©Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Braves Pitching: Jurrjens Cruises Delgado Loses and We Signed Who?

©Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Good morning from Lake Buena Vista! After several hotel hassles, visiting with distant kin over pizza and picking up sun screen we spent the night watching Jair Jurrjens waltz through an Astros split squad team that reminded me why going to Minute Maid park this year will not be fun.

The other thing I saw during the game was much like the team I watched last year; Braves lineup couldn’t put together a rally after the first inning against Kyle Wieland. Yea, I know. Who is Kyle Wieland? That discussion comes another time however, lets talk briefly about the Braves’ pitching depth.

How Deep Is Deep?

As we’ve been told for years that our farm system was one of the best so have we been told that our pitching depth was virtually unmatched.  Looking closely you’ll see that has not been the case lately. IN 2008 we threw out a rotation of 4th starters, then traded for Javier Vasquez and paid 35% more than he was worth to Derek Lowe. Since then we’ve signed such superb pitching choices as Scott Linebrink – Note to Cardinals, he is your punishment for gloating last September, you’ll find out soon why -  Scott Proctor now trying to earn a spot in the Korean league, Rodrigo Lopez who was one of the worst starter in the last decade. Yesterday Braves pitching became a subject for discussion again when we signed Livan Hernandez.

I found out listening to Jim Bowdon on XM. Bowden immediately did his chicken act reporting that Hernandez had landed a spot in the rotation and that the Braves were in trouble this season. He was wrong on the first point but sadly correct on the second. Whatever you think of the 37 (at least) year old Livan Hernandez, the Braves should never have been in a position to require his services.

Hernandez signed minutes after being failing to gain a spot of any kind on the AAA team that will be the Astros this year’s staff and being released. The reason for his release is more than likely that the Astros can lose 100 games with him or without him and they might as well same the money and let their young pitchers learn about the big leagues. That he was free and in the opposite clubhouse spurred Frank Wren to offer him a job.

Hernandez immediately accepted a guaranteed contract for $750,000 with incentives that could take it to $1.5M.  In a statement to the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wren said his signing would not impact the battle between Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

“. . . And we made it clear to Livan that he was not in competition for the fifth-starter spot at this point, that he would be a long man and maybe an occasional spot starter, where you don’t want to run to Triple-A to get a guy for one start.”

That brings up a couple of points.

First, the battle between Teheran and Delgado this spring is more a fight to see who performs worst. Neither has impressed and last night against half an Astros team he lasted less than five innings (not new) and gave up four runs. I said last year and many times since then that neither of the wonder prospects was ready for prime time. They are too young and inexperienced to get through a lineup like Houston’s three times. Until they learn that they will be a burden on the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen and Hernandez’ role bring me to the next point. I thought  that was Kris Medlen’s role.

Role Play

We’ve been fed the story that Delgado and Teheran were so good that Kris Medlen’s best use was in the pen as a spot starter and dependable arm to rest one of the three musketeers at the end of the game. With the super prospects not ready to carry the Braves to victory the logical thing to do would be slot Medlen into that 5th spot and leave Christhian Martinez to do the long relief spot start job then add Anthony Varvaro or Cory Gearrin to th epen pending a healthy return by Peter Moylan.

Medlen stepped in to the 2010 rotation when JJ went down with a hamstring issue and performed superbly. He started 14 games winning 5 without a loss and the Braves won 13 of his starts. He went deep into the game averaging 6+ innings and 88 pitches a start while compiling a 1.159 WHIP and an ERA of 3.88. Medlen had done enough to earn a rotation spot in 2011 when sidelined by TJ surgery.  That all seems forgotten now as Wren and Skipper Fredi Gonzalez having forsaken what works for what they wish worked – Delgado and Teheran – are faced with their dream rotation pitching at Gwinnett. That fantasy dead the GM reacts by signing Livan much as he reacted to the (extremely fortunate) snub by A.J. Burnett. Instead of a huge contract for Derek Lowe this time it was a huge over payment for Hernandez.

Over the past five years Livan’s record is 51-59 with a .464 ERA and a 1.506 WHIP in 955 innings. He will eat innings of course but he hasn’t made the same transition to reliever that his half brother Orlando Hernandez (EL Duque) made. Giving him a guaranteed contract when the Braves need all of their money to be spent on fixing a sagging lineup is at best a garbled priority and at worst ground for mental evaluation.

Medlen and Hernandez have shown they both provide 6 innings a start.

Medlen allows less hits per inning, less runs per game, has a similar GB/FB ratio

Medlen is younger and making the league minimum.

Hernandez has a slightly better home run/FB ratio

Hernandez costs more money to a team with no money to spare, as much as $1.5M if manager Fredi Gonzales uses him regularly as he no doubt will. I have yet to see Fredi use a pen sensibly.

Hernandez allows 4.54 runs a game while Medlen allows less than 4. The current lineup projections have the Braves scoring as they did last year right at 4 runs a game. With Medlen pitching we have a chance to win. With Hernandez pitching he has the chance to become Derek Lowe part II and finish the year with a 5-10 record. So, why sign Hernandez?

I tried to divine some reasons and these are my best guess.

  • There’s an internal lack of faith in the ability of Teheran or Delgado to go more than 4 innings this year coupled with a stubborn refusal to acknowledge this publicly and send then down. This creates the need for three long men – Christhian Martinez, Medlen and Hernandez – until the stars of the future figure it out.
  • They are actually sending both down to start the year hoping to work the kinks out before May and will use Hernandez or Medlen as a fifth starter when needed until they return. If the kinks remain  for the rookies one of those two would become the fifth starter.
  • They plan to trade Medlen or another starter in order to shore up a lopsided underpowered lineup

I’m not a fan of any of those reasons. For me the answer to the fifth starting spot is clear; Kris Medlen. He’s proven he can do it and has earned that chance.

On another blog this morning one of the comments suggested that those supporting Medlen should ‘realize that Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzales know best.’  I offer two words in response; Scott Proctor.

Wren signed him twice even though he was clearly washed up as a major league reliever. He alone cost us 5 games last year. He had the chance to cost us those games because Fredi kept sending him out there when he should have been used just to mop up lost causes. So no, I don’t think they know best.

Even if Livan isn’t Lowe revisited this is a mistake. It’s a snub to Kris Medlen, who has done everything asked of him and more without failure. Assuming they had to adjust budget somewhere to find this $750K, it wastes money we could have used to strengthen the bench. This isn’t Livan’s fault. He seems to be a great guy. I will root for him when he’s out there as I did for the two Scotts and D Lowe. Like those signings however it is a mistake and not one I believe this team can hide.

Tags: Favorite Jair Jurrjens Kris Medlen Livan Hernandez Randall Delgado

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