Atlanta Needs Its Starting Pitching Depth

The Braves made the very first trade of the offseason by sending Derek Lowe — and 2/3 of his $15 million salary — to the Indians. Though the return was nothing to write home about, Lowe represented unnecessary depth. The Braves had plenty of rotation candidates and freeing up $5 million afforded the team more wiggle room to pursue future transactions. But even after dealing from its major strength, the Braves still employ a whopping nine starting pitchers that could conceivably vie for a spot in the rotation.

Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are locks. The latter two spots will feature some combination of Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. The Braves clearly have a number of solid pitchers at their disposal, and have been linked to numerous teams in trade discussions. After all, dealing from a strength to fix a weakness is a solid business practice.

However, in this case, the Braves would be better off recognizing that their depth doesn’t exactly qualify as a surplus. A surplus implies that the Braves don’t have a need for all nine of the aforementioned pitchers. Given the checkered injury histories of some and the likely innings limits imposed on others to avoid falling prey to the Verducci Effect, they probably will need all eight next season.

Teams don’t necessarily plan to use eight pitchers at the season’s outset, but the Braves may find themselves in that very position heading into spring training.

Tim Hudson is 35 years old and two years removed from major surgery. He threw 215 innings last season and 228.2 the year before, but his health and the effects of his age will remain questionable until he retires. Tommy Hanson made just 22 starts last season — none after August 6 — due to shoulder problems. He is still very young but he took a definite step backwards in establishing durability. Jair Jurrjens started 23 games and continued to establish himself as injury-prone; in 2010, he threw 116.1 innings over 20 starts.

Brandon Beachy had a breakout campaign with a gaudy strikeout rate, but he threw just 146 innings across all levels, up slightly from his 135 innings in 2010 and his 76 innings in 2009. Kris Medlen was a year removed from surgery, and he threw a combined 212 innings over 2009-10. Youngsters like Minor, Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino each carry significant playing time risk as well. None seems suited to throw 165+ innings at the major league level next season, and that’s assuming each remains healthy for the long haul.

In 2013-14, the Braves might get 200+ IP seasons from Hanson, Minor, Teheran and Vizcaino, but in 2012 the closest they have to a lock for chomping down those innings is a pitcher that turns 36 years old during the season.

That doesn’t exactly sound like a team that should look to move one or more of these pitchers to shore up a deficiency elsewhere. It sounds more like a team that will allot 10+ starts to seven or eight pitchers over the course of the season, breaking in the youngsters to build up their major league durability and throwing more into the fire when the inevitable injury bug rears its ugly head.

Then there’s the matter that the Braves likely wouldn’t solve their other pressing issues by trading one or more of these starters. The two major issues in Atlanta seem to be replacing Alex Gonzalez at shortstop and importing a young center fielder in case extending, or re-signing Michael Bourn proves too costly for their liking. These are legitimate issues to ponder, but ones that wouldn’t be properly addressed by dealing more from the starting pitching depth. The Braves could try to acquire Asdrubal Cabrera or Alexei Ramirez, talented shortstops signed to team-friendly contracts, but in the process would have to bank on the health and durability of risky pitchers as the SP pool thins.

Using the newly freed-up money from the Lowe deal to send an offer Rafael Furcal‘s way makes more sense than trying to trade Jurrjens and Minor.

On the other hand, the Braves simply might not be able to acquire the players they desire in these hypothetical trades. Teams aren’t going to part with a Lorenzo Cain-type for Jurrjens, and the Braves would have to include multiple prospects to extract an asset valued as highly as a center field prospect. If they were fine operating in this manner and subsequently loading up on Tim Redding-types on minor league deals in case of an emergency, that’s one thing, but the Braves haven’t shown a knack for that type of activity over the last few seasons.

There is a difference between properly utilizing depth and taking advantage of a surplus. While having nine starting pitchers for five spots might seem like a surplus, the extenuating circumstances here suggest the Braves’ best bet is to hold onto everyone.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

39 Responses to “Atlanta Needs Its Starting Pitching Depth”

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  1. FYFs LOBs says:

    How do you not mention Randall Delgado in this article? He was the best pitcher for the Braves down the stretch.

    Agree with most of these points though. I don’t want to trade anything away for a SS when Pastornicky may be ready to contribute as a ~2 WAR player.

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  2. BurleighGrimes says:

    Good article; I tend to agree with your point. It also seems to me that at least a couple of these pitchers–Teheran comes to mind–are simply not yet major league ready, and trading them could look really ugly down the road (especially given Hudson’s eventual retirement, Hanson/Jurrjens enormous injury question marks). A Furcal type still represents an upgrade over Alex Gonzalez’ perpetual sub-.300 OBP, tho he comes with his own injury risk.

    One confusion — maybe I’m misreading the first paragraph, but shouldn’t it say that the Braves sent 1/3 of Lowe’s salary to the Indians rather than 2/3?

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  3. Cliff says:

    Not sure I agree with this. What they want is to maximize their chances of getting into the postseason (now and to a lesser extent in the future). Their offense needs a lot of help and their pitching is fantastic. Does it really maximize their chances of getting to the postseason to keep 8 pitchers when there is a high probability (though of course not certainty) that they will not need all 8 and there is a certainty that they need batters?

    It sounds to me like you are too risk-averse. Yes, trading a pitcher would open up the possibility that injuries could really hurt them, but it could also address their glaring areas of need that are very obviously going to hurt them all season long.

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    • Bronnt says:

      While it makes sense that the Braves might need 9 pitchers, for some combination of reasons, I’m not sure they need 9 above replacement level starting pitchers, which is what each of them should be, at some point (Vizcaino is the only one really questionable in that regard). Almost everyone who actually does 9 pitchers uses at least one replacement level starter, or worse.

      Replacement level may well mean Todd Redmond, a fairly non-prospect starter for AAA Gwinnett who has been a solid AAA starter for three seasons now. And if not him, J.J. Hoover (though they’ve converted him to a relief pitcher, I think it’s a bit premature), and if not him, Erik Cordier.

      Basically, those 9 pitchers don’t represent the entirety of the Braves’ orgainzational depth at pitcher, so if trading one of them can help shore a serious weakness (like the fact that this team had a terrible offense last year) then they really should do it. I agree that they shouldn’t trade ALL of their depth, but for an organization like the Braves, that would take quite a bit of doing.

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  4. Shawn says:

    I agree with the sentiment, as the braves biggest questions will be answered hopefully by a return to form from uggla, heyward, and prado, and a full season of bourn. With that being said, in terms of net value, I still think it may make since to trade jurrjens off for one or two decent offensive young pieces (not talking a wil myers calibur player, maybe a b- and c+ prospect), and then add an arm on a incentive contract or minor league deal, ala rodrigo last year. I think that the the braves may not need to overvalue the quantity of depth that they have, but the quality of depth I think could still be a surplus that could be turned into something more needed longterm.

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    • Prado’s play last year IS his form. He simply cannot cut it as an everyday player, health-wise or in the form of sustained success through the entire season.

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      • Reality says:

        In this world where pre-2011 doesn’t exist, should we assume Prado is coming back from staph infection for life?

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      • Hason Jeyward says:

        That’s a mighty short sighted view. Why do the 590 plate appearances in 2011 outweigh the previous 1500+ appearances? And why would a staph infection, a fluke injury, point to him no longer being healthy enough to play every day?

        That you actually have created an account for this web site and can still make a statement like this is a little baffling to me.

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      • JT Grace says:

        Prado is a career with .293/.340 hitter even with his terrible season last year. Last year he had a staph infection which sapped his strength for the last part of the season. That could have happened to any player. He also was dealing with a move to the OF, which he had never played before.

        I fully expect Prado to be more like his all-star form of 2010 next year.

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  5. Sean ONeill says:

    There’s a couple issues with this article. First, Randall Delgado was omitted as a potential starter, so that brings the tally of potential starters to nine. Second, the Braves don’t necessarily need a shortstop (Tyler Pastornicky could likely fill that role, and may end up doing so), they just seem to prefer a veteran in case Pastornicky is not ready.

    Overall, the point of the article is fair, and given Bourn’s contract status, there’s no reason the Braves can’t hold off until next offseason and then make a move for a new CF.

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    • Sean ONeill says:

      Delgado got added in the hour I waited to actually hit the damn “post” button…

      Still, I think the Braves’ best course is probably just to get a stopgap at SS for a year, then reassess. Of course, there’s nothing stopping them from an in-season trade either.

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  6. Paul says:

    I agree with the take overall, but I’ll just add that in terms of extracting value for any of the pitchers they might deal, the Braves are going to need to be excellent poker players here. Everybody knows their system is essentially void of offensive prospects. To NOT make them overpay for legitimate offensive prospects would be GM malpractice. Later in the offseason or into the season, either they will have the depth and need it to keep them in the mix, or they’ll be sitting there with a major commodity that brings back appropriate value from a team that has a major need.

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    • Dan says:

      This is true, but 2/3 of the teams in baseball could use a legitimately above-replacement level starter with 2-6 remaining year of team control. Given that there are probably less than 5 teams in MLB in a position even remotely similar to the Braves, I would argue that it would be pretty dumb for Wren not to make some other team overpay. The supply of above average cost-contolled pitching is that short.

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  7. Anon21 says:

    No one inside the Braves seems to think Vizcaino has a future in the rotation. So, a little less depth than you’re figuring on, which bolsters the argument that they should stand pat.

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    • Bronnt says:

      I hope they’re wrong. Or at least, I hope that they don’t jump to that conclusion prematurely and start grooming him for a bullpen spot now. He had a solid performance as a starter in 2011, maybe taking a step forward, so I hope he starts off as a starting pitcher at AA or AAA in 2012. They need to know that he’s much more valuable that way.

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    • deadpool says:

      Could you tell me where you’r getting that? He was transitioned to the pen for his MLB call up, but he’s been a starter all the way through. It seems like their at least dedicated to giving him the chance to start, which doesn’t sound like they’ve given up. I’m not trying to disagree so much as I’m curious if I missed something.

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  8. Mike says:

    It is cheaper to sign an extra starter and trade for a bat than it is to sign a bat that has any impact. If they are just worried about eating innings while their better starters make their way through the season, guys like Pineiro, Francis, Capuano, Maholm, Harang, and Garland are all available, likely at a reasonable price.

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    • Shawn says:

      I disagree, with the limited payroll space we have know, most of those guys would cost north of 5 mill for just one season, and we need to allocate our funds to more pressing needs. If we can find someone on a minor league deal, that is a different story. We will not be able to find a quality bat by trading jurrjens, so I would just rather keep him than trade him and spend 6-10 mill on another starter.

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  9. Ron Paul says:

    The discussion on a potential 2013-14 rotation fails to mention B.Beachy. The authors gloss over of his accomplishments in 2010 and 2011 makes it seem that those seasons did not impress. His innings were limited due to an oblique injury. An injury is an injury, but that’s not a re-occurring type of injury from year to year for a pitcher. He was healthy in 2010, and had a lower innings total due to pitching from the bullpen in the first half of 2010 and much of 2009.

    The strikeouts are mentioned as impressive, but since he’s been a SP, he’s been near-dominant for a guy w/ his age/experience. The walks are always down, and the K’s are always high….what’s not to be excited about for his 2013-14 prospects?

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    • Paul says:


      Guy who scouts say is a 5th starter at best goes out and consistently out-performs advanced metrics: wait and see.

      Guy who scouts gush over, say things like, “he just knows how to pitch,” but has a low BABIP: obviously a bum.

      It’s the main weakness of SABR in my opinion, that folks hedge their positions on obvious outliers instead of just deciding for themselves. I do not blame them, though, this is not the stock market where you can just follow the Fed to a 130% year over year gain on a crappy regional coffee company stock.

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      • deadpool says:

        This site has been very complimentary of Beachy. The whole point is he’s only had a very limited pro career and hasn’t stayed healthy through a significant chunk of it. In an article about depth and the ability to count on guys for 27+ starts, its certainly appropriate to say that he hasn’t been impressive.

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      • Paul says:

        deadpool: It is appropriate to say that he cannot be counted on for 27+ starts. It is not appropriate to say that he has not been impressive.

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    • Matthew says:

      If I were another GM trading for an Atlanta Braves pitcher, I’d aim for Beachy. He wouldn’t cost as much as Hanson, Delgado, Teheran, etc, but I think could be just as good. Also, as a Giants fan, I have a clear and strong preference for strikeout pitchers.

      But I do think that the Braves should trade Jurrjens, at least. He’s not a reliable 200inning guy, and 3/4 of teams are looking for a #2 starter like him. I highly doubt Pastornicky will be anything better than a utility infielder. His bat looks okay, but I really, really doubt he’ll be at SS with his declining range. To keep SS open for Pastornicky and to not fill it with an impact player (if they can get one), would be a mistake.

      I don’t think the White Sox need any more SP for the next season, especially considering that they are a year or two off from contending and they’re going younger, but Alexei Ramirez would be perfect for the Braves (or the Giants, or almost any team other than the Rockies). If the Braves could trade Jurrjens and one of their four horsemen to get them, their team would be stronger in 2012 and going forward.

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  10. nsacpi says:

    Where the Braves have a real surplus is in second level pitching. They packaged three second level pitching prospects (Clemens, Abreu, Oberholtzer) along with Schafer to get Bourn. Of course that kind of deal is easier to do mid-season with a team that is out of contention and focusing on rebuilding.

    But that is the kind of deal the Braves have scope to do again. Among their second-tier pitching talent are guys like Martinez, Varvaro, Gearrin, Hoover, Redmond, Chapman, Spruill, Hale, Perez. They also have some good prospects from last year’s draft (Gilmartin, Graham and others) that they can’t trade for now but make it easier to move some of the others. It makes much more sense for the Braves to think in terms of moving two or three or four of these second tier prospects than the higher rated starting pitchers discussed in the article.

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  11. Dekker says:

    Let’s see: 9 viable starting pitchers with fodder for a SS


    8 viable starting pitchers with a better than average SS

    This choice ain’t hard.

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  12. Jick says:

    The Braves won’t send an offer Furcal’s way. He’s dead to them after his agent told the Braves their deal was done a couple of years back and he still managed to resign with the Dodgers.

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  13. Scott says:

    How many times in the history of MLB have a team had 5 guys make 200 innings? Who really cares. Braves have depth. They could trade Arodys, Delgado, Jurrjens, and Medlen and still form a great rotation and still have depth in the minors as good as anyone. You can pick apart any team and say “if they lose 3 or 4 starting pitchers their depth isn’t so good” Bottom line is if the Braves lose 3 starters and are a winning team it’s a testament to how good the rest of the team is, not depth.

    Braves also have a lot of guys who’re ready now or will be ready soon who’re good enough to be solid back of the rotation guys if Catastrophe strikes. You have Gilmartin who’ll be in AA probably by June, Redmond who’s not more than a filler, Christian Martinez could move to the rotation if need be, Erik Cordier, and you have Zeke Spruill in AA who’ll be ready.

    Also in what bizarro world is Jair Jurrjens, a starting pitcher with a career ERA of 3.40 and FIP of 3.88 not worth Lorenzo AAAA Cain?. He’s a very good pitcher, and yes I believe his value is better than his SABR value because for most of his career he’s proven to outpitch his peripherals. Guys like him and Matt Cain exist. Lorenzo cain is a mere 3 months younger than Jair Jurrjens, and has only 181 PAs.

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    • Bronnt says:

      Jurrjens’ value has, of course, bottomed out. His fastball lost a couple of ticks last year. He was hurt to start the season, and he was hurt at the end of it. Health concerns will destroy any value starting pitchers have on the trade market.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Way to actually watch baseball and not just look at numbers. Jurrjens’ velocity drop was on purpose to locate better. His health concerns are legitimate though. However, his “stuff” isn’t.

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    • ecp says:

      Not sure what your reasoning is in deeming Cain a AAAA player. We don’t know that yet. That said, the article doesn’t say that Jurrjens isn’t worth Cain – it says that teams will not part with a Cain-type player for him. There’s a distinct difference between those two statements. It’s just like your Grandma’s antique chifferobe: According to an dealer it may be worth $10,000, but unless you can find somebody to pay you $10,000 that means nothing.

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  14. I disagree about the Braves having veteran MiLB SP depth. They’ve been successful in getting something for Chris Resop and Rodrigo Lopez over the past couple years, and two years ago, they had both John Halama and Tony Armas in their AAA rotation.

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  15. Antonio Bananas says:

    Think about this though. Young players take a while to develop. They have a track record of developing starting pitchers (and pitchers in general). Don’t forget, this young staff could also have Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison. It’s not like they couldn’t trade Jurrjens and even one of the young guys (Medlen/Minor/Beachy/Delgado/Teheran/Vizcaino) and it’d be pretty likely they could replace them within 2 years.

    Think about this too, not many teams have a better track record at letting guys go before they turn to shit, or making other teams think a player is significantly better than they really are. So if Atlanta trades a player, it’s likely because they see a flaw in them.

    I get what you’re saying, but Atlanta’s pitching depth isn’t a singular instance and it’s not like they don’t know what they’re doing. They could trade a guy like Jurrjens, get needed help offensively (I think they’ll be much better in 2012 anyways), Jurrjens declines, and they don’t miss him because the other guys step in and within 2 years we’re talking about “X in Atlanta’s farm is another great arm they have”.

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