The Atlanta Braves have a problem that is not actually a problem at all -- too much pitching. 2010 was a great year for the pitching staff, but 2011 may be even better. Like last year, the bullpen may see a turnover rate to improve the club. Here were the guys we broke camp with last year on the opening day roster.
SP: Lowe, Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Kawakami Bullpen: Wagner, Saito, Moylan, O'Flaherty, Chavez, Medlen, Jo-Jo
Here is what we ended up with:
Lowe, Judson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy Wagner, Venters, Kimbrel, Saito, Moylan, Farnsworth, Minor
The rotation stayed largely stagnant, but the bullpen saw a big turnover rate with only Wagner, Saito, and Moylan finishing the year on the active roster. High turnover rate isn't always a bad thing, as the bullpen got better after dropping the dead weight (Reyes and Chavez) and later adding much more talented arms from AAA (Venters, Kimbrel, Minor). As far as I know, there isn't going to be any dead weight breaking camp this year, unless the front office goes against their better judgement and have Scott Proctor on the big league roster. Since we currently have a logjam of pitching, here is how the process should go through the year to make the team better: I don't expect much turnover in the rotation this year, but Brandon Beachy will get some callups this year to get some starts at the big league level. There's no way all our starters make all their starts. The bullpen should see some turnover this year to tinker with what works and what doesn't. Even pitchers who perform effectively may get replaced. Linebrink and Sherrill are both new additions and while neither are spectacular, they both should be effective. However, one or both could be replaced by season's end. Here's how I see the Braves breaking camp and ending the season in the bullpen.
Kimbrel, Venters, Linebrink, O'Flaherty, Moylan, Sherril, Marek (or possibly Proctor)
Here's what the Braves' bullpen should look like in September once rosters expand
Kimbrel, Venters, Marek, Teheran, Sherrill, Delgado, Moylan, O'Flaherty, with Beachy as a swing man
When/If playoffs come around, I don't see Linebrink finishing the entire season at age 35. If I was Fredi Gonzalez, I'd want his contributions to the team to be made frequently in the earlier part of the season. Linebrink's ERA+ has been about league average the past two years, but since we have a plethora of pitchers in the wing, it makes more sense to expect him to perform well early and replace him later in the season if need be. I think Sherrill will be effective as a LOOGY as long as he's used correctly. For a playoff roster, we'll need to cut the bullpen to seven and I'd leave off either O'Flaherty or Moylan (whichever pitcher is less effective or not as healthy). It may be a little presumptuous of me to expect both Teheran and Delgado to pitch out of the bullpen this September, but they both held up pretty well last year in A/AA with them pitching 142 and 161 innings respectively. Vizcaino is another great talent, of course, with his fastball clocking at 100mph this March, but his durability issues make it extremely unlikely he'll throw a pitch in the majors this year. Teheran and Delgado both have the ability and durability to earn a big league callup to help the team. Craig Kimbrel was a great example of that last year. Even though Kimbrel was a reliever in the minors, hotshot prospect starters can still make an impact in the bullpen during their first callups. After all, David Price in 2008 was a starter who came and pitched out of the bullpen in September and in the playoffs for the Rays. He pitched so effectively that he was the pitcher who closed out the ALCS against the Red Sox. Imagine having two David Prices! Again, this may be wishful thinking, but all indications so far show those two talents, after another five months in the minors, could make the Braves better if they were both in the bullpen.
In 2012, I'd expect Jurrjens, a Boras client, to get traded in the offseason with either Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy pitching in the fifth spot in the rotation to start off the year and have Julio Teheran get called up in early June like Hanson and Strasburg to extend another year of arbitration eligibility. So, the 2012 rotation should be Hanson, Hudson, Lowe, Minor, Medlen/Beachy with Teheran filling in the fifth spot in early June. 2012 should see another year of waiting in the wings for Delgado and Vizcaino once Lowe and possibly Hudson come off the books. Whatever happens happens, but it's a good time to be a Braves fan.