This is one of those topics that I'm sure we could argue about all night, but I'm going to throw it out there, tell you what I think, and see what everyone else says. In a nutshell, I'm of the opinion that Jonny Venters should be the Braves closer to start the season, not Craig Kimbrel. My reasons:
- Venters has a year of Major League experience under his belt, Kimbrel is still wet behind the ears in the Majors. Let Kimbrel settle in for a full year before heaping him with the pressure of closing for a contending team.
- Venters has better control and is less likely to get himself into trouble. Even though Venters had a 4.2 BB/9 rate last year, that's right in line with his career minor league rate of 4.1. Kimbrel on the other hand had a 7.0 BB/9 rate in the Majors last year (much of that early on), but his career minor league BB/9 rate is 5.7 (and it was exactly 5.7 last year at Gwinnett).
- Even though Venters is a lefty, he's not at all a LOOGY. His lefty-righty splits last year were pretty much the same except for a higher SO/9 ratio against LHH. Venters doesn't seem to strike out as many RHH, though he walks fewer RHH. He also faced RHH twice as much as LHH last year. Venters doesn't need to be the LOOGY, the Braves have two other guys to fill that role -- George Sherrill and Eric O'Flaherty.
Much like the Braves did two years ago when they had Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, they can employ two closers and matchup the best guy according to the situation. I just can't get past wanting the experience of Venters in the ninth inning, and I believe he's every bit as dominant as Kimbrel. It may be Kimbrel who is the closer at year's end, but I vote for Venters to start the year as the team's stopper.
Kimbrel will still have an important role to play as a key pitcher in high-leverage situations in late innings, but in those situations there will typically be other relievers warming up to come into the game in case Kimbrel gets wild. As a closer in the ninth inning there wouldn't be anyone else warming up in the bullpen, a bullpen that may already be depleted of its other high-leverage setup arms.
Let me know what you think in the comments. There's also a poll.