Writing for ESPN Insider, Paul Swydan – he also contributes to FanGraphs – wonders if the Atlanta Braves, who led the major leagues in ERA in 2013, are pitching-thin. Or, more precisely, thin in starting pitching.
Even though the Braves’ starters compiled the majors’ fifth-best ERA in a season that saw Tim Hudson lost to injury in late July and Brandon Beachy limited to five starters, Swydan makes a case. He writes:
(Beachy) has never made 30 starts in a single season at the major-league level. Alex Wood has only 11 major-league starts under his belt, and (ESPN Insider Keith) Law is on record as saying that Wood’s funky arm action probably means he is best-served as a reliever … Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran have just one 200-inning season between them, which means there isn’t an established workhorse.
Yes, but: Of the Braves’ five prospective starters, Medlen is the oldest at 28. Wood and Teheran are 23; Minor is 26, Beachy 27. One reason this young rotation looks so promising is because the Braves haven’t overused their young pitchers, which is generally regarded as prudent. (Granted, both Beachy and Medlen have undergone Tommy John surgery. But so has Stephen Strasburg.) The oft-cited cautionary tales of young pitchers who threw until the cows came home: Mark Prior and Kerry Wood of the short-sighted Cubs.
Swydan does have a point: It’s impossible to know how a pitcher will bear up until a 200-inning workload until he throws 200 innings. Which is why two understated offseason moves – the signings of Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia – could hold the key to 2014.
As Swydan notes, the veteran Floyd is coming off shoulder surgery and mightn’t be usable until May. But that, I submit, is OK. Assuming all five projected starters make it through spring training, any wear and tear – or signs of someone being overmatched – probably wouldn’t show in the season’s first month. If a starting pitcher does falter, Floyd should be ready about the time the faltering occurs.
To me, though, Frank Wren’s move to re-sign Garcia – who worked 27 1/3 innings for the Braves in September and who started Game 4 of the NLDS against the great Clayton Kershaw (and was leading when he exited) – to a minor-league deal was one of the best small moves this general manager, who’s quite deft at small moves, has made. There’s no chance having Garcia, who’s 37 and will take the ball anywhere anytime, will hurt an organization, and there’s a good chance he could pull a team out of a pinch.
No, the Braves don’t own a proven innings-eater, but I’d submit that this is a function of age more than an indicator of inability. I don’t believe this team will fail because it lacks the requisite arms. The five designated starters are very talented, and only Wood hasn’t done sustained good work in the majors. In Floyd and especially Garcia, there are fallbacks.
Even after an offseason that saw Hudson and Paul Maholm exit, starting pitching wouldn’t seem a weakness. On the contrary, it should remain a strength.