Arguably one of the better parts of 2011 for the Braves was the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty formed the best trio in the big leagues last year earning a not-so-stellar nickname in the process. Kimbrel won the rookie-of-the-year award, O’Flaherty had the lowest reliever ERA, and Venters racked up 85 innings, good for first in major league baseball for relief pitchers.
In fact, all three of the bullpen aces had a pretty large workload because of a shallow pen, and young pitchers not going very deep into games (Brandon Beachy being the main culprit). Venters had 85 appearances, Kimbrel had 79, and Eric had 78. That hurt the team in the end as all three pitcher’s performances suffered down the stretch.
The good news is that the bullpen is going to be much deeper this year, and should be even better than last year, which is pretty impressive.
the rest after the break…
Kris Medlen will be back this year and even though it looks like he could start a few games, the bulk of his work will probably come from the bullpen. With Kris back with the team, some of the workload can be taken off of Venters and O’Flaherty in the 7th and 8th innings.
Arodys Vizcaino (my #3 Atlanta Braves prospect) will also be in the bullpen in 2012. Vizcaino has the potential to be an elite relief pitcher and might turn into an 8th inning guy or a closer at some point. Right now though, we have enough quality arms to fill those positions and let him continue to adjust to big league hitters in less stressful/important situations.
So there are 5 really good relief pitchers already:
- Kimbrel- closer
- Venters- set-up
- O’Flaherty- set-up/middle-relief
- Medlen- middle-relief/set-up
- Vizcaino- middle-relief
These guys are all pretty much locks for the bullpen, leaving a few more spots open. Anthony Varvaro, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin are all the most likely to be filling up the rest of the bullpen. Martinez was pretty much just a ‘mop up’ guy last year and probably won’t ever amount to more than that. That is okay however, as he does well in the role, and someone has to do it. Cory Gearrin gets a ton of comparisons to Peter Moylan because he is a ground ball side arm pitcher, and could be effective.
Peter Moylan (signed to a minor league contract) still hasn’t started throwing yet and probably won’t be up with the club until after the All-Star break. While he isn’t as good as he used to be he is still a good relief pitcher, and could be useful if we have some injuries. It seems pretty unlikely that he will ever regain his previous form though.
Buster Olney ranked the Braves bullpen as the best in the game. We have 5 relievers who any team would want, and some younger kids who have potential to fill out the rest of the pen. I am a little bummed that we don’t have Stephen Marek but even then, our bullpen in 2012 will be fantastic. You have reasons to worry about the offense, and you have reasons to worry about the starting pitching, but there is no reason at all to worry about the bullpen. Well… you can worry about finding a decent nickname for them.