Atlanta Braves Positional Review/Preview: Starting Rotation
Over the coming days, I will write a short review about the performance the Braves received from different positions, as well as what to expect from the team in the future.
Up next, the starting rotation.
A total of 11 different pitchers started games for the Braves in 2008.
Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo, Tim Hudson, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, Chuck James, James Parr, John Smoltz, and Jeff Bennett all had chances to start.
Jurrjens, who finished third in the N.L. Rookie of the Year voting, was by far the best starting pitcher for the Braves in 2008. He was the only player on the team to make more than 30 starts (31).
He also led the team in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Jurrjens was acquired in the Edgar Renteria deal and should continue to be one of the Braves' starting pitchers for years to come.
Jorge Campillo started the year in the bullpen but finished second on the team in starts. He came out of nowhere to post good numbers (3.99 ERA) and showed that he might eventually be productive as a back of the rotation starter in the future.
However, his struggles in August and September (ERA over five in each of those months) have left people wondering whether he is better suited for a role in the bullpen.
Tim Hudson was in the middle of a strong year (11-7, 3.17 ERA) before an injury ended his season and will cause him to miss the majority of 2009 (expected return in August). He had the teams only shutout, and should have had around 15 wins had the bullpen been able to hold the lead in some of his impressive starts.
Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton both came into the rotation after the year started due to injuries to other members of the Braves staff.
Reyes still has huge potential but posted a 5.81 ERA and had only a 3-11 record. Control was an issue for Jo-Jo, as he walked 52 batters in only 113 innings. Reyes should have probably had a better record, and there were times when he showed why the Braves consider him to have a bright future.
Morton came onto everyone’s radar last fall when he impressed everyone (including manager Bobby Cox) with his showing in the Arizona Fall League. However, he struggled in his first taste of the majors with an ERA over six.
He also had some control issues, walking 41 people in only 74.2 innings. He also still has a bright future, but might need more time to develop.
Tom Glavine and John Smoltz made less than 20 starts combined but had drastically different results. Smoltz was dominant while healthy, keeping his ERA under three while striking out more than a batter per inning. Glavine struggled with an ERA over five, and did not have the happy homecoming that many imagined. Walks were a problem for him as well, as he allowed 37 in only 63.1 innings.
Both Glavine and Smoltz seasons ended due to injury, and both are currently unsure of whether or not they will be able to return in 2009.
Mike Hampton finally made his long awaited return from injury, and produced solid numbers over his 13 starts. Although his 4.85 ERA was far from good, he did pitch well in the season’s final month, where he posted a 3.79 ERA in six starts (although he only got one win during that span).
Chuck James was originally supposed to have a shot at making the rotation, and many were hoping that he could return to his 2006 form. Even if he pitched as well as 2007 (11-10, 4.24 ERA), the Braves likely would have given James numerous opportunities to start. However, he made seven starts and had an ERA over nine. Just like so many others, control was an issue, as he allowed 20 walks in less than 30 innings.
James Parr came onto the scene in the final month of the season. After allowing zero earned runs in his first two starts, he fell back to Earth and allowed four in his final three. Nothing much was really expected of Parr, and he only got a chance due to other pitchers injuries and ineffectiveness.
Jeff Bennett did make four starts, only one of which lasted more than five innings. His performance will be discussed in the bullpen review/preview, as he made 68 appearances in relief.
To sum it up (I know, that was a lot of recap), the Braves' rotation had problems from just about everyone except for Jurrjens. Whether it was injuries or poor performance, the Braves rotation was a disaster in 2008.
The rotation is likely to get the biggest overhaul of any part of the Braves club going into 2009. GM Frank Wren has already announced that he would like to acquire two top-flight starting pitchers this offseason.
Rumors had been swirling around Jake Peavy, but recently GM Frank Wren said that he was moving on to other options because the Padres' asking price was too high.
The Braves still have a chance to land Peavy, because the Padres will eventually have to trade him in order to cut their payroll. Peavy would undoubtedly give the Braves a dominant ace for the next few years, and could go a long way in rebuilding the pitching staff.
Free agent options would include Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster, and A.J. Burnett. All three of these guys would serve as a No. 3 under Peavy. The Braves will not be competing for the services of CC Sabathia, as he will cost too much.
Jurrjens should be able to settle into the No. 3 spot next year. Campillo is an option for the fourth rotation spot, and I would like to see the Braves give him a chance to prove that he is capable of pitching from the rotation.
John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Mike Hampton all could be back in Atlanta next year. Smoltz will pitch anywhere if he is healthy enough, but would like to finish the season in Atlanta.
Glavine has said that he would only pitch for the Braves. Hampton says that he liked the Braves loyalty and willingness to stick with him through all of his injuries.
I see Smoltz and Hampton coming back, while Glavine settles into retirement. Hampton could be signed to a contract with a low base salary that is loaded with incentives, which would give the Braves security if he got hurt again.
Tommy Hanson is the Braves top pitching prospect, and likely will be ready to see time in the rotation at some point in 2009. He is currently dominating the Arizona Fall League. Fellow Braves writer Kelly Rensel wrote a great article about the achievements of Hanson, which can be seen here.
If Morton and Reyes are still in the Braves organization, they will likely start the season in the minors and get called up due to injuries.
Tim Hudson will likely be making a return sometime around late August, and could help anchor the Braves staff in an eventual pennant race.
The Braves have plenty of young talent in the farm system. Players like Jeff Locke, Julio Tehran, and Kris Medlan, but most will likely still be in the minors throughout the 2009 season.
The final rotation should look something like this:
1) New Acquisition
2) New Acquisition
3) Jair Jurrjens
4) Jorge Campillo
5) Mike Hampton/John Smoltz
I expect Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and possibly John Smoltz (if he comes back) to make starts at some point for the Braves in 2009.
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