10 Greatest Atlanta Braves Power Pitchers of All Time
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Despite some struggles this season, the Atlanta Braves historically have great pitching. Whether you talk about the greats of the 19th century, Spahn and Sain or the Big Three that just recently retired, the Braves have had plenty of all-time greats in their uniform at some point.
This article will take a look at the 10 best power pitchers in the history of the Braves. That means that although Greg Maddux was an amazing pitcher, guys like him will not be included as they weren't power pitchers with big fastballs.
10. Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner was dominant in his year with the Braves.
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Although Billy Wagner only spent one season with the Braves, the 5'10" left-hander was dominant enough in that season to have earned a spot on this list. That becomes even more impressive when you consider that the borderline Hall of Fame candidate spent the final year of his career in Atlanta.
In 71 games, Wagner went 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA and 37 saves while racking up 104 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. His 0.87 WHIP also illustrates his dominance in 2010, and helps to show why he was a major reason the Braves were able to reach the playoffs in his only season with the club.
If he spent more time in Atlanta, Wagner would rank higher on this list. Still, one year of total dominance is very special.
9. Kevin Millwood
Kevin Millwood's power pitching came close to winning him a Cy Young Award in 1999.
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Unlike most homegrown pitching prospects in the Atlanta Braves' system, Kevin Millwood didn't come with much hype. Millwood was only an 11th-round pick in the 1993 MLB draft, and although he reached the big leagues pretty quickly in 1997, he was never a top prospect.
Millwood spent five full seasons and part of a sixth with the Braves before the team dealt him to the Phillies to acquire catcher Johnny Estrada. During his time with the Braves, Millwood won 75 games, and he had three seasons where he won at least 17 games.
Millwood's dominant 1999 season doesn't get much attention because of the other pitchers on the staff, but the numbers are eye-popping. Millwood went 18-7 with a 2.68 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 228 innings. He led the National League in both WHIP, at 0.996, and hits per nine innings, at 6.6. He also threw a pair of complete games and had a good year in terms of limiting walks and home runs.
Millwood had to be dealt when he was. The Braves had pitching depth, and Javy Lopez had a career-worst year in 2002 along with just one year left on his contract. Estrada battled injuries during his time in Atlanta, but did have a huge 2004 season. Millwood wasn't the same pitcher after the trade, as he only managed to post a sub-4.00 ERA two more times over the course of eight full seasons.
8. Tony Cloninger
Tony Cloninger won 57 games during a three-year span for the Braves. Photo from grubbyglove.com
Tony Cloninger began his big league career with the Braves at the age of 20 back in 1961, and continued to pitch for the team until he was traded to the Reds in the middle of the 1968 season. He doesn't get much attention considering all of the other pitchers in the Braves' history, but he is a former 24-game winner who was a very good hitter for a pitcher.
Cloninger went 86-62 with a 3.94 ERA in parts of eight seasons with the Braves between Milwaukee and Atlanta. For most of that time the guy with the big fastball didn't rack up a ton of strikeouts, although he did strike out at least 163 batters per year in each of his final three full seasons with the Braves.
Those big strikeout seasons with the Braves were also among the best years of Cloninger's career. Obviously the best was 1965 when he went 24-11 with a 3.29 ERA and 211 strikeouts, though he also went 19-14 with a 3.56 ERA in 1964 and won 14 games in 1966. It was actually in 1966 that Cloninger became the first and only pitcher in the history of the game to hit two grand slams in one game.
Cloninger was a very good pitcher for a three-year span, but his production fell off a little after the 1968 trade to the Reds.
7. Jonny Venters
Jonny Venters has been a top reliever in his first two years.
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Like Billy Wagner, Jonny Venters joined the Braves bullpen back in 2010 as a power reliever. His dominance and power pitching played a huge part in the Braves' success that season. However, unlike Wagner, Venters was a rookie that season and just starting out his career.
Venters went 4-4 with a 1.95 ERA in 79 games in 2010 while striking out 93 over 83 innings. He then followed that up in 2011 by going 6-2 with a 1.84 ERA in 85 games as he struck out 96 in 88 innings. Venters had quickly emerged as one of the most dominant setup men in the game and surprisingly had the ability to pitch every other day despite his power stuff.
Venters has fallen off a little this year, possibly due to an injury issue or a lesser workload, but has picked it up a little recently as he is yet to give up a run in six second half appearances. Overall he is 4-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 46 games with 51 strikeouts in 38 innings.
Venters has been extremely valuable to the Braves over the past few seasons, and though he isn't a closer, his ability to help the Braves in the eighth inning or when there are runners on is huge. If he keeps pitching well for the rest of the season, he could help the Braves win the NL East this year.
6. Steve Bedrosian
Steve Bedrosian won his Cy Young Award with the Phillies.
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Steve Bedrosian may have had the best season of his career with the Phillies, but he was still a very good pitcher for the Braves. Not only was the man known as "Bedrock" a good pitcher, but he was able to help the Braves as a starter, closer, setup man and middle reliever during his career.
Bedrock spent eight years with the Braves, and went 40-45 with a 3.26 ERA over 46 starts and 304 relief appearances. Overall with the team he picked up 41 saves and 559 strikeouts in 696 innings, due in part to him striking out at least eight hitters per nine innings from 1982 through 1984.
Bedrock's best year with the Braves actually came in his first year back in Atlanta, during the 1993 season. He made 49 appearances that year, going 5-2 with a 1.63 ERA and 0.97 WHIP as he helped the Braves to hold off the Giants in the middle of a tight pennant race.
5. Mark Wohlers
Mark Wohlers helped the Braves win it all in 1995.
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Mark Wohlers is actually the third member of this list to have been one of the game's best young closers, although he flamed out quickly just like John Rocker due to control issues. However, until he lost the ability to throw strikes, Wohlers was an All-Star who helped the Braves win a World Series.
Wohlers' first year as closer came in 1995, the year the Braves beat the Indians in the World Series. That year he went 7-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 25 saves while striking out 90 in 64.2 innings. He then went on to save five games throughout the playoffs, including two in the World Series.
In 1996 Wohlers saved 39 games while striking out 100 in 77.1 innings. Then in 1997 he saved 33 games while striking out 92 in 69.1 innings. He started out strong in 1998 with eight saves, but came down with "Steve Blass Disease," or the inability to throw strikes at all.
During that 1998 season, Wohlers walked 33 hitters in his 20.1 innings. After he threw only two-thirds of an inning during the 1999 season, the Braves dealt him to the Reds in April. While he had some small success in Cincinnati, he was never again a dominant pitcher and was no longer a closer.
Wohlers wasn't as dominant as Kimbrel, or even Rocker at times, but he was a top closer for a three-year stretch. That three-year stretch is good enough to get him onto this list.
4. John Rocker
John Rocker was a top young closer until his interview with Sports Illustrated.
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John Rocker may not be the best human being and his period of being a top pitcher didn't last long, but he was very good for a few years. In fact, until his interview with Sports Illustrated where he came off as a huge racist, Rocker was one of the top power pitchers in the game.
Rocker came up with the Braves at the age of 23 in 1998 and appeared in 47 games. He was able to go 1-3 with a 2.13 ERA and two saves to go with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. He followed that by not allowing a run during his eight playoff appearances that season.
In 1999 Rocker became the closer, and actually had the best season of his career. Overall, he managed to go 4-5 with a 2.49 ERA and 38 saves plus 104 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. He then followed that up by not allowing an earned run over 13 playoff innings.
After that season the now infamous SI interview came out, and Rocker was no longer the same pitcher. He managed to go 1-2 with a 2.89 ERA and 24 saves in 2000, with 77 strikeouts in 53 innings, but he lost the strike zone. Rocker, who had never been known as a control pitcher to begin with, walked 48 batters in his 53 innings.
Rocker's final season as a Brave came in 2001, and he was able to go 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 19 saves in 30 games before being traded to the Indians. He struck out 36 hitters in 32 innings with the Braves before the midseason trade.
Rocker went 8-10 with a 2.63 ERA and 83 saves in his four seasons with the Braves. He also managed to strike out 259 hitters in 195.1 innings. Another thing that doesn't get him much credit is the fact that he never allowed an earned run with the Braves during his 19 career playoff appearances.
3. Warren Spahn
Warren Spahn was a 363-game winner. Photo from danhoard.mlblogs.com
Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn wasn't a power pitcher for his entire career, and even when he was a power guy, he wasn't just a power pitcher. Still, he went through a four-year stretch where he led the National League in strikeouts and was in the top 10 a total of 13 times in 14 seasons from 1947 through 1960.
Spahn was one of the all-time great pitchers as he won 363 games in his career to go with a 3.09 ERA. He was a 20-game winner in 13 different seasons and managed to throw 29 complete-game shutouts.
Spahn became less of a power pitcher as he aged, as he was able to adapt to remaining a top pitcher as his fastball slowed down. Overall Spahn still racked up 2,583 career strikeouts during his 21 years in the big leagues.
2. Craig Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel is among the best in baseball.
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Although he is in only his second full season in the big leagues, Craig Kimbrel already ranks very high on this list. The reason for that is because Kimbrel is just un-hittable for big league hitters; he often makes them look foolish with his strikeouts.
Kimbrel made his debut with the Braves in 2010 and pitched in 21 games while he was up, going 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and a save to go with 40 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. He also limited hitters to just 3.9 hits per nine innings pitched, which is an extremely impressive rate.
He headed into last year as the closer, and didn't disappoint with a season that ended with him being named National League Rookie of the Year. Overall Kimbrel went 4-3 with a 2.10 ERA and 46 saves to go with 127 strikeouts in just 77 innings. Kimbrel led the NL in saves while holding opponents to just 5.6 hits per nine innings.
Those numbers would actually be even more impressive if he didn't tire out down the stretch after enduring the grind of his first big league season.
Kimbrel is even better this year and is currently sitting at 0-1 with a 1.26 ERA and 31 saves to go with 75 strikeouts in 43 innings. He's also limited hitters to just 3.6 hits per nine innings.
It's easy to see why Kimbrel is such a good power pitcher, as he does exactly what you wish a top power pitcher could do. His level of dominance makes him the best closer in the game at the age of 24.
1. John Smoltz
John Smoltz was great at everything he did from starting to closing to his ability with the bat for a pitcher.
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As if there is any question as to who is at the top of this list. Recently retired John Smoltz was one of the most dominant and most versatile Braves pitchers in the history of the franchise. Not only was Smoltz a Cy Young Award winner as a starter, but he was equally dominant as a closer and finished as high as third in the Cy Young Award voting as a reliever.
Overall Smoltz went 210-147 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 20 years in a Braves uniform. He also notched 3,084 strikeouts while picking up 16 complete-game shutouts. During his three full seasons and part of a fourth as a closer, Smoltz also added 154 saves. That makes him the first pitcher to reach 200 career victories and 150 saves.
Smoltz won one Cy Young Award and was also an eight-time All-Star. His power pitching kept him among the best in the game until he got hurt in his final year with the Braves in 2008 at the age of 41.