|Braves Rotation Taking Shape|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on January 27, 2009
It may not be the rotation originally planned by general manager Frank Wren, but it is the one the Atlanta Braves will have to take into next season, for better or for worse.
Wren wanted to front his rotation with ace Jake Peavy, but negotiations fell apart as to what prospects the Braves should include. Wren then tried signing A.J. Burnett, who decided to sign for more money with the Yankees.
The Braves were successful in their third attempt at landing an ace, when they signed Derek Lowe from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He leads a rotation that features a lot of middle-of-the-road guys but nothing spectacular.
“I hope people expect a lot out of me,” Lowe said during his introduction to the Atlanta media Jan. 16. “I hope people look at you when you face a (Johan) Santana or a (Cole) Hamels and you don't have success, I want people to be upset about that. That's a pressure I've always enjoyed.”
Javier Vazquez, a castoff from the Chicago White Sox’s payroll paring, slides into the No. 2 slot in the rotation. He has the stuff to be in the top of most Major League rotations, but his numbers indicate a middle-of-the-rotation guy. Vazquez strikes hitters out and has tremendous control, but allows too many home runs.
Moving out of the American League and a homer-friendly home ballpark like U.S. Cellular should help Vazquez, but it won’t make him the pitcher the Braves need to match up with other quality rotations.
Jair Jurrjens, last year’s staff ace, returns having thrown about 45 more innings in 2008 than 2007. It is floated around that pitchers should be limited to only 30-inning increases year by year. Otherwise, injuries or arm fatigue could follow.
Jurrjens is young enough -- 23 when the season opens -- that the Braves will likely be cautious about his workload. The most sensible plan would be pacing Jurrjens in the beginning of the season and letting him raise his pitch counts slowly over the summer months.
Kenshin Kawakami, 33, joins Atlanta as its first Japanese player. He signed a 3-year contract, and it is difficult to project how Kawakami will perform at the Major League level. He featured good control in Japan and has a low 90’s fastball and an upper 60’s curveball, among other pitches.
His ability to locate and deceive hitters bodes well for his chances at pitching well, but the baseball used in the Major Leagues is slightly larger than the one in Japan and he’ll be pitching more often.
Jorge Campillo blew out his elbow while with the Seattle Mariners a few seasons back and was reclaimed by the Atlanta Braves from the Mexican League last year. His season stats -- 8-7 record, 3.90 ERA, and 158.6 IP -- are deceptively good.
First, he began the year in the bullpen, posting a 1.25 ERA over 21.6 IP. As a starter, he had a 4.34 ERA in 137 IP.
Second, Campillo has become a known commodity throughout the league. Pitchers can have success by deceiving hitters, but they need to make adjustments to outwit opposing offenses. Campillo didn’t do that. Before the All Star Break, his ERA was a sparkling 3.06. That figure rose to 4.91 after the break.
The Braves figure to be done remodeling their rotation, whether out of complacency or money limitations. As it currently stands, this will not be enough for them to compete in the National League East. The Phillies and Mets have more top-notch strength than the Braves do, while the Marlins may have the best rotation, top to bottom, in the division.
If the Braves are to contend, wunderkind pitcher Tommy Hanson, one of the top prospects in the Minor Leagues, must continue developing. He throws a mid-90’s fastball, a big-breaking curveball, a developing changeup and a work-in-progress slider.
Hanson’s stuff dominated Minor League hitters last season. He struck out 163 over 138 innings at Class Hi-A and Class AA, while he has averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors.
There are two more wild cards in the Braves hands. First, Tim Hudson, who should miss the majority of the 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, could return and make a few starts or provide innings in the bullpen. However, his impact will likely be minimal.
The other is Tom Glavine, who missed the majority of the 2008 season with injuries and underwent shoulder and elbow surgery in August. He has begun throwing, and it is uncertain when he’ll be back at full strength. The Braves would be better off counting on nothing from Glavine and consider everything he gives as pure gravy.
However the rotation stacks up, it will be a challenge for the Braves to contend this season.
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