The Atlanta Braves bullpen has been terrific this year and there is no question about it. Their bullpen ranks second in saves (51), second in K/9 (9.32), second in HR/9 (0.56), third in ERA (3.01), first in FIP (3.09), and tied for first in WAR (7.2). Good starting pitching paired with a great bullpen has really helped the Braves get to where they currently are. Atlanta is leading the NL wild card with a 2.5 game lead over a very hot St. Louis Cardinals team.
The Braves do not have a very big lead at all so they will have to be playing their best baseball to hold off the surging Cardinals. One very important factor down the stretch could be the bullpen of the Braves.
The three main workhorses for the Braves this year out of the bullpen have been Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty. If we take a look at the games appeared leaders for relievers, these three pitchers rank in the top 4.
These young relievers have been terrific this year but have they been overworked? I will take a look at each reliever and a little on each of their season’s.
Kimbrel, the 23 year old rookie was named the closer at the start of the year and has surpassed all expectations. He has a league leading 45 saves and also leads the league in games finished. He has a 2.03 ERA and a league leading 1.44 FIP. He has a very impressive 14.81 K/9 which ranks second amongst relievers. Kimbrel is making a very good case to be the NL Rookie of the year. Kimbrel has thrown 75.1 innings this year which is a career high. He threw about 75 innings last year between the minors and majors but that was over the whole year. He should get a few more innings over the course of the season but then there are the playoffs too.
Kimbrel has struggled a little as of late, whether it is just a little rough patch or a sign of fatigue, it is not at a good time for the Braves. Since September 8th, Kimbrel’s ERA has risen from 1.55 to 2.03. Something that many people have brought up is how Kimbrel has surrendered homeruns in back to back appearances. Prior to those two homeruns, he had given up only one other MLB homerun over the course of his career. For the Braves sake, hopefully this is just a small rough patch for the young closer.
Venters, in his second major league season, has been terrific. The 26 year old lefty leads the majors in games with 82 and has 85.0 innings pitched this year. He ranks third in the league in holds with 33. He has a 1.69 ERA, 2.57 FIP, and a K/9 of 9.85. Venters showed in 2010 that he can handle a big workload as he pitched in 89.2 innings, (6.2 of those in the minors). Having a big workload last year, you would think Venters would be fine down the stretch but he has actually been struggling in the month of September. In 9.1 innings this month, he has an ERA of 4.82.
Of the three relievers, O’Flaherty has probably been the biggest surprise. The 26 year old has a 1.02 ERA which leads all relievers and a 2.56 FIP in 70.1 innings pitched. He ranks 6th in the league in holds with 30 and also is third in runners left on base percentage with 92%. Not only has he been the biggest surprise of the three relievers, he has also seen the biggest spike in workload. Last year, he threw in only 48 innings pitched and the most he has ever thrown in his career has been 60.1 innings pitched (between majors and minors) which was in 2007. O’Flaherty is showing no signs of slowing down though as he has not surrendered a run in his last 17 appearances.
So what exactly should the Braves do? They could assume that these relievers will be able to handle a regular workload from here on out and presumably be good to go for the playoffs. They could also turn to some of the September call-ups but that could be a gamble. They have Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran who would all provide relief help. The only problem is that they lack major league experience. The Braves also have George Sherrill on the DL who should be back soon and he would be a nice veteran reinforcement to have in the bullpen.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out and if the Braves can hold of the Cardinals. If the bullpen stays strong than I believe that the Braves will win the Wild Card.
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty, George Sherrill, Jonny Venters, Jose Veras, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Rookie of the Year