After trading for Jordan Walden last year, it’s easy to say the Braves got the better end of the deal when all they gave up (in a trade to the LA Angels) was declining Tommy Hanson. It was a great move by the front office, seeing how Hanson has fallen off the radar.
Last year, Walden’s overpowering arm led to a good strikeout rate while posting a solid walk rate. Personally, I love him in the set up role behind Craig Kimbrel. His 6’5″ stature and unusual pitching motion should give a different and more intimidating look to an already great Braves’ bullpen.
The Braves could have used Walden in the playoffs, but there is a huge upside if he can stay healthy in 2014. Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty may end up in the set up role, but I feel Walden is perfect for the role. As a true strikeout pitcher, Walden can squander any rally in the 8th by just blowing away hitters and could even close out games if Kimbrel needs rest or has an injury. This flexibility is what makes the Braves bullpen so great and what will make Jordan Walden better.
Let’s take a look at Walden’s pure numbers. Near the all star break last year, Walden had a .7 WAR which was second in the league to Craig Kimbrel. He ended up with a .8 WAR, but the number shows the potential he holds. Earlier in Walden’s career, he depended too much on his fastball. This past year, he used an effective change up, which led to his great numbers. In Walden’s best season, 2011, he posted an ERA under three and a WAR of 1.5. I believe he can return to this form or be even better in 2014.
One positive number was Walden’s pitching in high leverage situations. In 10.2 innings, he posted an average against of .162. I expect Walden to be in more high leverage situations this upcoming year. A negative number Walden had was batters OBP with runners in scoring position. Higher than any other year, it came out to .385.
There is a knock on Walden though. His velocity has decreased in the past three years. His upper ninety’s fastball can still be extremely effective if he goes down to 95. He also has an above league average slider and change up.
In 2014, I believe Walden will pitch around 60 innings as a set up man. He could easily have an ERA in the low threes or even below three also. Here are some more projections for Jordan Walden:
- K/9 – 10-10.3
- WHIP – 1.00-1.10
- HR – 5
- Saves – 3 (Depending on health of Kimbrel)
- Holds – 30-35
I am a huge Jordan Walden fan, and expect him to be one of the biggest parts of the Braves bullpen in 2014. Despite the options of set up man, Walden has to be the first choice to take the role. If healthy, he will rack up holds and is flexible enough to put him in the closer role. Expect lots of strikeouts, and fly balls. If Walden can keep the ball in the ballpark, he can become an elite set up man.