The Braves are in a state that I haven’t seen since I was in high school. I know it’s too early to draw much from the way the Braves have played this season, but that’s not what I’m worried about. What bothers me is the way the team is behaving. I think it’s clear that the front office is in panic mode. It started a year ago, when the Braves drafted Joey Devine from college. I think Devine was a fine choice, and he may become a very good major league pitcher. This is what I had to say about what Devine’s drafting tells me about the Braves last season.
Devine represents the state of panic that the Braves have not shown about their pitching in some time. No matter what anyone says, the drafting of Devine in the first round of this year’s draft was completely out of character for this organization. It may have been a good pick, and I like him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read something into this. The situation was desperate. A little more than $5 million dollars paid Dan Kolb to be totally worthless and Tom Martin to pitch a week. Jim Brower and Jay Powell, both of whom were rebuffed by other major league teams, were legitimate options (shiver). …Even some of the good work the Braves got from Boyer, McBride, and Davies during the season is a negative, not a positive, in my mind. These guys were not ready. Sure, they had some success, but they struggled at times as well. They were up as desperate measures. I doubt this was the backup plan, but I don’t see what the other options were. This must have been it. And to their credit, these kids did do some very good things and deserve a lot of credit. But, I don’t know what to expect in the future. Relief pitching is hard to evaluate in small samples. I expect there will be some more minor league ball for all of these guys.
The point is, the Braves took pitching for granted, and they shouldn’t have.
So, how have things changed since last year? Well, the Braves acquired Oscar Villarreal (more hit batters than strikeouts, so far) and Lance Cormier (the hallmark of adequacy) for Johnny Estrada. They acquired Wes Obermueller (hi, I’m in triple-A) for Dan Kolb. And they brought in an obviously finished Mike Remlinger, who was actually able to win a job in spring training. That says more about the quality of the pitching staff than Remlinger. Schuerholz entertained several of the big-name pitchers on the market, but came up with nothing. And it seems that the negotiations with Farnsworth went very badly and that the Braves could have had him for not much more than they already had on the table.
The point is, the team didn’t do much of anything to help the pitching situation. In fact, the brass nearly traded away John Thomson. Devine impresses in spring training, but starts the year in Richmond, gets yanked back up, then sent back down after chalking up more wild pitches than strikeouts. Ken Ray, who wasn’t even a non-roster invitee pitched his way onto the club from minor league camp. Boyer and McBride have been hurt. Lerew was not ready, but it appears Chuck James is. None of the starters have pitched well, except for Thomson. And it’s hard to forget that the team replaced Leo Mazzone with Roger McDowell.
My point is that, if the Braves have a plan, it sure doesn’t look like one. I know there have been some injuries, but injuries are to be expected, along with inconsistency from young pitchers. The latest move, signing Peter Moylan and promoting him to Atlanta, is not typical either. Moylan impressed many by striking out four batters in under two innings of work in the WBC. He also walked five. The team is grasping for an answer, and I don’t like it.
With all of the problems the Braves had last year, and with a new pitching regime coming in, I think Schuerholz should have made sure he had at least one more quality veteran on the staff. I think the failure to sign Farnsworth was a big mistake. Now, we are going to just have to wait and see how everything plays out. The ship may right itself, but I don’t see any obvious reason to believe it will.