20 August 2002

Dave Sheinin, who covers baseball for The Sporting News and the Washington Post, wrote an article in TSN magazine last week indicating that the reason the Atlanta Braves have not won in the postseason, despite having gotten there at every available opportunity since 1991, is that they have lacked depth. They have not had the "lock down closer" like Mariano Rivera, that the Yankees have had, and therefore, it makes sense that they have not been able to get past the Yankees. He makes a pretty good argument for not investing totally in starting pitching, as having two extra really good starters doesn't really help you much in the post season as having two good bats on the bench might. This is mostly true, though Rob Neyer made this point in one of his columns about two years ago, if I recall correctly. Neyer's point was more focused on what percentage of the Braves' payroll is allotted to starting pitching, and indicated that the number (something like 40%) was way too high.

While it's true that the Braves have generally wanted for bench depth, the statement that their relief pitching has somehow left something to be desired is patently ridiculous. Though the Braves' World Series hopes have ended, often dramatically, at the hands of their relief pitchers, it is much more difficult to really blame the Braves' bullpen for not being "good enough". Atlanta's relief pitchers have perenially been among the league's best, if not the best in the NL in ERA and saves, and for what innings they have been allowed by their great starters, have been very effective, at least during the regular seasons. It has become fashionable, in recent years, to say that Mark Wohlers or Juan Bereunger or Greg McMichael or Kerry Lightenberg or John Rocker weren't really that good, because they're not that good now, or not well remembered now, or because someone once hit a dramatic October home run against them. Or, if you prefer, their middle relievers (Mike Bielecki, Mike Stanton, Pedro Borbon, Steve Bedrosian, Kent Mercker, Mike Remlinger etc.) weren't that good, because they were sort of patched together, relative unknowns and/or did not continue their success for long. But the fact of the matter is that when these guys pitched for the Braves, they pitched very, very well. Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox saw to that. And when they stopped pitching well, or when they got too expensive, they were out. No, the Braves may not have ever had much in the way of "name players" in their bullpen, but whoever they had did their jobs well, often better than anyone else's bullpen in the major leagues. The fact that people like Jim Leyritz got to them on occasion is as much a matter of luck on the part of the Twins/ Blue Jays/ Phillies/ Yankees/ Marlins/ Padres/ Yankees/ Mets/ Diamondbacks as it was skill (or the lack thereof) on the part of the Braves' relievers. Besides this, as usual, if the Braves' hitters had scored more runs, the relief pitchers might never have come into question.

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