The release of James Russell on Sunday was a bit shocking. Sure, Braves beat writers will point out that he gave up nine earned runs in 7.2 ING to go with a 3/3 BB/K. But it was still surprising to see a guy who was expected to be safe as one of the relievers in the remodeled bullpen get cut in spring training. No trade – just flat-out released. The Braves did save nearly $2M by releasing Russell before opening day.
Russell had an odd 2014. Despite holding lefties to a .280 OBP throughout his career, including last season, he couldn’t get them out at all in 2014. They slashed their way to .284/.351/.455, though he was a bit better against them once traded to the Brave (still a .333 OBP, but no power). Conversely, he was very good against righties, limiting them to a .421 OPS. All told, it wasn’t the year he wanted, but here’s the thing. When you put everything together, it was a pretty good year. He had a 3.44 FIP, a new personal low, and set personal bests in xFIP, HR/9, WHIP, and GB%.
Yet, he wasn’t the pitcher he was before. After 33 shutdowns over the two years before 2014, he had just nine last year and for the first time since his rookie year, he had more meltdowns than shutdowns. And of course, when you are paid to get lefties out, getting the righty out after letting the lefty reach won’t win over much confidence.
But he still appeared safe. After all, Josh Outman has also struggled this spring and doesn’t have the past success to really lean on. Instead, it’s Outman who appears to have a bit more job security. Luis Avilan, who struggled badly in 2014 and is hardly a favorite of those who use statistical analysis, might also have improved his stock enough to be safe. But there may still be a move to be made that would bring in another reliever. The Braves are also high on Brady Feigl, who I profiled earlier this month.
Russell had his moments. He was actually a starting candidate, but maybe it’s just me, but players that were sought and rated highly by the previous front office just don’t seem to have as much love with the new front office. Russell was a guy Frank Wren wanted. The Braves gave up a decent hitting prospect in Victor Caratini to get Russell, along with Emilio Bonifacio. Now, the Braves have nothing to show for it. Seemed like an overreaction because you have to believe someone would have traded a borderline C prospect for Russell. But I guess the Braves felt he just wasn’t worth keeping him around. I hope they’re right.