September 25, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Kris Medlen (54) pitches in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Is The Braves' Rotation Really That Good?

There are times as a fan, you realize that, no matter how much you try to go along with the mainstream ideas and feelings for your team, you just can’t help but doubt the predictions of your team. A few nights ago I woke up in a sweat. Now, this simply could have been because I had mistakenly set my thermostat backwards, and instead of starting the heat at six o’clock at night when the sun goes down, and having it gradually increase, I started it at six o’clock in the morning. And, forget the gradual increase, it went straight to 70. Or, it could be that I was in the middle of a dream, better yet a nightmare.

Questions surround whether Minor will be effective this year for the Braves. If he struggles again this year, the Braves could be out of the race by July. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The nightmare went something like this. It is nearing the end of June, and Brandon Beachy is due back from his rehab starts with Mississippi and Gwinnett, but the Braves sit in third in the NL East, and are struggling to keep their hopes alive for the wild card. Now, I could have possibly eaten some bad fish before I went to bed, but it is more likely because while researching pitchers for my upcoming fantasy baseball draft, I started to doubt the projected rotation heading into the season.

French philosopher Peter Aberlard once said ‘The key to wisdom is to doubt. For it is through doubting that leads us to investigate, and it is investigation that leads to truth.’ Now, I may have paraphrased, but the point remains the same. If you accept everything you are told simply because you are told it, you will never have true wisdom. So, because I doubted the rotation, I sought to search for the truth. I researched, I read, I thought, I even tried to step away from the problem, only to find myself returning time and time again to the same conclusion. This is when I did the only thing I could think of, and took my concerns to message boards and experts, and what did I learn? There are a couple of people out there that keep up with the Braves that are very knowledgeable and some that are not.

My claim is this, and a lot of you will be upset with this (I plead with u to follow the links I insert, and research it for yourself): With Delgado now in Arizona, and Hanson never panning out (and therefore being traded), the once perceived strength of this team is now one of its biggest weaknesses.

At first the only counter arguments I could find against this claim from Braves fans and experts were ones using one year examples and assumptions to try to justify a claim that the Braves will be better than last year. The problem with these claims is evident; you cannot use one year or assumptions to prove, or disprove evident trends (everyone knows the saying about assuming, if you don’t, Google it). Once I pointed this out to people, we started to get to the truth. I am not claiming that all of these thoughts are my own, nor am I claiming that I am a Braves expert, this article simply is a collection of thoughts from fans and experts alike, and gives you, the reader, the most well rounded argument as to why, as a Braves fan, there is a reason to worry.

Call me Chicken Little, running around Braves land yelling ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’, but we are in real trouble. Beachy isn’t due back until sometime around the All Star game, and you cannot assume he will immediately pitch like the Beachy of old, Hudson is getting older, Medlen has a very good chance of being distracted headed into the spring, Maholm is an average pitcher (I don’t believe this one, and will touch on more in a minute), and the last two spots of the rotation are being taken up by, at most, inconsistent pitchers in Minor and Teheran.

I’ll start with Medlen. He was FANTASTIC last year, but with the birth of his first child coming less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers, how likely is he to be fully focused on getting his arm in shape for the upcoming season? Combine this with the fact that he has yet to pitch a full season, and there should be major concern on his arm strength throughout the season.

Hudson is aging, and the argument against a decline is that he is sinker ball pitcher, and as such, age shouldn’t affect him as much as another pitcher who relies on his fastball to set up other pitchers. As a sinker baller, he will be getting ground balls, and with slick fielding Simmons behind him, a recipe for success is-a-brewing. This is a very good point, but if you look at his peripherals, there is a flaw in this argument. His ground ball has been steadily declining over the past three years, and other than his rookie season, last year’s ground ball percentage was the lowest of his career. His contact rate was also up last year, and these are signs of depreciation in an aging sinkerball pitcher. Another flaw is assuming that every ball will be hit to Andrelton. While Juan Francisco did show improvement in his fielding during the season, he is still below average, and Uggla, who has been deemed as underrated in the field, has a terrible fielding percentage, and has yet to have a year in which he has committed less than 10 errors. No one has been able to move me yet on this one, but I don’t think the bottom will just fall out on him. With that being said, if he posts an era over 4, and only gets about 12 wins this year, I wouldn’t be overly shocked. Others have made very valid points to the contrary, and the overall feeling is he will stay the same as last season.

Maholm was very underrated with the Braves last year, and has been a very consistent and serviceable pitcher throughout his career. This is contrary to most Braves fans views, but the numbers are there. When pitching with teams in contention, he has put up an above average era (2011 with the Pirates, 2012 with the Braves), his strike out rate has been steadily increasing, his walk rate has been steadily decreasing, his peripherals all remain consistent, and he has the ability to put up over 180 innings a year. Argue all you want about him not being flashy, the stats don’t lie. The only argument you could possibly use is his homerun percentages were up last year, but moving out of PNC Park to Wriggly Field would make anyone’s homerun rate jump. So, I’m comfortable with him being third in the rotation, and see him posting an era in the mid 3’s (it was sub three with the Braves last year) and grabbing 13-15 wins for us this year.

My concern really starts with Teheran and Minor, but when it comes to Teheran, my arguments were quieted by his potential, and I have been shown that if he has finally found a repeatable delivery (his performances in winter ball may prove he has), he is worthy of the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Minor on the other hand, has posted two good months in his short career, July and September last year. Good sign right? That means he’s got it figured out and ended the season well, right? Right? Well, in the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. The majority of those starts were at home where he has posted an era two runs lower than road starts, and his BABIP was extraordinary, hinting that he was probably more lucky than good over this time. If you look at his fly ball rate, which is high, it reveals why he is a better pitcher at home. It is easier for a fly ball pitcher to pitch well in Turner Field, where it is hard to drive the ball out, and with a speedy outfield this year, his performances at home could improve even more. However, Delgado’s ground ball rate was well above average, and ground ball pitchers are less affected by change in parks, and consequentially are more consistent road pitchers. Also, there is no denying the fact that Delgado has been a higher rated prospect the entire time he was in the Braves’ organization, and his stuff moves like a plastic bag in a wind storm. His problem last year was getting out of innings and putting people away with two strikes. Given the lack of run support, this was probably due to him pressing in situations where he felt he HAD to get out of innings without runs scoring, instead of limiting damage. This leads to a detrimental dependency on the fast ball, nibbling earlier in the counts, and putting hitters in good situations and counts. This, of course, is an assumption, so I am not considering this in my argument, only pointing it out.

The name of the game with this staff is to get through the 6th and turn it over to, arguably, the best bullpen in the bigs. The problem is you cannot count on Teheran and Minor to do this consistently week in and week out until Beachy returns. And, God forbid there’s an injury.

I have always been told growing up that if you address a problem, you better be willing to find a solution. So, how do the Braves keep the sky from falling? One answer I’ve heard is the organizational depth of pitching. Yes, the Braves have great young talent, but they are not going to throw Gilmartin, Obispo, Rodriguez, or Graham out there too soon, and burn an option on them by adding them to the 40 man roster. The common and most logical solution I’ve heard is picking up Javier Vazquez. The Braves are handcuffed by a limited budget, and chances are we can get him for a minor league contract. He may be coming off of surgery, but he thrived with the organization once before, and as Bill Walsh once said, ‘If you’ve done it once, why can’t you do it again?’ I’m not saying anyone expects him to go out and put up 2009 numbers, but his consistency and knowledge could prove to be valuable to this staff. And, if the worst case scenario plays out and he doesn’t perform, then you don’t lose anything by cutting him.

Also, Joe Saunders is still out there, and can be had for under $4 mill, and at this point is likely to agree to sign a one year deal. Detractors have pointed to last season, but if you look at his career, he has shown the ability to eat innings, post great seasons, and get ground balls. Consistency and innings, two things we need.

If the Braves want to go all in this year, there is a man by the name of Kyle Lohse who is still sitting there who would easily solidify the rotation and would make the Braves odds on favorite in the NL East. However, due to the money he is reportedly asking for, this is a pipe dream. But a pipe dream is better than a nightmare, and I’m tired of waking up with the sweats.

Yes Atlanta, the sky is falling, and no one seems to notice.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Baseball Mike Minor MLB

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