The Atlanta Braves decided to strengthen their bullpen this offseason with the acquisition of Jordan Walden in exchange for starting pitcher Tommy Hanson. With Walden, the Braves added some right-handed firepower in an already powerful bullpen. This trade looks like another example of general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez hoping to keep Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty from being overworked. Can Walden show consistent command and stay healthy? If so, he will carve out a nice role on this 2013 team.
2012 Recap: Walden endured the dreaded “sophomore slump” in 2012 after emerging onto the MLB scene in 2011. That year Walden saved 32 games, struck out 67 batters with a 2.98 ERA and made the American League All-Star team. Last season, Walden dealt with biceps and shoulder injuries, lost his closer role and was limited to 45 games in a middle-relief role. His ERA (3.46), WHIP (1.36) and walk-per-nine-inning ratio (4.2) were all up from the previous year. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim added Ryan Madson to their bullpen this offseason, making Walden expendable.
2013 Outlook: Walden features a lot of upside and potential but also some well-known risks. The upside is that he lights up the radar gun, consistently hitting 98 and 99 and occasionally triple digits. What makes his fastball so potent is its sinking action which has led scouts to describe the pitch as a “bowling ball.” Walden mixes that in with a slider that has good bite, but he struggles with locating it on a consistent basis. The downside with Walden is his quirky motion that leads to injury concerns. Walden propels himself off the mound in a unique jumping motion but doesn’t fully complete his follow through, which puts a lot of pressure on his arm. The windup has many moving parts and is a major reason Walden has consistency issues.
Walden clearly adds a power arm to the Braves’ bullpen and will give Gonzalez flexibility at the end of games. He now has various options in righty-righty or lefty-lefty situational matchups. I even expect Walden will pick up a few saves this season when Kimbrel needs a day off. But, the Braves don’t need Walden to save 32 games like he did as an Angel. They need him to get people out in front of Kimbrel and stay healthy in order to help keep that bullpen fresh leading up to the postseason. Braves’ fans saw what an overworked bullpen looked like in September 2011. A healthy Walden will go a long way in preventing that from happening in 2013. While his role is somewhat unidentified as of now, Walden has a simplified outlook on that right now. “I know my job is to set up Kimbrel, I don’t know where I fit in here yet, but my job is to just be part of this team for now. There’s no reason to worry about closing when we have Craig.”