2011 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Jonny Venters

That's ALL-STAR Jonny Venters.

There really aren't a whole lot of words that can be said by anyone on Talking Chop to describe how great Jonny Venters had been throughout 2011, that haven't already been said at some point or another. We all are aware of just how good he was for the Atlanta Braves throughout the year, so there's no point in trying to extol more superlatives onto him.

When I think about how awesome Jonny Venters was however, three particular games stand out in my mind:

  1. April 4th, at Milwaukee. Braves rally down 0-1 to the Brewers and take a 2-1 lead after Martin Prado and Dan Uggla take Takashi Saito deep for solo homers each. Going into the bottom of the eighth, Peter Moylan gets one out, but then gives up a single to Ryan Braun, bringing the dangerous Prince Fielder to the plate. Jonny Venters is immediately summoned to play the matchup, and in two pitches, gets Fielder to hit into a 5-6-3 inning-ending double play. Braves win.
  2. April 19th, at Los Angeles. Nursing a 2-0 lead in the seventh, Scott Linebrink gives the Dodgers hope by allowing three singles and a run to cut the deficit to 2-1. Jonny Venters is called upon to put out the first-and-third, one out fire. A strikeout of Marcus Thames and a Casey Blake groundout neutralizes the threat. But then Fredi Gonzalez decides to put the nail in the coffin on the Dodgers and trots out Jonny Venters again to pitch the eighth, and he slams the door on the heart of the order, striking out Andre Ethier, and getting Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe to ground out. Braves explode for eight runs in the ninth and win.
  3. May 25th, at Pittsburgh. Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Jonny Venters gets into a little bit of trouble in his second inning of work that afternoon, partially due to an E6 error, leading to a bases-loaded, one out scenario with the Pirates looking for the game winner. It doesn't happen. Jonny Venters gets Steven Pearce to ground into a clutch 6-2-3 double play. Braves win in the 11th
    This one stands out to me due to the Open Thread that afternoon - this is where the error occurred, and the natural panicked freak-out by the day's participants. Amidst this panic was yours truly:
    I still have confidence in Jonny
    And this is where the game-saving GIDP occurred, and the natural rejoice celebrating reaction to such.

In 2011, Jonny Venters put out more fires than Smokey the Bear, made his first All-Star team, and was often the topic of concerns of overuse, all while putting up a fine statistical season overall. Compared to his excellent 2010 rookie season, Venters didn't really suffer the mythical sophomore slump. He pitched in 85 games, completing 88.0 innings, and faced a total of 357 total batters, all of which were career-highs for Jonny. He improved upon his 1.95 ERA in 2010, reducing it to 1.84 in 2011, allowing just 53 hits and striking out a career-best 96 batters while allowing 36 unintentional walks. Additionally, Jonny logged 35 holds, and five saves. Batters fared an ineffective .176/.289/.219 versus Venters, all improvements from 2010.

Efficiency is where Jonny Venters improved upon a noticeable amount in 2011; he wasn't ever really an uneconomical pitcher to begin with, but he still managed to improve. In spite of the increase of appearances and five more innings pitched in 2011, Venters threw 17 fewer overall pitches, reduced his pitches per plate appearance down to 3.71 from 3.83, and reduced his number of batters faced per inning down to 4.06 from 4.22. Jonny went 1-2-3 in 40% of his one-inning appearances, and if the rule of thumb for an "efficient" inning is 15 pitches, then Venters converted those at a 52% clip.* The trademark Jonny Venters 96 mph left-sinker probably had to do with it, inducing a mind-boggling 72.5% groundball rate, and 11 double plays turned.

*(Quick comparisons: J. Axford, MIL: 37% 1-2-3, 40% <15 pitches, T. Clippard, WAS: 39% 1-2-3, 35% <15 pitches)

Delving into peripherals, Jonny Venters struck out batters at a 9.82 K/9 (-) clip and walked guys to a 4.40 BB/9 (-), had a 1.09 WHIP (+), and a 2.78 FIP (-). Venters did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground, as indicative of the aforementioned 72.5 GB% (+), while lowering his LD% (14.4) and FB% (13.7) rates. Overall, his skill-independent ERA (SIERA) was just 2.56 (+).

Reliever-comp-chart----venters_medium

When it comes to analyzing relievers, I'm a big advocate of the WPA statistic (FanGraphs' WPA definition). In short, it's a stat takes into account the leverage and impact of all events; in other words a stat that gives a tangible numeric plus or minus value for how much a player impacts a game. Our very own talented Jacob Peterson was kind enough to generate some snazzy-looking charts to illustrate how effective Braves relievers were versus the MLB averages. In short, look at how awesome and massive Jonny Venters' green bars are, and how small and diminutive his red ones are, versus "average" relievers.

Jacob's charts gives us the percentages, but you'd only need a single hand to count just how many of Venters' 85 appearances would classify as disasters (coincidentally, three of those were following three days rest, but we'll get to that later).

Overall, Jonny Venters' total +4.645 WPA accumulated throughout the entire 2011 season is second best in the National League, and fourth best in all of Major League Baseball. Such a high number basically says that Jonny Venters successfully dealt with higher-leverage situations and tougher batters than anyone on the Braves and most other relievers in all of baseball. When inheriting baserunners, Venters stranded 75% of them, and overall, 83.5% of Jonny's baserunners were left stranded.

In terms of value, Jonny Venters' 1.7 WAR ranks tied for fifth best among relievers. Sean Marshall is the only other "non-closer" in the top-5 along with Venters.

Was Jonny Venters overworked?

Since the answer to that question is very much subjective, I'll let you come to your own conclusions on this one. I will, however, present some numbers to help you come to your decisions.

  1. Jonny Venters led the majors in appearances, appearing in 85 games. If you count his split tenure with the Padres, Mike Adams is the first AL reliever to crack the top-10, showing up at #8 with 76. Jose Valverde is the first AL reliever otherwise at #10, with 75 appearances. Keep in mind that an appearance means that a pitcher threw 20-30 pitches in the bullpen to warm up, eight pitches on the mound to warm up, before any recorded pitch. On record, Jonny has 1,323 pitches thrown in 2011, but factor in all those tosses, not to mention the few times he was warmed up but not used, and that's a lot of pitches.
  2. Jonny Venters was used 41 times in non-save/hold situations. Sometimes it makes sense. In times of winning/losing streaks where relievers with purposes aren't getting any chances to serve their purposes, they have to be used, before they go dull. Sometimes, it's done with consideration of off-days coming, and a desire to maintain a semblance of routine and schedule factors into it. Sometimes, ignoring the save/hold stats, a manager feels like a potential rally or momentum changer needs to be snuffed out before it can ignite. And sometimes, it doesn't make sense at all.
  3. Jonny Venters' low-leverage splits are worse than any higher degree. .231/.315/.369 isn't a bad slash by any means, but when your high-leverage splits read .161/.284/.161, then there's a clear need for some adrenaline to achieve optimum effectiveness. And Venters was used in low-leverage situations 35 times.
  4. TO REST, OR NOT TO REST? Jonny Venters was used on zero days rest 33 times. In these outings, Jonny held 135 batters to a .153/.280/.189 line with a 10.1 K/9 rate, 1.030 WHIP and allowed eight earned runs, with a 2.18 ERA. Conversely, on outings where Jonny Venters had three days rest, he was very much human, allowing 62 batters to hit .280/.400/.380 against him, allowing seven earned runs, with a 4.85 ERA and 1.846 WHIP. He did however strike out a Kimbrel-like 14.5 K/9 due to being so well-rested, but overall, ineffective. Remember, Bobby Cox often said that Peter Moylan groundball pitchers needed to be used frequently to keep maximum sharpness, but seeing as how Peter Moylan's been shelved with Tommy John Surgery and a torn rotator cuff, a happier compromise might be sought for Venters.
  5. Jonny Venters had a rough September. This will be the sell point for most peoples' justification that Jonny was overworked, seeing as how after pretty much an entire season of dominance, Venters' line transformed into something more reminiscent of Macay McBride. The worst month of his season; highest slash (.283/.424/.370), most walks (10), worst WHIP (1.865), earned runs (7) and highest BF/IP (5.04).
  6. However, the last three months were pretty steady. After the initial scare that Jonny Venters was in the process of being overworked, Fredi Gonzalez did a fair job of stabilizing his recorded usage. July, 13 G and 12.1 IP. August, 13 G and 12.1 IP. September, 13 G and 12.1 IP.
  7. Tyler Clippard. Washington's Tyler Clippard is the only guy above Venters in WPA, and innings pitched (0.1 IP more), albeit in 13 fewer appearances. Tyler Clippard pitched in 27 games where he went more than an inning, whereas Jonny Venters exceeded 1.0 just eight times. Clippard finished out his September with a .148/.200/.259 line across 61 batters in 16.2 innings over 14 appearances. Suffice to say, with similar usage, he didn't deteriorate in September like Venters did.

Pedro Martinez once said that fatigue doesn't affect velocity, but it does your command. Most pitchers would tend to agree with that assessment, and as far as the eye test is concerned, it didn't take a genius to see that Jonny Venters was a little more wild later in the year, and the walks attest to it, tangibly.

But as I said, the opinion of the matter is still subjective to whomever is deciding on it, but personally, I would have to say that Jonny Venters was a little overworked. He didn't earn the moniker of Everyday-Jonny without reason, and I base my opinion on the sheer number of appearances, and all the non-recorded arm use that goes along with it.

I give Fredi Gonzalez a little bit of credit for making an earnest attempt to stabilize Venters' use after the San Diego meltdown, as indicative of how he treated the last three months of the season, but if you ask me, by September, it all began catching up to him, and the zeroes in the H column started vanishing outright.

Random statistical anomalies from 2011

Maybe coincide Jonny Venters off-days with Brian McCann off-days? Jonny Venters opponents' line when pitching to Heap: .165/.272/.196, 1.18 ERA, 10 earned runs in 76 innings. However, Venters opponents' line when pitching to David Ross: .256/.373/.372, 6.55 ERA, 8 earned runs in 11 innings.

Two places where we wish Jonny were Jonny a little better. Jonny Venters in Citi Field: .263/.400/.368. Jonny Venters in Citizens Bank Park: .300/.364/.400. I wouldn't complain in the least bit if that were maybe changed, for venues outside of the division, perhaps?

Conclusion

Jonny Venters had a fantastic 2011 season. And to think, in spite of all of his fantastic numbers in almost every statistical category, they could have been better, if not for a September month where some fatigue may have plagued his command. But regardless of such, we as Braves fans enjoyed the luxury of witnessing the successful sophomore season of a truly unique talent, harnessing a devastating 96 mph power sinker from the left side that most opposition in the league looked at, completely bewildered.

It's actually kind of good that Jonny Venters wasn't so much labeled as a "closer" or "set-up" guy, and actually served as a genuine fireman, getting thrust into stressful situations, and bailing the team out more often than not, like a real relief ace should. However, it was also a treat to see the few games in which Jonny was allowed to close out some saves, because we got to see a brief glimpse of a guy who could really dial it in at the end of a game (16.6 K/9!!!), and serves as a low-stress replacement for times where Kimbrel may not be available.

One of the best things about Jonny Venters too: he's not even arbitration eligible until 2013, so he's currently poised to remain a Brave for a little while.

Dc_venters_medium

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