Any discussion of the Atlanta Braves 2014 Opening Day roster is pointless. Four-fifths of the projected starting rotation won’t be ready for the campaign’s commencement, if they’re ready at all this year. As far as season-opening omens go, that’s a bad one.
While the Mets and Marlins are scheduled to suck in the same general manner as they have for most of the decade – Young players! Future talent! Pay no attention to the 90 losses and general apathy! – and the Phillies have aged so rapidly that Ryan Howard probably keeps Werther’s Caramel’s in his pockets for Domonic Brown at all times, so it’s a two-horse race unless the Fish or Metropolitans grow up quickly.
In this two-horse race, the Nationals are boasting a rotation featuring Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. The Braves have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor in mid-April and some people you may be vaguely familiar with, depending on when they’re available or if they are mature enough for the spot – Ervin Santana (mid-April?), Alex Wood, David Hale, Freddy Garcia Aaron Harang, Gavin Floyd (end of April?), maybe Gus Schlosser. I recall a time when the Braves rotation was so deep they could trade away Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino because the rotation was too stacked and they couldn’t find a place for them. Life is… different now.
Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Indians 2-0. (photo by Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Last season was a great season for the Braves for a lot of reasons, not least of which was toppling the Nationals and baby-faced world-beaters like Strasburg, Ian Desmond and everyone’s least-favorite precocious superstar, Bryce Harper, for the East Division title. And while the Braves must hope that standing pat and relying on Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton to recapture former glory will suffice in terms of offseason moves for the lineup, neither the signing of Santana or Floyd for Atlanta’s rotation moves the needle like the addition of Fister, a potential No. 2 starter who slides in as a pretty clear No. 4 for Washington this season.
With 19 games against Washington this year, the Braves are almost guaranteed to face a top-flight starter every time out. And if that’s not enough, check out these numbers for those four from FanGraphs and Baseball Think Factory’s ZiPS projections for the coming year. Put together by guru Dan Szymborski, ZiPS projections weights four years of data (three for the very old or very young) and adjusts for aging.
Strasburg: 11-5, 2.83 ERA, 9.86 K/9, .221 Opp. BA, 1.08 WHIP, 3.1 WAR
Gonzalez:15-8, 3.15 ERA, 8.75 K/9, .232 Opp. BA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.2 WAR
Zimmermann: 14-9, 3.29 ERA, 6.71 K/9, .251 Opp. BA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.0 WAR
Fister: 13-8, 3.19 ERA, 6.75 K/9, .254 Opp. BA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.4 WAR
Now for fun, let’s look up the projections for Teheran and Minor and the BEST career numbers (by Wins Above Replacement) of probably-over-the-hill hurlers Santana and Floyd (the Braves erstwhile 3 and 4 this season):
Teheran: 14-9, 3.39 ERA, 7.72 K/9, .250 Opp. BA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
Minor: 13-8, 3.41 ERA, 7.90 K/9, .244 Opp. BA, 1.16 WHIP, 2.8 WAR
Santana: (2008) 16-7, 3.49 ERA, 6.79 K/9, .235 Opp. BA, 1.12 WHIP, 6.0 WAR
Floyd: (2009) 11-11, 4.06 ERA, 7.60 K/9, .242 Opp. BA, 1.23 WHIP, 4.2 WAR
What do we learn: Teheran and Minor are following the same trajectory as Gonzalez (a 3.0 WAR in his second year as a starter) but aren’t projected to quite be at that level yet. Santana’s 2008 campaign was an aberration; he reached half that number Wins Above Replacement just twice over the rest of his career. According to FanGraphs, it was the 51st-best season by a pitcher during the 2000s. Of the 35 pitchers who reached the magical 6.0 WAR plateau since the turn of the century, only three – Santana, Mark Prior and Dontrelle Willis – failed to have another season of even 4.0 WAR over the rest of their careers. Optimists for today would say he’s due; realists would say 31-year olds are who they are.
The best year of Floyd’s career wasn’t even that impressive. Both Santana and Floyd are at least five seasons removed from their career years. Unless both got hooked up with Roger Clemens’ pharmacist during the offseason, they aren’t suddenly going to be world-beaters again.
Now it’s come to this. I’ve spent more time in the last week worrying about Santana’s mental make-up and whether or not the Braves can coax 25 starts out of Floyd than I have about my own health. Monday, the brass played what I would hope is the worst-timed April Fool’s Joke of all-time when they added Harang to the mix; I’d make a ‘Looks like they’re putting together a mid-2000s All-Star team’ joke, but… um… Santana’s the only one that’s ever made an All-Star team. Harang had some very good years for the Reds but unfortunately, the last was in 2007. The worst part is that they pushed Freddy Garcia – a guy who seemed to be genuinely well-liked in the clubhouse and provided a lot for a little late last season – out the door with a ‘thank you’ in order to save $1.5 million (Harang’s terms were not disclosed when I wrote this; if he signs for $1.5 million, I will be displeased). If you’re paying somebody to eat a few innings as a starter and toss some long-relief, Garcia and Harang are the same kind of not-great at this point; why not go with the guy you already have?
Slightly over a month ago, Frank Wren was awash in praise for his savvy in locking up cornerstones like Teheran, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel to long-term deals. It sounds hokey, how optimistic people were about this team – not in a sadly hopeful ‘This is the year, you guys!’ way like Cubs fans, but that the brass knew what it was doing and championships couldn’t be too far down the pike. It’s not anyone’s fault this happened – guys get hurt, sometimes bad luck bites all at once and you suddenly enter the regular season relying on the likes of Aaron Harang. Stuff happens. Unfortunately, this year all the stuff happened before the team broke camp.
About Colby Wilson
Colby Wilson is a free-lance columnist for the Clarksville Sports Network. He enjoys some of the finer things in life, but is at his most content lounging on the couch watching sports. If you like what he wrote, let him know at email@example.com; if you didn’t, keep it to yourself, okay?
Web Site: http://www.clarksvillesportsnetwork
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TopicsAaron harang, Alex Wood, April Fools Joke, Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Georgia, B.J. Upton, Baseball, Baseball Think Factory, Braves, Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel, Dan Szymborski, Dan Uggla, David Hale, Domonic Brown, dontrelle Willis, Doug Fister, East Division, Eryin Santana, FanGraphs, Fish, Frank Wren, Freddie Freeman, Freddy Garcia, Gavin Floyd, Gio Gonzalez, Gus Schlosser, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Julio Teheran, Major League Baseball, Mark Prior, Marlins, Metropolitans, Mets, Mike Minor, Nationals, Phillies, Randall Delgado, Roger Clemons, Ryan Howard, Stephen Strasburg, Tommy Hanson, Washington Nationals, Werther Caramel