Atlanta Braves: Who Needs Starting Pitching? The Braves Sure Don't

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Atlanta Braves: Who Needs Starting Pitching? The Braves Sure Don't
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Tim Hudson leads a Braves staff that has few holes in 2011.

Rumors rumors everywhere.  Where will Cliff Lee land?  The Yankees, duh.

It seems every off season that pitching is the biggest issue for those teams looking to make a big splash in free agency.

The Atlanta Braves are looking at a 2011 season that very much like 2010 will include much depth at starting pitching.  Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Jorge de la Rosa, Javier Vazquez, and Chris Young are just a few names that come quite popular upon the signing of Cliff Lee if and when Brian Cashman signs him to come to the Bronx.

The biggest need of the offseason was fulfilled with the trade for Dan Uggla on November 16, 2010.  His right-handed power will bring a much needed boost to the Atlanta Braves offense.

It is safe to say, I don't see the Braves shopping for any above average starting pitching this offseason.  If anything, the Braves could consider adding a veteran arm to their bullpen.

Let's take a quick peek at what the Braves have to look forward to in 2011 when it comes to starting pitching.

1.) Tim Hudson (Prediction: 210 IP, 18-9, 2.95 ERA, 135 Ks)

What can you say about Tim Hudson in 2010?  17-9 with an ERA of 2.83.  He does walk a batter from time to time but he held hitters to a .229 BAA last season.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Tommy Hanson will be ace for years to come.

What was the most significant part of 2010 for "Huddy"?  228.2 IP.  Not bad for a guy that just came back from major surgery the season before.  You could certainly make a case that Tim Hudson is as good as ever right now and that his only season better than 2010 was when he pitched for the A's back in 2003.  He may very well be in the Cy Young race yet again in 2011.

2.) Tommy Hanson (Prediction: 215 IP, 15-10, 3.10 ERA, 200 Ks)

2011 will very much be a breakout season for the young Tommy Hanson.  Next season Tommy Hanson will be listed first and Hudson second.

Hanson has a knack for getting in trouble and blowing up, but he has also pitched his way out of trouble several times.  This is typical for a young star.  I don't think he will compete for the Cy Young just yet in 2011, but in 2012 he will be running the show against the big boys.

2010 showed that Hanson has good control when he is on his game.  His K to BB ratio was right around 3:1.  With a little more run support, I think Hanson would have been able to log a few more innings this season and get very close to 200 Ks.

3.) Derek Lowe (Prediction: 190 IP, 15-12, 4.10 ERA, 125 Ks)

If Derek had only been as dominant all years as he was in the month of September he would have been an easy pick for the Cy Young.  In the final month of the season Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA.  With a little run support in the playoffs, Lowe could have pitched the Braves to a NLCS if he had just had a little more run support from an injury plagued lineup.

I think Lowe has reached his peak, but feel he will give the Braves one more good season.  His 2010 numbers aren't out of reach, but I'll suggest he will be slightly above average and more consistent this season.

4.) Jair Jurrjens (Prediction: 185 IP, 14-10, 3.80 ERA, 140 Ks)

If I were a betting man (which I'm not) I would suggest J.J. will be more similar to his 2008 and 2009 self in 2011.  Between his injuries (June through August) JJ carried a 6-1 record with a 3.75 ERA in 12 starts.  By September, Jurrjens was already beginning to feel the effects of his injuries.  I feel like this section of the season more clearly portrays what a healthy Jair Jurrjens will pitch like in 2011.  One day, Jair will be one of the most recognized pitchers in the league alongside Tommy Hanson.

5.) Mike Minor (Prediction: 165 IP, 9-13, 4.80 ERA, 155 Ks)

Mike Minor will be the man until Kris Medlen comes back from injury.  If Minor pitches well enough, Medlen upon his return could be used as a valuable bullpen arm in August or September of 2011.  Brandon Beachy may give Minor a run for his money in spring training, but the former Vanderbilt stand-out was drafted to be a Braves pitcher for several years to come.  My prediction will be based on a full season.  This is subject to change depending on what Fredi Gonzalez does with Medlen when he returns.

Aside from the five starters above, others will likely see some time in the rotation with a spot-start here and there.  Brandon Beachy as mentioned will give Minor some competition but will likely be used as a long reliever or a spot starter.  If he isn't traded, Kenshin Kawakami may see some time on the big club if he can regain some form at AA early in the season.

What I believe most fans hope for is a late season return by Kris Medlen.  Medlen was a great benefit to the team last season and would be an excellent late season addition to what is expected to be a competitive Braves squad in 2011.

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