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The Best Non-Closing Braves Relievers Since 1990

These relievers provided seasonal depth and dominance to Braves bullpens of the past three decades.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Mike Remlinger is among the best of Atlanta’s non-closing relievers since 1990.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Leveraging bullpen depth effectively has become a hybrid of science and art, with the bias now heavily toward science. Teams with multiple, high-leverage relievers have a distinct match-up advantage as the innings provided by starting pitchers have decreased through the years.

Furthermore, one-batter specialists - whose usage had increased through the decades - have seen their role almost eliminated due to the three-batter rule. However, the use of multi-inning relievers has regained popularity, especially as teams leverage “openers” on a more regular basis in both the regular and postseason.

For the Braves, proof of the impact of an effective, deep bullpen can be seen in the results of the 2021. The depth of the bullpen played a huge roll in the team’s World Series Championship as guys like Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter and Jesse Chavez stepped into critical roles throughout the season.

In a classic generational comparison, what members of past Braves bullpens have had the best seasons? And which season produced the overall strongest bullpen?

To focus on bullpen depth, this article will exclude each season’s primary closer. It will also excluded otherwise qualifying pitchers with more than ten starts (apologies to Kris Medlen’s 2012 season).

The parameters for this included the following:

  • Seasonal analysis starting with 1990;
  • Regular season statistics only;
  • Minimum of 49 appearances per season;
  • Not the primary closer for the season;
  • Did not lead the team in Saves;
  • Fewer than ten appearances as a starter for the season;
  • A minimum ERA+ of 125;
  • A minimum bWAR of 0.4;
  • Because of the small sample size, the 2020 season was omitted; and
  • The top 50 qualifiers were used for these results.

While there are a myriad of statistics available, this analysis focused on ERA+, bWAR, Games, Inning Pitched, WHIP, SO9 and SO/W.

A few observations from pulling the data from Baseball-reference, season-by-season. It is mindboggling to think that the 1993 Braves team used only 13 pitchers for the entire season - and that included three late-season appearances by Pedro Borbon, Jr. The 1997 Braves used only 17 pitchers, including the single appearance of John LeRoy’s MLB career.

In contrast, the 2015 Braves used 37 pitchers while the 2018 and 2016 Braves both used 35 pitchers. Last season’s Braves team used 30 pitchers.

While there were a lot of forgettable seasons - and many forgotten names - there were also amazing seasons by both individual relievers and collective bullpens of the past three decades.

Best Single Seasons

Here is a look at the best single seasons by Braves non-closing relievers since 1990.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Eric O’Flaherty produced a 3.3 bWAR in 2011.
Photo by L Redkoles/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by bWAR

Eric O’Flaherty, 2011, 3.3

Jonny Venters, 2011, 3.0

Chris Hammond, 2002, 2.7

Mike Stanton, 1991, 2.6

Greg McMichael, 1993, 2.5

Braves v Rockies
Chris Hammond had a tremendous 2002 that included an ERA+ of 441.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by ERA+

Chris Hammond, 2002, 441

Eric O’Flaherty, 2011, 393

Steve Bedrosian, 1993, 248

Luis Avilan, 2013, 247

Peter Moylan, 2007, 242

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves
Rafael Soriano had a miniscule WHIP of 0.861 in 2007.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by WHIP

Rafael Soriano, 2007, 0.861

Luis Avilan, 2013, 0.954

Steve Bedrosian, 1993, 0.966

Darren Holmes, 2002, 0.970

David Carpenter, 2013, 0.990

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Takashi Saito stuck out 11.5 batters per nine innings for the Braves in 2010 - his age 40 season.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by SO9

Takashi Saito, 2010, 11.5

Mike Remlinger, 2001, 11.2

Tyler Matzek, 2021, 11.0

Mike Gonzalez, 2009, 10.9

Jonny Venters, 2012, 10.6

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves
Rafael Soriano’s 2007 season yielded an exquisite 4.67 SO/W.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by SO/W

Rafael Soriano, 2007, 4.67

Ian Krol, 2016, 4.31

Takashi Saito, 4.06

Mike Remlinger, 2001, 4.04

Darren Holmes, 2002, 3.92

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Greg McMichael edges out Takashi Saito by 0.01 for best FIP with a 2.42FIP in 1993.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by FIP

Greg McMichael, 1993, 2.42

Takashi Saito, 2010, 2.43

Eric O’Flaherty, 2011, 2.54

Jonny Venters, 2010, 2.69

A.J. Minter, 2018, 2.72

Darren Holmes, 2002, 2.72

New York Yankees v Atlanta Braves
Peter Moylan appeared in 87 games in 2009, 85 games in 2010 and 80 games in 2007.
Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by Games

Peter Moylan, 2009, 87

Jonny Venters, 2011, 85

Peter Moylan, 2010, 85

Mike Gonzalez, 2009, 80

Peter Moylan, 2007, 80

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Greg McMichael spent four excellent seasons with the Braves in the mid-1990’s, including his 1994 season as the team’s primary closer. He finished second on the team in saves, with 19, as a rookie in 1993.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by Innings Pitched

Greg McMichael, 1993, 91.2

Peter Moylan, 2007, 90

Jonny Venters, 2011, 88

Greg McMichael, 1996, 86.2

Mike Remlinger, 1999, 83.2

Best Single Seasons by Decade

Let’s take a look at the best of the qualifying relieves for each of the three complete decades since 1990.

Atlanta Braves
Mike Stanton helped the Braves to the World Series thanks to his 2.6 bWAR in 1991.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 1990s

Mike Stanton, 1991, 2.6

Greg McMichael, 1993, 2.5

Mike Remlinger, 1999, 2.3

Greg McMichael, 1995, 1.7

Steve Bedrosian, 1993, 1.5

Olivia Newton-John visits Atlanta Braves 05-09-1982
Steve Bedrosian led the Braves in ERA+ for non-closers during his second tour of duty with the team. Since no photo was available from his 1993 season, here he is shirtless with singer-actress Olivia Newton-John in the Braves clubhouse on May 9, 1982.

Top 5 ERA+, 1990s

Steve Bedrosian, 1993, 248

Greg McMichael, 1993, 195

Mike Remlinger, 1999, 190

Alan Embree, 1997, 165

Kevin McGlinchy, 1999, 160

Giants v Braves
Chris Hammond and his 2.7 bWAR was part of a stellar Braves bullpen in 2002.

Top 5 bWAR, 2000s

Chris Hammond, 2002, 2.7

Mike Remlinger, 2002, 2.1

Peter Moylan, 2007, 1.9

Mike Remlinger, 2001, 1.7

Darren Holmes, 2002, 1.5

Mike Gonzalez, 2009, 1.5

Giants v Braves
Chris Hammond had a career resurgence in 2002.
Photo by Jamie Squire /Getty Images

Top 5 ERA+, 2000s

Chris Hammond, 2002, 441

Peter Moylan, 2007, 242

Darren Holms, 2002, 231

Mike Remlinger, 2002, 210

Mike Gonzalez, 209, 171

Atalnta Braves v Washington Nationals
Eric O’Flaherty led all Braves with 3.3 bWAR in 2011.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 2010s

Eric O’Flaherty, 2011, 3.3

Jonny Venters, 2011, 3.0

Luis Avilan, 2013, 2.2

David Carpenter, 2013, 1.8

Jim Johnson, 2015, 1.6

Arodys Vizcaino, 2017, 1.6

Sam Freeman, 2017, 1.6

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Eric O’Flaherty’s four-year run of excellence was headlined by his 2011 season which included a 393 ERA+.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 ERA+, 2010s

Eric O’Flaherty, 2011, 393

Luis Avilan, 2013, 247

Eric O’Flaherty, 2012, 233

David Carpenter, 2013, 211

Jonny Venters, 2011, 208

Best Cumulative Qualifying Seasons

Here is a look at the best cumulative numbers for relievers in qualifying seasons.

Braves v Rockies
Mike Remlinger posted 7.5 bWAR during four qualifying seasons out of the Braves bullpen. He also led all qualifiers with 291 games during those four seasons. His four qualifying seasons earned him a tie with Eric O’Flaherty.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Highest bWAR, Qualifying Seasons

Mike Remlinger, 1999-2002, 7.5

Eric O’Flaherty, 2009-2012, 6.4

Greg McMichael, 1993, 1995-1996, 5.4

Jonny Venters, 2010-2012, 4.7

Peter Moylan, 2007, 2009-2010, 4.0

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets - Game One
Jonny Venters battled injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, he was a fantastic late-inning reliever.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Most Games, Qualifying Seasons

Mike Remlinger, 1999-2002, 291

Eric O’Flaherty, 2009-2012, 276

Peter Moylan, 2007, 2009-2010, 252

Jonny Venters, 2010-2012, 230

Greg McMichael, 1993, 1995-1996, 214

National League Division Series - Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves - Game Four
Kerry Ligtenberg spent his rookie season as the Braves closer in 1998, finishing 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He qualified in three other seasons for this bullpen retrospective.

Most Qualifying Seasons

Mike Remlinger, 4

Eric O’Flaherty, 4

Greg McMichael, 3

Kerry Ligtenberg, 3

Peter Moylan, 3

Jonny Venters, 3

Best Bullpen Seasons

Which seasons had the most qualifying pitchers? And which seasons produced the highest bWAR from those pitchers?

Devil Rays v Braves X
The 2002 Braves bullpen was the best of the decade and included contributions from Tim Spooneybarger.

Most Qualifying Relievers, by Season

2002: Chris Hammond, Mike Remlinger, Darren Holmes, Kerry Ligtenberg, Tim Spooneybarger

2010: Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito

2001: Jose Cabrera, Kerry Ligtenberg, Mike Remlinger

2009: Eric O’Flaherty, Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan

2011: Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Jonny Venters

2013: Anthony Varvaro, David Carpenter, Luis Avilan

2017: Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramerez, Sam Freeman

2018: A.J. Minter, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle

Boston Red Sox vs. Atlanta Braves
Darren Holmes was tied for the second oldest qualifying pitcher behind Takashi Saito. Holmes’ age 36 season in 2002 included a 1.5 bWAR and a career best 0.970 WHIP.

Highest Qualifying Relievers Cumulative bWAR, by Season

2002: 8.2 bWAR

2011: 6.9 bWAR

2013: 4.8 bWAR

2017: 4.3 bWAR

2010: 3.8 bWAR

Oldest and Youngest Qualifying Relievers

Lastly, here are the oldest and youngest qualifying relieves from this list.

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four
Luis Avilan produced a 0.954 WHIP and a 2.2 bWAR as a 23 year-old in 2013.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Youngest

Kevin McGlinchey, 22

Tim Spooneybarger, 22

Luis Avilan, 23

A.J. Minter, 24

Eric O’Flaherty, 24

Mike Stanton, 24

Atlanta Braves v Chicago White Sox
Takashi Saito struck out 69 batters in his age 40 season with Atlanta in 2010.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Oldest

Takashi Saito, 40

Mike Remlinger, 36

Darren Holmes, 36

Chris Hammond, 36

Steve Bedrosian, 35

Mike Remlinger, 35

Final Thoughts

No list would be complete with a few final thoughts and trivial notes from the data.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Anthony Varvaro produced 1.7 bWAR combined during 2013 and 2014.
Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images
  • The only pitcher to qualify in exactly two seasons was Anthony Varvaro in 2013 and 2014.
  • No pitchers from the following seasons qualified: 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
  • Six qualifying pitchers put-up 10 or more saves in a single season without being the primary closer: Greg McMichael (19, 1993), A.J. Minter (15, 2018), Arodys Vizcaino (14, 2017), Mike Remlinger (12, 2000), Kerry Ligtenberg (12, 2000) and Mike Gonzalez (10, 2009).
  • The average bWAR for the qualifying relievers was 1.4.
  • 20% of the list complied a bWAR of 2.0 or greater - including Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson in 2021.
  • The average innings pitched was 64.2.
  • The average ERA+ was 175.86 - that drops to 164.77 by removing the top two seasons.
  • Sean Newcomb (2019), Juan Cruz (2004), Jose Cabrera (2001) and Antonio Alfonseca (2004) qualified but otherwise were not mentioned.

Here’s the list of the lowest/worst of the key data points per season from qualifying relievers.

  • ERA+: Jonny Venters, 2012, 125
  • FIP: Jose Ramirez, 2017, 4.88
  • WHIP: Jonny Venters, 2012, 1.517
  • SO/W: Tim Spooneybarger, 2002, 1.247
  • SO9: Anthony Varvaro, 2013, 5.3; Luis Avilan, 2013, 5.3
  • bWAR: Jonny Venters, 2012, 0.4
  • Innings Pitched: Hunter Cervenka, 2016, 34