He led major league relievers with an 0.98 ERA, yet drew only the third-most notoriety in a Braves bullpen that was represented by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters on the National League All-Star team.
Eric O’Flaherty wasn’t an All-Star, but the veteran lefty was arguably the team’s most consistent reliever from start to finish, and Monday the O in “O’Ventbrel” got paid.
O’Flaherty and the Braves agreed to terms on a one-year, $2.49 million contract, a 178-percent raise for the Washington state native who was eligible for arbitration for the second time.
He closed the season with 20 consecutive scoreless appearances and became the first reliever in major league history to post a sub-1.00 ERA in 70 or more appearances. O’Flaherty had 78 appearances, tied for fifth-most in the majors.
He signed three days after left fielder Martin Prado agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million deal with the Braves, leaving the team with two remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players — pitcher Jair Jurrjens and center fielder Michael Bourn.
Jurrjens and Bourn both are clients of powerful agent Scott Boras. Any remaining arb-eligible players unsigned on Tuesday will swap salary figures with teams and arbitration hearings will be scheduled for the first two weeks of February.
Jurrjens, in his second year of arbitration, will likely get a raise to around $5 million or more after making $3.25 million in 2011, a season that began splendidly for the right-hander but was cut short (again) by a knee injury.
He went 13-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 23 starts, none after August. The Braves made Jurrjens available on the trade market this offseason, but haven’t drawn suitable offers – and probably won’t until he allays other teams’ concerns about his right knee.
Bourn, 29, in his final year of arb eligibility before free agency, could possibly command a salary of $7 million after making $4.4 million with Houston and Atlanta in 2011. He hit .294 with a .349 on-base percentage and majors-leading 61 stolen bases, and can become a free agent after the 2011 season.
If arb-eligible players and teams don’t come to terms before swapping salary figures Tuesday, the sides can continue to negotiate right up until a scheduled hearing next month. Both sides generally try to settle a midpoint between swapped figures to avoid a potentially acrimonious arbitration hearing.
However, Boras has taken plenty of clients to arbitration hearings over the years.
If a case goes to hearing, an arbitration panel chooses either the salary request by the player or the salary offered by the team – but nothing between those two amounts.
The Braves have gone to arbitration hearings with players 24 times since the current system began in 1974. But they’ve managed to avoid hearings for several years, with Jeff Francoeur in 2009 the closest they’ve come recently.
Francoeur was just hours from getting on a plane to fly to Phoenix for his hearing during spring training in February ’09 when he agreed just before midnight on a one-year, $3.375 million contract. When the sides swapped salary-arbitration figures, he had asked for $3.95 million and the team offered $2.8 million.
♣ More on “O”: Other than the storm headed his way that’s expected to drop another foot of snow on Seattle, things were going well Monday night for O’Flaherty, who for the first time has moved into the seven-digit salary club.
O’Flaherty made $895,000 in 2011 and led big-league relievers in ERA while working in 78 games, one fewer than Kimbrel and seven behind major-league appearance leader Venters.
O’Flaherty had a 0.75 ERA in 38 road appearances, and a 0.70 ERA in 56 night games (1.61 in 22 day games).
In 49 appearances after June 6, he posted a miniscule 0.58 ERA and 41 strikeouts with 13 walks in 46-1/3 innings, and the Braves went 35-14 in those games.
One of the few Braves not to struggle down the stretch, O’Flaherty worked 19-2/3 scoreless innings in 20 appearances after Aug. 15, with one walk and 16 strikeouts.
He was a model of consistency, despite a couple of midseason episodes of back stiffness. (Considering how Venters and Kimbrel seemed to tire in September from the season-long heavy workload, perhaps the stiff back that forced O’Flaherty to be shelved for a few days a couple of times wasn’t a bad thing….)
O’Flaherty had two full months with no earned runs allowed – July (14 appearances, 12 innings) and September (14 appearances, 14 innings). Three other months, he allowed two earned runs or fewer in 12 or more appearances.
Opponents hit .221 with a .283 on-base percentage against him, and O’Flaherty limited lefties to a .195 average (17-for-87) with only four extra-base hits, two walks, 25 strikeouts and a .237 OBP and .513 OPS.
With runners in scoring position, hitters were 12-for-66 (.182) with a .212 slugging percentage. With bases loaded, O’Flaherty held folks hitless (0-for-8) with no walks, five strikeouts and one RBI.
In two-strike counts, he had a .175 opponents’ average (25-for-143) with five walks and 67 strikeouts.
By the way, Phillies hitters were 5-for-29 (.172) against O’Flaherty in 2011 with one double, one walk and 10 strikeouts. For their careers, Philly stars Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are a combined 4-for-33 against the lefty, with one RBI, two walks and seven strikeouts.
♣ And something on “Z”: For those who missed it in the comments section after Carlos Zambrano was dumped – er, traded to Florida from the Chicago Cubs recently, here’s a stat to consider: He is 2-5 with a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts vs. Braves, his worst record and ERA against any team he’s faced more than once.
“Big Z” is 0-5 in his past 11 starts against the Braves including 0-3 with a 13.89 ERA in three starts over the past three seasons.
Brian McCann is 9-for-14 with a homer and five RBI against him, while Chipper Jones is 9-for-27 with two homers, six RBIs, four walks and one strikeout.
Chipper the last batter Zambrano faced before his famous meltdown last summer. He twice threw at Chipper (and missed) to earn an ejection in a game that completely spiraled on the Cubs and Zambrano. Then he glared and smiled at Chipper, fans and assorted others as he walked off the field, stopping before going to the clubhouse, where he cleared out his locker, told some people he was retiring, and left.
Could be interesting if he faces the Braves 3-5 times this coming season.
♣Leftover Murph notes, quotes, anecdotes: Only three players eligible for the Hall of Fame have won multiple MVPs and not been enshrined at Cooperstown: Roger Maris, Dale Murphy and Juan Gonzalez.
Juan is no longer eligible for the writers’ ballot, having gone two-and-gonzo after receiving just 23 Hall of Fame votes (4 percent of ballots cast) this year in his second year up for vote. He fell short of the 5 percent required to remain on the ballot. (75 percent is required for election.)
Just two years and Juan Gone is. Gone, that is. His link to steroids and and mention in the Mitchell Report disqualify him in the eyes of the vast majority of BBWAA voters — and likely in the view of Veterans Committee members, most of whom have stronger feelings about “steroid cheats” than do most writers.
The next multi-MVP player who’ll be eligible and put the steroid-suspicion voting mess to an exponentially more severe and controversial test is Barry Lamar Bonds, who’ll debut on the Hall of Fame ballot next winter, with his seven MVP awards, 762 homers, 2,558 walks, 415 steals, .444 OBP and 1.051 OPS. Oh, and eight Gold Gloves.
What on earth is going to happen when the votes are counted?
Is anyone really confident enough to set an over-under on the percentage of votes that the BALCO poster boy of swollen head sizes and cartoonishly superior stats – 73 homers at age 36? .609 OBP and 1.422 OPS at AGE 39?! – will receive from BBWAA voters, many of whom believe, like me, that Bonds was a Hall of Famer even before he, uh, beefed up and started his pursuit of the real home run king, Hank Aaron? Other writers say they’ll never vote for him or anyone else they believe did steroids. Still others say they’ve either decided or are leaning toward deciding to throw their hands in the air and vote like they just don’t care – about ‘roid suspicions, that is. (Let’s hope that voting bloc remains a minority.)
We’ll have plenty of time to debate here and elsewhere about Bonds and other suspected steroid users as some of the best players in generations hit the Hall of Fame ballot, including Roger Clemens. But to give you some idea of the quandary that many voters feel like they’re in, I’m going to share a few more quotes from writers I talked to a couple of weeks ago when I did a Hall of Fame preview story.
I asked a few guys about Buster Olney’s theory that some worthy Hall candidates including former Braves ace John Smoltz, who’s eligible three years from now, might have to wait a year or a few years to get enough votes because of all the votes that could be siphoned by steroid-era players who’ll get more than enough support to remain on the ballot but not enough votes to get in for a long time, if ever.
Voting writers have a 10-player limit on their ballots each year, and Buster thinks that a lot of votes are going to go year after year to players stalled by steroid suspicions.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com had this to say when I asked him about that situation:
“I’ve heard more writers than ever talk about the 10-player limit being a problem, and there’s some validity to that observation. I don’t expect Bonds, Clemens, Sheffield, Sosa and the other ‘steroid guys’ to make the Hall for a while — if ever. But based on the vote totals for McGwire and Palmeiro, they’re likely to clutter up the ballot for years while attracting anywhere from 10 to 40-50 percent of the vote.
“That said, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly will be dropping off the ballot soon, so that will create some room,” Crasnick said. “And I’m not sure how adversely a crowded ballot will affect Smoltz. It could have just as big an impact on guys like Larry Walker or Fred McGriff, whose support is pretty marginal. Voters might ultimately find themselves having to choose between Smoltz and Curt Schilling or Walker and the Crime Dog.
“I think guys like Smoltz and Schilling (and Mike Mussina, for that matter) might have to wait a couple of years to build the requisite support, anyway. The 10-player limit could hurt Smoltz at the outset, but I think he has a pretty good shot to make it. He just might have to wait a little longer than Maddux and Glavine.”
Braves icons Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, each with 300-plus wins, are considered locks for first-ballot election two years from now.”
Chicago Tribune writer Phil Rogers also opined on the 10-player limit and how Smoltz and others could be penalized by suspected steroid users who linger on the ballot for years.
“There’s no question that it’s going to be a long ballot in future seasons, with a lot of otherwise strong candidates hanging around because of their ties to PEDs, but I would hope that wouldn’t affect others, including Smoltz,” Rogers said. “If a guy’s worthy, I vote for him. And if some voters do find they have more than 10 guys they want to vote for — because of the PED guys — then I’d hope they would give the benefit of the doubt to a fresh candidate not caught in the gridlock.”
Rogers added, “What I’d like to see is the Hall’s board of directors provide BBWAA voters with some guidelines on how they want to see this handled. I think the current system guarantees that dubious guys will not get in because of the voting instructions that raise the question of integrity.
Since Gonzalez is out because of the steroid cloud over his head, and Maris was dropped from the ballot after getting a personal-best 43.1 percent of the vote in 1988 in his 15th and final year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot, the only multi-MVP player currently eligible to be voted in by the BBWAA is Murphy.
He’s only got one more year on the ballot after getting just 14.5 percent of the votes this year in his 14th time put to a vote. Murphy’s best vote total was 23.2 percent back in 2000, his second year on the ballot.
Maris, who hit .260 with a .345 OBP and .822 OPS, and had 275 homers and 850 RBIs, exceeded 40 percent in each his last three years on the ballot. Murphy, who hit .265 with a .346 OBP and .815 OPS, had 398 homers and 1,266 RBIs, has been below 15 percent for the past 11 years.
Murphy was a seven-time All-Star who won five Gold Gloves and had six 30-homer seasons. Maris was a four-time All-Star with one Gold Glove and three 30-homer seasons. Of course he played for the Yankees, and one of those 30-plus home run seasons was his record-smashing 61-homer run for the ages in 1961.
“Guys like Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly are perfect candidates for the Veterans Committee,” Rogers said. “Alan Trammell too. Personally, I haven’t voted for Murphy but I’ve always had a little nagging feeling that I should. There’s no question that career numbers are the biggest — easiest — benchmark and there are times you lean on them.
“I wonder how Murphy’s case would look if he had played for the Braves a decade later than he did.”
♣ Let’s close with a great tune by one of Dale Murphy’s favorite bands, Wilco. You can hear (and see) a live version of it by clicking here.
“MISUNDERSTOOD” by Wilco (J. Tweedy)
When you’re back in your old neighborhood
The cigarettes taste so good
But you’re so misunderstood
You’re so misunderstood
There’s something there that you can’t find
You look honest when you’re telling a lie
You hurt her but you don’t know why
You love her but you don’t know why
Short on long term goals
There’s a party there that we ought to go to
If you still love rock and roll
You still love rock and roll?
It’s only a quarter to three
Reflecting off of your CD
You’re looking at a picture of me
You’re staring at a picture of me
Take the guitar player for a ride
‘Cause he ain’t never been satisfied
He thinks he owes some kind of debt
It’ll be years before he gets over it
There’s a fortune inside your head
When all you touch turns to lead
You think you might just crawl back in bed
With the fortune inside your head
I know you’re just a mama’s boy
You’re positively unemployed
I know you’ve got a god-shaped hole
You’re bleeding out your heart full of soul
You’re so misunderstood
You’re so misunderstood
You’re so misunderstood
You’re so misunderstood
I’d like to thank you all for nothing
I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all
I’d like to thank you all for nothing
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all
by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog