While the offense was front and center, the Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff played a big part in their 60-29 start to the season. The Braves enter Friday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox leading the majors with a 3.63 ERA. That’s kind of an interesting number, because the defense hasn’t always been there, and the Braves don’t play in a particularly pitching-friendly park, either. Yet, the ERA is only partially a stroke of luck, as the pitching staff is top five in both FIP- and xFIP-, anyway. Atlanta’s bullpen leads the National League and is third in the majors with a 3.43 ERA at the break, as well as leading MLB in FIP- and being just outside the top five in xFIP-. When you consider that they have done this largely without Max Fried and Kyle Wright, it is pretty amazing.
As good as the first half was, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas that shouldn’t be shored up. Below we will take a closer look at the rotation and the bullpen. If you missed it Thursday, I also took a look at the position players, which you can find here.
- Spencer Strider (18 GS, 104.2 IP, 38.9 K%, 3.44 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.0 fWAR)
- Charlie Morton (17 GS, 97.0 IP, 26.1 K%, 3.43 ERA, 3.79, 1.7 fWAR)
- Bryce Elder (18 GS, 106.0 IP, 18.4 K%, 2.97 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 1.4 fWAR)
- Michael Soroka (4 GS, 20.1 IP, 16.7 K%, 5.31 ERA, 6.82 FIP, -0.3 fWAR)
- Kolby Allard (3 G, 2 GS, 10.2 IP, 27.3 K%, 4.22 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 0.3 fWAR)
The rotation has performed well despite being without two key pieces for most of the season. Spencer Strider has been dominant with the exception of a brief blip in June. He regained his form heading into the All-Star Break and still leads the majors in strikeouts and all starters in strikeout percentage. It will be interesting to see if he can work his way back into the Cy Young conversation with a strong stretch run.
Bryce Elder was probably the biggest surprise of the first half was key in solidifying the rotation after both Max Fried and Kyle Wright went down with injury. Elder has led the NL in ERA for most of the first half, but struggled in his final start heading into the break. He is currently carrying a 2.97 ERA and a 4.13 FIP. Some regression may be coming, but he has proven himself as an innings eater that gives Atlanta a chance to win most days that he starts. The thing about Elder is that while his ERA all season hasn’t really been reflective of his talent level, his 1.4 fWAR in 106 innings is already a huge win for a guy who didn’t even make the rotation out of Spring Training, and his xFIP is barely above his FIP.
Charlie Morton starts aren’t always pretty, but he has done a good job of keeping the Braves in games. More importantly, he seems to be trending in the right direction and a strong second half could be in order. His numbers are still dragged down by a poor four-start stretch to open the year, but he has been figuring out how to stay relevant on the fly since.
Atlanta rounded out their rotation heading into the break with Michael Soroka and Kolby Allard. Soroka is in his second stint on the roster. It looks like he may get an extended run this time in order for the Braves to gauge what they have in advance of the Trade Deadline. Allard was a little more than an afterthought originally and began the season on the Injured List with an oblique strain. He’s made two starts and has been solid in a small sample posting a 27.3% strikeout rate and a 3.09 FIP, though that’s really just the result of one great outing and one not-so-good one. Allard is a placeholder at this point, but has the opportunity to show that he could be more. As he showed against Minnesota, there’s stuff there to work with, but he actually needs to do that rather than throw fastballs on cruise control.
- Max Fried
- Kyle Wright
This all brings us to Max Fried, who is progressing in his return from a forearm strain. Fried will make another rehab start at Rome on Saturday. If all goes well, he may only need a couple more rehab starts before being ready to rejoin the rotation. If the Braves continue to play well and their rotation performs, they won’t be in any situation where they need to rush Fried back. His last start at the major league level was on May 5 and he has made just five starts all season.
Kyle Wright began his throwing program and should be advancing to throwing off a mound soon. He will be several weeks behind Fried, but is expected to be back before the end of the season.
- Dylan Dodd
- Jared Shuster
- AJ Smith-Shawver
Atlanta has used three rookies in their rotation at various points of the season in Dylan Dodd, Jared Shuster, and AJ Smith-Shawver. While all have struggled at times, they have gotten valuable experience and should be ready to step in again if needed down the stretch. Smith-Shawver in particular could be an interesting arm out of the bullpen if needed in the postseason.
If Soroka continues to progress and Fried suffers no setbacks, then the Braves may not be inclined to look for a starter at the deadline. There will probably be some regression, but Atlanta has built up some depth and probably has the pieces it needs, provided that Fried returns as expected.
- Raisel Iglesias (28 G, 26.1 IP, 30.0 K%, 3.76 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 0.3 fWAR)
- A.J. Minter (44 G, 40.1 IP, 31.6 K%, 4.91 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 1.0 fWAR)
- Joe Jimenez (31 G, 30.2 IP, 27.7 K%, 2.93 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 0.2 fWAR)
- Collin McHugh (27 G, 35.2 IP, 15.1 K%, 3.28 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)
- Kirby Yates (33 G, 33.1 IP, 32.6 K%, 3.24 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)
- Ben Heller (9 G, 8.2 IP, 25.6 K%, 3.12 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)
- Michael Tonkin (21 G, 44.0 IP, 21.9 K%, 2.66 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 0.3 fWAR)
- Lucas Luetge (9 G, 9.2 IP, 19.6 K%, 10.24 ERA, 6.07 FIP, -0.2 fWAR)
This article was originally slated to go up on Thursday and it is a good thing that it didn’t because the picture changed when the Braves placed Nick Anderson on the 60-day Injured List with a shoulder strain. Like the rotation, there have been some ups and downs, but overall this group has been good. Still, it isn’t without questions, which we will get to in a minute.
A.J. Minter got off to what I would call an unlucky start, but has regained his form and is once again the team’s best reliever. Raisel Iglesias began the season on the Injured List and has been relatively solid, but not particularly dominant. Joe Jimenez and Kirby Yates struggled to start the season, but appear to be headed in the right direction, though the team continues to have little interest in actually using Jimenez for the most part. Ben Heller has proven to be a nice addition on a waiver claim from Tampa Bay and has options, which is an important thing for this group. Michael Tonkin is capable of long relief and has shaken off some poor sinker-heavy outings with a more effective pitch mix. Collin McHugh is still having a dreadful season, and the Braves will just have to hope he can go back to being the McHugh of yesteryear. Lucas Luetge is back after the Anderson injury, and it remains to be seen whether he can stick around for more than nine innings this time around.
- Jesse Chavez
- Dylan Lee
- Nick Anderson
The Braves leaned heavily on Jesse Chavez and he has put up outstanding numbers while filling in a number of roles. When Atlanta signed him to a minor league contract, I don’t think anyone was expecting a 30.8 percent strikeout rate, 1.55 ERA and a 2.49 FIP over his first 29 innings. He was struck in the leg by a line drive on June 14 in Detroit and still wasn’t throwing from a mound heading into the All-Star Break. Hopefully that was more about giving him some extended rest than anything serious about his leg. He should be back soon.
Perhaps we will get another update on Dylan Lee today, who at last count was throwing, but still had not begun a rehab assignment. Lee last pitched on May 16 and was placed on the Injured List with a strained shoulder. He has emerged as a key piece of the bullpen and his status could impact what the Braves do at the Trade Deadline. Unless you count Luetge, the Braves only have Minter as a lefty relief option right now, which seems unideal. However, there aren’t a lot of obvious left-handed relief targets, either.
All of this brings us to Anderson, who hit the IL on Thursday. Anderson went straight to the 60-day version of the Injured List which means he won’t be eligible to return until September. He too has been a key piece of the bullpen, but his injury history is a concern. It’s not clear whether the swoon he experienced in his last few outings was because of his shoulder barking, or whether it was completely unrelated. Getting him back for the final few weeks of the regular season and then the postseason would be a huge boost if he can give the Braves the kind of effectiveness he provided early in the year, but it is probably best to take a wait and see approach until we get more information.
- Dereck Rodriguez
- Danny Young
Dereck Rodriguez and Danny Young are the other two relievers that the Braves currently have on their 40-man roster. Young in particular has pitched some quality innings, but it is notable that they elected to give Lucas Luetge another shot instead of just calling up Young.
The Braves’ biggest need heading into the deadline is likely adding depth to the bullpen. Before Luetge was added back to the active roster, Minter was the Braves’ only left-handed reliever. Lee could help fill that gap if healthy, but Atlanta may need to pursue another left-handed reliever. Kolby Allard is theoretically an option for a lefty relief role, too. Anderson going down could put the Braves in the market for a hard-throwing righty as well. Heller has performed pretty well and Smith-Shawver could be an option in the postseason, but adding another experienced reliever might be the best course of action.