Over seven weeks this summer, The Times will examine the Braves’ depth at each position from the big-league club in Atlanta through the minors.
June 17: Starting pitching A
June 24: Relief pitching A-
July 1: Catcher
July 8: First base
July 15: Middle infield
July 22: Third base
July 27: Outfield
Relief pitching can be one of sports most thankless jobs. Like a football placekicker or a NASCAR pit crew member, one mistake in the bullpen is often remembered more than 100 successes.
For that reason, it may come as a surprise to some Atlanta fans that the Braves’ relief staff is one of the best in the major leagues.
Not only do rising stars Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters rank among the best relievers in the game, the middle-inning guys are also getting the job done, as the Atlanta bullpen leads big leagues in ERA and strikeouts per nine innings.
ON THE MOUND
Craig Kimbrel, RHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$419K; eligible for arbitration after 2013
2011 stats: 2-2, 2.84 ERA, 20/25 saves, 58 Ks in 38 IP
Career: 6-2, 1.99 ERA, 21/26 saves
Notes: Despite a couple of shaky performances, Kimbrel is in the midst of a fantastic rookie campaign and is closing in on the record for most saves for a rookie before the All-Star break (26).
Jonny Venters, LHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$429K; eligible for arbitration after 2012
2011 stats: 4-0, 0.57 ERA, 3/4 saves, 50 Ks in 47 1/3 IP
Career: 4-4, 1.45 ERA, 4/9 saves
Notes: Simply put, Venters has been the game’s most dominant reliever in 2011, leading MLB relievers in ERA and yielding no home runs so far. He also leads in ground-ball percentage.
Eric O’Flaherty, LHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$895K; eligible for arbitration
2011 stats: 1-2, 1.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 30 Ks in 33 2/3 IP
Since 2009: 6-5, 2.41 ERA
Notes: Since the Braves plucked him off waivers from the Mariners after the 2008 season, O’Flaherty has been one of the team’s most effective relievers, improving in each of this three Atlanta seasons.
Christhian Martinez, RHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$419K; eligible for arbitration after 2012
2011 stats: 0-2, 3.67 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Career: 1-3, 4.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Notes: Having his best season in what could turn out to be his first full year on a big-league roster. Martinez has given the Braves solid long relief at a bargain-bin price.
Scott Proctor, RHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$750K; free agent after this season
2011 stats: 1-1, 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Career: 17-11, 4.41 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
Notes: Proctor has bounced up and down but is showing signs of stability for the first time since 2008 after being called up to Atlanta in May.
Scott Linebrink, RHP
Contract terms: 4 years/$19M through 2011; White Sox paying $3.5M of $5.5M salary this year
2011 stats: 3-1, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22 Ks in 30.1 IP
Career: 41-28, 3.50 ERA, 8 saves
Notes: The Braves’ offseason trade for the veteran looks especially wise since the loss of Peter Moylan due to injury. Linebrink has provided key depth this year.
George Sherrill, LHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$1.2M; free agent after this season
2011 stats: 1-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 22 Ks in 19 1/3 IP
Career: 17-17, 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 56 saves
Notes: Though his days as a big-league closer are far behind him, Sherrill has been strong in his spot relief role since signing with the Braves prior to this season.
Peter Moylan, RHP
Contract terms: 1 year/$2M; eligible for arbitration
2011 stats: Only pitched 4.1 innings in 7 appearances
Career: 18-8, 2.61 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Notes: Moylan is expected to be on the shelf until August after undergoing back surgery in May. When healthy, Moylan is a sidearming, ground-ball specialist in the late innings.
Cory Gearrin, RHP
2011 stats: 1-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 19 Ks, 15 IP in Atlanta
Notes: Much like Moylan, Gearrin is a sidearmer who thrives on forcing ground-ball outs. He acquitted himself well during a stint in Atlanta earlier this season.
Jairo Asencio, RHP
2011 stats: 0-1, 4.38 ERA, 12 1/3 IP, 8 appearances in Atlanta
Notes: Has provided long relief help while the Braves shuffle their staff due to injuries. Not considered an elite prospect, but has been an effective closer at Gwinnett.
Juan Abreu, RHP or
Anthony Vavaro, RHP
Notes: Both 26-year-old pitchers are striking out more than a batter per inning this season in Gwinnett with ERAs under 2.60. Vavaro has been especially hot recently. Entering Thursday, he had allowed one run and struck out 21 through in his last 10 appearances.
Stephen Marek, RHP
2011 stats: 0-1, 3.38 ERA, 2 saves in Gwinnett
Notes: 2011 looked like the season Marek, who came to the Braves with Casey Kotchman in the Mark Teixeira trade, would finally break through. Instead he’s out for the season after Tommy John surgery.
Current staff: A | Organizational depth: B
The nitpickers will find things to fret over, including the bumps in the road that envitably come with a rookie closer and a dearth of top-tier prospects in the minor leagues. But all told, there isn’t much to complain about. The Braves’ bullpen can make a good case for being the best in baseball in 2011.