The Atlanta Braves are 11-20. They’ve lost six in a row for the second time this season — and they’ve also had a five-game skid — and we’re still two weeks from Memorial Day. These losing clusters were what more experienced and presumably better starting pitching was supposed to prevent. Oops.
The ERA of the Braves’ starters is 5.02, second-worst in the majors. The bullpen has been slightly better (4.77, 23rd-best among MLB teams), but the bullpen doesn’t figure if the game’s gone by the fifth inning. A pitcher’s won-lost record can deceive, but this is fairly revealing: The Braves’ starters are 7-15. Only one rotation (Toronto’s) has fewer wins. Only one (San Francisco’s) has more losses.
The Braves have lost eight of nine. Of the losses, seven were ascribed to starters. The Braves spent $32.5 million to rent Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia. Off early returns, we can’t say they’ve gotten their money’s worth. (Not that Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz have been anything great of late, either.)
We knew that this rotation wouldn’t strike out many people. Sure enough, these starters rank next-to-last in the majors in K’s. We knew most of these guys would Pitch To Contact. Sure enough, this rotation ranks next-to-last in WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched). What we — and the Braves — mightn’t have expected was that Pitching To Contact in a new stadium where the ball seems to jump would have such an effect: In 13 starts at SunTrust Park, the Braves’ rotation has yielded 16 homers.
The thinking behind the rental of three pitchers with an aggregate age of 115 was to prevent what happened last year, when young arms Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler were overmatched. And only one Braves starter — Colon, whose ERA of 7.22 is the second-worst in the majors among qualifying pitchers — has been truly terrible. That said, the lowest ERA among Braves’ starters is Dickey’s 4.22.
The Braves are working with a new pitching coach, Chuck Hernandez having replaced Roger McDowell. (Who’s now with Baltimore, where the Orioles’ starters have the 11th-best ERA among MLB rotations; the Orioles also have baseball’s third-best record.) Hernandez’s pitchers, starters and relievers included, have the worst ERA in the majors, so we can’t say he has been an instant sensation. The belief was that Hernandez would work well with younger pitchers: Trouble is, not many of those are here.
The Braves’ lineup still has holes, but from where the offense was this time a year ago — last in everything — this everyday eight hasn’t been awful. The Braves rank 23rd in runs, 18th in OPS. (Then again, the SunTrust Effect cuts both ways.) The reason they have baseball’s second-worst record is that their rotation hasn’t held up its end.
The Braves knew the rent-a-codger tack might fail. (There comes a time when old pitchers can’t get anybody out.) They also knew that Colon, Dickey and Garcia — the latter is 30, so he’s not really old, and he has been the best of the bunch — would probably be here only a year and maybe, if other teams showed interest before the trade deadline, not that long.
Not wanting to put an non-competitive product on display in Cobb County but not wanting to force-feed any more young arms into the majors, the Braves opted for a half-measure. A seasoned rotation was supposed to work enough good innings to give an improving offense and a not-awful bullpen a chance. This isn’t to say that still can’t happen. But it’s not happening now.