Coming into spring training this year there were five pitchers in the Atlanta Braves bullpen that were practically guaranteed a spot on the 2014 Opening Day roster given they could make it through the first month of exhibitions unscathed from injuries and not perform like a Jo Jo Reyes. One of those whose spot it was to lose was 29-year-old right hander Anthony Varvaro.
Last season he played a key factor in why the Braves recorded the lowest ERA (3.02) in the league among the bullpen dwellers that await word from Fredi Gonzalez when they are needed to relieve a starter and his valiant efforts. The 6-foot, 190-pound pitcher who use to be a starting pitcher while at St. John's University (NY) appeared in the third most games (62) of any pitcher on the roster last season and in doing so put up the best season of his big league career and doubled his amount of innings pitched. Simply enough, while he wasn't the most dominant pitcher amongst a group that had three finish with ERA's under 2.00, Luis Avilan (1.52), David Carpenter (1.78) and Craig Kimbrel (1.21), he was a great example of what Roger McDowell was looking for in consistency.
With his three pitch repertoire he gave opposing hitters a tough time as he located his fastball that clocks in at 93-94 mph consistently (see velocity chart) and held opposing hitters to 19-for-84 (.226) at the dish against his off-speed pitches. His walk issues subsided with only 25 walks in 73.1 innings to bring his career BB/9 ratio down to 3.89. For one of the first times in his career he pitched more to contact than gunning for strikeouts and recorded 47.2 GB% and stranded over three-fourths the hitters he let on base (76.8 LOB%). When pitchers typically stop trying to overpower hitters they zone in their control and that's what Varvaro did as can be seen by his 5.28 K/9 mark. He simply earned his paycheck last season.
While he has struggled in his fourth big league camp with the Braves his manager still has faith in his capabilities, as Gonzalez said that Varvaro wasn't a tryout and was comfortable enough from seeing what he is capable of from the rubber. Throughout his five seasons total in preseason play the Staten Island native simply has not been one to get off to a quick start with 6.81 ERA and .348 batting average for opposing hitters against him. This spring his ERA was 9.82.
(2014 Grapefruit League Stats)
With one day left until the regular season begins for the Braves with a trip to Milwaukee to face the Brewers, Varvaro was officially named to the 25-man roster a day ago and should have faith entering this season knowing his manager has complete faith in him. He will likely continue to see a good workload out of the bullpen and be looked upon to hold the Braves in games that they trail or come in with leads in the sixth or seventh innings. The team would love for him to put up another 60 outing season.
Projection: Varvaro should be able to put up decent numbers out of the pen, but his numbers won't be as good as they were last season. In 2013 he had an ERA of 3.60 or better in every month except in June (5.40) so he hasn't shown that he is an erratic pitcher. He needs to keep down his walks as he did last season to have success or he could be in trouble. He should improve his strikeout ratio this season to around 7-7.5 punch outs per nine innings. Overall he should be a valuable asset to one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The season starts tomorrow for Varvaro and the Braves and little do they care about what happened in Spring Training.
(2014 ZiPS Projections)