The Atlanta Braves made the postseason largely on the strength of their pitching. An unproven rotation and a dynamic bullpen had just enough to eke the Braves into a one game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Braves finished with a team ERA of 3.42 – good for 5th in the majors – yet finished 20th out of 30 teams in the number of quality starts provided by the rotation. This year, the Braves have to hope that they can develop a rotation that will not succumb to injuries or inconsistency as much as last year’s rotation.
Tim Hudson led the squad with 16 wins last year, posting a 3.62 ERA to go with his 16-7 record. Mike Minor was an innings eater, tossing almost 180 innings to lead the team. Tommy Hanson struck out almost a batter per inning (161 K, 174.2 IP) but saw his ERA jump to the mid-4’s and his WHIP just to 1.45.Hanson was traded to the Angels for Jordan Walden, who will provide set-up help in the bullpen to make that component of the team even tougher.
Beyond those three, the rotation was held together with duct tape. Brandon Beachy was good early on, but required Tommy John surgery in June. Kris Medlen moved from the bullpen to the rotation and was dazzling from July onward, but still has question marks going into a full season in the rotation. Paul Maholm, Ben Sheets, Randall Delgado, and Jair Jurrjens (now in Baltimore) split the remaining starts.
2013 could be a much bigger breakout year for the Braves’ young pitchers – if they can stay healthy and piece things together.
Tim Hudson was a rotation rock again in 2012, going 26-7 with a 3.62 ERA. However, his K/9 rate dropped from 6.63 to 5.1 from 2011 to 2012, while his WHIP rose from 1.14 to 1.21. If these trends continue, the Braves could find themselves in more trouble than they expected whenever the 37-year old takes the mound.
Brandon Beachy was 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA in 2012 while pitching through arm soreness all year. He finally was shelved in June to have Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and is looking to return close to June 1. If he is able to return even close to his 2011 and 2012 self, he will give the Braves a huge lift.
Kris Medlen was phenomenal last year, stepping into the rotation when Brandon Beachy went down. He went 9-0 in his 12 starts, posting an ERA under 1. The Braves will need that type of performance in 2013 and must hope the Medlen – who has had Tommy John surgery as well – can handle the workload of a full season. He threw 138 innings total last year, but the Braves will have to hope they can get 180-200 innings this year without any injury from the 27-year old.
Julio Teheran had a disappointing 2012 in AAA, and did not fare well in September after being called up. The Braves are looking to Teheran to hopefully slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, and are also hoping the 22-year old top-rated prospect is dazzling enough in spring training to lock that rotation spot down.
Over the past seven years, Paul Maholm has averaged 30 starts and 185 innings per season. The Braves knew they were getting an innings-eater when they acquired him, and hope he can do exactly that in the rotation after Hudson and Medlen – especially until Beachy returns. Maholm was 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 189 innings last year between the Cubs and Braves.
Mike Minor was great down the stretch last year for the Braves, winning five of his last seven starts in 2012. His control was much better, as his walk rate dropped tremendously after the All-Star break. He also posted a 2.21 ERA after July 1. The 25-year old lefty could also be poised for a breakout year.