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Braves First Half Review: Starting Pitching

Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor (36) pitches in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Brad S:  If there has been one staple to the Braves’ organization, it’s always been the fact that starting pitching has been the fuel to the success the Braves have had in the past.  While Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz are gone, the Braves have been searching for a rotation that can help carry them into October, and this year they have a staff that Frank Wren can be hang his hat on.  It’s a mixed bag of veteran starters (Maholm and Hudson) and young up and coming starters (Teheran, Medlen and Minor)–something that can be a recipe for success.  Guys like Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm have been the veteran guys that teach the young guys the ins and outs of their craft. Hudson has been around the block a few times and I am sure has taught, and shown, that you don’t always have to throw 95 MPH to get guys out. The same hold true for Paul Maholm. While they don’t necessarily have the best stuff like they used to have, they still have the stuff that can get the job done and keep opposing batters guessing. Both guys have shown that hitters in the MLB get themselves out, all you have to do is just throw strikes.  When it comes to the young guys, it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch. Mike Minor for instance has been the clear-cut ace of this staff. He’s cut down on the number of home runs he has given up, his strike out numbers are way up and his walks are way down. If Minor continues to pitch the way he is now, look for the Braves to rely on him later in the year.  On the flip side, if there has been any worse luck than what Kris Medlen has had this year I would certainly like to see it. Medlen has been the victim of some of the fewest run support in the majors and on some starts can’t seem to buy a win. However, being the battler that Medlen is, he still at one point won four starts in a row and one can assume that the second of the season would hopefully be the turn around that he needs.  When you look at the starting rotation, the Braves currently have the fifth best starting rotation in terms of ERA and have allowed the seventh fewest amount of runs in the majors and have a WHIP (that’s walks, hits divided by innings pitched) of 1.25. That’s not too shabby.  However the Braves rotation is only 37-34 this year as a group and the opposing hitters are hitting .258 off of them and have also pitched the fifth most innings in the first half. Not necessarily concerned in win-loss column, but the hitting could be a cause for concern later down the road (hopefully not).  The concern going forward, as Braves fans respectively have going into the second half, is how long can the starting rotation hold up. The Braves have been fortunate enough to where they have only had to use five starters this year, and hopefully that trend continues in the second half.  As for now, I don’t see the Braves needing to go out and get a rotation piece. I’m a firm believer of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and right now I see the Braves’ rotation falling in that category. But needless to say down the line the Braves may shop for another arm, assuming Beachy goes into the bullpen.  Grade:  B+/A-

Harris:  The Braves starters rank fifth in the NL in fWAR, 3rd in FIP, and 2nd in ERA. Overall, run prevention has been a strength of the Atlanta Braves this season and is a big reason why the Braves are in first place. Mike Minor has been the staff ace leading the starters in fWAR, ERA, and FIP. Julio Teheran has come on strong after some early season struggles, and has given Braves fans reason to hope he can be the dominant starter that has been the Braves top prospect for several years. Strangely enough, of the Braves starters those are the only two that have my confidence right now. That’s bizarre for a team that is second in the NL in ERA but Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, and Kris Medlen have all failed to look particularly dominant. Hudson has a significantly lower FIP than ERA for the first time in his career, a puzzling fact that makes determining what can be expected from him in the future tough to predict. Maholm got off to a scorching start in April but has cooled off since then and is constantly talked about as a trade target. Medlen hasn’t come close to last season’s dominant form which is to be expected but his 3.95 FIP is middling and he has struggled as of late. Maholm is constantly talked about as trade bait and rumors abound that Medlen will soon return to the bullpen. Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood are both possibilities to be moved into the rotation in the second half, which speaks to the lack of confidence the Braves have in their starters. However, this piece is evaluating only the starters’ results for the first half of the season. 3rd in FIP and 2nd in ERA is excellent. Therefore I have to give them a B+.  Grade: B+

Brad R: This is going to be an interesting review. At this point, we all know that the Braves aren’t blessed with that elite “ace” that any team would love to have, but the rotation has still been pretty impressive thus far. Mike Minor has led the way as the default “Number 1″ guy, and the results have been very good. Despite a small step back in recent weeks, Minor still leads the staff in WAR (2.2), ERA (3.02), FIP (3.33), strikeout rate (8.48 K/9), and innings pitched (122). I believe that if you polled all of Braves Nation and asked them who they’d want on the mound, the consensus would be Minor, and I would agree. Julio Teheran has exceeded any reasonable expectation, soaring to a 3.35 ERA over 113 innings, and doing it with a team-leading walk rate of 1.83 per 9 innings. He has shown flashes (if not more) of the top-flight prospect he was always billed to be, and he’s been tremendous. The “old guys” haven’t been impressive, but they’ve also not been the downer that many seem to believe they’ve been. Tim Hudson clearly isn’t the ace that he used to be, but with a career low strand rate (68.5% down from almost 74% for his career) and a FIP that is 0.40 runs higher than his ERA, Hudson has been a bit unlucky this season. Even with that, however, he’s 2nd on the staff in WAR (1.4), and I have no worries with putting him on the mound every 5th day. Paul Maholm came out of the gate in a huge way, but has settled in… to exactly what we thought he’d be. I would’ve predicted an ERA around 4.00 (he’s at 3.98) with a “meh” strikeout rate, and he’s done exactly that. Kris Medlen is the only pitcher who has clearly fallen short of expectations this season. After a ridiculous 2nd half of 2012 that saw him post a 0.94 ERA (not a misprint) over 95.1 innings, there was some obvious regression coming, but even that in sample size, his FIP (2.22) and xFIP (2.59) indicated that he may have made a legitimate leap. However, Medlen’s pinpoint control from last year (where he posted a 1.50 BB/9 walk rate) has subsided a bit, and while he’s still very good in this category (2.53 BB/9 this year), he needs to be elite to sustain big-time success. For all of the hand wringing about Medlen, however, he hasn’t been a disaster. He’s been worth more value than Maholm for the season, and even with his recent struggles, he’s been much, much better than a “normal” 4th/5th starter in the National League. We can debate for days about the future of the rotation (and we absolutely will), but when all 5 starters go without a DL stint in the first half and the highest ERA on the staff is 4.02? That’s an unmitigated success. Grade: B

Eric:  I think this is the hardest of the Braves reviews that we have done so far.  On the surface, the rotation situation looks like a strength.   One plus is that everyone has remained healthy.  Our original starting five to start the season has started all of our games except for one Alex Wood spot start.  I have been pleased with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran for the most part, although both have struggled a bit recently.  The other three have been a mixed bag of mediocrity all season long.  Maholm was great out of the gate but has struggled lately.  Hudson had a bad stretch in the middle of the first half, but has otherwise been decent.  Medlen has really just been up and down the entire season and hasn’t come close to being the pitcher he was last year.  I really feel like this staff the way it is will be able to get the Braves to the playoffs, but not much further.  To have World Series aspirations the Braves are going to have to get better production out of the back 3 or shake things up a bit, and that is exactly what I believe is about to happen.  Wood has been sent down to AAA to stretch back out into a starting role and I think he is going to enter the Braves rotation sometime in the next month.  Brandon Beachy is also on his way back to the rotation and is now pain-free.  To make room for these two guys I think the Braves will end up trading Maholm and moving Medlen back to the bullpen to help out down there.  I think a playoff rotation of Minor, Teheran and Beachy would be wonderful, with Huddy to fill in as a 4th starter if we use one and Medlen and Wood helping out in the pen.  Overall I give the starters a first half grade of a B-, because they have been good at times and “meh” at other times but have rarely been bad.  They have had a good half for the most part but unfortunately are trending down in my eyes.  Grade: B-

Mark: I sat down to write this review, and realized this group was also a tough one to give a grade to. As a group, the staff has been by no means dominant, but on the other hand, there really isn’t a lame duck in the group, as everyone has had their moments of greatness this season. Tim Hudson was roughed up a few times early in the first month of the season, and his ERA is still recovering. However, Hudson is an absolute warrior on the mound. In six of his last eight outings, Hudson has gone seven or more innings, which not only means he is giving his team a chance to win, but he is helping keep the bullpen fresh. Coming into the season, there were some who saw Kris Medlen as the new ace of the staff, and a Cy Young contender, which was based on of Medlen’s unbelievable performance after being inserted into the rotation last year. The thing about Medlen last year is that I don’t remember him missing a spot once. Not once. All his pitches were working, and he just toyed with batters. The magic hasn’t quite been there this year for Kris. He actually appears human on the mound, and he only won one of his first eleven starts. Again, Kris had amazing numbers last season, so I’m not at all shocked he has fallen back to earth a bit. Particularly, his BABIP and BB/9 are up, which obviously means a lot more base runners. I surely didn’t expect Kris to repeat last year, but the man hasn’t pitched badly, folks. I do expect him to turn it up a notch in the 2nd half, and perhaps even remind us of last year. Paul Maholm started the year in amazing fashion, allowing no runs over his first three starts. Since then, Maholm has been the least consistent performer in the rotation, ans has had some very ugly starts, all the while throwing in the occasional gem. As I said, very inconsistent. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have been the stars of the rotation in the first half. I felt Minor was well on his way to an All-Star appearance, until he hit a stretch of four rough starts that began in mid-June. He turned it around in his two starts before the break though, and there is no reason not to expect him to be one of our best, if not best starter in the 2nd half. Teheran suffered through three brutal starts to begin the season before turning things around. Since then, he has gone at least 6 innings in 12 of 15 starts, and there has only been couple starts that have been rough, including his last start before the break. Teheran is very young, and still figuring things out. He doesn’t have the luxury of learning on a team that is losing, where there isn’t much pressure. I feel he is handling things very well, and he will only continue to improve as the season goes on. The Braves could be in a lot worse shape rotation-wise. I feel confident each time every one of these guys goes out there, because I know what they are capable of. And remember, Brandon Beachy is set to return soon. Grade: B

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Tim Hudson

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