With pitchers and catchers set to report in just two weeks, it's time to take a look at the starting rotation in the second installment of the Atlanta Braves 2009 season preview.
Click here for a look at the catcher position for the Braves of 2009!
Click here for a look at the bullpen for the Atlanta Braves in 2009!
Click here for a look at the corner infield positions for the Braves in 2009!
No. 1 Starter: Derek Lowe
Lowe will come in as the Braves new ace in the 2009 rotation. A lot has been said about the Braves overpaying for him. This may be true; however, Lowe brings stability and innings pitched to a rotation that had virtually none a year ago.
Lowe averages 208 innings pitched since becoming a starter in 2002; while giving up only about one home run every two starts.
Experts seem to compare Lowe to Arizona ace Brandon Webb an awful lot, calling him a lesser version of the sinker baller. Last season, Lowe had a 1.13 WHIP, a 3.24 ERA, and a career low in walks with 45; besting Webb in each of those categories with 1.20 WHIP, a 3.30 ERA and 65 walks.
Lowe may not have the potent sinker that Webb has, but he knows how to work with what he has. Lowe should throw over 200 innings with the Braves in 2009 and have 15 to 17 wins.
No. 2 Starter: Jair Jurrjens
Jurrjens was the Braves most consistent starter in 2008. He completed 188 1/3 innings, and didn’t go at least five innings only three times (two of those pitched into the fifth inning).
Jurrjens was making a case for himself for rookie of the year for most of the season. Going into August Jurrjens had a 3.06 ERA and won NL pitcher of the month in June, going 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA. However, as almost every player goes through in his rookie year, the toll of the major league season started catching up to him.
In the final two months of the season Jurrjens had an ERA over 5.00 and pitched into the seventh inning just twice in 10 starts. His velocity stayed where it has been all season, but he started dragging his arm a bit which left his pitches high and decreased the movement.
Now that Jurrjens has gone through a full major league season I foresee him having a stellar year as the Braves No. 2 starter. Look for him to use that excellent change-up a lot more this year, which will improve his prowess. He should pitch over 200 innings and his ERA should be between 3.20 and 3.50.
No. 3 Starter: Javier Vazquez
Bobby Cox has loved Javier Vazquez since he was with the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals). Vazquez has pitched over 200 innings eight of the 11 years he’s been in the majors and has made less than 30 starts only once, with 26.
Vazquez’s ERA was exceptionally high last season, but keep in mind he was in the American League. Also, that’s the beauty of being a No. 3 starter. He’s not expected to wow people with his stuff or throw a shutout every 3-5 starts. Vazquez will simply be asked to be consistent, keep the Braves in the game, and get his innings and strikeouts.
Vazquez should have an ERA between 3.40 and 4.00. I expect to see him get his 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for yet another season.
No. 4 Starter: Kenshin Kawakami
Kawakami has an average fastball in the low 90s, exceptional cutter, and a slow curve. He compiled a 112-72 record and 3.22 ERA with 1,328 strikeouts in 11 seasons for the Chunichi Dragons.
In 2004, he was 17-7 with a 3.32 ERA and won the MVP in Japan’s Central League and the Japanese version of the Cy Young award.
Most would argue that he had his best year in 2006 when he was 17-7 with a 2.51 ERA, 194 strikeouts and 215 innings. Last year he was 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 117 1/3 innings. The lack of innings shouldn’t alarm you as he pitched in a six-man rotation and missed a month for the Olympics; he also missed a couple of weeks with a back strain.
The best thing the Braves can do with Kawakami right away is let him pitch. It will take him a little time to get used to the American baseball (higher seams, and larger circumference), but if he is allowed to find his groove early enough and is able to follow the scouting reports, there’s no reason Kawakami can’t have an ERA around 3.50 with 160-180 strikeouts and 10-14 wins.
No. 5 Starter: Unknown
The No. 5 spot could go to a number of guys. Tom Glavine, who has been given a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews, may be signed to pitch the year for the Braves. However, with the signings of Lowe and Kawakami, the Braves don’t have much left in the budget and, with the need of an outfielder still out there, could force Glavine to head to the Washington Nationals (they have shown interest and it would be close to his family).
If the Braves don’t sign Glavine they will still have the options of Jorge Campillo, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, and Tommy Hanson. James Parr and Anthony Lerew would be wild cards to make the rotation; meaning even if they impress, Cox may still feel that they need work at AAA.
With Campillo being so stellar out of the bullpen last season I suspect he will start the year back there in 2009. Tommy Hanson would be the fan favorite to man the fifth spot, but I’m pretty sure management will decide to at least give him the first month or two in AAA to get his change-up where he needs it before jumping in the majors.
This leaves Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes. If they’ve improved this off-season like I hope they have, they should be ready to compete for the fifth spot.
With Morton, it’s going to come down to getting his pitches down. When he leaves his fastball up he gets into trouble and starts going to his good curve too much and, as a result, starts leaving it up.
Reyes, just needs to pitch with the same confidence that he pitches with at the minor league level; trusting his fastball and using his off-speed pitches more often when he’s ahead of the count.
If Morton and Reyes are neck and neck towards the end of spring training, expect the job to go to Reyes for no other reason than he’s a lefty they can put into a rotation with four right-handers.
As a whole
Look for the starting rotation for the Braves to be much improved. The top four starters have proven they are able to keep teams into ball games and that trend will not change in 2009.
The fifth spot, if Glavine doesn’t sign, may have unproven youngsters in there. But if Morton and/or Reyes can’t hold the fort, your frustration will be short lived because by the time they show they can’t deliver, it will be time for Hanson to be brought up.
Finally, the rotation for 2009 will be able to go deep in games on a consistent basis. This will stabilize games and make it easier to win those one-run games and will tremendously help a Braves bullpen that was at the top of the league in appearances last season.