August 3, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson (15) pitches in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Boast Promising Rotation For 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Please welcome Mat Batts to the site.  He will provide a great player’s perspective to our staff.

Much of the offseason is spent looking at what teams don’t have and how GM’s can improve the glaring holes that last season exploited. But why not harp on the strengths that do rest in our corner? The Braves sure have a handful. None is more apparent than the abundance of strong pitching that has accumulated on their Braves 40-man roster and throughout the minor league system. So why not look at the horses that will likely carry the 2013 Braves to any successes that they might enjoy? We’re talking about Braves starting rotation, of course. And boy do they have a chance to be great.

Frank Wren and his team came together this winter with a mind to cut the fat from Atlanta’s pitching staff, starting with Tommy Hanson. Wren held no reservation in dealing Hanson, who, in 2009, ranked 4th on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects. When interest surfaced from the Los Angeles Angels for the 26-year old right hander, the Braves jumped all over it, exchanging Hanson for the erratic yet promising Jordan Walden. Atlanta then promptly non-tendered Jair Jurrjens, releasing him to free agency, and quickly freed up two spots on an already talented staff.

Who exactly will fill those spots is yet to be seen, but it’s clear here in December that Atlanta already has a rotation in place that could be among the league’s best. While Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen are far from being your everyday aces, it is easy to see why they are heralded as two of the game’s most consistent starters. Hudson, who, at age 37, is just three wins shy of 200, has been Atlanta’s horse since he joined the Braves in 2005. Coming off of a 16-win season in 2012, and boasting 16 or more wins in his last three seasons, Hudson is showing no sign of decline and should be the foundation of the Braves rotation for at least another two years.

Medlen, who burst onto the scene in 2012, has nothing but upside as he gained more and more experience starting games for Atlanta over the course of the season. While it is unreasonable to expect Medlen to match his 1.57 ERA or 10 wins in 12 starts pace from 2012, you can bet on Medlen to fill up the zone every time he takes the mound. With a walks per nine inning average of 1.5 in 2012, Medlen is a rare breed in this day in age, in that he can be expected to work deep into games every fifth night. Over the course of a long season, those deep starts are invaluable to keeping your bullpen fresh.

The three and four slots in Atlanta’s rotation will likely be filled by two interesting left-handed options. Paul Maholm will be looking to improve on his 2012 season as he will enjoy his first full season in Atlanta after being traded mid-season by the Cubs. Known to be the “steady Eddy” on a staff, Maholm struggled at times last season, giving up 20 home runs, but regularly showed his durability, and ended the season with 13 total wins. His experience as a 30-year old with over 200 career games started should serve him will and give the Braves a solid middle-0f-the-rotation option.

Mike Minor is almost the polar opposite of Maholm, and can be tabbed as nearly anything but consistent. But with electric stuff in his arsenal and flashes of greatness in both 2011 and 2012, Minor is regarded as one of the game’s best young arms. With a strikeout per nine ratio of 7.3 in 2012 (a career low) it is easy to see that Minor has the raw ability to mow through lineups. Look for 2013 to serve as Minor’s coming of age season, as he will likely take on a larger role in the Braves’ rotation needs.

The fifth and final spot for Atlanta is easily the most intriguing. Phenoms Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran will compete for the Opening Day rights to this job, but don’t expect either to occupy this slot for long. Delgado, who has just 24 career starts, is the favorite to be in Atlanta come April, but after accumulating nine loses in 2012, Degaldo will have Teheran hot on his heels. Both young stars will benefit from extended periods in the majors, but with Atlanta enjoying such an abundance of starting pitching, it’s hard to say when their time will come. Frank Wren has made it clear that he would like to hold on to both Delgado and Teheran in hopes of one day enjoying them as a solid 1-2 combo.

The dark horse of Atlanta’s staff in 2013 could very well be the addition of Brandon Beachy. Before blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery in late June, Beachy was on pace to have a Medlen-esque 2012, with a 2.00 ERA through 81 innings. Assuming all goes well with the latter parts of Beachy’s rehab, Atlanta can expect to enjoy him again in June. In a perfect world, Beachy will slide seamlessly into the Braves rotation, creating a powerful three-headed monster with Hudson and Medlen up front.

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  • Lee Trocinski

    I’m not sure how much longer Huddy will be above average. His velocity dropped over a full MPH after May, while his Contact% rose. I’m guessing he shows his age this coming year or the next. Medlen may have an innings limit on him still, as he threw 157 IP last year. If he’s set for 180-190 innings next year, will Fredi have a quick hook early in the season to limit him?

    I would assume Delgado easily wins the 5th spot, since Teheran was not good in AAA last year. His peripherals backed up that 5.00+ ERA, and unless he physically heals from a hidden injury, he’ll probably have to show he can get AAA hitters out before his callup.

    Beachy is the most intriguing piece, and that’s before factoring in his injury. His results were better last year, but his BB and K rates were worse than ’11. His GB rate was up, but he was getting a fair amount of groundballs on his “rising” fastball. Add in likely control issues coming back from the surgery and I don’t think he will be a front-line guy until ’14.

    • rick staley

      Don’t count out Teheran based on his poor 2012 numbers alone. He has been allowed to ditch the new mechanics demanded of him starting the 2012 season , by going back to his coiled form that allowed him to shoot up the ladder of future stars prior to last season.

      Moreover, his peripherals have mirrored 2011 this season in winter ball. So, before giving Delgado the edge, realize that there are some of us Bravo fans paying attention to the activities after October. Thus, it does excite me thinking in regards to a soon-to-be tight 5th spot in the Braves rotation in Orlando come March 2013. Chop’em Tomahawks!

      • fireboss

        Anointing Teheran on his DWL numbers is as off base as saying Delgado’s numbers indicate he’s regressed. The DWL is essentially and A+ to AA league. Players go there to work on their techniques or learn a new position. Teheran’s issue in 2011 was similar to Delgado’s; no real out pitch after once through the order. In 12 Delgado managed to stay in the games longer as he got more opportunities while Teheran struggled at Gwinnett. Teheran may well be back – I hope he is – but even when he was the hot prospect I worried about his motion and the innings he – like most Latin American pitcher signings these days – accumulated on such a young arm. He should be well ahead of every hitter in spring training and waltz through them easily. If he doesn’t the red flags start to rise. Same with Delgado.

        Medlen will get 200 innings this year. He throws less pitches than the others and gets deeper into games than others aside from Huddy. Medlen and Minor will be at the top of the rotation with Huddy at 3rd. As Lee pointed out Beachy is at best a half season guy working his way back from TJ surgery so counting on him for more than 75 innings is a stretch and effectiveness is still a question. Maholm is really a 5th so I’m not as optimistic about the rotation as many who believe in the myth of Braves pitching depth seem to be. We are likely to see Gilmartin at some point this year and he’s essentially Minor lite.

        Anyone who didn’t see the Hanson give away coming wasn’t paying attention. He was openly combative with McDowell and Fredi late in the year and so he had to go. That Wren gave him away for a one inning guy with questionable control when most outside of Atlanta would have expected a bigger return – Denard Span for Example – says volumes about how badly he had blotted his copybook.

        Rose colored glasses removed, this rotation is 3rd best in the division behind the Nats and the Phillies. While we might just have the edge in the bullpen it won;t be enough if the starters don’t get consistent run support instead of the boom or bust kind of seasons we’ve had recently.

    • Mat Batts

      Hudson’s drop in velocity is not necessarily a problem being that he is predominantly a sinker ball pitcher. With a dip in velocity, Huddy will likely see an increase in depth on his sinker and should enjoy even more outs via the ground ball. This would indeed increase his contact % but I don’t see that as an issue if Prado and Simmons are plugging the left side. IF Medlen is on an innings limit, which I somehow doubt, it will likely be no lower than 200 IP. I think that Feddi and Frank can take a lesson from Washington on that issue and consider implementing a 6-man rotation at certain stretches during the year. As for Delgado and Teheran, both seem timid to me. Neither has really taken advantage of their opportunities and said “I’m you’re guy.” I’d like to see one of them step up in 2013 but I think it’s a coin flip.

      • Lee Trocinski

        While that seems to make sense, Huddy’s GB% actually dropped a bit and his PITCHf/x numbers showed no extra depth last year. Velocity is also important when getting groundballs, and his xFIP was already higher than average last year. Any further drop in GB’s will almost assuredly make him average at best.

  • rick staley

    Does anyone remember that Huddy was coming off back surgery, and is the scrap iron of this organization??? This time last year the Braves rotation had 2 sure things to begin the season (94 wins by the way) were Beachy and Huddy (as soon as rehab ended). Huddy’s 16 wins in 3 consecutive seasons…all the while suffering pain and never using it as an excuse. Tim Hudson can take the ball every 5th day as long as he can crawl to the mound because he never quits, and always competes. 2013 has Medlen, Huddy (healthy), and Minor as solid contributors in the rotation. Anything we can get out of Maholm, Beachy, Teheran, and Delgado will be a bonus.

    Also, Hanson for Walden is the 2nd best trade this organization has made since acquiring JJ for Renteria. Hanson couldn’t hold my grandmother on her walker on 1st base for crying out loud. And his work effort was and still is sorely lacking because he still has chicken legs every since coming up to the majors. His piss-poor attitude began to exude in the 2nd half (as you already stated). Walden is team controllable, cheaper than Hanson, and still cranking 97+ heat with 30+ saves being added to a stellar pen. He and Teheran will be more comfortable in 2013 than 2012 because the pressure to excel can be eased by simply letting them do what they know best…whip that pill with their funky deliveries creating zip on the orbital sphere.

    Now, “off base”, okay I can give you that. I’m a big boy, and can take the rebuttal with respect because I love life because I learn something new everyday. But failing to recognize the impetus of stress on the change in delivery of Julio’s 2012 ‘Roger Mc Dowell’s Mechanics for dumbies” is a gaffe in itself. Julio is comfortable again, and I don’t care where he is pitching at the moment because the key to consistently attacking any hitter, let alone major league hitters is being confident, comfortable with your arm slot, and being able to repeat it without having to think.

    Moreover,JJ, Hanson, etc. have been sent packing because seemingly, Roger is too proud to get out of his own way. He needed to let those pitchers do what they do, and know how to do it the way they feel best…not his. Too simple, probably. But we will see come March 2013 when the battle between Teheran, Delgado, and Gilmartin begins. May the best Bravo win the 5th spot. Happy New Year…peace.

    • fireboss

      I remember Huddy’s surgery perfectly well and I remember that he needs surgery on his heel to remove the bone spurs there but hasn’t had it AFAIK. I’m not a fan of McDowell but he didn’t steal Hanson’s velocity nor did he take JJ’s control. I suspect JJ is injured and perhaps Hanson is as well and since I’m guessing it’s their shoulder. I blame McDowell for a lot of things but those two guys aren’t amongst them.
      If Walden can find the strike zone he’ll be useful if he continues to be wild he’s not. It’s no steal it was trading a hard headed PITA who quit listening for a big arm they hope they can fix.

  • Carlos Collazo

    I’m expecting a break out season for Mike Minor next year and I’m also really excited to see what Beachy is capable of when he becomes available. Those three pitchers are a great core to build a starting rotation around and with guys like Delgado and Teheran on the verge, the sky is the limit for our future rotation.

  • rick staley

    Sorry Matt…welcome aboard, and very good article to boot! On the side, does your UNCW baseball team play anywhere within 60-75 miles of the Knoxville, TN IN 2013?

    • Mat Batts

      I don’t think we will venture very far west this year. We have a pretty light road schedule with most of the road games being in either Virginia or Maryland. Maybe in a regional, though.