Braves Formula, Send In O’VentBrel
Though there’s quite correctly been a lot of criticism of our middle relief and more importantly the use of that middle relief, there’s really no conversation about who had the best 7-8-9th inning bullpen in 2011; it was the Braves. The trio of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel ( O’VentBrel) were the most dependable shutdown relief crew since the 96 Yankees Jeff Nelson, Mariano Rivera John Wetteland or the fabled Cincinnati Nasty Boys – Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers – in their pennant winning year of 1990. The formula for the Braves was
1) Get a lead by the sixth inning
2) Send in O’VentBrel
3) Mark down a win and go home
I don’t know who actually gave the trio that name and if I were the one I’d want to remain anonymous. Nicknames should be menacing, that one fails that test. Would any team have feared the Nasty Boys if they’d have been called CharDibMye? I don’t think so; giggle maybe, fear uh-uh. And my nitpicking side says that in order to be properly constructed it should really be O’Flentrel. Anyway, I won’t use it again thank you. I like Jim Powell’s dubbing of the trio “shut up, sit down and go home.” Descriptive and to the point but again, it doesn’t trip off the tongue. If Peter Moylan had remained healthy they would have been the four horsemen, or perhaps Roger’s Rowdies – Charlie’s Angels – oh, never mind. . .
What ever you call them if the Braves were ahead after six it was usually time to turn the lights out and go home; game over.
- Leading after 6 : 59-9 (.868)
- Leading after 7 : 63-9 (.875)
- Leading after 8 : 66-8 (.892)
I’ve already written about my Rookie of the Year pick Craig Kimbrel so here’s a little background on O’Flaherty and Venters before we get to some interesting numbers.
At 26 years old Eric O’Flaherty (EOF) is the senior member of the trio. Drafted out of Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, Washington – just love saying Walla Walla – he was Seattle’s pick in the sixth round of the hidden talent rich 2003 amateur draft. He made it to Seattle in 2006 and had a couple of good years before injury sidelined him in 2008 and he was placed on waivers to thankfully be claimed by the Braves.
The Braves initially considered him a lefty specialist but his biting slider allowed him to get right handers out too. Soon he was our the 7th inning man and usually lights out. He had back issues in July that limited his appearances, led to a juggling act that cost us a game or two and raised questions of overuse. His arm and shoulder remained strong however and at the end of the year he was still almost unhittable. As sure as the eighth inning follows the seventh, Jonny Venters followed EOF
The old saying, ‘the longer you go the worser it gets’ definitely applied to our relief trio. After EOF’s sweeping slider came “Everyday Jonny” Venters and his heavy sinker. Venters became Everyday Jonny in 2010 and cemented it by appearing in a league leading 85 games throwing 88 innings this year. JV was drafted out of Lake Brantley HS (Altamonte Springs, FL) by the Braves in that same 2003 amateur draft. He was the 30th pick in the 30th round, the 907th pick overall.
Venters was always a starting pitcher in the minors but, not a hugely successful one. His record was 23-28 over six years with a 4.11 ERA and 1.405 WHIP. In 2010 the Braves needed bullpen depth and kept him with the big team to see how he would do in that role. The rest as they say is history.
In spring training there was talk that he and Kimbrel would share the closing duties. Venters did have five saves in nine opportunities – usually when Kimbrel had worked three days straight or had thrown a lot of pitches the day before – but never really looked comfortable in the role. The eighth inning was home and like all thrifty home owners, he turned out the lights when he left. Venters lives or dies with a heavy sinker and a hard, biting slider that reminds me of Randy Johnson at his best. When it’s working – and that’s most of the time – no one can hit it. Venters gave up only 2 home runs all year. Asked early in the year why no one homered off Venters Chipper Jones said, “it’s hard to get lift on an anvil.”
JV had two streaks where he wasn’t as effective, one just before the All Star game and one as we all remember in September. This may indicate a pattern as he had a similar up and down period in August– September – October last year. It’s certainly something to watch next summer. Perhaps the removal of deadweights Scott Proctor and Scott Linebrink and the addition of Anthony Varvaro and maybe Cory Gearrin or J.J. Hoover will ease the workloads of EOF and JV.
I mentioned earlier two previous trios of relievers sometimes compared to our men. Rather than just throw up the same numbers you’ve seen elsewhere, here’s a side-by-side look at how they compared statistically to those historic relief crews. They’re broken out by inning they usually pitched as best I could. In 1990 the Reds mostly used Myers as a closer but not exclusively and Charlton started 16 games in 1990 throwing 102+ innings with a 12-9 record. His relief numbers are therefore not as complete as the rest. The Yankees Jeff Nelson wasn’t always the 7th inning guy, often Rivera pitched two innings as you’ll see. Nelson was however the third most used reliever that year so for balance and because his numbers are pretty good he’s included.
SV-Save H-Hold SH-Shutdown Inning MD-Meltdown inning
WAR Wins Above Replacement fWAR Fangraphs version of WAR
Dollars – Fangraphs value of the player’s salary on the open market in millions of dollars/year.
* Dollar amounts shown for Reds and Yanks relievers prior year numbers are in current year values. For example, a Dibble or Rivera like reliever with a 4.4 fWAR in 2011 would have a projected salary of $19.6M.
Putting that comparison together reminded me of several things we perhaps overlook when they are happening. In no particular order of importance they are:
- Rob Dibble was a beast statistically as well as in attitude while on the mound. His innings pitched and strikeout totals in 1990 surpass every reliever this year and his WAR/fWAR would place him 22nd among all pitchers this year and equal with Tim Lincecum.
- Mariano Rivera was a beast as well, still is of course but not at 1996 levels. In many categories including the 4.4 fWAR Rivera and Dibble’s numbers are almost identical. Of all the relievers in the little list, Rivera threw the most innings, was second in strikeouts only to Dibble and has endured longer to date than any reliever before him. A special pitcher indeed.
This wraps up my review of the highlights of 2011. I know there are some individual ones I’ve missed, I’ll try to pick those up later. Next I’ll look at what we need to do in 2012.
As always you may contact me through the site or on Twitter @fredeowens Let me know what you think.