What has happened to Braves’ starting pitching?

Derek Lowe has been feeling the heat lately on the mound. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Derek Lowe has been feeling the heat lately. (Jason Getz/AJC)

So now that the euphoria over the Braves’ acquisition of Michael Bourn has somewhat subsided and we’re back to watching a team that teases you one week and then gets slapped around by the Washington Nationals the next, here’s a question:

What the heck happened to the starting pitching?

Derek Lowe is a mess — an even bigger mess than he was before. In his last five starts (1-4), Lowe has allowed 23 runs (22 earned), 42 hits and nine walks in 26.1 innings, which computes to an earned run average of 7.86. (The Braves were certainly open to moving Lowe at the trade deadline but nobody would touch his annual $15 million salary, nor even a significant part of it.)

Jair Jurrjens, 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break, is 0-1 with a 6.26 ERA in four starts since.

And this may be the worst of all: In the first half (92 games), Braves starters were 39-25 with a 3.23 ERA and allowed opponents a batting average of .236. In the second half (19 games), starters are 5-8 with a 5.19 ERA and opponents are hitting .281.

One stat that seam heads like to pay attention to is “OPS” (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). Opponents’ OPS against Braves starters in the first half was .643. In the second half, it’s .831.

I’m not a huge numbers guy. But this stinks.

(One addendum: I don’t want to throw Tim Hudson under the bus. He is actually 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA since the All-Star break after going 8-6 with a 3.57 in the first half.)

For as much as the Braves look to have World Series potential on paper, they’re not going anywhere — maybe not even to the postseason — with this kind of pitching.

Unlike the team’s offensive problems for much of this season, the pitching woes can’t partially be attributed to injury problems (at least nothing that has been reported). They’re all healthy.

There’s a lot to like about the Braves’ lineup. But if they need to start winning games 9-7, they’re in trouble.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

195 comments Add your comment

Matt

August 3rd, 2011
11:42 am

KnightInATL

August 3rd, 2011
11:43 am

Stick a fork in Lowe. He’s done. I doubt anyone would pick him up off the waiver wire at this point.

Jamaaliver

August 3rd, 2011
11:43 am

If the question is which version of the Braves pitchers is a more accurate depiction of their abilites, I’ve got faith. The recent woes are an aberration and the first half stats are what we can expect once we get some momentum going.

The real question, why does Rick Ankiel own us all of a sudden?

Matt

August 3rd, 2011
11:44 am

Jeff, I don’t think the Braves could win games 5-3 with this terrible offense (at least without Old Man Chipper and McCann). 9-7 is laughable.

Herschel Talker

August 3rd, 2011
11:46 am

Schultzie:

We should have tried to trade Lowe while we could get something for him. Now he isn’t worth a bag of balls. In all seriousness, we do have a big problem on our hands. If the starters don’t get this fixed, bye bye postseason.

HT

stingembuzz

August 3rd, 2011
11:46 am

It has been ugly since the Break

Matt

August 3rd, 2011
11:47 am

Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but maybe the Braves SHOULD have sold high on some of their starters. Lowe was money in late August and September last year, so we just have to have faith he can turn it around. I’m much more concerned about Jurrjens – he seems gassed, which isn’t surprising – how many innings has he thrown over the years?

Jamaaliver

August 3rd, 2011
11:47 am

Is this all maybe a by-product of such a young, inexperienced staff?

I do believe that D Lowe will step up and give us a similar performance to what we saw last fall down the stretch of the season.

joe

August 3rd, 2011
11:48 am

I think Lowe struggled a lot last summer, then turned it around to be a shut down #1 in Sept. We’ll need that again if we’re going anywhere in the playoffs. JJ needs to watch film of his first half to see what he’s doing wrong mechanically this half…unless he’s getting a tired arm, in which case he needs to go on the DL.

Sid Vicious

August 3rd, 2011
11:48 am

Why do the batters swing at dumb pitches? They always go for the first pitch it seems…Whatever happened to making the opposing pitcher work? They seem to do that to us…hmmm

eastbound and down

August 3rd, 2011
11:49 am

wow. just two days ago, you were writing about how the braves were going to catch the phillies! isn’t it time for another vacation?

SonOfBoh

August 3rd, 2011
11:54 am

Not to mention that Dan Uggla is finally doing something just as everything else is falling apart.

southgabrave

August 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

Hanson and JJ have both lost about 2-3 mph off their fastballs. JJ has lsot a bit of control also, he is missing his targets badly and a lot of it is up. Lowe is not getting the same movement on his sinker and it is staying flat and up.

Thanks for Hudson and Beachy who both have been fairly sharp.

Oh yea remember some of you saying lets trade 2 of our top 4 pitching prospects for Pence. Where would that have left us after this year? That is why you can’t have enough pitching.

extremus

August 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

What we are seeing since the All-Star break is a pitching staff that has pitched at or above reasonable expectations to keep the Braves in low run-scoring contests. They overused O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and especially Venters out of the bullpen, and I’m sure while they kept silent about it the starters were sick and tired of having to be almost perfect to eke out a victory. I think they’ve simply become fatigued as the dog days and extreme heat/humidity really kick in.

Also worth noting is how many injuries the Braves have had recently to their regular position players. When you lose half your starting lineup including the offensive leader on your team (McCann), it HAS to be demoralizing, particularly when you’re watching the scoreboard and watching a healthy Phillies team notch win after win and begin pulling away in the standings.

Perhaps what is ailing the Braves’ pitching staff is both physical fatigue AND psychological fatigue; one half of the team can’t carry the entire load forever.

the truth...

August 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

Vacation indeed !!!

But the ones who need the vacation start with Lowe and Proctor and keep on down the line….Heyward, Gonzalez….and Chipper may be close to his BIG VACATION….long and lots of hunting and fishing.

Brent

August 3rd, 2011
11:57 am

Braves win the East? Maybe Dan Uggla will win the Triple Crown, too.

stevie zero

August 3rd, 2011
11:57 am

whatever happened to khalil green? is he learning about cuba, havin some food?

Football Insider

August 3rd, 2011
11:59 am

My prediction:

Heyward is a bust. Freddy Freeman is the real deal. Braves miss the playoff’s. Michael Bourn is gone next year.

Jimmy

August 3rd, 2011
12:00 pm

Who made the decision to sign Lowe for $15,000,000 per year? It must have been a congressman. What a JOKE! He never had $15,000,000 numbers before he came to the Braves.
As for Jurrjens and Hanson, they have been pitching up in the strike zone and that is why they are getting hit HARD right now. They both used to pitch in the mid90’s per hour too. Has the coaching staff instructed them to back off on the velocity? That’s fine if there not pitching up in the zone.

shlomo

August 3rd, 2011
12:01 pm

Maybe you should have highlighted this instead of the idiocy of how the Braves were going to catch the Phillies.

59bulldawg

August 3rd, 2011
12:09 pm

I lost all patience last night after Freddie let Lowe pitch again in the 5th after having given up 5 runs in the 4th. He promptly gave up 2 more runs and I turned off the tv and went to bed. Good grief!

Philly Guy

August 3rd, 2011
12:12 pm

The Braves will be alright. They’re going through a slump, every team does. They just have to beat out either the Diamondbacks or Giants. Keep the faith Braves fans. It should be a fun race down the stretch.

Carlton

August 3rd, 2011
12:12 pm

Nothing-Derek Lowe’s always been the problem. I can’t tell you how many games (even before this season) I’ve seen where I find myself asking the question “So, when is Lowe going to get out of this bases loaded No or 1-out jam?” He gives up too many baserunners and pitches from behind constantly. Hell, I could do that for $15 million a season. And please, I don’t want to keep hearing about “How well Lowe did last year in the postseason”..umm, didn’t get us past the NLDS did it?

It’s all good. Bravos will get another year or two out of Hudson, ship Derek Lowe out, have Hanson, Beachy, Minor and/or Teheran on minimum contracts by next year. We’ll be fine. Write it down.

Peter

August 3rd, 2011
12:15 pm

Well its pretty safe to say that Lowe is gone in the offseason. I’m thinking we trade him to Yankees to dump his salary, not sure we get much in return though. I’m also thinking this is Chippers last year. With those two names off the books we should be able to sign Bourn long term, along with our young pitchers. Assuming Pastornicky is ready for next year (really just hoping) all we will need is a LF. Willingham and Ludwick are both FA’s I believe and could be very serviceable hitting 6th in our lineup, and will be cheap. I think/hope Heyward will be a better hitter with another year under his belt, and Freeman is good enough at adjusting to avoid the sophomore slump.

Bourn CF
Prado 3B
McCann C
Uggla 2B
Freeman 1B
RH Hitter LF
Heyward RF
Pastornicky SS

Hudson
Hanson
Jurrjens
Beachy
Minor/Teheran

Fsusam

August 3rd, 2011
12:16 pm

Send Lowe down to Mississippi and bring back Kawakami.

swimdawg68

August 3rd, 2011
12:17 pm

Lowe needs to be traded. We will not get to the playoffs with him in the rotation. He seems to tire around the 4th or 5th inning and leaves pitches out over the plate. Last night was just awful, he looked like a batting practice pitcher in the 4th inning, Sadly, that has happened in his last 3 or 4 outings. Every pitcher has a bad outing but good pitchers correct problems, Lowe seems to be unable to correct his problems. He still appears to be out of shape.

One more thing, why did Freddie send Lowe out for the 5th? He promptly gives up a tripple and an HR. then Freddie goes and gets him, big mistake by Freddie everyone knew Lowe was done after the 4th. Notice we only gave up only one run (HR) from the 6th inning on. Same hitters different pitchers, it tells me “stick a fork in Lowe he is done”. Dump him and his big contract and either get someone or bring in one of the young guns from the minors, they could do no worse.

Peter

August 3rd, 2011
12:19 pm

One bright spot is that the only thing that seems to make the Giants legitimate contenders right now is that they won the WS last year.

Bear

August 3rd, 2011
12:20 pm

Everyone calm down. These guys still know how to pitch and will get it done. Probably not catching philly though. i’ll take the wild card and meet philly in the NLCS. Go Braves. Tired of all the warm weather fans.

01HAWK

August 3rd, 2011
12:21 pm

Frank WREN panicked when he missed out on 2-3 other pitchers and DLOWE was left for the SUCKER WREN.

DLOWE………………………..$15 MILLION……………2012 is lastt year
CHIPPER ……………………..$14 MILLION…..Has management by the you know what
McOUT…………………………$7 MILLION…………2012 is last year……………..YIKES
KAWACRUMMY……………..$7.6 MILLION………………Comes off after this year

TOTAL: $43.6 MILLION

TOTAL Atlanta Braves PAYROLL : $87 MILLION

Half of payroll is on unproductive or injured players.

Thanks a lot…………………………………FRANK WREN…………………..BARF

Retired Solider

August 3rd, 2011
12:21 pm

Put Lowe on the disacled list (I’m sure at least his pride is hurting)and put Teheran in as the 5th starter.

Trey

August 3rd, 2011
12:22 pm

Well duh. They are tired and batters have figured out some of their pitches. And perhaps the guy behind the plate isn’t helping either. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone but for some reason, the idiots that work at the ajc don’t see the same trends every year. No you write some inane article about how the braves can catch the phillies. I’ll go on record here and say this team WILL NOT make the playoffs.

Break out the broom

August 3rd, 2011
12:22 pm

A nat sweep is coming!!!

Pappay Smurf

August 3rd, 2011
12:25 pm

Jeff, I’m glad AJC has you blogging. Mark Bradley is not keeping up. One blog per 4 days ? Awful.

Great article about Braves pitching problemos though. Why is Julio Teheran in Gwinnett while Braves starters struggle every game ?

The other part is the awful hitting. I mean, truly only Dan Uggla,Constanza,and Bourn are hitting right now. Freeman is cold again.

Chipper & McCann are handicapping the offense resting on the DL.

Zach

August 3rd, 2011
12:25 pm

And what will be funny is if the braves did win something like 10-2 today and idiots like schultz and bradley would write how they are back!!

Peter

August 3rd, 2011
12:25 pm

McLouth contract up after this year, has a club option for ‘12. I don’t think that is getting picked up.

dean

August 3rd, 2011
12:26 pm

The game this past Sunday against the Marlins pretty much doused my enthusiasm for a playoff run. The last 2 games have only thrown more water on it.

I hope I’m wrong!

meh

August 3rd, 2011
12:27 pm

I think Lowe’s lost his stamina. He’ll be good for a couple of innings, then he gives up 9 doubles in a row and we’re down 6 runs in the blink of an eye. I think they should move Lowe to the bullpen. that way he can take some innings off O’Flaherty/Venters/Kimbrel. they can either move martinez to the rotation or call up Minor or Teheran or whoever.

meh

August 3rd, 2011
12:28 pm

also, why are the Braves the only team the Nats play well against? I’m so freaking sick of the damned Nationals.

braves buff

August 3rd, 2011
12:28 pm

Pretty much if we dont homer we dont win and now with the Starting pitching faulting it could get ugly real fast…Im leary of this series in NY…Mets could put themselves right in the hunt with a sweep or even two of three…..

Pappay Smurf

August 3rd, 2011
12:30 pm

01Hawk, brilliant ! You just told everyone why the Braves are hog-tied money-wise. Chipper sitting on bench eating up $16 million. McOut on bench eating up $6 million. KK fishing in a pond near Atlanta earning $7 million. At least Lowe is TRYING to pitch well and earn his money. The others are just pathetic. If I’m Chipper and I know I’m hurting the team by being hurt all the time then I retire.

Peter

August 3rd, 2011
12:32 pm

I’m not concerned about Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens and Beachy. Even though they are young(except Hudson) I have a lot of confidence in those guys to keep us in games and give us a chance to win. Lowe is another story. I’m not sure he has the stuff anymore. If anything he seems to only have it for a few innings and then implodes. Maybe its the heat. Maybe its more than that. Hopefully Fredi and Frank are having discussions about this.

Steve

August 3rd, 2011
12:33 pm

Use Lowe in the bullpen;opponents batting average is low the first time through and goes through the ceiling the next time. Bring up one of the big four. They can gives us more than Lowe has given us.

Greedy Bastardos

August 3rd, 2011
12:35 pm

Chipper’s like the old guy at the factory waiting another year for the pension to kick in. Just showing up for work but not contributing…

Smoltzie

August 3rd, 2011
12:35 pm

I have said this many times…The Braves hold on to these players like Chipper too long…Should have traded him 2 years ago when you could get something in return for your investment. This team will NEVER win anything with these types of management decisions. Now look at all the money this team will have to eat….Thanks for nothing Frank. Lowe is done…eat that. Chippers contract…eat that. Kawacrappy…eat that too. I don’t know how you can do such a poor job and not get fired? Good ‘ol boys club I guess….Same ‘ol Braves. BOOOOOO

Kim Jun Be ill

August 3rd, 2011
12:36 pm

Chiper’s been on DL more this year than in games. Its time to retire Hoss !

jacketinsc

August 3rd, 2011
12:38 pm

Don’t worry Jeff. The Braves don’t need starting pitching. The schedule says they can catch the Phillies. Right?

Supes

August 3rd, 2011
12:38 pm

McLouth has a club option that has to be bought out so he can be a FA in 2012…sure to happen. Kawakami has been a big failure, 7 million $ AA PITCHER!!! Worst is he didn’t want to get traded to a team in Japan b/c he still thinks he can pitch here in the states…that and the money thing. So 2 big stones we will be FREE of in 2012…but yeah WREN fraked up on both accounts.

Lowe – He must be moved to the pen ASAP…and either Minor or Teheran need to take over that spot in the rotation – He looks finished 2nd and 3rd time through the order teams are smacking him around. However he could be useful out of the pen. Wren needs to swallow his pride and tell Fredi to move Lowe to the pen NOW! Yes it would look bad on Wren’s part but what’s more important…pride or trying to win ballgames. San Fran did it with their “money failure known as Barry Zito”…so why can’t Lowe to moved to the pen? If by some chance we even make it in as the WC winner leave his butt off the starting pitching rotation for sure.

Kim Jun Be ill

August 3rd, 2011
12:38 pm

Chipper’s deal would be like Hulk Hogan in WWE Wrestling. Big name and great but watches from sidelines instead of contributes. Retire dude.

Supes

August 3rd, 2011
12:40 pm

Wren can make up for his failures by unloading Lowe to the AL (Yankees or Sox?) 15 million freed up, and if Chipper retires (that’s more on him though) we will be saving 13 million on top of that.

Jacks O Lakes

August 3rd, 2011
12:41 pm

Any other team that had a Julio Teheran in minors and MLB pitchers struggling would have him here in the rotation in a NY minute… Not the Braves though…