The Braves Need Pitching

“What?” you say. The Braves are third in the NL, sixth in the majors, with an ERA of 3.72. On top of this, the Braves have pitching coach Leo Mazzone to smooth over any problems. And let’s not forget that John Thomson will be coming back, and Hudson and Hampton are already back (although, Hampton may be back on the DL soon). The Braves have had decent pitching coupled with good luck to put them where they are. Just look at the Braves peripheral stats by starters and relievers.

The Starters
Starting pitching has been the strength of this team, but it reality it’s been decidedly average. Here are the individual stats for the Braves starters. This excludes Seth Greisinger (who’s now in the Far East), and the stats for Sosa and Colon are as starters.

Pitcher		HR/9	BB/9	K/9	K/BB	ERA	FIP
John Thomson	0.36	2.52	5.76	2.29	3.42	3.28
John Smoltz	0.62	2.28	6.77	2.97	2.64	3.34
Mike Hampton	0.74	2.36	3.54	1.50	2.51	4.27
Tim Hudson	0.74	3.87	5.16	1.33	3.59	4.41
Kyle Davies	0.62	4.94	5.86	1.19	4.32	4.43
Roman Colon	1.54	1.54	5.79	3.75	3.09	4.66
Jorge Sosa	1.26	3.98	6.70	1.68	2.51	4.85
H. Ramirez	1.45	2.90	2.83	0.98	4.57	5.64
Total		0.88	3.04	5.16	1.70	3.41	4.34
NL Average	1.00	3.20	6.40	2.00	4.33	4.33

While the Braves post some nice ERAs, their FIP ERAs are worse, with the exception of Thomson. Getting Thomson back will be huge, but the gain of Hampton and Hudson aren’t much of an improvement over the guys who have been filling in for them. Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have Hudson and Hampton over Sosa, Davies, or Colon in the rotation; but, I’m not sure how much things will improve. Horacio Ramirez has been awful and awfully lucky. I would feel comfortable with any of the replacement starters over him, especially if the Braves can find someone to trade him to for a decent bat. The Braves are very deep with starters, especially now that Colon has shown he can throw a lot of innings. While HoRam may be a serviceable 5th starter, I suspect some teams think he has more of an upside. Trade him while you can, JS. You’ve got plenty of replacements who certainly are no worse.

The Relievers
The relief corps has almost completely turned over since the start of the year. The bullpen has been a problem, but the Braves have simply changed the brand of bubble gum they’re using to patch holes in the hull. Here’s a look a the relievers who are currently on the team, and their 2005 relief stats.

Pitcher		HR/9	BB/9	K/9	BB/K	ERA	FIP
Macay McBride	0.00	0.00	6.75	1.00	0.00	1.38
Chris Reitsma	0.20	1.76	5.83	3.33	3.32	2.77
John Foster	0.94	4.24	8.84	2.11	3.30	3.99
Blaine Boyer	0.60	5.40	7.20	1.33	2.40	4.27
Jorge Sosa	0.38	7.13	6.00	0.84	2.63	4.78
Dan Kolb	0.71	5.65	5.82	1.04	5.42	4.80
Jim Brower	1.38	3.46	6.92	2.00	2.77	4.82
Jay Powell	0.00	17.14	3.86	0.25	0.00	7.96
Adam Bernero	0.96	2.30	7.09	3.08	6.51	3.77
Roman Colon	2.57	4.29	6.43	1.50	7.71	6.91

All		0.57	4.48	6.47	1.44	3.52	4.08
Roster		0.83	4.01	6.59	1.64	4.53	4.28
NL average	1.00	3.20	6.40	2.00	4.33	4.33

I include Bernero and Colon because there is a decent chance these guys will appear in Atlanta again this year, especially if an injury occurs. The Braves are not keen on bringing up starters to the pen. The All and Roster rows are the bullpen stats with and without these two. Again, the Braves are decidedly average in FIP, although I have to praise the Braves for keeping the ball in the park. Both the pen and the main starters are doing well in this area. It’s not a park factor phenomenon either. Turner Field has been a slight hitters park for home runs this year.

It would be nice to see the Braves add an arm to the pen for the stretch run. The NL East is still tight, and I’d like to see a strong team make it to the playoffs.

Addendum: In case any of you haven’t read the comments yet, you should. Kyle Sturgeon and John Wright have posted some interesting studies on general pitching (Kyle) and Braves relievers (John). Kyle has found an interesting way to predict future success for pitchers, and John has some interesting graphs on Braves relievers using WPA. Good work guys.

2 Responses “The Braves Need Pitching”

  1. Kyle S says:

    JC, this doesn’t really have to do with this post, but I’m bored at work in between projects and I figured you might appreciate it.

    After noticing the success of Aaron Harang and John Lackey at increasing their strikeout rate this year, I wondered how much stock I should place in that improvement in terms of their future value. So, I fired up the Lahman database in Access to do a mini-study.

    First, I isolated players since 1985 who threw recorded at least 150 outs in consecutive seasons over any number of teams and calculated their strikeout per 9 innings ratios. Then, I filtered for only players who increased that ratio by at least 2.0 from one year to the next (e.g. from 7.0 to 9.0). I took this subset and calculated career K, IP, and K/9IP for all seasons prior to the first studied season and for all seasons after the second ( at least 2 higher) studied season. Several players made the list more than once, but I included them (probably shouldn’t have? This isn’t getting published).

    Anyway, when I looked at the results table, the pitchers in this study’s collective “After” K/9 was over 1.0 K/9 higher than it was “before.” I did not calculate a standard error to this estimator, so I have no idea how statistically significant my result is, but I’m probably not the person to do that anyway. It seems that while far from a guarantee of future stardom, increasing one’s K rate by that much bodes well for future performance.

    Afterwards, I went back to my data set and looked at the players whose 2004 K/9 ratio was 2 strikeouts higher than their 2003 number. Here’s the list:

    Doug Davis
    Octavio Dotel
    Scott Elarton
    Scott Eyre
    Danny Graves
    Shigetoshi Hasegawa
    Scott Linebrink
    Dan Miceli
    Juan Rincon
    Ben Sheets
    Scot Shields
    Julian Tavarez
    Jorge Sosa
    Jake Peavy
    Brad Lidge
    Aaron Harang
    John Patterson
    Francisco Rodriguez
    Jeremy Bonderman

    One thing that strikes me: Jorge Sosa is on the list! Beyond that, the starting pitchers on here are all having pretty good seasons- Peavy and Sheets were somewhat obvious, but Bonderman, Patterson, Harang, Davis, and Elarton (for him, anyway) were less so.

  2. John says:

    Great studies (or mini-studies), JC and Kyle. I’ve been worried about Ramirez and his high FIP all year, so I definitely agree, but I’m afraid that JS and Cox see something in him that may or may not be there.

    I’d love to see the team deal for a reliever, but the guys who are rumored to be available are either too expensive or play for now-contending teams, like Wagner. I have a sick feeling that this is what we’ll be stuck with for the rest of the year.

    On the bright side, the staff has done much better in July so far, mainly because of Chris Reitsma’s dominance. They’re actually +.680 in the WPA department this month, even though they’re still at about -1.8 for the season. John Foster has been solid, if inconsistent, and Sosa was great out of the pen, but I’m still not sold on anyone besides Reitsma.

    I put some graphs of the bullpen’s performance on my site, and you can find them by looking at the 7/26 update. I think we’re in for some kind of roller-coaster ride the rest of this year from the Braves’ pitching staff.