Braves Rotation Projections – The New Big Three


Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran start 2014 at the top of the Braves rotation. Please credit graphic created by Fred Owens

As we prepare for the 2014 season The top of the Braves Rotation is both young and experienced. It was that way during the streak as well and the Braves rotation was the consistent heart of the team that made it possible.

In 91 and 92 the top of that rotation consisted of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery. Before the 93 season 93 John Schuerholz made the most astute free agent signing of his tenure when he inked the best right handed pitcher of the modern era Greg Maddux. For the next eleven seasons teams faced arguably the best rotation in baseball featuring three perennial Cy Young  candidates every time they played Atlanta.  In his blog Buster Olney (Insider subscription required) rated the Braves rotation eighth in the majors.

. . .while the Braves might not have a Cy Young candidate, they do have depth, and even after the since-departed Tim Hudson went down with a season-ending injury in July, Atlanta’s rotation . . .performed well.
Brandon Beachy should be in better position to be a factor as he nears the two-year anniversary of his elbow surgery. Alex Wood showed a lot of promise in his first season in the big leagues, which included 11 starts.

The rotation responded well after we lost lost Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm this season leaving Kris Medlen the elder statesman (and head prankster in chief). It is younger that the 91 crew but they’ve been blooded in big games and shown they aren’t awed by anyone. So, I thought I’d put on my mystic bonnet and try to foretell what can we expect from the young guns in 2014. The projections that I’ve found for 2014 are less optimistic than I am about everyone except for Baseball HQ’s projected ERA for Medlen. I have no favorite source of projections. Those that are missing either require a subscription I don’t have or haven’t been published yet.  Steamer and Oliver I took from  the player pages at Fangraphs  Zips projections I took from this link.  The Baseball Guru spreadsheet is available on that website  and of course the Baseball HQ projections are on their site, a subscription is required.  In some cases I had to calculate strikeout totals from the projected k/9 rates. If a cell is empty that system doesn’t provide a projection.

 Kris Medlen

Medlen and Minor are 1 and 1A in our rotation right now. Meds woke baseball up in 2012 when the Braves reluctantly inserted him into the starting rotation and he went on to post a 9-0 record with an ERA of 0.97 and a WHIP of 0.800 in that role. It earned him the start inf the notorious infield fly game. He took the loss in that game even though he posted a WHIP 0.474 and allowed just 2 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.  The 2013 season was another superb one for Meds. He made  31 starts, threw 197 innings and posted a 3.11 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Depending on your favorite flavor of WAR, Kris was either a 2.5 fWAR or a  3.3rWAR pitcher. At the ripe old age of 28 Medlen finds himself leading the Braves rotation and sometimes being  compared to Maddux.  He’s not the Professor but he has been the most consistent of the three so far and I expect close to the same numbers next season as well.

Medlen is exactly the same kind of pitcher now he was in 2010 when he stepped into the rotation. He will pitch to his defense and try to make any contact weak contact. He’s not a strikeout machine in spite of delivering 157 of them last year. The defense behind him will be as good as last year’s and  I expect him to out perform his projections again as he has every year.

Source Starts IP W L K ERA FIP or xERA WHIP fWAR
Baseball Guru 27 176 12   141 3.46   1.17  
Baseball HQ 30 196 15 8 163 2.85 3.48 1.13  
Steamer 29 173 11 9 137 3.77 3.47 1.22 2.3
Oliver 20 137 10 6 113 3.15 3.30 1.17 1.8
ZIPS 30 190     150 3.31 3.30   3.9*
Me 31 210 16   155 3.25      
2013 31 197 15 12 157 3.11 3.48 1.22 2.5

Mike Minor

Talk about big shoes to fill, when Minor first arrived in Atlanta he was immediately compared to Tom Glavine.  He’s been a work in progress but improvements have been obvious every season.  He struggled in the first half of 2012 (5.97 ERA and 1.424 WHIP) but from the All Star break forward he started to look more like his feet fit those shoes. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the second half posting a 2.16 ERA and a 0.870 WHIP. September in particular was a good month for Mike, he was 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA and 0.710 WHIP. That had everyone watching the closely at the beginning of 2013. He carried on without a hitch finishing this season with a superb performance against the Dodgers in the NLDS. On the season he threw 204 2/3 innings with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.090 WHIP. Mike’s improved in every season so far but it’s hard to see how he could top last year. I expect he too will turn in a similar performance with similar numbers as a result.

Source Starts IP W L K ERA FIP or xERA WHIP fWAR
Baseball Guru 31 180 12   164 3.89   1.17  
Baseball HQ 32 196 15 8 172 3.72 3.70 1.18  
Steamer 29 182 12 10 161 3.77 3.82 1.22 2.0
Oliver 30 190 13 8 166 3.46 3.74 1.2 2.3
ZIPS 31 190     167 3.40 3.42   3.1*
ME 31 205 15   182 3.35      
2013 32 204.67 13 9 181 3.21 3.37    

 Julio Teheran

Teheran was a tough one for me. A lot of things worry me when I watch him pitch and that colors my view of his future. In my view he is not a top of the rotation pitcher, his stuff is good but not dominant, his build and motion plus the number of pitches he’s thrown in his young career add up to TJ surgery in his future and he’s not shown himself able to control his emotions on the mound. When he’s focused and everything is flowing well he can look like a number one then something breaks his rhythm and suddenly he’s lost location and timing. Fredi Gonzalez tried to pair him with Gerald Laird when he could, as they worked together in spring training and developed a rapport. When Brian McCann returned that became harder to do but didn’t appear as necessary; more on that later. Even with Laird behind the dish Teheran seemed to wander a bit and Laird would have to go out and get him back on track. Keeping those two paired shouldn’t be a problem this year with Evan Gattis and Laird splitting the catching duties but it is still an issue.

Teheran started the year struggling and ended it in a similar fashion. His first seven games saw him give up 21 runs in 41 1/3 innings for a 4.57 ERA and a 1.358 WHIP. His last six games produced 17 earned runs in 36 2/3 innings for a 4.17 ERA mostly due to the long ball as his WHIP was a puny 0.900. In the 17 games between those two rough patches (beginning right after McCann returned coincidentally) however he was a much better pitcher. He threw 107 2/3 innings allowing only 28 earned striking out 106 while walking just 26. That equates to a 2.34 ERA backed with a 1.068 WHIP. So, which pitcher do we project?

Ever the optimist, I put his rocky opening to trying to do too much to prove himself ready and his weak finish to wearing down at the end of a long season. He had after all pitched winter ball.  I’m hoping that another year under his belt and an improved conditioning program eliminate those issues and he take the next step forward this season. So with my rose colored glasses firmly in place I look for a breakout year for Julio in 2014.

Source Starts IP W L K ERA FIP or xERA WHIP fWAR
Baseball Guru 26 172 11   158 3.90   1.22  
Baseball HQ 32 181 14 8 159 3.68 3.75 1.25  
Steamer 28 173 11 10 148 3.84 3.98 1.25 1.6
Oliver 29 171 10 9 137 4.16 4.17 1.31 1.2
ZIPS 31 181     155 3.39 3.45   3.5
ME 31 200 15   185 3.20      
2013 30 185.67 14 8 170 3.20      

*ZIPS WAR is calculated differently than the other two (no surprise there) and is technically zWAR.

That’s a Wrap

At the beginning of this piece I said the rotation resembled the one the Braves fielded when the streak began and I placed Medlen, Minor and Teheran in that box with the caveat that I absolutely do not think of them in the same terms as those future Hall of Fame pitchers. The current rotation bears one distinct similarity to the one that started the run way back in 91. Medlen, Minor, Wood and Beachy are bulldogs on the mound, they hate to lose and aren’t going to give in. In that rotation as well was Steve Avery who from 91-93 was 47-25 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.199 WHIP in 667 1/3 innings (105 starts.) winning 18 games twice.  We have in the wings raring to go Beachy who could well slide into the box alongside the three I wrote about today.  Then there’s Woody who did superb work as a starter and from the bullpen.  I admit that my projections – particularly for Teheran-are optimistic. I believe however that they are attainable if the rotation stays healthy and the lineup can find some consistency. That’s my take, I’m sure you have one as well and I’d like to hear it.

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    Fred, I linked your projection piece in our Hot Stove Player Previews page. Love the piece. Where I personally differ is I’d have Minor 1, and Medlen 1A, but I think your point there is they are more or less interchangeable, and if so, I’d agree. I just give a slight edge to Minor based on how Medlen struggled at times when it counted late season. Nice read bro.

    • fireboss

      I guess I should have known how to do the link but I was probably asleep during that class. I have them pretty even but put Meds first alphabetically but also based on consistency. over more than one season. I expect them to stay close but minor to pull ahead a bit eventually. What surprised me was how much projections dislike Teheran. Glad you liked it.

      • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

        I like Teheran. It’s an intangible, but I like his inherent athleticism, and I personally think he’ll keep getting better as well if he can stay within himself, controls his emotions as you mentioned, and find ways to have confidence in the tools he has while developing even more. Jury’s still out on him imo to have some give him such poor projections.

        • fireboss

          I hope you’re right. I can;t put my finger on it but watching him I always expect a 5 run inning. Irrational I know and I set that aside when I projected him. Perhaps he’ll grow on me.

          • rick staley

            Fred:
            We discussed this before last season began, and although I was the big supporter of Teheran between the two of us, I have to agree that sometimes he gets flustered.As a result, I can relate to your comment about a 5-run inning taking place due to his emotional makeup.

            Moreover, I’m definitely looking for him to improve in 2014 by taking over the 3rd slot in rotation behind Medlen and Minor. Beachy, Wood, Floyd, and Hale will battle as the season unfolds for the last 2 spots. Happy New Year to all!!!

          • fireboss

            I hope we’re right and he steps forward and has his breakout year. Happy new years to your too

        • Sealift67

          I agree here. Teheran keeps getting better after a brief late minor league
          drop off. He has the loosest body/arm action reminiscent of past
          Dominican greats. Also he is fearless. Fangraphs has his fastball range
          90-97 with movement and incredible arm speed(60/60) curve rated
          70/70. My opinion only, he does have ability to be a top of the rotation guy.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    I know you’re not ignoring him, but Beachy is my breakout candidate. He’s already shown multiple flashes of brilliance, but thus far hasn’t been able to get a full season put together (due to a late call-up, then the ligament injury, then the aborted comeback attempt last year). He could easily be as good or better than all three of the above.

    • fireboss

      He wasn’t my part of my assigned pitchers so I didn’t approach him directly as I didn;t want to tread on anyone else. I’m in two minds about him. I love seeing him pitch, like his approach and poise and was impressed with his performance when healthy. OTOH he has just about a full season’s worth of innings and I like to see more before I project him being what everyone hopes he will be (including me). I read an evaluation that says if he uses his slider as he did prior to his surgery he’ll be successful. If it acts like it did in his limited innings last year (stayed in the zone and hittable) he won’t. The caveat is sample size. Thirty innings isn’t much to base a starter eval on particularly when he had debris in the elbow at the time. So I hope he breaks out and know he has shown the stuff but I can’t personally place him ahead of Teheran until he shows he should be there.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Overall, my concern for the rotation – and one of the 2 major reasons I’ve been advocating for an ace this off-season – is the innings (the other reason involving playoff matchups). Nominally, there are 1458 major league innings during a season (162X9). In an ideal world, you need at least 1000 of those handled by starting pitching.

    Mike Minor is the only one of this group who has had a 200 inning season. Medlen was veryclose in 2013; Teheran is ready to get there…Beachy is unknown (max of 142 in 2011) and Alex Wood isn’t ready for that workload. Granted, that’s apparently why Gavin Floyd is now a Brave, though I still say he’ll be on the Beachy Recovery System and won’t start pitching until June at the earliest.

    But overall, the concern is in total innings – not performance. If these guys can do that, then maybe we’ll get there.

    • fireboss

      Teheran was only 14 innings away and considering he pitched in winter ball that last off season I see no reason he can’t hit 200 this year. Medlen was only 4 away and part of that was Fredi’s doing so he’ll be there too. Minor’s motion is as smooth as any and he should repeat his 200+ in 2014. Woody threw over 125 total innings last year minors + majors so I expect him to be around 140-150. Beachy they say won’t be limited since his TJ was a year and a half plus ago and the clean out was a minor one (if there is such a thing). I expect though that 170 innings will be his limit. That leaves us 100 innings or so short. Personally I don’t think Floyd gets all of those but he’ll likely get at least half. Hale or perhaps another starter who impresses in the spring gets the rest. The big unknown is health and that’s my worry with Teheran. Staying healthy keeps us in the hunt but like you I’d prefer we had an impact arm at the top.