Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Pitching for 2014: Doing the Math

 

Famous Baseball Quotes:

  • There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect
  • There’s no such thing as too much starting pitching
  • There’s no such thing as too much depth
  • There’s no crying in baseball  (Not uttered by a Cubs fan)

Lots of difficult questions face the Atlanta Braves with their pitching rotation for 2014.  But for a change, most of them are happy questions to have.  For all the difficulties they faced in 2013 with starting pitching (nine different starters earned a win in 2013), a crazy math problem has emerged:

All of these guys have earned their stripes, and are indeed “major league ready”.  Technically (at the moment), you could even also include Freddy García, Paul Maholm, and Kameron Loe in this list – but those guys are free agents and not likely to be pursued for new contracts, so let’s not complicate the math any further.

* As for Tim Hudson, there is mutual interest in having him return, but there’s still some work to do before that can happen, though reports are that he expects to be back to “100%” sometime in November.

Okay – maybe I will complicate the math:  here are some guys who could be ‘knocking on the door’ soon:

** Both of these guys appear to be short of major league ready right now; Gilmartin has a poor 2013; Northcraft needs a little something more for his repertoire.

…and further out….

The reason I dig this deep is because I’m looking at the ages of the guys in the first list – they could be around for a while.  The Braves – once again – seem to have a fairly significant plate of young pitching available.  That leads to a few obvious questions:

  • Why even think about bringing back Tim Hudson?
  • Does anybody go to the bullpen?
  • Does Hale go back to Triple A?

 

Answering Those Questions

 

1. Why even think about bringing back Tim Hudson?

Lots of reasons.  He’s a veteran pitching who knows knows how to pitch.  He’s probably just a notch below a ‘Hall of Fame career’, and having guys like that hanging around are invaluable as mentoring assets in your clubhouse.  He battles.  He eats innings.  He’s never had a losing season in the major leagues.  His ERA+ numbers have been over 100 (average) for every year he’s pitched except two.  In pure business senses, he’s pretty cheap for a guy who can do all of that (tied for 112th highest paid in baseball in 2013)… Heath Bell made more than Tim.

The Braves rightly value the Veteran Presents [sic] of having an elder statesman in the rotation.  They know it’s important to have this kind of bulldog going to the post for you in the playoffs – as we’ve clearly seen in recent days.  In the past two season, there were flirtations in trying to acquire Zack Greinke (2012), Jake Peavy (2013), Kyle Lohse (2013) and possibly others to bolster the staff – especially as injuries mounted this Fall.  Critics continued to bemoan the lack of an ‘Ace’ stopper… and they were right, as Kris Medlen was unable to keep good teams down in each of the last two playoff forays.

So in the absence of another thoroughbred in our stable, yes, it makes great sense to have Huddy – a guy who clearly wants to be here – back behind a tomahawk for as long as he’s physically able to do so.

And maybe even somebody else, too… but we’ll hold on that teaser for another article.

 

2.  Does anybody go to the bullpen?

In my humble opinion, it would be disappointing to see this happen – especially to an Alex Wood or David Hale, who have been groomed as starters.  But it is certainly possible that this could happen.  Wood, for sure, did well in that role (ERA of 3.13; ERA+ 124 – great for a rookie thrust into service straight from AA).  While it would seem that he has little left to prove as a starter, the Braves might opt to make him the ‘hot button’ pitcher by stashing him at Gwinnett – ready in the event of an injury.  Then again, he essentially was already in that role while at Atlanta.

In this writer’s opinion, though, having a bona fide starter sit in a bullpen “just in case” for long relief is a waste of resources.  You don’t buy two Corvettes just so that you can drive one while the other is in the shop (then again, I haven’t checked on the reliability of a Corvette lately).

In any case, that’s not what’s you normally would want to do with a second round draft pick (2012) having the promise that Alex Wood possesses.  But that once again brings us back to the math problem.

 

3.  Does Hale go back to AAA?

Well, that is probably the default answer.  But we recently found that repeating a AAA stint (Hale spent all of 2013 at Gwinnett) isn’t necessarily helpful in a pitcher’s development (see Teheran, Julio).  However, there’s another possibility.  And that’s pretty much what this entire write-up has been leading towards…

 

The Braves Need to Trade Starting Pitching

 

There it is.  I said it.  In big letters.  When you have a surplus of performers – at any position – you need to leverage that talent to obtain positions of need.  That, in short, is the purpose behind baseball trades.  Atlanta has a plethora of young, controllable major league starting pitchers and should use those assets to fill needs this off-season.

Ironically enough, the position of need I am mostly referring to is this:  the need for an Ace.

There’s a lot more that this statement brings up that should be investigated further – and we will – but first let me finish up this discussion with a look at who could/should be moved in a major trade deal:

  • Mike Minor?  I would not – lefties are great to have anyway, and Minor is on the cusp of breaking out.
  • Kris MedlenVery possibly, yes.  This is his second arbitration year (i.e., he’s starting to get expensive), and Meds’ trade value is still very high.
  • Julio Teheran?  No – still pre-arb and could be the anchor in a few years.
  • Brandon Beachy?  Not actually the best time for him, since he’s still recovering from injury.  Regardless, I personally think Brandon could be the best of the batch once he’s healthy, so I want him on my team.
  • Alex Wood?  This is a tough one, but of our lefties, I might part with him if the return was worth it.  Frankly, in the Braves’ system, he could be the ‘odd man out’ and a trade would be beneficial to him personally – he’d find a better gig that way.
  • Tim Hudson?  Well, first, you’ve gotta re-sign him.  But if you bother to do that, you do so to keep him, not trade him.  This isn’t the NBA.  That said, I want Timmy back.
  • David HaleYes.  Definitely.  He’s smart, he’s matured, and he performed stunningly well in all opportunities.  Given his age, you get the best deal available and run with it… his trade value is probably peaking right now.

So in my idyllic little world, my 2014 rotation would be:  _____ (ace to be obtained), Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy.  That’s pretty strong.  World Series strong.  That is, of course, if the front office is bold enough to fill that hole.

In trading away this depth, would that hamper the team in case of injury?  Not likely… clearly, the injury would cause a bunch of harm on its own, but Frank Wren & Co. have proven very resourceful in obtaining temporary replacements in order to weather the storm.  Plus, I don’t believe you’d actually trade away all three of the suggested guys above – so there would probably still be one stud available to plus in plce of an injured starter.  No, it wouldn’t fully make up for the loss, but then does a rookie pitcher normally fully fill the shoes of a seasoned vet?  That’s not usually the case either.  So even when a guy like Kameron Loe steps in to help out, you have to recognize that you’re just trying to hang on and weather the storm.  Then again, you sometimes get a Freddy Garcia, too.

So do the Braves have too much pitching?  Numerically speaking, yes; however it’s not the right kind of pitching:  that Ace Stopper just isn’t present.

If this team truly wants to compete again, then they need to remember that they were perennial World Series contenders exactly because they had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz all on the team together.  They collectively devastated opponents and allowed the offense to win even the close games.  All you have to do is check the pitching staffs of this year’s playoff teams to recognize how true this formula still is today.  It’s interesting that the Braves themselves haven’t been able to step up in that way – though as mentioned earlier, perhaps not entirely for a lack of trying.

It’s time for Atlanta to find its next Ace.  That math adds up.

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves Pitching

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