Atlanta Braves Position-by-Position Preview, Pt. 2: Pitching

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IMarch 2, 2009

My article Atlanta Braves Position-by-Position Preview, Pt. 1 broke down each position on the Braves’ roster that didn’t involve pitching.  This article talks about pitching. 


Similar to the first article, this one lists the pitchers in order of their rank on the Braves’ official team depth chart.  So without further adieu, the Atlanta Braves’ 2009 pitching breakdown...




Starting Pitching


Derek Lowe is a solid pitcher who will give you 200 innings and 15 wins most years.  He also doesn’t walk many guys, but has had at least 120 strikeouts in five of the past seven years. 


What’s more, he hardly ever gives up home runs.  Since 2002, his first full year in a big-league starting rotation, he’s surrendered more than 15 home runs only twice. 


During that span he’s allowed 14 or fewer home runs three times, including a career-low of 12 back in ’02. That’s pretty darn good, if you ask me.


Javier Vazquez is underrated.  His win-loss records are suspect, but the reason for that seems to be his Achilles' Heel of allowing home runs—he’s allowed an average of 27 homers per year in his 11 big-league seasons. 


That also explains why his ERA always seems to be high, even though he consistently strikes out 200+ hitters but doesn’t give up more than about 60 walks per season. 


But strikeout pitchers are susceptible to giving up a lot of home runs because they’re always around the plate, and it often only takes one mistake to give an opposing hitter a chance to send one flying into the outfield seats.


Vazquez could also throw in an occasional complete game. If Vazquez can learn better control, he will be a great No. 2 option.


Jair Jurrjens had a solid first full year in 2008.  He was particularly strong early on, but had some issues with control and poise last year, and his 70 walks to only 139 strikeouts demonstrate that. 


But, to his credit, he was almost never so far off the plate that he hit the batter. Yet he still only allowed 11 homers in 188 innings.


Over the course of the season Jurrjens went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA. With further work on his game, Jurrjens should develop into a solid, top-of-the-rotation pitcher.


Kenshin Kawakami played for the Japanese professional team Chunichi Dragons for 11 years before signing a three-year contract with the Braves this past offseason. 


During his time in Japan Kawakami won 112 games and lost 72, had a career ERA of about 3.30, and threw 149 innings per year. 


In addition, in nine seasons of at least 20 games, Kawakami averaged about 141 strikeouts per year. 


In his single spring training start of this season thus far, Kawakami allowed just one hit in two innings of a 5-2 win over the Pirates on the last day of Feb. 


Jorge Campillo was a lot like Jurrjens in 2008. He started relatively strong, but he had played in only eight ML games before signing with the Braves before the ’08 season. 


Eventually his lack of experience got to him, and his performance declined toward the end of the season due to control issues. Fatigue may also have gotten to him—he was able to pitch only 158 innings last season. 


Because of his finesse pitching style and later lack of control, he didn’t strike many opposing batters out. 


But his mere 38 walks allowed were impressive. If Campillo could learn how to control his pitches better, he could turn into a modern version of Tom Glavine.


Speaking of Tom Glavine, the veteran hurler is trying to break into the rotation by earning the fifth spot. 


But the odds seem to be against him, considering the Braves and he didn’t see eye-to-eye about a new contract until February. In addition, he was plagued by injuries last season. 


Plus, the guy is going to be 43 by the time the season starts. If Glavine doesn’t make the final roster because of a strong spring, don’t be surprised if he retires before the season starts, rather than be sent down to Triple-A Richmond, an undignified demotion for a seasoned veteran who used to be one of the best pitchers in the game.


Jo-Jo Reyes will likely get sent down to Triple-A Richmond as long as the five starters stay healthy. 


His overall performance with the Braves last year was underwhelming to say the least—and his 3-11 record, 5.81 ERA, 134 hits, and 18 homers allowed in 113 innings pitched were proof of that. Reyes needs at least another year of minor league seasoning.


Tommy Hanson is a non-roster invitee to spring training. It seems he has only advanced to Myrtle Beach, the Braves’ High-A minor league affiliate. 


While there at the start of the 2008 season, he started seven games, going 3-1 with a 0.90 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, while notching 49 strikeouts in 40 innings. 


He also didn’t give up a single homer. This performance has led Braves scouts to think he’s ready for AA-level ball. 


Hanson obviously will not be on the final 25-man roster. 


It looks like the Braves just wanted to see how he’d stack up against major league hitters before they really got ready for the regular season.     




Relief/Closing Pitching


Mike Gonzalez was hurt for a good part of 2008, but he was spectacular when he came back. He converted 14-of-16 save opportunities, and allowed only 26 hits in roughly 33 innings of work. 


What’s more, Gonzalez walked only 14 hitters, but fanned 44.


The only complaint with Gonzalez was his six home runs surrendered. But, like Vazquez, if you strike out a bunch of hitters, you’re always around the plate, which raises the risk that you’ll serve up a meatball. 


This issue is worsened by Gonzalez’ side-arm delivery, which is designed to help a pitcher keep the ball over the plate.


Still, you can’t ignore Gonzalez’ effectiveness at putting the last nail in the coffin.


Rafael Soriano hardly played last season due to incessant injuries. But when he pitched, he was efficient, converting three of four save chances. 


In addition, his ERA was only 2.57, and hitters had a particularly hard time getting around on his high-90’s fastball. 


Soriano allowed only seven hits in 14 innings, and gave up only home run, which attests to his ability to get into the flow of the game quickly and not leave an early pitch in a good hitting zone. 


His walk-to-strikeout ratio was also excellent (9:16.)  Soriano should have a great year.


Despite the fact that Manny Acosta is still developing into a quality reliever, he converted three of five saves last season. 


However, his control could use some work. He gave up seven home runs in only 53 innings in 2008, and allowed 26 walks for a 3.57 ERA in 46 innings. 


In addition, he should work on his overall pitch development. I remember watching him last season, and it seemed like most of the pitches he threw looked like fastballs.


The Braves should use Acosta more as a closer. Gonzalez won’t be able to pitch in every close game, so focusing Acosta’s development on being a closer would be more beneficial than trying to turn him into a reliever.


It’s surprising to find Blaine Boyer as high up on the Braves’ depth chart as he is, considering he’s been highly inconsistent as both a reliever and closer throughout his career. 


But Boyer is still a fairly young player at 27, so he could potentially develop into a good reliever. However, he has a lot of work to do if he’s going to get there. 


Hopefully the lessons former Braves ace John Smoltz taught Boyer will make a difference in his game sooner than later.


Boone Logan, formerly of the White Sox, is in a situation similar to Boyer.  But Logan has better control than Boyer’s, so he has a better chance to make a mark in the majors with the Braves in the near future. 


He’s developed into a strikeout machine for a young reliever (he had 42 last year in as many innings,) but his undeveloped control leads him to leave too many pitches over the middle of the plate. This problem results in a lot of home runs allowed. 


Despite all the knocks you could make against Logan, he could develop into a good reliever sooner than you might think.


Eric O’Flaherty is another young, developing reliever who had his best season in 2007 as a reliever with the Seattle Mariners. He posted a 7-1 record with a 4.47 ERA. 


In addition, he allowed only one homer in 52 1/3 innings, and struck out 36 hitters while giving up 20 walks—not bad.


Buddy Carlyle could be developing into a quality reliever. He had his best major league season in ’08, finishing 2-0 with a 3.59 ERA and five home runs allowed in 62.2 innings.


Not only that, but he walked 26 batters and struck out 59. If Carlyle continues to develop like he did last year, he will be a solid reliever in a year or two.


Jeff Bennett may be an excellent reliever in the making. He’s improved both of the last two seasons after being out of the majors for two consecutive years. 


In 2008, he converted three of his four save opportunities. He gave up an average number of hits for a reliever (86) who put in a similar amount of work (97.1 innings,) but allowed only 40 earned runs and five homers.


However, his control was a little shaky, and his 47 walks to 68 strikeouts vouches for that.


Bennett needs a little control. But once he gets that, he should be a quality option for the Braves out of the bullpen.


Since getting knocked around for a big inning one time as a Tampa Bay Ray, Jeff Ridgway has actually been a very good pitcher. 


His ERA in 9 2/3 innings of work is 3.72, and he’s also allowed three home runs (out of seven total hits.) But he’s also struck out eight batters, while walking only one. 


Sure, Ridgway’s control needs some work. But once he improves that aspect of his game, he should be a quality reliever.


The Braves’ pitching staff, bullpen and starting rotation included, seems underrated.  Three of the top four starters are reliable, consistently good veterans who know what they’re doing. 


The other two projected starters are promising younger guys who can become really good by learning better control and gaining big-league experience.


The bullpen has some solid players who could blossom into stars this season—or maybe 2010—in addition to a couple diamonds in the rough. The Atlanta Braves should have a great staff this year.