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.