I was real pessimistic of what Venters would do for the Braves in the bullpen in 2010. After all, he was a mediocre starter in the minors for his entire career and I'd never really taken a second look at him. Before 2010, he had never posted a FIP under 3.00 in a season, and he was relatively old for all of the leagues he had pitched in. Nothing really jumped off the page about him to me. And then, he came to Atlanta, and...was dominant. Venters put up a ridiculously low 1.95 ERA, good for 6th in the National League among relievers. That low ERA wasn't even much of a fluke either, as his FIP was 2.69, more than acceptable for a reliever.
Why was Venters so good for the Braves? Three things come to mind. Number one, the strikeouts. Jonny struck out 93 batters in 83 innings, a fantastic mark for a rookie. Number two, the homers. Venters only allowed one home run all season, in a game against the Reds on July 30th. Nothing else left the park. Number three, the ground balls. This is more of an addendum to that low homer rate, as Venters had a really great knack for keeping the ball on the ground. His GB rate was 68.4% (best in baseball), and his ground ball to fly ball ratio was 4.15, by far the best in baseball. In fact, the man in second (Ryan Webb, then of the Padres) had a mark of 3.68, well under Venters' mark. When you're keeping the ball on the ground that much, you're doing something right. Throughout his minor league career, Venters always kept that mark very high, so this season wasn't an outlier. He allowed only 18 homers in a 373 2/3 inning minor league career.
What does 2011 hold for Venters? That's an interesting question. Many fans are calling for Venters to be the Braves closer over Craig Kimbrel. I believe that would be a mistake. Kimbrel has the stuff to be an absolutely dynamite closer, like the man who preceded him as Braves closer, Billy Wagner. Venters is more of an awesome setup man in my mind, with his ability to get ground balls being huge in key situations where a double play is necessary. Kimbrel can blow hitters away, while Venters does to a much lesser extent. I'd rather have the more dominant pitcher closing out games. Venters is going to be great in the 8th inning for the Braves this season, and he'd be able to close if Kimbrel is fatigued after too much use. I just don't want to see him getting a majority of the opportunities.