Here’s a stat we haven’t seen in many a moon: The Atlanta Braves have the worst ERA for relievers (4.71) in the major leagues. They’re 30th of 30. They’re the absolute caboose.
In 2008, the first year of Frank Wren’s stewardship, the Braves were 21st in bullpen ERA. Then things changed. They ranked sixth in 2009, third in 2010, first in 2011, second in 2012 and first in 2013. Last year they slipped to 11th, but still: That was a really good run of relief.
One thing you can say about Wren as general manager: He was deft at building a bullpen. One other thing to say about those six good-to-excellent seasons: It never hurts to have the best reliever in the business. (Craig Kimbrel made his Atlanta debut in May 2010.)
Wren was fired — “terminated,” to use the Braves’ cruel word — last September. The new regime traded Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro, four of the team’s five most-used relievers in 2014.
Kimbrel hasn’t been quite as dominant as a Padre: His ERA has ballooned to 4.74 and his WHIP (walks/hits per inning) has risen to a career-worst 1.316. Walden was excellent in April as a set-up man for the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal; Walden’s ERA was 0.87 before being sidelined with a sore shoulder.
Carpenter has been OK as a sometime set-up man for the Yankees: He has two blown saves, two holds and an ERA of 4.82. (Update: Carpenter was DFA’ed by New York late Wednesday afternoon.) Varvaro was waived by the Red Sox, for whom he made nine underwhelming appearances. He was claimed by the Cubs, whereupon it was learned he had a torn elbow flexor. He was returned to the Red Sox as damaged goods and will miss the rest of the season.
There’s a theory among baseball men that you can get away with pinching pennies in the bullpen. The Braves haven’t gotten away with it. They’ve blown eight saves in 52 games; they blew 13 saves all last season.
Even when Shelby Miller had his worst start of the year, the Braves led 6-4 Tuesday night in Phoenix and had positioned themselves to nose two games above .500. Then Nick Masset, the Miami castoff, yielded one run and the rookie Brandon Cunniff was touched for a game-losing homer.
The Braves are back to break-even, which isn’t terrible given the expectations for this team. Just think, though, how much better they might be if they had even baseball’s 20th-best bullpen.
Another update: Not to say I told you so, but … the Braves lost again Wednesday afternoon. Bullpen wasted another lead. That’s nine blown saves in 53 games, two in 18 hours. They scored 22 runs against Arizona and lost the series. They’re a game below .500.