The Atlanta Braves are always supposed to have good pitching, right? Yeah, and that holds true this year as their team ERA is second in all of baseball. Their bullpen has struggled as the season has wore on, though. Granted, Ervin Santana‘s 4.01 ERA could be better and would help the team if it was, but the bullpen has had their share of letdowns over the past few weeks. The call-up of the young stud Shea Simmons has bolstered the back end of the pen, but what the team is missing from the beginning of the season is the electric stuff of the 26-year-old Jordan Walden.
In his 14 games before his injury, Walden was stellar pitching late in games. He has a 2.92 ERA and struck out 19 of the 51 batters that he faced. He was striking out 13.9 batters per nine innings, which is just under two more strikeouts than closer Craig Kimbrel is getting per his nine innings. Against right-handed batters, Walden has been absolutely lights out, holding them to a .087 batting average, and just two hits in 23 at-bats. Lefties are 6-for-22 against him in 2014, but in his career, left-handed batters are only hitting .207 against him.
Where the Braves miss Walden is really in those late innings, where his strikeout prowess can be used to keep the ball off of opposing team’s bats. He is one of the very few guys in the bullpen who can get left-handers out just as well as he can right-handed batters. His delivery is as different and deceptive as hitters will really ever see in the major leagues, and his fastball-slider combination has the potential to be just as effective as Kimbrel’s, if he can locate both pitches well.
The difference-maker, other than his good stuff, between Walden and the other bullpen pitchers, is the way that he can get his team out of trouble. In his career, with runners in scoring position, batters are just hitting a measly .162 and in a “late and close” situation, he has a 2.92 ERA and has allowed just a .205 batting average against him.
So, when it comes down to it, Walden does what any baseball team would want out of their seventh- or eighth-inning pitcher. He holds a solid-to-low ERA and strikes out a ton of batters. More importantly, he can get out any batter, regardless of their dexterity. Also, he doesn’t give up hits, or runs for that matter, when it is late in games and keeps the Braves in leads when it counts.