While we are just a few days away from Opening Day, the Atlanta Braves starting rotation is already in midseason form.
No, not in terms of stats or other intangibles (although, the past week or so has been exceptional down in Florida, and is it just me, or does there seem to be way too many spring training games? No wonder everyone keeps dropping off), but in terms of how the starting rotation is constructed, and who is included.
Usually a middle-to-end of the year problem, the Braves, as we all know too well, have seen two of their most potent arms go down (Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy), and both will require Tommy John Surgery for the second time in their respective careers. The injuries leave the Atlanta pitching staff, while still a very talented and potent one, shorthanded and in need of some help, which casts a dark and unfortunate cloud over what arguably *was* the strongest position of the team a month ago.
And, while the rotation might seem taped and bandaged together as opposed to stitched, this is still a rotation that compete with anyone in the majors, and even the 3 or 4 guy in Atlanta could be a 2 or potential ace for a team like Houston or San Diego.
Lets start with the Opening Day starter, and as of now, the ace of one of the youngest starting rotations in the game – Julio Teheran. Teheran, who went 14-8 last year, was second on the team in starter’s ERA in 2013 with a mark of 3.20. Teheran was highly guarded by the Braves, and wouldn’t allow him to even be discussed in past trade talks, and it looks to have been a smart move. He has emerged over the past couple of years as a potential star, and with all of the injuries noted above (as unfortunate as they are), this is potentially a great cliff for Teheran to leap off of, and show that he is for real. Teheran boasts a fastball/curveball/change up in his arsenal, and uses all three with great success – any one of them can send a guy back to the dugout.
ZiPS Projections: 14-9, 3.39 ERA, 211.2 IP, 2.6 WAR, .285 BABIP
Frank Wren proves time and time again that he might be a little more than human. The pickup of Ervin Santana is nothing short of genius, and Santana will begin the season penciled into the #2 spot in the rotation. Santana went 9-10 in 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals last year, but nearly matched Teheran’s ERA with a 3.24 posting. Santana relies on his slider and four-seam fastball, but has had a plethora of success with them, and should do him just fine in his first year pitching in the National League. Best projections have him making his first start on or around April 9th.
ZiPS Projections: 10-10, 4.19 ERA, 185.7 IP, 1.7 WAR, .294 BAPIP
Getting a well deserved chance in the rotation to begin the year will be UGA product Alex Wood. Wood got the call-up last year straight from AA-Mississippi due to Jonny Venters going down to Tommy John surgery, and put up some solid numbers for a midyear guy. In 33 appearences, 11 of those starts, Wood went 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 77.2 innings. Wood, a Tommy John “victim” himself, works in the low-90′s when he is getting the call to start, and last year showed incredible flexibility going from the ‘pen, to the rotation, and back to the ‘pen. Unfortunately, having said that, Wood seems to be the prime candidate to move out of the rotation when the likes of Mike Minor returns healthy.
ZiPS Projections: 7-4, 3.29 ERA, 112.o IP, 1.4 WAR, .306 BABIP
The newest Braves acquisition will look to make an immediate impact on the rotation, much like Santana. The Braves received Aaron Harang just hours after 1.) dropping Mr. Make Pitch (Freddy Garcia) and 2.) after the Cleveland Indians dropped Harang. Harang, a 12 year MLB veteran, split last season between both leagues, pitching for Seattle to begin the year, and making four starts for the Mets. All in all, Harang went 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA, and the move to swap the right handed veterans left many scratching their heads. Although, Harang still surpasses 90 with his fastball (unlike Garcia), but he is a fly ball pitcher – which shouldn’t cause too much trouble in the pretty even (although, it really leans to a pitcher-friendly) ballpark at the Ted. From the sound of it, after looking into the move a little more, it seems that Harang is on the staff for veteran leadership, something lost with Tim Hudson (as well, really, as with Brian McCann). If Harang does find himself into a sticky situation, the bullpen is more than capable to limit damage, and withe the offense the Braves boast, coming back from four or five runs is never out of the question.
ZiPS Projections: 6-10, 4.92 ERA, 135.3 IP, 0.5 WAR, .309 BABPIP
Finally, rounding out the rotation (at least, what will most likely be the rotation come the first five starts of the year), David Hale will look to start the year with a couple of spot-starts, although is probably right up there with Wood for a candidate to head to the bullpen if someone gets healthy, or a move is made. Hale, like seemingly every young Atlanta star-pitching prospect, made quite the impression after his first start, a no-decision in a Braves 4-3 loss to the Padres, in which he went 5 scoreless innings with 9 K’s and just four hits. (His next start? His only win, but a six-strikeout performance in a win over the Phillies). Hale is one of the few guys in the rotation, if not the entire staff, that lives off his off-speed stuff (slider and change-up) as opposed to his fastball or curveball. Hale is a promising talent in an already deep and insanely good staff.
ZiPS Projections: 5-8, 5.08 ERA, 114 IP, -1.0 WAR, .302 BABPIP
While the five players above are scheduled to start the season on the rotation, we will see a carousel of pitchers throughout the year, and very early on, as last year’s “ace” Mike Minor is expected to rejoin the staff around late April. Minor, who is one of those homegrown farmhands by the Braves, went 13-9 in his fourth season, with a 3.21 ERA, his lowest mark so far in his professional career. Minor, a four-pitch pitcher, came into the organization with high praise, and has yet to disappoint. Hopefully his 15-day DL stint for a shoulder ailment does no harm, and he doesn’t skip a beat when he comes back into the rotation.
ZiPS Projections: 13-8, 3.41 ERA, 191 IP, 2.8 WAR, .291 BABIP
Gavin Floyd was brought in at the beginning of the offseason, and the addition has been met with some excitement and some worry. Floyd, who has spent the past 7 seasons on the South-Side of Chicago with the White Sox, had a rough year last year, making only five starts and going 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in just 24.1 innings pitched. Floyd is a middle to end of the rotation guy, and while many thought and hoped he could step up after the Medlen and Beachy injuries, he isn’t the type of guy who will step into the #1 or #2 spot in the rotation. He also will start the season on the 15 day DL as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but if he struggles coming back, I don’t doubt for a moment that Fredi G. will put a young arm in there for him.
ZiPS Projections: 8-6, 3.77 ERA, 116.1 IP, 1.3 WAR, .293 BABIP
While the injuries to Medlen and Beachy certainly hurt, it won’t spell the end of things for the Braves. Remember – the Braves draft really good arms, and are probably the best at developing them. The system as a whole is deep in pitching, and this year will show that off on the biggest stage.