Give the Braves a Hand: Rockies Deal Lefty to Atlanta

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves made another fine-tuning move on Tuesday, bringing in veteran left-hander Brad Hand from Colorado in exchange for minor league right-hander Alec Barger. Hand joins his ninth big league club – his seventh since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – where he’ll factor into a righty-heavy bullpen stocked with veterans. (With his latest relocation, Hand is a lock for the Immaculate Grid Hall of Fame, though Rich Hill was not to be outdone and found himself yet another team Tuesday afternoon.)

The Braves, who are just 7-8 since the All-Star break, already had significant pitching help coming by way of the injured list. They activated lefty A.J. Minter on Monday and stand to get Max Fried back soon, with Dylan Lee and Kyle Wright hopefully returning in the coming weeks as well. But Hand gives them another veteran option with just about every type of experience a relief pitcher can offer. After acquiring backup infielder Nicky Lopez – the third Lopez to get dealt at this year’s deadline – for the recently-acquired Taylor Hearn on Sunday, the Hand deal is another low-cost upgrade to a team that is fully intent on making a run at a championship this October. At season’s end, Hand and the Braves have what is now a $7 million mutual option for 2024, with a $500,000 buyout.

Hand’s 2023 isn’t particularly shiny, but some of that is the result of one particularly bad outing. He’s given up 18 earned runs in 35.2 innings over 40 outings, but four of those came on July 2, when he walked three and gave up a grand slam to Jake Marisnick in Denver. Take that line off his game log and he’d have a 3.63 ERA instead of his actual 4.54 mark (next to a 4.03 FIP and 4.07 xFIP), while his walk rate would drop from 10.2% to 8.7%. He’s pretty clearly not the same pitcher he was during an elite 2017-19 run that sent him to three straight All-Star Games, but he hasn’t lost much velocity since those days. His sweeper has been less effective than in previous years and is breaking less, though some of that difference may be a result of an uptick in velocity.

He’s also shown that he’s still quite capable of getting lefties out, although a small sample caveat applies here. In 59 plate appearances, hitters from the left side have slashed .143/.276/.204 with a 33.9% strikeout rate and a .233 wOBA, his lowest wOBA against lefties since 2019. Among pitchers with at least 50 PA vs. left-handed hitters in 2023, his .204 SLG against ranks ninth and his .143 AVG against 10th.

Lowest SLG vs. Left-Handed Hitters, 2023
1 Taylor Rogers 72 .065 .169 .081 .134
2 Wandy Peralta 67 .091 .242 .091 .185
3 Hector Neris 73 .119 .268 .136 .210
4 Félix Bautista 90 .103 .222 .141 .184
5 Gregory Soto 58 .078 .172 .157 .159
6 Tyler Holton 81 .133 .188 .160 .164
7 Josh Sborz 52 .174 .269 .174 .216
8 Jesse Chavez 51 .170 .235 .191 .202
9 Brad Hand 59 .143 .276 .204 .233
10 Tyler Rogers 96 .157 .228 .205 .190
min. 50 BF

Hand isn’t necessarily who the Braves will call upon for their highest-leverage playoff innings, but he’ll be used in tandem with Minter against lefty-heavy lineups, and he’s a useful addition to a bullpen that’s already in the top five in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and WAR.

I’d say he will be a good veteran leader in the bullpen, too, but frankly, the Braves have one of the most deeply experienced bullpens in baseball. With over nine years of service time, Hand is now the elder statesman, but just two of the Braves’ relievers have less than three years of service – and one of those is 33-year-old Michael Tonkin. In addition to Hand, Collin McHugh and Kirby Yates have over eight years, Raisel Iglesias over seven, Joe Jiménez over five, and Minter over four. That’s a lot of mentorship for rookie Daysbel Hernández, who just debuted last month.

Braves Bullpen Veterans
Player Thr Age MLB Service Time
Brad Hand L 33.4 9.092
Collin McHugh R 36.1 8.085
Kirby Yates R 36.4 8.021
Raisel Iglesias R 33.6 7.154
Joe Jiménez R 28.5 5.061
A.J. Minter L 29.9 4.154
Pierce Johnson R 32.2 3.137
Ben Heller R 32.0 3.021
Michael Tonkin R 33.7 2.074

The Rockies, meanwhile, have been uncharacteristically active at this year’s deadline, building some minor league pitching depth in return for veteran pieces. On Sunday, Colorado dealt C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk to the Angels in exchange for a pair of A-level starting pitchers in Jake Madden and Mason Albright, which, well, isn’t nothing for a couple of veterans who would otherwise have finished contracts with the last-place Rockies this fall. In return for Hand, Colorado acquired the 25-year-old Barger, who, as a 17th-round pick from the 2019 draft, lost a key development year to COVID in 2020. He’s never been highly ranked in Atlanta’s system, but he offers some upper-minors relief depth with a chance of being called upon to provide bullpen help down the stretch. Barger’s gotten into some control trouble in the Double-A Southern League this year, but he’s been able to get outs thanks in part to a characteristically high strikeout rate of 29.3%, leading to a 3.29 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and 4.09 xFIP.

Moments after dealing Hand to Atlanta, the Rockies replaced the lefty-sized hole in their bullpen by acquiring Justin Bruihl from the Dodgers in exchange for cash; the soft-throwing 26-year-old was designated for assignment by Los Angeles on Friday. Bruihl has a 3.65 ERA in 66.1 big league innings since 2021, but a 4.48 FIP and 4.86 xFIP reflect a more complicated picture.

With an arsenal featuring an 87 mph cutter, 79 mph slider, and 88 mph sinker, Bruihl relies on weak contact to get outs, which worked quite well for him in 2021 and 2022, particularly with the cutter. So far in 2023, the cutter has been less effective and Bruihl is getting hit harder overall, even as his strikeout rate has improved. Still, Bruihl is capable of strong stretches, and he figures to contribute for the Rockies down the stretch, particularly as he may end up being the most experienced lefty reliever in the organization with Hand gone and Brent Suter another trade target.

Bruihl’s Cups of Coffee
Season IP SO% EV HardHit% Barrel%
2021 18.2 15.1% 86.4 29.6% 1.9%
2022 23.2 13.0% 86.2 24.4% 6.4%
2023 24.1 18.6% 91.3 47.9% 6.8%
SOURCE: Statcast

In the same way that none of Cron, Grichuk, or Hand are massive acquisitions for their new clubs, Colorado’s depth additions aren’t exactly franchise-altering for the organization. But getting some value back for veterans headed toward free agency is a step forward from 2022, when, as Michael Baumann noted, the Rockies made not a single deadline deal.

This was a deal between two clubs leveraging the deadline market to improve their respective positions, different as they are. For the Rockies, that means exploiting the needs of contending teams to boost their depth, as marginally improved as it may be. For the Braves, it was a chance to add a player who has a shot to be an important piece on a championship team – and to get his first ring in the meantime.

Chris is a data journalist and FanGraphs contributor. Prior to his career in journalism, he worked in baseball media relations for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

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jimmy gmember
9 months ago

A not surprising move by the Braves for LH relief help. Hand is probably as good a bet as anyone they could expect to land, given what they were willing to spend.

The Braves keep building their stack of chips and if Hand almost certainly isn’t a blue, he seems more likely to be a red than a white. And even white chips have value.

Good write-up and good coverage of the Rox too.