As Jayson Stark points out, the Braves have tapped into an extraordinary vein of bullpen dominance with Jonny Venters setting up Craig Kimbrel. They’ve held hitters to absurdly low averages and only allowed two home runs between them. Respectively, their ERAs are 1.10 and 1.70.
The Yankees have a pretty impressive duo themselves, in Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. But Girardi has only used those guys for 100.1 innings while the Braves have called on their tandem for 137.1 innings. That divide scuttles any comparison.
Jason Stark notes that Kimbrel and Venters are possibly the best we’ve ever seen since the advent of current bullpen dogma. But he doesn’t consider Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland in 1996. Admittedly, their rate stats don’t come close to Venters and Kimbrel, but the Yankees got 171.1 innings from their tag-team (thanks to heavy lifting – 107.2 - from Mo).
They didn’t stop there. Rivera and Wetteland spun another 26.2 innings in the postseason, allowed only four runs (1.35 ERA) and won the World Series. Wetteland was named World Series MVP. They toiled in a league which scored 5.36 runs per game. The 2011 Braves play in a league which socres 4.16 runs per game.
The Braves guys have a month and a half to go and could approach the innings total of Rivera and Wetteland. If they do that and maintain their statistical dominance, they’ve passed the Ol’ 96ers. But if Fredi González eases back on their usage or if they cough up some leads, I think you could at least make a good argument that the Yankees were as impressive covering more innings in a much harsher environment.
Looking at it another way, Rivera and Wetteland put up a combined 8.3 bWAR and 5.7 fWAR in the 1996 regular season. Kimbrel and Venters are at 6.7 and 5.0 and counting. The Yankee hurlers combined for 9.658 WPA plus another 2.841 WPA during the title run. The Braves guys have only accumulated 7.6 WPA thus far. They have some work left to do.
I’m sure there were other duos that deserve inclusion. Wagner and Dotel combined for 172.3 stellar innings in 2002. Can you think of any others?
It also makes you wonder what Mo and Robertson could do if Girardi took off the leash? Mariano may be too old to give much more than he is giving now, but Robertson surely has gas in the tank. Would another ten innings for Rivera and another twenty from Robertson wreck their rates or put them in the conversation with Kimbrel and Venters?
For Yankee fans though, as long as Rivera and Roberston are strong in October, the title of best duo in the same bullpen can go to Atlanta.