Earlier today I was running a few errands and ran into a guy at the grocery store who is a huge baseball fan. So of course we got to talking about our favorite teams and other teams around the league who may be capable of making the post season. He pointed out that last year the Braves experienced a collapse of epic proportion which was just throwing salt in a nearly healed wound. I acknowledge what he said as a fact, what else could I do? So he then asked me what the difference was between this years team and last years? Why would the result be different?
I stood there for maybe a second or two and said “Kris Medlen”. Even being a big baseball fan he said “the name sounds familiar but I can’t put my finger on who that is, I know Craig Kimbrel”. That to me said it right there. Kris Medlen is in a thankless role in the middle of our bullpen. He’s not a closer and really isn’t even the official set up man. He just goes about his business and gives us effective innings the majority of the time he steps on the mound.
But what people don’t realize is that he is the glue that holds this bullpen together. There has been a lot of talk lately from fans in regards to moving Medlen to the rotation. Their view point is that he’s better then several guys we are currently running out there every 5 days. They would be correct but I couldn’t be more against moving Medlen to the rotation and I think it was a blessing in disguise that the move didn’t happen earlier in the year when he got sent to AAA to get “stretch out”.
Rare Breed: Medlen is a freak of nature. He combines starter like stamina with bullpen type aggression. I can’t think of another guy in baseball off the top of my head that does what Medlen does. Fredi can call on him to pitch 1,2 or even 3 innings at a time and know that he’s going to be reliable 90% of the time if not more. In a bullpen you typically have 1 inning guys like Kimbrel or Venters who throw hard and can get you 3 outs, anything more is pushing your luck. Or you have guys like Livan Hernandez who can throw 3 or 4 innings but in the process will give up 3 or 4 runs. The ability to do both is what makes Medlen so valuable.
The Bridge is Long: Sometimes as a fan you’re watching a game and just praying that they can take the lead into the 9th inning where your closer can have a shot to shut the door. Closers have evolved so much in the last 10-15 years. Almost every team has one and the majority of them are fairly effective. However the issue for a lot of clubs is bridging the gap between their starter and closer. Nothing is more frustrating then watching a bullpen blow a lead in the blink of an eye that took 6 innings to build. So if you’re team is up 7-4 in the 6th inning it can seem like an eternity until you get to the 9th but not with Medlen. Fredi can use him to go 2 or sometimes 3 innings if need be. This closes that gap with one managerial decision, not 3 or 4 calls to the bullpen. This is just a luxury that most clubs don’t have.
Added Depth: Johnny Venters has missed 2 weeks of the season and when he has been in there’s been a string of ineffectiveness. If this was happening last year there would be mass panic in Atlanta but this year there isn’t. I haven’t even heard Venter’s named mentioned that much this year at all. Medlen has been able to fill the void along with the resurgence of Eric O’flaherty. Having that added arm in the bullpen compromises for struggling and injured relievers a like.
Identity: Players need to know their roles in order to be affective. You can’t keep switching him back and forth between starter and reliever. That’s not good for his body or his mental state. He’s settled in very nicely with this bullpen role and I think that as long as he’s content and is succeeding there’s no reason to take him out of it.
So in conclusion the Brave have an excellent weapon in their arsenal when it comes to Kris Medlen. His ability to help shorten games and eat up innings has been a god send to this Atlanta Braves team all year. I think if the Braves are going to make a deep run in the playoffs then Medlen will certainly be a major part of it.
By: Bob McVinua
When I look at this Atlanta Braves team I don not see a dominant pitching staff. Sure the pitching was great in the first half but those days appear to be over right now. Unless the pitching rebounds in a big way then I don’t see the starters leading us to a World Series. In fact who will be in the Braves rotation come the postseason? Does anyone really know? As a writer there is no way I can predict a rotation with any real confidence.
In my opinion Lowe can’t be put into that rotation. He got hit hard against Philadelphia and St. Louis. If we were to get matched up with a team like the Brewers, imagine what they would do to Lowe’s hanging sinker? Braun and Fielder would have a field day. Balls would be flying all over Miller Park as the Braves would probably find themselves down 5-0 in the 1st inning.
However does Fredi Gonzalez have the guts to not start Lowe? It’s easy for me to sit here and say Lowe shouldn’t start but at the end of the day Lowe is Fredi’s veteran and best post season pitcher. If Fredi were to start one of the young guys in his place would he be afraid of the backlash if they were to falter? Oh I can see it now. “Why didn’t you start Lowe”. “Why would you put a 20 year old out there”. But when you look at the numbers Lowe isn’t our guy. Teheran pitched extremely well in New York and Delgado pitched a great game in St. Louis. In my opinion Delgado out pitched Lowe and Hudson in that Cardinals series.
You need to have one veteran in there. I would say that with full confidence. Hudson will be the game 1 starter. I don’t see any real advantage of putting a rookie out there for Game 1. Too much pressure and they would all be well suited pitching in games 2, 3 and 4 in my opinion.
Could we see Hudson, Beachy and Delgado? Or What what about Hudson, Beachy, Delgado and Teheran? I’ve entertained the idea of the Braves going with a 4 man rotation even in the first round which does happen from time to time. The Giants used a 4 man rotation against the Braves last postseason. Why couldn’t the Braves roll with 4 guys in this year’s rotation? I think it could work.
If the Braves don’t really have a strong 1-2 punch then wouldn’t it be better to show the opposing team 4 very different pitchers? Then they could still have their veteran “ace” Tim Hudson pitch Game 5 on full rest. It’s just a thought.
The Braves offense is nothing that strikes fear in the opposing team’s clubhouse. But they do have some weapons and a very deep line up. When Heyward is hitting 8th that shows the depth of this team. We have 8 very capable hitters, while most teams have 1 or 2 super star hitters that we really don’t have. Mac and Uggla are very dangerous but neither one of them have proven to be a 35 home run and 100rbi producers. I don’t believe that the offense alone will carry us to a World Series. However I think that it’s good enough to get the job done. This is a team that really needs to strike first and I think we’ll be able to put some early runs on the board with Michael Bourn at the top of the order. He always finds ways to create runs.
So what is the Braves unique strength? The depth of that bullpen is so unique and such a powerful strength. Some people might say a bullpen can’t win you a World Series but I say why not? It’s not just a great closer. It’s not even just a great 8th-9th combo. When Peter Moylan is healthy and affective the sky is the limit for this bullpen. So far he’s looked pretty decent and he still has 2 more weeks to get back into form.
With Moylan, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel the Braves have the ability to shorten the game down to 5 innings! And in the playoffs you will use these guys every chance you get, you leave nothing on the table in the postseason. We essentially need our starter to give us 5 innings and only allow 2-3 runs. That’s not such a tall order in my opinion as I feel it’s very doable.
Think about how this affects the other team. Most clubs fear a single closer who can shut them down 9 out of 10 times. They worry that they can’t be behind when the 9th inning comes around. Can you imagine how teams would feel if they knew they couldn’t be behind when the SIXTH inning comes around. That’s an enormous amount of pressure for an opposing offense and their coaching staff.
Maybe they try to be a little too aggressive. Or maybe they make mistakes on the mound trying to do too much. This bullpen is the biggest strength the Braves have. Yes it’s a very unique one if you ask me. What other team in baseball has 4 outstanding relievers who can potentially shorten the game until the 6th inning. Not many. I can’t think of one actually.
Although most would say they’d prefer the Yankees outstanding offense or the Phillies 4 aces, I’m more then happy with the Braves lock down pen. I think we take it for granted because it’s at our disposal. Just like Yankee fans take for granted that they have guys like Cano, Tex and Granderson in their line up. When we get to see it every night were not always impressed with it. But imagine the shoe being on the other foot.
The Braves are playing game 7 on the road and are down 4-1 in the 6th inning knowing that Moylan, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are waiting in the opposing bullpen. How would we feel now? Think about it.
By: Bob McVinua
On Sunday afternoon we watched Mike Minor give us a “solid” but not great outing against the Mets. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game. Now I’m sure most of you didn’t think much of the start by Minor but for me something suddenly hit home. It was like I realized the earth was round. Something so simple that it seems to be escaping everyone.
What has Derek Lowe been giving us all season? Decent outings at best. Very similar to the one that Mike Minor gave us this past weekend. When we look at the numbers they are not overly flattering for the veteran Lowe. Below are the ERA’s posted by Derek Lowe over the course of the past three seasons.
2009: 4.67era/ 2010: 4.00era / 2011: 4.78era
It’s been years since Lowe lasted posted a respectable ERA which I consider one that is under 4.00. Yes he had a great run in September of last year when he went 4-0 with a 1.08era. I’m not saying that wasn’t impressive because it certainly was. He carried us on his back down the stretch last year and was the biggest reason why we were able to clinch the Wild Card spot. I mean maybe Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward should room together on the next road trip so that they can talk about all the success they had last season while the team is trying to WIN NOW.
Mike Minor is 23 years old. Derek Lowe is 38 and at the end of his career. If we are getting very similar results from both pitchers then why not put the younger guy into the rotation? There is a 15 year age difference between the two players. In a year or two Derek Lowe will most likely be retired. Mike Minor is part of the future of this team that’s already very young anyways, why not add a little more youth to it. Minor can still develop and improve, while Lowe is clearly on the way out and is only going to start to deteriorate.
Mike Minor is sitting on a 4.85era this season. That’s not something that he should write home about but is it really that much worse than the 4.78era that Lowe is currently sporting? To me they are one in the same. I see very little edge in putting Lowe out there over Minor. Not to mention if Minor begins to out pitch Lowe. Another edge to having Minor in the rotation is that it gives us a lefty in an all right-handed rotation.
Now I’m not saying that we should release Lowe or do anything crazy like that. Obviously nothing drastic like that can or should happen. Lowe is a big game pitcher and loves to be in the game in crucial situations. Why can’t Lowe move back to the bullpen where he once called home. Let’s take a look at how Derek Lowe did while coming out of the pen. Granted he was younger during his bullpen days but there are lots of veteran pitchers that call the bullpen home. Coming out of the pen is more of a mind set then anything else.
In 1999 Derek Lowe saved 15 games while sporting a 2.63era. In 2000 he had a breakout year as the Boston closer, saving 42 games with an outstanding 2.56era. Even with a slight drop off in 2001 he still managed to save 24 games and produced a solid 3.53era.
Jair Jurrjens will come back from the DL. He will need a spot to fill and it can either be Mike Minor’s spot or Derek Lowe’s spot. The bullpen right now is solid but could stand to be even better. Take a guy like Christhian Martinez out and put Derek Lowe in his place. Or you could replace Anthony Vararo. To me those are the two weakest links in the bullpen right now. Even if Peter Moylan comes back there is still room for both him and Lowe to have spots in the pen.
If this all went according to plan the Braves bullpen would look something like this: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Arodys Vizcaino, Derek Lowe and Peter Moylan.
Who would want to face that bullpen come October? Derek Lowe gives the bullpen two huge advantages late in games. The first is that Lowe gets a ton of ground balls, perfect for getting double plays late in games. Say you have a 1st and 2nd situation with only 1 out in the 8th inning. Your up 1 run and want to protect that lead. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring in Derek Lowe? Just insert him into that situation. Another thing is that he does have a starter’s stamina. He could always give us 3 or 4 innings in long relief if we went into a long extra inning game or if one of our starters got knocked out early in the game. He could save a lot of wear and tear on the other guys in the pen.