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Atlanta Braves Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions

Posted By Brett Talley On March 15, 2013 @ 10:15 am In Depth Chart Discussions | 4 Comments

Heading into 2012 the Atlanta Braves were considered by many to have some of the best depth in their rotation. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson were the veterans atop the staff, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy were the young guns ready for the rotation, and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were highly thought of prospects. But the rotation looks quite a bit different heading into 2013. Hanson and Delgado are gone. Beachy is out until the summer with an injury. Minor had an up and down year, and Teheran had an ERA over 5.00 in 26 starts at AAA.

But things are not as bad as that last paragraph would make them seem.

Steady ol’ Hudson is still there with his impeccable control and elite groundball rate, even if he may not be able to give Atlanta 30 starts. And despite Minor’s struggles, he finished the year strong with a 2.16 ERA and 15.4% K%-BB% in his final 87.1 innings. Hudson is currently the 43rd pitcher being taken on average according to ESPN live draft results going for a price of about $4. Minor is going 50th for either $2 or $3. The two should probably switch places in your personal rankings with Minor maybe even being worth something more like $6 or $7. Those values are presumably for ESPN’s standard ten team leagues ($260 budget), so adjust those values as needed for your particular league’s depth and budget.

The biggest difference between the Braves rotation at the beginning of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 is the emergence of Kris Medlen. As you’re undoubtedly aware, Medlen, who began 2012 in the ‘pen, was nothing short of brilliant in his 12 starts from the end of July through the end of the season. In the 83.2 innings he pitched in those 12 starts, he posted the following numbers which are nothing short of silly:

ERA

WHIP

K/BB

ISO Allowed

0.97

0.81

8.4

.074

Quite obviously, he would have led the league in each category had he maintained that pace for enough innings to qualify. But we all know that he would not have maintained that pace and will not maintain it going forward. Had he had enough innings to qualify, he also would have had the highest strand rate of any starter and one of the lowest BABIPs. There’s undoubtedly some regression coming. But the question is how much.

There are two main areas where Medlen might be expected to regress: the aforementioned strand rate and groundball rate. As for the strand rate, it’s coming down from 85%. How much will depend a lot on how hard he gets hit. The number of home runs and extra base hits always play a big part in how many runners a pitcher can strand. For Medlen, the number of extra base hits he’ll give up will be quite dependent on how much his ground ball rate declines. At 53.4% last year, Medlen was in pretty elite territory. But in his previous 175-ish major league innings, his ground ball rate was closer to 35%. With two very different samples that are both quite small, it’s hard to accurately predict where his ground ball rate lands and thus where the strand rate and ERA land. An ERA anywhere from 3.00-3.70 wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation.

What aren’t going anywhere are Medlen’s strikeout and walk skills. He has a career swinging strike rate of 9.6% which backs up his above average strikeout rate of 22%. And Medlen displayed great control throughout the minors, so you can expect him to continue to have one of the best walk rates in the league, something below 6%.

Paul Sporer rightly pointed out in his recently released SP Guide that Medlen faced some very weak competition in those 12 starts. That’s another reason you can expect regression. But despite that weak competition he still posted a SIERA and xFIP under 3.00. With a strikeout-to-walk ratio that is likely to be around or above 4.00, Medlen clearly has skill. And while some of the inflated numbers were surely a result of the competition, I find myself leaning towards the most recent sample being a sign of somewhat sustainable improvement. I think the groundball rate can stay closer to elite rather than fall back closer to average. And I think all three of the most important run prevention skills, strikeouts, walks, and weak contact, are all above average for Medlen. As the 23rd pitcher going for an average cost of about $12, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

At the back end of the rotation, the Braves have Paul Maholm and Teheran slated to be their #4 and #5 starters.

Maholm was sneaky good last year as he posted a sub-4.00 ERA for the second year in a row and was owned in just 11.5% of ESPN leagues at season’s end. His walk rate has been solid at just under 7% in the last two seasons, so he can help in WHIP as well. There’s probably some BABIP regression given that he posted the lowest BABIP of his career last year, but he still has a good shot to break 1.30 in WHIP. The strikeouts won’t be there, but Maholm is still a nice option later in drafts for those in deeper mixed leagues or NL-Only leagues.

Teheran’s fantasy viability is a bit iffier. After handling AAA quite well in 2011, Teheran really struggled last year. His velocity and movement were down, and his strikeout rate dropped in a big way. FanGraphs’ own JD Sussman says the culprit was unnecessary tinkering with Teheran’s mechanics. Maybe the mechanical issues will be fixed and the velocity will return, but that’s a risky proposition. If you would be drafting Teheran as someone you’d need to start as opposed to a bench flier or a stash in a new dynasty league, you should probably look elsewhere.

As mentioned, Beachy is expected to be out until summer, but he makes for an interesting name if you play in a league with deep benches or an abundance of DL spots. His two major league seasons of record look very different with massive gaps in his ERA, xFIP, BABIP, strand rate, swinging strike rate, etc., etc. If and when he gets back on the mound, it’s likely that he ends up somewhere in the middle of where he’s been the last two seasons. And the middle is probably a mid-threes ERA with above-average strikeout totals and average control. That has value. Again, he’s only worth drafting if you can get him late and have room to stash him.

If the Braves need another starter to fill in before Beachy is healthy, prospects J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin are the best bets to get the call. The pair is rated as the #2 and #4 prospects in the Atlanta system, respectively. For now, they’re only worth owning in dynasty leagues and really deep mixed and NL-only leagues with deep benches.

This staff doesn’t have the depth it had a year ago, or at least its depth looks much different. And there are a lot of questions. How many starts can they get out of Hudson? How severe is Medlen’s regression? Can Mike Minor keep being good Mike Minor? Can Julio Teheran get it together? There is quite a bit of risk and quite a bit of upside. And at the price most of these guys are going for, it’s probably worth taking on the risk to own them.

Early Depth Chart:

Tim Hudson
Kris Medlen
Mike Minor
Paul Maholm
Julio Teheran
Brandon Beachy
Sean Gilmartin
J.R. Graham

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