May 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm by Kevin Orris under Atlanta Braves
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – 40 games is a safe mark to evaluate the true strengths and weaknesses of a team, and Frank Wren tends to agree. With the draft quickly approaching, baseball operations departments around the league are busy evaluating talent for the upcoming draft as well as the performance of their Major League team to date.
With all of that in mind, I feel it’s appropriate to write up a position-by-position evaluation of the organization. Over the next week you’ll see a series of posts detailing a certain aspect of the organization each day. So far, we’ve covered the infield, outfield, and starting staff. Today it’s time for the bullpen.
Johnny Venters has been the best reliever in baseball this year. His ground ball rate is over 85% and he’s stranding over 87.5% of baserunners. It’s impossible to expect him to keep up those rates, but he should still be among the best in baseball upon regression. Not only is he helping himself, but he’s also passed along his sinker grip to Jair Jurrjens whom I wrote about yesterday.
Like Venters, closer Craig Kimbrel has been absolutely dominant this season. Through 21 appearances, he’s striking out 14.8 batters per nine innings and has racked up 1.0 WAR. At this point, it’s clear that Kimbrel is the closer of the present and future with Fredi Gonzalez at the helm and it shouldn’t be any other way (unless we were going by “The Book” then it’s totally different).
I know that I’m beginning to sound like quite the homer, but in addition to Venters and Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty has evolved into a larger role in 2011 with tremendous success. Through the first quarter of the season, O’Flaherty has appeared in an astonishing 24 games. He’s striking out a batter per inning in addition to a 1.17 ERA (2.49 xFIP). Like the previous two, O’Flaherty is safe at the deadline, but will hopefully see a slightly reduced workload as the season continues.
Beyond the former three pitchers, there really isn’t much to be excited about. Scott Linebrink hasn’t been as effective as anticipated, but thankfully the White Sox are on the hook for most of his contract. His xFIP is nearly three runs lower than his ERA (6.92>3.93), signaling his misfortune. One can only hope that Linebrink will improve with time, but the Braves must look into alternates if things fail to pick up.
George Sherrill has been used as expected this year, as a nearly true LOOGY, hence the 2.25 ERA. It amazes me how at one point in his career, he threw four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, and changeup) but abandoned both the curve and the change although they were both statistically effective. More movement on his fastball has been vital in addition to increased velocity. This has been a solid acquisition to this point.
The front office couldn’t have asked for better results from Cristhian Martinez to this point – 3.00 ERA (3.81 xFIP) and 21 IP in 11 appearances. Perhaps my favorite thing about Martinez is that each day during BP he tells Martin Prado to “hit a home run,” before Prado reminds him that it’s not his job. Yes, that’s a terrible story, but it’s all I’ve got.
Unfortunately Peter Moylan became injured and then suffered a setback that will keep him out for an extended period of time. I’ll write more on his impact later this week.
Outside of the previously mentioned pitchers, only Cory Gearrin has pitched enough innings to evaluate, but he’s recently been demoted to Triple-A. Therefore, I’ll try to cover him in the minor leagues portion of this series.