The Atlanta Braves' playoff run ended just one game away from playing in the World Series, and 2020 marked the first season in 19 years they won a playoff series.
A lot of their success was owed to a bullpen that improved over the last two years, in large part due to the additions of former Giants relievers Mark Melancon and Will Smith.
“It was enormous. I go back to where they were before the trade deadline, 2019 -- they were winning in spite of the bullpen,” Ben Ingram, one of the Braves' radio play-by-play broadcasters, said this week on "Balk Talk." “The worst element of the team was the bullpen, and nothing against those guys, it was just a really bad first four months of the year for the ‘pen and they were still winning in spite of that.”
In 2019, Braves relievers posted a 4.21 ERA. That improved to 3.50 in 2020, the fourth-best mark in the majors.
“At the trade deadline, they get Shane Greene and they get Mark Melancon, they were able to get Chris Martin and others, and the bullpen started taking shape, and by the end of last season, it looked like they had found a way to make it the strength of the ball club,” Ingram added. “Then, in the offseason, they get Will Smith.”
Smith, who signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Braves in the offseason, didn’t put up his best numbers in 2020. His Atlanta debut was delayed after testing positive for COVID-19, and he wasn’t available to pitch until the 16th game of the season. Smith ended the season with a subpar 4.50 ERA and 7.38 FIP, but his 0.94 WHIP was the second-lowest of his career.
“They had other guys that continued to step up … and that went from being the biggest weakness of the team in May, June of 2019 to being the biggest strength I’d say of this team for 2020,” Ingram added.
Melancon, whom the Braves acquired last July, was pretty successful with a 2.78 ERA. However, his 3.27 FIP and 1.29 WHIP were both well above his career averages.
It's possible Melancon re-signs with the Braves in free agency, but don't expect a reunion with the Giants. It does, however, go to show even a little improvement in the bullpen goes a long way.
Almost all the way to the World Series.