Atlanta Braves: Two Turnarounds Have Solidified The Rotation

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Drew Smyly -- leaving a game. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Drew Smyly -- leaving a game. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /
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It is safe to say that as of late, the Atlanta Braves have been playing much better.

Of course, the influx of talent at the trade deadline has been a huge win. Even with the new players adding a large amount of the to the team, the new acquisitions have not been the only reason why the Atlanta Braves seem to have turned a corner.

The rotation has been much better this year than last. In fact, it is not even close. Of the 8 pitchers still on the 40 man that have started for the Braves, not as an opener, they combine for an excellent 3.73 ERA. This includes the slow starts for Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

On top of this, every single pitcher in the rotation has an ERA+ of 101 or better. This means that you can pick any of the eight pitchers and they all have an ERA better than league average.

Last year, the Atlanta Braves’ rotation had a much worse collective ERA of 5.46 between all the pitchers that made a start. Smaller sample size, but that is atrocious. Of the 13 pitchers who made a start, only five had an ERA+ over 100. Of those five, two of them pitched a collective 29.1 innings.

To be fair, ERA is not the end-all-be-all stat. There are many variables that factor into ERA. Ballparks, defense, etc. However, adjusted ERA (ERA+) is a good way to be able to look across the league and see how well a pitcher is doing in comparison to their peers at strictly preventing runs while also factoring in ballparks pitched in.

The Atlanta Braves rotation was terrible until June, with 2 guys being the culprits

As mentioned earlier, Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton started off slowly. Until June, Morton struggled by his standards with a 4.26 ERA and gave up at least 3 runs in 6 of his 11 starts. To be fair his batting average of balls in play (BABIP) against was a moderately high .317, meaning he potentially had some bad luck working against him.

Drew Smyly was even worse. In 8 starts before June, Smyly had a horrible 5.95 ERA, giving up 13 home runs, and giving up 5 runs or more in half of his starts.

Since June, it has been a completely different story for these two Atlanta Braves

Since June, Morton and Smyly have been excellent, which has been a huge reason as to why the rotation has been a legitimate strength of this Atlanta Braves team.

We looked at how even with their terrible first two months, Smyly and Morton have both been above average in terms of ERA+. Even without looking at the numbers, it could be assumed that they have pitched well since June, but just how well?

Charlie Morton has been excellent all around. In his last 12 starts, he owns an ERA of 2.92, 81 strikeouts to only 23 walks, a measly .180 batting average against, and opponents struggling mightily to get extra-base hits with a .272 slugging. He also only gave up more than 3 runs twice.

Drew Smyly seems to actually be earning his contract now and has made Alex Anthopoulos go from looking like he made a huge mistake, to looking like a genius in just a few short months.

Since June, Smyly looks like a completely different pitcher. In 11 starts, he cut down his home runs to only 6, which has been key in his ERA being a very good 3.35, over 2 runs lower than his first 8 starts.

He also has 48 strikeouts to 21 walks. Opponents are hitting .278/.342/.420 against him, which could be improved upon. However, his batters faced have largely been lucky as well with a .333 BABIP against him.

Smyly’s knee needs to be monitored

Smyly has been dealing with ailments in his left knee as of late, so he will need to be monitored closely to ensure that this does not affect his output. According to Baseball Savant, his expected weighted on-base average against (xwOBA) has skyrocketed from top 70% to bottom 20% in the last 50 plate appearances against him.

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If Smyly’s knee can recover, and he and Morton can continue the output they have had since June, the Atlanta Braves will continue to have a full rotation of arms pitching above average in terms of preventing runs.