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Random Brave Wednesday - Chad Sobotka
From on-the-rise reliever to "remember who we traded for an All-Star shortstop?"
When a team makes a highly successful trade, there is always going to be the player, or players, who were traded to make the deal happen. In the case of Orlando Arcia, the Braves shipped off a pair of pitchers they no longer had a real need for. Today, we're going to look back at the hard-throwing righty, Chad Sobotka, who began his major league career with much more flair than he ended it.
Originally a fourth-round selection out of South Carolina Upstate (go Spartans?), Sobotka spent most of his minor league career as a reliever. He seemed to alternate good-and-bad years on the mound and entered 2018 needing to find some real consistency. He opened the year with the Florida Fire Frogs, the third consecutive season he played at High-A. After 13 dominant outings there, he headed up to Mississippi. It was also the third straight year he appeared in Pearl. But this time, he excelled. That would lead to his first promotion to Gwinnett, and while he walked too many hitters, the run prevention remained solid.
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On the mound, Sobotka was a pretty imposing sight. At 6’7” and 225 pounds, Sobotka stood out in a crowd. That was before throwing his 96-97 four-seam fastball. Also, his command wasn’t great so that’s 96-97 mph that might be headed right at you. His secondary option was a slider that improved dramatically in 2018. When he could rely on it consistently, it was a weapon provided he threw strikes with his heater. He never gave up a homer during a regular season game in the majors on the slider.
After six outings in Gwinnett, Sobotka received his first call-up to the majors. The 2018 Braves were cycling through relievers at a fairly ridiculous rate. Names like Adam McCreery, Wes Parsons, Chase Whitley, and Miguel Socolovich came and went along with stints from bigger prospects such as Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, and Kyle Wright. Ten different pitchers appeared in at least 25 games out of the bullpen, including veterans Brad Brach and Jonny Venters. The Braves acquired both during the season.
The Braves essentially had a "throw enough crap at the wall and see what sticks" approach to building a bullpen that could aid them moving forward. Sobotka was the next man to get his shot. To be fair, he impressed immediately. On the same day he was promoted, he finished off a rout by the Braves with a perfect inning that included a strikeout of Milwaukee Brewer, and future Gwinnett Striper, Jesus Aguilar. Sobotka would string four consecutive scoreless outings together, giving up just a hit. He did walk four over five innings, but he also struck out eight of the 16 batters he faced.
After back-to-back appearances led to three total runs in late August, Sobotka was sent down to Gwinnett as the Braves needed his spot. He made three more appearances in Gwinnett before returning to Atlanta on September 8.
In Arizona, with the score tied at 3, Sobotka replaced Jesse Biddle with runners on first and second and two outs. After Paul Goldschmidt was intentionally walked, Sobotka gave up a long flyball off the bat of Daniel Descalso, but Ender Inciarte would flag it down to end the threat. In the top of the ninth, the Braves would plate two to pull ahead. A.J. Minter replaced Sobotka and immediately found trouble. He put runners on second and third with one out before getting a weak grounder to get the second out. That brought up A.J. Pollock. In what would become a memorable moment of the 2018 season, Pollock hit a chopper up the middle. Dansby Swanson ranged and dived toward it, knocking down the ball. One run was in, but Nick Ahmad was trying to score to tie it up. Swanson fired the ball home in plenty of time to get Ahmad to win the game. Sobotka, whose third-of-an-inning made him the pitcher of record, was credited with his first major league victory.
Sobotka would string together another bunch of scoreless outings. From that September 8 outing until the end of the season, Sobotka logged seven innings over eight games. He walked five, continuing that problem, but only surrendered one hit and struck out nine. And to be fair, two of those five walks were intentional. He even picked up his first hold. After 14 outings, Sobotka had a 1.88 ERA. Not too shabby of a start to his major league career.
Brian Snitker and company agreed, keeping Sobotka on the postseason roster for the division series against the Dodgers. He pitched in the opener, giving up an unearned run in a 6-0 loss. He walked a pair in that game. Three days later, he pitched a quiet seventh with a one-run lead, setting down the trio of Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and Manny Machado without much trouble. The Braves held on for the 6-5 win in the game known as the Ronald Acuña Jr. Grand Slam Game. A day later, Sobotka got the ball in the seventh. In the previous inning, the Dodgers pulled ahead 3-2. Sobotka was in line to face the same three hitters he faced the previous night, but this time, he gave up a single, a walk, and a demoralizing three-run homer to Machado. After a groundout and a walk, he was lifted, but the damage was done and the Dodgers were now up 6-2. They'd cruise to the series-clinching victory. Sobotka, known for his strikeouts, hadn't struck out one of the 13 batters he faced in the series.
So, it was a bad ending to the season. Nevertheless, 2018 had been a magical year for Sobotka. He started the year in High-A Florida and ended the season having appeared in three of the Braves' four postseason games. He was expected to play a big part for the 2019 team and, well, he did.
It just was not a particularly impressive part. In 2019, Sobotka was either very good or very bad and you didn't know which pitcher would come out of the bullpen. Of his first 13 games, nine were scoreless. In the four that weren't, he gave up 12 runs. The "crowning achievement" (?) among these stinkers came on April 16 where he faced three batters, walking one and hitting two others. All three would score after Sobotka was lifted. He spent some time in Gwinnett and seemed to get back on track. Soon after returning, it even appeared like Sobotka was once again earning Snitker's confidence. From July 4 through July 19, he picked up five holds. However, three runs in his final two outings of July, plus the additions of Shane Greene and Mark Melancon, sent Sobotka back to Gwinnett.
He returned in September but appeared in mostly mop-up action the rest of the way. All-in-all, it's easy to say 2019 was a major step in the wrong direction for Sobotka. Expected to be a big part of the middle relief picture, Sobotka appeared in 32 games and had an ERA of 6.21. While he struck out 38 over 29 innings, he also walked 19 and gave up six homers. Unsurprisingly, as the playoffs started, he was not on the roster this time.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020, Sobotka appeared in just four games. He had a trio of decent outings in August (three innings, one hit, two walks, one strikeout), but had a real ugly outing in September. With the Nats already leading 5-4, Sobotka came in to pitch the ninth. He faced eight batters and retired just two of them. His last pitch was to Luis Garcia, who doubled in a pair of runners to make it 10-4. He didn't know it at the time, but that would be his final major league pitch.
Once again, Sobotka wasn't on the postseason roster and headed into 2021 with a murky future with the Braves. After failing to secure a spot on the roster, Sobotka was optioned to the minors. He wouldn't stay there long - at least for the Braves. On April 6, the Braves completed a surprising three-player swap with the Brewers, packaging Sobotka with fellow minor league arm, Patrick Weigel, in a trade for Milwaukee's Orlando Arcia.
Sobotka appeared in 43 games for the Brewers' Triple-A team in Nashville and would not leave a lasting impression. The strikeout numbers cratered, the walks continued to remain high, and run prevention was minimal. The Sobotka of 2018 was becoming a distant memory. After the year, Milwaukee would let Sobotka hit free agency.
The calls weren't there for the righty. He landed in the Atlantic League in 2022, pitching eleven times for Gastonia. To be clear, he dominated over those eleven innings, allowing just six hits and five walks next to 15 strikeouts. But the success wasn't leading to offers to come back to affiliated baseball. On July 25, he retired from baseball. Except, he sort of didn't. He appeared in two games down in the Dominican Republic last November, but it looks like that might have been the end of his career.
Sobotka made 50 appearances in the majors and has a perfect winning percentage of 1-0. But his 30 walks and eight homers in 47 innings made it hard for his nearly 12 K/9 to stand out.
But for Braves fans, Sobotka is now best remembered for being half of the price the Braves paid to get an All-Star shortstop in Arcia. Perhaps it wasn't the hope many fans had after Sobotka's great 2018, but isn't it better to be remembered for something positive even if it's being traded for a guy who reaches new heights?
Well, maybe not for Doyle Alexander, but whatever.
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