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 KolbMac Thomason, April 27, 2005
Dan “No K” Olb
The Hurler That Made Milwaukee Shame Us
Dan Dan The Blown Save Man
Reardon II: Electric Walkaloo
Doom Doom Danny
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 TIMESeptember 29, 2005
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.
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.