The Braves bullpen put up some fantastic numbers last season. A lot of it had to do with Craig Kimbrel’s gaudy numbers, but the group as a whole was pretty good. They were the fifth best bullpen according to WAR and had the second best ERA backed up by the best xFIP and the second best SIERA. The scary part is that they added to the unit by dealing Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden.
You could go on and on about how great Kimbrel was last year and post an endless list of crazy stats. But the short version is this: Kimbrel led relievers in K% and only one guy was within 10 percentage points of him. He also led the league in K/BB, xFIP, and SIERA while trailing only Fernando Rodney in ERA. He’s the undisputed #1 closer this year. Unfortuantely, that means he’s going way too high in drafts. The latest you can get Kimbrel is probably somewhere in the 40’s, and you just can’t pass on the quality hitters still available at that point to take a closer.
The Setup Men
Venters isn’t as good as he was in 2011, and he isn’t as bad as he was in 2012. He was largely the same guy in each year other than ending up on complete opposite ends of the BABIP spectrum. Absent any good or bad luck, you could expect Venters’ WHIP to settle in around 1.30 with a walk rate of about 11%. With his ability to strikeout 26% or more of the batters he faces, he’s still one of the better setup men in the game despite the walks. Unfortunately, Venters is slated to visit Dr. James Andrews, so it’s unclear how much we’ll be seeing of Venters this year. As a result, there may be some holds to be had for the rest of the ‘pen.
One of the beneficiaries is O’Flaherty who led the team in holds last year. He won’t pick up all the extra holds if Venters is out because of his splits that make him far more effective against lefties, but O’Flaherty is a pretty safe bet for 30+ holds.
The big beneficiary may be the newly acquired Walden. As a righty, Walden makes for a nice partner with the lefty O’Flaherty for late inning matchup decisions. Admittedly, Walden has actually been better against lefties in his career, but you sort of expect the Braves to “platoon” Walden and O’Flaherty in front of Kimbrel.
Walden’s last two seasons have been somewhat similar to Venters’ 2011 and 2012. Like Venters, Walden had a big 2011 as he saved 32 games, and his value plummeted in 2012 when he only tallied one save. Again, like Venters, Walden was on the right side of BABIP luck in 2011 and the wrong side in 2012. But the swing wasn’t nearly as drastic for Walden. The midpoint for his WHIP is the same as the one mentioned above for Venters, 1.30. And Walden’s strikeout and walk profile looks very, very similar to Venters’ profile. The long and short of it is that Walden could easily be what I would expect Venters to be: 3.00-ish ERA, 1.30 WHIP, around 30 holds.