Braves' Top 5 relievers: Bowman's take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only.

Here is Mark Bowman’s ranking of the top five relievers in Braves history.

• Braves' All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | UTIL | RHP | LHP

1) , 2010-14
Key fact: Recorded MLB-best 185 saves from 2011-14; only other closers to collect at least 130 were Jonathan Papelbon (137) and Fernando Rodney (136)

Because John Smoltz was included in the right-handed starters list, there was no reason to debate who would fill this top spot. Kimbrel made a few impressive playoff appearances during his 2010 rookie season, and then he spent his final four seasons with Atlanta proving to be baseball’s most dominant closer.

As Kimbrel was collecting his franchise-record 186 saves, he successfully converted 90.7 percent of his save opportunities. Smoltz had a 91.1 percent success rate while notching 154 saves from 2001-04. The only reliever in baseball history to record at least 150 saves at a more successful rate was former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne (91.7).

Kimbrel posted a 1.43 ERA over 289 innings with the Braves. In the process, he struck out 42.2 percent of the batters he faced and limited opponents to a .152 batting average. His four-year reign as the Braves’ closer was one of the most impressive baseball will ever see.

2) , 1999-2002, ’06
Key fact: Ranked second among all relievers from 1999-2002 with 82.6 percent strand rate (minimum 150 innings pitched)

Kimbrel, Remlinger and Gene Garber are the only relievers in Braves history to produce 1.5 bWAR and a 130 ERA+ or better in at least three seasons. Garber was a valuable presence in Atlanta’s bullpen for a decade, but Remlinger contributed even more quality to the 'pen just across his first four seasons with the Braves.

The highlight of Remlinger's first Braves tenure was his 2002 campaign, when he had a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings (73 appearances). The left-handed setup man was also crucial to Atlanta's 1999 National League pennant-winning season, during which he posted a 2.37 ERA and a 190 ERA+.

One respected metric to evaluate relievers is RE24, which is run expectancy based on 24 base-out states. It measures how a pitcher did in comparison to the run expectancy that existed before he threw his first pitch in any specific situation.

Kimbrel leads all Braves relievers with a 79.34 RE24 and Remlinger ranks second with a 65.38 mark.

3) Gene Garber, 1978-87
Key fact: Ranks third in franchise history with 141 saves

Garber’s first big moment as a member of the Braves organization occurred on Aug. 1, 1978, when he struck out Pete Rose to end Rose’s National League-best hitting streak at 44 games. The right-handed reliever finished seventh in NL Cy Young Award voting in 1982 with a 2.34 ERA over 119 1/3 innings (69 appearances) for the NL West-champion Braves. His franchise-record 557 relief appearances might never be broken. No other Braves reliever has tallied more than 388.

4) , 2009-13, '16-17
Key fact: Ranked fourth among all relievers from 2010-12 with 86.2 percent strand rate (minimum 100 innings pitched)

Jonny Venters had some of the nastiest stuff you’ll ever see from a reliever, and I certainly debated putting him in this spot. But while also being quite dominant during that 2010-12 stretch, O’Flaherty proved more efficient with both his walk and strand rates.

Getting back to the RE24 metric, the third, fourth and fifth spots of the Braves’ all-time list are filled by Greg McMichael (56.78), Kerry Ligtenberg (55.82) and O’Flaherty (36.70). But the 143 ERA+ produced by both McMichael and Ligtenberg during their tenures with Atlanta was not quite as impressive as the 200 mark O’Flaherty had from 2009-13.

When O’Flaherty posted a 0.98 ERA in 78 games in 2011, he became the first pitcher in MLB history to produce a sub-1.00 ERA over at least 70 appearances. The lefty followed that season with a 1.73 ERA over 64 appearances in '12.

Before Billy Wagner posted a 1.43 ERA over 71 appearances in 2010, Chris Hammond ('02) and Smoltz ('03) were the only pitchers in Braves history to produce a 1.75 ERA or lower over at least 60 appearances in a season. Kimbrel and O’Flaherty achieved this a combined five times from '11-14.

5) Greg McMichael, 1993-96, 2000
Key fact: Finished second in balloting for 1993 NL Rookie of Year Award

Mark Wohlers will always be remembered as the closer for the one Atlanta club that has thus far won a World Series. But the most reliable member of the early 1990s Braves bullpens might have been McMichael, who produced a 2.89 ERA and a 146 ERA+ over 317 2/3 innings from '93-96.

Remlinger is the only reliever in franchise history to produce a better ERA+ (162) while totaling at least 300 innings. McMichael notched 19 saves during his rookie campaign and followed that with 21 more saves during the strike-shortened 1994 season.

The effectiveness of McMichael’s changeup against lefties made him more valuable to be available for certain high-leverage situations during the middle innings. He limited opponents to a .632 OPS while producing a 2.79 ERA over 80 2/3 innings of the Braves' 1995 World Series championship season.

Honorable mentions
(2010-12, '18-19) had a 205 ERA+ while totaling 171 innings in his first two seasons with the Braves (2010-11).

(2006-12, '15, '18) made his MLB debut at age 27, but he still ranks third in Braves history with 356 career relief appearances.

Before legendary broadcaster (1950-58) became a mentor to Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, he was a pitcher who tallied the fifth-most relief innings (428 2/3) in Braves history.

Rick Camp (1976-85) became one of the most recognizable bullpen members as he compiled 548 2/3 relief innings in his career, all of which was with the Braves.