Saturday, March 13, 2010
Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Billy Wagner
Who else remembers Billy Wagner's first appearance back from the disabled list last season?
Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blaring over the Citi Field speakers before the 5'11" (generously) lefty dismantled the Braves' eighth inning threesome of Reid Gorecki, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann (striking out the first and last dudes mentioned).
About an appearance later, Wagner was placed on waivers and traded to the Boston Red Sox.
All told, Wagner appeared to be "back," as he managed 26 Ks to eight walks in 15.2 innings while posting a sparkling 1.72 ERA.
With those stats as their sample, the Atlanta Braves jumped on Wagner as soon as he started fielding offers and inked the 38-year-old Virginia-native to a one-year deal that is set to pay him $7 million in 2010 (with an option for 2011 that kicks in if and when he finishes 50 games).
But, were those numbers flukes?
Did the Braves just throw away close to ten million dollars that could have been put to the, at least right now, questionable offense?
Will Billy Wagner come close to the pre-Tommy John surgery years?
To answer those questions, I'll say: "probably not," "no," and "sure, why not."
Wagner, upon his return, was throwing in the mid- to upper-90s as he had in his glory days (although, 100 was more the norm back in the day) with the same cutting slider and loopy curve that made him one of the greatest door-closers of all time.
Why would you expect Cowboy Billy to be anything less than what he was in '05, '06, '07 after that kind of showing?
Keep in mind that Tommy John Surgery has about a 93 percent success rate and we, as Braves fans, have seen the likes of Mike Gonzalez and Peter Moylan have a ton of success in the past two years following the ligament replacement procedure.
I look for Wagner to have a strong campaign with the Braves in 2010...and I have little doubt in my mind that he won't at least approach 40 saves for the club.
A 2.75-3.00 ERA with something like 95 Ks in 70 or so appearances seems like a fair bet for Wagner.
But, his potential for on-the-field success isn't the only reason for his appearance on my list of Braves X-Factors.
Not even close.
I'm looking at the impact he could have as a leader in the Braves' clubhouse.
Even though he has made some, let's say, obscure comments over the years, he seems to respect people who are accountable for their actions (not always prevalent in the Mets' clubhouse) and, by all accounts, carries out his business the "right way" (hustling out all of the spring drills et all).
In an environment where he'll be around up-and-coming relievers like Eric O'Flaherty, Jesse Chavez, Kris Medlen, and closer-in-waiting (and fellow short dude) Craig Kimbrel, you have to figure that his simple presence and apparent work ethic will leak into these guys and help out their performance in the majors.
If he can couple that sort of "mentorship" with his potential on the field this season, then I think we're talking about the steal of the offseason.
An anchor at the end of the 'pen and an exceptional teacher and influence?
For $7 million?
Eat your heart out (insert name of a GM/owner overpaying for any closer).
Now, to couple one of the most dramatic 9th inning presences of all time, I present one of the most dramatic songs of all time (and my personal favorite)...
Up next in this series, the man, the myth, the Hey...a top-to-bottom look at what Jason Heyward brings to the Braves in 2010.