Stats & Info: Eric O'Flaherty

Braves bullpen taking charge

June, 11, 2011
Home of the Braves
There is no doubt that the Atlanta Braves bullpen is one of the best in baseball; Atlanta relievers have a 2.53 ERA, second behind only San Diego, and are allowing opponents to hit .214 this season (also ranks second). How are they reaching such lofty numbers?

It's partially due to a very high strikeout rate. No relief crew in baseball has a higher rate of strikeouts per nine innings (9.2) and the Braves’ 2.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second to only the Rockies.

The names you should know are Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel. While Kimbrel has gotten the majority of save opportunities this season, Venters has pitched better. O’Flaherty, who is primarily used in the seventh and eighth innings, has had a remarkable 2011 season as well, allowing an earned run in only five of his 32 outings this season.

Closer, But for How Long?
Kimbrel has had an interesting 2011 season. He has 18 saves, breaking Yhency Brazoban's record set in 2005 for most saves by a National League rookie before the All-Star break. Yet no pitcher in baseball has blown more saves than his five. In each of those instances, it’s his fastball that has given up the tying run. His heater has been relatively effective this year, but it’s certainly taken a step back when compared to 2010.

Last year Kimbrel’s fastball had a strikeout percentage of over 37 percent. This season that number is below 32 percent. Opponent OPS was a scant .526 last season; this year it’s .685. While still good, Kimbrel’s fastball has clearly lost some edge.

His velocity is still there (95.4 mph in 2010 compared to 95.7 mph in 2011), and he’s also cut down on his walk rate by over eight percent. It’s simply come down to contact. In 2010, hitters posted a .280 batting average on balls in play. This year, they’re hitting .383 in that category.

Waiting in the Wings
Enter Braves sophomore Jonny Venters. He leads all pitchers with 35 appearances this season, and has made the most of those opportunities.

Venters has just a 0.47 ERA and 0.72 WHIP this season, the only pitcher in MLB with both those numbers under 0.80 (minimum 20 IP). According to Inside Edge an incredible 87 percent of two-strike at-bats become outs, 19 percent better than league average. He’s also been effective when it comes to eliminating the first batter of an inning. In those situations, Venters is converting that hitter into an out 80 percent of the time. Compare that to 62 percent last year.

He also has posted incredible numbers when called up on zero days rest. In 14 innings pitched he has allowed just one hit, while striking out 16 batters and holding opponents to a .195 OPS.

Don't blame bullpen for Pirates slow start

April, 30, 2011
Our weekly in-depth look at major-league bullpens begins in The Steel City this week where the Pittsburgh Pirates are already five games behind in the division race, but you can't place the blame on the bullpen for that.

Walk the Plank
On the surface, the story in Pittsburgh may seem identical to years past. The Pirates are playing under .500 ball, but the bullpen has been anything but bad in 2011. Through Thursday, the relief crew in Pittsburgh has given up just four home runs in 81⅓ innings, and the .611 opponent OPS is 6th lowest in baseball. Relievers are also retiring batters via the strikeout at an impressive rate (8.5 strikeouts per nine innings, 4th-best in MLB).

What can explain the turnaround from last year?

Part of it is through the improved play of Daniel McCutchen, who had an ERA north of six last year with the team. This season, he’s been utilized on occasion as a long reliever, and he’s yet to give up a run in nine innings of work. The former starter’s fastball hasn’t averaged even 90 miles per hour this year, but he’s allowing just a .593 OPS against it. Compare that to last season, when his heater was about a mile per hour faster. In 2010, batters feasted on that pitch, posting an OPS of 1.090. He’s also striking out more batters with his fastball. Last season, his strikeout rate with his fastball was 11.2 percent. This year, it’s above 14.

Braves Staying Grounded
Atlanta relievers have a 3.04 ERA this year, and part of that is thanks to a 1.81 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, best in baseball. Last year, the Braves bullpen also led MLB in that category, and considering Turner Field plays like a pitcher’s park (0.924 ESPN Park Factor in 2011), that’s a considerable advantage for the home team. Lefty Eric O'Flaherty is a big reason why that ratio is so high. He’s induced 22 ground balls this year compared to just nine batted balls in the air.

Bailing Himself Out
Jeff Samardzija
Jeff Samardzija has been busy since last Saturday. In three appearances between then and Thursday, the Cubs reliever logged 4⅓ innings while giving up one hit and striking out six. Samardzija twice went for longer than an inning and has found relative success this year despite walking a ton of batters (16 walks compared to 17 strikeouts in 2011). He’s still allowed only seven percent of batters faced to score, five percent better than the league average. He's often had to bail himself out, as Inside Edge shows that his swing-and-miss rate on strikes is at 19 percent, four percent better than the average pitcher.