The Atlanta Braves have gone through a face-lift this off-season at almost every position; the bullpen is no exception parting ways with Jordan Walden in the Jason Heyward trade. The flamethrower served as the Braves set-up man and had a very effective 2014 season posting a 2.88 ERA in 58 innings pitched. He did have some injury issues, but he should be a valuable asset to the Cardinals bullpen in 2015.
The Braves also parted ways with long man/7th inning guy Anthony Varvaro. He was able to get the Braves out of some sticky situations last season. He was very valuable in many different roles in parts of 4 years with the Braves. The overhaul wasn’t finished there, as they traded David Carpenter to the Yankees. He served many roles for the team serving time as the 7th and the 8th inning guy and even had a few appearances as the closer when guys needed rest in the Braves bullpen. He posted a 6-4 record with a 3.54 ERA in 2014. These were 3 key players in 2014 that Jon Hart has elected to trade away.
The Braves have gone though a youth movement throughout the roster but Jon Hart has taken a different approach to the bullpen, signing low-risk/high reward veteran relievers like Jim Jonson and Jason Grilli. Guys that were once All-Stars trying to regain that form. All these spots will be determined by spring performances, the only spot that is a lock is closer which will be occupied by Craig Kimbrel again.
Closer- Craig Kimbrel will no doubt anchor the bullpen once again in 2015. He has been one of the most dominate closers in the game since debuting in 2010. Recording 186 saves out of 205 opportunities(90% success rate) and posting a 1.43 ERA thus far in his career he has been almost automatic. The only question is how many opportunities will he have this season with all the changes made to the offense. Also if the Braves fall out of contention, he might be in a different uniform after the trade deadline, should Hart move him and take advantage of his great value.
Setup- Jim Jonson I believe will bounce back from a terrible seasons split between Detroit and Oakland that saw him get booed countless times as his sinker continuously stayed in the middle of the plate. He posted a dismal 7.09 ERA, his career worst. I don’t think he will go back to his Baltimore days where he recorded back to back 50 save seasons, but I think he will be a serviceable and do a good job setting up for Kimbrel.
Setup- Jason Grilli is another veteran trying to get back on track over the past few years. He has battled injuries that forced him out of the closer role in Pittsburgh and his ineffectiveness in other roles landed him with the Angles where he did a decent job, but not where he would like to be. In 2014 he posted a 4.00 ERA in 57 games and a 1-5 record, definitely not the All-Star caliber stats he posted in 2012 with 32 saves and a 2.48 ERA leading the Pirates bullpen. I think a change of scenery and some new voices will help him be effective for the Braves in 2015. He will likely fill a 7th or 8th inning role as well, depending on the match-ups.
Long Man- James Russell was picked up by the team at last year’s trade deadline from the Cubs as they needed someone that could get left-handers out. Luis Avilán had a go in that role but struggled mightily and they needed an insurance policy. James did a pretty good job, but strangely enough he was more effective against right-handed hitters posting just a 2.29 Era and a mediocre 4.09 ERA against lefties. Overall it was a decent 2014 season, posting a 2.97 ERA, in a split year with the Cubs and Braves. In 2015, I see him as the designated long man because of his experience as a starter with the Cubs in years past. He could be a valuable asset.
Left Handed Specialist- Luis Avilán will also look to bounce back from a rough 2014 season that saw him get sent back to the minors. He posted a 4.57 ERA and a 4-1 record in 62 games with the Braves. He posted a rough 4.50 ERA against lefties whereas in 2013 he was virtually untouchable against lefties posting a 0.59 ERA. It became a confidence thing for him when they sent him down to Triple A to work things out, it got worse as he posted a 5.40 ERA and couldn’t get anyone out. 2014 was a lost season for him. The good thing is he can wipe the slate clean and hopefully return to his old self in 2015.
Left Handed Specialist- Josh Outman, another one of Jon Hart’s veteran signings this off-season, split time with Cleveland and New York very briefly in 2014. He had a very effective season, posting a 4-0 record with a 3.28 ERA. He like James Russell, was more effective against right-handed hitters posting a 1.69 ERA and 3.28 ERA against lefties. This year he will be there just in case Luis Avilán struggles again. I see him as a versatile piece that could be used in any match-up situation. He is another left-handed pitcher and they are like precious stones in the Major Leagues. The Braves have 3 that can be mixed and matched to create a big advantage against teams.
The last spot in the bullpen is up for grabs, as Right-Hander Shea Simmons had to have Tommy-John surgery. The spot will go to whoever pitches the best in spring training. The 2015 season is going to hinge on bounce back performances from veterans. If they can bounce back, there is a lot of optimism for this bullpen due to the experience that Hart has acquired.