Billy Wagner is welcomed to Atlanta by Frank Wren and Bobby Cox
The 2009 Atlanta Braves had a troika of talented relievers at the end of their bullpen; Peter Moylan, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano combined to throw 223 innings, win 12 games and save 37 others. Of that talented trio, only the side winding Peter Moylan returns - but the Braves are hopeful they have another talented group to anchor the increasingly important bullpen. Frank Wren signed veterans Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to pitch the eight and ninth innings and the Braves will have to hope they both hold up for 162 games.
Closer - Billy Wagner
The resume is impeccable and the swagger is noticeable, but more importantly the velocity is red-hot. The new Braves closer was hitting 97 on the gun this spring and is fully recovered from the elbow surgery he had in 2008. Atlanta is going to lean heavily on the veteran arm of Wagner and with a team built around pitching and defense he'll have to hold up his end of the bargain if this is going to be a playoff ball club. I like what I've seen so far, and barring an unforeseen setback; I think Wagner will put together a tremendous 2010 campaign.
8th Inning - Takashi Saito
Saito joins the Braves as a free agent after spending the 2009 season with the Boston Red Sox. He pitched well last year, but he's 40 years-old and his secondary numbers have been trending the wrong way for the last couple years. Still, Saito finished last season with an ERA of 2.43 and an average against of only .244 - so even with some decline he should be able to post a decent season.
Setup man - Peter Moylan
Peter Moylan turned in his second terrific season in the last three years; last season he tossed 73 innings and finished with an ERA of 2.84 and an average against of .245. He's murderous against right-handers and and finished the year pitching as well as he ever has; after the All-Star break he gave up four earned runs in 36 innings of work.
Designated LOOGY - Eric O'Flaherty
O'Flaherty pitched better than the typical loogy and he showed the ability to get right-handers out, although he was still much better against lefties. Expect to see O'Flaherty used early and often against the left-handed mashers of the Phillies.
Long man - Kris Medlen
Jo-Jo Reyes could also be used as a long reliever, he will most likely get the call for mop-up duty. There is a tremendous amount of talent locked inside the 5-10 frame of Kris Medlen. Take out his first couple rough starts and his numbers look pretty darn good for a rookie seeing his first major league action. He pitches with a solid fastball, great curve ball and good change up. I firmly believe that Medlen can be successful as either a starter or reliever and his minor league success and secondary numbers back that notion up.
Extra Body #1 - Jo-Jo Reyes
Kudos to Reyes, who pitched his way onto the team with an impressive Spring performance. He's always had a better than average arm, and as a reliever he won't have to pace himself. He could surprise some people this year.
Extra Body #2 - Jesse Chavez
The Braves acquired the hard-throwing Chavez from the Devil Rays in the Rafael Soriano deal - he struggled some this Spring, but he has a great arm and those guy will always get a few extra looks.
All in all, I think the pen is going to be just fine, I like the addition of Wagner - for his talent as much as his swagger. I'm more lukewarm on Saito, but I don't think he'll be bad, I love the work that Moylan does and I'm a huge Medlen fan. Bobby Cox traditionally rides a few pitchers in the bullpen, so the bottom guys aren't as much of a factor.
Ranking the NL East Bullpens
1. New York Mets
KRod is still the most menacing closer in the National League, and his 35 saves last season are much more impressive when you consider that the Mets had a lousy year. Feliciano is coming off a strong season and can pitch in a variety of roles.
2. Atlanta Braves
I think the Atlanta bullpen can be the best in the division, but so much of their success depends on the health of 38 year-old Billy Wagner and 40 year-old Takashi Saito - and don't forget that Peter Moylan had a heavy workload last year as well.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies will be better if Lidge can come back and pitch like the dominant closer he was in 2008, but who knows if that'll happen. Ryan Madsen is more than capable, but I think he's better suited as a 8th inning guy, than as a closer. Newcomer Danny Baez is a hard-thrower, but hasn't been much more than ordinary since a stellar 2005 season.
4. Florida Marlins
The Fish have to hope Leo Nunez can fill the role as closer, they don't have a bunch of options behind him. Dan Meyer is a solid lefty and has better stuff than a typical loogy out of the pen. Renyel Pinto put up good numbers in 2009, but he'll need plenty of luck to duplicate those numbers if he can't get his walks under control (45 BBs in only 61.1 IP).
5. Washington Nationals
Matt Capps has had success as a closer, but he didn't find any last season - the Nats are hoping a change in scenery will help him rebound. Tyler Clippard is a strikeout pitcher that had an impressive season last year.
Check out part one of the preview where I focused on the Braves starting pitchers and be sure to check out tomorrow's article where I'll discuss the Atlanta lineup.
As always, if you agree, disagree, or just want to say hi - leave a comment below!