It’s not often you see a relief pitcher that has been as dominant as Atlanta’s Jonny Venters. It’s hard to find a comparison of someone who is this successful out of a major league bullpen.
He’s no Ed Olwine, that’s for sure.
Venters’ numbers are unusual. It’s like he’s the only major leaguer pitching in a Sunday beer league against a bunch of 40-year-olds who can’t swing the bat because of their gut being in the way.
It’s about that unfair, or so it seems. Now baseball is baseball, and Venters might come out and have a bad week. But so far, he has been perhaps the best pitcher in the game.
Yes, a reliever is the best pitcher in the game. And Venters is not even Atlanta’s closer.
Through Friday’s game, Venters had a 0.59 ERA in 28 games. He had allowed only nine hits in 30-2/3 innings, with 10 walks and 28 strikeouts.
Those are just the stats. If you watch Venters pitch, you walk away saying, “these guys can’t hit this kid.”
The stuff is as impressive as the numbers. Venters has a sinking fastball that just drops off the table. But the problem is, it happens while traveling around 95 mph. You just don’t see that.
Friday on my radio show, I asked Braves announcer Jim Powell if there was anyone he might compare Venters to in the majors. His answer at first was a bit shocking, but when you think of what we see when Venters pitches, it really made a lot of sense.
“Mariano Rivera,” Powell replied.
Rivera has been the most dominant reliever in the game for the past 15 years. He’s 41 years old now, and he’s still dominant. He leads the AL in saves this season and once again (for the fourth straight season and the eighth time in the past nine years) has an ERA below 2.00.
Rivera does it with mainly one pitch -- a devastating pitch. His cut fastball is a swing-and-miss magnet -- kind of like Venters’ sinker.
For Venters to be mentioned in elite company is even more unbelievable considering how far away he was just a few seasons ago. He had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2006 and missed the entire season. Then his recovery was slow. Venters pitched in only 17 games in 2007 and only 12 games in 2008.
Some in the Atlanta organization wondered if he’d become a prospect, and there was even some talk he might be released. But in 2009 Venters had a full and healthy season; it was really his first full and healthy season as a professional. That is what got him back on the radar.
Even two years ago, Venters was far from dominant. He made 29 starts between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. His ERA that season was 4.42 (a little higher than his 1.58 career major league ERA). Venters allowed 163 hits in 156-2/3 innings pitched, with 98 strikeouts.
That was a ratio of 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. His ratio in the big leagues has been 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. And his hits-to-innings pitched ratio is dramatically better, as he has allowed only 70 hits in his 113-2/3 innings as a big leaguer.
Yes, those are Rivera-like numbers.
Atlanta’s pitching coach, Roger McDowell, helped Venters get his sinker even more dominant. Remember, that’s what McDowell threw when he was a pretty good major league reliever back in the 1980s and 1990s.
But not even McDowell could have predicted this dominance. Venters has become as automatic on the mound as anyone in the game, and he’s a big reason the Braves are going to have a chance this summer.
And remember, he’s not even the closer.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.