At the beginning of the season, I wrote an article focusing on some keys to pitching for the Braves. Those keys included a reliable closer and veteran pitching to help out the young guys. Now that we are about a month in, what does Braves pitching look like? Well they have a reliable closer that pitches in the 8th inning rather than the 9th and they have two veterans, one has been a killer starter and the other has a right hamstring injury. More so in recent years, teams are relying more on relief pitching than starting pitching, which in turn means you need your relief to be able to get more outs. That is very true this season, as the Braves only have 2 starting pitchers who have made it to the 7th inning, Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler.
Pitching has definitely been better than in years past, in that pitchers are allowing fewer runs than in previous years. Last year the team ERA at this point in the season was 4.31 and up until now in the 2018 season, the team ERA is 3.56.
With the amount of amazing talent in Gwinnett right now, one thing is very evident – there is a lot of talented starting pitching, but the Braves aren’t really in need of starting pitching right now. The starting rotation has 9 quality starts and 8 wins.
As I said in my article at the beginning of the season, pitching is key and with guys like Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard, it seems a waste to leave these guys in the minors when they could be getting some big league experience from the bullpen. Yes, I said bullpen. Both have had a measure of success in the minors and spring training. Soroka and Allard are just too good right now to keep down in the minors. It would be a great help to the team as well as to the young pitchers if they were given the opportunity to pitch one or two innings in relief in order to get them acclimated to the big leagues.
If you think about all the consistent and dependable pitchers in Gwinnett right now, what names come to mind? Soroka, Allard, Fried – these are all starting pitchers. After reevaluating pitching, what the Braves need is more reliable and solid relief pitching to bring up the rear for guys like Sam Freeman, Peter Moylan and Jose Ramirez.
Braves relief pitching has 4 wins in relief and 5 losses in relief. In 3 save opportunities, they have only 1 save. Braves relief pitching has also issued the most walks in all of the majors with 61 and the Marlins are behind them with 45. Additionally, Braves relief pitchers walk the first batter they see more than any other team in the majors. This is the place I see the Braves pitching lacking the most right now. Lacking as in, Braves relief pitching is almost there, but they are missing something and one of the younger guys in Gwinnett could be the missing piece.
After so many good starts for the starting rotation, it is hard to watch the relief come in and ruin a game by allowing run after run after run and lose the game. If they can bring up some of the younger guys the Braves would have an all-around, strong, reliable pitching staff to get the job done no matter who is in the batter’s box. It’s not like switching a starting pitcher to relief pitcher is a new thing or a bad thing. In the majors, it can sometimes be thought as a demotion for a starting pitcher to transition to relief pitching when a player is doing poorly. One recent example of this would be Matt Harvey, but if it’s a pitcher coming from the minors to the majors, this is a great stepping stone for a young pitcher.
According to an AJC article from David O’Brien, he stated that even Alex Anthopoulos has mentioned the possibility of taking some of the young starting pitchers and moving them to the bullpen since there is not enough room in the starting rotation and it’s a good way to break-in young starters. When he was a GM in Toronto this strategy work for him multiple times.
You see more teams do that,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ve explored it. A long time ago, starters would break in as relievers. Great way to get your feet wet and finally transition back to the rotation. It’s something that’s come up internally in our conversations. It’s not something we’re planning on doing right now, but at least it’s been discussed, in light of the market for relievers and the price points right now…Plenty of guys have converted to the bullpen and become great for various reasons. It’s something that we talked about, just because there’s so much (Braves pitching) depth on the mound. It’s something that we can explore.”– AJC, December 13, 2017
One example of this in his time in Toronto is Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez spent a good chunk of his time the first two seasons of his career as a reliever. 54 of his 65 appearances in those two seasons were spent working in relief for Toronto. Then in 2016, he went 15-2 was a 3.00 ERA as a reliable starter. Marcus Stroman is also an example. He made 4 relief appearances before his first start in 2014.
Overall its evident that the bullpen hasn’t been the greatest for Atlanta this year. When they have been bad, they have been really bad all at once. That’s why it might be a good idea to let the young talent get some experience in the big leagues, but to also pick up the slack of the relief pitching. For the most part, my keys to Braves pitching have come to fruition. Now all they need is a little more reliable relief pitching to really round out the team and getting more outs in the later innings, especially when starting pitching is being consistent. By bringing up a few of the younger guys, the Braves could have solid pitching from beginning to end.