Ever since the early 2010s, the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen has been in a constant state of flux. One could make the argument that the pen has been more of a revolving door than the Cleveland Browns’ QB situation. The days of Craig Kimbrel, an effective Eric O’Flaherty, and Jonny Venters are long gone. To try and solve the bullpen issue the front office brought in veteran closer Jason Grilli and former AL saves leader, Jim Johnson, in an attempt to sure up the back end of games in 2015. The experiment all but failed as both were traded in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
With the combination of Johnson and Grilli gone, the Atlanta front office was essentially betting on Arodys Vizcaino to be the anchor of the bullpen towards the end of the 2016 season. Vizcaino performed very well in his new closing role, especially in April and May of 2016 when he went a combined 1-0, posted a combined 1.46 ERA, and had six total saves through those two months. June through August was completely different story for the young Dominican as he would not win another game the rest of the season, put up an ugly 13.59 ERA, and only saved two games in that span. The hard throwing Vizcaino was then sent to the DL on August 30th and did not make an appearance the rest of the 2016 season.
This put the Braves’ bullpen in an even worse spot as they did not have an established or consistent closer. Brian Snitker did what he had to and made the very electric yet very raw, Mauricio Cabrera take over as the closer in late 2016. Cabrera was effective in his new digs as he posted a 5-1 record, accumulated a 2.82 ERA, and saved six games in seven save opportunities. Going into the 2016 off-season and heading into the 2017 season, it looked as if Cabrera could be the closer, but that has been far from the case.
On March 20th, 2017 the flamethrower was shut down due to lingering elbow soreness and was sent to the 10-day DL. Cabrera would not make another appearance in spring training but was cleared to start throwing again in early April. Through 17 innings with both High-A Florida and Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Cabrera has gone 2-1, with a dreadful 6.88 ERA, and has saved three games in four chances. The glaring number for the 23 year old is his K/BB ratio, which currently sits at 12/16. That means for every three strikeouts Cabrera is giving up four walks. His average combined walk rate is at a staggering 17.85% so far. It is clear that Cabrera has the velocity to be a closer as he topped out last year at 103.8 MPH, but his control is preventing him from making it back to the big leagues.
Going forward, Cabrera needs to develop more control for his overall stuff even if that means taking some velo off that fastball. For an example take current starter Mike Foltynewicz. When Folty first came up he was sitting in the upper 90s, but at the same time was forfeiting too many runs due to poor control. Granted his walk rate was nowhere near Cabrera’s, one could tell he was lacking in overall command of his pitches. In late 2015, the Bazooka from Minooka (as he is affectionately called back in his hometown of Minooka, IL) developed blood clots in his right arm and the had to undergo a rib resection surgery to alleviate those blood clots. Coming back from his surgery, Foltynewicz lost 20 pounds as well as around three to four MPH on his fastball. Now instead of seeing Folty light up the gun at around 96-99, his average four-seam fastball sits around 94-97 respectively. With the reduction in his fastball’s velocity, Braves fans have seen Folty blossom into a future top of the rotation guy once the likes of Bartolo Colon and R.A Dickey leave. If Cabrera could dial his velo down to around 96-99, it may help with his basic command and control, allowing him to become the quality closer and asset he once was.
*stats according to mlb.com, milb.com, and fangraphs.com