In 2011, the Vaunted Atlanta Braves Bullpen pitched a total of 522.1 innings of relief. This was second most in the National League, only behind the Pirates. To put this in perspective, the four qualifying playoff teams rank first, third, fourth, and fifth (PHI, ARI, MIL, STL) in least bullpen usage. Among other teams that also eclipsed the 500 IP mark from their bullpens are third-place or worse standing teams (PIT, WAS, FLA, COL, CHC).
Out of the 522.1 innings of relief pitched, 238.2 of them were pitched by Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. And out of the remaining 283.2 innings of relief thrown by the Braves, we're going to be excluding a few guys due to not making an impact (Moylan, Medlen, Asencio, 21.0 R/IP), or they're going to be covered later (Teheran, Vizcaino, 23.0 R/IP). So with that in mind, we're left with 239.2 innings of relief thrown by the remaining contributors and Scott Proctor.
Let that soak in for a moment - 238.2 IP from three guys versus 239.2 IP from six guys.
Okay, let's get started.
The Contingency Plans
George Sherrill (36.0 IP) and Scott Linebrink (54.1 IP) were brought to the Braves to be the veteran lefty and veteran righty contingency plans in the event that the young lefty and young righty in Venters and Kimbrel couldn't handle the rigors and pressure of being the anchors in the bullpen. It made sense; Sherrill brought closing experience from Baltimore and Los Angeles, and Linebrink had been a heat-throwing set-up type throughout this whole career. As it would turn out, Venters and Kimbrel were more than up to the task, and ultimately, the two vets were kind of without much identity throughout the year.
It became apparent that with the confirmation that Jonny Venters was no fluke and a career year out of Eric O'Flaherty, that George Sherrill's greatest strength to the team was best served as a lefty-specialist. Left-handed batters were a mortal .256/.307/.358 against Sherrill, but the most mind-blowing number would be 32. As in a 32.0 K/BB ratio, as in George Sherrill struck out 32 lefties, and walked just one.
As Sherril's WPA chart, also as provided by our own Jacob Peterson indicates, WPA was not that friendly to George. He ranks below-average in all categories but one, fortunately it's one we can live with - he's better at avoiding the big meltdown than the average reliever.
His overall numbers aren't as bad as they seem, as most of his bad outings occur in games where he's forced to face a righty, or either on too much rest, or on consecutive days. He's great when used properly: .222/.314/.289 with two outs, .111/.238/.111 two outs and RISP, and overall .167/.265/.267 in high leverage situations.
But man, don't let him pitch in the day time (.357/.426/.571), and if it can be helped, have David Ross catch him (.213/.288/.298; 50+ points better across the board vs. McCann).
Scott Linebrink, on the other hand, didn't fare as well at finding much of a gratifying role, after it was fortunately revealed that Craig Kimbrel could handle his expectations. He threw hard, but was ultimately either way too hittable, or simply forfeited too many walks. Overall, he was pretty much used as a mop-up type, or the guy that the team goes to when there's nobody left. There's not a whole lot in any of his numbers that does him any favors, or can really endear him to anyone in Braves Country.
Linebrink was terrible in high-leverage situations (.365/.433/.519), couldn't deal with starting clean innings (.327/.353/.592), and downright obscene in save/hold situations (.500/.500/.667).
When it comes to WPA, Scott Linebrink was below average in every fathomable way. His six home runs forfeited are only second to the long reliever, which isn't a good thing at all. I'd say his saving grace was a pretty good stretch in June, where he hung eleven straight zero-run innings before he took a loss, before making 16 more outings without consequence, but really, his only genuine saving grace is simply the fact that there was actually a worse reliever on the squad that Braves Country decided to take their ire out on instead.
The Long Man
Who can forget the brilliant spot-start that Cristhian Martinez made on July 26th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he pitched six innings of two-hit ball, and struck out six Bucs? Wait, what? That wasn't a start? Those innings were in relief?? That game went 19 innings??? Well crap.
Welcome to the unsexy, unglamorous and often unrecognized world of long relief. Cristhian Martinez wasn't even listed on the itinerary of players that were going to be reviewed here at the Chop, which is kind of a travesty, considering out of the 239.2 IP being analyzed here, Martinez pitched in 77.2 IP of those.
It's hard to judge the long guy on numbers alone, since his role out of the bullpen is kind of unpredictable, but it's impossible to say that Cristhian Martinez wasn't important to the team. Out of his 46 appearances, 15 of those were for longer than a single inning, including 20 of those being for two-plus, as well as the aforementioned six-inning spot-start-within-the-game he made, which unfortunately went unrewarded with a winning decision.
In the grand spectrum of things, Cristhian Martinez had solid season. 308 batters fared just .197/.255/.331 against Martinez, and he simply did a good job of keeping them off the bases, with a K/BB rate right around 3, and an excellent WHIP of 0.966. He neutralized righties, and lefties weren't that much better against him. Martinez delivered in high-leverage situations (.178/.213/.333) and in two-out/RISP scenarios (.219/.324/.219). His only flaw was the simple fact that as a fly ball pitcher, the occasional fly ball sometimes left the park (10.7 HR/FB); leading to the closely correlating 3.36/3.72 ERA/FIP.
Anthony Varvaro (24.0 IP) is another waiver-pick up from the Seattle Mariners (like Eric O'Flaherty) who showed some glimpse of productivity in 2011. With good velocity, he racked up 23 strikeouts, but also walked 11. Overall, 96 batters just fared .183/.277/.317 in his short stint, and lefties couldn't really exploit him terribly.
However, he demonstrated kind of three-outcomes pitching, especially in high-leverage situations. Either he prevented any sort of hit (.182 BA), gave up a big hit (.545 SLG, all hits were XBH), or walked the batter (.412 OBP, 0.60 K/BB). Varvaro's still just 26 years old, and if the Braves could fix Eric O'Flaherty out of Seattle, maybe they can do the same with Anthony.
Cory Gearrin (18.1 IP) made his Major League debut in 2011, with a two-inning extra-inning outing against the San Diego Padres, holding them hitless with two strikeouts. The groundball specialist (60.0 GB%) was called up three different times throughout the year, and really made his mark, when it came to facing righties, who could only muster a .143/.260/.167 batting line with 18 strikeouts versus just six walks.
Unfortunately, those on the left side pulverized him (.393/.514/.643), which lead to an unattractive albeit small-sample sized overall picture of his numbers, featuring a 7.85 ERA. But at just 25 going into 2012, there's still room to grow, or with the left-handed options the Braves already have, could just remain a righty-groundball specialist.
And what you've been waiting for
Last, and unfortunately least, it comes to Scott Proctor (29.1 IP). I'm having a difficult time in thinking of another player Talking Chop and/or Braves Country loathed seeing more than Scott Proctor. I'm also having a difficult time in thinking of any better examples of a guy committing so much damage to one team in such a short amount of time.
In 39 appearances, Scott Proctor yielded 34 runs allowed over 18 of those appearances. Seriously, combing through his game logs, there are three instances where Proctor entered games where there were single-digit deficits, and left with double-digit deficits.
If you saw a year's batting line of .313/.423/.594, you might guess "oh, that might be Albert Pujols," but the unfortunate correct answer is that's what Scott Proctor's batting against line is. He made 201 batters all average out to look like Albert Pujols. In fact, why he was allowed to face 201 batters, let alone appear 39 times and occupy 29.1 innings is completely questionable. Just six times he was used in extra innings, which is the only place I'd imagine using him, since he might be the last guy available by then, and even then I'm asking which one of my utility guys pitched when they were in Little League or high school first. Okay, I digress.
There's really not much to it. Scott Proctor was the bottom of the barrel or close to it, in pretty much every statistical category. He couldn't strike anyone out (5.52 K/9, last), he walked too many guys (5.83 BB/9 2nd last), and served up too many gopherballs (1.53 HR/9, last). 1.70 WHIP last, 6.44 ERA 4th last, 6.06 FIP 2nd last, 5.30 SIERA last.
Looking at too much red on your computer screen is not good for you (sic). That being said, I was afraid to ask Jacob to make me a WPA chart on Scott Proctor, because the red bars might burn out his retinas. But for the record, his WPA score was a putrid -1.628 for his tenure with the Braves.
On August 10th, the Braves released Scott Proctor, and immediately won a game. No, I'm not referring to the 6-2 win over the Marlins on that night, Scott Proctor had a -0.8 WAR accrued in his short time, so the Braves literally got (almost) one entire win from releasing him.
Hats off to some of the other guys that contributed to the Vaunted Braves Bullpen of 2011 which was overall first strikeouts, K/9, ERA, FIP, WAR, Holds, LOB%, second in innings pitched, third in lowest HR/9, and fifth best at not walking guys. And let's try and not make the comments section into a "I/WE HATE SCOTT PROCTOR" Thunderdome please?