With Recent Injuries, Who Should be the New Setup Man for the Atlanta Braves?
The Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves' bullpen has seen a rash of injuries recently, with right-handers Luis Ayala and Jordan Walden along with lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty currently on the disabled list. Ayala and Walden should be back soon, but Venters and O'Flaherty will each miss the rest of the year and the beginning of the 2014 season after undergoing their respective Tommy John surgeries.
Over the past few years, Venters and O'Flaherty were the primary setup men for Craig Kimbrel, but with both relievers staring at lengthy recoveries, the Braves will have to turn to some less experienced arms in an attempt to hold down the fort.
Kimbrel himself has said that the team's relief corps has plenty of depth to help cover late-game situations and get the ball to him in the ninth inning, but most clubs like to have clearly defined roles. One would think that following something of a "trial" period, Atlanta will select its best eighth-inning guy.
The Braves' All-Star closer is right when he says that the team has several options to fill the spot that Venters and O'Flaherty once occupied, but the question is who really is the best man for the job? After all, Kimbrel has never been a multi-inning hurler, so it's unlikely that manager Fredi Gonzalez will suddenly decide to throw him into such situations.
Here is my look at the top four choices to be the Braves' new setup man, as well as my pick for who should fill said role.
Left-hander Luis Avilan is the man the Braves looked to when Venters went down with an elbow injury in the latter part of the 2012 season. In 20 games this season, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.08 ERA, although he has the same number of walks (eight) as strikeouts (eight).
Just two years ago, 25-year-old righty Jordan Walden was the closer for the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he converted 32 saves in 42 chances. This year started off well, but prior to his current stint on the DL, he had allowed runs in three straight outings, never pitching more than two-thirds of an inning.
Right-handed sidearmer Cory Gearrin has been Atlanta's most-used bullpen arm, already appearing in 24 games which is tied for second-most in Major League Baseball. Of course, with a 0.90 ERA and the ability to induce a lot of double plays and a high number of strikeouts, the 27-year-old has all the tools to get it done.
Anthony Varvaro has been the club's long reliever, pitching 23 innings in 16 games while posting a 2.35 ERA with 13 strikeouts and five walks. The 28-year-old righty is generally used in less stressful situations than the rest of the players on this list.
So Who Should it Be?
In my opinion, Gearrin has proven that he deserves the bulk of the eighth-inning opportunities. While Avilan will obviously see some time against left-handed batters, I think Gearrin is the Braves' best bet to fill the void left by their two talented southpaws.