April 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm by Kevin Orris under Atlanta Braves
Though much has been made of the Braves rather stagnant offseason, there is one big difference with the current roster’s makeup that has been rather ignored.
First, check out the 2011 Opening Day bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Cristhian Martinez, Scott Linebrink, Peter Moylan and George Sherrill.
Now look at the 2012 Opening Day bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Cristhian Martinez, Chad Durbin, Livan Hernandez and Kris Medlen.
While some of the names differ, it’s more than the names that change the makeup of the 2012 bullpen.
It didn’t appear that until late last season the Braves front office and coaching staff began to realize the demand they placed on the trio of Kimbrel, Venters and O’Flaherty. Rookie Arodys Vizcaino was put on a fast track to the big leagues to provide crucial support for a bullpen that was in danger of exhausting its biggest assets. No one can say for sure that better bullpen management would have pushed the Braves into the playoffs in 2011, but the Braves have attempted to move past any regrets by restructuring in a big way for 2012.
With the departures of Linebrink and Sherrill, in addition to Moylan’s injury, the Braves found themselves without any relief specialists. Though Venters and O’Flaherty are both left-handed pitchers, their stuff is effective against hitters on both sides of the plate and it is a mere certainty they are going to throw the 7th and 8th innings in a close game.
Because of the lack of stamina in the back of the pen last season, the Braves have attempted a completely different approach for their relief core this season. General Manager Frank Wren inked two NL East veterans in Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez to small-money deals within the last week. In addition, Kris Medlen has also returned from injury after missing nearly the entire 2011 season.
With Durbin, the Braves acquired a former starting pitcher turned reliever who has accrued 759 innings in the Major Leagues. Look at his splits and you will find that his opponents OPS numbers are nearly identical from both sides of the plate.
In Hernandez, Atlanta signed one of the best innings eaters in recent baseball history. Since his debut in 1996, he has pitched in 475 MLB games. Just one of those came in relief.
Medlen is an interesting case because of his potential to start and finish games, but moreover because of his dominance against left-handed batters due to the effectiveness of his changeup.
Between the three of them, they combined for a total of 350 innings in their most recent full-season of work. The trio of Linebrink, Sherrill and Moylan shared just 156 total innings of work in the same scenario.
If it were me, I would have preferred a Cory Gearrin type over Chad Durbin considering the amount of depth the bullpen already contains and the lack of a true right-handed specialist, but the move is just one injury away. Considering the fragility of the Braves rotation, Hernandez or Medlen could fill a starting void almost immediately, allowing the Braves to bring Gearrin, Anthony Varvaro or a healthy Peter Moylan back into the mix.
At this point, it’s safe to say the Braves have prepared to sacrifice situational splits for bullpen stamina and longevity this year. Whether or not it pays off won’t be known for some time, but it does present a scenario to monitor throughout the season.