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the-pitching-staff | December | 2006 Articles

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The Pitching Staff

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The Braves are supposedly working on building a strong pitching staff for the 2007 season. John Smoltz, Bob Wickman, and Chuck James obviously had great seasons last year and will be returning. Getting full seasons in an Atlanta uniform will be good for the latter two. I worry about age for Wickman. Is he in good enough shape or will he break down soon? If he maintains anything like the control he had in his last 26 innings last year he should be fine, but that is a lot to ask for. The man walked 2 and struck out 25, allowing 1 homer for a 1.04 ERA. There's nothing in the past few years that suggests he'll do that again, other than the fact that he now pitches in the National League. He'll be 39 this coming season. I'd expect an ERA in the upper 3's next season, for whatever that's worth. It certainly should be better than the misadventures the Braves went through at closer last year, though. Smoltz was Smoltz and looked fantastic last year. This will be his age 40 season and it is a contract year, and hopefully he can keep proving the doubters wrong. James will be in his 2nd big league season. Most hitters have been saying that it is very difficult to pick up the ball when he pitches, and James doesn't give up a lot of hits. He's a flyball pitcher, and the Braves have Andruw, Langerhans, and Francoeur patrolling the outfield. His biggest problem was the homers, but he never gave up many homers in the minors. The good news is that minor league numbers usually translate to major league numbers, and James was spectacular in the minors. Not too shabby in the majors, either. He strikes a lot of guys out. Tim Hudson had a bad year last year, but he was still useful. He ate 218 innings and had an ERA below 5 (which many Braves pitchers didn't have). He claims that he's healthy enough to work out this offseason for the first time since the 2002 offseason. I have no doubt that nagging injuries have played a part in Hudson's decline, but I remain skeptical about an improvement. To be fair, he was unlucky last season and his peripheral numbers were actually better than in 2005, when he had a 3.52 ERA. His strikeout rate was higher than it has been in 3 years. If he can maintain that, sharpen his control, and stay healthy, he could put up 200 innings with a 4.20ish ERA. Macay McBride had some positive signs, especially in the 2nd half of the year. He had a forearm problem at the beginning of the year that probably caused an inconsistant 1st half, and he was also adjusting to the big leagues. He finished the year with a 3.65 ERA and a pretty decent strikeout rate of 7.31 per 9 innings. The 24 year old could be ready to step up in the Braves bullpen. Oscar Villarreal helped people forget about Johnny Estrada, putting up a solid 3.61 ERA in 92 innings. He, like McBride, had a good 2nd half of the season. He was not great in any category, but he was okay in every category. He's apparently doing great in winter ball; I just hope he isn't throwing too much. When people talk about relievers for the 2007 bullpen, Chad Paronto is not often mentioned. That's a shame, because over the course of the season he might have been the Braves most consistent relief pitcher. In 57 innings he had a 3.18 ERA. He only allowed .79 homers per 9 innings, and basically is a good version of what Kevin Gryboski was supposed to be, since he actually strikes some people out (about 6 and a half per 9 innings). He could add some depth to the Braves 2007 pitching staff. If Tyler Yates can get some control, the Braves might have something. He throws in the upper 90's and had about a strikeout an inning. Too bad his walk rate was over 5 and a half. I wonder if he could pull a Jaret Wright; throw just a little softer with more control. If the Braves bring back Chris Reitsma, they could use him in a role he is more suited for. With Wickman and Rafael Soriano pitching the late innings, Reitsma could fall back into middle relief. In 2005, Reitsma walked just 14 batters with a .37 HR rate in 73 innings. His strikeout rate was mediocre (just over 5 per 9 IP) but this is a valuable pitcher to have--just not as a late inning pitcher. Is he healthy enough to pitch well in 2007, and can he handle pitching in Atlanta again? Joey Devine didn't pitch much last year as he fought a back injury. He was up and down at Myrtle Beach for 18 innings, was great for 11 innings in Mississippi, and had 6 rough innings in Atlanta. He's certainly not ready for the big leagues, and should return to either Mississippi or Richmond, if nothing more to rebuild his confidence and psyche after all he's been through for a young pitcher. Blaine Boyer also might be well-served by beginning the season at Richmond. He pitched well as a rookie set-up man in 2005, but missed 2006 with shoulder problems. There's no need to rush him. Finally, the Braves pitching staff's biggest offseason aquisition: Rafael Soriano. He missed most of 2004 and 2005 after Tommy John surgery, but was outstanding both before and after the surgery. He didn't pitch in September last year after suffering a concussion on the mound (Vlad Guerrero line drive), but it wasn't an injury to his arm so there shouldn't be too many worries. Soriano strikes out more than 1 per inning and doesn't give up homers. There's nothing not to like here. Hopefully he adjusts to his new team and league well and becomes one of the best relievers in the league. I have no idea what to expect from Mike Hampton next year. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a horrible first half of the season, but rebound to pitch decently in the 2nd half. Kyle Davies needs to have a better year, as he has not shown a lot at the major league level. It's his 3rd season, and it's about time for him to start pitching well. I feel better about the 2007 staff right now than I did about the 2006 staff last year. Hopefully it will be good enough to compete.
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