Sunday, February 26, 2012

Does Atlanta's Pitching Come Close to Philadelphia's?

By Amy McGinnis

My short, biased answer is, of course, "No."

Even with the back end of our starting rotation leaving small question marks, there is simply no other team in MLB with three aces.  That being said, I think Atlanta comes closer than New York, Washington and Miami in the NL East's quest to match Philadelphia's pitching.

There really isn’t room for argument when your team has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Although I do see a few teams in baseball with great pitching staffs - Angels, Rays and Giants to name a few - I think that the Braves fall just short. Long gone are the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz; however, it seems that the Braves are doing their best to compete with Philadelphia’s pitching in 2012.

The #1 and #2 spots in Atlanta’s rotation should be Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.  RHP Tommy Hanson is built like Roy Halladay, but he pales in comparison. In 2011, Hanson went 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.169 WHIP. The then-24-year-old pitched no complete games last season. It’s actually sort of unfair to compare Hanson to Halladay; Doc is superhuman, anyway.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Jurrjens is Jair’s interview during the July 9th game at Citizens Bank Park when Cliff Lee went yard. “Oh no, no, no … are you kidding me?” Classic. Last season, Jurrjens went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.224 WHIP. All three of these statistics are better than his five-year career averages. The RHP is only 26, but has had knee problems that could prove to be an issue in the future.

Tim Hudson (16-10 in 2011 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.140 WHIP) is expected to be out until the end of April or beginning of May due to a back operation. The RHP played the entire 2011 season while injured. An injured pitcher in his mid thirties doesn’t pitch that well as a fluke. If he is able to make a full recovery, I expect Hudson to post good numbers. In his absence, Brandon Beachy will most likely pitch in the #3 spot. Beachy had a 7-3 season in 2011 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP. Not bad for his first full season in the bigs, but not exactly on par with Hudson, either.

In the #4 spot, I expect to see Mike Minor, a LHP who went 5-3 last season with a 4.14 ERA and a 1.488 WHIP. In my opinion, Minor is a run-of-the-mill #4. He performs well enough (and could show improvement over time, especially since he is only 24), but for now, he’s a good addition to the rotation and fits in well as a #4.

I’m eager to see who earns the #5 spot.

Atlanta is most dangerous in their bullpen. Philadelphia made some offseason adjustments to its bullpen, most notably, adding Jonathan Papelbon. I fully expect our ‘pen to perform well. It would be na├»ve, however, to ignore what the Braves have in store.

To begin with, Atlanta’s bullpen is very young. What they may lack in years of experience, they make up for with raw talent. Arodys Vizcaino, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro all provide depth to the bullpen, but Jonny Ventners and Eric O’Flaherty as setup men are fierce. Of course, they’re setup men for Craig Kimbrel, the Braves’ closer. This kid is unreal. He has a 96 mph fastball and posted 17.4 K/9 in 21 appearances (not a typo). Kimbrel is reason enough for Braves fans to fill that stadium (maybe they’ll start to catch on).

Though there have been some roster changes in the NL East this offseason, I think Atlanta offers the best pitching behind Philadelphia. The bullpen should more than make up for any gaps in the starting rotation, and I plan to enjoy watching the Braves try to keep up.

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