MLB Report: Grading the Atlanta Braves Pitchers After a Quarter of the Season

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIMay 20, 2012

MLB Report: Grading the Atlanta Braves Pitchers After a Quarter of the Season

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    After winning 5-3 against Tampa Bay on Friday, the Braves completed their 40th game of the season, which puts them a quarter of the way through. They are sitting at 25-15, good enough to be in first place in the National League East by themselves.

    The pitching staff was expected to be one of the best in baseball because of both the rotation and the bullpen, though the pitching staff has been a little disappointing so far. The rotation has seen two starters (including an All-Star) implode, while two of the three guys at the back end of the bullpen haven't pitched as well as they did in 2011.

    This article takes a look at the 13 pitchers that have pitched for the Braves in the first quarter of the season and grades them all based on their contributions.

Tommy Hanson B+

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    The Opening Day starter was Tommy Hanson, a young pitcher who was snubbed from the All-Star team last year and then missed most of the remainder of the year with an injury.

    There were some health concerns with Hanson heading into the year because of that, but through nine starts he appears healthy.

    Hanson has gone 5-3 in those nine starts with a 3.31 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Though the numbers look good there is some concern that he is allowing a career-high 8.7 hits per nine innings, which has helped push his WHIP to 1.37.

    Hanson has pitched well, but not like an ace because he has been too hittable this year. If he doesn't drop that hit rate, there is a chance we will see his ERA climb a bit as the year goes on.

Brandon Beachy A+

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    The Brandon Beachy story just keeps on getting better.

    The former undrafted free agent beat the odds by quickly rising through the minors and just making the big leagues. Then came last year when he went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts. Now he has been pitching like a legitimate ace.

    Beachy has made eight starts this year and has a 5-1 record with a 1.33 ERA, which leads the National League. Beachy's strikeout rate has dropped from 10.7 per nine innings to just 6.5, but his WHIP has dropped to a dominant 0.89.

    Beachy's stats suggest that he is arguably the best pitcher in the game right now, and that is good enough to earn him an "A+" grade. This is looking like what stats guru Bill James had called for when he projected Beachy to be the second-best pitcher in the game this year.

Tim Hudson B+

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    Since returning from offseason back surgery at the end of April, Tim Hudson has not looked like the 36-year-old that he is. Hudson is still pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy and has an outside chance of reaching 200 career wins this year.

    Hudson's overall numbers in four starts have him at 2-1 with a 3.96 ERA; however if you take out the six earned runs he allowed over six innings in Denver his ERA would really be 2.37, and his 1.32 WHIP would drop to 1.26.

    In fact, Hudson has not allowed more than two runs in any of his other three starts against the Pirates, Cubs and Reds.

    Hudson has been pitching as well as anyone could ask for since coming back.

Randall Delgado B

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    Randall Delgado beat out Julio Teheran for the final spot in the rotation during the spring, but was expected to be sent down to the minors when Tim Hudson returned from the disabled list.

    Partly because Delgado had been solid, but mostly because Jair Jurrjens had struggled badly, Delgado stayed with the big club and Jurrjens was demoted when Hudson returned.

    Through Friday, Delagdo was 2-3 with a 3.79 ERA in seven starts with 35 strikeouts in 40.1 innings, though he does have a 1.34 WHIP. Those numbers actually only tell part of the story of Delgado's season.

    After a solid first two outings against the Astros and Mets, Delgado was beaten up a bit in his next two starts against the Diamondbacks and the Pirates. Delgado has turned it around since then as he has pitched well in his last three starts, dropping his ERA from 6.30 to 3.79.

    Delgado has had four strong starts, one average start and two bad starts. Overall for a 22-year-old rookie he has pitched very well—in fact his FIP is even better than when he went 1-1 with a 2.83 in seven starts last season.

    He has been delivering on the promise and has a bright future in front of him.

Mike Minor D

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    Mike Minor has been struggling, nearly at the same level s Jair Jurrjens, but his other stats are actually solid. Instead of just getting rocked, Minor is at least showing some promising signs.

    Minor is 2-3 with a 7.09 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in eight starts, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Minor has 44 strikeouts in 47 innings, and his hit, walk, strikeout and strikeout-to-walk rates are all better than or equal to what he did last year when he was 5-3 with a 4.14 ERA.

    Minor was hit hard in his first start of the year, but pitched very well in his next three starts before getting blasted in each of his last four starts. Minor at least seems like he could turn it around on his own and has had some solid outings, which is why he was able to earn the "D" grade.

Jair Jurrjens F

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    Jair Jurrjens struggled very badly in his four starts, so badly that the Braves immediately sent down the 2011 All-Star following his fourth start.

    It's not as if Jurrjens was just beginning to struggle—he was beaten up during the spring as well and just didn't look right on the mound compared to what we had seen from him in the past.

    Jurrjens was lucky enough to just have a 0-2 record in his four starts, because the Braves have a strong offense. His ERA was 9.37 and his WHIP was 2.45, as he lasted just a combined 16.1 innings. He also walked 10 and allowed five homers.

    Jurrjens pitched well in his first few minor league starts before his most recent start, where Buffalo beat him up. Jurrjens may not be re-joining the Braves for a while.

Craig Kimbrel A

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    Craig Kimbrel is another second-year Brave that hasn't fallen victim to the sophomore slump.

    Many didn't think it would be possible for him to pitch as well as he did last year when he won the National League Rookie of the Year award, led the league in saves and set a major league record for saves by a rookie.

    Kimbrel has no record in his first 15 appearances, but is leading the National League in saves with 12 in 13 chances. Through 15 innings he has a 2.40 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, which are a bit higher than last year in part because he has increased his walk rate. The crazy strikeout rate is still there as he already has 23.

    Kimbrel may be the premier closer in the game right now with Mariano Rivera out for the year. The only thing he could do better is cut his walk rate, and he proved last year he is capable of doing that.

Jonny Venters B

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    After finishing with a 1.95 ERA as a rookie and a 1.84 ERA last year in a combined 164 games, Jonny Venters has been good this year, but hardly dominant.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell believe it is because Venters has seen less work. They believe that a sinker-ball pitcher benefits by pitching more often, as the pitch works better then.

    Venters has made just 16 appearances this year, which would project out to a career-low 64. In those 16 games he is 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA, but that doesn't tell you everything. 

    Venters has a 1.63 WHIP and has been very hittable this year; in fact his hits-per-nine-innings rate has more than doubled from last year's 5.4 to 11.0 this year.

    Venters hasn't been the same pitcher this year, whether that is because he isn't pitching enough as Gonzalez says or whether it has to do with him being over-worked the last two years.

    Hopefully whatever the issue is, Venters is able to work it out and return to being one of the best setup men in the game soon.

Eric O'Flaherty D

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    Eric O'Flaherty is the other pitcher that hasn't been the same guy this year. After having a career year last year by going 2-4 with a 0.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, many expected O'Flaherty to continue his success in his fourth season with the Braves.

    O'Flaherty has made 15 appearances this year through Friday, in which he is 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA and 1.79 WHIP. Like Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty has been much more hittable as his hits-per-nine rate has jumped from 7.2 to 12.2, his homers-per-nine  rate has gone from 0.2 to 1.3 and his walks-per-nine rate has gone from 2.6 to 3.9.

    Maybe last year's version of O'Flaherty isn't the real O'Flaherty, but we know that he is a better pitcher than what we have seen so far this year. Hopefully he is able to snap out of this slump and start pitching well again.

Kris Medlen B+

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    With the struggles of Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty the Braves needed for someone else to emerge, and it appears that guy is going to be Kris Medlen.

    The former starter who is in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery has pitched very well out of the bullpen this year.

    Medlen has appeared in 16 games, and is currently 1-0 with a save to go with his 2.38 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Despite not missing many bats, as he only has 11 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, Medlen has been a top pitcher and one capable of going out and pitching multiple innings if needed.

    Medlen could potentially leave the bullpen for the rotation at some point if Mike Minor keeps on struggling, but for now he has been the Braves' best reliever outside of Craig Kimbrel.

Cristhian Martinez B-

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    Cristhian Martinez is another Braves pitcher that has not pitched as well as he did last year.

    Martinez, who was claimed off waivers from the Marlins in 2010, went 1-3 with a 3.36 ERA and 0.97 WHIP last year, though he has still been solid this year

    In his first 13 appearances Martinez is 2-0 with a save along with a 4.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He has actually cut his walks-per-nine-innings rate from 2.2 to 1.3, though he has been much more hittable this year. Still, he has been fairly solid overall.

    Martinez likely isn't ever going to match the WHIP he posted last year, but all the Braves need from him is for him to continue being a solid pitcher.

Livan Hernandez B+

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    Livan Hernandez was in camp with the Houston Astros before being cut at the end and picked up by the Braves to pitch out of the bullpen.

    It was an interesting choice by the Braves as the 37-year-old had pitched in 475 big-league games prior to this year, with 474 of those being starts.

    Hernandez has actually done better than expected for the Braves. He has appeared in 13 games and has a 1-0 record with a save while posting a 3.09 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. One big positive with Hernandez is his ability to pitch multiple innings, as he has thrown 23.1 innings in his 13 appearances.

    Hernandez has been a valuable member of the Atlanta bullpen thus far, and his ability to go multiple innings as well as his veteran leadership has to help a young bullpen.

Chad Durbin D-

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    When the Braves signed Chad Durbin at the end of spring training following his release by the Nationals, it surprised many.

    The two prospects competing for the final spot in the bullpen, Yohan Flande and Cory Gearrin, had each pitched well all spring while Durbin posted an ERA of 5.53 with Cleveland last year

    Through Friday, Durbin has pitched in 18 games this year, going 2-0 with a 7.07 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. He started out horribly, allowing at least a hit or walk in each of his first five appearances.

    He has improved since then but still has an ERA of 4.84 and WHIP of 1.18 since those first five appearances.

    Durbin hasn't been good, while Gearrin has been lights out in the minors and Flande has been solid as a starter in the minors. The Braves could have easily not signed Durbin and allowed one of their prospects to have a chance, which is part of why his grade is so low.