It is safe to say that the Atlanta Braves captured a third straight NL East division title in spite of what was one of the starting rotations for most of the 2020 season. A stellar performance by Max Fried and the arrival of Ian Anderson stabilized things in time for the postseason, but it was hardly an area of strength. That should change in 2021 after the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly along with the return from injury of Mike Soroka. The Braves are hoping that this will once again be an area of strength for the ball club. Here is who we think will stand out for Atlanta’s rebuilt pitching staff in 2021. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Who will be the Braves’ pitching MVP in 2021?
Scott: I’m going Ian Anderson. This might be a bit unconventional as he has a total of six career starts under his belt (plus four postseason starts) but he looks every bit the part of a workhorse No. 2 starter for the next decade. I love Max Fried and Charlie Morton, and all eyes will be on Mike Soroka as he looks to bounce back from injury, but I’ll take Anderson as he wins NL ROY.
Eric: This is tough because while I think that Fried and maybe even Anderson could outperform him in terms of WAR, I’ll stick to the hill that I have died on for several years now and pick Mike Soroka. This is a bit subjective, but one thing that Soroka can do as good or better than anyone is give efficient longer outings. With a bullpen that could be a bit more uneven than last year’s unit and some unknowns (Smyly’s injury history, Morton’s age, Ian being in just his second season, etc), a guy who should be super steady and give quality outings everytime he goes out there has a lot of value. It is honestly a really close choice here, though.
Daniel: I’m very tempted to say Charlie Morton, and it really could be a number of different names, but I’ll go with last year’s hero, Max Fried. Fried has tremendous stuff and overall talent. If he can stay healthy enough to get the pure volume of innings, he could reach new heights in 2021. Fried has evolved each season he’s been in the big leagues, and this could be the year he puts it all together into one elite package. I also feel safe in his floor as at least a solid starter.
Brent: It’s an interesting rotation in that each member has the upside to be this answer, and each has flags of varying shades of red. Some might think me thick as a brick to pick the rookie of the bunch, but I’ve long been a big believer in Ian Anderson, appreciated his dominance in the minors, and saw nothing last year to change my mind.
Ivan: Charlie Morton has had such a weird career arc that it’s really hard to gauge whether he’s just playing with a burning chainsaw on the edge of the aging cliff at this point, or whether he’s transcended onto a higher plane where burning chainsaw damage actually heals him at this point. I’ll take a stab at something like: Morton doesn’t replicate his 2019, nor even stay healthy enough all season given that he’s 37 and missed a month last year, but still ends up with the most total production on the staff.
Kris: I expect the Braves’ rotation to be significantly improved in the 2021 season with the addition of Charlie Morton, the return of Mike Soroka and a full season from Ian Anderson. Still, Max Fried is my pick for the team’s pitching MVP. Fried carried the club in 2020 and I think he will establish himself as the clear ace of the Braves’ staff in 2021.
Shawn: For me, it is Mike Soroka. I know that we will not get to see him until late April/Early May, but Soroka is the type of pitcher who will not need much “ramping up” to get back to his expected level of performance. And Soroka’s consistency of being to go against opposing aces always giving the Braves a chance to win will certainly be needed if Fried, Anderson, Smyly, or Morton were to regress this season. A 1-2 combo of Fried and Soroka could be quite problematic for other teams with Atlanta’s offense supporting them, and I feel both young hurlers are ready to show the league what they can do as a duo.
AB: Mike Soroka may come back from a year off with a vengeance, but Drew Smyly’s upside jumps out at me. I think this may be another case of Alex Anthopoulos making a terrific one year deal. Drew’s offerings are all above average. He has a chance to have the best single-season strikeout rate which is currently 1996 John Smoltz’s 27.7%.
Dillon: There are five starters who could reasonably fit into this spot, which is incredible given the Braves trotted out Tommy Milone and Robbie Erlin for eight total starts in 2020. Thankfully, the Braves added Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly this offseason, hoping that augmenting their rotation would keep retreads off the mound in 2021. With that in mind, I’ll take Charlie Morton as the staff MVP, especially after seeing his velocity carry over from the postseason to Spring Training. I expect a major bounceback with Atlanta.
Cory: Mike Soroka for the impact, and allowing this rotation to have its first glimpse of the new era’s three-headed monster, but overall, give the title to Max Fried. Even if he can’t completely follow up last season’s 2.25 ERA and ridiculous 0.32 HR/9 for the duration of 30 or more starts, that curveball has been no lower than 1.7 wCB in each of the last three seasons. Love Soroka’s power sinker and Ian Anderson’s changeup, but Fried’s curve is a guarantee that will fuel another strong season.
Wayne: Another great spot to be in: having a difficult time figuring out who is the best pitcher in the rotation. I think without injury, it is a relatively easy answer in Mike Soroka. But coming back from injury sometimes comes with speed bumps here and there. That’s why I am going with Max Fried. He showed he can be an ace, and this year, he won’t have to be. He can settle in and deliver, and continue to improve as he has done each year.
Demetrius: If he returns from injury in a relatively smooth manner, it should be Mike Soroka. Before he had the unfortunate injury last season, his first two full starts seemed to indicate that he was ready to pick up where he had left off back in 2019. Really, I’d pull a 2015 Atlanta Hawks and give it to all five of them just for giving the Braves a stable rotation this season. I’m still amazed that the Braves basically no-sold the fact that their rotation for a long stretch was “1: Max Fried, 2-5: Prayer.” Getting Soroka back is huge, and the two big free agency signings in Morton and Smyly should comfortably compliment the younger arms in the rotation. So having that depth alone will be a huge boon for the Braves this season. No way the injury bug hits them that hard again, right?
Gaurav: For the first time in a very long time it’s relatively tough to choose who the pitching MVP will be as the Braves will boast an impressive 5-man rotation - especially if Smyly repeats his 2020 stats. Add in Charlie Morton and you potentially have five above-average starters to choose from. You can really make a case for anyone but I will put my money on Max Fried continuing the impressive work he’s done the past two seasons. With, hopefully, his blister problem behind him Max is coming off a really strong 2020 season where he only threw 56 innings so despite playing an entire season, including going to 7 games in the NLCS, you would have to imagine his arm is feeling good and ready for opening day and I trust his no-nonsense demeanor on the mound where he truly thinks he’s better than everyone else.
Matt: I want to pick Mike Soroka, but with the missing time and coming off such a big injury it’s just hard to pick him this year. So I’ll go with Max Fried, who was just special last year over Ian Anderson- who I also considered quite a bit for this pick.