Any discussion on how good a bullpen will be must begin with the closer role. Something that didn’t really exist until thirty or so years ago, the role is now as important to a team’s success as the lead-off hitter or cleanup hitter, if not more. The question at hand is, do the Atlanta Braves have the best bullpen in Major League Baseball? By my own standard, we need to look at the closer to begin the discussion.
Craig Kimbrel not only won rookie of the year in the 2011 season, he was an all-star who finished ninth in Cy-Young Award voting and twenty-third in MVP voting. That was with a 2.10 ERA.
This past season, he had no trouble with a sophomore jinx. Actually he got better. He finished with a 1.01 ERA – read that again – finished fifth in Cy-Young voting and was only eighth in MVP votes! This is a valuable closer folks. I’m telling you, look no farther for the most reliable, most consistent closer in the game. Kimbrel has been that man.
So, the big guy is stable. What about his supporting cast? Jonny Venters struggled through the first part of last season, but finished strong with an ERA well under two in the second half. Over the years, he has been reliable and a workhorse. He remains so. Eric O’Flaherty posted only a 1.31 ERA over the past two campaigns. Youngster Luis Avilan showed up big with an ERA of flat 2.00. The trade for Jordan Walden, if they are able to help him with his control, will just give the Braves yet another power arm to add to the heap.
Is the Braves ‘pen the best in the game? Well, if it isn’t, I would hate like crazy to face the one that is.