The 2014 season has only just begun and already I have heard the traditional bullpen cheer of baseball fans everywhere, “Who’s that cat?” I might be hearing the “cat” part because of my overabundance of jazzy coolness, but the sentiment is still there. Bullpens change every year because bullpen pitchers are basically the loose change in the wallet of pitching. Most of them were starters at one point, but couldn’t make a career out of that for one reason (stamina) or another (overall skill).
Yet, the fact of the relief pitcher, transient though they may be, remains. They are a vital aspect of the game, and the Braves had one of the best collections of them in the league during the 2013 season. Some of those players have returned healthy, some injured, and some come to the team anew. So, take a moment and get to know who is in the Atlanta bullpen and what they offer. Or don’t. I don’t need you to stay. You’ve already given me my page view and read long enough not to count as a bounce. So, don’t read any farther down. Or do.
Currently in the Bullpen
Age: 24 | 3rd year
Throws: Sinker, Curve, 4-seam FB, Change (rare)
Luis is going to see a lot of work for the Braves this season. With Venters out, Luis will be the primary lefty setup guy in the first part of the year. Avilan’s best role would theoretically be as a LOOGY. In 2013 his K/BB ratio was significantly better when facing LHB (2.86) than it was against RHB (1.2). Despite this, he still faced more RHB than LHB, and is very likely to do so again this season. He is a groundball pitcher with good stuff. He should prove reliable as long as he is used properly and the workload doesn’t get to him. Which could probably be said about every Major League pitcher.
Age: 27 | 1st year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Cutter, Curve
Buchter made his way to the Braves farm system in 2012 after a long journey that began with the Nationals’ rookie league team in 2006. This will be Buchter’s first chance in the big leagues. He is a strikeout pitcher with solid stuff but lacking in the control area. Unless he just means to throw a lot of balls out of the strike zone. I’m not a mind-reader. Ryan is not a young prospect or anything, but he does have the potential to turn his player-to-be-named-later career into something useful for Atlanta this season.
Age: 27 | 4th year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Slider, Change (rare)
The enduring image of David Carpenter for many Braves supporters is probably a home run he gave up in the NLDS as Craig Kimbrel waited angrily in the bullpen. Despite that misstep (Which should be laid on the shoulders of management not pitcher), Carpenter put together a good season as a key member of one of the best bullpens in baseball. He posted a 1.78 ERA and a 2.61 SIERA in 2013. He is a high strikeout pitcher who relies mostly on getting batters to swing at his 96mph fastball.
Age: 25 | 1st year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Slider, Change
Schlosser is yet another of the many young players on the 2014 roster. He consistently impressed as a SP last season in the minors. Gus was in the running for the 4th spot in the opening rotation that eventually went to the ever-so-slightly more experienced David Hale. Thus, Schlosser will begin his ML career as a reliever. He is likely to be used in long relief and sparsely as Christhian Martinez was at one time. Like Gearrin and most sidearm pitchers, Gus is all about getting groundballs against same handed batters. Schlosser commands his 88-91 mph fastball well and compliments it with an effective slider and sinker. It remains to be seen whether his conversion to relief pitcher is permanent or whether he will return to the starting track in AAA as pitchers heal up. He does not have great stuff and suffers from predictably poor splits against lefties, so he may actually be better off in the pen.
Age: 26 | 1st year
Throws: Fastball, Curve, Change (rare)
Thomas turns 27 this month and has already covered some distance playing this great game professionally. David O’Brien wrote a piece about his time on the only Canadian team in his independent league division over at the AJC. From that type of relative obscurity, Thomas was plucked and brought to Rome in 2012. Ian performed decently at Rome and earned a spot on the ML roster after a solid spring this year. In 39 AA starts last season, Thomas struck out 123 and walked 37. He could be a pleasant surprise, but should expect a short leash once the DL gives up its charges to the bullpen. If it turns out his stuff isn’t ready for top-level hitting, he’ll be sent down very quickly.
Age: 29 | 5th year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Curve, Change
In 2013 Varvaro became a vital member of the Braves bullpen. Prior to this he had been an occasional fill-in in Atlanta and Seattle thanks in large part to control issues. With a full-time spot for the first time, Varvaro seems to have settled down and focused on pinpointing his 93-95 fastball to get batters out. Using that pitch and mixing in a good curve and a passable change, he struck out 14.2% of batters faced and only walked 8.2% in 73.1 IP in 2013. Varvaro did not have a great spring, and he still occasionally shows flashes of his old overthrowing ways. But if he can get past that and be roughly the same as he was last season, Braves fans will be seeing a lot of him this season in a set up role.
Age: 26 | 5th year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Slider, Change
What should you know about Jordan Walden? Well, he’s a hard throwing righty who has developed a very effective changeup to go along with his fastball and curve. He is a prime contender for the de facto set up position with the Braves, if such a thing exists. What else? Well, he jumps when he pitches. It’s not a hitch, a jerk, or even a lively push. It is a jump. Jordan Walden could be called for a balk on every single pitch he throws and for the life of me I can’t figure out how he got through so many years of baseball without a coach making him stop jumping or sustaining a career-ending ankle injury. That said, Walden should pitch well this year, if he can continue to locate his fastball and remembers to use the changeup he discovered last season. However, the main question is what do the Braves do should an umpire ever decide to call a balk on him? Is his career over at that point? Do they appeal? I don’t know, man. But it is a jump.
Age: 27 | 4th year
Throws: Sinker, Slider, Change
Cory Gearrin sprained his right elbow in the waning days of spring training. For now that is the word. It is still possible that the Mercer alum could require Tommy John surgery like so many Braves before him. If that ends up not being the case, whenever Gearrin returns he will be the go-to-guy for relief with a runner on first. Gearrin is a sidearm pitcher whose sole purpose in baseball is to get bats to hit balls into as much grass as possible. He throws a sinker, slider, and change to that effect. His pitches are not spectacular, and his control can be a bit inconsistent. However, if used primarily as a ROOGY and groundball specialist, Gearrin has a role on the team. Albeit a fairly limited one.
Age: 29 | 4th year
Sinker, Slider, Change (rare), 4-seam FB (rare)
The Braves just signed Luis Perez to shore up the ailing pitching staff. Perez was released a little over a week ago by the Blue Jays. He will join the Braves in about a month and is sure to be fairly not awful. He is a groundball specialist as his pitch set would indicate and originally came up as a starter. If nothing else, Perez will be able to eat up some innings for the team when needed, and come in to get a double-play ball against lefties. Those are two contributions which should not be scoffed at, but don’t expect any Perez jerseys around the Ted besides old number 12’s. (For a more thorough write-up of this newcomer, check out Talking Chop’s piece.)
Age: 29 | 4th year
Throws: Sinker, Knuckle Curve, 4-seam FB, change
Jonny made it cool to get a second Tommy John. He was the first of the three current Braves to have a second UCL surgery, which possibly led the young and impressionable Medlen and Beachy down a bad path. I don’t know that’s what happened, for sure; the Mets have still not been ruled out as a possible cause. Regardless, Venters is trying to come back from said surgery and is scheduled to do so in a couple of months. If he is as good as he has been for the Braves in the past, Venters will immediately become the best non-closer on the team. He had some command issues prior to his injury last year, and it is reasonable to assume he will have lost some velocity upon his return. It is difficult to predict what kind of pitcher he will be. We will just have to wait, hope, and see.
It should also be noted that as Ervin Santana, Gavin Floyd, and Mike Minor join the rotation over next month, the Braves may begin to utilize Aaron Harang and David Hale in the bullpen. The former will likely just be an innings monster, and hopefully will only come into games that are largely decided already. Hale could be good in the pen, but it is more likely that he will return to AAA Gwinnett to further his development as a starter. That is unless Gavin Floyd struggles. In that case, look for Harang to get the boot, Floyd to become our new Livan, and Hale to return to the rotation.
Oh, right, and there’s also this guy.
Age: 25 | 5th year
Throws: 4-seam FB, Knuckle Curve
My sources for this post were baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com, brooksbaseball.net, my own eyeballs, and various other outlets which I would be happy to share with you, if you wish to contact me.