Atlanta Braves 2011 Report Card: Grading the Pitchers

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIOctober 2, 2011

Atlanta Braves 2011 Report Card: Grading the Pitchers

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    The Atlanta Braves late season collapse can partly be attributed to injuries, especially the losses of star pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, which forced manager Fredi Gonzalez to start some inexperienced rookies in the middle of a pennant race.

    Not only did the starting rotation face injuries, but the back end of the bullpen also lost key reliever Peter Moylan for almost the entire season.

    When healthy, the Braves staff was very strong, as Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters all had stellar seasons, while Hanson ranked among the biggest All-Star snubs.

    The emergence of Kimbrel and setup man Eric O'Flaherty gave the Braves the best bullpen in the league, and the rotation was very good, with the exception of Derek Lowe.

    This article will do the same as my previous article on the Atlanta hitters grade each player's 2011 season and examine what went right or wrong.

    I do not include the following pitchers because of a limited number of games, making them tough to grade fairly and accurately: Kris Medlen, Cory Gearrin and Jairo Asencio. 

Tim Hudson: B+

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    Tim Hudson surprised many last season by coming back from Tommy John surgery and showing he still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

    Hudson's 2010 was a big part of why the Braves made the playoffs, as he went 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA. Although he only struck out 139 batters in 228 2/3 innings, he had a WHIP (walks and hits per inning) of 1.15.

    Hudson's production slipped a bit in 2011, but at 16-10 with a 3.22 ERA he was still a very good front-line pitcher and actually increased his peripheral stats despite being 35 years old for the bulk of the season.

    He lowered his WHIP to 1.14 and stuck out 158 in 215 innings, which raised his strikeouts per nine inning rate (K/9) from 5.5 to 6.6.

    Hudson had a very solid, unspectacular season. When it came down to the final day of the season with a tie for the wild-card spot, it was Hudson on the mound for the Braves—and he pitched very well.

    In the end, despite the slight drop in numbers, he was pretty much exactly the guy we hoped he would be.

Tommy Hanson: A-

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    Tommy Hanson headed into 2011 as one of the best young starters in the game. The 25-year-old had gone 10-11 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2010, along with 173 strikeouts in 202 2/3 innings. He was set to make the jump to ace status this year.

    Hanson went 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA and kept his WHIP at 1.17, but he increased his strikeout rate (142 in 130 innings).

    The real story of his year was injury. Hanson was actually one of the best starters in the game in the first half, as he went 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 17 starts. Then Hanson hurt his shoulder.

    Hanson tried to pitch through the pain, making five second-half starts, but he wasn't the same guy. He went 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA before being making his final start on August 6. Hanson tried to return, and did get close, but he kept suffering setbacks in his rehab and needed to rest a bit more.

    Hanson would have received an "A+" at the All-Star break, but his second-half struggles did happen. Braves fans question will always ask the question, "What if Hanson got the proper rest before making his first comeback bid?"

    You can't blame Hanson for that, though, because he's a young kid dying to get back out there and help his teammates in any way he can. If Hanson had returned healthy, we could be talking about an Atlanta Braves team that won the wild card.

Jair Jurrjens: A+

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    Jair Jurrjens battled through an injury-plagued 2010 season, where he was held to only 20 starts. He didn't pitch well, going 7-6 with a 4.64 ERA and 1.39 WHIP with only 86 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings. Last season was clearly not the real Jurrjens, who had already established himself as a strong No. 3 starter.

    Jurrjens put together a brilliant start to the 2011 season, going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA through the first half before his knee started to bother him.

    Jurrjens tried to continue to pitch and got hit hard trying to compensate for not being healthy. Like Hanson, Jurrjens was unable to appear in September and finished the year 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, while striking out 90 in 152 innings.

    Despite his second-half struggles, Jurrjens final stat line was very impressive, and he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game for half of a season. For those reasons, I gave Jurrjens the A+.

Derek Lowe: F

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    Derek Lowe came into 2011 after a solid 2010 season, which saw him go 16-12 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.37 WHIP and 136 strikeouts in 193 2/3 innings. The 38-year-old was asked to fill a role in the back end of the rotation due to the talented pitchers around him—a role he should have been able to capably fill.

    Lowe's 2011 season didn't turn out as he expected, though. He led the league in losses by going 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. As if those numbers aren't bad enough, in five September starts he went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA.

    Lowe's awful season helped to sink the Braves, and that dreadful September really hurt at a time when the team was in desperate need of a strong performance from one of its veterans. Giving him an F is the only possible grade.

Brandon Beachy: A

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    Brandon Beachy got called up late in 2010 to make three starts during the Braves' pennant race, extremely tough conditions to make your major league debut. Beachy performed better than anyone could have hoped, going 0-2 with a 3.00 ERA and striking out 15 in 15 innings.

    Despite that performance, Beachy didn't have a starting spot locked up until late in spring training after beating out fellow prospect Mike Minor for the fifth starter job.

    Beachy didn't disappoint in his first full season in the majors, going 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 169 in 141 2/3 innings. Beachy did miss some time with an injury, but he was very good.

    Beachy's big year puts him in serious position to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. You can't really ask for too much more out of a fifth starter, let alone a rookie, which is why he was very deserving of the A.

Mike Minor: B+

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    Mike Minor debuted in 2010, just months after being selected in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft, and went 3-2 with a 5.98 ERA in nine games (eight starts). Although his numbers weren't great, he showed flashes of his potential, striking out 43 batters in 40 2/3 innings.

    Minor started the 2011 season in Triple-A Gwinnett after losing out on the fifth starter job to Brandon Beachy. Due to injuries, Minor ended up making only 15 starts this year. Although his 5-3 record and 4.14 ERA were solid, they don't tell the whole story. After going 1-2 with a 4.59 ERA in six first-half starts, Minor went 4-1 with a 3.83 ERA in nine second-half starts.

    Minor came up big for the Braves in September, going 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA in five September starts. For a team missing two of its top three starters, that performance was very important. Considering he was still a rookie and the strong September performance, Minor barely earned a B+ grade over a B.

Randall Delgado: A+

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    Randall Delgado, a 21-year-old top prospect, went from starting 2010 in High-A Myrtle Beach to finishing 2011 pitching in a major league pennant race.

    After starting 2011 in Double-A, where he had ended 2010, Delgado found himself in the majors for a June 17 start against Texas before being sent back to the minors. Delgado was recalled again to make an August 16 start against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and threw six-no hit innings.

    Delgado's overall line for the season was 1-1 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. After struggling a little in his major league debut, Delgado made six strong starts down the stretch.

    For a rookie, his performance was very impressive, especially considering the pressure of the pennant race. That's why it's hard not to give him the A+ grade.

Julio Teheran: Incomplete

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    As one of the game's top five prospects, it's hard not to mention Julio Teheran despite the fact that he did not pitch enough to be able to fairly grade his performance.

    Teheran pitched in five games, including three starts, and went 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA and 1.48 WHIP while striking out 10 in 19 2/3 innings.

    Teheran struggled in two May starts (the first two in his career), but had a strong start after a September call-up. In his two relief appearances, he had one strong and one weak one, but it is tough to judge him on that considering that's not something he was accustomed to doing.

    Teheran should pitch in the majors in 2012, because he doesn't have much left to prove in the minor leagues.

Craig Kimbrel: A+

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    Craig Kimbrel was great in his limited experience in 2010, going 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and one save in 21 games. His 40 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings showed some signs of dominance.

    Heading into the season, Kimbrel was expected to share the closer job with Jonny Venters, but he was just too good not to be the full-time closer. In addition to saving a major league rookie record 46 games, Kimbrel went 4-3 with a 2.10 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 79  games. His strikeout rate remained very high, as he struck out 127 in 77 innings.

    Kimbrel's rookie season made him one of the most feared closers in the game and may make him the front-runner of the Braves three candidates to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Despite blowing a save in the final game of the season, a loss that kept the Braves out of the postseason, Kimbrel easily deserved an A+.

Jonny Venters: A+

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    Jonny Venters had an excellent rookie season in 2010, making 79 appearances and going 4-4 with a 1.95 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and one save while striking out 93 in 83 innings.

    Venters was in competition for the closer role this year, a competition that didn't end until after the season started, but he lost out to Craig Kimbrel—although not many players could have beaten out Kimbrel.

    Heading into the setup role again, Venters didn't seem to have much room to improve upon his excellent 2010 numbers—but he somehow managed to do that. In 85 appearances, he went 6-2 with a 1.84 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and five saves while striking out 96 in 88 innings.

    Sure, Venters struggled a bit in September, as his 5.11 ERA in 13 appearances shows, but that was due to him being tired after being heavily worked all season.

    Venters proved once again to be among the best setup man in all of baseball, and he was rewarded with an All-Star selection. Despite some late struggles, Venters deserves the A+ grade because he was so good all year and improved upon some amazing 2010 numbers.

Eric O'Flaherty: A+

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    Eric O'Flaherty had a career year in 2010, going 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 56 games. O'Flaherty was considered nothing more than a solid seventh-inning man, but the 26-year-old was about to show fans that he had the potential to do more.

    It's safe to say that Braves fans overlooked O'Flaherty heading into 2011 because of the presence of the dynamic relief duo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. But O'Flaherty spent the 2011 season making fans take notice of him as well, going 2-4 with a 0.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 78 games.

    O'Flaherty has placed himself in the conversation for best setup relievers in the game, and he can make an argument that he is the best seventh-inning guy in all of baseball.

    O'Flaherty is capable of more, but on the Braves he isn't likely to get that opportunity as long as Venters and Kimbrel remain healthy. The A+ grade he earned was well deserved.

Peter Moylan: Incomplete

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    Peter Moylan pitched a combined 172 games in 2009 and 2010, so it's not a huge surprise that workload caught up to him. Moylan suffered a back injury that kept him out from April 14 until September 5 and limited him to only 13 appearances in 2011. He went 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA.

    With seven appearances in April and six in September, Moylan is tough to grade since his season was basically two short stints. Due to the emergence of Eric O'Flaherty in 2011, Moylan isn't likely to keep his setup role heading into 2012 even though he will likely play a key role in the Braves bullpen.

Arodys Vizcaino: B+

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    Arodys Vizcaino is a very tough guy to grade because not only did he begin the year in High-A Lynchburg and pitch across four levels this year, but he had been a starter throughout his minor league career, except for nine games between Double-A and Triple-A.

    As if that's not enough, he pitched the entire season at just 20 years old.

    Vizcaino made 17 appearances in the majors, going 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP with 17 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. Those numbers are a bit deceiving, though, as he gave up five earned runs while only getting one out on September 2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you take out that one game, he had a 2.12 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.

    Also worth noting is that after being used seven times in the first 17 days in September, Vizcaino only pitched one more time the rest of the way—in the next-to-last game of the year, after the Phillies had already put the game out of reach.

    Considering what he had working against him in terms of age and limited experience in relief, I almost decided to give Vizcaino an incomplete, but that would be taking the easy way out.

    Overall, his numbers deserve a B-, but other than that one game against the Dodgers he was pretty effective for any reliever, let alone one in his situation, which is why I went with the B+.

    Vizcaino should return to the minor leagues to start the 2012 season and should be expected to be back in a starting role. He's greatly improved his prospect stock this season, and his taste of the major leagues should only help him develop. 

Scott Linebrink: B

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    The Braves acquired Scott Linebrink from the Chicago White Sox for minor league pitcher Kyle Cofield after Linebrink had posted consecutive sub-par seasons. In 52 games with the White Sox in 2010, Linebrink went 3-2 with a 4.40 ERA and 1.33 WHIP but struck out 52 batters in 57 1/3 innings.

    Linebrink was one of the beneficiaries of the injury to Peter Moylan, as his 64 appearances were the most of any Braves reliever excluding Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. Linebrink went 4-4 with a 3.64 ERA, but had a high 1.45 WHIP and struck out 42 in 54 1/3 innings.

    Linebrink was easy to grade, as he was just all-around average, a typical serviceable reliever. Nothing he did really stood out, which means he can't really grade out any higher than a B.

George Sherrill: B+

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    Looking to bolster the bullpen heading into 2011, the Braves signed former Baltimore Orioles All-Star closer George Sherrill. Sherrill had spent 2010 pitching for the Dodgers, and it would be an understatement to say he had an awful year. After posting a 2-2 record with a 6.69 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, and .311 batting average against, it's safe to say that some questioned why Frank Wren signed Sherrill.

    Sherrill exceeded expectations in his 51 appearances, going 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and .248 batting average against to go with 38 strikeouts in 36 innings. Sherrill's biggest contribution to the team was his ability to get other pitchers out of trouble, as only four of 37 inherited runners, or 11% (league average 30%), scored on him.

    Sherrill was a nice surprise and came up big on several occasions, which is why he deserved the B+. I considered an A-, but that's a grade usually reserved for closers and setup men unless the pitcher is just too dominant to ignore.

Cristhian Martinez: B+

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    The Braves acquired Cristhian Martinez off waivers from the Florida Marlins early in the 2010 season and liked him enough to give him 18 appearances last year. Martinez had his ups and downs, recording no wins or losses with a 4.85 ERA and 1.31 WHIP to go with 22 strikeouts in 26 innings.

    Martinez got more work this year in a long-relief role. Overall he had a decent year, making 46 appearances and going 1-3 with a 3.36 ERA and 0.97 WHIP to go with 58 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings. Martinez held batters to just a .197 batting average against.

    Martinez was very effective in his role. He also adds some versatility, as he is capable of providing a spot start if needed, after starting in each of his four minor league appearances this season.

Anthony Varvaro: B

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    The Braves acquired Anthony Varvaro off waivers from the Seattle Mariners a month before spring training began. The 26-year-old made his major league debut in 2010 with the Mariners and went 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in four games. Varvaro was brought in to pitch for Triple-A Gwinnett and add extra depth to the big league team if needed.

    Varvaro pitched well in Gwinnett, which was enough to get him a major league look. He took advantage of the opportunity to pitch in a long-relief role, and in 18 appearances he went 0-2 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while striking out 23 in 24 innings. 

    Varvaro put up decent numbers overall, but the reason he doesn't earn a B+ like Cristhian Martinez is because he allowed four of nine inherited runners to score, along with spending the bulk of the year in Triple-A.

Scott Proctor: F

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    Scott Proctor had a couple of very good seasons with the Yankees, but due to injuries he hadn't had a good season since 2007. He only managed to pitch in six games for the Braves in 2010, going 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA.

    This year was Proctor's first full season in the majors since 2008, and it wasn't very good. In 31 games with the Braves, Proctor went 2-3 with a 6.44 ERA and 1.77 WHIP before finally (and thankfully) being released on August 10.

    Proctor was terrible on the mound, yet somehow got the Yankees to sign him just three days after the Braves released him. He somehow got back to the majors with the Yankees, and in eight games there he was actually worse than in Atlanta, with a 9.00 ERA. He also played a role in the Tampa Bay Rays improbable comeback win to take the American League wild card on the season's final day.