Today features the final installment of our series, meaning this is our last post dissecting the Braves’ portion of Bradford Doolittle’s ‘No-Moves’ MLB Power Rankings write-up he published at ESPN last week — an overview ranking each of the 30 MLB teams based solely on their original homegrown talent. For a refresher as to what this series is set out to accomplish as well as details regarding how this exercise came about, I highly recommend checking out the first two posts:
We end this series with a detailed dive into the Braves’ bullpen. And like the two previous posts have hopefully revealed (covering the lineup and starting rotation), there have been both correct and incorrect decisions made by the many different regimes operating the Braves’ organization over the last 15 or so years, though we now obviously have the unfair advantage of hindsight.
- Craig Kimbrel
- Alex Wood
- Jonny Venters
- A.J. Minter
The 2015 trade that sent
BJ Melvin Upton and Craig Kimbrel to the Padres still causes frustration, as the Braves essentially tossed in the team’s best-ever closer in what was a glorified salary dump — Upton was still owed $46 million in the final three years of his $75 million contract and performed about as bad as one could while with the Braves, batting .193 with a .593 OPS in two unwatchable seasons. The Padres did send over outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, though the former didn’t even play a single game with the Braves, and the latter tallied just 1.3 WAR while batting .267 with 10 home runs and 23 stolen bases in his one season with the team. Of course, the Braves were stuck in Year 2 of a four-year rebuild, but it’s unfortunate Kimbrel was lost in the middle of it. Since Kimbrel left the ATL, he has further solidified his place among baseball’s all-time list, notching 160 more saves while pitching to a flawless 2.79 ERA in 5 seasons with the Padres, Red Sox and most-recently the Cubs. The Braves will be facing Kimbrel in a Cubs’ uniform at least until 2022, as he signed a 3-year, $43 million deal with Chicago last season.
But going back to 2015: it got worse…
Later into the ’15 season, the Braves also decided to engage in another unfortunate deal, trading starting pitcher Alex Wood, closer Jim Johnson, former top prospect infielder Jose Peraza, injured pitcher Bronson Arroyo, reliever Luis Avilan, and Cuban signee Paco Rodriguez, in exchange for…. um… Hector Olivera…. plus the 35th pick in the 2016 MLB Draft and minor league prospect pitcher Zach Bird — so basically, nothing. The deal was criticized then and will forever be labeled as one the worst trades ever made by the Braves (and any other team for that matter). It’s not so much that Wood is so great (though he has had his moments, including a 16-win season with LA in 2017 when he posted a 2.72 ERA and tallied 3.1 WAR), but the deal didn’t even need to be done. The Braves wanted a higher draft pick and some salary relief, which they achieved, but giving up a promising young starting pitcher and one of their coveted prospects (Peraza) was just plain and simple… a dumb move. However, Peraza hasn’t done much of anything during his 5 seasons so far in the majors. The now-25 year old has a career .273/.312/.374 slash-line with 28 homers and 77 stolen bases (one with the Dodgers and the last four with the Reds).
As if having Kimbrel to close out games on a nightly basis wasn’t good enough, the Braves also had a just as dominant set-up man in Jonny Venters (a 30th-round pick in 2003). Venters led the league in appearances in 2011 with 85, as he and Kimbrel formed quite the dominant lefty-righty duo out of the Braves’ bullpen. But it was rather shortlived. Venters was out of baseball after just three seasons in Atlanta and wound up on the shelf for quite some time while dealing with numerous arm injuries. He pitched for the Braves in 2018 and 2019, combining for 62 appearances and 42.1 innings, though his issues with walks — and the fact that his stuff just wasn’t the same — prevented him from thriving, as he combined for a 5.31 ERA during those two seasons.
Lastly, there’s A.J. Minter, who currently is in need of redemption next season, coming off a terrible 2019 (7.06 ERA / 7.1 walks per nine) after putting together two dominant campaigns the two years prior. From 2017-18, Minter combined for 81 appearances and struck out 95 batters in 76.1 innings (11.2 K/9) while posting a stingy 3.18 ERA. Hopefully, he turns it around and can contribute in 2020, but his rough year last season resulted in a pretty substantial step back, especially given that there are so many Braves’ pitching prospects destined to debut soon.
The bullpen edition certainly looks much worse than the other two positions covered thus far (though perhaps Wood should’ve been included with the starting pitchers). Those two trades in 2015 were terrible moves by the Braves, and even though the team was nowhere near contention at the time, Kimbrel and Wood were both still young enough that they could’ve helped bring the team out of the cellar in 2018. Imagine having one more starting pitcher and a shutdown closer during that ’18 season (and in the NLDS versus the Dodgers). Kimbrel finished that ’18 campaign with 1.3 WAR and 42 saves, while Wood posted 2.4 WAR and a 3.68 ERA in 27 starts. Those players would’ve made a difference.
To conclude, I’ll leave you with the Braves’ ranking among the rest of the majors, compiled in the original write-up by Doolittle found on ESPN. This is essentially how well the team has signed/drafted and developed its homegrown players. As you can see, the Braves have consistently rostered some of the best defenders in the sport, as well as a top-10 starting rotation. Though compared to the rest of the majors, they’ve maintained an average lineup and bullpen:
- MLB Power Ranking: 10th
- Overall Power Rating: 82.9
- Hitting rank: 11th
- Fielding rank: 1st
- Rotation rank: 9th
- Bullpen rank: 14th
Hopefully, this series served as a decent illustration as to how individual decisions have impacted the Braves over the years. Obviously, moves made in the present are almost impossible to assess in the moment accurately, but it’s always interesting to look back at them down the road. One thing that sticks out is that success doesn’t always come down to how well teams draft and develop players, and that having the patience and fortitude to stick with the talent that’s been developed can have a much more lasting effect on an organization’s future. From where I’m standing, despite a few blunders… it seems the Braves have done a pretty good job in recent years.
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