As the "O" of the three-headed monster "O'Ventbrel", Eric O'Flaherty had a career year in 2011.
Fredi Gonzalez used the 26-year-old lefty in as many games as he's ever appeared in during his career, and it turned into the best season he's ever had. In 78 games, O'Flaherty's 0.98 ERA was the lowest among ALL relievers in 2011; only Chris Hammond in 2002 (0.95) posted a lower mark among Braves relievers.
O'Flaherty logged his highest innings total in 2011, but that didn't stop him from putting up spectacular numbers. In addition to his superb ERA, he also posted career lows in WHIP (1.09) and opponent's batting (.221). His 67 strikeouts established a new career high. LH hitters only hit .195 against him, but RH hitters didn't fare much better, hitting only .233 and striking out 42 times. O'Flaherty only allowed nine of his 31 inherited runners to score, and he also recorded the third-highest LOB% (description here) of all relievers at 92.3%; only Tyler Clippard and Koji Uehara were better. He also recorded 32 holds.
On top of that, his 8.19 K/9 is a new best for him as well as his 2.57 BB/9. His GB% (55.5) and LD% (19.0) were slightly down from 2010 while his FB% (25.5) was slightly up.
While not as impressive as Kimbrel's, O'Flaherty put together a pretty good streak of his own. From June 7 to August 3, a span of 26 games, he allowed only a single unearned run* covering 23.1 innings while striking out 20. He ended the season with a 20-game scoreless streak, covering 19.2 innings and in which he only issued one walk among 16 strikeouts.
*(This was the Ty Wigginton / Carlos Gonzalez game.)
Three games come to mind when thinking about how effective O'Flaherty was in tight jams:
- May 6th at Philadelphia: Braves had a 3-0 lead in the seventh, but the Phillies put two on with no outs against Derek Lowe and the middle of the lineup hitting. O'Flaherty enters and strikes out Ryan Howard, Ben Francisco and Raul Ibanez in succession to end the threat. Braves hold on to win.
- June 8th at Florida: Another Derek Lowe start, the Braves held a 2-0 lead in the seventh until the Marlins loaded the bases with two outs and Mike Stanton hitting. O'Flaherty relieves Lowe and strikes out Stanton swinging to end the inning. Braves win in 10 innings.
- September 28th vs. Philadelphia: the Braves held a one-run lead in the seventh with two on and one out. O'Flaherty relieves Tim Hudson and induces a double play from Shane Victorino to preserve the lead. Unfortunately, the Braves lost in 13 innings.
Eric O'Flaherty had an incredible season, but I believe it would be safe to say that a repeat performance in 2012 would be unrealistic. Nevertheless, I think he proved he can be among the most reliable relievers in the game.