Feb 16, 2014; Lake Buena Vistas, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor (36) prepares to throw the ball during spring training at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Spring Training Preview: The Starting Rotation

We’ve finally made it into Spring Training, and while the Atlanta Braves may have lost their first game to the Detroit Tigers yesterday, it doesn’t really matter that much.

Today, we’re going to wrap up our Spring Training Preview with a look at the Braves starting rotation.

Before we jump into it all, let’s take a look at who the Atlanta Braves have listed in the rotation at the moment:

  1. Kris Medlen
  2. Mike Minor
  3. Julio Teheran
  4. Brandon Beachy
  5. Alex Wood
  6. David Hale

Freddy Garcia is also a candidate for the starting rotation and threw two perfect innings after starting yesterday’s game. So, the Braves yet again have a really solid group of arms, and with Minor, Teheran and the return of Brandon Beachy, the ceiling is high for them.

We’ll look at each of these players’ numbers in a minute, but we also have to talk about who the Braves are going to be losing this year: Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm.

Both Hudson and Maholm are proven veteran arms who provided some value for last year’s team, but they were also the team’s worst two starting pitchers last season. Minor, Medlen and Teheran each finished the year with a higher WAR and Wood finished with a higher WAR than Maholm and close to Tim Hudson’s despite throwing 75 less innings.

Hudson has long been the anchor for the Atlanta Braves, but with the San Francisco Giants offering him a two-year $23 million dollar contract the Braves (wisely) decided to let him walk. Paul Maholm also had a better offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he’s going to be playing with them this season for $1.5 million.

Here’s a look at the numbers they put up last season for the Atlanta Braves (all statistics thanks to Fangraphs):

Hudson 21 131.1 6.51 2.47 3.97 3.46 3.56 1.7
Maholm 26 153 6.18 2.76 4.41 4.24 3.89 0.7

Those are some solid numbers, and good for middle- or back-of-the-rotation arms, but with the players that will be taking the No. 4 and 5 spots this year, the rotation could be even better.

First we’ll look at the three starters who were integral to last year’s rotation and look to be the top three for this year’s as well: Minor, Teheran and Medlen:

Medlen 31 194 7.19 2.13 3.11 3.42 3.55 2.7
Minor 32 204.2 7.96 2.02 3.21 3.37 3.64 3.4
Teheran 30 185.2 8.24 2.18 3.20 3.69 3.76 2.4

All of those numbers are really good, and while they’re not ace-caliber numbers I believe that both Minor and Teheran can take additional steps forward this season. Medlen has show spurts of ace-like numbers in the past, but I don’t believe he has the stuff that can make him a No. 1 pitcher for extended periods of time. Minor and Teheran meanwhile, do.

There’s a lot to like about each of these pitchers moving forward.

Minor excelled in the second half of 2013, cutting down on his walk and homerun rate. During that period of around 87 innings, he also posted an ERA of 2.16. If he can throw with that control throughout the 2014 season we could see him put up even better numbers and possibly turn into that long awaited “No. 1 arm” that Braves fans have been dying for.

Teheran showed us that he can strike out big league batters at a pretty high rate, and he’s arguably got the best “stuff” in the rotation. However, he needs to figure out how to pitch to lefties as well as he does righties. Check out these splits:

vs. Righties 9.40 .201 .264 .317 .258
vs. Lefties 6.95 .284 .340 .483 .355

Teheran turned right-handed batters into Darwin Barney, but lefties were hitting him like Chase Utley. If he can make some improvements in this area, he could also turn into a No. 1 type of arm.

These guys will be the core of the starting rotation without a doubt, but it will be interesting to see how they fair coming off of the innings they threw last year. Each pitcher threw career-high innings last year and while it’s good to see them throwing well in such a large sample, you don’t want to risk burning them out–especially with the bullpen the Braves have.

The rest of the guys that fill out the rotation are going to be some combination of Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, David Hale and Freddy Garcia. I’d imagine that Brandon Beachy is close to a lock, but really any of the other three pitchers have a shot at cracking the rotation.

Some have argued that we should save Alex Wood at the beginning of the season and then transition him into the rotation as the year goes on and I tend to agree with that. The Braves did that with Kris Medlen a few years ago and it worked well and if the team is planning on limiting Wood to around 160 innings, this is the route they should go.

So the three guys to watch for during Spring Training are Wood, Hale and Garcia. Garcia started the Braves first Spring Training game and did well, and he also pitched well in a short stint with Atlanta last season–those have to be good early signs for him, even if most people think his success has been a bit of a fluke.

I would show the numbers for these guys, but it’s a pretty small sample size and it probably won’t tell you a whole lot about them. Let’s just say that Wood is the best pitcher of the group, Garcia is much worse than what his numbers from last year indicate and we’ll really have to see more of Hale. He’s got potential, but there’s no way he’s a plus 10 K/9 pitcher at this level.

It should be interesting to see.

Regardless of who winds up as the No. 5 guy for the Braves this year, the starting rotation should once again be really good, and it has the potential to be great.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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