Are the Braves riding dominant duo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel into the ground?

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Now that we’ve passed the midway point of the season I thought it would be interesting to examine reliever workloads to see which pitchers have been ridden the hardest in the first half.

Atlanta’s late-inning duo of lefty setup man Jonny Venters and righty closer Craig Kimbrel has been incredibly dominant, combining for 2.01 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 85 innings while holding opponents to a .180 batting average.

However, manager Fredi Gonzalez has leaned on them a total of 91 times in 86 games, as Venters leads all of baseball in appearances with 47 and Kimbrel ranks second with 44.

Here’s the appearances leaderboard:

Jonny Venters       47     Braves
Craig Kimbrel       44     Braves
Bill Bray           43     Reds
Kameron Loe         43     Brewers
Jeremy Affeldt      42     Giants
Nick Masset         41     Reds
Chris Resop         41     Pirates
Eric O'Flaherty     41     Braves
Javier Lopez        41     Giants
Jose Veras          41     Pirates

You’ll notice a third Braves reliever, Eric O’Flaherty, also cracks the top 10, but as a left-handed specialist his overall workload hasn’t been as huge as the appearance count suggests. O’Flaherty has logged a total of 39 innings in his 41 appearances, whereas Venters has thrown 52 innings and Kimbrel has thrown 43.

Here’s the relief innings leaderboard:

Jonny Venters       52     Braves
Jim Johnson         49     Orioles
Jeff Samardzija     46     Cubs
Tyler Clippard      46     Nationals
David Pauley        45     Mariners
Craig Kimbrel       43     Braves
Nick Masset         43     Reds
Drew Storen         42     Nationals
Daniel McCutchen    42     Pirates
Brian Sanches       42     Marlins

Venters leads baseball in relief innings in addition to relief appearances, and Kimbrel and Nick Masset of the Reds are the only other pitchers to crack the top 10 in both categories. Atlanta wouldn’t be leading the Wild Card race at 50-36 without riding Venters and Kimbrel so hard in the first half, but will that catch up to the Braves in the second half?

Right now Venters is on pace to throw 98 innings in 89 appearances, which is a combination no reliever has topped in 25 years. Kimbrel is on pace for 81 innings in 83 appearances, which puts the Braves on track to become just the seventh team in baseball history to have two relievers with 80-plus innings and 80-plus appearances in the same season.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.