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.
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?