Jared Shuster’s first three major league starts didn’t go so well. In his debut, he allowed six Nationals to reach before recording an out, and though he eventually made it through 4 2⁄3 innings, his career started with an ugly 1/5 K/BB ratio. Five days later, the K/BB ratio improved to 4/4 against the Padres, but it was another Braves loss with four runs charged to Shuster. After a stint in the minors, Shuster was recalled to make a start against the Rangers on May 16, and again... meh at best: 3/2 K/BB ratio, his first career homer allowed, another Braves loss with Shuster getting charged with three runs in five innings. It was not a promising start for the 24-year-old left-hander.
But then, out of nowhere, Shuster got the ball in last Sunday’s game against the Mariners, and he rolled. He allowed just one hit in six innings, which unfortunately for him was a homer. More importantly, he reeled off a 7/1 K/BB ratio. He threw fewer fastballs and more secondaries, and mixed things up effectively: more first-pitch strikes but fewer pitches in the zone overall, leading to more whiffs and a bunch of flailing at stuff batters had little chance of reaching. He looked good, and even retired the top of Seattle’s order for a third time before ceding his spot to the bullpen. Huzzah, and huzzah that the Braves actually won one of his starts for the first time ever.
So now, the question becomes: can he keep it going? The arsenal remains uninspiring, but the secondaries seemed at least slightly better against Seattle. Shuster’s slider command seems fine and he generally knows exactly what to do with the pitch, but his fastball lacks much of the semblance of velocity, shape, or location to set up the slider. The Phillies and Mariners are both generic offenses outputs-wise this year, but the Mariners are miles ahead of the Phillies inputs-wise. Both teams have struggled a ton against lefties this year (though for the Mariners the struggles are mostly just outputs, whereas the Phillies have just been bad against lefties however you slice it), which could be a point in Shuster’s favor today. We’ll see what happens.
As for the Phillies, well, they’ll follow up one ubiquitous Braves foe (Aaron Nola) with another in Taijuan Walker. The 30-year-old right-hander signed a bloated $72 million, four-year deal with Philadelphia this past offseason, and things have basically been a mess so far. Walker’s xFIP- is fine at 101, though paying $18 million annually for a guy to throw up nearly dead-average peripherals in the first year of a deal that goes through his mid-30s seems very underwhelming. A lot less fine is his 116 FIP-, and the fact that because he pitches ahead of a porous Philadelphia “defense,” his ERA- is 132. Relative to seasons past, Walker is keeping the ball on the ground (good, kinda, but remember who plays behind him), but he’s also walking a ton of guys. Take a low strand rate and a high HR/FB and mix them into that pot, and you have a bummer of a contract so far. With 0.3 fWAR, he’s on pace for under 1.5 even if he somehow throws 200 innings, which would put him underwater contract-wise in 2023 even if you assume $10 million per WAR.
The main issue with Walker has been less a pervasive meh-ness, and more just extreme inconsistency. Through his first six starts of the year, he had walk-prone starts and homer-prone starts, but not necessarily together. He then reeled off a nice pair of outings where he didn’t walk anyone while striking out nine in 12 innings, but then lasted just two-thirds of an inning against the Giants. Because that outing was so short, the Phillies brought him back on short rest against the Cubs on Sunday, where he somehow pitched 5 1⁄3 scoreless despite a 3/3 K/BB ratio, and again, that defense. Now back on regular rest, it’s entirely unclear which Walker will show up in Atlanta, but you know that the Braves will try to add more homers to his ledger.
Walker made two starts against the Braves last year. He lasted a combined three innings, gave up two homers, walked two, and struck out no one. The Braves romped to wins in both. For his career, he’s faced the Braves seven times, with a 5.14 ERA, 4.87 FIP, but 4.04 xFIP. The Braves have hit six homers off of him in those seven games, which is as many times as they’ve walked against him.
Philadephia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves
Friday, May 26, 2023
7:20 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 89