Eric Graff: The Bullpen
Given the injuries that left them depleted and having to replace two of the best relievers in baseball over the last few seasons they have far exceeded my expectations. Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Cristhian Martinez combined to pitch 189.2 innings out of the pen last year, this year they threw a combined 20.1 innings. Instead the Braves just plugged in David Carpenter, a guy they picked up off waivers last November for nothing, and got 65.2 stellar innings out of him with a 1.78 ERA, a WHIP under 1.00 and more than a strikeout per inning. They also used Anthony Varvaro and Luis Avilan, who combined to pitch almost 3 x the innngs they pitched last season and were somehow more effective. Jordan Walden was great before his recent struggles after a hamstring injury. Of course Craig Kimbrel was the one guy we could count on going into the season and he didn’t disappoint. The Braves put all these spare parts together to form what ended up being the best bullpen in all of baseball and for me, the biggest surprise of the 2013 Braves season.
Mark Kolar: Chris Johnson
When I saw that Chris Johnson was included in the deal that brought Justin Upton over, I thought to myself “Hey, not a bad pick up”. Chris has always had the ability to hit, but I did not foresee him doing what he did. All the man did was lead the NL batting race for a vast majority of the season, and helped ease the loss of Chipper Jones. It’s just a shame that Chris saw limited playing time in the beginning of the season due to splitting time with Juan Francisco, even after Juan began to struggle.
Brad Rowland: Andrelton Simmons’ power
I’m cheating a bit here by picking a specific outbreak of skill versus a player on the whole, but this one blindsided me. In 1,224 plate appearances from 2010 through 2012 (between the major and minor leagues), Andrelton Simmons hit 9 home runs. This season, he blasted a shocking seventeen home runs in only 658 plate appearances, and flashed power that absolutely no one could have foreseen.
Of course, Simmons is still very challenged offensively (.296 OBP), but this power surge brought him from potentially disastrous to nearly useful with the bat. I’m not positive that he will ever hit 17 home runs in a full season again, but if he does, count me among the many who were wrong.
Harris Nye: David Carpenter
David Carpenter was the Braves biggest surprise this year, posting a 1.78 ERA out of the bullpen as an off-season waiver wire claim by Braves GM Frank Wren. Perhaps Braves fans should have expected this, as Wren is the master of producing something from nothing when it comes to his bullpen pieces. The Braves once again had the best bullpen in baseball while spending less money collectively than the Phillies paid Jonathan Papelbon this year. But despite having seen this before with players such as Eric O’Flaherty, Carpenter becoming the Braves most reliable setup option heading into the playoffs is easily the most shocking result of 2013.