Mike Foltynewicz’s 2019 season for the Atlanta Braves was an interesting one to say the least. The 28-year-old righty — who broke out to top-of-the-rotation proportions in 2018 —struggled early to get right after opening the season on the injured list.
Foltynewicz didn’t throw a pitch this MLB season until April 27. It wasn’t a pretty start, but few first starts off the IL are. It wasn’t just that start, however: Folty allowed 19 runs in his first four outings. By the end of June, he found himself in the Gwinnett rotation, where he seemed to find that old magic, lowering his ERA nearly two full points from the beginning of August to the end of September.
He finished the season at 8-6 with a 4.54 ERA (with a less favorable 4.97 FIP and decent 1.248 WHIP), striking out just 105 batters in 117 MLB innings pitched. Then came the postseason, which was the story of two starts: one Foltynewicz will always remember and another he hopes to forget.
What went right for Foltynewicz in 2019?
Oct. 4 certainly went right for Folty. The righty came out and pitched one of the best games of his career with the Braves trailing one game to none in the NLDS. He tossed seven shutout innings, looking like the Foltynewicz of old, striking out seven, walking none and allowing just three hits.
You could also make the argument that after Foltynewicz finished his demotion and rejoined the big league club on August 6, he was the Braves best pitcher. Folty looked like a pitcher reborn, going 6-1 from that August 6 start to his final start of the season. He allowed just five earned runs in 30 September innings, and three of those came in one start. His ERA was a brilliant 2.65 in the second half of the season with a 1.075 WHIP and a much more Folty-like strikeout rate of 8.6-per-nine. Whatever he went down to find in Gwinnett, he clearly found.
What went wrong for Foltynewicz in 2019?
His second start of the NLDS was arguably the worst start of his career, allowing six earned runs and lasting just a third of an inning. It was much more first-half Folty than what the Braves had seen down the stretch.
Per Brooks Brothers, his stuff still had plenty of life, with his fastball and sinker at 95 and that heavily-used slider a nice off-speed option at 85 miles per hour. As in the past, Foltynewicz relied upon the slider over his curve and change, throwing it 28.5 percent of the time.
In that first half, the velocity wasn’t there, clocked around 92 in those early starts. And when you have a dip in velocity and struggle locating your spots coming off an elbow injury, you become more hittable. That’s what seemed to happen to Foltynewicz, as he simply wasn’t missing too many bats, allowing 64 hits in those 59.1 innings prior to the demotion. Paired with a late start from that elbow injury and it just didn’t look like Foltynewicz got himself right until his ten-start stint in Gwinnett.
What to expect from Foltynewicz in 2020
The freshly-turned 28-year-old is arbitration eligible this offseason. That said, you have to expect he’ll get his raise after righting the ship in the second half and remain a trusted part of the rotation. When paired with the declined option of Julio Teheran and free agency of Dallas Keuchel, Foltynewicz should very well find himself back near the top of the rotation in 2020. It’s tough to put that first half — and that last start — out of your mind, but both he and fans alike should. It’s fair to expect a healthier and much more 2018-like Foltynewicz in 2020.