Guest Writer: Andy Simms of
As we approach the reporting deadline for pitchers and catchers to arrive in Orlando to kick off Spring Training 2019, there is no better time to review the state of the Braves highly-touted group of starters and the organizational depth behind them. First, let’s look at the projected members of the opening day rotation:
The Starting Five
Mike Foltynewicz – 13-10 2.85 ERA 1.08 WHIP 3.9 fWAR
Mike “Folty” Foltynewicz had a great year last year. It started with the birth of his baby boy, Jett, in the offseason, and culminated with his first post-season start of his career. He shaved almost two full points off his ERA from the previous season, saw his K rate fall just short of 10 per 9 innings of baseball (9.93), and had his lowest HR/9 rate of his career at 0.84. The only negative thing you can say about Folty as a pitcher is that he struggles to go deep in games, often a byproduct of failing to put hitters away with two strikes. As a hitter, however, Mike Foltynewicz might be the National League’s poster boy for why a Designated Hitter is needed in both leagues. Steamer is projecting a regression to the mean for Folty next season with an ERA of 4.02 and an overall WAR of 2.7.
Sean Newcomb – 12-9 3.90 ERA 1.33 WHIP 1.9 fWAR
It was a tale of two halves for Sean Newcomb last season. In the first half of the season he pitched to a 3.51 ERA over 105 innings with an opposing BA of .212 and OPS of .655. In the second half his ERA rose by more than a full point to 4.58, the average and OPS rising right along with it to .241 and .719 respectively. He was one out away from no-hitting the eventual NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, obviously a high point in his season. The low point might have been a 3 inning start in Boston, basically in his own back yard, where he gave up 4 runs and walked 4 batters in facing only 19 hitters. Overall it was definitely a nice step forward for Newcomb, and the hope is that he will have similar results to those of Folty last season. Steamer is less enthusiastic, however, projecting him at 11-10 with an ERA of 4.02 and a pedestrian 1.7 WAR
Kevin Gausman – 10-11 3.92 ERA 1.30 WHIP 2.3 fWAR
Kevin Gausman was the big acquisition by Anthopoulos at last year’s trade deadline, and he actually had a really good run to close out the season. Prior to the trade, Gausman was 5-8 with a 4.43 ERA for Baltimore. In Atlanta he went 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA and ate a fair amount of innings during that stretch. It’s not uncommon for a pitcher coming from the AL to the NL to have better success, and Gausman definitely benefited from not having to face 9 professional hitters in every lineup and being able to put the nightmare of facing Boston and New York in the same division behind him. At the time of the trade, Anthopoulos mentioned there might be some minor adjustments that could be made with Gausman to make him more effective, with emphasis on analytics and pitch calling, and that did seem to pay off. His HR rate dropped dramatically even has his BB and K rates fell off, indicating a more contact-oriented approach from a pitch calling standpoint. Steamer expects Gausman to be more the pitcher he was in Baltimore rather than the guy that flashed hot in Atlanta, projecting a 10-10 effort from him in 2019 with a 4.14 ERA and league average 2.1 WAR
Julio Teheran – 9-9 3.94 ERA 1.17 WHIP .7 fWAR
Julio Teheran is the most frustrating pitcher in the Braves organization. He held opposing batters to a .193 BA but allowed a .374 slugging % and an OPS of .672. His K/9 rate of 8.30 was the highest of his career, as was his BB/9 of 4.30. The numbers seem to show a pretty effective pitcher, but the issue was that when JT was good he was really good; when he was bad, though, he was extremely bad. He might average out to, well, an average pitcher, but on his worst days you wonder how he can ever be allowed to take the mound again. He was so inconsistent that the Braves couldn’t commit to giving their opening day starter even one start in the post season, opting for Sean Newcomb in game 3 instead. At this point in his career it’s too much to expect Teheran to find consistency, so the best the Braves can hope for is that his bad days don’t cost them a chance to go to the post season this year. Steamer projections for JT are 9-10 4.84 ERA and .6 WAR.
Mike Soroka 2-1 3.51 ERA 1.44 WHIP .6 fWAR
Mike Soroka rounds out the 5th spot in the projected rotation, but in all honesty this could have gone to any one of 4 pitchers with MLB experience last season. Soroka’s season was cut short last year with shoulder fatigue, and though he reported to the fall instructional league and looked strong facing live batters, he will still need to prove he is healthy enough to hold on to this spot to begin the season. Soroka, or Maple Maddux has he has been affectionately dubbed by Braves fans, came up through the organization with the reputation of being a very cerebral pitcher, advanced in his approach to hitters, and maximizing his effectiveness of his 4 pitch mix through pinpoint control. While we did indeed see some of that at the big league level, his 1.44 WHIP is indicative of a pitcher who was nibbling around the zone instead of attacking hitters. For him to be successful at the MLB level, Soroka is going to have to trust his stuff, be precise in his locations, and trust his defense. I won’t even bother with Steamer projections for him because Steamer struggles to project pitchers with little MLB experience. We just need to be patient and hope that the offense can give him runs early in games so that he can settle in and pitch like he is capable of.
The Next Five
Yes, you read that correctly! The pitching depth of the Braves has long been touted as their biggest strength. In interviews this offseason both Alex Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker have hinted that while the Braves are not looking at a strict 6 man rotation it might look like one with the way they use the options on starting pitchers in the minors. With that in mind, here are the five pitchers most likely to get starts this season for the Braves:
Max Fried – 1-4 2.94 ERA 1.37 WHIP in 14 games (5 starts)
Max Fried is a guy who has been asked to spot start as well as pitch out of the bullpen each of the last two seasons. The issues with the bullpen have forced the Braves into utilizing Fried in this way even though his greatest value is as a starter. He might end up being a multi-inning reliever along the lines of an Andrew Miller-type, but when in the minors he is working exclusively as a starter which seems to indicate that the Braves still see him starting games at the big league level.
Luiz Gohara – 0-1 5.95 ERA 1.22 WHIP in 19.2 IP (1 start)
2018 will be a year that Gohara would love to forget. While dealing with the death of his father in Brazil his mother also became very ill, requiring much of his time that would otherwise be spent preparing for the 2018 season. As such, he came into camp significantly out of shape and, not surprisingly, a bit unfocused. He battled injuries and conditioning all season and only appeared in 9 games for Atlanta with only 1 start after having started 5 games the previous season. He has reportedly lost nearly 30 pounds this offseason and is expected to report in much better shape than last year, providing hope that he may recapture the form that led to his break out performance in 2017.
Touki Toussaint – 2-1 4.03 ERA 1.34 WHIP in 7 games (5 starts)
Touki Toussaint was possibly the most exciting of the pitchers to debut with the Braves last season. He carries a dynamic personality on the mound, a distinctive look and delivery, and he matches all of that with one of the nastiest curve balls in baseball. He made professional hitters look foolish on that pitch in limited action, and while he struggled to find the plate on occasion he also had a very promising K/9 rate of 9.93 and kept the ball in the yard, giving up only 1 HR in the 29 innings he pitched. He may feature prominently in the bullpen early in the season but expect him to see significant starts as the calendar turns to June.
Kolby Allard – 1-1 12.38 ERA in 8 IP (1 start)
Ok, so the much-anticipated arrival of Kolby Allard did not go as planned. In AAA last season Allard pitched 112.1 innings in 19 starts and carried a very impressive 2.72 ERA, 2.72 BB/9 and .48 HR/9 rate with a 1.21 WHIP. Those are the numbers that the Braves thought they would see when Allard was exposed to major league hitters, but sadly he was ineffective in Atlanta. His WHIP ballooned to 2.88 and gave up 3 HR in 8 innings. He was not good. There is enough in his MiLB numbers to suggest that he might have either not been ready or was just a victim of a couple of hot lineups, but there is also enough concern that his high 80’s/ low 90’s FB might not be enough to get hitters out at this level.
Kyle Wright – 0-0 7.50 ERA in 6IP
Kyle Wright made his debut with the Braves in September after having pitched 138 innings in the minors in his first full season. He had previously pitched 17 innings in 2017 between rookie ball and high-A, so the workload on Wright’s arm limited him to relief appearances at the big league level. Wright possesses the tools to be a mid rotation starter for Atlanta, possibly even a 1 or a 2 in the absence of a true ace, and he ranks as the Braves #2 prospect right behind Mike Soroka.
That’s A Wrap!
There is plenty to be excited about as the kids in the Braves farm system begin to contribute in major ways in the rotation, but there is also reason for concern as the projected rotation falls short when compared to that of the other teams in the NL East. One more addition to the front half of the rotation would go a long way in making the Braves more competitive in the East, but the options are dwindling for top end starters. With some luck and steady improvement Atlanta might find themselves in position to make a mid-season move to bolster that rotation, assuming there is still reason to do so.
Next week focuses on the bane of the 2018 season: the bullpen.
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