Jonny Venters: Ridiculous

Jonny Venters of the Braves is quickly becoming a hot topic here at Getting Blanked. Sam Miller broke down Venters’ dominance over left-handed batters in the Annotated Box Score and Dave Gershman included the Braves setup man in his best in the game graphic. The image does a great job of conveying what makes Venters good. Let’s look at what makes him great.

Looking at Dave’s graphic, no single number leaps off the page for a setup man. He doesn’t have the eye-popping K rates of Al Albuquerque or David Robertson or the pinpoint control of Padres relief stud Mike Adams. Glance at his Fangraphs page and one number should come screaming off the screen: his 83% ground ball rate.

Eighty-three percent ground balls through 131 batters faced and 35.2 innings pitched is nothing short of insane. Even if he doesn’t throw another pitch this season, his 83.3% mark would still be the best GB rate by more than 10% (with at least 30 innings) since sites like Fangraphs started tracking such data. Jonny Venters has surrendered only 7 fly balls this whole season. SEVEN. Venters mastery of the ground ball arts even prompted Braves starter Jair Jurrjens to adopt his sinker grip with wildly successful results.

Another way to consider Venters dominance: the Graphically Hip post uses Fangraphs WAR for relievers (fWAR), a good and useful metric which sets the bar for replacement very low, which is true of relievers. If a reliever goes down injured, they don’t pluck somebody from the minors or the waiver wire to replace his innings, everybody else below him on the bullpen depth chart just moves up a spot until he returns. It’s called bullpen chaining and it is all very interesting.

Baseball Reference uses a different model for reliever WAR (rWAR), one based on performance viewed through the prism of leverage – performance when it matters most. Neither system is perfect but when it comes to evaluating relievers, rWAR attempts injecting some context into the story.

Venters’ season might be worth just 1 fWAR so far, by rWAR he already amassed a whooping 2.3 WAR, best among big league relievers and good for 15th among all the pitchers in baseball. Ahead of stud starters like Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Shaun Marcum, CC Sabathia, and Ricky Romero.

All these plaudits and yet Craig Kimbrel remains the Braves closer. What gives? While I’m loathe to give Fredi Gonzalez too much credit for anything (search Frediot on Twitter) I think this arrangement just might work. If your best reliever is also your best lefty stopper, just use him whenever the situation demands it. Let the best bullpen arm in baseball do the heavy lifting, the still excellent Kimbrel can compile the saves.

Not a bad arrangement for a team with designs on the NL East title. If only the Braves didn’t field Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones behind this ground ball dynamo, they might be on to something.

Hat tip to Tsar of Chillwave Matt T for the Jurrjens/Venters tip