In 2009 the Braves pitching staff ranked in the top five of nearly every NL statistical category. That was without Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson for a full season. Pitching should be the strength of the 2010 Braves, though “should be” in March doesn’t always become “was” in October.
Tim Hudson is coming off an injury-marred season, Derek Lowe is coming off a year of “worsts”, and Jair Jurrjens is already experiencing “soreness”. Let’s not forget that the two stalwarts of the bullpen from 2009 are gone, replaced by men older than Tommy Hanson’s dad (maybe). Enough talk – fantasy nerds read numbers and bulleted lists.
2010 Projected Rotation:
It should be noted that Bobby Cox has been very impressed with Lowe this Spring, and has named him the opening day starter. Management is also using extreme caution with Jurrjens, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Lowe swapped spots in the order.
2010 Projected Bullpen:
Closer – Billy Wagner
Set-up – Takashi Saito, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan
Others of note – Kris Medlen, Jesse Chavez, Manny Acosta
Tim Hudson, SP Age: 34 Throws: R
2009 stats: 42 IP, 2 W, 30 K, 3.61 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Cutter, Curve, Change, Splitter
Hudson sat out most of the 2009 season after Tommy John surgery. When he returned to the mound he posted his highest strikeout rate since becoming a Brave (6.38). Hudson also threw his cutter more than ever in 2009 (15%) while throwing the fewest sliders to date (3%). I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between the pitch selection and strikeout rates, but there are some numbers for you to ponder. I think Hudson is past the point of fantasy relevance, but he is still considered the “anchor” (I don’t want to use the word “ace”) of the Braves rotation. Hudson has been in the proverbial “midseason form” this spring; he has a 1.93 ERA and a 13:1 K:BB ratio in 14 IP. Considering his numbers this spring and how he finished ’09, it seems that Hudson is striking out batters like he did 10 years ago with Oakland. He could prove me wrong about his fantasy relevance if he keeps up the K rate.
Jair Jurrjens, SP Age: 24 Throws: R
2009 stats: 215 IP, 14 W, 152 K, 2.60 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Change
Jurrjens logged his second solid season with the Braves, but the 215 IP and the spring soreness in his throwing shoulder have made me a little apprehensive about adding him to my roster. In 2008 his BAA against was .261, and in 2009 it dropped to .235. His BABIP dropped from 08 to 09, at .311 to .273, respectively. Every other statistical category remained largely unchanged between the past two seasons. Make of that what you will. I’m not going to say I think he’s a bust in 2010, but I think there will definitely be some regression.
Note: Jurrjens had an MRI of his throwing shoulder which revealed only inflammation.
Tommy Hanson, SP Age: 23 Throws: R
2009 Stats: 127 IP, 11 W, 116 K, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Curve, Change
Hanson had a great debut in 2009, and he should continue to improve in 2010. Hanson was primarily a three-pitch pitcher in 2009, and he has since added a changeup to his arsenal. He fanned eight batters per nine IP while walking only three. So far in three spring starts (9.1 IP) Hanson has a 1.93 ERA with a 10:1 K:BB ratio. Hanson might regress a little this year – .280 BABIP in ’09, for those of you who love those stats. I can’t see him finishing worse than a top-end third tier pitcher. Call me crazy, but I like him better than Clayton Kershaw. Just sayin’.
Derek Lowe, SP Age: 36 Throws: R
2009 Stats: 194 IP, 15 W, 111K, 4.67 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
Repertoire: fastball (sinker), Slider, Curve, Change
Lowe’s 2009 was a testament to his inconsistent nature. He posted career worsts statistically, but still managed to log 20+ quality starts. When Lowe gets into a groove he can be unhittable, forcing batters to contend with his trademark sinking fastball. For the past three years Lowe has used his fastball (65%) and slider (26%) almost exclusively; a sign of how dominant said fastball can be. I expect more up-and-down performances from Lowe in 2010, but with a better end result than that of ’09. Lowe’s BAA and BABIP were both 30 points higher than his averages in 2009. His ground ball rate was also down 7% from his average. Bobby Cox favors Lowe – he is the Opening Day starter. Lowe worked on his delivery in the offseason, and he has had an up-and-down spring so far. Looks like business as usual.
Kenshin Kawakami, SP Age: 34 Throws: R
2009 Stats: 156 IP, 7 W, 105 K, 3.86 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
Repertoire: Fastball, Cutter, Curve, Splitter
Kawakami didn’t blow anyone away in his debut season, but the Braves can find little more to ask of a fifth starter. Kawakami induces a lot of ground balls and showed a propensity to “play up” to the opposition in 2009. I specifically remember one game last year, against the Blue Jays, where Kawakami outshined Roy Halladay. Both pitchers were dominant, but I just remember thinking how funny it was that our fifth starter was going toe-to-toe with one of the best. Look at the box score: http://espn.go.com/mlb/boxscore?gameId=290522115
He’s not exactly going to help your fantasy team as anything other than an occasional “matchups” starter.
The losses of Soriano and Gonzalez will undoubtedly be felt, but time will only tell to what extent. The Braves brought in Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to finish games off in 2010. Peter Moylan and Jesse Chavez should vie for some holds and the occasional save or win. O’Flaherty will be used primarily in a lefty-lefty matchup role – one that he succeeded in last year. Kris Medlen will be used in long relief and spot starts. I’ll break down each pitcher in the next post.