#37: Mark Wohlers

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Righthanded Pitcher
Seasons With Braves: 1991-1999
Stats With Braves: 31-22, 112 Sv, 3.73 ERA

Have I mentioned lately that the Braves’ closer role is cursed? I don’t know yet what will happen to Wickman. Gout, maybe.

Drafted in the eighth round in 1988 out of a Massachusetts high school, Mark was originally a starter, as most pitchers start out. He was really not effective at all, but when converted to relief blossomed pretty much immediately. In 1991, he blew through the minors, picking up 32 saves and a sub-1.00 ERA between Greenville and Richmond, and then won three games and saved two in 17 appearances for the big club. He pitched in six games in the postseason that year without allowing an earned run. And oddly, he started the next season in Richmond.

He came up in May and wound up that season with a 2.55 ERA, only to start the next season in Richmond again. At this point, he apparently figured out that the idea was to pitch badly, and after putting up a 4.50 ERA in 1993, he stuck. He put up a 4.59 the next season, and was earning a reputation as a disappointment. He had an ERA over four again in July of 1995… And Bobby handed the closer job to him. It seemed an odd thing to do, but Wohlers responded, finishing the season with 25 saves and a 2.09 ERA, saving two games in the World Series including the last.

He didn’t pitch quite as well in 1996, but saved 39 games with a 3.03 ERA. Of course you know what happened in the fourth game of the World Series that year. Some wonder what would have happened to Wohlers if Bobby had let Bielecki pitch the eighth, but I really don’t think that was the cause of his decline. Wohlers’ ERA did balloon to 3.50 in 1997, but a lot of that was ordinary variation. At the time, this was easily the best three-year run by a Braves reliever.

In 1998, Wohlers collapsed. They called it Steve Blass Disease, but I don’t think that he actually had an attack of nerves or anything like that. He had a shoulder problem, one that eventually required surgery, and I think that caused his collapse. They tried to bring him back in 1999, but only briefly, then traded him to the Reds. Wohlers finished his career with three seasons as a middle reliever for the Reds, Yankees, and Indians.

Mark Wohlers Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

14 thoughts on “#37: Mark Wohlers”

  1. I have to disagree and say that, while the shoulder was likely the origin of the problem, Wohlers was a complete basket case in 1998. It was awful to see the look on his face after another fastball went sailing away. He was clearly panicked — red-faced and sweating to Thomson-esque proportions. And almost all the fastballs missed in the same area — bouncing in front of the left-handers batters box. Just where someone who had a death grip on the ball would throw it. Remember that he could still throw his crappy curveball for strikes even then.

    It was suggested after Wohlers left town that Cox had always been wary of his mental state. If you buy that, there is some evidence to support it — Wohlers was a terrible fielder, and Cox would rarely ask him to throw to first, supposedly to keep his focus singular. And also because he was likely to throw it away.

    (Side note: Wohlers also struck out in all but one of his 13 lifetime plate appearances. He was truly someone who could do none of the little things well.)

    I thought it was a great story of personal redemption that Wohlers was able to overcome his physical and mental problems to again pitch fairly well. In terms of improbable comebacks, he’s right up there with Mercker in my book.

  2. One of my first times posting on this site, figured I’d add my two cents.

    I’m actually from the town right next to where Wohlers grew up. My mother worked with his sister during the time he was with the Braves. I met Mark a few times when I was a teen…great guy, always had autographed cards and balls to give out.

    He was the classic Steve Blass candidate. He didn’t exactly come from the best family background and, like Ankiel and a bunch of others, put an undue psychological burden on his pitching arm. It was the source of a lot of his self-worth. In 1999, right before he came back, his wife left him because of his depression, which I thought at the time would be the absolute end of the road for him.

    I was really surprised when he came back with the Indians and Yanks.

  3. I still remember the game where he lost it. Bobby told him to give somebody a free pass, and he couldn’t throw soft. All of a sudden the man couldn’t pitch at all anymore. I remember when the same thing happened to Knoblauch and I said he was channeling the Wholenator.

  4. Mark Wholers, now that guy was a closer….up until he couldn’t throw a ball even near the strike zone. He alos lsot his velocity. Severe arm trouble. my feeling is the surgery/injury mad eit so he couldn’t put his arm in the postion he threw in with so much turque anymore and he lost velocity and any accuracy he previously had.

  5. He always seemed very shaky psychologically for the closer role. But I have to give him a ton of credit for how he closed out the World Series. If you remember, he couldn’t close out Game 4; Bobby had to bring in Pedro Borbon to bail Wohlers out. It took some guts for Wohlers to be able to come back and pitch like he did in Game 6. I think the Leyritz game was just one of those things. If he throws a good slider, Leyritz probably misses it. It’s all second guessing, because if he keeps throwing fastballs and eventually Leyritz catchers up to one, everyone would then say, why didn’t he throw something else? You really can’t win. But, even so, the home run didn’t lose the game; the Braves still had opportunities–and playing at home–to win the game. Wohlers is an example of how tough professional sports is generally and how these are humans playing, not robots.

  6. I’ve mentioned before, but not lately, that the injury that killed the Braves in 1996 wasn’t David Justice (Dye and Andruw filled in for him admirably) but Pedro Borbon, who was the team’s most reliable middle reliever and whom they never replaced adequately.

  7. Among non-Brave fans, I never sing the post-season blues about injuries (Justice, etc.), illness (The Big Cat), suspensions (Otis Nixon) or umpires (Eric Gregg, the Hrbek incident).

    But I agree with Mac on the above post: The Borbon injury was a tough one to swallow. You can argue that it had the biggest impact.

  8. I thought his collapse coincided with the failure of his marriage, or am I mixing that up with someone else? I’ve seen several players in critical individual roles that seem to lose their fragile mental states once their personal lives are in upheaval throughout various sports.

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