May 26, 2010 at 2:08 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
The scary part about the Braves’ pitching staff is not that they’ve allowed up 4.13 runs per game. In fact, they allowed 15 more runs through their first 45 games last year and I was still extremely confident in the staff going forward. But that was then, and Tommy Hanson’s arrival was on the horizon. There’s not another Tommy Hanson in AAA and on a seemingly unrelated subject the scary part about the 4.13 runs per game figure is it doesn’t figure to improve.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing 4.13 runs per game in and of itself. Plenty of teams have won their division allowing more than that. It’s an above-average rate. The problem is it’s not a number the Braves can live with. Not with the way they’ve set up their roster. Fifty five per cent of their payroll is owed to their pitching staff and they have three at least league average starters under slave wages (Jurrjens, Hanson, Medlen). They’ve committed a lot of money to a few pitchers (four of the team’s five highest paid players are pitchers) and they expect and need a lot of production from them.
Last year the staff ranked 2nd in MLB in SIERA and 1st in FIP. This year they’re 14th in both categories. It’s very easy to see why–strikeouts are down and walks are up. Last year they struck out 19.85 per cent of the batters they faced. This year they’ve struck out 19.14 per cent of the batters they’ve faced. Last year they walked 8.54 per cent of the batters they faced. This year they’ve walked 9.42 per cent of the batters they’ve faced. This may seem insignificant, but when you consider the standard deviation for these statistics is about 1.5 per cent (smaller for walks, larger for K’s), it’s quite a change. Last year their walk rate was half a standard deviation above average and their strikeout rate was a full standard deviation above average. This year they’re basically half of that–their walks are a quarter-SD above average, their K’s are a half-SD above average. They’re about half as good as they used to be to over simplify things.
Walks and strikeouts aren’t the end of the story, but there aren’t any other significant changes. GB’s are up slightly, but LD’s are down and FB’s are about the same. They’re allowing more homers per fly ball, too, but the majority of the staff’s decline can be attributed to more walks and fewer strikeouts.
I don’t really know what to say beyond pointing out the problem. It seems to be a rotation problem (the bullpen has been excellent), but it’s hard to pick out whose fault it is, exactly. It’s a systematic problem. Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Jair Jurrjens have collectively posted a 74-to-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You don’t need me to tell you that’s awful. That trio is owed more than a quarter of the team’s total payroll (~$23.5 million) and includes the team’s highest paid player. It also includes the opening day starter and two others that probably would’ve started opening day had they not been basically rehabbing all Spring.
The other three, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami, and Kris Medlen, have posted a 116-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Of course, Kawakami’s batted ball profiles are by far the least desirable to the point that despite his above-average K/BB ratio, he’s arguably the worst starter on the team.
I really don’t know how to correct this problem other than hope for it to correct itself. I know, I know, hope is not a plan. But the Braves have six capable starters, limited funds, and other needs. I think they’ve just got to wait and see. Hopefully Jair Jurrjens will return from his injury soon and pitch like Jair Jurrjens. The thing is, if he does and the Braves move Medlen back to the bullpen it’s only going to exacerbate the K/BB problem. I think Medlen’s got to stay at this point. And hopefully by the time Jurrjens returns two of Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Kenshin Kawakami are pitching better.
The Braves constructed their roster with depth in mind. There’s plenty of depth everywhere, really. They did this so they could sustain a player or two failing to produce (for any reason). That depth is the reason this hasn’t been an even bigger issue, but it’s also the reason they can’t sustain several episodes of ineffectiveness among their most affluent. There aren’t many stars to drag the team along as the play of others drags it down. And when your highest paid player, your only healthy and effective starter over the past two years, and your longest tenured player apart from Chipper Jones post a collective 74-to-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio, it’s hard to over come.
Walks are up, strikeouts are down, and nobody seems to care. Though that’s probably a good thing, seeing as there’s not really a whole lot they can do about it. The bed has been made with Derek Lowe et. all, and if the group doesn’t correct the problem themselves they’re probably just going to have to lose in it.