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The Acosta / Bennett Assumptions

A couple of things that have really bugged me lately are two assumptions by many Braves fans. The first is that Manny Acosta has a guaranteed spot in the bullpen, and the second is that we need a long reliever and Jeff Bennett will fill that role.

I just don't get why so many people, including beat writers, feel that Acosta has a bullpen spot. Yes, he put up a nice ERA (2.28) and WHIP (1.14) last year in his late season call-up. He even had a good K per 9 rate, but hardly anything about that performance was on par with his minor league numbers. The WHIP he posted was his lowest since Rookie ball in 2005, and it didn't account for what was still a high walk rate. So are we supposed to believe that Acosta was a lot less hittable in the majors than he was the last two years at triple-A?

My take on Acosta is that he will become more hittable and that his proclivity to walk batters will get him into increasingly more trouble. Acosta really burst onto the scene in Atlanta by not allowing a run in his first seven appearances, but then his luck caught up with him. His walk rate increased, he was more hittable, he struck out fewer people, and he allowed more runs.

I'm not saying that Acosta won't make the team, but I think he's competing for one of several bullpen spots, and he is by no means assured a spot on the team (actually, I don't think he'll make the team, partly because he has an option left). We'll see if his tendency towards the base on balls will catch up to him or if major league hitters will find him more hittable this spring (if he even faces major leaguers late in spring games).

As for Jeff Bennett I keep hearing similar assumptions that he has a bullpen spot. These assumptions are a bit different from those of Acosta. With Bennett people assume that he will be our long reliever, because, well, no one else seems to fit that role after we traded away Villarreal. I certainly think Bennett could be a long reliever, but I disagree with people that think he's assured a spot since the Braves must carry a long reliever, because I don't think the Braves need a long reliever.

I've never been totally sold on the need for a "long man" -- a pitcher who just sits around waiting for opportunities to arise where multiple innings of relief need to be thrown in non-critical, non-matchup situations. This notion is dying out and becoming less of a necessity. This is the era of the seven-man bullpen, not the five or six man pens of old. With a seven-man pen there is no longer a need for a long man. When long relief situations arise, the manager simply pieces together his plethora of relievers for the rest of the game an inning at a time, and maybe gets a couple of innings from a reliever who hasn't pitched in a while.

In this sense, Bennett would be a nice commodity to have, but not an essential one, as many people think. Bennett may be far more valuable starting every fifth day in the minors and keeping himself in shape to be a starter in case he is needed in the event of an injury to a pitcher in the major league rotation (he has an option left, after all).

My seven-man Braves bullpen is below; feel free to disagree.

Rafael Soriano - closer
Peter Moylan - could be the setup guy, can also be a long man at times
Will Ohman - LOOGY
Royce Ring - power LOOGY
Blaine Boyer - middle relief, out of options
Tyler Yates - middle relief, out of options
Chris Resop - middle relief, out of options

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