Atlanta Braves 2009 Outlook: Starting Pitching

Ivan GressleyContributor IFebruary 8, 2009

It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves offseason has been shaky. The Braves have missed out on signing big name free agents, creating several "what if" situations.

The Braves attempted to trade for San Diego starting pitcher Jake Peavy, but were unable to find an agreement. Free agent A.J. Burnett was the next target, but the New York Yankees swooped in and signed him to a five-year deal. Then there was the Rafael Furcal ordeal, but this is about starting pitching.


The Braves turned their attention to veteran Derek Lowe. Atlanta would not be out bid or snubbed and signed Lowe to a four-year contract.


Peavy, Burnett and Lowe command hefty salaries, but Lowe might work out the best for the Braves. 


A trade for Peavy would have gutted the Braves farm system. After trading a plethora of top prospects for Mark Teixeira, dealing more top prospects would have been devastating to the future of the club. Burnett would have cost more than Lowe and has been injury prone. 


So, as it stands now, here is how the Braves starting pitching staff breaks down.


Strengths: Top of the rotation


The 2009 Braves pitching staff has a new look at the top of the rotation, as John Smoltz signed with the Boston Red Sox and Tim Hudson is recovering from Tommy John surgery


Lowe and newly acquired Javier Vazquez provide veteran leadership to a young staff.  Without Lowe and Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens would have been the staff ace. His pitching repertoire has the quality of a top pitcher, but fulfilling that title is a lot to ask of a 23 year old. 


Lowe, Vazquez, and Jurrjens combined to be 39-37 last season with an ERA of 3.87 and a whip of 1.27. Most importantly, they each started over 30 games. Injuries plagued the Braves pitching staff last season and these starters should stay healthy and add stability.  


Question Mark: Kenshin Kawakami


Kenshin Kawakami threw upwards of 130 pitches a game in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons. The Braves won't be looking for him to throw that many pitches each game, but it is a sign that he is capable of helping the bullpen by going deep into a ball game. Sure, it is great that Kawakami can throw nine innings, but can he get there without giving up a lot of runs?


Kawakami surrenders the long ball more than you would like to see if you are pitching coach Roger McDowell. Kawakami allowed .9 home runs a start over his past five seasons. This is twice as many as Lowe, Vazquez, and Jurrjens allow each outing.    


Wildcard: Young Pitchers and Tom Glavine


The Braves got a look at Jo-Jo Reyes, James Parr, and Charlie Morton during the season last year and the results were horrid.  Tommy Hanson is getting an opportunity right now and will be competing for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.


Jorge Campillo, not a young prospect at the age of 30, was effective as a starter last season and will be vying for a spot in the rotation too.


The simple and best solution is Tom Glavine.  His age is a concern, but last season was the first time the 300-game winner ever landed on the DL.  He could fill the fifth spot with more consistency than any other option.


Conclusion: Solid but not elite


The staff is filled with innings eaters and pitchers with prior success. The fourth and fifth starters could be liabilities, but signing Glavine would change that.


Lowe has been healthy since transforming back to a starter in 2002. Vazquez is the only true strikeout pitcher on the staff, so the defense will be tested this season.


With the current Braves pitching staff, the Braves will likely be a .500 team. If Kawakami translates to the MLB better than expected and Glavine signs the one-year deal, the Braves would have a slight shot at winning the NL East.