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Craig Kimbrel or Jonny Venters: Who Is the Atlanta Braves' Go-To Closer?

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Craig Kimbrel or Jonny Venters: Who Is the Atlanta Braves' Go-To Closer?
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Though he didn't have the platoon advantage, Craig Kimbrel picked up the first save for the 2011 Braves.

During today's 2-0 Atlanta Braves' win over the Washington Nationals, Fredi Gonzalez went with Jonny Venters in the eighth inning and Craig Kimbrel in the ninth for the save. 

This was somewhat odd considering Venters, the lefty, faced three right-handed hitters in the eighth (Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman), and Kimbrel, the righty, faced two left-handed hitters and a right-handed hitter (Adam LaRoche, Mike Morse and Rick Ankiel). 

Gonzalez had said all spring (and possibly before) that these two pitchers, Venters and Kimbrel, would share the closer role.  I realize it's only Opening Day, but it's odd to not play the matchups with these two pitchers. 

I do have some theories as to why Gonzalez chose to go this route:

 

To instill confidence in Kimbrel

Kimbrel is 22 and is still a rookie.  Perhaps by throwing him into a ninth-inning situation on the first game of the season, Gonzalez felt he could prove to Kimbrel and his teammates that he belongs in the co-closer role in the majors. 

It's ludicrous that too many people make the distinction between the ninth inning and other key late-inning situations.  But the cat's already out of the bag, and it's possible players now perceive save situations as more important than other late-inning situations. 

Therefore, maybe Gonzalez wanted to throw Kimbrel into what they perceive as the most important situation for a reliever.

 

Gonzalez sort of lied about co-closers. 

Kimbrel is the guy, for the most part. 

However, Venters will get more saves than a typical back-up closer.  Venters will get the opportunities when Kimbrel is unavailable and also when very tough lefties are due up. 

Why wouldn't Gonzalez just say this? 

Perhaps he is trying to prevent teams from stacking their lineups based on this strategy.  Perhaps he wants both pitchers to feel like they are "the man."  Perhaps it's all about the Phillies and similar teams whose best hitters mostly bat left-handed.

 

Gonzalez lied about co-closers, and he planned on Kimbrel all along. 

Why would he do this? 

The most obvious reason is to motivate both pitchers to be the best they can be.  If a pitcher is unsure whether or not he is the guy, he might try his best to prove he is.  Gonzalez wants a competition without creating some sort of rivalry between the two pitchers, and he figures this is the best way to accomplish that. 

 

He thought that Venters was better suited to face Desmond, Werth and Zimmerman and Kimbrel better suited to face LaRoche, Morse and Ankiel. 

The former three hitters are more talented than the latter three.  Venters has a lot more experience facing major league hitters and has the stuff to retire right-handed hitters. 

So why not let the non-rookie face the tougher part of the opposing lineup and bring in Kimbrel for a relatively easy save?  

 

Gonzalez is going to alternate the two relievers more so than paying attention to platoon matchups, unless the matchups clearly and obviously favor one guy over the other.

I think No. 2 is the most likely explanation; I believe Kimbrel is the default closer. 

He probably has the better pure stuff and strikeout potential. It seems most teams would rather have a right-handed closer so they can use lefties for specific matchups since there are fewer left-handed hitters. 

Venters will still get the shot if an opposing team has a couple of tough lefty hitters due up in the ninth in a save situation, and he'll be the guy when Kimbrel needs a breather.  For this reason, I expect Venters to get more saves than a typical second-string guy. 

So, I suspect it's not as if Kimbrel is a traditional, full-time closer for your Atlanta Braves

It probably shouldn't matter to Braves fans which guy is going to get most save chances, unless you play fantasy baseball. 

Both guys have the stuff to retire both right and left-handed major league hitters.  Too many managers let the save statistics and platoon advantages dictate their late-inning relief decisions. 

Although we can't really make sense of Gonzalez's moves with regard to Kimbrel and Venters on Opening Day, it's refreshing that there is some indication he's not strictly wedded to specific roles for his relievers. 

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