulls arm. His Fastball hits less than 97 miles per hour and features elite spin. The only left-handers who have been thrown more aggressively than Minter are Gregory Soto of Detroit and Josh Hader of Milwaukee.
Now, nobody can sustain a 1.13 ERA over an entire season, so expect Minter to come back to Earth a bit, but if he can maintain an outrageous 12.8k/9, he’ll still dominate Atlanta all year long.
Jake Mintz is the top half of Tweet embed and baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is a fan of Orioles and lives in New York City, thus leading a secluded life in most October residents. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.
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