Projecting performance from a middle reliever isn’t always easy, particularly when that reliever is returning from his second TJ surgery.
This is the saddest of possible sights:
“Sit down, Shut Up, Go Home”
Braves lead after six we’ll lose this fight
“Sit down, Shut Up, Go Home”
This trio of arms is nothing but mean
Hitters return to the bench wondering what they’ve seen
Their hope of victory now a squashed dream:
“Sit down, Shut Up, Go Home”
(With Apologies to Franklin Pierce Adams)
In 2011 the Three Musketeers of the Braves’ bullpen were dubbed Sit down, Shut Up, Go Home by announcer Jim Powell. If the Braves had a lead after six the game was almost always over.As we approach the 2014 season only Craig Kimbrel of that trio is sure to be available. Jonny Venters will return at some point after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament for the second time but what can we realistically expect from him? As I wrote back in November the success rate for pitchers with a second TJ surgery runs about 33% and even that success rate has qualifiers.
The first is velocity. Of this list only Jason Frasor, Shawn Kelley and Hung-Chih Kuo regularly hit the low 90s after the second surgery. In fact one of the doctors involved said they were surprised to see anyone throw much over 80.. . .
Second TJ surgeries are becoming more prevalent and that – doctors say – is because their patients are getting younger.. .younger pitchers like Venters will go for it and . . .can be successful. The second surgery return rate will go up as the pitchers getting them get younger but it is unlikely that it ever approaches much over 50%.
A post over at Baseball HQ suggests that between 14 and 16 months is practical for TJ in general . . .(t)he average time from surgery to return was 502 days, or 16.5 months. The median was 440 days (14.5 months).
Most surgeons I found while researching my original post recommend at least a 16 month recovery cycle for a second TJ surgery Those things along with a condensed history of his injuries should be considered when projecting this season.
Venters was a 20 year old starter when he had his first surgery in 2005, he didn’t return to the mound until 2007. In 2008 he became a full time reliever but threw only 34 1/3 innings before going on the DL for left elbow soreness. In the spring of 2012 he went on the DL in spring training for left elbow inflammation. That was followed by a season where his walks and homers increased in the first half and he went on the DL for an elbow impingement – an injury which is directly related to over use- on 5 July, just ahead of the All Star break. He was on the DL for 17 days but was listed as day-to-day (we really hope this isn’t serious and we don’t want to have you out for two weeks) with left elbow soreness on 5 August missing six games. He was very effective after the returning putting up a 2.08 ERA and 1.154 WHIP in 21 games – 21 2/3 innings. He allowed runs in only two of those games scattering 14 hits in 20 2/3 shutout innings. In March of 2013 his elbow gave out but he postponed surgery until 5 May.
Fangraphs projections are way too optimistic in my opinion. JV’s elbow has been an issue from the beginning and he relies heavily on his heavy sinker and a hard slider to dominate. TexasLeaguers.com data shows that he increased slider use by 7.66% in 2011 and another 3.2% in 2012 and the slider is widely recognized as very had on the UCL. Add to that the extended time recommended for recovery from a second TJ and the fact that the first year back a pitcher is usually not as sharp as he was before and I’m not very optimistic about his 2014. I hope that the Braves are very conservative with his fragile elbow and that they encourage him to rely on his sinker and change more than that slider this year. I expect his control to be inconsistent and his velocity down as well at least early on. On that basis here’s what I expect overall.
That the Braves ended up with David Carpenter at all is a bit of a head scratcher. The Cardinals in their quest to have every Carpenter on their roster drafted him in the 12th round of the 2006 draft. IN 2010 the Cards were desperate for a third baseman so they traded him to the Astros for Pedro Feliz. In 2012 the Astros sent him and J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon to the Blue Jays for a handful of players then the Jays traded him to the Red Sox along with manager John Farrell for Mike Aviles. Nine days later the Red Sox put him on waivers – which makes one wonder why they asked for him in the first place aside from wanting to poke a stick in the Blue Jay’s eye – and the Braves grabbed him.
Carpenter’s three games in Toronto were inauspicious to say the least but that was a small sample in a new league for a young pitcher. In his first year in Houston (2011) he threw 26 2/3 innings with a 2.93 ERA and struck out 29. He did have some control issues however and put up a WHIP of 1.482 walking 13 and as pitchers do when trying not to walk hitters gave up 28 hits.
His second year with the Astros was nothing to write home about. His walk rate remained about the same and he continued to strike out a hitter an inning but he gave up a lot more hits (51) than he had the previous year (28) in a similar number of innings. His arrival in Atlanta seemed to settle him down. He was older of course but he was also sitting next to Kimbrel and company and had Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen there as well; quality pitchers like that are a great steadying influence. He went on to quietly become of the most dependable arms out of the pen posting.
Projecting Carpenter is for me is a lot easier than Venters. Carpenter throws a four seam fastball at about 95 with an 11% whiff rate and a slider at 85 with an 18% whiff rate. I expect his control to improve and that he’ll push Jordan Walden out of the eighth inning role simply because he’s more dependable.
That’s A Wrap
I started this talking about the good old days of Venters, O’Flaherty and Kimbrel. This year we could be saying similar things about Luis Avilan/Jordan Walden, Carpenter and Kimbrel. There are others in the system who could make themselves known as the year goes on as well. I’m hopeful that Venters returns at some point and isn’t rushed unnecessarily. I expect the mainstay’s listed to be as good as any around so of all the things I’m concerned about today, our bullpen isn’t on the list. Having enough runs to make them a force to be reckoned with on a day-to-day basis is.