Braves Rebuild: Irony Taking Its Toll on Atlanta Early (and Game Thread)

One of the Atlanta Braves’ most troublesome opponents these days isn’t the team from Washington or Philadelphia or New York, but irony.

The Braves, who spent more than a decade using their first-round picks on pitchers and went through a significant rebuild with pitching prospects as primary targets, have a need in their starting rotation. In fact, for the third year in a row, a contending Braves team with pitching prospects coming out its proverbial ears entered the season looking for “that guy,” the frontline starter, the guy who would definitely get the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series.

Now, that sounds like something straight from Alanis Morissette herself.

A more specific deficit made itself apparent over the weekend, though, and it was perfectly encapsulated in a tweet by Twitter user @b_outliers.

Now, this disparity is certainly exacerbated by the fact that two of the starters the Braves have faced – and coincidentally, pitchers that handed the Braves losses – are two of the harder-throwing pitchers in baseball in Jacob deGrom and Tyler Glasnow. Both of those guys have fastballs that sit on an average of 97 miles per hour, as does Mets’ closer Edwin Diaz, and all of them pumped higher than that to strike out a combined 4,793 Braves over the first four games, or something like that.

But what also stretches out that gap is that the Braves don’t currently employ many guys with that type of velocity at the major league level. With the recent DFA of Mike Foltynewicz, Tuesday starter Kyle Wright – largely unproven at the MLB level – has the highest average fastball velocity among Braves’ starters at 95 mph. Of the guys with at least a full season of work in the majors, Max Fried leads the way at 94 mph.

Even in the bullpen, where opponents regularly send out a string of fireballers, the Braves are led in that regard by Chris Martin‘s 96 mph heat. None of the Braves experienced closer options – Will Smith, Mark Melancon or Shane Greene – throw faster than about 93 on average.

Of course, velocity isn’t everything. As Tom Glavine accurately expressed over the weekend, a well-placed 92-mph fastball can be just as effective as its faster counterpart over the long haul. Mike Soroka bore this out on Opening Day, fanning just three batters but tossing six innings of shutout ball while actually lasting longer in the game than deGrom did.

But as deGrom and Glasnow pitched a combined nine innings with just five baserunners, one run and 17 strikeouts against a usually formidable Braves lineup, it was hard not to see the advantages of throwing really, really hard.

The silver lining is that the Braves have some guys coming up through the pipeline that can provide that. Wright’s average fastball doesn’t quite reach what deGrom and Glasnow can throw out there, but he pumped up to 96 on Tuesday. In the minors, Tucker Davidson, Patrick Weigel and Kyle Muller have similar capabilities. In the MLB bullpen, the Braves have lefty AJ Minter who has shown the ability to reach into the upper 90s at times, and Chad Sobotka‘s 96-mph fastball came back to Atlanta when Folty made his exit.

With all those options seemingly nearing the major-league roster or already arriving, maybe we’ll look back in a couple years and find it ridiculous that we ever questioned the pitching in Atlanta. Maybe the right wave just hasn’t come up from Gwinnett yet.

Really, though, it was always a little crazy to expect that the prospects could answer that particular bell once the team turned the corner in 2018. There’s a reason Kevin Gausman was available so cheap at the trade deadline that year, and there’s a reason that Dallas Kuechel was still a free agent in June of last year.

And while there was a time when Cole Hamels was one of the top arms in all of baseball, for 2020, he was always someone that you’d just hope could slot in somewhere behind Soroka and probably Fried. Sure, his arm being completely unhealthy and rendering Hamels incapable of even starting the season in July is a worst-case scenario, but he’s also had an ERA under 3.50 just once since he was traded from the Phillies in 2015.

If the Braves are going to capitalize on this time period when they still have Freddie Freeman at a reasonable $22 million and Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies for $1 million or less each, they can’t fill every rotation hole with rookies and whatever veteran they could get on a bargain. The Braves will have to find a way to get the cash or prospect package together to land a true top-end arm. Not the Cole Hamels type, but the Gerrit Cole type.

For now, though, the two-time defending NL East champions have exactly two reliable starting pitchers. For now, the Braves are looking to finally get back to the NLCS without that signature overpowering postseason arm that the best teams always seem to have. And for now, we’re left to wonder if the team is run by a “Mr. Play It Safe” who’s afraid to fly.

64 thoughts on “Braves Rebuild: Irony Taking Its Toll on Atlanta Early (and Game Thread)”

  1. Braves pitchers other than Soroka have neither good enough stuff to overcome poor control, nor good enough control to overcome poor stuff.

    Not a winning formula. Pretty pitiful actually.

    Also, TINSTAAP.

  2. And in the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I was always skeptical of the “can’t have too much pitching” as a literal approach to the rebuild. But I really don’t think that clouds my take here.

  3. Really surprising to see Chief not optimistic about some of our pitchers. Actually, it may be awesome to get Markakis back. Do you think he can be converted to a starting pitcher?

  4. Agree 100% with this post. I’ve been trying to preach the same points over the last 4 years in my sporadic comments in this bar.

    Some folks on here made some good points about negativity on this blog, and I’m taking that to heart. I’m for sure guilty about using this place to vent and I’ll never be accused of being a Pollyanna, but I think I’ll try to tone down the criticism.

    I wanted them to spend all the money on Cole and was a bit frustrated when I heard the excuses that it was a forgone conclusion that the Braves couldn’t (debatable) or wouldn’t (sadly agree here) spend that kind of dough. But at some point you gotta pay the going rate for talent. Jon Lester pushed a young cubs team over the top. Hell the Yankees bought a WS in 2009 buying the top 2 SPs on the market. Spend the money or trade some prospects.

  5. OK here goes for a positive comment. He’s a favorite punching bag, but Chip is doing a really great job in this interview with Hammer and Young.

    Has anybody read Hanks’s autobiography? Worth my time to pick up?

  6. The Siren returns, welcome back.

    Great to see how hale and hearty Aaron looks. A great example for the rest of us doddering about in those same age brackets. Can’t believe how YOUNG he looks!

    And what is D’Arnaud doing hitting above Swanson and Riley? Terrible at bat.

  7. @16–I highly recommend the Aaron autobiography.
    It thrilled me to see and hear Mr Aaron in the broadcast. He will forever be my hero. And yes, props to Chip for the interview.

  8. IMO, the 1991 Aaron autobiography, “I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story” with Lonnie Wheeler is good & worth reading, but I actually found Howard Bryant’s 2010 bio, “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron,” much more engaging.

  9. From my vantage, a few close calls went against Soroka that inning. He still would have escaped with big league defense.

  10. That was an absurd shift that Freddie beat a minute ago. Might as well start giving him the entire field except for within 30 feet of the 1B/RF line.

  11. This season sucks and is a farce anyway. Will anyone take the 60-game “champion” seriously? Especially with the sixteen playoff teams meaning the winner could very well be some under-.500 club.

  12. He has pitched to his three hitters. Get him out. Belt high and 86 mph isn’t a great formula for success

  13. Man, these guys are annoying! If we were in the same division and had to play them all the time, I would really hate them.

  14. @32.

    Plenty on here would. Not going to matter though, this team is average at best.

  15. Mackenzie Bezos donates 1.7 billion to various charities, a small fraction of her divorce pay out.

    Has anyone told her to call Liberty first? Since Ted left we have searched in vain for a wealthy individual owner. Maybe she’s bored.

  16. Bad pitch call to acuna but he took a couple meatballs before that. Just not seeing if well right now

    We deserved that from Ozzie

  17. Terrible at bat by Acuna in the sixth with two runners on and us trailing. More than anything he looked muddled when to swing. But the Gods were with us!

  18. Does anyone remember BIlly “Digger” Odell? I can’t call O’Day anything but Digger. He dug us into a hole in his outing. At least Soroka’s off the hook.

  19. Wow! If the results from his first couple outings this year hold, A.J. might’ve turned the corner. He’s looked really good.

  20. @32 and @37

    How do you feel about the trash can and Apple Watch cheaters? How many asterisks you handing out?

  21. That was ugly. Camargo pimped a fly ball off the CF wall and Ozuna couldn’t score from second.

  22. Coop, I remember Digger O’Dell the pitcher, although unlike you I don’t remember the character Digger Odell in Life of Riley.

  23. @51,53

    That sequence turned out to be nothing more than darkly amusing because it didn’t cost us any runs, but yeesh…what a mess that was! And it looked like the CF should’ve caught it and whiffed entirely, adding another layer to that Rembrandt.

  24. If Ozzie gets on, we’ll have Freddie facing the guy who broke his wrist a few years ago, so…that’ll be fun.

  25. Man! What a play by Riley to end it! You’re right, Putter (and Eephus, whose response I didn’t see before I posted), he’s looked much better defensively than I thought he was.

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