Atlanta Braves 2013 Statistical Preview: Pitching
The last couple years, the Braves’ calling card has been starting pitching depth. This year however, Atlanta will field one of the most balanced lineups in the majors, especially when Brian McCann returns. Instead, the question marks lie with the rotation.
Tim Hudson has been a rock for the Braves since 2005, and he’ll get the Opening Day nod once again. The primary concern with him is his age – Hudson will turn 38 in July.
The good news is that as a sinker-baller, Hudson should continue to induce grounders at a high rate – a skill that typically holds up better with age than blowing fastballs by hitters. In the three full seasons since his return from Tommy John surgery in late 2009, Hudson has averaged 207 innings pitched.
Some bad, but likely expected news for Braves fans: Kris Medlen almost definitely isn’t going to pitch like vintage Greg Maddux again for an entire season. Medlen looked like the best pitcher in baseball last season after returning from injury, posting a 1.57 ERA in 138 IP. That level of production is simply unsustainable. To wit, he will probably start giving up some home runs again. Medlen only allowed six total last year, for an unsustainably low .39 HR/9.
Thankfully for Braves fans, he shouldn’t fall too far. Projection systems are still pretty bullish on him, given his 2.42 FIP and the fact that he didn’t have particularly crazy good BABIP luck. numberFire projects a 3.25 ERA, with a slight uptick in walk and home run rates, numbers still good enough to potentially merit an All-Star selection.
Here is where we get to the glaring question in the rotation. Are the Braves getting pre-All Star Break Mike Minor, who gave up 19 (!!!) home runs and posted a 5.97 ERA? Or are they getting post-break Minor, who appeared to figure out his mechanics, cut down on the bombs and posted a fantast 2.16 ERA? The answer to that question could very well determine the Braves’ postseason fate.
Minor cut back on the homers, but his absurdly high rate was destined to regress to the mean. He did halve his HR/FB% from 15.6 percent to 7 percent, which is a promising sign that all the bombs he gave up in the first half were just the result of fluky variance. Minor also cut his walk rate from 10.1 percent to 4.8 percent, while keeping his K rate steady. That walk rate will rise a little towards his career average (7.6 percent), but he is still young and it is possible that he improved his mechanics.
If Minor can at least come close to replicating his stellar second-half numbers, the Braves will have a deep rotation, and an excellent postseason trio. If he falters early before Brandon Beachy gets back from injury, the rotation will have to rely on unproven young starters, and its lack of depth will be exposed.
Paul Maholm was a bargain pickup at last year’s trade deadline after the Ryan Dempster deal fell through. In Maholm, the Braves have a cheap, reliable back-end innings eater who weathered tough luck BABIP seasons in 2009 and 2010 to return to form the last two years. The Braves pretty much know what they are getting: 160-180 IP, a 3.60-4.00 ERA, and 2.0-2.5 WAR. Not bad for a fourth starter on a $4 million contract.
Julio Teheran is expected to start the season as the Braves’ fifth starter and brings plenty of questions. Baseball America ranked him as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2011 season, but his star has faded a little with a subpar 2012 at AAA Gwinett.
Teheran only threw six innings in the majors last year, but got an invite to spring camp and dazzled, posting a 1.29 ERA in four starts spanning 14.1 innings. The stuff is all there, he just needs to put it together. If Teheran lives up to his billing, the Braves could be throwing an ace at the back of their rotation.
Craig Kimbrel had one of the best seasons for a reliever in the history of baseball last year, and his track record suggests it wasn’t much of a fluke. He will anchor a deep and dynamic pen that should help take pressure off of the starters.
Jonny Venters had a relatively down year after phenomenal 2010 and 2011 seasons, but that can largely be attributed to a .357 BABIP, a number significantly higher than his career average and likely to regress.
Jordan Walden, acquired from the Angels for Tommy Hanson, brings good velocity and a high K rate for use in late-game, high-leverage situations.