The Braves have already been forced to dip into their starting pitching reserves once this season, thanks to the season ending elbow injury suffered by Kris Medlen. Mike Minor has performed extremely well in his stead, striking out 26 in 23 innings and posting a 3.91 ERA supported by a fantastic 2.45 FIP. The Braves will dip into those reserves again for at least one start this Friday, as Derek Lowe will be shelved with elbow pain. Atlanta will start Kenshin Kawakami in his place, showing off their impressive starting pitching depth.
Kawakami has an 8-21 record with Atlanta, but that belies how well he has really pitched. In nearly 240 innings over the past two seasons, Kawakami has struck out six batters per nine innings while only walking three. Combined with a below average HR/9 rate, that has led to a 4.20 FIP and a 4.17 ERA, both numbers right around the league average. That’s partially due to a low HR/FB rate, but his xFIP of 4.57 still suggests that Kawakami would provide a good deal over a replacement starter were that HR/FB rate to regress. ZiPS projects that said regression will be met by a decline in walk rate, leading to a 4.32 ERA and 4.11 FIP, both numbers which are excellent to receive out of a seventh starter.
The Braves really shouldn’t expect any drop off with Kawakami in the rotation over Lowe. Although Lowe is probably a better true talent pitcher – Lowe has a 3.87 projected FIP – Kawakami’s career and projected numbers are both right in line if not better than Lowe’s 2010 so far. Lowe has from a highly inflated HR/FB rate and has a 4.53 ERA and 4.29 FIP against a 3.94 xFIP.
One could probably make an argument that Kawakami could’ve been in the Braves starting rotation the whole year, but their embarrassment of riches hasn’t made it necessary. To be able to replace Derek Lowe with a league average pitcher can only be described as luxury. The fact that this is possible after already replacing one injured starter with a mid-rotation quality pitcher is a testament to the fantastic job the Braves have done of acquiring pitching talent.