Braves Postseason Rotation
Coming into this season the NL East was not supposed to be particularly close. There was projected to be 1 terrible team, 2 mediocre teams, 1 team contending for one of the wild card spots, and 1 team competing for the leagues best record. That is exactly how it has turned out, just not with the teams we had in mind. The Nationals, at least in my opinion, were supposed to be chasing 100 victories, and instead have struggled with injuries and poor hitting. They are currently one spot out of the 2nd wildcard, but are 7 games behind Cincinnati. The Braves, who I assumed would be an above average team, have been flat out great. Atlanta has the best winning percentage in the league, and only second to St. Louis for the NL lead in run differential. They lead the Majors in ERA at 3.20. That isn’t an AL/NL DH fluke either, they also lead in ERA+ at 122. A lot of that is propelled by a dominant bullpen, but still their starters rank 6th in ERA at 3.61. That is not just because they have some great defensive players in Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward. They also rank 6th in starters FIP. The problem, if you can call it a problem, is they have too many quality starting pitchers. They have 6 pitchers currently pitching regularly in the rotation. They do not have a 6 man staff in the traditional sense, a lot of it is necessitated by injuries, but Fredi Gonzalez has sneaked in starts by other guys to get pitchers rest. It is fun to give Gonzalez crap for his many boneheaded decisions, but I think he has handled the staff very well this year. However come playoff time he will only need 4 of these pitchers in the starting rotation and they have all pitched well. It won’t be easy to choose who to go with.Lets breakdown the contenders.
Minor has been the Braves best pitcher throughout the season. He entered the year as somewhat of a question mark. He had been a fine prospect coming up, but up until about the halfway point of 2012 had really struggled as a big leaguer. However after the All Star break last year it all started to come together. His walk rate fell from 10.1% to 4.8%, and his homerun rate fell from 1.86 per 9 to 0.72 per 9. This caused his ERA to drop from 5.97 in the first half to 2.16 in the second half. He has held his improvements into this year. Over the last calender year Minor has the leagues 8th best ERA among qualified pitchers at 2.83. Barring a complete surprise Minor will be the game 1 starter in the playoffs.
Medlen has not been the dynamic pitcher he was last year. In 2012 he had 256 ERA+, the 9th best in history for a pitcher with at least 130 innings. There was no reason to expect that to continue, he did not have the peripherals, nor the track record, for that kind of success. He has still been a solid, well above average pitcher this year. He is getting stronger as the season goes on, and over his last 8 games he has a 45:7 strikeout to walk rate. He is almost certainly in the playoff rotation.
As I write this Teheran is making his first start in a couple of weeks. Gonzalez skipped his last start, to allow his innings to stay in check. That is the one fear in allowing him into the playoff rotation. He has already thrown 30 more innings than last year, and there is always the fear of the Verducci Effect. Nobody knows for sure if a stark increase in a young pitchers total throws allows a greater chance of injury. However nobody knows if it doesn’t either. He has pitched incredibly well this season. Teheran has the best ERA this year among the candidates. I would be shocked if they protected him the way the Nationals protected Strasburg last year. I assume he will either start in the playoffs, or help bolster an already formidable bullpen.
If you would have told me the Braves were going to make the postseason, and had me predict the most likely pitcher to be a playoff starter, it would have been Maholm. He was very solid the previous 2 seasons. In both 2011 and 2012 he had an ERA in the 3.6 range, and last year greatly improved his K:BB ratio, to a very respectable 2.64. 2013 has not been a good one for Maholm though. There have been 87 pitchers this year to throw 140 innings, and Paul’s 1.42 WHIP ranks 80th. His 4.17 FIP ranks 69th. He still has a recent history of being an above average Major League pitcher though. It will be tough to leave him off.
Throughout his brief career Beachy has been borderline elite when he has been able to get to the mound. That is the problem though. He never seems to be healthy for more than a handful of starts. He did not make his first start in 2013 until July 29th, and got shelled in it. His next 4 starts were very effective however. Than the “unthinkable” happened, and he had to rest again. It doesn’t appear serious, just shoulder discomfort, and he is expected to be back in about a week. I don’t think they can trust him games of importance yet, and he is probably the easiest one to exclude. It looks like another lost year for Beachy.
Wood is the darkhorse. He started this off in the minors, before forcing his way up. From there the Braves used him as a reliever for a few months, and he was dominant in that role. As a reliever he allowed a batting line of .219/.268/.281. After Tim Hudson fractured his ankle the Braves decided to test out Wood as a starter. Overall he hasn’t been as effective as a starter as a reliever. His ERA has gone from 2.37 out of the bullpen, to 3.86 starting. However in August he gave Atlanta a glimpse of what he can do. He had 5 August starts, averaging 6 innings an outing, and only allowed 3 total runs. His 0.90 ERA was the 11th lowest a Brave has ever had in a 30 inning month. It is a very small sample, but the results have been very impressive.
So there it is, 6 guys for 4 spots. I highly doubt Fredi Gonzalez gives Beachy a shot, which is perfectly understandable. That still leaves 5 quality pitchers to sift through though. I personally would give the young guys a shot, and go with Minor, Teheran, Medlen, and Wood, but I think when you get a chance at a championship you have to go for it. I would not blame Atlanta if they went another route instead. Anyway they line it up this should be a tough match up for any team come October.
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