clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Braves Mailbag: Rotation strength, what to expect from Ian Anderson and more

Part 1 of our mailbag focuses on the Braves rotation. Is it really a strength and will Ian Anderson be a factor in 2024?

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Two Photo by Bryan Cereijo/Getty Images

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to send in questions this week. We got so many good ones that I am going to split this into two parts, the second of which will run Saturday. Let’s get to it!

The Braves rotation for 2024 has been described as one of the most potent in baseball. However, do you think this is actually the case? Spencer Strider is a bright spot, but Max Fried has a hard time staying healthy, Charlie Morton is aging. Chris Sale has question marks, and the fifth spot is uncertain. How do you assess the relative strength of the 2024 starting rotation?

FanGraphs currently has the Braves’ rotation projected as the best in baseball with 16.1 WAR. The Phillies are second at 15.5, followed closely by the Dodgers at 15.4. Sure, that number involves Spencer Strider and Max Fried doing a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s important to remember that those projections right now only incorporate the Steamer system, and that always has a relatively low projection on Fried because a lot of his pitch metrics don’t jump off the page relative to how much success he’s had. So, Fried is projected right now to provide a lot of volume considering his injury-plagued 2023, but do so at a much worse clip than he’s pitched to, so it kinda-sorta balances out.

Say what you will about the source (it’s pretty terrible), but both Strider and Fried placed in MLB Network’s top 10 starting pitchers and were the only teammates to do so. That means nothing in and of itself, but essentially, even the clickbait engagement machine sees them as the best duo. I thought it was interesting that several of the pundits that participated in those rankings had Strider at the top of their list, which is nice to see because there seems to be a segment of Braves fans are focused solely on his ERA — which jumped to 3.86 last season — a very 1980s way of looking at things. Knowing what we know now, I think Strider should have had more Cy Young buzz and if he had come anywhere close to his 3.09 xERA (to say nothing of his sub-3.00 FIP and xFIP), he probably wins the award going away. Strider is one of the best pitchers in the majors so that gets the Braves off to a good start.

I have heard more than once this offseason that Fried has a hard time staying healthy. It is true that he had three stints on the Injured List and battled injury throughout his time in the minors, but let’s look at the numbers. From 2019 through 2022, Fried appeared in 102 games. That number includes three relief appearances in 2019 and the 60-game 2020 season where he made 11 starts. Over that span, he has logged 572 2/3 innings. Yes there has been an shelf stint or two mixed in there, but it isn’t like he hasn’t been reliable. Last season began with a hamstring injury on Opening Day and it just spiraled from there, but I don’t like the term “injury prone” being attached to Fried in this case. From the start of 2019 (when he ascended to the rotation full-time) through 2023, only 29 pitchers have more innings completed than Fried (and only 35 have faced more batters, which speaks to his efficiency a bit). If he’s injury prone, then so is pretty much every other starter in baseball; both of those are easily true statements. With that said, the Braves need Fried to be healthy in 2024, and I’m sure that has been his focus this offseason considering it is his walk year. If you are starting with Strider-Fried at the top of your rotation, then you are in a pretty good place.

Charlie Morton turned 40 in November, but was statistically better FIP-wise in 2023 than he was in 2022. The walks were a problem last year and he outperformed his metrics, but again, the Braves don’t need him to be a top of the rotation arm. They need him to eat innings and keep them in games as best he can. You can look at his 97 xFIP- from last year and say, “hey, that’s way worse than any post-renaissance Charlie Morton season,” but you can also say, “a 97 xFIP- is pretty great for a number three starter, considering that of the 150 starters with the most innings last year, Morton’s 97 xFIP- ranked dead even, 75th, on that list.”

If you’re concerned about Chris Sale, I would say that’s fair — but you have to keep in mind that while lots of pitchers kind of fall apart both in terms of being able to stay on the field and pitch effectively when they do return to the mound, Sale has pitched really well when he’s been able to. Sale had an 88 FIP- and 87 xFIP- last year, and those were his worst single-season marks ever... and still well above average. He’s a competitor and I think he is much more of an asset to a good team maybe than one that is trying to find its place. Keeping him healthy will always be a concern, but we had those same concerns when they signed Morton in 2021 and he hadn’t been on the Injured List a day until the end of last season. Sale is probably going to be hurt for part of the year; questions about his production should probably be oriented around what “part of the year” means rather than how well he’s going to pitch when he’s healthy.

I would give Bryce Elder the edge in the competition for the fifth spot, but the truth is, the Braves have a lot of arms to throw at the problem. Elder was more than solid through June and seemed even better to some because of how he outperformed his metrics, but then ran out of gas in the second half. There is no doubt that him throwing 174 2/3 innings was never the plan.

All in all, the Braves do have injury concerns in the rotation, but so does every other team. The Phillies would have a hard time surviving if either Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola went down. The Dodgers’ 2024 success could depend a lot on the success of Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow. I like where the Braves are at, but we will just have to see how it works out.

What is the prognosis/expectation for Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson being fully cleared? Are they expected to be a full go to start camp? What about Tyler Matzek?

Alex Anthopoulos said at the end of the season that Huascar Ynoa and Tyler Matzek would be ready to go at the start of the spring. We will have to wait and see whether or not they place any restrictions on them through the early part of the schedule, but the expectation is that they will be in the mix. It is going to be around mid-season for Ian Anderson and my guess is that he spends a bit of time building up at Gwinnett before he is an option, as he’s got way more to prove than just being healthy. I’m guessing August or September before Anderson becomes a real option.

If Ian Anderson is ready by midseason, barring injury, will there be room for him in the rotation?

If the answer is “no” then I think the season has gone very well. Best case scenario, the Braves keep their front four upright, Bryce Elder, Reynaldo López or someone else locks down the fifth spot while Darius Vines, Huascar Ynoa, Allan Winans and others fill in when needed.

The worst case scenario would be where the Braves actually need Anderson to come back and give them quality innings in the second half. That would mean that one or two guys have gotten hurt and we’d have probably seen some underperformance from some of the depth options.

I think the Braves will try to give Anderson a lot of runway to build up to something good. Then ideally he would spend a chunk of time at Gwinnett. Maybe his performance could force him into the picture, but it would feel good to have him healthy and pitching at Gwinnett and not need him in the major league rotation.

Will it be possible for Anderson to ever get back to where he was before the shoulder injury?

This is a good question and it isn’t an easy answer. In my opinion, Anderson never looked right following the shoulder injury right before the All-Star break in 2021. If you look at that season, he had a 3.60 FIP in the first half and a 5.68 FIP after returning from the Injured List. He allowed just three earned runs in 17 innings that postseason, but had starts where he lasted just three and four innings where he ran up high pitch counts. Anderson also held the Astros hitless over five innings in the World Series, but walked three and left that game after the fifth again due to a high pitch count. Like many things in that title run, he benefited from a bunch of small miracles in the postseason.

Between 2020 and 2021, Anderson had a 3.25 ERA and a 3.80 FIP in just over 160 innings. He appeared to be behind everyone else when the spring began in 2022 after the lockout. His velocity was down slightly as well. During that season, he posted a 5.00 ERA, but had a more respectable 4.25 FIP. Did the shoulder issue contribute to the elbow injury? Only he really knows.

Still, Anderson had quite a bit of success early on. To my untrained eye, his struggles began as his fastball command deteriorated. That amplified his need for a third pitch. You can never be sure about a guy coming off Tommy John Surgery and I don’t know if he was ever really the pitcher that he appeared to be in 2020, though pre-shoulder injury 2021 was still a good contributor. Still, if he is healthy and he can rediscover some of that fastball command, I could see him being a back of the rotation guy.

Do any of the Battery Power Managers, Editors, Staff Writers or Authors pay for any Baseball site access? Which ones and why?

I would say as a staff, that we have access to just about all of the sites. My current subscriptions are of course MLB.tv, The Athletic and Baseball America. I use The Athletic for a lot of baseball coverage. Eno Sarris is probably my favorite writer. I also use it for coverage of other sports including Georgia and the Falcons. Baseball America is essential for learning more about prospects and the Draft each year.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Battery Power Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Atlanta Braves news from Battery Power