June 19, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell (45) visits the mound to speak to relief pitcher Jonny Venters (39) and catcher Brian McCann (16) during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Braves won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Braves' Gus Schlosser: Reliever or Starter?

As our own Alan Carpenter reported just a few days ago, the Atlanta Braves have released their list of the 2014 Spring Training Invitees.  As Alan noted in another article, probably the most interesting name on that list is Jason Hursh.  His invite intrigues us simply because Jason has had only 9 pro starts, and that in low-A ball!  While perhaps not nearly as intriguing, Gus Schlosser getting an invite has me wondering as well.

February 20, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Gus Schlosser (81) poses for a picture during photo day at Disney Wide World of Sports complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

February 20, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Gus Schlosser (81) poses for a picture during photo day at Disney Wide World of Sports complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not really a surprise that Schlosser would get an invite.  Gus has moved up the proverbial minor league ladder steadily since being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 17th round of the 2011 June Amateur Draft.  At first, the Braves used Schlosser as a reliever while he pitched in 2011 for the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League.

Schlosser was tremendous as a reliever, striking out just over a batter per inning, while giving up just 4 walks!  There are two things we should note here: Schlosser pitches side-arm, and pitchers with a low arm slot are typically used only as relievers.  Also, side-arm pitchers aren’t typically known for strikeouts.

Traditionally, side-armers aren’t used much in starting roles, but the Braves started using Schlosser as a starter in 2012 when he moved up to play for the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League.  The result? Gus performed much better as a starter than many would have anticipated.  His Ks per 9 went down, and walks went up, but only slightly.  A 3.38 ERA as a starter and a 2.93 FIP were awesome, and Gus proved that side-arm or not, he could get the job done as a reliever AND as a starter!

You would think the Braves were merely experimenting briefly with Schlosser as a starter, but then they used him in that role again in 2013.  In fact, he pitched a full season in the High-A Carolina League last year.  The result?  Gus delivered well on a 2.39 ERA with a 3.37 FIP.  Again and as expected, his strikeouts decreased and walks increased, but again the numbers weren’t bad.  Last year, his strikeout rate dropped to 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and his walk rate rose to just under 3 per nine innings.  Those numbers were not bad at all for a side-arm pitcher, despite the fact that they just don’t normally perform that well in a starting role.

As a right-handed pitcher, Gus dominates right-handed batters, and has much better numbers against them than left-handed batters.  As a starter in 2013, right-handed batters hit below .200 against him, while lefties tended to hit Gus considerably better.

vs RHB as RHP 25 312 287 57 9 0 4 20 69 .199 .256 .272 .527 .248
vs LHB as RHP 25 244 217 61 7 2 1 24 32 .281 .361 .346 .706 .326
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2014.

As a reliever, Gus had even better numbers, which begs the questions as to why the Braves started using him in a starting role.  Perhaps they simply saw his potential, wanted to test his arm health and reliability, and wanted to get him as many innings as possible for those tests.  The Spring Invite may suggest he passed those possible tests with flying colors, and the Braves are looking at Gus with serious intentions of using him in some role for the Braves in 2014.  The only question is what role that will be?

While I think Gus is too versatile to be labeled a ROOGY (righ-handed, relief specialist) just yet, I think his future with the Braves will be as a reliever rather than a starter.  You never know with the way Atlanta is able to teach and train pitchers, but major league left-handed hitters are likely to eat Gus for breakfast.  I think though that Gus can effectively hold his own against major league right-handed hitters.  He could be an effective tool from the bullpen as a middle-to-late reliever, and it should be interesting to see what happens this spring.  In the end, I think we could well see Gus in the bullpen at some point this season, and he could be a regular sooner than we expect.   What’s your take on Gus?


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