Tag: Billy Wagner

2011 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Alert: Craig Kimbrel

It is the goal of every professional athlete to leave their respective sport on their own terms, riding off into the sunset on the heels of a championship season filled with praise and accolades. This was not the case for Billy Wagner, as his 16-year baseball career ended in pain and frustration last October as his Atlanta Braves fell to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 MLB playoffs.

Wagner attempted to play through a painful hip injury that plagued him over the latter part of his career, but was unable to continue and his Braves failed to stay afloat in the playoffs.

The player who may be asked to fill Wagner’s shoes is Craig Kimbrel, a powerful young reliever who embodies similar stuff to his predecessor, including a high 90s fastball and a knee buckling slider. Drafted straight out of high school in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, Kimbrel quickly made his way to the majors primarily due to his blazing fastball and his ability to strike batters out late in games.

He made his debut on May 7, and went on to pitch in 21 games for the Braves, posting an impressive 0.44 ERA with an amazing 17.4 K/9 ratio. He was a vital piece of a Braves bullpen that provided excellent support for Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe.

The two biggest knocks against Kimbrel are his high walk rate and youth, two things that are typically red flags for closers. If given the closer role, how well will the 22-year old pitcher handle the pressure? Will he continue to mow down opponents while raking up strikeouts at an amazing rate, or will he crumble under the pressure, forcing Fredi Gonzalez to demote him to a set-up role?

Only time will tell. 

I recently published an article titled A Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball in which I shared a few strategies for novice fantasy players. One topic that I touched on is the theory that it is okay to wait on closers in the draft, as there is value late and teams change closers quite regularly throughout the season. In the case of Craig Kimbrel, I recommend targeting him late in your draft as a sleeper pick. 

The casual player may not be aware of Wagner’s retirement, opening the door for educated fantasy players to cash in on a potential diamond in the rough. With that said, I do not advise drafting Kimbrel as a number-one or number-two closer, as there are too many unknowns for a fantasy owner to rely on such a young and unproven player.

This article was originally published on www.kramericasports.com, the home of free fantasy news, rankings, and advice.

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Trevor Hoffman: On the Meaning of Saves and 601 Quality Appearances

When Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement yesterday, immediate talk about his Hall of Fame candidacy, his 601 saves, and his reputation as a great Padre surfaced. I do consider him worthy of the hall of fame as he, along with Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, were the most effective closers who did it for the longest time. But it seems as if they’re a dying breed.

As Trevor Hoffman joins Billy Wagner in riding off into the sunset, the MLB is arguably down to just one great, longtime closer.

Closers are something you find. Something managers create. Saves happen by accident. You don’t try for them; in fact you try not to have them. If your team is winning by three, you want to make it four. That’s just how baseball works, the goal is to spend nine innings making a win as likely as possible until it either happens or doesn’t.

An articles on Yahoo! Sports states, “Hoffman almost always got the toughest outs in a baseball game—the final three.” I assume most of those outs were tough. He was pitching against major league hitters. You cannot quantify how much tougher the ninth inning made those outs.

In fact, of his 601 saves some were probably pretty tough and some were undoubtedly very easy. Sure, he was in situations in which one bad pitch would lose the game for his team. But he also probably often had a cushion of two or three runs.

Let’s consider all those occasions where the final three outs are easier than the first three. Say your starter had to work just a little harder in the first inning to retire Victorino-Polanco-Utley than your closer did when he faced Ruiz-Valdez-Dobbs.

The idea that the closer you are to the end of the game, the more difficult the outs become is dubious. Why would there be extra pressure, aside from the fact that everyone in baseball attaches extra importance to it? It depends on the situation itself, so we have to be careful with the importance we attach to saves. I would still rather have vintage Billy Wagner or Mariano Rivera on the mound in a tough situation than vintage Hoffman.

Is there any real different in pitching with a one-run lead in the ninth inning versus pitching with the same lead in the eighth? Or the fourth? Can we measure things like clutch performance? Like guts? Grit? Heart? We cannot measure them save for counting up the number of times a broadcaster says something like, “man that guy has heart, what a gutsy effort.”

I once read an article suggesting that managers use their best reliever in the first tight situation in a game. For instance, the Yankees might be gridlocked 2-2 with the Red Sox in the sixth inning. Say Boston is up to bat and there are two men on and one out, the starter is pooped, the writers (it was in a collection of essays called Baseball Between the Numbers) suggested Mariano Rivera enter the game in this rough situation as he is the one most able to escape the situation.

What this would do is, a) make it easier for your team to avoid giving up more runs and burying yourself, b) give the Yankees more of a chance to win by keeping the game close longer so they can potentially bury their opponent, and c) limit the chance that the Yankees wind up having to face Boston’s best reliever in the later innings. I wonder how many games were lost when Kyle Farnsworth or Luis Vizcaino were tasked with escaping sixth- and seventh-inning jams.

In short, it could be beneficial to use your best pitcher when you need him most. I wonder how many save opportunities squeaked away because a mediocre reliever gave up a slim lead in the sixth. This especially makes sense for teams with good offenses.

The one hitch in this plan is that the ceremonious quality of the closer’s role would be stripped of him. There’s no glamour in the tough outs of the sixth inning. That’s the dirty work. Fewer flashbulbs are going off then. There’s something special about being a few outs away from a win. It’s like the game is entirely in your hands if you’re on the mound at that time.

So what does Trevor Hoffman have 601 of, if saves are a silly statistic? Well, he has 601 not-terrible ninth innings. Which is more not-terrible innings than many pitchers have in their careers. He has retired 3268 batters, all the while allowing relatively few runs to score. He owes this to the dominance he showed in his prime and impressive control. He owes it to a very good fastball-changeup combination.

I will remember Trevor Hoffman as one of the best relief pitchers of his generation. The silliness of his role aside, I cannot deny an impressive pitching performance (or about a thousand of them). It’s the ceremonious nature of the role that adds to his reputation. How many Padre fans remember Hoffman standing on the mound while their team won a game. How about when they made their way to the 1998 World Series?

As the closers of the past fifteen years prepare to make their runs at Cooperstown, I wonder which number will stand out the most in five years. 601 or something else?

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Billy Wagner’s Retirement From the Atlanta Braves….a Mistake?

Last offseason Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren took a gamble on Billy Wagner, signing him to a $6 million contract for one year to become the Braves’ closer.

Wagner, who was coming off an injury in which he tore the medial collateral ligament and flexor pronator in his left arm, spent the final month of the 2009 season with the Boston Red Sox and pitched effectively, luring the Braves to offer the veteran lefty a contract.

Wagner racked up 37 saves while posting a 1.43 ERA for the 2010 wild card winners.

After signing the deal, Wagner made it clear he would retire at the end of the season, no matter the outcome. His success was proof that he was still one of the game’s elite closers.

Wagner’s 2010 performance prompted the Braves not to take him off the 40-man roster for 2011, nor has Wagner filed retirement papers with Major League Baseball. This would lead one to believe there is some hope Wagner will return in 2011 as the Braves closer and solidify the back end of an already strong bullpen.

In light of the big offseason move, the Braves made by acquiring second baseman Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins in order to bolster their anemic offense, Wagner may re-consider his decision to retire. Uggla automatically makes the Braves better than they were last season in which they made the playoffs.

If Wagner does decide to come back, it would mean the Braves would be legitimate contenders to not only de-throne the Philadelphia Phillies atop the NL East, but to win the World Series as well.

The team would have a stellar offense, a deep starting rotation and a strong bullpen with a lights-out closer…all the pieces for a World Series title.

The realistic chance of being a world champion should make it tough for the 39-year-old future Hall-of-Famer to walk away from baseball.

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MLB Awards 2010: NL Relief Man of the Year Is San Francisco Giants’ Brian Wilson

Every year, managers, coaches and writers from around Major League Baseball award honors and trophies to the players—and every year, they screw up.

So Bleacher Report’s featured columnists decided to do it ourselves. Instead of just complaining about the awards as they were announced as we would normally do on our own, we teamed up to hold our own mock awards vote.

This week, we looked at the Comeback Players of the Year in the AL and NL before naming the AL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. Today, we end Week 2 of our four-week series with the best relievers in the National League.

The top five vote-getters are featured here with commentary from people who chose them. The full list of votes is at the end.

So read on, see how we did and be sure to let us know what we got wrong!

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Atlanta Braves: Who’s Staying and Who’s Going This Offseason

2010 was a moderate success for the Atlanta Braves. However, with retirement, free agency and trades, there’s always the question of who will or will not be back playing for Atlanta in 2011.

We’ll take a look at free agents, potential retirees and trade bait.

We expect that core players like Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones will be back because there’s no logical reason why they wouldn’t be.

The bullpen was very solid, but it’s not out of the question to see one or more of them packaged in a deal for an outfielder. This means that Craig Kimbrel, Mike Dunn, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty should expect to be back. 

Backup catcher David Ross signed an extension mid-season for a reason.

Up-and-comers like Kris Medlen (after he returns from Tommy John surgery), Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Freddie Freeman may or may not spend the entire 2011 season in the majors with Atlanta, but if not they’ll be between the big club and Gwinnett, unless packaged in a deal for another outfield bat.

So, who does that leave. . .

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Billy Wagner Burns Out, Punches Ticket for Cooperstown

One of the MLB’s all-time greats is walking away from the game.

Braves’ LHP Billy Wagner, 39, officially confirmed his retirement from Major League Baseball this week. Wagner’s MLB career came to a close prematurely when he suffered a left oblique injury in the NLDS while fielding a bunt by Giants’ SS Edgar Renteria, then re-aggravated it on the very next batter and was forced to leave the game. Wagner received two injections on October 10th, telling doctors that he wanted to try to return, and that he “didn’t care about the long-term affects.”

He tried to throw on Sunday, but was unable do so without significant pain, and was placed on the 15-Day DL—a stint that may not only end his season, but his career. The belief was that he’d return if the Braves could advance to the World Series—which, as we know, simply wasn’t in the cards. Ultimately, Wagner walks—limps, rather—into retirement from the game alongside his manager, Bobby Cox.

Wagner turns in a fantastic 1.43 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 104/22 K/BB ratio over 69 1/3 innings during the regular season, successfully shutting the door on 37-of-44 save opportunities. As his stats indicate, as well as his presence on the mound, the flamethrower could’ve remained a dominant closer for a few more seasons.

I don’t blame him for leaving, though—a 162-game schedule attacks your body, not to mention being away from home and your family/wife/kids. As of right now, RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Takashi Saito and LHP Johnny Venters will compete to assume the position for 2011, and the $7M freed up will allow the Braves to improve in other areas of their game.

Wagner had always been one of my favorite pitchers growing up, so I thought I’d take a look at what he’s accomplished in baseball. He shared a similar body frame as I did (he’s 5’10″, 180-pounds), and watching him throw smoke had me dying to become a fearless, challenging, hard-throwing closer too.

I began researching him, and the first thing that jumped at me was that he’s a *natural* right-handed pitcher, but only started throwing southpaw after breaking his arm twice in accidents. He taught himself to throw lefty by throwing thousands of balls against the wall of a barn, and then fielding the rebounds, rinse and repeat.

As I started watching the MLB as a baseball enthusiast, rather than just as a fan cheering for a team, I realized how rare a talent such as Wagner was. A dominant lefty-closer who was capable throwing a baseball 100 mph, plus a nasty slider, mixed with how hard (not the velocity—call it torque, if you will) was, and still is, a rare commodity. And it was his sheer, utter dominance that made him one of the greatest of all-time.

Among all the pitchers in baseball history with at least 800 career innings, Wagner has the highest strikeout rate. Not bad company, either:

K/9 IP

Billy Wagner: 11.92
Randy Johnson: 10.61
Kerry Wood: 10.35
Pedro Martinez: 10.04
Nolan Ryan: 9.55

Wagner is also the all-time leader in adjusted ERA+ among all lefty relievers with at least 800 innings, and ranks second in all-time adjusted ERA behind another closer who I hear is pretty good:


Billy Wagner: 187
John Franco: 138
John Hiller: 134
Sparky Lyle: 128
Jesse Orosco: 126

All-time ERA+

Mariano Rivera: 204
Billy Wagner: 187
Hoyt Wilhelm: 147
Dan Quisenberry: 147
Trevor Hoffman: 141

While many people will be critical of his postseason failures and locker-room character (particularly with the Phillies), there’s no denying what he’s accomplished on the mound. Of all the impressive stats accumulated over the years, his most impressive might be the 422 saves he leaves behind, good for (an underrated) fifth on the all-time list, just two shy of Mets’ legend John Franco.

Simply put, he’s the greatest left-handed reliever of all time. He sports the highest strikeout rate of all-time, the best adjusted ERA ever by a lefty reliever, the fewest hits per nine innings of all-time and the second-best ERA+ among all relievers behind only Mariano Rivera.

The seven-time All-Star and 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year leaves after 15 seasons, but it simply doesn’t do justice to just how badass he was. He’s the perfect combination of a lumberjack and a pirate. He eats beef jerky for breakfast. He flosses with shards of bats he’s broken. He’s essentially baseball’s version of Chuck Norris. Also, he had a wicked-awesome beard.

Wagner did not end his career the way many athletes envision themselves retiring—by limping off the field. My hope is that once the World Series hype dies down this winter, we can really begin to look at what a marvel Billy Wagner was. He remains one of the few pitchers in the history of sports to remain dominant throughout their career, and his statistics—first-ballot Hall of Fame worthy, mind you—truly speak volumes about how dominant and consistent he’s been throughout his career.

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NLDS 2010: Five Things We Learned

So far in the 2010 NLDS we have seen one dominating sweep from a team seeking their third straight World Series appearance and another series go back and forth with three thrilling games so far.

The Phillies have already clinched their spot in the NLCS with an easy three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, including a no-hitter from Roy Halladay.

In the other series we have seen some dominating pitching along with some late inning heroics throughout the first three games. Right now the Giants lead the series 2-1 but honestly it could have gone in any number of directions.

So what have we learned from these two drastically different series? 

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Atlanta Braves Baseball: Don’t Hate Brooks Conrad; He Needs The Fans Behind Him

     The Atlanta Braves were one out away from completing another storybook come from behind victory when things fell apart in the top of the ninth. Earlier, in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Gonzalez singled and Eric Hinske hit a pinch hit home run off of Sergio Romo to the Braves up by a score of 2-1. Hinke’s homer was just the fourth Brave hit of the night but it came at such an opportune time.

     Without closer Billy Wagner, Manager, Bobby Cox, went to rookie Craig Kimbrel to put the game away. He quickly earned two outs and it was apparent that Giants hitters were having a difficult time catching up to the youngster’s fastball. With two outs and two strikes,  Braves catcher, Brian McCann, called for a slider. This was a mistake. No one had been close to hitting the fastball. Put the guy away with the heat.

      The pitch that was thrown was a slider and it came across the plate at 87 miles per hour, or approximately 10 miles per hour slower than the fastball. It was knocked for a base hit and with two runners on base Bobby Cox pulled Kimbrel from the game. I believe this was also a mistake. Did Bobby take Kimbrel out because he thought he would buckle under the pressure? So far, the rookie had faced four batters and he had been great. Yes, he had given up a hit and a walk, but not a run.

     Mike Dunn would only face one batter, the Giants first baseman, Aubrey Huff. With two strikes, Huff was able to go to right field with a pitch on the outside corner and Jason Heyward’s throw to the plate was not accurate enough to keep the Giants from tying the game.

     With the score tied, and with Peter Moylan, the ground ball wizard, on the mound, it looked as if we might go to extra innings in the event the Braves couldn’t score in the ninth. Moylan got his ground ball but it was a hot shot to second baseman, Brooks Conrad.

     It had already been a rough night for Conrad before the ball came his way in the top of the ninth. Guilty of two errors in preceding innings, Conrad allowed the sharply hit ball to go between his legs and another Giant run was able to cross the plate. The “little man that could” was not able to on this night.

     Brooks Conrad committed three errors. He would not have been out there to commit the errors in the first place had he not walloped several pinch hit home runs to tie or win games earlier in the season.

     Remember that guy? 

     He is the guy who hit a grand slam home run to beat the Reds. That one game helped the Braves win the Wild Card by just one game. Brooks Conrad was guilty of helping the Braves lose an important game against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

      Much of Braves country wants Conrad out for the next game but that would be another mistake on top of mistakes that have already been made. Can’t change anything in the past. No one feels worse about those errors than Brooks Conrad. He will have to live with them a lifetime.

     Fortunately, the will not be such bitter memories if the Braves can come back and win two games; one at home and one on the road. To do this, the offense will have to wake up. The stats look good for the San Francisco starting pitchers, however, I do not believe they have been as good as the Braves have been bad. That’s right. The Braves offense has been terrible and that is why the Giants pitchers have walked away with such wonderful statistics.

     The Atlanta Braves are very capable of winning two games against the Giants. They must hit the ball and they must commit no errors of any type at any type. Atlanta has pitching that can get it done but they need help from the offense. Much of the Braves offense is injured but there are plenty of guys out there who can hit the baseball. Why can they muster no offense lately?

     The Braves hitters are swinging at way too many bad pitches. Can they slow things down and jump on Giants pitching early? Perhaps it is simply a matter of the Atlanta players trying way too hard at the plate and even so in the field. They want to do it so bad for Bobby. Perhaps they are exerting too much adrenaline and it causing them to overreact? They simply need to relax and have fun. They are capable. They are a close knit group and if anyone can win, they can.

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MLB Playoffs 2010: No Billy Wagner Decision Just Yet

According to Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Atlanta Braves have not made a decision yet as to whether or not they will DL closer Billy Wagner. Wagner will be re-evaluated today and then the Braves will make a decision.

By Major League Baseball rule, if the Braves DL Wagner for the NLDS, he will have to miss the NLCS as well. The Braves want to be extra certain that Wagner can’t go in the NLCS before they make that decision.

Regardless if the Braves DL Wagner or not, the reality is that he won’t pitch in this series again. Bobby Cox said he would use a closer-by-committee approach, but I have to believe that Craig Kimbrel has to be the man in the ninth. He has been throwing darts in the playoffs and has struck out five in just 2.2 innings of work.

If Cox does decide to use a closer-by-committee approach, which I am not a fan of at all, he could mix and match Kimbrel and Jonny Venters late in the game. Takashi Saito could be an option as well, but he has pitched just once in the last three weeks, and he is not nearly as good of an option as Kimbrel or Venters at this point.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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2010 MLB Playoffs: The Most Important Player For Each 2010 Postseason Team

At the time of year when all the talk is of MVP hitters and Cy Young pitchers, many important players are often not even considered. Although MVP does include the term valuable, that award is usually given to the player who has produced the most offense, and the Cy Young to the pitcher with the lowest Earned Run Average.

But there are so many more players—25 per team and 200 in the postseason total—all of them designated to a certain role. But the production of some players is more important to their team than others. So which players will be the most heavily relied on in this year’s playoffs? 

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