Bill Shanks

Atlanta’s bullpen should improve with Moylan

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Peter Moylan, who signed with the Braves on Monday, does an interview from the team dugout at baseball spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., on Tuesday.
Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Peter Moylan, who signed with the Braves on Monday, does an interview from the team dugout at baseball spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., on Tuesday. AP

Some may have chuckled when the Braves brought back Peter Moylan on Monday. The Braves needed help in the bullpen, so why would they bring back an old reliable for a third tour of Atlanta, some might ask.

Well, it was a great move. Yes, Atlanta’s bullpen had the third-worst earned run average in the National League last season. Yes, it needs to improve this season, and that’s exactly what this addition does. It makes the Braves better.

Let’s get the intangible stuff, some of the things people scoff at, out of the way first. Moylan is a great guy, who has always had a great clubhouse presence. He’s a happy, fun-loving man who enjoys every day he’s in a baseball uniform, and that’s always rubbed off on others around him.

Bullpens need characters, and Moylan also provides experience this pen lacks. With just over eight years-service time, Moylan becomes the old greybeard, and it’s not just because he’s 10 months away from his 40th birthday. Moylan first joined the Atlanta bullpen in 2006, some 12 years ago.

And, he showed last year he can still pitch. Last season, Moylan led the American League with 79 appearances. He had a 3.49 ERA, with 40 hits allowed in 59.1 innings. Right-handed hitters batted just .163 against him, so Moylan had one of his more productive seasons when many might have thought he was done.

Moylan’s addition makes the Atlanta bullpen look much better, at least on paper. He can now help in the middle innings, especially with his ability to get ground ball outs in tough situations.

The expectation is that young A.J. Minter will take over as closer. Minter is just 24 years old, but he has tremendous stuff and could not have done better in his brief cup of coffee last year in Atlanta. Minter allowed five runs on 13 hits in 15 innings in his 16 late-season games, with only two walks and 26 strikeouts.

Minter is the best Braves’ relief prospect since Craig Kimbrel almost eight years ago. And with rumors already getting loud that Kimbrel could come back next winter when he becomes a free agent, Minter might try to convince the Braves that’s not necessary.

Arodys Vizcaino had 14 saves and a 2.83 ERA in his 62 games last season. Vizcaino has 151 strikeouts in the 129.2 innings he’s pitched in Atlanta the last three seasons. Jose Ramirez will return as another dependable middle reliever. Ramirez had a 3.19 ERA last season.

Sam Freeman is the main lefty returning. He had a 2.55 ERA last season and he limited lefty hitters to a .189 batting average. Freeman could be joined by veteran starter Scott Kazmir, who still wants to start if he’s healthy, but it will be tough to find him room in the crowded rotation.

Dan Winkler must be kept on the MLB roster or offered back to the Rockies as a Rule V player, but his good work late last season would make it a shock if he’s not on the roster. Winkler had a 2.51 ERA in his 16 games coming back from a fractured elbow.

Chase Whitley was plucked off the waiver wire from Tampa Bay. The right-hander pitched in 41 games for the Rays and had a 4.08 ERA. And Rule V selectee Anyelo Gomez will get a look. Gomez had 87 strikeouts in the Yankees’ minor league chain last season with a 1.92 ERA.

There’s still a chance some of the kids who are battling for the fifth-starter’s job, particularly Lucas Sims or Max Fried, could be an option for the bullpen as well.

Sometimes a pen can get better by a subtraction. Remember, Jim Johnson is now gone. He was abysmal late last season (8.35 ERA after the All-Star Break) and was shipped off to the Angels.

This may not be as good as the 2011 Atlanta bullpen, when Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flahery gave the Braves the best pen in baseball. But the addition of Moylan makes the Braves bullpen look a lot better as we get closer to the start of the Grapefruit League.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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