Thursday, June 9, 2011

Braves relief situation...

Another Craig Kimbrel blown save last night has people all over town wondering why Jonny Venters hasn't taken over the closers role for the Braves. Venters has been unreal all season and looks like a sure-fire All-Star as a middle reliever with a 0.48 ERA in a league-leading 34 games so far. I think Venters would make an outstanding closer, but making him the Braves closer now is definitely not the answer.

Most baseball fans do not understand the role of a manager in baseball. They believe that anyone that knows baseball at all could write the names of the Yankees on a lineup card and let CC Sabathia go throw every 5th day and win 90+ games easily. In fact, managing professional baseball players over the course of 9 months is a lot of work. The decision to move Dan Uggla down in the order, moving McLouth around, and most other day-to-day decisions a big-league manager makes is discussed in great depth.

Managers must consider player personalities, egos, and other situations that may come out of each and every lineup move and pitching change throughout the season. Getting Eric Hinske enough at-bats to remain content, George Sherrill enough innings, and keeping Brooks Conrad fresh are all difficult things to deal with.

Which brings us to Kimbrel and Venters...We know from last year that Venters is an elite set-up man. The franchise believes that Kimbrel is the closer of the future and he was given the first shot at the job this year. Taking that job from Kimbrel could cause major issues to a bullpen that has been arguably the best in the major leagues so far this season.

First, conventional wisdom says that if Venters became the closer, then Kimbrel could then work as the 8th inning guy. But what about his psyche after being demoted? Kimbrel is a young power pitcher that relies on challenging hitters and having a dominant mound presence. What if he loses that when moved to a 7th or 8th inning role?

Second, we don't know how Venters would react to becoming a full-time closer for the first time. Plenty of guys have been lights-out as set up men and then flopped when given the closers role. On the other hand, many young closers have bombed out after being moved out of the closers role. Switching the 2 right now may seem easy, but what if it doesn't work and you want to switch back?

Plus, it is not as if Kimbrel has been terrible this year. He ranks 2nd in the league in WAR and is 18/23 in save situations with 47 K's in 31 innings. That projects to 45+ saves for the season, and even if his blown saves are near the top of the league, that's a pretty good season for a 23 year old rookie.

This Braves team has issues, but they are not related to pitching. Getting Heyward and McLouth back and getting Dan Uggla going are definitely much more pressing issues. That being said, they are sitting at 34-28 with the 3rd best run-differential in the league.

With 30 games left until the All-Star break, this team is in pretty good shape right now. They will always be in games with their pitching (especially when Moylan, Beachy, and Medlen return) and they get series with last place clubs Baltimore, Houston, and San Diego.

Get healthy, keep pitching, and let Fredi manage his club as he sees fit, and this is still a 90+ win playoff team...

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