Last year, Anthony Varvaro finally solidified himself as a full time member of the Braves bullpen. Prior to last season, he moved between Gwinnett and the major league club with inconsistent results. Of all of the waiver claims the Braves have made in the relief department over the past couple of years, it seems as though Varvaro's has gotten the least recognition as a turn around.
To be fair, while Varvaro's 2013 was impressive in terms of his ERA, his peripherals were underwhelming. He struck out just 14% of batters faced and his walk rate of 8% was just league average. A miniscule 1.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio is nothing to write home about, but Varvaro played his role as middle reliever and his 73.1 innings pitched with a 2.82 ERA certainly had an impact on the team's number one ranking in runs allowed last season.
It seems like Varvaro has stepped up his game this year. Granted we are one month into the season and he has made just 11 appearances, but Varvaro's performance to date in a "don't let it get out of hand" role has been essential in keeping the Braves in ballgames. A number of times Varvaro has come into precarious late inning situations and got out of them unscathed.
According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball velocity is up over 94 miles per hour on average, which is certainly a positive. He has gotten ahold of his command issues as well so far, walking just two batters compared to 15 strikeouts in 10.2 innings pitched.
With the Braves struggling on offense and having battled some inconsistencies in the bullpen to start the year, Varvaro's performance has been undervalued to date. In terms of xFIP, a great tool to value relievers, only Craig Kimbrel has been better on the Braves this season. In fact, his xFIP of 1.82 ranks sixth in all of baseball among relief pitchers.
The question is whether Varvaro will keep it up. We have not seen a big enough sample to make a determination, but the 29-year-old is in the peak of his career and is working with one of the best pitching coaches in the game, specifically one of the best pitching coaches for relief pitchers in the game. While I do not expect him to supplant David Carpenter or Jordan Walden as set up men due to their quality performances so far as well, I do believe that having Varvaro be the guy to come in during close games in which the Braves are losing is an added bonus. While having defined bullpen roles is something new-age guys (I am a new age guy) have often expressed displeasure in, Varvaro has succeeded in this role so far and hopefully he can continue to keep the Braves in ballgames.