Every single season, MLB is filled with storylines of players that start off struggling with one organization, and then thoroughly change their performance level by moving to a new club. Occasionally, it’s an adjustment, other times it may just be a change of scenery, but either way, it’s very common.
One particular name that experienced this phenomenon in 2023 is a veteran reliever all too familiar with the surroundings of the AL East. Ryan Brasier went from waiver wire claim to dominant late-inning option on a World Series contender.
Brasier, who will turn 37 in the middle of next season, was the embodiment of a late bloomer, only completing nine innings with the Angels in the big leagues before his age-30 campaign. Fast-forward five years and the right-hander found great success in his time with Boston, playing a pivotal role in the World Series-winning roster of 2018. Beyond that banner year however, Brasier took some steps back in the following campaigns and dealt with volatility for the bulk of his tenure in Boston.
In 2022, Brasier had a particularly odd campaign, earning a 5.78 ERA in 62.1 IP, but doing it with a very respectable 3.61 FIP. There was clearly something left in the tank to be utilized, but it wasn’t happening with the Red Sox. He opened 2023 still with the team, but after 20 appearances that showed more of the same, he was let go on May 21st. Then the Dodgers swooped in.
Los Angeles inked Brasier to a minor-league deal on June 5th, and the veteran only covered three innings with Oklahoma City (the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate) before getting the call-up to the majors. The primary change for Brasier out on the West Coast was the addition of a cutter, previously not a part of his arsenal. It was primarily used against lefties, who saw the pitch 27.2 percent of the time. Brasier also started throwing his sinker a bit more often and overall had a more balanced arsenal in Dodger blue.
And the results poured in. The BABIP that was absurdly high in Boston (.344), became insanely low in his time with the Dodgers (.183). With a more effective sinker, his groundball rate went through the roof. In 21 innings with Boston, it came in at 34.1 percent, and across 38.2 innings with the Dodgers, it came in at 51.1 percent. Just look at how much of the heart of the plate his sinker caught in 2022, compared to last season:
The bottom line is that opposing hitters stopped getting as many meatballs and couldn’t square up against Brasier’s extended arsenal, and although that BABIP will likely regress somewhere closer to the middle of those two extremes, the changes are sustainable and Brasier could very well have found his best form again. As far as the team fit, Brasier falls in line with a few of the relievers we’ve discussed here recently, especially in the sense that a variety of factors probably limit him to a one-year deal at an affordable rate for this organization.
Boston wasn’t able to find these refinements in Brasier’s game in time, but the Yankees could be the beneficiaries if they pick him up after his season abroad outside of the AL East. There has already been smoke indicating interest from New York, and rumored target of intrigue Hector Neris is now off the board. Matt Blake’s coaching philosophy fits well with the changes he made out west, providing a sounding board to continue his fine tuning and keep this new repertoire thriving.
Brasier shouldn’t be too costly on the open market due to his age and short-term record of success, but he’s an ideal target to add to the middle of the bullpen.