Keys to Pitching for the Braves in 2018

Keys to Pitching for the Braves in 2018

The Braves’ success this season lies within the pitching. If they want to win, they will need to make some major adjustments with the type of pitchers that grace the mound. The minors may be riddled with pitchers, but not all are ready for the big leagues. The Braves need to execute two key changes to the rotation and bullpen to have a chance at a World Series ring.

Leadership in Starting Pitching

If you ask anyone ‘who is the National’s ace?’ they will probably say Max Scherzer. If you ask someone ‘who is the Dodger’s ace?’ most likely they will say Clayton Kershaw. When you ask ‘who’s the ace for the Braves?’…crickets. The Braves don’t have one guy that they can always count on in the rotation to be reliable. At one point in time Julio Teheran was that guy, but he has had so many good and bad years, that he can’t be the leadership needed. Yet the Braves have continued to start him on opening day the last 2 years and probably will again this year. The Braves need a pitcher that can lead, someone that they know, no matter who they are facing, will get the job done.

I would love to see the Braves go and get some big name to take charge of the rotation like Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn. But unfortunately I don’t think that will happen this year, since new GM, Alex Anthopoulos seems to be concerned with harvesting those in the minors and rightfully so with such a good farm system, but they are young. The Braves need someone that can rally the rotation and encourage others; someone who is seasoned and not afraid to tell the younger pitchers that they need to work on something.

Julio and Folty are the veterans but they don’t have the success themselves to be able to encourage others. Last season Folty had one of his better seasons ending with a 4.79 ERA with 143 strikeouts across 154 innings. His 2017 season started out great, but the rest of the season was up and down – consistency is his issue. Julio’s problem is his command. He ended last season with a 4.49 ERA with 151 strikeouts across 188.1 innings. So unfortunately because of these two pitcher’s inconsistent pasts, they can’t lead the rotation. That leaves the rotation meandering with no guide and we’ve seen what that gets us.

 

Flicker – Arturo Pardavila III

In 2017, the Cleveland Indians season was not as eventful as the year before, but still an overall good year. One pitcher carried the same drive from the World Series throughout the 2017 season – Corey Kluber. He was the star of the rotation and was doing fairly well until he got hurt on May 2, 2017 and was on the DL for almost a month. During his time away from the mound there was a significate effect on the Indians. While Kluber was on the DL, the Indians had a .520 winning percentage. For the entire season, the Indians had a .650 winning percentage. When he returned on June 1, 2017, he threw a complete game shutout. Kluber’s success throughout the season was a beacon of hope and an encouragement to the rest of the team and when he got hurt the rotation faltered. At the end of the season, during the team’s 22 game winning streak, Kluber won all 4 of the starts he had during that time period. This is the type of leadership that the Braves need, someone the young pitchers can look to when they don’t know what to do; someone who is seasoned and who can take command. Kluber is more than just a great pitcher, he is an example to the rest of the rotation and Braves pitching needs a guide like Kluber to direct them toward a championship.

In an interview with the NY Times, Indian’s pitching coach Mike Callaway said after the 22 game win streak,

We talk about it on the bench. You used to watch Michael Jordan play when he was the best, and you looked up and you were like: ‘He’s got 40 points? I didn’t even realize that.’ The other night, Kluber’s got 12 strikeouts and it didn’t even seem like that, just because he’s so comfortable out there.”

Reliable Closer

Jim Johnson as the Braves “closer” was anything but reliable. GM Alex Anthopoulos’ first act as new GM was to trade him away. I like him already. How many of you found yourself screaming at the TV like I was every time Snitker would put him in and he would blow yet another save? In 56.2 innings pitched Jim Johnson had 9 blown saves, the most in all of the National league, only 1 behind Roberto Osuna with 10 in the American league. In August of 2017, Johnson had a 16.71 ERA in 10 game appearances. It’s time for the Braves to get someone who knows what they are doing. The Braves haven’t had a reliable, consistent, lights-out closer since Craig Kimbrel. So who’s the right fit for the job?

 

A.J. Minter | Fox Screenshot

When Johnson wasn’t failing as a closer last season, Arody’s Vizcaino stepped up and was the Braves only real closer-like pitcher in 2017 with a 2.83 ERA in 62 games with 14 saves in 57.1 innings pitched and 64 strikeouts. Vizcaino had a pretty decent season but Minter certainly made an impact in his debut to the majors in August. Right now AJ Minter seems to be making a push to earn his spot as the Braves closing man. At the end of 2017, Minter pitched 16 games in the majors with a 3.00 ERA in 15.0 innings pitched and 26 strikeouts only allowing 2 walks and 1 home run. He is definitely someone that you cannot overlook when you think about the closer position. If he can prove that he is better than Vizcaino, he has a good shot of calling that position his own.

In an interview with the AJC, Minter said that his biggest concern this season is just staying healthy. Catcher, Tyler Flower commented on the young left-hander saying that:

“He’s good. He’s going to be extremely good for as long as he can stay healthy…The guy’s got a two-pitch mix and just dominates people. That’s impressive.”

The talent for the closer position is definitely there with Minter’s Kimbrel-like numbers he put up in August 2017. With a little more time and experience we could have another star closer on our hands with Minter, he’s just going to have to fight Vizicano for it first. Who will earn the closer spot?

Despite the amount of young, inexperienced talent that is expected to come up this year, the Braves have the right ingredients for the perfect mix of a winning ball club.  If the Braves can play their cards right across these aspects of the roster, mixed with the new GM’s enthusiasm about the team, it’s going to be a good year.

 

7 Comments

I’m also of the belief that it’s hugely important to have a little veteran leadership in a young rotation. Ideally that guy is also your team’s top starter, but it doesn’t appear as if it’ll shape up that way for the Braves this season. Still, I liked the McCarthy addition simply because he has a little “been there and done that” to him; and he’ll be a guy the younger guys can maybe ask some things. Julio has always seemed too young to be that guy- at least to me, anyway.

Arrieta has the appearance of a risky play. I’m hoping the Phils go that route this offseason and it blows up in their face. Tie up some of that money of theirs’. Lol. Lynn will be sneaky good, but I think there will be teams that want him more- which is cool. I’m more concerned about the Braves offensively this year. That’s going to be an area that’s going to need to be spent on.

The bullpen should be interesting. There are a LOT of arms out there vying for spots. Ultimately I think that’ll be the best spot for Folty too, in an Andrew Miller type role. Minter should probably be the closer though, and I’ll predict at some point Viz gets dealt this season.

Why do we have to have just one closer? I’d say Minter closing twice a week and Viz three times a week would be pretty nice to have.

I suppose that’s a fair question, Roger. I prefer to see guys with clearly defined roles though during the season. So I always refer to it as “the” closer.

I’m not sure I agree with this requirement for TOR leadership. In 1990, the Braves lost 97 games. Who were the starters? Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, and Leibrandt. In 1991, the Braves won 94 games. Who were the starters? Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, and Leibrandt. What’s the difference? 1) bullpen and 2) run scoring. Starters pitch better when they know the bullpen won’t fail them and they know they’ll get some support. TOR pitchers will probably pitch better anyway but none of the Braves were yet TOR pitchers until after 1991 (then, of course, they all were). What was the most significant difference in 1991? Not rookies. The difference was bringing in veteran producers for the lineup (Pendleton, Nixon, Bream and dropped Murph) and veterans to lock down the bullpen (Berenguer and Pena and giving Stanton a large role – Stanton was your biggest young, new producer). We have a very similar scenario here. If we sign Moustakas for one-two years, bring up Acuna, and have Albies produce for a whole season (having already dropped Kemp), the lineup will produce enough runs. If we were to sign Greg Holland (note: I am not really in favor of this) and give prime set up roles to Viz and Minter, then this team would be ready to rock and roll. Teheran and Folty are about the same experience level as Glavine and Smoltz and McCarthey has Leibrandt potential. Even if Teheran and Folty don’t have the same potential as Glavine and Smoltz, having one or two of the kids step up – Gohara and Fried, maybe – could get this team into playoff territory. My actual hope is that the bullpen can be really good without adding a Holland (which I think would be a bad investment). They could maybe look at bringing in someone like Britton at the trade deadline. The big key is bringing in some sort of power hitter like Moustakas to cover until Riley and Jackson are ready. Corey Dickerson or Carlos Gomez would have been really nice pickups, too, but that’s hindsight.

Roger..I’ll NEVER forget that 91 season! Dude, while I followed most sports growing up (I was a senior in 1990 growing up in Arkansas), most of my friends were Cardinals fans (like most people who become Braves fans who lived outside Atlanta, The Braves on WTBS were how I first started watching The Braves. In 1982, when I was 10 years old, the cable options were VERY LIMITED in rural Arkansas. I had one of those 2-13 push button tvs back then, lol. WTBS and USA Network were 2 of the few cable channels I remember being available back then). The Braves SUCKED ASS from 1985-1990 (my teen years). Yet I watched most games on WTBS and studied the box scores in The USA Today..as well as read up on The Braves in The Sporting News and Baseball America (BA really did a bang up job on The Minors/College Baseball coverage back then).

That 91 team WOULD NOT have been possible….WITHOUT Schuerholtz upgrading the offense, defense and bullpen during The 1990 Offseason! I see A NUMBER of potential parallels between The 1991 and upcoming 2019 Season (If a number of things happen during The 2018 Season…just like how a number of events in The 1990 Season laid the groundwork for it to make sense for Schuerholtz to go out and INVEST in those upgrades).

Sure, it’s well-known that I’ve been pushing for The Braves to go out and sign the expensive trio of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Craig Kimbrel. However…..those moves would ONLY MAKE SENSE…if a number of progressions happen during The 2018 Season. Without those progressions….AA would be smart to give The Rebuild one more season (while making a couple of ‘smaller scaled improvements’ during The 2018 Free Agent Offseason).

However, given THE WEALTH of talent available after The 2018 Season (vs. The GARBAGE that was available this past offseason AND after The 2019 Season)…I’m hoping that the following happens during The 2018 Season for The Braves:

1. Albies and Acuna show that they have the potential to be The Braves version of Altuve and Correa at the top of the batting order. Their combo of speed, OBP, decent power, average, etc…..would be PERFECT table setters (ESPECIALLY given that NEITHER would be eligible for salary arbitration until after The 2020 Season, assuming Acuna gets called up a couple of weeks after Opening Day…vs The Braves waiting until mid-June to call him up).

2. AJ Minter stays healthy/shows that his ‘cup of coffee’ 15 inning showing at the end of 2017 was not a mirage!

3. Mike Soraka, Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright continue to excel in The Minors AND get their ‘cups of coffee’ starts the final two months of The 2018 Season.

4. Gohara shows during 2018 that he’s capable of being THE ACE for our soon to be HELLA YOUNG Starting Rotation…for years to come!

5. A number of bullpen pieces show that they can be depend on to be productive/durable. The Braves have a lot of cheap, cost controlled, decent upside potential arms in Spring Training currently. Freeman, Winkler, Gomez, Ravin and Ramirez all have potential to be low cost/effective bullpen pieces (not to mention the likes of Clouse, Watts, Pike and Burrows in The Minors..who are one or two years away from being cheap/potentially effective replacements).

6. Max Fried health/control will determine if he will be a mid-rotation stud going into 2019..OR…if he should be relegated to fill an Andrew Miller-like role in The Bullpen.

7. Sean Newcomb settling down with his control and showing that he can be counted on to be a mid-rotation STUD. While Newcomb probably wont be a long term member of The Rotation when all is sad and down in a few years (let’s face it, there are at least 6-7 prospects who could EASILY pass Newcomb)….it is important for 2019 that Newcomb is effective/regularly pitches 6-7 innings each night (with an improved offense/defense/bullpen in 2019…Newcomb wont have to pitch ‘shutout ball’ every time out).

Everyone seems to think that Atlanta has ‘no chance’ to sign Machado, Harper and Kimbrel (and that there is ‘no way’ that The Braves payroll can absorb all three players…whether in 2019 and/or in future year’s payrolls). However, I’ve done the math/projections..and I FIRMLY FEEL that it is MORE THAN POSSIBLE to sign all three AND fit them into future payrolls.

HOWEVER, as I’ve stated before, for it to make economic sense…it is ESSENTIAL that a number of our young players/prospects RISE UP and provide production that exceeds their minimum wage salaries. That’s why I listed all 7 of those things NEEDING to happen. That’s…how you fit the salaries of Machado, Harper AND Kimbrel into future payrolls for The Braves!

Thanks for the article.
In regards to jake, if he would only sign a 5 year deal to his age 37 season would you? Or would you want to pay something like 30 million a year for two years. Or some version of a higher annual salary for two years for Jake?

Would McCarthy be the equivalent of a senior no1 type?

With the free agents next year as far as closers go—would you want to spend on this years class or wait till next year? Or just wait and see what the Braves have in minter?

If folty can develop his change enough…could he develop into a TOR arm?

Roger and King….here’s a quote from AA to mlb.com yesterday:

“This is a really critical year for us to find out with so much young talent what we will do going forward and how aggressive we may be in free agency,” Anthopoulos said. “The ideal scenario is that these guys emerge, they all take these jobs, run with them and become a part of our core.”

ISN’T THIS WHAT I’VE BEEN EXACTLY SAYING ALL WINTER? I know that you guys are tired of seeing me post the exact same stuff OVER AND OVER again…..however my passion behind posting OVER AND OVER AGAIN…is that I recognize that opportunities like what The Braves have RIGHT NOW….DO NOT come very often! We are HELLA LOADED with talent…ESPECIALLY young, cheap, cost controlled, potentially high ceiling Starting Pitching talent (AS WELL as some very high upside position player prospects in Acuna and Albies…..with Pache, Riley and Jackson providing some hope as well).

That PLETHORA OF TALENT..along with The Payroll Flexibility that AA will have going into The 2018 Free Agent Offseason….is like THE PERFECT SCENARIO to potentially build A LONG TERM POWERHOUSE!

I know that many of you want ‘some quickfixes’ (especially after the losing of the past 4 seasons). All I ask, is that you guys ‘try’ and take some pleasure in watching these young guys GROW/DEVELOP at THE MLB Level during 2018.

I’ve been right A NUMBER OF TIMES this winter (from NOT having to give up prospects when trading Kemp…to NOT losing the likes of DP, TD, Burrows or Pike during The Rule 5 Draft). I’m RIGHT when it comes to the approach (not blowing our WAD on these BS Free Agents) for the upcoming season.

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