I figure I’ll get comfortable writing bullpen overviews by easing into them, writing the ones I know the best first. Naturally, we’ll start with the Atlanta Braves.
Atlanta Braves Depth Chart – mlb.com
Rafael Soriano – RH (Closer)
Mike Gonzalez – LH (Set-up)
Peter Moylan – RH (Set-up)
Eric O’Flaherty – LH (Lefty specialist)
Manny Acosta – RH (Mid-relief)
Kris Medlen – RH (Long-relief)
Boone Logan – LH (Mid-relief)
Manager: Bobby Cox
Pitching Coach: Roger McDowell
Bullpen Coach: Eddie Perez
The Braves broke camp with Mike Gonzalez as their closer yet content to play the match-ups with Soriano (i.e. if 3 leftys are due up in the 8th Gonzalez gets used there). After a decent, albeit shaky, start for Gonzalez, Bobby Cox moved Rafael Soriano into the full-time closer role. Not without reason. Through June 30th, Soriano had a 1.23 ERA and a 49-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 and 2/3 innings. Mike Gonzalez now almost exclusively pitches the 8th inning, though I wonder whether or not Bobby Cox and Roger McDowell will revert back to their match-ups game on account of Soriano’s recent struggles (9.95 ERA and two blown saves in his last 8 outings covering 6 and 1/3 innings).
Peter Moylan struggled through the first half, but has found his groove and returned to his 2007 form in the 2nd half, tossing 15 and 1/3 scoreless innings with a 16-to-4 strikeout-to-walk and a 0.91 WHIP. His role of right-handed set-up man most likely won’t change. Eric O’Flaherty rounds out the big 4 in the Braves’ bullpen. O’Flaherty, a lefty waiver claim this past off-season, has put together a solid season, posting a 3.46 ERA and a 28-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings. He’s been utilized as a lefty-specialist and his 58 appearances is only 1 behind Gonzalez and 6 behind Moylan whereas he’s 5th among relievers in innings. This year, righties have posted a .647 OPS against O’Flaherty but he’s been dominant against the lefties, holding them to a .509 OPS. His career numbers–though not as impressive as this seasons’–tell much the same story. Bobby Cox frequently gets a bit too excited when specialists do well and becomes tempted to move them into full-inning roles. Doing so for O’Flaherty would most likely be a mistake.
The front end of the bullpen is comprised of 3 players that did not break camp with the team. This isn’t uncommon by any stretch. Actually, the fact that the big 4 have spent the entire season with the team is an unusual amount of bullpen stability. The volatility of bullpens will most undoubtedly be a theme for this project. Kris Medlen was originally called up to make a few starts for Jo-Jo Reyes after the team decided he wasn’t good enough/DL’ed him. After making 3 starts, he was placed in the bullpen in favor of Tommy Hanson, though he would get a spot start right before the all-star break. Since the all-star break, he’s been a valuable piece of the bullpen, pitching 13 and 2/3 innings with a 1.32 ERA and a 15-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s only appeared in 9 games–none of them pitching less than one inning–so he’s being utilized as a sort of mop-up/swingman type. Though his performance will most likely net him an elevated role in the near future.
Manny Acosta is also putting together a nice season as a low-leverage reliever. In his career, he’s been inexplicably bad in high-leverage situations. Whether that’s just random variation or something else is at play, I don’t know. I hardly think 106 innings is a sufficient enough sample size to entirely dismiss the thought that Acosta could one day pitch in a high-leverage role. The current situation is working in his favor, though, as he’s posted a 3.68 ERA in 29 and 1/3 innings this season. He has nasty stuff, but has intermittent control issues.
Boone Logan was recalled from AAA to replace Jeff Bennett after he broke his hand. I see him as the obvious candidate to get optioned to AAA when/if the Braves decide to activate Buddy Carlyle, who went on the DL and discovered he has Diabetes. Logan hasn’t been miserable, posting a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings. He has a very good arm, but he’s only 24 years old and isn’t quite polished enough to provide value as anything more than a mop-up man in MLB. He had posted a 3.28 ERA with 39 K’s in 35 and 2/3 innings at Gwinnett before he got the call. He’s walked 7 and struck out only 4 in his first 11 MLB innings.
As I previously mentioned, Soriano is used in the 9th during save situations (and even when the lead is greater, which I’ll get to) and Gonzalez is used in the 8th. Moylan is usually used for an out or three at some point in the late-innings as is O’Flaherty. If the starter goes 6 and the Braves have a lead, Bobby will usually use some combination of Moylan, O’Flaherty, and Gonzalez to pitch innings 7-8 and get the ball to Soriano.
Medlen is used in longer appearances and usually only in low-leverage and extra-innings situations. Acosta is used in low-leverage situations or when a back-end reliever isn’t available. And Boone Logan is quite simply the 12th pitcher on the staff and only used when the innings are meaningless or the team absolutely has to use him.
Despite returning from Tommy John surgery ahead of schedule, Moylan leads the league in appearances at 65. Gonzalez is 5th with 59, O’Flaherty is 7th with 58, and Soriano is 19th with 53. Every one of these relievers sustained or recovered from injuries or surgeries last year. It isn’t hard to see that something in this bullpen is destined to break down at some point. As a Braves fan, I worry greatly about the abuse the bullpen has endured. The eminent return of Tim Hudson should provide another arm for the bullpen and the fact that Carlyle awaits in AAA makes the notion of a late-innings arm breaking down a bit easier to stomach. All of the late-innings arms have fewer innings than games except for Soriano (who has exactly the same amount, 53).
Tim Hudson – 60 day DL. Tommy John surgery. ETA ~ September 2009.
Buddy Carlyle – AAA. Diabetes. ETA ~ September 2009.
Jorge Campillo – 60 day DL. Shoulder surgery. ETA ~ March 2010.