LONG BEACH— In 2008 the Atlanta Braves suffered a series of serious setbacks. The roster started out looking good. Peter Moylan and Ralpheal Soriano were pegged to lock down the back of the bullpen. The rotation played host to four 20 game winners, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton. The fifth starter was a promising young rookie named Jair Jurrjens. The left field was to be manned by Matt Diaz who had hit .333/.366/.487 (AVG/OBP/SLG) since joining the Braves. Then every single one of these players listed became injured and missed the rest of the season, or in Mike Hampton’s case, became injured and came back for the last month of the season.
Four-fifths of a starting rotation, the top relievers in the bullpen and the starting left fielder. All down for the count. It was easy to write off the season as a fluke that would not happen again. Frank Wren went about redesigning his team to limit the number of injuries in the starters. But he has made a fatal error.
This 2009 version of the Braves sports Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens in the rotation. Tom Glavine is teetering on the edge of retirement. The announcement should come in a few weeks. The fifth starter job has been handed to the only lefty in the system “ready” for the prime time. “Ready” being in quotes because a career 5-13 record with a 5.94 ERA really isn’t promising for any position in a rotation.
The biggest flaw is in the bullpen. Fran Wren didn’t resign Will Ohman, one of the best relievers for the Braves last year. Instead he went with two cast-off lefties, one in a trade, Boone Logan, and one off the scrap heap, Erik O’Flaherty. Both of these guys were bad last year. This year one has been sent to the minors, Logan, while the other in three innings of work has managed to give up 4 hits and a walk and for good measure he has also hit a batter. But this doesn’t even get to the worst of it.
Blaine Boyer. This is quite possibly the worst reliever in baseball. Since July 26, 2008 this young man has managed to pitch 18 innings, giving up 26 runs, on 27 hits, 9 walks and a hit batsman. Seven of those 27 hits were home runs. Opponents have hit .346 off of Blaine, with a .705 slugging and a .420 OBP. He has an ERA of 13.00 during that stretch, but that only counts the earned runs, and not his inhereted and unearned runs allowed. Blaine Boyer has been opening up home plate to all who wish to pass at an effective rate of an 18.5 ERA over that stretch. He started this season with an infinite ERA. A couple more bad outings “lowered” it to 40.00, he actually got a couple of guys out.
In this stretch Blaine “the pain” Boyer has faced 90 batters and has been able to get fifty four of them out. That’s a nice little 60% success rate. The kind of rate any manager would lose no sleep over while propositioning their GM to leave him home on the next road trip.
Frank Wren can be praise for doing a “nifty job” rebuilding the starting rotation. That should pan out well for a few months until they become increasingly taxed and disappointed by the bullpen. The bullpen was “overlooked” because the hope was Moylan, Soriano, and Gonzalez would all be healthy and ready to go. And the rotation was filled with “innings eaters.” The down side is the fine print. If the rotation isn’t eating all the innings in the game, Blaine Boyer will bust onto the scene to make them regret life.