Since the Giants are in town, and since soft-tossing Barry Zito and two relievers threw a five-hit shutout against the Braves in last night’s series opener while Jair Jurrjens gave up eight runs in 3-1/3 innings, this seems like a good time to compare and contrast the two starting rotations of these postseason contenders.
Giants starters, even with former two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum having an unbelievably bad season (3-10 with a 5.93 ERA), still rank third in NL with a collective 3.50 ERA.
Meanwhile, Braves starters rank 13th in the league a 4.27 ERA, ahead of only the Diamondbacks, who play in a hitter-friendly home ballpark; the Astros, who are dreadful and play in a hitter-friendly home ballpark; and the Rockies, who are terrible and play in a radically hitter-friendly home ballpark.
Turner Field has always been considered a neutral or slightly pitcher-friendly park, with its 390-foot power alleys that yield no cheap home runs and turn plenty of would-be homers in most other ballparks into merely loud outs.
And now the Braves, who once built an unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles largely on the backs of the majors’ best and most durable starters, have only three starters with ERAs under 4.00, and one of those (Ben Sheets) doesn’t really count because he’s made only one start.
That leaves two — Tim Hudson (3.80 ERA), who started the season on the DL recovering from back surgery and currently pitches with bone spurs in his ankle, and Brandon Beachy, who had a majors-leading 2.00 ERA before a season-ending torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow required Tommy John surgery and will probably sideline him until midseason 2013.
Here are the remaining ERAs of the pitchers who’ve made multiple starts for the Braves this season: Tommy Hanson (4.02), Randall Delgado (4.52), Mike Minor (5.97) and Jurrjens (6.20). Top prospect Julio Teheran has a 4.96 ERA in 17 minor-league starts and an 8.31 ERA in his lone big-league start this season.
For the Giants, check out the ERAs of the pitchers who’ve made multiple starts: Ryan Vogelsong (2.36), Matt Cain (2.56), Madison Bumgarner (3.15), Zito (3.75), Lincecum (5.93).
Yes, the Giants have four starters with ERAs below the active Braves starter with the best ERA (Hudson’s 3.80).
And remember, pitching – starting and relieving — was again supposed to be a pillar of this Braves team. Team officials said it all winter and spring, and manager Fredi Gonzalez continued to say it during the first half of the season.
The bullpen hasn’t lived up to expectations, save for the brilliance of Craig Kimbrel. And the starting rotation has fallen far short of expectations, with the exception of Beachy before his injury.
Hence the Braves’ real need to add not just one starter (Sheets, whom they shrewdly signed off the scrap heap), but two. They continue to scour trade possibilities and could land Ryan Dempster this week if the Dodgers or another team doesn’t. Dempster has reportedly named the Dodgers and Braves (in that order) as his two preferred destinations, but also will consider other teams if the Cubs approach him with a trade proposal (he has full trade-veto rights as a 10-and-5 player).
Dempster will be a free agent after the season and has said he’d be open to returning to the Cubs as a free agent. But I would guess that the Braves would try to re-sign him if they trade for him, particularly if they give up good prospects (as they will almost certainly have to do) in such a deal. The Cubs are likely to pay a good chunk of what he’s owed this year from his $14 million salary, but the portion they’ll pay will depend on the level of prospects they get in return.
The Cubs have good leverage — Dempster’s 1.86 ERA leads major league starters, his .204 opponents’ average and .302 opponents’ slugging percentage rank second in the NL, and he 35-year-old right-hander hasn’t allowed a run in 33 innings over his past five starts. He’s 5-0 with a .171 opponents’ average in that span, with 21 strikeouts and six walks.
While the Braves would presumably try to re-sign Dempster, and both general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have known him a long time since their days together in the Marlins organization where Dempster began his career, signing him long-term probably wouldn’t be as crucial to a trade as it might be if the Braves dealt for Zack Greinke, a bonafide top-of-the-rotation starter who is expected to command a huge contract – perhaps $20 million or more in a six- or seven-year deal – this winter as a free agent, and who would presumably cost the Braves or another team more in the way of talented young talent in return than Dempster would.
The primary purpose of getting Dempster would be to bolster the rotation for the playoff race and the postseason. He’s a steady veteran with a great clubhouse reputation and a little bit of postseason experience, and he’s never been on a better run than he is right now. Adding him to the clubhouse in the midst of a playoff race would be seamless, by all accounts of those who’ve known Dempster.
Adding Zack Greinke would be done for the purpose of strengthening the rotation not just for the present but for the long term. The Braves would likely have to have some assurance they could re-sign him to a long contract before they’d send multiple young players or prospects to the Brewers for Greinke, who is currently in a peculiar 10-day rest period to “recharge his batteries.”
His struggles with social anxiety disorder have been well-chronicled, and there are plenty of big-market teams that worry whether the Greinke’s outstanding pitch repertoire and undeniable talent would work well on a bigger stage than those he’s had in Kansas City and Milwaukee.
The 28-year-old Greinke never pitched in the postseason until last fall, when he posted a 6.48 ERA and 1.620 WHIP in three starts, with 23 hits and 15 runs (12 earned) allowed in 16-2/3 innings, along with four walks and 13 strikeouts.
While his WAR rating has been specatacular throughout his career, the 2009 Cy Young Award winner with Kansas City – he had a season for the ages in ‘09, with a 2.16 ERA, 1.073 WHIP and 242 strikeouts in 229-1/3 innings – has had only one season in nine with an ERA below 3.47, two seasons in nine with a WHIP below 1.200, and has allowed a hit per inning for his career (1,399 hits, 1,395-2/3 innings).
Again, his talent is tremendous, and he’s as dominant as any pitcher in the game when he’s on. But compare his overall body of stats – not just WAR, but all the other stats, many of which teams still use to determine what they’ll pay — to those of the most accomplished pitchers who are or are about to be at the top of the pay scale, like CC Sabathia and Cain and Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander. They fall a bit short, not to mention the questions that linger – fair or not — about how he might handle the bigger stage of the postseason.
Greinke would make the Braves’ rotation a lot better, no doubt. But can they fit a $20 mill or thereabouts salary into a $90-95 million payroll in coming years? And if you’re going to pay a pitcher $20 million a year, is that the one you want it to be?
By the way, since the Braves would be making such a move first of all to help the team right now, here are some stats on available pitchers the Braves are known to have scouted and/or are believed to have interest in. I gave you Dempster’s stats from his last five starts, which goes back to the beginning of June and includes two starts since he came off the DL (he had a strained lat muscle).
Here are the numbers since June 1 for the others:
– Greinke is 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA in nine starts, with a .240 opponents’ average, 48 strikeouts and 12 walks in 51 innings, and 4.76 support runs per nine innings pitched.
– Matt Garza is 3-4 with a 3.80 ERA in eight starts, with a .249 opponents’ average, 44 strikeouts and 11 walks in 47-1/3 innings, and 4.94 support runs per nine innings.
– Francisco Liriano is 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts (I went back to May 30 with him, since that’s when he returned to the rotation from bullpen), with a .170 opponents’ average, 67 strikeouts and 25 walks in 57-1/3 innings, and 3.3 support runs per nine innings.
And since I’ve been asked about Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez, I’ll put his stats here since June 1 as well, even though I don’t think the Braves would have much if any interest, judging from comments I’ve heard about him in the past by Atlanta players and others.
– Rodriguez is 3-3 with a 5.08 ERA in eight starts, with a .276 opponents’ average, 29 strikeouts and 12 walks in 48-1/3 innings, with 5.77 support runs per nine innings.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s a difficult one for the Braves, with Minor facing Vogelsong, who’s been remarkably consistent this season and enters with a string of 13 consecutive quality starts since May 1.
In that period, Vogelsong is 7-3 with 1.97 ERA and .219 OA, with 57 strikeouts and 28 walks in 91-1/3 innings and only 3.45 support runs per nine innings pitched. He went seven or more innings in 12 of those 13 starts, including exactly seven innings in 10 of the 13 and each of the past five starts. The Giants scored one or no runs while he was in the game in each of his three losses in that stretch.
Vogelsong is 4-2 with a stingy 1.43 ERA and .191 opp avg in nine home starts, compared to 3-2 with a 3.59 ERA and .260 opp avg in seven road starts. His .328 slugging percentage allowed is fourth-lowest among NL starters, while Minor’s .486 is second-highest.
Minor is 3-2 with a 4.24 ERA in past six starts, with an impressive .218 opponents’ average in that span. Problem’s been that he issued 19 walks (with 27 strikeouts) in 34 innings in that period, and allowed six homers among 27 hits.
He’s 2-0 with a 4.76 ERA in his past two starts, and the Braves scored seven and six runs while he was in those home wins against the Nationals and June 30 and Cubs on July 5. He’ll be pitching on more than double the usual four days’ rest between starts.
Minor won his only start against Giants when he pitched six scoreless innings of four-hit ball with one walks and nine strikeouts on Aug. 18, 2011 in Atlanta.
The Giants are 4-0 with 0.69 ERA in their past four games (three vs. Astros) and have allowed one or no earned runs in each. They scored 20 runs despite just one homer in that four-game span….
The Braves are 9-12 with 4.14 ERA in past 21 home games, including 3-1 with a 5.50 ERA in the past four….
Jurrjens is 4-6 with a 6.05 ERA and .316 opponents’ average in 16 starts since the 2011 All-Star break, after going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and .229 OA in 16 starts during 2011 before the break. He has just 44 strikeouts and 37 walks in 86-1/3 innings since the 2011 All-Star break, after totaling 65 strikeouts and 25 walks in 110-2/3 innings in 2011 before the break.
If you missed it, here were Jurrjens’ quotes and those of some others Braves after Tuesday’s ragged 9-0 loss….
San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera in his past 63 games: .377 (97-for-277) with 26 extra-base hits (six triples, seven homers), 38 RBIs, .407 OBP, .556 slugging (.963 OPS)….
Dan Uggla is 10-for-90 (.111) in his past 27 games with two doubles, one homer, five RBIs, 35 strikeouts, .273 OPB and .167 slugging (.440 OPS). In his past 18 home games (since June 11), Uggla is 5-for-57 (.088) with no homers, two RBIs, 26 strikeouts and .123 slugging….
Freddie Freeman is 27-for-75 (.360) with seven doubles, four homers, 17 RBIs, .443 OBP and .613 slugging (1.056 OPS) in his past 21 games.
• Let’s close with the title cut from the great recently released album by The Walkmen, which you can hear by clicking here.
“HEAVEN” by The Walkmen
our children will always hear
romantic tales of distant years
our gilded age may come and go
our crooked dreams will always glow
stick with me, oh you’re my best friend
all of my life, you’ve always been
all we fight for
all we fight for
don’t leave me, oh you’re my best friend
all of my life, you’ve always been
don’t leave me now, you’re my best friend
all of my life, you’ve always been
all we fight for
all we fight for
oohh oh oh ooooh oh…
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog