Braves acquire right-handed pitcher in second trade with Rangers in past week

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The Braves and Rangers executed their second trade in six days.

This time, the Braves acquired right-handed reliever Dennis Santana for cash Tuesday. The Braves then designated right-handed reliever Jackson Stephens for assignment.

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In Santana, the Braves saw upside. He throws hard, and the Braves could unlock more in him. At his best, Santana has the stuff to be a late-inning reliever. Plus, the Braves didn’t pay much for Santana, and Stephens had faded.

In 2022, Santana posted a 5.22 ERA over 58-2/3 innings for the Rangers.

Ignore this.

Fielding independent pitching – FIP – is similar to ERA, but accounts for only the outcomes over which a pitcher has control. Strikeouts, hit-by-pitches, home runs and unintentional walks are factored in here. Balls hit into play are out of the equation.

In 2022, Santana had a 3.35 FIP, suggesting his ERA could’ve been better, and he might’ve fallen victim to some bad luck. Over his career, he has a 4.15 FIP, which is better than his 5.12 career ERA.

Santana’s four-seam fastball averaged 97.7 mph, and his fastball velocity ranked in the 91st percentile in baseball last season, according to Baseball Savant. His slider, viewed as a good secondary pitch, averaged 85.8 mph. Santana also has a two-seam fastball and a change-up.

Opponents’ average exit velocity on balls in play versus Santana in 2022 was 86.6 mph. Opposing batters hit only .200 against Santana’s slider.

Santana’s command isn’t great, as he has an 11.8% walk rate over a career that began in 2018. He’s also out of minor-league options, which means the Braves don’t have the flexibility of optioning him without losing him.

But Santana has qualities the Braves can’t teach, like his big-time arm strength. The team can help a player work on a specific pitch or his pitch mix, but the Braves can’t use a magic potion to help a guy throw 98 mph.

Sure, there is a chance Santana won’t fulfill his potential in Atlanta, but the Braves wanted to take a shot. Santana’s ceiling is being a late-inning reliever.

Once upon a time, Luke Jackson had a rough time until spending his best seasons – to this point – in Atlanta. Dylan Lee once was released, but has now carved out a nice role with the Braves.

Last season, Stephens posted a 3.69 ERA over 53-2/3 innings. He was the Braves’ long man out of the bullpen. He did a nice job.

However, Stephens faded toward the end of the season. Over his final 17 innings of the season, he had a 6.35 ERA (and a 4.47 FIP). He struggled. Stephens also was out of options, which is a difficult situation to be in as a long man because teams often need fresh arms after you pitch multiple innings on a given day.

Perhaps the Braves wouldn’t have gotten any more out of him than what he gave them in his first big-league action since 2018.

The Braves on Tuesday acquired Santana, and at hardly any cost. There’s no risk.

But the payoff could be big.