UPDATED: Baseball’s worst bullpen belongs to the Braves

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Brandon Cunniff, center, stands on the mound as manager Fredi Gonzalez, right, comes out to remove him during the eighth inning of the Braves’ baseball game against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in San Francisco. At left is catcher A.J. Pierzynski. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Brandon Cunniff, center, stands on the mound as manager Fredi Gonzalez, right, comes out to remove him during the eighth inning of the Braves' baseball game against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in San Francisco. At left is catcher A.J. Pierzynski. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Too late, Brandon Cunniff gets the hook. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

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.

Reader Comments 2

107 comments
GwinnettDad
GwinnettDad

11th inning against the Padres. Bullpen already blew a 3-1 lead. Turned the TV off. This game is in the dumper.

BobDawg
BobDawg

Hart has pulled a Danny Ferry and we have changed directions with our lineup… yeah, the Bullpen has suffered but that will be fixed… We have youth now on our side and studs in the minors… Patience, people, patience….

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

Just as long as he doesn't pull the other kind of a Danny Ferry but I don't think Africans play baseball........oops I just pulled a danny ferry

ComaToes
ComaToes

The best thing the Braves could do to improve the bullpen tremendously would be to fire Fredi Gonzalez immediately. His goal is nothing more than mediocrity and he is happy with that.

GwinnettDad
GwinnettDad

@ComaToes Fredi can't pitch. Blaming the manager? Why? Who do you want to have pitch instead?

mthomas
mthomas

Please do something about the bullpen!!! How about bring up Tyrell Jenkins from the minors. He's doing well. How about trading Chris Johnson. Do we really need to two third baseman now that we have Uribe. (who is better, anyway) We can get an bullpen arm or two for C Johnson.

mdet
mdet

ha "UPDATED" can apply game after game. Cahill what a joke...Fredi is always gonna play contracts over performance just like BJ & Dan.

iBalling
iBalling

Folks, WHAT DID YOU REALLY EXPECT FROM THIS TEAM AFTER THEY ALMOST TRADED EVERYBODY AND KEPT THE COACH? WE GOT WHAT WE EXPECTED! WERE YOU REALLY EXPECTING ANYTHING ELSE? REALLY!!!

GwinnettDad
GwinnettDad

@iBalling The team is way better in scoring runs than last  year. The problem is pitching, with three of five starters either gone for the season or dropped entirely due to Tommy John surgery. They're better in the field.

GwinnettDad
GwinnettDad

@candlin14 is too stupid to know what sport he's discussing. Head Coach? Dummy.


At this rate, take two relief pitchers at random from Gwinnett and two from Mississippi, and send four down from the Braves. The new four couldn't be worse than what we have.

candlin14
candlin14

Lets go ATL, the biggest problem with the Braves is their Head Coach... This guy is clueless...  FG is absolutely horrible. A complete SCRUB!!! Atlantas offense is pathetic... right now its so hard to be optimistic about any Atlanta sport or UGA football.. After what the Hawks did, and after the falcons bringing back Thomas Dimitrioff, the Braves bringing back FG, and the Dawgs bringing back Mark Richt, it will ALWAYS be the same ol mediocre teams... 

LegalBeagle3
LegalBeagle3

Many people are clamoring for the Braves to get Carpenter.  After reading this: "Carpenter yielded 10 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings with the Yankees and saw his strong K/9 rate nearly halved while his walk rate went in the other direction."...it seems as though he'd fit right in with our team concept!

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

I'll bet if the Cardinal's GM had considered the foolish idea of adding Cahill when Wainwright got injured he would have been laughed at. The Cahill addition (Yahoo says he makes 5.5 mil so a tiny bit less stupid than I thought) and the Markakis deal reveal the new GMs are nearly as incompetent as Wren was at blowing free agent money. With the operation before the season, one would think  a GM could do a 2 year deal but few GM seem to know how to bargain aggressively and be willing to walk away.

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

Question: how have the Cardinals achieved the best ERA with their starting pitching when they traded away Shelby Miller and lost Wainwright to injury? Do they have the best scouts/ farm system in baseball? Losing those two would crush any other franchize but they have not missed a beat.

TEB1
TEB1

Bradley wouldn't be writing this article if the Braves were as bad as he thought they would be. The truth is they are a 500 ball club even with the worst bullpen in baseball. Even Bradley couldn't have written this script for the 2015 Bravos. The truth is this team has overacheived even with the disastrous bullpen injuries and small ball composition. You have to give the front office due credit for trading key pieces for a potentially brighter pitching future, and as all braves fans should know, pitching is the key to winning(if not now then later). Take the Gattis trade; it hurt but Foltynewicz is part of a bright future. Great move Bravos...

ComaToes
ComaToes

@TEB1  That is until he has arm problems like all the rest so far. It's called "Atlantaitis".

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

@TEB1

I have one problem with your argument. Hart did a conference call with Braves A List (season ticket) fans back in the fall. Many renewed thinking the team would not be blown up. It is not whether or not the trades will work but that he did not confide they were considering it. The two GMs also throw around money on free agents nearly as foolishly as Wren did. Is there a GM anywhere that knows the value of a buck? Most teams have a B.J. contract and cannot make needed moves because of it. I was just looking at the Yankees salaries for SPs on Yahoo. Looks like the less you do, the more insane contract u have. Sabathia gets 23 mil while Tanaka gets 22. Poor Pineda should fire his agent unless there is a misprint at 2.1.

scottarino
scottarino

@JacketDetective @TEB1 the Yankees have virtually unlimited funds. The Braves have very limited funds. There IS a difference, and NO, most teams do not have a " B.J. contract" and cannot make needed move because of it. But please continue to post your opinion and believe it is fact.

ComaToes
ComaToes

No,  say "hello"  to baseball's worst team, and it was expected by yours truly.  Houston is now sitting in first place in the American League.  Guess who Atlanta "gave" them?  Yep,  Mr. Gattis. St. Louis is now sitting in first place in the National League by a wide margin, and have only lost 7 of 29 games at home, playing .600 ball or better.  Guess who the Braves "gave" them?  Yep, Mr. Heyward.  Is there worse owners or a worse front office in all of baseball? Nope   AND oh yeh,  the worst manager in all of baseball.  It won't get any better for at least 10 yrs. folks !  If you go to the games be sure to wear your "HERE SITS A FOOL"  T-shirts.

ComaToes
ComaToes

@patriotdog  But they are on teams in first place.  Must have had something to do with it, no matter how small.

patriotdog
patriotdog

Gattis is hitting .230, Heyward is hitting his perennial .250.

No, thanks

LegalBeagle3
LegalBeagle3

@ComaToes @patriotdog Unless Gattis or Heyward can pitch, they would be of no help to this team.  These will remain good moves and a win for the Braves regardless of how this season plays out.

Delbert_D
Delbert_D

I though PHDs were good things to have.

rightupouralley
rightupouralley

It did not help to have 2 idiots use PHD's (Vizcaino and Mchirrahan (sp?)).  It started with Kimbrel.  You can work from there down for your 6,7,8th inning guys.  Now we have to live with 1 step below in every situation.


But, trading Kimbrel and getting rid of the baggage that went with him was a prudent, albeit tough, move.  


Hey, at least we do not have to scream and yell at the TV anymore.  No more BJ and Justin strike out kings.  No more underachieving Heyward.  No more swing and miss Ugla.


Really kinda fun watching the Braves now.  Pulling hair out included.

boxcarlarry
boxcarlarry

Birdhair   Good point  Bradley only likes to stir up trouble and then walk away.   He could care less about the Braves.  I don't think he even like baseball.  He won't admit it but this team is better than everybody thought it would be.  I'm as frustrated as everyone else is with the bull pen.  He mentions Frank Wren having a great bullpen. It needed to be with last years team because we didn't score any runs.  The starters have finally settled down and the offense is ten times better.  It's easier to fix one part of a team instead of 3 parts. I'm sure they will find someone.

RickinWarnerRobins
RickinWarnerRobins

Valvaro has arm issues?  How surprising...another Fredi Gonzalez/Roger McDowell ruined arm.  What do you bet that several current Braves will have arm problems before years end because of these two.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Well, the team needed a housecleaning and realignment and I guess we can presume it remains a work-in-progress. Hart has made some really astute moves, I expect we'll see quite a few more. While it's hard to watch them blow ballgames at least the team is playing hard and trying to play the game the right way. There is more good young pitching coming along, maybe soon, and that bodes well for the future if not the present. The current bullpen is one big scrap heap, most of the positive results we've seen along the way really are quite surprising, when you step back and consider the players they are working with.

mdet
mdet

Mark - Perhaps you should ask John Hart what he is gonna do about it.

speedster16
speedster16

VERY bad sign - for a  remade team from  last season - building a new stadium . Who wants to  pay to go see a under .500 ball team.I don't even want to see them on tv.Looks like the team is headed for a new city -like the debunked Hawks. WHILE YOU'RE AT IT ,SELL THE FALCONS TOO.

speedster16
speedster16

Sell also  the Dream and that sorry hockey team. Make Atlanta totally a theater city !

Birdhair
Birdhair

Bradley, commenting on any article of yours is a waste of time but I can't resist. Rebuilding teams are going to have major ups and downs with a bullpen. How do you not grasp that? A rebuilding team is going to go cheap with its pen and allow the youth to develop. Why can't you understand that??

Beau1500
Beau1500

@Birdhair Because Bradley is an idiot and a whiny little kid when it comes to baseball.  "Not to say I told you so".......grow up little man or move on to the WNBA.

58Supersports
58Supersports

@Beau1500 @Birdhair  Bradley is not a idiot... the only reporter to tell it like it is... rebuilding is going to go cheap with its pen is a  stupid remark.  I also bet MB knows more about baseball that you two do.

Allen Lord
Allen Lord

FG has changed his approach from freedom on the bases to run, bunting in bunt situations (which we had at the beginning of the season) and as usual continues to rotate his batting order and line-up to play the "righty-riighty, lefty-lefty" odds baseball incorporated by his protege, Bobby Cox. Get you 8 young, good ball players: Cunningham in LF, Maybin in CF, Markakis (for now) in LF, Freddi Freeman 1B, Peterson 2B, Simmons SS, Uribe (For now) 3B and Bethancourt Behind -the-Plate and leave them alone to play ball, EVERYDAY!!


The Braves have a really good team and are fun to watch. I believe the problem with the bull-pen is more on the managerial level than an ineptness to close games. Baseball is a "head-game." Set-up men and closers need mental toughness and coaches that can bring out the best of these traits in their players are the ones that are winners! This is why I believe that FG is not the man for the job. 


We watched the collapse of a team in the past two years, not because of the former GM but because there was no "mental toughness" being fostered from the managerial level.  Example of the last couple of games where we blew leads that should never have been blown. Eddie Perez needs to keep these guys pumped in the bullpen and ready to pitch both mentally and physically.


In conclusion, this team will never attain their potential until you get the right manager in the dugout.

alexander2
alexander2

@Allen Lord NOT a really good team, Outfield (x Markakis) is 4A, no catcher and #rd is labile....but funner to watch than last year BY FAR.

freezboy
freezboy

Goes to show why baseball is one of the most competitive  and mentally challenging sports in the world. ...Many avenues to defeat.....Sailing might be the top sport...think about it...

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

At least we're hitting. Fix bullpen. Go to playoffs. Go Braves.

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

I am guessing the home games vs the Pirates and Red Sox will be comparable to a neutral site; kinda like when Tech plays Uga at home.

freezboy
freezboy

@JacketDetective can't read between the lines on that....Jacksonville is our only neutral...that i'm aware of...

Savdon
Savdon

Wow.  If they had won 5 or 6 of the blown games, they'd be in first.  Wow.

Mr. Negative
Mr. Negative

Liberty never met a cheap player they didnt like. To them ...low price> low era

AdmiralObvious53
AdmiralObvious53

Wren was an idiot.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  You have to give the Braves credit (unlike a certain local NFL team) they realized the problem was their General Manager, Wren...although that's not the end of it.

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

@AdmiralObvious53

Credit? How about they hire someone good to start with? Plus they took a long time to realize he made one poor free agent decision after another.

NomoreBS
NomoreBS

Part of the bullpen problem is the way Fredi handles them.  He often falls in love with a pitcher who has a little success, then wears him out, while allowing the rest of the 'pen to get rusty.

But the 'pen aside, Fredi's management has cost us at least several games.  Wednesday's game was one example.  WHY did he take Cunningham - a switch hitter, who already had two hits in the game, and also reached base on a HBP -- for Gomes?  Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but Gomes managed to end the inning by popping up, and then he failed to get to a sinking line drive that the younger and MUCH quicker Cunningham would have had a decent chance to catch.  Gomes also allowed the hitter to stretch that hit into a double.  Fredi often makes those kinds of mistakes.

Of course the ball-strike umpiring did us no favors.  The D-backs' starter got pitches off the corner nearest first base -- both inside pitches for left handed batters and outside calls on rightys.  Yet no fewer than two of our pitchers had guys out on what "Fox Tracks" showed were in the strike zone, but were called balls -- but both of those batters reached base and scored.  Yeah, our pitchers need to learn to work through bad calls, but since that happened (at least) twice, and cost us no fewer than two runs -- MORE than the margin of victory -- it sucks.  Maybe the umpire was calling those close pitches based on the reputation of our staff -- LOL.  If so, we might as well give up now.

LegalBeagle3
LegalBeagle3

@NomoreBS 100% agree with everything.  So many people say "hindsight is 20/20" as if that's a total defense for Freddi.  Well yea it is but so is a little foresight and common sense...playing your hand wisely.  You give a great example with him pulling C'ham for Gomes.  Had he left C'ham in, and even if he didn't come through with the clutch hit or didn't make the catch on the line drive, nobody would say "damn, why didn't Freddi swap Gomes for C'ham."  But by doing this weird and inexplicable stuff like subbing Gomes in that spot, he just invites criticism and second guessing.  Like overusing specific pitchers, as you pointed out, and letting others rot (like Cahill).  I know it sounds like a broken record or a cop-out, but he really is in over his head and has already been given wayyyyyyy too many chances here.  The fans deserve better.

jaypat
jaypat

About the only thing worse than the Braves bullpen is the AJC's new website.  Both suck bigtime.

Gary Gottlieb
Gary Gottlieb

TO JOHN HART: If you can figure out how to improve this bullpen, as HUDDYS1FAN said we would probably be in first place. John S. said you are THE MAN. Actually anything that John S. says I will believe. You need to GET TO WORK FAST ON THIS NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME BULLPEN. cannot SAY HOW YOU FIX IT, BUT GET TO WORK NOW!!! So many of your moves have worked crazy good. But this bullpen sucks and has cost at least 6 wins.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Bradley of the AJC reported that the Braves have the worst ERA for relievers in the major leagues. It’s a paltry 4.71. […]

  2. […] Further reading: Baseball’s worst bullpen belongs to the Braves. […]