Atlanta Braves: Why Their Bullpen Will Be MLB's Best in 2012
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The talented young Atlanta Braves bullpen, led by dominant closer Craig Kimbrel and unhittable setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, is considered to be one of the best bullpens in the major leagues.
It may also be the youngest come Opening Day.
Not only do the Braves have that trio of top bullpen arms, but young Arodys Vizcaino has an electric arm. Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro both looked solid in their chances last season and are currently each under 30 years old.
Kris Medlen, if he doesn't return to the rotation now that he is healthy, adds another arm.
This doesn't even include prospects Cory Gearrin and Jairo Ascencio. Let alone Peter Moylan, the former strong setup man who may return to the ball club later this winter.
This article explains why the Braves bullpen is better than each of the top five bullpens in Major League Baseball.
New York Yankees Have Questions
Even in his 40's, Mariano Rivera hasn't slowed down.
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The Yankees likely have the second best bullpen in all of baseball.
It's easy to notice that the Yankees' duo of closer Mariano Rivera and All-Star setup man David Robertson may be the only duo in all of baseball that stacks up against the Braves' duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
Where they fail to measure up is in the overall depth of impact arms.
Rafael Soriano, a former closer for the Braves, battled injuries last year and has to not only show he is healthy this year, but that he can also pitch in New York on the big stage. He will also have to deal with pitching in the seventh inning, something he isn't accustomed to but is now relegated to doing after the emergence of Robertson last season.
Luis Ayala, who had a big 2011, is going to be 34 years old this year and isn't likely to follow up his career year with another of the same quality. Joba Chamberlain must recover from injury and show he hasn't lost anything to be in the mix.
The Yankees' bullpen is very good, but after that first duo, they don't have an Eric O'Flaherty or an electric arm like Arodys Vizcaino.
Texas Rangers Don't Have the Elite Closer
Neftali Feliz moving to the rotation highlights a list of changes in the Texas bullpen.
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After the Texas Rangers decided to move Neftali Feliz out of his closer role and into the starting rotation, the team signed veteran Joe Nathan to move into that role. Nathan, formerly one of the best in baseball, had a solid but not great return from surgery last year after missing all of 2010.
The Rangers have one of the game's best group of setup men and middle relievers, with elite setup man Mike Adams. Ex-Oriole Koji Uehara was very underrated in the setup role in Baltimore.
Alexi Ogando, a reliever turned starter potentially on his way back to the bullpen, is a dominating pitcher out of the pen—if he doesn't find a starting job. This doesn't even include solid pitchers Mark Lowe and Scott Feldman.
While the Rangers bullpen has the potential to be the game's best, you can't rank it ahead of the Braves when Joe Nathan isn't a top closer right now.
San Francisco Giants Will Miss Ramon Ramirez
Trading Ramon Ramirez to the Mets costs the Giants their top setup man.
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The San Francisco Giants have had one of the game's better bullpens for the past few seasons.
Even with closer Brian Wilson regressing a little last year due to pitching through injury, the Giants bullpen was extremely strong. However, a trade this winter sent one of the team's top pitchers to the New York Mets.
That trade sent center fielder Andres Torres and top setup man Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for center fielder Angel Pagan. While Pagan is likely to upgrade the offense, trading a pitcher with a 2.07 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 91 appearances over a year-and-a-half with the team is a big loss for the bullpen.
Sure the Giants have strong relievers like Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez to fill in that role, but none of them are Ramirez.
Even if one of those pitchers does emerge, it is still one less strong pitcher in the pen.
Cleveland Indians Have Chris Perez as Their Closer
Chris Perez has had some issues as a closer.
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One fact that some fans don't realize is that the Cleveland Indians have one of the top bullpens in all of baseball.
They, just like the Braves, have done it with a talented group of young arms. However, the Indians aren't as solid at the back end as the Braves are.
The Indians have a solid group of five proven guys with closer Chris Perez, setup man Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp and Vinny Pestano. That doesn't even include Nick Hagadone, one of the club's top prospects, who was solid in a nine-game trial last season.
It's a strong group, whose oldest member doesn't even turn 30 until May, that is known for keeping opponents off the base paths.
The Indians' biggest issue is closer Chris Perez.
Perez is a solid pitcher, but he sometimes gets himself into trouble. More importantly, he struggles with runners on base, as he allowed 38 percent of inherited runners to score last season (31 percent in his career).