Top Five "Brave" Surprises Of 2009

Brett KettyleCorrespondent INovember 16, 2009

ATLANTA - JUNE 27:  Starting pitcher Javier Vazquez #33 of the Atlanta Braves against the Boston Red Sox at Turner Field on June 27, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2009 season is in the books, and it was one of, if not the, most frustrating seasons I can remember for the Braves.

To look back at the year that was, I will make lists of five, covering everything from disappointments to off-season moves I would like to see made.

The 2009 season fell short of my (and many other Braves fans) expectations, so to start off this season review I give you my Top Five Brave Surprises of 2009.


5. Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan, and Eric O’Flaherty

What is the surprise here you ask? It looks like I basically just listed our top options for the last three innings of a game.

That’s exactly what I did, and the surprise is that these four were basically the only four options Bobby Cox used in the late innings of close games.

All four pitchers were in the top 10 in the majors in appearances. Moylan led the team with 87, followed by Gonzalez (80), O’Flaherty (78), and Soriano (77). I don’t know if that has ever happened before in Major League history.

All four pitched extremely well, O’Flaherty had the highest ERA in the group at 3.04, but there were times when the innings seemed to catch up with them.

With the starting pitching overhaul that the Braves received in the offseason, it was definitely surprising to see our top four relievers used as often as they were.


4. Martin Prado

I know that Prado entered the season with a .307 batting in 329 career at bats. Prado also spent six seasons in the minors, during which he hit an even .300.

But to me, Prado was a surprise in 2009, because I certainly had my doubts as to whether or not he could perform as an everyday second baseman.

After Kelly Johnson struggled, Prado got his chance as the full-time second baseman and posted a .307/11/49 line in 450 at bats.

While Prado will never give you a ton of power or speed, he was a great hitter in the No. 2 spot, and I think he will be the starting second baseman for the next couple years, at least.


3. Tommy Hanson

I know, there was a ton of hype surrounding Hanson coming into the season, but for a rookie to post the numbers that he did, I consider it a surprise.

The most hyped pitching prospect at the beginning of the year was David Price, and he posted respectable rookie numbers (10-7, 4.42 ERA).

Tommy Hanson wasn’t just respectable, he was amazing (and in my opinion, deserved the rookie of the year award over J.A. Happ and Chris Coghlan).

The numbers on the surface were great for any pitcher (11-4, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), but his peripherals show that Tommy Hanson was one of the best pitchers in the majors in 2009.

Hanson’s K/9 ratio was 8.2 and his K/BB ratio was 2.5. All around, Hanson was dominant in 2009, and no matter how much hype there is, is surprising for a rookie.


2.  Adam LaRoche

I have always been a fan of Adam LaRoche. His stance at the plate looks so relaxed, and I love his swing.

While I was disappointed when he was traded, I knew the Braves got good players in return, and quickly forgot about him when Mark Teixeira was in Atlanta.

However, as the Casey Kotchman days dragged on, I longed for the days of LaRoche, but I didn’t ever thing that Braves GM Frank Wren was thinking the same thing.

Due to LaRoche’s knack for performing in the second half, I expected a strong showing when he returned to Atlanta, but I didn’t see his .325/12/40 line in just 212 at bats coming.

LaRoche will be an interesting name on the free agent market this year, but in 2009 he surprised Atlanta not only with his play, but also by being brought back to the Braves.


1. Javier Vazquez

I had a good feeling about Vazquez before the season as seen in this article.

He was coming to the NL, coming to a pitcher’s park, and coming to work with a great manager.

Plus, Javier Vazquez had to put it together, he had always had the stuff and the great peripheral numbers, but never lived up to the expectations placed upon him.

Going into the year, I figured Vazquez would be better than in 2008. I didn’t think he would post numbers that gave him some Cy Young consideration despite sub-par run support.

Vazquez posted a 2.87 ERA and a 15-10 record, and also posted insane K/9 and K/BB ratios (9.8 and 5.41, respectively).

Now seen as major trade bait, Vazquez was the biggest surprise to me in the 2009 season, and that is despite the relatively high expectations I had placed on him in spring training.


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