Braves One Year Wanker: Dan Kolb

To go alongside our Braves One Year Wonder Series, we’ve decided to reign down our distaste for several players over the years with a bizarro series called One Year Wankers, and who better to kick this series off but One Year Wanker, Dan Kolb.

Braves One Year Wanker, Dan Kolb: Why we hate him

It’s not fair to hate a player for being bad. None of us can control how good we are at baseball, and even the best players go through slumps, and so forth.

If you’re going to hate a player, generally, you need something to focus on that’s thoroughly in their control. Like, for example, their attitude. Like, for example, this:

“Leadoff walks don’t bother me… I’m a ground-ball pitcher; I can get double plays. Now I just to have get them to hit ground balls at someone.”

Dan Kolb, May 20, 2005

That quote came 19 games into Dan Kolb’s star-crossed Atlanta tenure, right at the moment that he lost his job. At that point, he had yielded 16 walks in 16 2/3 innings to go with a 6.48 ERA and 2.04 WHIP, with 10 saves recorded against three blown. Those six putrid weeks were enough for Bobby Cox to yank him from the closer’s spot, eventually settling on the only marginally less snakebitten Chris Reitsma. (Sadly, as Tim Hudson too often had to learn, the fault lay not in the stars, but in the pen.)

Kolb notched only one more save for the rest of the year, and just two more for the rest of his career.

Kolb’s “Leadoff walks don’t bother me” nonsense may have been just the sort of posturing that you would expect from a struggling athlete who is desperately trying to maintain their own self-confidence as a way of righting the ship, but it still indicated a fundamental misunderstanding of his job.

Braves One Year Wanker, Dan Kolb: Where he came from

Don’t ask me why, but the turn-of-the-century Brewers had a knack for coming up with anonymous lights-out closers. They started with a middle reliever whose arm Joe Torre tried to murder — an average of 87 innings per year, from 1992-1996. But Bob Wickman survived the Bronx and turned into a very good closer from 1998-2000, at which point they packaged him to Cleveland in return for Richie Sexson.

(Our ol’ pal stayed so effective in Ohio that the Braves eventually traded a hot prospect for him, too. But that’s another story for another time.)

In 2001 and 2002, they got good service from a couple of former Rockie middle relievers, Curt Lescanic and Mike DeJean. “Former Rockie middle relievers” doesn’t scream “shutdown closer” to my ears, but then, I’m not from Wisconsin.

Kolb came over as a free agent in 2003, after a thoroughly indistinguished career with the Rangers in which he posted a 5.01 ERA (98 ERA+; the Steroid Era was hell on pitchers in the Ballpark in Arlington). The Brew Crew signed him for a couple of peanuts and he was lights-out in 2003 and 2004: 2.55 ERA in 98 2/3 innings, 60 saves in 67 opportunities.

Then they traded him to the Braves for a hot relief prospect, and gave the job to another guy no one ever heard of, Derrick Turnbow, who had pitched a grand total of 21 2/3 innings in the previous five years, all in Anaheim. He posted a 1.74 ERA with 39 saves in 2005. Thankfully, the Braves didn’t trade for him, because he turned back into a pumpkin the next year, his ERA ballooning into a Kolbian 6.87 the following summer.

I guess the Brewers figured their pixie dust had run out, because they finally decided to pursue an actual established closer, trading valuable players —  Carlos Lee, El Caballo himself, and a prospect named Nelson Cruz (!!) — in a package for Francisco Cordero.

But from 1998-2005, the Brewers had a revolving door of closers, all of whom were good.

How we got him

The worst trades in retrospect are the ones where the guy you got spat out the bit and the guy you gave up turned into a star. This trade, thankfully, was just a simple lose-lose. Jose Capellan was a big deal at the time — the 25th-ranked prospect on the Baseball America list — but he’s probably best thought of as a better Mauricio Cabrera, a live arm with 100-mph gas and a ton of promise, including the hope that he would master his command enough to remain a starter.

After spending 2003 in Rookie and A-ball, with a middling K-rate, Capellan had serious helium in 2004, dominating High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, and ending with a cup of coffee in the bigs.

Sadly, the cup of coffee was a disaster. He made three appearances and gave up ten runs in eight innings, including a nightmare of a 7-run first inning against the Mets. Perhaps the Braves scouts didn’t like what they saw and decided that he should be made available. Still, Braves fans were impressed by his rise through the system, and prospect-writers considered him one of the top prospects in the system.

So the expectations on Kolb were high, given the price the Braves paid. But no one expected Capellan would never manage to stick in the majors in any role. That start against the Mets was, God help him, the last major league start he would ever make. For the rest of his career, he made 97 appearances in relief from 2004-2008, mostly in Milwaukee. He wasn’t the biggest bust from the Braves farm in that era, as that would be Andy Marte, with an honorable mention to Hiram Kyle Davies. But the onetime 25th-best prospect in the world twirled just over a hundred roughly replacement-level innings in the majors.

The Braves may have seen enough to want to sell high on Capellan, so that’s why they were willing to sell him for a flash-in-the-pan sinkerball closer with a low strikeout rate. Good logic, as far as it went. But they never could have imagined how much Dan Kolb sucked.

How much he sucked

As Elizabeth Barret Browning might have written: oh, how we hated him, and let me count the ways.

I’m not really happy with D*n K*lb as a nickname. Here are some other options:

Damn Kolb
Dan “No K” Olb
Dank Lob
Klobber D
Milwaukee’s Worst
The Hurler That Made Milwaukee Shame Us
Dan Dan The Blown Save Man
Reardon II: Electric Walkaloo
Doom Doom Danny

Mac Thomason, April 27, 2005

Dan Kolb’s first appearance came extra innings, shutting the door for a 2-1 victory in the 13th inning against the hated Marlins. He faced the minimum: leadoff walk, ground ball double play, lineout to left. It was, sadly, one of his better innings in a Braves uniform.

His second appearance of the year also came against the Marlins. There was a leadoff single by Juan Pierre, who advanced to second on a groundout, to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a grounder. Fortunately, Kolb came into the inning with a three-run lead, so even after giving up a run, he still nailed down his second save in as many opportunities.

His third appearance was nearly his best of the whole year, sandwiching strikeouts around a long flyball to center field. Three saves in three opportunities. A 3.00 ERA after three games in, and it would never be any lower. It was one of only 11 perfect outings for his entire season.

In his fourth game of the year, we got to meet the Danny Kolb who inspired this blog post. Facing the Nats with a 3-1 lead, he walked Jose Vidro on four straight pitches, then gave up a single to Jose Guillen and another walk to Nick Johnson to load the bases. After inducing a groundout for a force at home, he gave up a sac fly followed by a two-run double. The Nats took the lead and the game.

Five days later, he made his next appearance, in a scoreless game in Philly. He got a leadoff groundout, then gave up a single, and got a fly ball after that. After a wild pitch, he intentionally walked Jim Thome, and managed to get out of the inning with another groundout, the game still tied.

It would not remain that way, because the Braves scored a run in the top of the 10th (on a Raul Mondesi sac fly!!!), and Bobby stuck with his guy and kept Kolb in the game for the save. Danny walked the first two batters, then threw away a sac bunt attempt by Kenny Lofton, allowing the leadoff man to score to tie the game. Jimmy Rollins then reached on a bunt single. Bobby finally yanked Danny and gave the ball to Kevin Gryboski, who promptly Grybo’d in the winning run.

(For those who are not familiar with this term from the Glossary, A Grybo is “an inherited run. Named after former reliever Kevin Gryboski, who specialized in coming in, allowing one or two runners to score, then getting the needed outs to prevent one of his own men from scoring, thus preserving his ERA while at the same time making other pitchers look worse in comparison.”)

Across the 2005 season, Kolb made 65 appearances and faced 270 batters. To the 65 batters who greeted him in each appearance, he allowed 23 hits and 10 walks — a .508 OBP and 1.090 OPS. Literally more than half of the men who led off against him reached base. All the other batters who faced him only managed a .369 OBP and .782 OPS, more than 300 points lower.

We hated Danny because he let people on base the moment he came into a game. That suggests that he really had no preparation, no approach. He just threw a heavy sinker, hoped for the best, and seemed to have no idea that if he didn’t cut down on his walks he’d be out of a job.

That’s why Mac created the Dan Kolb Bolg, in which he wrote poorly-spelled posts to be mean. It was hilarious.

VACASHIN TIME

THE SESUNS ALLMOST OVER AND NOT A MOMINT TO SOUN. I GAIVE UP 6 HITS LAS NITE BUT NUN OF THEM WER HOMURS & I DIDNT WALK ENNEYWUN BUT I NEVUR GIT ENNEY CREDDIT. I WIL PROBLY B LEF OFF THE PLAYOF ROSTUR BUTT THETS FIEN I HAV RINTED A CABBEN ON A LAEK AND ILL LOOSE MY DIPOSUT IF IM STIL PICHING.

September 29, 2005

There have probably been worse players in major league history, but I don’t know who they are. Good riddance.

Thanks for reading about Braves One Year Wanker Dan Kolb. If you enjoyed this piece, check out this piece on Brian McCann, who was no wanker.

26 thoughts on “Braves One Year Wanker: Dan Kolb”

  1. Stephen in the UAE says:

    Charles Thomas!! A great flash in the pan. Well worth recalling, as well, that Thomas was part of one of the most productive Braves’ Drafts ever. A 19th round draft pick, Thomas advanced steadily through the system making a promising start in 2004, which made him a solid trading chip. Hated to see him leave the Braves and it was disappointing that his MLB career was short.

    Nonetheless, Thomas is not only a nice ‘one year wonder’ to recall, but a good example of why deep drafts–seemingly now devalued by the powers that govern the sport–matter–not only for major league clubs, but for some of its fans…

  2. Timosays:

    Excellent series. This should be fun!

    @11 I think because it is clear that we won’t be out of the woods come summer.

  3. Rob Copenhaver says:

    Alex, that’s a good point that Wimbledon includes lots of international travel. That would be one difference.

    Rusty, I would think it’s partly related to letting the athletes know if they need to continue to be in game shape. And you also have sponsors, operation staff, etc. that need to know if it’s on or not, and perhaps 2 months was cutting it too close.

    As the numbers tick up, I still don’t yet feel like the data says that we’re in for a large crowd ban that takes us deep enough into the summer that we won’t have baseball. I remain optimistic, pray for everyone affected, and I’ll enjoy the one-year wonders and wankers.

    I’m also very proud of my wife. She’s in the hazmat gear in the 90 degree heat testing people for corona in Orlando, and she wants to go to NYC once her contract ends here. Since we’ve been married, I’ve supported her decisions to go to nursing school, nurse practitioner school, take a job that required her to be on-call for 24 hour shifts, and do this Orlando testing site, but I think NYC is going to be a little tough for both her and us. Instead of a treatment floor in NYC, I countered her with another option she had, a testing site in South Carolina. I don’t want to tell her she can’t do something that she feels she should do, but… NYC is a little much.

  4. @Stephen

    First off, welcome back! Really glad to see you around these parts again!

    The Braves did exactly just that last year in regards to their draft and I think it was purposeful to re-stock the bottom part of the system. They spent less money at the top to grab real difference makers at the bottom. Mahki Backstrom, Vaughn Grissom and Bryce Ball were early round talents that got picked past round 10 and could soar through the system should they hit their ceilings. There are more that fit into this category, but these are the 3 that I can think of on the fly.

  5. I’m big on Dank Lob.

    Met someone earlier this week with the last name Kolb, and I asked him if he was related to Dan Kolb. He’d never even heard of him. Even though it’s unique, people with the same last name have never heard of him. That tells you what you need to know.

    The late aughts were pretty ripe with less-than-stellar closers. I’ve got Chris Reitsma, Dank Lob, 2007 Bob Wickman, Ken Ray, and 2008 Mike Gonzalez. The bridge from Smoltz to Kimbrel was a mostly feeble one.

  6. 10 comments in less than an hour. There’s nothing that unites us more than talking about a Braves player that sucked.

  7. @ 5
    Totally agree about the 2019 Draft.

    I was unhappy with the 2019 Draft as it unfolded, but once Backstrom signed and started to hit, I began to think that it was nothing less than ingenious–especially given the Braves’ needs. In fact, it stimulated my appetite for the 2020 Draft–even with the Braves losing one pick overall–partly because it was fun, but also to wonder if the franchise had found a new method to acquire talent….

  8. @Stephen

    It’s also worth mentioning that the 2018 draft had some real talents that were drafted late, although there were some big swing and misses at the top (however, Langeliers looked like the real deal in ST)

    14th round: Vodnik
    17th round: Justin Dean (seriously like his skillset, especially if he can continue adding some power)
    20th round: CJ Alexander (this year was going to be a big year for him and I hope we still get to see his progress after injury later this year)
    32nd round: Trey Harris (LOVE Trey and the work he put in to become a real prospect)

  9. @14

    The 2018 Draft was impressive, but what distinguishes its counterpart a year later was that the latter had so many good HS players. Given the limitations on international signings, to get so much HS talent and to get Langeliers, Shewmake and a few others has impressed me….

  10. Kolb was tough to watch, but now with the passage of time, I recall him as an unwittingly prophetic figure pointing towards the calamity which would take place in 2006. Truly awful pitcher and, yes, we did hate him…

  11. Steven, it is SO good to see you again!

    Closers are a weird bunch. In one stretch, we were able to strike anonymous gold with guys like Greg McMichael (7th-round pick), Kerry Ligtenberg (undrafted), and John Rocker (18th-round pick). A few years later, we just couldn’t find anyone capable of getting an easy three outs.

    With our million pitching prospects, you’d think that a couple of them would turn into great bullpen aces. But just like Capellan, you never know.

    One of my all-time favorite Frank Wren trades ever was Jose Ascanio for Omar Infante and Will Ohman. Ascanio was nothing more than a pretty good minor league middle reliever, and somehow Wren traded him for a phenomenal bench player and a really good lefty specialist. Ascanio pitched a total of 46 innings in the majors; Ohman threw 58 2/3 innings of 3.68 ERA ball in 2008 alone, and Infante played for us for three years and became an All-Star in the third of them, eventually playing every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base.

    Why did Kevin Gryboski have a longer career than Jose Capellan? Why did Will Ohman have a longer career than Dan Kolb? Search me.

  12. ANNNND, if you squint hard enough, Reitsma also continues to pay dividends to this day for Our Braves, in the form of protege, and fellow Canadian, Mike Soroka.

  13. Bravo, AAR.

    There is no position as schizophrenic in approach as closers. For every “an established one is a requirement for any contender” there is a “anybody can be made serviceable” view. Like so much of life, I think it comes down to human discomfiture at uncertainty. Closers pitch small sample sizes at high leverage… This is a recipe for the confusion of randomness with skill or ineptness… Often the same for a particular player over different parts of his career. Dank Lob was neither as good as he was as a Brewer, nor as bad as he was as a Brave. There are exceptions… Rivera, Hoffman, and Wagner: Genuinely good pitchers whose forte was the short stint. And of course there are even more who didn’t have any real skill and flamed out immediately.
    But there will always be plenty who get lucky over a handful of innings and people get impressed.
    And when it happens to a player in the course of one season… A bad stint with one team, a hot September with another and a good NLCS, followed by a terrible WS, well… Just wait for the next installment in the series.

  14. @20, JonathanF, I think that the one thing that’s relatively clear is that, by and large, a guy who can get 3 outs against hitters from both sides is a guy who can close. Succeeding in a short stint seems to be the unpredictable part. Being truly unable to make the leap from the 8th to the 9th inning seems much more rare. (LaTroy Hawkins notwithstanding.) So, if you can find a good setup guy, like Greg McMichael or Ryan Madson, you can probably make him a good closer.

    That’s another reason why I’ve been so hot to try working our guys out in the bullpen, starting in the 6th and 7th inning and going from there. Jury’s still out on Wright and Toussaint, but it’s worked out pretty well for Fried and Newcomb. Sometimes you get a Santana who makes his way back to the rotation, sometimes you get a Papelbon who never goes back to the rotation. Sometimes you get a Mauricio Cabrera or Carlos Marmol, who succeeds for a short while before going back to the control woes that always plagued him in the minors, or a Capellan who never makes it. But in all events you’ve answered the question of who can be a potential closer.

  15. @16
    AAR,

    Nice to be back!

    Thanks for reminding me of the Ohman/Infante for Ascanio trade–far less memorable that Kolb, but much nicer to recall…

    @21
    I am still hoping that the Braves give Touki every chance to be a starter, but the last thing he needed was to lose the momentum he built up over the spring….

  16. We had a few plugins to install today and now the “continue reading” feature is gone. Working on a fix. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  17. For me, no matter how many times Reitsma was bad, he always seemed on the edge of getting it together. I was happy to see Reitsma come into the 9th for far longer than his outcomes justified.

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