Braves Playing Time Battles: Pitchers

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

On Monday, I covered perhaps the easiest team to cover with regards to pitching battles. I spent about 550 words explaining that the Mets don’t have any battles. The Braves, well, they do. And here they are…

Starting Pitchers

Staff ace Julio Teheran was swallowed and digested by the regression monster last season. Regression should strike again in 2016, this time in the form of fewer home runs allowed. While I’m not eager to roster any mid 3’s ERA pitcher with non-elite strikeout rates, he’s a solid late-draft buy low.

Following Teheran in the rotation is the unproven prospect dumpster fire. And Bud Norris. FanGraphs depth charts lists nine prospects and Norris after Teheran in the rotation. There are other players who could earn starts, but I’m going to exclude them for the sake of brevity. We can chat more in the comments.

If Steamer is to be believed, Norris may be sneaky decent this season. Switching from the AL East to the lowly NL East should help him across the board. Homer problems led to a 6.72 ERA, but his 4.29 xFIP was right in line with career rates. Now he’ll get to face pitchers and four incomplete lineups – no Blue Jays or even Yankees in this crowd. My advice to Norris, steer clear of Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton.

Matthew Wisler and Williams Perez currently project to get long looks. Barring rapid improvement from either player, these may also serve as last looks as other prospects leapfrog them in the system. Wisler really does nothing that impresses me from a fantasy angle. His minor league numbers hint at elite command, but it clearly wasn’t present in the majors. He needs to channel his inner Carlos Silva or discover a pitch that actually induces whiffs.

While Wisler is a bonafide prospect on the path to fizzling, Perez reminds me strongly of Kyle Kendrick. His sinker isn’t bad per se, there’s just nothing in the repertoire that allows it to play up. He also throws show-me versions of the curve ball and change up. Even if he polishes his change up, we’re looking at a real world fifth starter with no fantasy relevance.

Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz are lined up to compete for the fifth starters job. To be clear, nobody after Teheran has a guaranteed role. I still expect the Braves to import another Norris-type rebound candidate too. Perhaps Aaron Harang again. Back to Banuelos, he ended the season on the disabled list with elbow pain. The once over-hyped Yankees prospect is a soft tossing lefty with little hope for fantasy relevance.

Foltynewicz could have a future for fantasy owners, but only if he’s moved to the bullpen. I’m reminded of Zach McAllister due to his excellent four seam fastball…and nothing else. McAllister copes by only throwing the four seamer. Folty still tries to throw four other pitches, and they’re all terrible. The worst performing pitch is his sinker. He also routinely hangs his breaking balls.

Tyrell Jenkins came over as part of Jason Heyward trade. He has the most projectability of the near-ready prospects, although his minor league results leave plenty to be desired. In particular, his strikeout and walk rates translate to spot starter quality. Scouts say Jenkins has the fastball and repertoire to be a mid-rotation mainstay. He still needs to find his way to more punch outs before fantasy owners jump on board.

The Heyward trade also yielded Aaron Blair (indirectly, via trade of Shelby Miller to Arizona). He’s perhaps the most ready of the Braves’ untested prospects. Per reports, Blair’s three pitch repertoire is good enough to succeed in the majors. Like Jenkins, he needs to find more strikeouts for fantasy owners. Unlike Jenkins, he’s at least done it before in his minor league career.

Optimists can hope John Gant can continue to mow down batters in his first try at Triple-A. Acquired in the Juan Uribe deal from the Mets, Gant is described as having a four pitch arsenal with a back of the rotation ceiling. That description, coupled with his actual results, sometimes yields a player like Jerad Eickhoff. In other words, Gant could be surprisingly good. Or maybe not.

For depth, Casey Kelly and Ryan Weber serve as inventory. Kelly used to be a top prospect for the Padres, but he looked a little iffy before injuries put his career on hold for two seasons. His return to action last year left much to be desired. Weber was used as a swingman in the minors, and it’s unlikely he can be more in the majors.

Relievers

The late innings belong to some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, and Jim Johnson. The fantasy player in me wants to see Vizcaino run with the closer role because he’s young and throws bullets. The pragmatist fully expects to see Grilli. Something has gone horribly wrong if Johnson is pitching the ninth.

Grilli was in the midst of a fine rebound season when he blew out his Achilles tendon. He’s on track to be ready for Spring Training. The fly ball pitcher reestablished his command last year, racking up a tasty 12.03 K/9 and 2.94 ERA in the process.

In Grilli’s absence, Vizcaino looked great in a short audition last season. His 98 mph heater and power curve both performed at a closer level. He tallied 9.98 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, and a 1.60 ERA (3.50 xFIP) in about half a season.

What about Johnson you ask? In my book, he’s barely a major league reliever. Even if you need holds, I can’t see him helping you. The Braves have plenty of hard throwers, including Foltynewicz. One of them should eventually supplant Johnson in the seventh inning.

We hoped you liked reading Braves Playing Time Battles: Pitchers by Brad Johnson!

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Cory Settoon
Member

I too want Vizcaino to have the job from day one, but Grilli’s numbers from last year were incredible.

Since 2000, he had the 4th highest K/9 of any pitcher 38 years old or older (min. 30 in). And the 5th highest K-BB% during that stretch.