A lot has been made of what the Braves did not do with the rotation, whether it was landing a front of the rotation starter or even re-signing Anibal Sanchez, the Braves return lots of starting pitching from last year’s team.
Mike Foltynewicz – Folty broke out last year, finishing with a 2.85 ERA in 183 IP and a 3.9 fWAR. That WAR total was good for 18th in baseball, ahead of noted Aces(TM) Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Marco Gonzales, and Charlie Morton. He’s been shut down, though, since the beginning of Spring Training, so it seems like he could miss some time in the regular season. But we have so much depth right now that he could take a month off and we’d probably be fine.
Kevin Gausman – Gausman would be best described as an inconsistent pitcher from year-to-year pitching in the toughest division in baseball to pitch in before he came to Atlanta. And it was an almost instant transformation going from one of the worst defenses in baseball to one of the best. After 124 IP for Baltimore in which he produced a 4.43 ERA and 1.379 WHIP in 21 starts, his 2.87 ERA and 1.140 WHIP in 10 starts across 59.IP seemed to have proven the Braves right that he would pitch better for us. Overall, he finished 37th in fWAR. He’s made at least 30 starts the last 3 years, so he’s a decent bet to see a full season in the rotation.
Sean Newcomb – Another guy that probably isn’t getting the recognition he deserves as already one of the game’s better starters. He finished 41st in FWAR, and 29th in K/9 last year, and while we’ve been talking about him for a long time since his trade from the Angels, he’s still only 25 years old. He finished last year with a 3.90 ERA and 4.14 FIP. As mentioned, his K rate is one of the best in baseball amongst starters.
But we all know his problem: walks. He was second-worst among qualified starters last year, just behind another hard-throwing young pitcher, Lucas Giolito, and just ahead of Julio Teheran. He did get a little better last year, even, lowering his BB/9 from 5.13 to 4.45. But 3 Braves starters finished in the bottom 13 of qualified starters (Folty being the other one), and the Braves in return fired their pitching coach even after a mostly respectful performance by the staff, so you’d have to think this area will improve staff-wide. Has it worked so far? Hard to tell, but after finished second from the bottom in total walks last year, they are 9th in fewest walks allowed this spring.
Julio Teheran – If anyone says they can guarantee you a financial return or a Julio Teheran prediction, be very leery of that person. Overall, is Teheran is considered a back-end starter making back-end money, then he’s about where you’d like him to be. While it’s not particularly exciting for him to be making another Opening Day start, it’s not like he’s going to be sharing game 1 of a playoff series responsibilities like your other Opening Day starters. He doesn’t appear to be the 3+ WAR starter we thought he would become, but he’s a candidate to get you about a 2 WAR, sub-4 ERA, 175+ innings pitched season this year. But with a young staff, it’s very important that he’s exceptionally durable. He’s made 30 starts six years in a row. And while he’s not the 200+ IP horse he was earlier in his career — and frankly, that might be the reason he’s in the position he’s in — he’s still someone that is a fixture in a rotation of otherwise volatile assets.
Fighting For the Last Spots
Touki Toussaint – Speaking of volatile assets, what do you expect from this 22-year old this year? ZiPS has him pitching 153 innings, a 4.17 ERA, and a 1.6 fWAR. He could do that, he could struggle completely, or he could be lights out. I would bet against him being much better than his ZiPS projection considering his walk rate though: he walked 6.52 BB/9 in his 29 inning debut last year. It’s gotten better in Spring Training this year (2 BB in 14 IPs), but in return, he’s been hit a little harder (12 H in those 14 IPs). We shall see, but it’s very possible Touki is both tantalizing and enigmatic, and he may benefit from some more refinement in the minor leagues at some point.
Kyle Wright – It didn’t seem that he was almost a lock to make the rotation out of Spring Training, but between Folty and Gausman’s injuries and his dazzling performance, it looks like you can pencil him in. He has absolutely looked the part in Spring Training, striking out 16 against two walks in 12 IP. Our #2 prospect, Jim Callis from MLB.com thinks he could be our best starter this year:
Whether or not he gets anywhere close to that, my interest is piqued. He’s hitting 100 MPH, he looks polished, on point, and he has 3 pitches that he can locate for strikes. Not sure if he can handle a full season, but whatever he can do, I’m optimistic that it’ll be enough to win.
Max Fried – And Fried is probably a good example of the front office’s rationale. Whether it’s Fried or Folty or Wright, or whomever, whoever takes the rubber is probably a good bet to be better than just about anyone else the other team throws. And whether Fried pitches out of the pen or he’s needed in the rotation, he can get outs. In 59.2 career innings over the last two years, he has a 3.32 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and 10 K/9, including a 2.94 ERA in 33.2 IP last year. He’s another guy, though, that’s been bitten by walks, as his 4.8 BB/9 won’t cut it either.
Other Potential Difference Makers
Luiz Gohara – Hard to say here right now. Injuries and weight control have been his issue. But he’s a lefty throwing 98 with a good slider, so while Kyle Wright is doing his best to prove me wrong, he was my pick for breakout candidate for 2019. Still only 22, Gohara will undoubtedly benefit from getting reassigned to minor league camp early in Spring Training and getting on a regimen to find some consistency and success. He did all of the right things before Spring Training losing 30+ pounds, so I think we’ll start hearing more about him as he gets some innings under his belt as Gwinnett starts their season.
Bryse Wilson – Wilson has been getting a lot of innings in Spring Training — so far more than any pitcher other than Touki — so the Braves are definitely giving him an opportunity to make an impact. And while he may not crack the roster as a stater, Mark Bowman speculates he might break camp in the pen. I’m not sure, though, that I would rush him a whole lot. He’s only had 18 starts above A ball, and at the age of 21, they shouldn’t be looking to rush him to the majors with how much pitching we currently have. I would expect him to spend the majority of the season in AAA, though he may get a couple-few starts at the big league level.
How the Starts Could Divy Out:
Folty – 27
Gausman – 29
Newcomb – 28
Teheran – 28
Touki – 20
Wright – 20
Fried – 5
Gohara/Wilson – 5
Of course, someone could get injured, or someone like Fried, Gohara, or Wilson could break out and demand more starts. But like I said, I think the Braves probably feel like between the first 7 names on this list, there’s a pretty good bet that they can throw someone out there almost every night that is good enough to win, especially with our offense and defense. You’ve got at least one Cy Young candidate in the rotation, and at least one Rookie of the Year candidate, and everyone else in the rotation other than Teheran has #2 upside. I’m excited.