Angi: Venting about Braves’ bullpen woes

From SABR member Cee Angi at Baseball Prospectus on June 20, 2012:

Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves’ manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.

Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.

In the first half of 2011, the Braves bullpen pitched 288 2/3 innings in relief, which put them on pace to be the 10th-most-used bullpen in major-league history. Of those innings, 143 1/3 (49.46 percent) of those were thrown by the VOK-ings—Venters (55.1), Kimbrel (46), and O’Flaherty (42). Ignoring that slow and steady might win the pennant race, Gonzalez continued to exercise his right to pitch his top relievers nightly, ignoring the fact that every game they pitched early in the season was an appearance they couldn’t make at a later date—even if they somehow magically withstood the rigors of overuse, there was still the simple matter of every pitcher’s basic limitations—not even Mike Marshall could pitch every day.

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Originally published: June 20, 2012. Last Updated: June 20, 2012.