I don’t want this article to become one that is filled with stats and numbers. I don’t want to go into the details of the past season, this season or any other season. All this is about is discussing an often misunderstood entity of the game of baseball. The major league bullpens.
The topic of bullpens rarely turns into a heated debate even by baseball’s biggest fans. People are far more focused on the starting rotation and the position players that play every single day. It’s rare for there to be a block buster bullpen signing or trade that really gets the juices of baseball fans going and the names in each bullpen are barely recognizable to most baseball fans.
However we can’t over look this important element of the game and what really goes on in the process of making decisions regarding this entity of the game. Bad bullpens hurt your chances of being a successful ball club, just ask the New York Mets who for several seasons now have had enormous issues at the back end of their bullpen. There’s nothing more heart breaking for a team and nothing that zaps morale faster then the bullpen blowing a late game lead.
A lot of talk has been made of the Atlanta Braves bullpen the past several seasons. Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel made up arguably the best back end of any bullpen in the Major Leagues. They put up numbers of historical proportions and struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams that trailed the Braves in the late innings.
But suddenly fear, anger and even circumstantial doubt has clouded fan bases and management a like after the Braves realized that not one but both of their elite left handed relievers were going to be lost for the season and possibly beyond due to the need for Tommy John surgery. People immediately began to say that Fredi Gonzalez miss handled his bullpen and simply over worked them. And to that statement I have absolutely no argument because I think that played an enormous factor in what happened to the two star relievers. Bad mechanics and being over worked to me are two of the biggest factors in the requirement for Tommy John surgery and the latter was certainly an issue in Atlanta the past couple of seasons.
However we have to remember one thing. Outside of elite closers, bullpen guys are not forever nor do bullpens stick together in the long term. Typically that just doesn’t happen. If you even look back to the 2011 season the Braves bullpen in less then a season and a half as seen 3 of it’s 7 core members from that year leave the team. Almost half the bullpen is gone from that year and we aren’t even 2 full seasons removed.
Christian Martinez is on the D.L and now Venters and O’Flaherty will join him. Now if those 3 guys do not return to the Braves bullpen this year then you now have one remaining member of the 2011 Braves bullpen on your present day roster and that’s of course Craig Kimbrel.
Bullpens are filled with journeymen relief pitchers who are often on 1-2 year contracts. Again outside of elite closers none of these guys are on long term deals. Why? Because quite often they are replaceable. You can mix and match, sign and trade guys around to create a bullpen that is affective.
Did Fredi damage two of our best relief pitchers? No doubt about it. He went to the well far too many times and now that well has gone dry. He needs to dip into another well that is now currently being created by management both in the clubhouse and in Frank Wren’s office.
Will these loses hurt the Braves? Without question. You can’t lose two elite pitchers out of your bullpen and feel no affect but at the same time you can’t assume that the Braves won’t find other pieces to plug in there to fill the void that was left by the injuries. The Braves can look to sing free agents that may be poking around looking for work. They can make a trade by giving away a mid level prospect for some relief help. They can do an inventory so to speak on their minor league system and see who may be able to fill one of these roles at the big league level.
As long as Craig Kimbrel stands strong at the back end of that bullpen then there will be a constant calming affect with all the rest of the staff. Confidence will continue to fester and grow within that bullpen as we welcome new guys into bigger and better roles. This is an opportunity for new guys to make names for themselves and for new guys to step and replace those who have fallen.
At the end of the day isn’t that what sports is all about?
By Bob McVinua