Report card time: 2019 pitching grades for Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves rotation in 2019 was neither the best nor the worst, as the staff flourished in regards to keeping the ball in the park, thanks to a top-5 ranking in ground ball rate.
Braves’ starters also kept their walks down while allowing a respectable amount of hard contact. However, the group’s lack of strikeouts, along with a bit of misfortune in the BABIP department, prevented the team from featuring a top notch starting rotation in 2019.
BRAVES’ STARTER RANKS
|K rate||8.20 K/9||20th|
|BB rate||3.14 BB/9||t-10th|
|HR rate||1.20 HR/9||5th-lowest|
There were some nice breakout seasons from guys like Mike Soroka and Max Fried, to go along with a solid year from Julio Teheran; but Mike Foltynewicz’s chronic struggles during the first half and the demotion to the bullpen for Sean Newcomb leaves this rotation looking more average than great.
Now some grades for each individual starter…
SP / Mike Soroka: GRADE: A+
29 starts, 174.2 innings, 13-4, 2.68 ERA, 7.32 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 4.0 WAR
Soroka led the way, pacing all of his rotation mates in WAR, thanks to an incredible ability to limit home runs and walks. His strikeout rate may not impress, but this season he showed Cy Young potential… not just because of his excellent performance, but also from a durability standpoint, considering he only pitched a smidge over 20 innings in 2018.
At 23-years-old and armed with an array of above-average pitches, Soroka has an extremely bright future ahead of him.
SP / Max Fried: GRADE: A
30 starts, 160.1 innings, 17-6, 4.15 ERA, 9.43 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, 3.0 WAR
With all the hype surrounding Soroka, the Braves’ leader in wins in 2019, Max Fried, had himself a breakout campaign as well. Fried’s run prevention wasn’t quite as impressive as Soroka’s, but he struck out two more batters per nine, all while featuring a similar stinginess when it came to long balls and walks.
Just two years older than Soroka (25), Fried’s future in the Atlanta Braves rotation, as well as his playoff performance in the NLDS, should excite many.
RHP / Julio Teheran: GRADE: B
33 starts, 174.2 innings, 10-11, 3.81 ERA, 8.35 K/9, 4.28 BB/9, 1.6 WAR
I’m not interested in the whole Julio debate, but there’s absolutely no questioning his durability, as his 33 starts in 2019 gives him 7-straight seasons with 30 or more starts.
Julio’s 2019 season wasn’t flashy, but his fastball was better than it’s ever been, despite another year of drop in velocity. Also weird, is that opponents made almost 5% more contact on Julio’s pitches in 2019, not to mention he generated even less swing-and-miss with pitches in the zone. Still, it was an above-average year for the 28-year-old Braves’ lifer.
LHP / Kevin Gausman: GRADE: D
16 starts, 80.0 innings, 3-7, 6.19 ERA, 9.56 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
Yeah Gausman is gone — released by the Braves in August and claimed by Reds — but he still contributed to the Braves’ rotation in 2019, surprisingly providing over 1 WAR despite a 6+ ERA.
Gausman got roughed up on a regular basis while with the Braves in 2019, allowing a 40% hard-hit rate — up from 34.7% last season. He ran into plenty of bad luck as well, posting a 139 ERA-, compared to a more stable 96 FIP- (.345 BABIP)… but that’s what happens when you allow more hard contact.
LHP / Dallas Keuchel: GRADE: B
19 starts, 112.2 innings, 8-8, 3.75 ERA, 7.27 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 0.8 WAR
Keuchel was well worth the investment in 2019, as he provided the Braves’ staff with more experience and a calm approach to pitching in the majors. I still feel that perhaps he could’ve performed even better with a normal Spring Training, but his contributions this season were still much appreciated.
Like Josh Donaldson over on the offensive side, it will be interesting to see if the Braves try and bring Keuchel back for a full-season run in 2020 (though, I personally doubt they will).
RHP / Mike Foltynewicz: GRADE: C
21 starts, 117 innings, 8-6, 4.54 ERA, 8.08 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 0.8 WAR
Folty’s season should be examined in two halves (6.37 ERA in 1st Half / 2.65 ERA in 2nd), as he was a completely different pitcher after the All-Star break. However, part of being a successful starting pitcher is maintaining a level of consistency for an entire season.
I would give Folty an F for his first-half performance and an A for his impressive turnaround in the latter half… average the two and there’s my C grade. This grading stuff is EASY!
Sean Newcomb made just 4 starts for the Braves in 2019, not quite enough to really delve into, though his 3.60 ERA as a starter was respectable, but the 6 walks per nine innings and less than 5 strikeouts per nine ultimately lost him his place in the rotation. GRADE: D (as a starter)
Bryse Wilson also got 4 starts, pitching well in one of them on July 3 against the Phillies (6 IP, 5 hits, 2 ER, 5 K), but struggling in the other three. It just hasn’t yet materialized for the 21-year-old, who has just five big league starts in the last 2 seasons. GRADE: C-
Kyle Wright was the biggest disappointment of the next wave guys in 2019. After pitching rather well in four relief appearances for the Braves last season (not to mention an excellent season in Double and Triple-A), Wright took a step back in 2019, finishing with a gaudy 9.72 ERA in four major league starts. GRADE: F
Josh Tomlin and Touki Toussaint both made one start apiece for the Braves in 2019, with the former pitching 3 innings and the latter just 1.1 innings as a starter. For obvious reasons, I’ll skip over those two in this exercise.