ST. LOUIS - APRIL 28: Relief pitcher Jonny Venters #39 of the Atlanta Braves throws against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 28, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Braves' bullpen was definitely one of the strongest in the league last year. Their collective ERA was second to the Padres and Giants, and they trailed only the Padres in FIP, xFIP, and wins above replacement. Veterans Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were a huge part of this, as they both posted ERA/FIP/xFIPs under 3 over a combined 123 1/3 innings of work.
Another dominant reliever out of the Braves' bullpen last year was rookie Jonny Venters, who made his major league debut against the Rockies during Ubaldo Jimenez's no-hitter on April 18th. The 25-year-old southpaw threw 83 relief innings last year and turned in 1.7 WAR, on par with elite closers Mariano Rivera, Neftali Feliz, and Rafael Soriano. It would appear that Bobby Cox gained confidence in Venters throughout the year as he let him pitch in more high-leverage situations as the season went on. The graph below illustrates this in the form of cumulative player leverage index (in which a "neutral" situation is 1).
The next question would be: what did Cox like so much about Venters? Before I look at his stuff with PITCHf/x, I will present a table that shows Venters' 2010 performance and, in the form of a percentile, how it related to other pitchers with a minimum of 1,000 pitches thrown.
Other than suspect control, Venters has the qualities of an excellent relief pitcher, producing a ton of whiffs, swings out of the strikezone, strikeouts, and groundballs. Venters led the majors in groundball rate and was second in whiff rate to Carlos Marmol. Venters' repertoire is conducive to excelling in both of these categories, as last year he primarily used a mid-90s sinker and a mid-80s slider with great movement. Venters also throws a four-seam fastball; he showed a changeup last year, but ditched it in May. The charts below show the spin deflection from the catcher's perspective for each pitch and the velocity distribution for each pitch. (click to enlarge)
|#||%||Swing Rate||Whiff Rate||Zone Rate||Chase Rate||Watch Rate||RV/100||xRV/100|
|GB Rate||FB Rate||LD Rate||PU Rate|
Hopefully this has given you a pretty good idea of what Venters has to offer. He'll usually go after hitters with a viscous sinker in the mid-90s, and if he chooses to, he can also put them away with one of the best sliders in the majors. When hitters aren't missing against him, they're pounding the ball into the ground. His control isn't great, but he makes up for it by keeping balls out of play and limiting home runs. Overall, he looks like an elite reliever, and he will be given the chance to compete (along with Craig Kimbrel, whom I briefly profiled last week) for the Braves' closing job this spring.
PITCHf/x data are courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's tool. Other data are from Fangraphs.