After completing six masterful innings on Thursday night, Atlanta Braves right-hander Gavin Floyd saw disaster strike. Floyd tossed a disastrous curveball, told reporters that he heard a “pop”, and was subsequently diagnosed with a fractured elbow (olecranon). There has been no formal announcement of his prognosis for recovery, but various experts (and even semi-experts) have weighed in by suggesting that Floyd is extremely likely to miss the rest of the 2014 season.
As we all should expect in the Twitter age, there was a great deal of panic in Braves Country into the late night hours on Thursday evening and Friday morning. There is a built-in replacement for Floyd waiting in the minor leagues in the form of Alex Wood, leaving the Braves with five starting pitchers who have succeeded in the big leagues before, but in the wake of Aaron Harang posting his worst start of the season earlier in the week, there is a great deal of discomfort. However, there is little reason to be forced into panic mode.
First, Alex Wood is a very good pitcher. The 23-year-old left-hander has posted a 3.26 career ERA over 138 innings in the Major Leagues, and while some of that time was spent in the bullpen, Wood has a very solid 3.30 mark over 18 starts (101 innings). Various arguments have been made about who has the best pure pitching arsenal in Atlanta’s rotation, and while Julio Teheran is generally the consensus “winner”, Wood is prominently featured, and he has the eventual upside of a top-of-the-rotation option.
With that information out there, the focus shifts to the aforementioned Aaron Harang. Yes, Harang was lambasted to the tune of 13 hits and 9 runs (8 earned) over 5 innings in his last outing, but prior to that, the veteran right-hander had allowed 3 earned runs or fewer in seven of his past eight starts. For the season, Harang’s ERA has jumped to 3.83, but his peripherals are quite solid (3.02 FIP, 8.36 K/9, .323 BABIP against), and even if he regresses a bit, his performance would be more than acceptable for a fifth starter in the National League.
The other side to the trepidation of some is the assertion that “pitchers always seem to get hurt”. While this is undeniably true, the Braves are still in good position. The argument against trading Floyd or Harang previous to the injury is that you can never have enough pitching (ding ding), but even with Floyd likely erased from the available pool of options, Atlanta is blessed with a very solid five-man group with David Hale sitting in reserve. Hale, much like Harang, is causing Braves Country to panic based on recent results (he has allowed 8 earned runs in his past 5.1 innings), but he has been outstanding in six career starts (1.83 ERA) and in a pinch, Atlanta would be just fine with Hale (or even Ian Thomas/Gus Schlosser) filling in for a short period of time.
Lastly, this is a team with playoff aspirations. Simply put, Fredi Gonzalez and company would only utilize four (or three, in some cases) starting pitchers in the post-season, and Gavin Floyd figured to be on the outside looking in, especially when remembering the diagnosed “plan” for preserving Alex Wood for September and October. Floyd was set as the fifth option (at best) when factoring in Wood’s availability, and while his loss is devastating on a personal level after he recovered successfully from Tommy John surgery, it isn’t a blow that automatically submarines the team as a whole.
The Atlanta Braves may not win the World Series, or even the National League East, this season, but the culprit for their shortcomings will likely have little to do with losing Gavin Floyd.