The Atlanta Braves Suddenly Need A Starter

I think it was Earl Wilson who said baseball is a nervous breakdown, divided into nine innings, or something to that effect. I imagine the Atlanta Braves are starting to relate to that sentiment.

On May 20, the Braves beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 in rather classic Braves style — with a win, a hold and a save from Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. They were 25-15 and stood atop the National League East by a game-and-a-half and appeared to be a serious playoff contender — if not the likely NL East champs. Since then, they’ve gone 9-16, they’re 4.5 games back of the Washington Nationals and they’re fighting to stay in contention for a wild card spot.

That they now need pitching is a little ironic, considering it was a position of strength heading into the season. Ligaments, it seems, are fickle things.

The Braves opened the season with Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson as rotation locks. The club was in the enviable position of being able to choose among Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado to round out the staff (well, technically two of them as Hudson returned from back surgery). The team also had Arodys Vizcaino tearing through their minor league system. It was their pitching depth that allowed them to jettison Derek Lowe to save a few bucks in the off-season.

And then the bell rang.

Jurrjens was throwing a change up and a fastball that were practically indistinguishable and earned himself a trip to the minors. Mike Minor has struggled with consistency and command, possessing a 6.04 ERA (5.14 FIP). Brandon Beachy faces the specter of Dr. James Andrews’ scalpel, which was inside the elbow of Arodys Vizcaino only weeks ago.

Atlanta has gotten a respectable performance from Randall Delgado, but his 4.48 walk rate rarely allows him to pitch past the fifth inning — a problem that Minor also shares. This is a big reason why the Braves have one of the hardest-worked bullpens in baseball.

What they’re left with is Hanson, Hudson, two inconsistent starters in Delgado and Minor and what appears to be the Jurrjens reclamation project. And perhaps that could be enough. Delgado and Minor have shown some recent improvement, and reports are that Jurrjens was back to hitting 90 mph to 91 mph with his fastball in recent outings. If one falters, they could turn to Kris Medlen. They also could look to Julio Teheran. But the Braves rotation is no longer ironclad — and with few other holes on the team to fill (a point I’ll address in a moment) — it might be the best possible place to provide an upgrade.

The Braves have a current payroll in excess of $93 million, they’re already paying Derek Lowe $10 million to not pitch for them. And there’s been no indication that the team intends to take on payroll in a rent-a-player scenario. Still, the Braves could target any one of Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon McCarthy, Matt Garza, Shaun Marcum or even Joe Saunders and see a pretty immediate payoff.

The status of the Braves’ position players makes it difficult to see where other improvements could be made. Assuming good health, first base, second base, third base, catcher and all outfield positions are accounted for. If Freddie Freeman or Chipper Jones became seriously injured, there’s potential for making a trade for a guy like Kevin Youkilis. Given the fragility of Jones and the repeated cortisone injections in Freeman’s finger, that might not be a bad idea.

Of course, they didn’t get the kind of offensive or defensive production they expected from Tyler Pastornicky, who recently returned to the minors. On the season, Braves shortstops have combined for a -8.5 UZR and a .247/.284/.340 slash line, good for only a 68 wRC+.

But in his first 15 games, Andrelton Simmons is making them forget all that. He has hit .333/.393/.529 early on and is playing his signature great defense. But even if Simmons lays an egg, there’s not much in the way of shortstop talent on the market — that is, unless you believe the Chicago Cubs would part with Starlin Castro or the Houston Astros would deal Jed Lowrie.

The Braves have the third-highest team batting WAR at 14.5, wrapped up almost entirely in team defense, which UZR says is the best in baseball. Atlanta’s team pitching WAR is 4.7, or 24th overall. They’re losing arguably their best starting pitcher in Brandon Beachy and are replacing him with a guy who gave up 68 hits and 33 earned runs in 56.1 innings at Triple-A this season. He also struck out only 28 batters. Their No. 2 starter has bone spurs in his ankle. They have two starters who average fewer than six innings per start, which has taxed the bullpen.

The addition of a starting pitcher would go a long way towards repressing the nervous breakdown.




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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


45 Responses to “The Atlanta Braves Suddenly Need A Starter”

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  1. MauerPower says:

    Zack Greinke, I could even see him signing long term there.

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    • JT Grace says:

      The Braves don’t have the finances to sign Greinke long term. I also don’t see them giving up the prospects it takes to get him.

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      • AG3 says:

        I get not having the payroll but not willing to deal prospects is what has gotten them to this point. They see so much potential in their young arms that they didn’t trade any of them for a something more proven to help them in the immediate. This has lead to them to deal with the inconsistencies of their pitching prospects whilst being in the middle of a pennant race. Which puts even more pressure on these young arms to perform which doesn’t really put them in the best possible position to succeed.

        I’m not saying you have to be the southern version of Ruben Amaro, but sometimes you gotta give up the uncertain to get something proven.

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      • Joe c. says:

        The braves have a lot of money coming off of the books after the season, i believe. So i think greinke is a guy they can sign, if they want to.

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      • Josh says:

        They certainly do so, the Braves have a bounty of flexibility coming up this offseason, take a look: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/05/2013-contract-issues-atlanta-braves.html

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      • Michael Barr says:

        They really only have money committed to Uggla next season. They have Heyward and Hanson arbitration eligible along with Venters, Martinez, and Medlen. They have the issue of what to do with McCann, who is likely to cost them quite a sum given the extensions other catchers (of lesser quality) have received, but yeah, the Braves have plenty to spend next year.

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  2. Yah says:

    More likely to see Randy Wolf in a Braves uniform than Zack Greinke…

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  3. David says:

    Dempster seems like too good a fit for them not to make a move. I guess money would be the only thing holding them back.

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  4. yosoyfiesta says:

    Hope so, don’t want the Dumpster coming to Boston and scattering his garbage everywhere.

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    • Oasis says:

      Oh yeah, Boston rocked Dempster in his last start, right? Is there anyone in beantown that knows anything about any sport? Or are you just douchebags with bad haircuts?

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  5. RMD says:

    I have a feeling Teheran, Medlen, and Jurrjens will all see multiple starts in Beachy’s absence. Before the July deadline, they’ll throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.

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  6. nick says:

    I don’t see any reason for the Braves to make a play for a pitcher unless he comes very cheap or they can get an extension worked out beforehand. The team was winning early in the season with even worse pitching than what they have going on now but then the position players started going down (Freeman, Chipper, McCann). They have enough internal options that perhaps the best move is a play for a guy like Youkilis, who can back up both first and third. This would protect against the inevitable Chipper injury because Francisco isn’t cutting it. Todd Redmond deserves a chance too.

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  7. harpago17 says:

    Minor nit, but his name is spelled “Freddie Freeman”, not “Freddy Freeman”. Doesn’t show up in bold with a link as a result.

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  8. ChuckO says:

    I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Braves’ offense, particularly against LHP. Bourn has an .866 OPS against righties, but .723 against lefties. Freeman is .799 against righties, and .618 against lefties. Heyward is .894 against righties, and .571 against lefties. Chipper Jones can break down at any point, given his age and injury history, and he hasn’t hit much at all since returning from his leg injury. When he’s not in there, it’s Prado at third and Diaz in LF, or Francisco at third and Prado in LF. Neither Diaz or Francisco inspires confidence.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      I agree with this, completely. But the problem is – unless they intend to trade one of their regular position players, I don’t see them going out to shop for a player to supplant Heyward, Bourn, Freeman, etc.

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    • TKDC says:

      Diaz is actually a good player if purely used against lefties. See his career .872 OPS against them.

      Also, I’m not sure it would make any difference, but you should really use career splits instead of 2012 to make this point.

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      • ChuckO says:

        Career stats aren’t much better. Against LHP, the OPS for Bourn = .629, Freeman = .691, Heyward = .662.

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  9. JT Grace says:

    I think the biggest need for the Braves is to upgrade their bench. Eric Hinske, Juan Francisco and Jack Wilson are all horrible. Hinske and Wilson are washed up and Francisco is just awful.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing them trade for Dempster but there is no use in doing that if they have no intentions of solidfying the bench. Frank Wren really messed up this offseason by trading for Francisco, not signing a decent 4th OF, and not trading for one of the available shortstops on the market.

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    • dutch says:

      “and not trading for one of the available shortstops on the market.”

      See, they have this guy named Andrelton Simmons. Makes the minimum, plays outstanding defense, slashing .333/.393/.529

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      • JT Grace says:

        I guess you never heard of this rare position called a utility player. They are the primary back-up for your starting shortstop. The Braves entered the season with Pastornicky as the entrenched starting SS with no one else on the roster who could play the position and hit. At that point the Braves didn’t know if either Simmons or Pastornicky could even hit at the MLB level. It was idiotic to go into the season with Wilson as the only back-up. It’s still idiotic.

        By the way, Simmons has been outstanding with the bat so far but let’s give him a couple of months before we start quoting his slash line.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Agree that upgrading their bench should be a priority. But the impact is small, and the number of players is so plentiful that I chose not to list everyone that might be available.

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      • JT Grace says:

        Agreed. However, the player who gets playing time immediately behind Chipper has a bigger than ordinary impact on the team. At the very least one of Hinkse/Francisco/Wilson needs to be upgraded to a guy who can play at the major league level.

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      • Chuck says:

        They have Prado they can scoot in to 3rd….and Hinske could fill in for a couple days in LF, but they’d be better off trying to find another OFer who could start going forward.

        I don’t think Chipper finishes this season on the field, i think an injury shuts him down completely in a month or so. It’s getting rougher and rougher watching him limp around.

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      • bstar says:

        JT G, I like this sentiment. Yes, Prado has been fantastic filling in for Chipper at 3rd(and remarkably athletic playing a few games at 1B also), but when you take Chipper out you have to play a bench player somewhere. Hinske is in a career-worst slump, and that’s not good when you’re 34 years old and putting up a 40 wRC+. Wilson can’t hit his weight(and he’s a skinny guy), and Francisco has been below average both offensively and defensively.

        I like the move to upgrade the bench, or God forbid Frank Wren bites the bullet and goes out and gets a decent 4th outfielder, who will start next year when Prado moves to third.

        I think getting Youkilis would be a coup.

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  10. odbsol says:

    It’s not like their minor leagues is stocked with premium prospects at this point though so a deal probably hinges on them taking over the majority of a contract.

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    • BARVES says:

      Not sure a long-term deal with a Greinke-caliber pitcher makes sense. Entering next season trying to make sense of Greinke, Hanson, Hudson, Beachy, Vizcaino, Minor, Jurrjens, Delgado, Teheran would be overkill.

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  11. TKDC says:

    The place the Braves could improve the most is manager, and it wouldn’t cost much. How much does a circus monkey go for these days?

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  12. Big Jgke says:

    Man, tough break, having a single vacancy in your rotation, Braves Fans. Try having 3 open up in a week.

    -Jays Fans

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    • JT Grace says:

      Yeah, that was just horrible for the Blue Jays. The Braves went through something similar a few years ago when they lost 3 starting pitchers during the season…..but they didn’t lose them in 3 consecutive games….wow!!

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  13. Rocky says:

    The braves should trade for BJ Upton and keep prado at third and bring Chipper off the bench. We need a more reliable starter.

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  14. Brian Snyder says:

    If the Braves grab anyone, it should be a LF or 3B that will play full time next year when Chipper retires (Depending on where they want to put Prado). CF will be an offseason problem. The bench sucks this year, but its not going to be more than a one/two win difference.

    Pitching meanwhile I think could be solved with a unique solution that involves pitching Minor and Delgado 4 or 5 innings each start…and have them start on the same day. It would be something different, but both seem to have problems the 3rd time through the order, so why not just put them in a position to see it twice each. Yes, we would carry 6 starters, and yes, the 5a and 5b starts of Minelgado might not be the most effective..but it would make do with what we have without adding payroll.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I think Delgado is turning it around. Minor’s problem is how much worse he is off the stretch.

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    • TKDC says:

      Or they could even try the 3-3 strategy with all 6 starters. Have 3 pairs of guys go 3ish innings each every 3 games. No between start sessions necessary.

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  15. Phantom Stranger says:

    Jack Wilson is done. I have no idea why he is still taking up a roster spot and taking at-bats from productive players. His trademark flashy defense has also taken a step back as he looks old out there.

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    • bstar says:

      He looked like Ozzie Smith in his prime when Pastornicky was on the roster.

      But yeah, not much use for him now.

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  16. bop says:

    “I think it was Earl Wilson who said baseball is a nervous breakdown, divided into nine innings, or something to that effect.”

    A seriously weak opening statement, that suggests you dont care or are too lazy.

    http://bit.ly/Kjgau6

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    • Michael Barr says:

      I’ll be sure to tell Mr. Wilson you weren’t impressed.

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      • But says:

        bop was referring to the uncertainty of the sentence. “I think” should be Earl Wilson said. If indeed he said it.

        2-20 seconds of research would tell you the answer, therefore you received the line “don’t care, or too lazy.”

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      • Michael Barr says:

        I got that. I was just being facetious. And frankly I did know that Earl Wilson said it, I just didn’t think a softer intro would rattle anyone.

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      • But says:

        “And frankly I did know that Earl Wilson said it”

        That wasn’t a jab(my post). As far as getting “it”, the “it” is we don’t know he said the quote, unless you tell us. I think leads one to believe he may or may not have said it.

        Medlen owner, grrr

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  17. Hey the Braves may have some trouble with their rotation at least they were able to get a win over the Yankees to stop the winning streak the Yankees were on. The Braves have been known over the years for great pitching and I am sure they will get it resolved sooner rather than later….

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  18. A belly-itcher says:

    Hey! Do you guys need me?

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  19. A pitcher says:

    No!! Go sit down. They were calling for ME.

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