August 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Arodys Vizcaino has almost instantly become one of the most important members of the Braves bullpen because his game is a perfect fit for Atlanta. The Braves’ biggest need headed into the trade deadline was a right-handed set-up man because a) the top three relievers in the bullpen–one of which is yet to reach the age at which his joints are fully formed and one of which has been historically injury-prone–were being grossly overworked and b) the Linebrink-Proctor-Martinez right-side-of-the-bullpen that isn’t pigeonholed to save situations was incredibly weak. Arodys Vizcaino solves all these problems in a way that nobody on the trade market really could have.
One of the best things about Vizcaino is his ability to pitch multiple innings. Kimbrel and Venters can pitch multiple innings, too, but that’s not how Fredi’s vision of a baseball team works–the top set-up man and closer are strictly 1-inning relievers in his eye. Having a player that your manager isn’t afraid of using for multiple innings in high-leverage situations instantly lessens the workload of the late-inning relief corps. Just having a right-handed set-up man would have accomplished this, having one that can get more than three outs is even better.
Another thing: Eric O’Flaherty really shouldn’t be facing right-handed batters in high-leverage situations. The Braves have used him as their go-to 7th inning man this year because there aren’t any better options, but ideally he’s only a full-inning reliever in medium-to-low-leverage situations and a match-up specialist in high-leverage situations. There are two reasons for this. Number one: he’s just not nearly as effective against right-handed hitters. He owns a career 3.28 K/BB ratio against left-handed batters, which is excellent, but only a 1.48 K/BB ratio against right-handed batters, which is sub-replacement level. Number two: health reasons. O’Flaherty is the aforementioned reliever who has been historically injury-prone. He’s managed to stay relatively healthy for Atlanta due to a rigorous stretching program and, among other things, a conscious effort on the coaching staff’s part to manage his workload. The latter has not held true in 2011, primarily because there wasn’t a better 7th inning reliever for most of the year. To this point O’Flaherty is 7 outs, 11 batters faced, and 11 pitches away from tying career highs in those categories. Having a right-handed set-up man allows the Braves to slide O’Flaherty back into a match-ups role, which will not only strengthen the bullpen but also help manage his workload in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs.
Given that O’Flaherty is not a very good option against right-handed batters and Venters and Kimbrel are largely restricted to their defined roles, there was previously no reliable reliever to face right-handed batters before the 8th inning. How the Braves managed to make it this far with the bullpen constructed as such is pretty amazing. But they did, and now they’ve solved the problem, which should make them a more formidable team down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The Braves will continue to score when everyone is healthy and their rotation will continue to produce quality outings night-in and night-out. If they can head into the postseason with a full complement of healthy and effective late-innings relievers they could be a very dangerous team in the postseason tournament.