Braves Bolster Bullpen With Chris Martin

In a trade that may or may not dissolve Coldplay, the Braves cushioned their bullpen on Tuesday night by acquiring right-handed reliever Chris Martin. Per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Braves obtained Martin from the Rangers in exchange for Triple-A lefty Kolby Allard.

The Braves currently have a fairly large lead over the Nationals atop the NL East, and we have them as the favorite (68.5%) to win the division. To this point, the bullpen has been one of Atlanta’s few weaknesses. Braves relievers have posted a 4.75 FIP and accrued -0.1 WAR this season, the sixth worst total in baseball. Walks have been particularly problematic for this crew, as they’ve allowed an 11% walk rate, the second worst mark in the league. A high strand rate has masked the issue somewhat — the ‘pen has notched a 4.03 ERA — but Atlanta needs reinforcements.

Martin should help. After dominating in the NPB — he posted a 91-to-13 K/BB in 88.1 IP back in 2017 — he’s pitched well since returning stateside the following year. In 2019, he’s been fantastic, and he sports a 3.08 ERA (62 ERA-) in 38 innings. His 26.5% K-BB rate is the 15th-highest among the 182 relievers with at least 30 IP, and he recently went nearly two months without walking a batter. He’s also pitched in plenty of stressful situations: Among Braves relievers, only Luke Jackson has a higher average leverage index this year than Martin.

Martin is a power pitcher and he relies heavily on his four-seam fastball. He throws it about 44% of the time and hitters have struggled with it, posting just a .281 wOBA while whiffing on 29% of their swings; both of these figures rank in the top 15% of the league among all four-seamers. His heater averages 96 mph, and he likes using it to attack the outside corner:

In addition to his excellent four-seamer, Martin mixes in a sinker (21.5%), cutter (16.5%), splitter (9.7%), and slider (8.3%). He throws everything hard: His split occasionally tops 90 mph, and only his slider sits in the mid-80s.

As well as Martin has pitched, moving out of Texas could help him take another step forward. He’s giving up 1.89 HR/9, which is quite high for an otherwise effective reliever. But part of the problem is Globe Life Park, the Rangers home field and one of the most dinger-prone ballparks in the majors. SunTrust Park is much more neutral, and you’d imagine that his 25% HR/FB will come down. For what it’s worth, Martin’s 62 xFIP- is the 11th-best in baseball.

The Braves will slide Martin in to the back of their bullpen. Jackson will remain the closer, but Martin should get plenty of work near the end of games. As of now, the Braves have heavily relied on Josh Tomlin (4.62 FIP), Sean Newcomb (3.63 FIP), and A.J. Minter (4.20 FIP) to bridge the gap. Jacob Webb (4.31 FIP), who has also served in this role, is currently on the injured list with a bruised right elbow. Martin immediately becomes the Braves’ second- or third-best reliever, and at a limited cost.

For Texas, Allard is an interesting return. In 110 innings at Triple-A, he’s posted a 4.17 ERA and a 4.67 FIP, with a 21.1% strikeout rate and a 7.7% walk rate. He was Atlanta’s first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, but has never thrown quite as hard as he did in high school. His velocity plummeted to the upper-80s last year, and while he made his debut, he took a battering and seemed to fall down the pecking order in the Braves’ pitching-rich system.

Now, he’s generally sitting between 89-92 mph with the fastball, topping out at 94. He gets whiffs by burying his changeup, and he also has a curveball to keep hitters off-balance. He could develop into a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, or may settle in as a multi-inning bulk reliever. Kiley and Eric have added Allard to Texas’ prospect list at No. 23, where they have him rated as a 40 FV pitcher.

In this trade, the Rangers cashed out on a find. Martin wasn’t even in the majors two years ago, and Texas was able to deal him for a starter who could provide future value at the end of their rotation. The Braves, meanwhile, geared up for the pennant race and beyond in a deal that makes sense for both sides.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

It feels like the kind of trade the Braves shouldn’t make too many of–solid pitching prospect who’s lost some of his shine for a pure rental reliever. As a one-off, it seems fine. The Braves have a chance to make some actual noise in the playoffs this year, and they need all the bullpen help they can get.