Seasons With Braves: 1989-1995; 2003
Stats With Braves: 31-25, 3.41 ERA, 20 Sv
The Braves took Kent in the first round, the fifth pick overall, in the 1986 June draft out of an Ohio high school. (I’d like to point out that nobody else the Braves took that year ever did anything worthwhile except for some guys they couldn’t sign — Steve Finley, Tim Salmon, and Ben McDonald.) He pitched well in 1986 but sparingly in 1987, I would guess due to injury. He broke out in 1988, going 11-4 with a 2.75 ERA in Durham. He was pretty good in Richmond in 1989 and earned a cup of coffee. He split 1990 between Richmond and the majors, mostly the latter. He was almost exclusively a starter in the minors, but in Atlanta most of his work was in the bullpen. Kent picked up seven saves that year and put up a 3.17 ERA.
In 1991 he was a key member of the bullpen with a 2.58 ERA, and picked up six saves, plus he started four games. In one of those starts, he went six hitless innings; Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena finished off the no-hitter. Injuries limited his availability and effectiveness in the postseason. In 1992, he didn’t pitch as well (or at all as a starter) but had six more saves, and pitched three innings of one-hit ball in the NLCS. He got injured in the post-Bream celebration and was unavailable for the World Series.
In 1993 he posted a 2.86 ERA and made six starts. Finally, he was offered full-time duty as the fifth starter entering the 1994 season. He succeeded spectacularly, going 9-4 with a 3.45 ERA (better than any starter but Maddux) before the lights went out. In April, he threw a complete-game no-hitter, and for the season he struck out almost a man an inning. I would argue that he was the fourth-best player on the team that year after Maddux, McGriff, and Justice. My recollection is that for about a month before the Strike Glavine was fading, Smoltz was hurting, and Avery was useless, and the rotation was basically Maddux and Mercker and pray for rain.
I don’t know what happened during the Strike, but he has never been the same pitcher. He started 26 games in 1995 but was basically an average pitcher or just a little above. His strikeout rate collapsed; he struck out fewer men despite throwing about 30 more innings. After the 1995 season the Braves sent him to the Orioles for Joe Borowski, but that was basically just a salary dump. He’d still pitched better than Avery, and when you consider that Avery washed out of the majors in 1999 (with a brief cup of coffee in 2003) and Mercker is still pitching, you can argue that not trading Avery (who was more expensive and probably had more perceived value at the time) instead was a mistake.
On the other hand, Kent was awful in 1996, with a 7.76 ERA as an Oriole. He was traded late in the year to the Indians for Eddie Murray (I’m guessing to let Eddie retire in a Baltimore uniform, but he went and played in 1997 anyway). Mercker signed with the Reds as a free agent after the season and had his last good year as a starter, 8-11 but with a 3.92 ERA. After that, he slowly washed out of the rotation and then out of the league, and missed the entire 2001 season. In 2002 he was a LOOGY with the Rockies, but didn’t pitch well.
But in 2003 he went to the hometown Reds and pitched well from their bullpen. Down the stretch, he was traded back to the Braves for fading prospect Matt Belisle. He was outstanding, putting up a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings and even picking up a save, his first in eleven years. A lot of people wanted the Braves to re-sign him, but he went to the Cubs for a year, then back to the Reds. He’s pitched okay, if not as well as in 2003.