How bad was the Braves’ bullpen in 2008?
Jeff Bennett appeared in 68 games out of the pen that year (plus four starts).
Jeff Bennett has appeared in 179 games for his entire career.
But I guess when you are signing the likes of a broken Julian Tavarez and Vladimir Nunez, plus using both Buddy Carlyle and Manny Acosta 40-some times, you probably have some serious issues when it comes to relief pitching. Bennett not only was used so frequently, he was called upon to get crucial outs, allowing him to finish second on the team with the flawed stat, holds. Bennett was one of Bobby’s guys who he counted on either due to necessity or ignorance and that’s damn sad.
Originally chosen by the Pirates in the 19th round during the 1998 draft, Bennett was a righty without a whole lot of natural talent. Calling his stuff mediocre is actually a pretty good compliment. The one thing he could do is throw strikes and that one skill has value in the minor leagues. Just ask Trey Hodges.
Bennett’s minor league career didn’t spark much interest. He pitched for the Pirates-affiliated Lynchburg Hillcats in both 2001 and 2002 and finally reached AAA at the end of the 2003 season. The then-awful Pirates still didn’t think enough of Bennett to protect him ahead of the Rule 5 draft and he was chosen by the Brewers. In 2004, he appeared in sixty games for the big league club and posted a 5.15 FIP along with a 1.46 WHIP for a team that lost 97 games. I’m not saying he made them lose 97 games. I’m saying that a team that uses a guy like Bennett that many times with those numbers should expect to lose 97 games.
Having fulfilled the requirements of a Rule 5 choice, the Brewers sent Bennett back to the minors in 2005. He played for Nashville for the second time in three years despite changing organizations as Nashville had done the same. Bennett was actually not too shabby for the Sounds that year and was basically playing at home since he grew up in the greater Nashville metropolitan area. Still, the Brewers didn’t see much to get excited about and worse, he would need Tommy John surgery.
As a free agent, Bennett rehabbed on his own prepping for the 2006-07 offseason where he hoped to latch onto some team in need of a right-hander with nothing particular noteworthy about him. That’s when the Braves came calling, inking him after the ’06 season to a minor league deal. Again, he didn’t pitch all that well, but still got the call in September of ’07 for three games, including two starts. He did pitch 5.2 innings of one-run ball in his first game, beating his former Brewer mates 3-1.
Bennett would head into 2008 with a great chance to make the team and did just that. He was the definition of an emergency starter early on. After throwing 2/3’s of an inning on April 2nd, he threw four innings as a starter the next night. He would perform a similar feat a few weeks later, starting and pitching 4.2 ING two days after throwing an inning out of the pen. In June, he would get called on to emergency start a game after Jair Jurrjens twisted his ankle navigating steps at Wrigley Field. Sounds like him. Bennett would go on to give up a touchdown in less than three innings of work. However, what Bennett did more of in 2008 was pitch out of the pen. Even though he hit the DL briefly in July, he set personal highs in every category while throwing 97.1 ING. Sadly, by September, Bobby Cox was calling upon Bennett in the 8th inning. That’s just awful.
More was expected from Bennett in 2009. Want to know why ERA can be severely misleading for relievers? Bennett’s ERA in 2009 for the Braves was 3.18. His WHIP was 1.85. So, for nearly every inning Bennett completed, he was giving up about a two baserunners. Yet, Bobby let Bennett inherit 18 of them when he entered out of the pen. Seven of them scored. In his defense, Bobby didn’t use Bennett too often in anything outside of low leverage situations.
The last two inherited runners that scored off Bennett came in late June. Following that outing, Bennett punched a door because clearly, the door mocked him. He broke his hand and went to the DL. The Braves, who don’t stand for such hi-jinks, suspended him without pay. A grievance was filed and eventually, after appearing in a few games in the minors as part of his rehab, Bennett was released at the deadline in 2009. The Rays picked him up and he appeared in eleven super ugly games for them to finish the season.
That’s the last we have seen of Bennett in the majors. He returned to the Brewers organization, pitched for the D’Backs system, and spent last year in Reno for the Dodgers. In addition, he’s mixed in 81 games for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Currently a free agent, Bennett is still just 34 years old and could hold on for a few more years in his quest to get back to the majors.
Looking back, his Braves run lasted 108 games.
That was just too damn long.