Kimbrel creating reason to wonder if Venters should close

It’s not time for Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to flip-flop the roles of Craig Kimbrel and Jonnny Venters.  But we’re obviously getting very close to that point.

While Venters has continued to be the same reliable filthy setup man, doubt has centered around Kimbrel courtesy of the fact he has been charged with a loss and three blown saves in his past 11 appearances.  The 22-year-old reliever has obviously proven to be mortal.

But as Kimbrel spoke after blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead in last night’s 11-inning loss, I didn’t get the sense that young kid was bewildered like Chris Reitsma and Dan Kolb were back when they were squandering ninth-inning leads.   Instead, I’d say he was just ticked off and determined to get his next save opportunity as soon as possible.

In other words, Kimbrel had the reaction closers are supposed to have.  Of course you have to wonder if things might have been different if he had pitched the entire ninth with the tenacity he displayed when he ended the inning with consecutive strikeouts of Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth.

This is all part of the learning curve Kimbrel has traveled while spending the past couple weeks not proving as dominant as he was in September and during the first couple weeks of this season.

During Kimbrel’s first six appearances of the season, he converted each of his four save opportunities, issued one walk and struck out 10 of the 20 batters he faced.  Opponents recorded three hits in 19 at-bats.    64 23 11

Over the course of his past 11 appearances, Kimbrel has issued seven walks and struck out 15 of the 48 batters he has faced.   Opponents have recorded nine hits in 40 at-bats at-bats during this span.

“I’m leaving some balls over the plate and the good hitters are going to hit it,” Kimbrel said Wednesday night.

As much as we attempt to find numbers to explain things in the baseball world, sometimes the explanation is as simple as the one that Kimbrel provided.  The numbers prove that opponents have a good chance to record hits when he’s not tallying impressive strikeout ratios and providing them pitches they can put in play.

Opponents have produced a .343  BAbip (Batting average balls in play) against Kimbrel this season.  Over his past seven appearances that mark stands at .471.

These are all very small sample sizes, but it’s clear Kimbrel doesn’t have the same overwhelming stuff he had at the end of last year.   While striking out 23 of the 42 batters he faced during last year’s final month, his BAbip stood at a respectable .286.

To provide reference, Billy Wagner’s BAbip was .252 last year and Venters’ mark was .291.

Even as Venters struggled through Sunday’s eighth inning in Philadelphia, it still felt like he was going to surrender just the one run that he did.  When Kimbrel allowed the Phillies to put runners at first and second base with just one out in the ninth, the same confidence wasn’t present.

Kimbrel notched that save without incurring any further damage and he will have more opportunities to bounce back from Wednesday’s outing.  But the Braves are at least fortunate to know that Venters is waiting in the wings if there is a need to change closers.

What to do with Linebrink:   Dating back to the earliest days of the season, there was reason to wonder how long the Braves could hold on to Scott Linebrink.   He struggled through Spring Training and hasn’t done anything during the regular season to give Fredi Gonzalez reason to use him unless necessary in clutch situations.

With Cristhian Martinez having pitched three innings Tuesday night, Linebrink was the last legitimate option remaining in the bullpen last night.    He entered and ended the 10th inning with a strikeout.  But after retiring the first batter he faced in the decisive 11th inning, he hit Pudge Rodriguez with a 1-2 slider and then allowed three consecutive hits.

Game over.

Now the Braves have to decide whether the Linebrink experiment is over.   Unlike left-handed specialist George Sherrill, Linebrink shown recent improvement.

Linebrink has allowed opponents to produce a .346 batting average and .404 on-base percentage in his 17 appearances this year.    When the Braves acquired him from the White Sox and agreed to pay $2 million of his $5.5 million salary, it’s obvious they were hoping for better results.

It’s also seemingly obvious that they didn’t envision Cory Gearrin would be making the appearances in situations that were initially targeted for Linebrink.

When Scott Proctor is eligible to be promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett Sunday, it will be interesting to see if the Braves are willing to cut their losses and release Linebrink.

After tweeting that Proctor could help the bullpen, I received multiple responses from fans who didn’t share my opinion. Now I’ll better explain mine while given more than 140 characters to utilize.

Would you have rather had Proctor or Linebrink to pitch last night’s 11th inning.  For that matter, would you like to have had Jairo Asencio or Juan Abreu instead of Linebrink last night?


Out with Linebrink, experiment over. I knew his ERA was high, but they league is posting Pujols like numbers against this one pitcher. Scott Proctor cannot be any worse.

The time too make Venters the closer was at the start of the season but better late than never, do it now.

eat ur money loss and end this miserable relationship. linebrink cant hold runners and it seems like every game he comes into, runners are rounding third heading home.

they should have never let Kyle Cofield go. He was way better than Scott Linebrink. As far as Craig Kimbrel goes, he may not have showed out like he did at the beginning of the season but he is still the same pitcher he always has been. Every pitcher has their ups and downs and this is just one of his down times. One of many he will have i am sure. He had those when he was in Double A.

I would rather see any of those options you mentioned over Linebrink. He is no good. Proctor is doing well in the minors and we have other Triple-A options (some are even suggesting the Teheran be remade into some kind of reliever, but I don’t know if I agree with that).

I’d rather see Jairo Asencio or Juan Abreu over Linebrink OR Proctor, frankly. But Sherrill proved me wrong. Maybe Proctor will, too.

Also, I don’t think that one should get the closer role over the other. I think Gonzalez is mismanaging the bullpen by not going matchup in the 8th and 9th. Put Venters up against the most lefties and Kimbrel against the most righties. It’s really that simple. Why manage the 8th and 9th differently than the 6th and 7th? Why use lefty specialists in the 6th and not use those considerations in the 9th? I just don’t think it makes sense.

yea I think Gonzalez’s miss managent of the pen is obivious and he doesnt seem to even think about extra innings.Also he seems to be over worried about the starters pitch counts which leads to him using the pen more then he probably has to

Linebrink reminds me of the pitching version of the 2010 Nate McLouth. He enters the game, I’m waiting for the bomb to explode and the Braves add another notch in the loss column.

I would have rather have seen Kenshin Kawakami get called up from Mississippi to pitch the 11th inning. It’s a pure pity Stephen Marek is done for the year, otherwise I would think he’d be the ultimate solution.

While I agree there’s something to be said about having a veteran presence in the bullpen to meld the minds of the next generation Braves, but the words of Sherrill and Linebrink simply cannot hold too much water when their performances and numbers are being outshined by their younger brethren.

Is Rodrigo Lopez going to stay in the minors forever? I would think someone like him would be perfect for the bullpen of the Braves, filling a similar role on the staff that Kris Medlin did before Medlin went on the DL. Long reliever and can spot start in a pinch. Besides, Lopez has been pitching lights out in AAA; but what do you expect from a guy who has pitched in the show for quite some time?

Im usually very forgiving and always willing to give people second chances like Kimbrel who we know has great stuff but can be wild at times cause he’s still young and developing but Im done with Linebrink hes a “veteran” player who has blown pretty much every outting he’s been out on and he needs to be given the boot now.Unlike Sherrill who is showing signs of encouragement that hes fixed his game Linebrink keeps showing signs that he sucks.I dont care if its Proctor or whoever as long as its not Linebrink I will be happy

We need our awesome aussie back for one thing! Linebrink should just retire if he’s not totally certain he can pitch better and more consistent than he has recently. Its been aweful, my 16 year old sister could record more outs than he has. And on the kimbrel situation, he didn’t get much opportunity last year to overcome adversity. I think that is a trait that he will have to build. He has the stuff, just gonna take hime some time. Have smoltzy work with him and help him develop the killer instinct he needs. Not that rocker should be anyones role model but he was intimidating. A closer needs a little fear in his opponent.

In all seriousness… who are you people?

this is crazy! kimbrel is AMAZING! it’s magic when he steps out onto the field! i thought it was obvious that THE REAL PROBLEM IS LINEBRINK!

Hey, Bill, did you notice? I called it again.

I would have rather that Kimbrel didn’t leave fast balls “over the plate” for good hitters to hit. I would rather have O’Flaherty setting up and Venters closing. I realize that Kimbrel is young and that he is AWESOME and may well be the closer of the future. But we are playing IMPORTANT divisional games that we should be WINNING right now. Make Kimbrel earn his way back.

There is no need to wonder if Proctor could aid us in the bullpen any longer. Go ahead and cut Linebrink and give Proctor a chance. If he fails, go with the kids.

I wonder if it is just a coincidence that our closer struggles while our pitching coach is suspended….Any correlation?

Is it just me or does Mr. Bowman seem to give more opinions here now that Bobby Cox is no longer the manager? Not trying to stir the pot here, just asking. It may be that he did so in his newspaper columns but I wouldn’t know as I do not read the newspaper which includes his columns.

It is just you pherrisphain. Mark was very outspoken about francouers slump when he was with the braves.

I mean the braves have all this pitching depth why not cut loose both of them and bring up someone from gwinnett and maybe make Teheran move to the pen and use him as a spot starter/L.R

Dang it – gotta swing the bats boys. Chipper, Mc, and Hinske all caught looking.

NC, the Braves are grooming Teheran to be a potential #1 SP. There is no reason to alter his progression just for the need for a bullpen arm. But you may have a point with other young arms.

Martin is really putting this team on his back, just like last year. He is a rare human being. His physical attributes are great but his character, dedication and ethics are beyond reproach. I seem to recall some people less than a week ago questioning Martin’s performance this season. Oh, well I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Well I wasn’t one of them, Bill – but last week, Prado had been struggling (for him) so people were probably justified in questioning his performance. That’s what we do here. It’s certainly what you do here! I don’t think ANYONE questioned his ability or his desire. The man expects to get a hit every time he steps to the plate, and is royally pissed off if it doesn’t happen. Let’s hope he stays hot!

I’m not worried that my closer has a 2 something ERA. Kimbrell is going to be up and down because he doesn’t have the command of his pitches that Venters does, and never will. Either way the Braves are in good hands. I like that Proctor is a bulldog. I saw him in the St. Patrick’s Day game get beat up, and it was obvious that he was getting more and more angry/frustrated as the inning went on. There was no “Oh well”, and no “whatever, I guess it wasn’t my day” with this guy. That trait alone makes it worth a shot to run him out there in Atlanta. Linebrink is/was(?) not the answer.

Also, I’ve been keeping up with Bryce Harper this season in A ball. I say we trade the entire Mississippi Braves team for him right now.

Hey Mark, any idea on when we are going to cut ties with Chip Caray? He is awful and everybody hates him

I think Kimbrel is a great closer for the Atlanta Braves, everyone has a hiccup from time to time and you cant really blame the kid, he is young and inexperienced and it shows the trust Freddy Gonzalez has in him by letting him remain the Braves closer. I for one am glad to see the Young Gun in there and although he has a few blown saves I am still backing him as the Braves closer in the 9th

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