After the several great additions from the off-season, the Atlanta Braves has greatly improved their starting rotation and some upgrades in their bullpen. Even though, the pursuit of Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett was not successful, the new addition of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami are expected to provide reliability and consistency to Braves’ starting rotation. Resigning of Tom Glavine and return of Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan will also provide some upgrades in the already impressive pitching staff. Moreover, the bright young prospects in Tommy Hanson and several other young prospects will possibly contribute their ability in 2009 or 2010.
My analysis for this impressive pitching staff is listed below:
Pitcher: W-L, ERA, SO, GS, IP
Derek Lowe: 14-11, 3.52, 147, 34, 211
Jair Jurrjens: 15-9, 3.66, 203, 32, 201
Javier Vazquez: 13-10, 4.42, 211, 33, 203
Kenshin Kawakami: 12-12, 4.23, 176, 31, 192
Tom Glavine: 9-7, 5.05, 54, 21, 130
Tommy Hanson: 3-0, 1.24, 35, 3, 22
Others: 7-3, 3.67, 52, 8, 49
Total: 73-52, 4.01, 875, 162, 1101.
He does not have good enough stuff to be an ace but his record is right there with top 30 pitchers in the league. He ranked ninth in ERA in 2008, 15th in wins, 24thin strikeouts (not too bad for a sinkerballer) and he kept his K/BB to 3/1 (147/45) ratio, which means he has a good control and he has been doing that for years.
Just for comparison, Tim Hudson’s K/BB ratio is 2.08, way worse than Lowe’s, and his SO total is 358; Lowe’s is 417. Strikeout total does not really matter to them but K/BB ratio is important.
Lowe’s ERA is around 3.65 for the last four years. He had an exceptional 2008 with a 3.24 ERA, but the 2008 NL West was the weakest division in hitting and now he is moving to NL East, which is the strongest.
I don’t think the free-swinging Marlins will hurt him too much but there are a lot of professional hitters with the Mets and Phillies who will wear pitchers down. Therefore, I predict his ERA will go back to normal again.
I believe Atlanta has better lineup and hopefully bullpen as well (less injuries in 2009)than Dodgers, so the drop in ERA should not affect his W/L column. Atlanta is a pitcher’s park because of the outfield and Andruw Jones. It should not affect Lowe too much.
The kid has some raw stuff. His control is decent and his fastball can occationally reach mid 90s with sink. That alone should put him in the list of top young talents. Because of his above-average fastball, his change-up is more effective than any other of his breaking pitches but an average slider should make him very dangerous.
Last year, he relied on his fastball and change-up combo a bit too much and in the end he could not keep the ball down because of pressure and fatigue. I think he will improve his slider and become more relaxed and then he will perform even better than last year.
The advantage of raw stuff is that those pitchers are more immune to preparation and game plan. If you can throw fastball with sink at 95 and control it at the corners, hitters have no choice but to guess. That is where the change-up or other breaking pitches come in. JJ can absolutely do that and he did it consistently during his first 11 wins until he lost control of his fastball toward the end of 2008.
I love this guy. I often wonder anyone if else could pitch against Glavine and Maddux before 2000 with a lineup that ranked at the bottom of NL and still pitch competitively. He is very vulnerable to big innings because he likes to challenge hitters and leave the fastball or change-up in the zone but when he is on, he can kill any offense.
I believe he is the guy to shut down Phillies’ and Mets’ line-up, not Lowe, not JJ, him. I will get hit around by good lineups but he will also have days to steal a few wins from Johan Santana or Cole Hamels.
He is also vulnerable to home runs, which the Mets, Phillies, and Marlins will get whole bunch of from him, but he can kill flow with his stuff. I believe he will be very comfortable to pitch in NL but I don’t see him having a great year—three games above .500 with ERA about 4.5 should be fair.
Like everyone else said, there are few people who know about him. His career W/L record is 112/72. Obviously he is no Dice-K (108/60) but he is at the same elite level as Daisuke.
In my opinion, the difference of the level between any other league and MLB is hitting. MLB players are bigger, stronger, and better trained; not because the players are naturally better, but because the foundation they build when they were trained in the major-league farm system is superior to any other professional baseball sports league.
Moreover, only the best hitters can receive offers from MLB teams. That is why MLB hitter is so tough. Therefore, good stuff in any other baseball league means nothing in the USA.
Dice-K has unbelievable stuff in the Japanese league. His variety of pitches will fool any Japanese hitters, even if they are balls, and his 92-94 mph fastball in the strike zone can get past those Asian hitters. His career K/BB is 1,355/502 (in only seven years, average 193.5 SO in a six man rotation and shorter season. There is one season he record only 78 SOs.) That is an unbelievable strikeout rate.
In 2007 and 2008, he recorded 355/174 with with Red Sox, which is far worse than his career stats. His K/BB ratio can still remain decent because he is still striking out people but it will just getting worse and worse once MLB hitters figure him out.
KK is different. His K/BB ratio is 1328/351 (3.78) which is better than Lowe. Basically, he just throws strikes all the time. No wonder his idol is Maddux. The same thing applies here. I think he will get away with some of his mistakes because hitters will try to see his pitches but end up falling behind.
The NL East is a tough place to pitch. Guys like Shane Victorino, David Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and Rollins will foul off pitch after pitch until one they can handle and they will double/homer you to death. I think KK will have great first half year but get beat up in the second half. He might surprise you with a 14-10 record but 12-12 is a safer prediction.
I thought he pitched very well last year before he got injured. He lost a few wins to abysmal run support and a bad bullpen, and couple of losses before and after his injuries. Therefore, I count on him to have a winning record.
I probably won’t be too excited to watch him pitch, though. There were couple of games he started bored me to death. It is just painful to watch when he is trying to work on the corners and trying to get hitters to hit bad pitches and he starts to deliberately prolong the game and end up only pitching five innings but two hours have passed.
At the end of 2007, he could only throw 91-92 with an average curve. During 2008 he started to throw 93-95 with a killer curve. In the AFL he started to throw 95, 96 with an average slider. In 2009 spring he can throw 99 with a Smoltz-like slider and curveball drop from heaven.
There is no limitation on this guy. I think he will go to AAA to work on his change-up. When he comes back at the end of the 2009 regular season, he will throw 101 with three plus-breaking pitches (curve, slider, and change-up).
Rest of the starters
JoJo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr, Buddy Carlyle, and Jorge Campillo all had starting experience but the 7-3 record should mainly come from Tim Hudson when he returns. I believe he will come back around the end of August if the Braves are still in the race. (If not, he probably does not bother).
Even without Tim Hudson, I believe they are a healthy bunch to contribute some starting duty. A 7-3 record is not unachievable.
Bobby Cox loves to carry a whole bunch of pitchers with him during the regular season and this year he got to choose from a bigger bunch of them. Once again, it is a difficult year for him pick 12 of them. Discount the five starting pitchers; that leaves him with seven relief pitchers.
Here is my list:
W-L, ERA, GP, SV
Jorge Campillo 4-2, 2.85, 54, 0
Mike Gonzales 0-2, 3.02, 55, 31
Rafael Soriano 5-2, 2.45, 56, 6
Peter Moylan 6-3, 2.65, 58, 5
Boone Logan 2-2, 4.56, 45, 0
Eric O’Flaherty 2-4, 5.15, 48, 0
Blaine Boyer 4-3, 3.46, 62, 0
Total: 18-16, 42 saves.
Others 1-2, 4.78.
I love this guy. He was amazing before he joined the rotation. The strike-thrower has a killer change-up. He has a sneaky fastball but it does not have too much movement and velocity and requires perfect control. I think he is more suitable in short outings because hitters cannot get used to his change-up quickly. I don’t see him repeating the same performance as the first half of the 2008 but he should have a fine season.
Gonzo is one of my favourite pitchers. He is so fired-up that he will get the fans involved as well, something Maddux or Glavine can hardly do. I don’t think he can throw 96 again but he should still be able to strike out people with his slider. As long as he does not let his emotions get to him, he should not be in trouble too often. I predict he should have a few games of blown saves and some losses but most likely earning 30-35 saves.
Unless Tommy Hanson moves into bullpen, this guy has the best arm in the Braves’ pen and probably the best arm in NL East. (Yeah, better than Lidge; I don’t think Lidge can consistently throw into the high 90s anymore). This guy is a pure power pitcher equiped with a very heavy fastball that you cannot hit it as strong as you think even if you put wood on it.
His slider is also above average so he can easily have streak of 10-15 scoreless outings. I think he will share some of the closer time when Gonzo is in trouble.
He is the ultimate situational reliever against right-handed batters. The sidearm with 95 fastball and 88 slider is just unfair to righties. I think he will share time with set-up duty with Soriano or closer duty with Gonzo against a very heavy right-handed lineup.
The lefty specialist has a 92-94 fastball and a slider in the high 70s. He had a great first half in 2008 but he did really badly in the second half. He is very young, not yet 26. I believe he will have a good future.
He is not doing very well in the past three seasons. I think Bobby would like to have enough lefties to get through some innings. The guy is young and can be developed but I think 5.15 ERA might still be pretty low for him.
He has the second best arm to Soriano in the Brave's bullpen but his breaking ball is not sharp and fastball is neither with movement nor heavy. However, a power pitcher is a power pitcher, he should have a good season.
There are just too many pitchers waiting to get into the MLB. Before they get traded, there are still some opportunities for them to pitch a few innings and contribute to regular season records. Many of them should be distributed into mid-relievers so the W/L column should have very few spaces for them.
I think the pen is righty-heavy and should be improved in the future. If Wren can do that, some of Boone and Eric’s loses can be transferred into wins.