Posted: 6:52 am Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Do the Braves really lack starting pitching? 

By Mark Bradley

When in doubt, there's ever-ready Freddy Garcia. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

When in doubt, there’s ever-ready Freddy Garcia. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Writing for ESPN Insider, Paul Swydan – he also contributes to FanGraphs – wonders if the Atlanta Braves, who led the major leagues in ERA in 2013, are pitching-thin. Or, more precisely, thin in starting pitching.

Even though the Braves’ starters compiled the majors’ fifth-best ERA in a season that saw Tim Hudson lost to injury in late July and Brandon Beachy limited to five starters, Swydan makes a case. He writes:

(Beachy) has never made 30 starts in a single season at the major-league level. Alex Wood has only 11 major-league starts under his belt, and (ESPN Insider Keith) Law is on record as saying that Wood’s funky arm action probably means he is best-served as a reliever … Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran have just one 200-inning season between them, which means there isn’t an established workhorse.

Yes, but: Of the Braves’ five prospective starters, Medlen is the oldest at 28. Wood and Teheran are 23; Minor is 26, Beachy 27. One reason this young rotation looks so promising is because the Braves haven’t overused their young pitchers, which is generally regarded as prudent. (Granted, both Beachy and Medlen have undergone Tommy John surgery. But so has Stephen Strasburg.) The oft-cited cautionary tales of young pitchers who threw until the cows came home: Mark Prior and Kerry Wood of the short-sighted Cubs.

Swydan does have a point: It’s impossible to know how a pitcher will bear up until a 200-inning workload until he throws 200 innings. Which is why two understated offseason moves – the signings of Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia – could hold the key to 2014.

As Swydan notes, the veteran Floyd is coming off shoulder surgery and mightn’t be usable until May. But that, I submit, is OK. Assuming all five projected starters make it through spring training, any wear and tear – or signs of someone being overmatched – probably wouldn’t show in the season’s first month. If a starting pitcher does falter, Floyd should be ready about the time the faltering occurs.

To me, though, Frank Wren’s move to re-sign Garcia – who worked 27 1/3 innings for the Braves in September and who started Game 4 of the NLDS against the great Clayton Kershaw (and was leading when he exited) – to a minor-league deal was one of the best small moves this general manager, who’s quite deft at small moves, has made. There’s no chance having Garcia, who’s 37 and will take the ball anywhere anytime, will hurt an organization, and there’s a good chance he could pull a team out of a pinch.

No, the Braves don’t own a proven innings-eater, but I’d submit that this is a function of age more than an indicator of inability. I don’t believe this team will fail because it lacks the requisite arms. The five designated starters are very talented, and only Wood hasn’t done sustained good work in the majors. In Floyd and especially Garcia, there are fallbacks.

Even after an offseason that saw Hudson and Paul Maholm exit, starting pitching wouldn’t seem a weakness. On the contrary, it should remain a strength.

66 comments
HUDDYS1FAN
HUDDYS1FAN

Kris Medlen is the only pitcher who has won 15 games, and he's done it once. That said, the 2014 Bravos have plenty of starting pitching. But what they don't have is an established Ace or proven veteran starter anymore. Nevertheless this young staff is exciting. So there will be some growing pains, but their talent is readily apparent. So 2014 will be another stepping stone toward real post season competitiveness.

Retired2x
Retired2x

Braves real problems are ownership and management.

WhatUpCJgoodie
WhatUpCJgoodie

It would be better to have a #1 then line up the young guns behind him. Im worried we are putting these young guys in the fire too soon. If we had a #1 last season vs Dodgers in playoffs I think we could have won that series.

JChikara
JChikara

These guys will be fine. I think Minor, Teheran and Medlen can suffice as the top of a rotation order. The problem as always is that the Braves can't hit. Perhaps we need to start questioning whether these hitters have what it takes to lead this team to a title. 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Spring Training can't start soon enough to get rid of these make-news articles. Who cares what some "insider" at ESPN thinks? Never heard of the guy, and certainly would not pay for his opinion.

Not that anyone cares what I think, but I think the Braves pitching will be strong and consistent. They may have issues with a pitcher here or there (who doesn't?), but they have a stable of healthy, talented, and PROVEN young arms, and a couple of vets who could help chew innings.

Is there any other pitching staff you'd trade even up for the Braves? I think not.

wardenerd
wardenerd

Our manager is overmatched against most big league managers.  His handling of the pitching is critical and I think before the season is over we will  see how bad he realy is.

GwinnettFred
GwinnettFred

They don't lack starting pitching, they lack playoff caliber starting pitching.


Just like during their incredible run in the 90's - they did not lack hitting, they lacked world series caliber hitting!

MisterD
MisterD

Another cautionary tale: The Braves' own Steve Avery, a 200+ IP workhorse at age 21-22...

slydawg
slydawg

....this general manager, who’s quite deft at small moves,.....


This statement is an indictment...lmao

slydawg
slydawg

Keith Law ain't no Buster Olney, Tim Kirkijan, Jason Stark, or Peter Gammons, so he who cares about his opinion.?....lol

slydawg
slydawg

The Braves do not lack starting pitching. They lack World Series pitching. Case closed.

reckingball
reckingball

As for Paul Syndan, Keith Law, and many AJC Braves blogs commenters.......whoa, I almost forgot to include Chipper Jones along with them,........,, why don't they just go ahead and give the Easter Division(along with the WS) to the Washington Notionals, like they tried to do last year? 

reckingball
reckingball

Did the Braves bullpen log in the least amount of innings pitched, in the NL, last season?

Techmate
Techmate

Now that Freeman is the highest paid Brave, maybe that will take some pressure off BJ and Uggs. I do agree that BJ ought to get over himself, and with Uggla now married, maybe he won't be looking into the stands anymore for an after-the-game date. Eye on the prize, guys - a World Series ring!

Jim70
Jim70

Five good starters should win the division, but once in post season you need two great pitchers unless the lineup is the 27 Yankees. 

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

Why do we need an "ace" in the post-season?

The problem is a lack of run production.

patriotdog
patriotdog

A few points, the quickest first:

Who is Keith Law and why do I care about his opinion anymore than any other talking head at ESPN?

If Roger is high on Wood that would seem to be good enough.

Next, Garcia was a hugely underrated move this offseason. Gavin, not so much, IMO.

Finally, the '91 team had no 'ace', just three or four good young starters who had been average or above average for a couple of years. It's easy to find how the early stats of Glav, Smoltz, Smith and Avery all kind of blossomed after having spent a few years 'learning' the big leagues. Not saying, repeat, NOT SAYING that this staff will do the same. But, the experience of the pitchers, except for Wood, is about right to have the breakout season. Anything out of Wood will be a bonus.

Finally...again....you have to love the ERA McDowell has gotten from the staff, but his philosophy has not produced an innings eater. His policy of pulling a starter after 6 innings and going, like a clock, with a different reliever for seventh through ninth innings will keep the starters under 200 innings. The relievers have had, and will continue to have, arm problems, however. You can't have a guy warm up

130-140 times a year, making an appearance 50 of those, without wearing an arm out.

davidv14
davidv14

With the ownership problems after Ted Turner left, these problem will occur normally.   The Braves will just have to bite the bullet with the young talent and hope they get better.  I was shock when they sign Freeman and this new Cobb County stadium deal because no one really heard of this ownership group (MEDIA GROUP IN COLORADO) or the person running the company.   I believe they using the Braves as a big tax right off for their business.    

Stinger2
Stinger2

Mark: Thanks for your analysis and views about the Braves pitching. Could you tell us the reason you believe

the Braves might fail since it would not be the pitching?  

Quackmeyer
Quackmeyer

Baghead...way to follow the game. lol  When you finally make a choice to comment you lay a giant egg.  Some guys can never breakdown even the most simple of sports stories.

drew48
drew48

Maybe the Braves have an Ace or 2 in the making. There is pretty much no proven ace available so really the only alternative is to develop the heck out of what we have. If we can come up with 1 Ace caliber pitcher, we are golden. If not, then at least we'd be able to afford them if we want them. Personally, i like the situation the Braves are in. They can develop their own pitchers from the big leage and minors. They are young and cheap. The Braves can let them leave if they aren't what they need before they get paid. 

Baghead
Baghead

I'm not worried about our arms.  I'm more worried about the mush, or what some call a brain, inside Wren's cranium. 

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

So much can happen during spring training but baring injuries I see Wood in the pen and Garcia in the rotation. I am confident that rotation can eat innings while keeping the Braves in the games. It is always an interesting conversation but I believe the Braves were out hit in the playoffs, rather than out pitched. The pitching is fine, but its hard to win with only one or to runs per game.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The Dodgers got an innings eater in Maholm for 1.5 million dollars.  The Braves should have picked him up for that price as depth.  The chart I saw compared his performance with several other pitchers who signed for much more money, folks like Bronson Arroyo, and Maholm's WAR was very close to theirs.  I think the Braves were short sighted letting him walk.  I like him as #5 and Wood as set up. 

reckingball
reckingball

What the Braves really need, is for their hitters to increase their production with RISP...

The starting pitching will be pretty darn good(barring injuries), and who knows  that a legit ace or two(that so many people think is needed), will not emerge from the starters.

Also, how about the talent in the minors, like Hale.

mikeholland
mikeholland

Need a legit ace.  Power game changer.

knudegard1
knudegard1

I thought this blog was about pitching.

knudegard1
knudegard1

Yes, simply yes.

Do we want to win a championship or just compete?

GASports
GASports

Its not about having enough quality pitchers. Its about when they get to the playoffs and face ELITE pitching. The kind of pitchers that shuts other teams down. So, the question is WHO is going to be the Braves post-season Ace?????

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

The key to this team is clear; either BJ and Uggla have massive recoveries, or Fredi has the balls to sit them for Schafer and Pena. End of story.

devounknown1000
devounknown1000

Braves starting rotation is solid no need to panic.


GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WhatUpCJgoodie
WhatUpCJgoodie

@JChikara Im not worried about lineup at all. Uggla and BJ Upton should definitely be better. Its hard to be worse than they were last year.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@JChikara

Sure. Don't have to look very far to question the Braves hitting if you start with the letter "U".

I'm concerned about BJ, not so much about Uggla (several other options there), quite a bit about the top of the order (Heyward and Justin 1-2 may be OK but you'd rather see them a bit lower in the order), and that this power-laden, strikeout-prone lineup might be wildly inconsistent.

I'm also hopeful because several of these players have the potential to produce a LOT more than they showed last year. Upton-Upton-Heyward, Gattis, Simmons, any or all of these guys could post a breakout year and that group could literally carry the offense before you even start considering Freeman and Johnson. If all the young kids on this team post solid years (pitchers included) this team will win 105 ball games.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@GwinnettFred

I suggest you stay tuned in this year or you just might miss the breakthrough of a great young starting staff. What is "playoff caliber starting pitching", Verlander and Scherzer? Kershaw and Greinke? The Braves starting pitching carried them into the playoffs last year and was not the cause (or main cause) of their elimination.

MisterD
MisterD

Sorry - just saw someone else pointed that one out

reckingball
reckingball

I guess that should be Swydan, and Eastern Div.

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

@SaveAmericaFromItself That seems to be the point. 'Lack of run production' means you lose these games.  But you obviously have in mind the lack of post-season success with pitching staffs anchored by Hall of Famers, potential HOF's, and sundry other's of the Avery/Millwood class, when teams that won as many as 105 games went south post-season.


theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@patriotdog This is the "anti-innings-eater" era.....after all....


And all the uproar about having to have at least two elite arms to win the WS did not guarantee Detroit anything did it....


You have to have some very good arms and some very good offense and some above average defense...and be lucky at the same time....


to win the ring....

Zihuatanejo
Zihuatanejo

From '91-'93, both Smoltz and Avery started 35 games or more and pitched over 200 innings each year.  Smoltz also pitched over 200 innings in '89 and '90, his 2nd and 3rd years.  In my opinion, no current Braves starter has anywhere near the same "stuff" as Smoltz and Avery.  Those guys were power pitchers, and I do think in the playoffs power pitching is a plus.  The only current Braves starter that I can see blossoming into a something resembling a power pitcher is Teheran.  Certainly not Medlen or Minor.  Beachy is still an unknown.  I think the Braves can certainly win with the staff they have.  I just don't think the top of the rotation is anywhere near what we had even in the early '90's before we got Maddux.  Oh, and I agree wholeheartedly about Keith Law. 

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

@davidv14  Actually everyone but you was aware of Liberty Media Group and their CEO who earns  -- er, is paid -- as much in a year as the entire Braves team.

jeffreyd
jeffreyd

@Baghead  You mean the guy who either acquired or kept the arms you're not worried about? With the best ERA in the majors?

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

@RafeHollister  How many innings did Maholm eat last year? Not that many, really. He started great and then collapsed. It was the right thing to let him walk.

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

Steve Avery's career was almost over at 26. He was 29 in his last year. Some say the Braves over played him and ruined his career. It sounds like the Braves are approaching things differently with their current pitchers.

Dawggie
Dawggie

@jeffreyd @Baghead Exactly.  Lots of Wren critics seem to forget the depths the Braves club had sunk to by the end of John Schuerholz's run as GM.  There have been some poor deals, but only the types that would have required a crystal ball to have not made. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@DaltonbywayofBickley @RafeHollister  He got hurt at the end of the year, stats show him 40/50 innings short of the average starting pitcher last year but based on the last five years, he has been strong.  I don't think he is that great, but based on the minimal salary he got 1.5 million, compared to someone like Tommy Hanson, a reclamation prospect got 2 million with the rangers and Arroyo got 7/8 millio, he was a bargain bin steal. 

jeffreyd
jeffreyd

@Birdhair @Dawggie @jeffreyd @Baghead  When Wren signed Lowe, he had a low 3's ERA and the Braves rotation featured Buddy Carlyle, Jorge Campillo, and Mike freaking Hampton. KK was an MVP in Japan and was coming off a sub-3 ERA. They were necessary moves at the time and shouldn't be judged solely using hindsight.

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@Birdhair @Dawggie@jeffreyd@Baghead And AMEN to Wren being responsible for the Lowe, Kawakami, Uggla and Upton signings.........all pretty much huge mistakes of judgment.


But he has done well with most of his smaller deals as others have mentioned...

Birdhair
Birdhair

@Dawggie @jeffreyd @Baghead  hmmm. Did Wren draft or sign Medlen? No. Did Wren draft or sign Teheran? No. Did Wren sign KK and Derek Lowe spending over $90M on both? Yes.