We’ve already talked about what damage the lineup this season is capable of. When the Braves finished the last 30 games of the season with the best record, they relied on the bats to make up for the bad pitching. Starting pitching will be the deciding factor in how long the Braves’ season lasts.
Review of the 2016 Staff:
The Braves fielded 16 different starters last season, which doesn’t contribute to a successful season. A lot of that contributed to trades made throughout the season, injuries and rookies needing callbacks down to the minors.
Only two Braves starters made more than 26 starts last season, Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz. Teheran, 30 starts, was the definitive ace last season and will return at the top of the rotation next season. Foltynewicz, 26 starts, took major strides last season at developing into a reliable middle of the rotation arm.
The next two starters with the third and fourth most starts were Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair. Entering his sophomore season, Wisler struggled with location and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Summoned down to the minors in August he returned a better pitcher, but not quite level with the expectations. Wisler still managed 15 quality starts in his 26 appearances, but for as good as he had outings of equally bad outings.
Blair was picked up alongside Swanson and Inciarte and deemed a quality pitching prospect. He dazzled in the minors but failed to translate it in the major leagues. Management admitted to mishandling Blair last season when they sent him down to the minors and called him back up prematurely. Pitchers with sinkers and sliders need to command the bottom of the zone to force groundballs, Blair never accomplished this.
Foltynewicz and Teheran will be featured in the rotation next season. Wisler and Blair will have to compete to get back in the rotation, they’ll need to improve on their consistency and locate their pitches for a shot back on the rotation.
Additions to the 2017 Staff:
It started with the addition of R.A. Dickey in the early days of free agency and followed with the signing of Bartolo Colon. In most cases, adding two pitches over 40-years-old doesn’t sound like a strategic move, but in this case the move is strategic at the right time.
The reason the Braves had so many starters last season is because the rotation lacked inning eaters. Colon and Dickey aren’t aces by any measures, but possess the capacity to eat innings. Colon has pitched at least 190 innings in each of the last four seasons and Dickey at least 214 in four of the last five seasons.
Reliability on the mound every five days, lasting five, six, sometimes seven innings will be a huge bridge for the Braves when they transistion to the younger players in the minors.
Both starters do not figure into the long term plan of the organization. The Braves can’t afford to ruin some of the talented arms by rushing them before they’re ready. Delaying prospect’s arrival until needed pays huge dividends in development and readyness down the road.
The Braves didn’t stop adding starting pitchers with those free agents. They also acquired Jaime Garcia from the St. Louis Cardinals for pieces invaluable to the future. Garcia has only fallen short of 170 innings in two of his seven full major league seasons with a modest 3.57 ERA and averaging less than one homerun per nine innings.
If Garcia can remain healthy at 30-years-old and remains as productive, he will add depth to a much improved rotation.
Projections for the 2017 starting rotation:
There’s no doubt the Braves improved with the additions of Garcia, Colon and Dickey. But if the Braves continue with the traditional five-man rotation it might hold them back. If Wisler and Blair display improvement necessary to stick around, Brian Snitker might get forced into employing a six (even a seven) man rotation.
- Juio Teheran – there’s no doubt that Teheran will be the ace, getting better year-by-year.
- Jaime Garcia – the Braves wouldn’t have acquired Garcia in exhange for prospects if there wasn’t an intention to rely on him in the middle of the rotation.
- Bartolo Colon – he will probably get favored for the third spot in the rotation because he’s more consistent and reliable than a knuckleball pitcher.
- R.A. Dickey – opting for Dickey in the fourth spot works for a variety of reasons. As the fourth pitcher, his knuckleball can stage Folty’s fastball for better effectiveness.
- Mike Foltynewicz – facing hitters the night after they face Dickey’s knuckleball with a fastball around 97 mph is ideal for Folty. The timing will take adjustments that Folty can take advantage of to build confidence in pounding the strikezone.
- Matt Wisler/Aaron Blair – one of these two should get another crack at the rotation. It would be more difficult to plug both of them in, because seven man rotations aren’t as realistic. Pitchers are creatures of habit, they’re accustomed to the traditional amount of time between starts. Fluctuating with this messes up their routine and possibly routine. As to who might get the edge, it’s really a coin flip that won’t decided until both make spring training appearances.
As for which one of these seven might land in the bullpen, we’ll preview the pen later this week.