Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Starting Rotation: Most Disappointing in 20 Years

This blog post seems oddly timed after Mike Minor gave me the old "screw you" for my comments the other day by throwing six fairly solid innings against the San Francisco Giants before the bullpen was destroyed by Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco (12 homers in over 1600 plate appearances between the two).  Nevertheless, one game does not change the fact that the argument can be made that no starting rotation has been more frustrating in the past 20 years than the one that has been out there for the Braves this season.

Not all of it is truly the rotation's fault on performance alone.  You can't prepare or predict for the injury to Brandon Beachy and Tim Hudson did miss roughly a month.  And having Tyler Pastornicky start at shortstop and post a -12.3 UZR in 327.2 innings at one of the top three most important defensive positions on the field can't help your pitching staff.  Further, let's be honest...you can't escape bad luck and Atlanta has had its fair share for John Schuerholtz selling his soul for 14 division titles.

Regardless of those things working against them, this rotation had incredibly high expectations and has not come remotely close to performing at that level.  Even 80% of what the Braves could have expected would have been a noticeable improvement over the struggles this staff has had.  I don't care if Craig Kimbrel is awesome times awesome (awesome squared), he shouldn't lead your pitchers in WAR.  He's a closer!  He pitches three-to-five innings a week and often, less.

Tommy Hanson is 10-5, which sounds awesome for a guy whose win-loss record has often been "meh," but as I said about Greg Maddux, win-loss records are stupid.  Hanson is having the worst season of his major league career and it sadly has occurred in the season he was probably the most important pitcher to the Braves.  Beachy's performance was able to hide Hanson to a degree, but since Beachy has gone down, Hanson has continued to perform at a sub-standard level with a 4.47 FIP and 4.05 SIERA.  Both marks are considerably higher than his previous worsts.  He's suffering from Jurrgenitis, a condition that lowers velocity, takes away movement from the fastball, and allows for more flyballs to leave the yard.  Last year, Hanson's K rate rushed past one an inning and his performance was more in line with a budding ace.  This year...he's been the quiet reason why Atlanta's rotation has failed so fantastically.

Of course, the originator of Jurrgenitis, one Jair Jurrgens, is another big reason, but the Braves really shouldn't have been that surprised by his failure.  I realize Jurrgens has always been able to outperform his peripherals, but shouldn't Atlanta have been able to take that under advisement?  Maybe they did and that's why he's often entered trade rumors.  I don't know.  Frank Wren never returns my phone calls and apparently, I deserved some lawyer calling and throwing around terms like harassment and verbal abuse.  You can make the argument that Atlanta should send Jurrjens to the pen and bring back Randall Delgado, but the difference between the two isn't that stark, I suppose, and I guess Wren can hold out hope someone has some serious beer goggles and sends him a gift card to Lowe's for Jurrjens.  Otherwise, Jurrjens will almost certainly be non-tendered and become some other team's problem.

Or...have a super season, become an All-Star, mock the Braves, and land a big multi-year deal.  By the way, fuck you Melky Cabrera.

Delgado is part of the troublesome rookies with Minor.  Both have had their moments, both have had their terrible outings.  I still like Delgado over Minor, but other factors (options, most specifically) neutralized my venom.  Neither has taken a true step forward and Atlanta needed one of them, or Julio Teheran, to do so this season.  Teheran has lost some of his luster as his struggles in AAA have continued from month-to-month, though a good number of experts on the subject point to his age and the likelihood he's still figuring out how to best use all of his pitches as a likely cause of his disappointing 2012.

The impact that this rotation has had on the rest of the team is tremendous.  The bench has been a major let-down and the bullpen has been horrid save Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, and Eric O'Flaherty.  But the rotation is key and has magnified the weaknesses of the bullpen and of the bench has it has placed too much importance on those other facets.  Delgado has gone six innings five times and never back-to-back.  Hanson has gone six in eleven of his games so that's slightly more improving, though he's actually pitched worse than Delgado.  Jurrjens?  Twice in nine games.  Minor went six innings four consecutive times in his first five starts, but only four times in his last twelve, though he has done it in back-to-back games.  That's a lot of wear-and-tear on the bullpen.  That's a lot of at-bats for the bench to be a deciding factor in the pitcher's spot.

The talent level of this rotation doesn't match the Big Three years by a long shot, but I would say it's considerably better than rotations expecting key contributions from Horaco Ramirez, Kyle Davies, John Thomson, Chuck James, and Jo-Jo (seriously, fuck you too) Reyes.  And while this rotation will outproduce those rotations, it should be by a larger margin.  It shouldn't be even close.  Hanson employs a deliriously good slider.  Hudson has the ability to induce 20 groundball outs and not even be dominant while doing so.  Minor and Delgado are legitimate top prospects, whose numbers in the minors weren't smoke-and-mirrors but notable and true.  Jurrjens has always been waiting for the other shoe to fall, but he shouldn't have regressed this badly to the other side of the mean.

The expectations were reasonably high for this rotation.  It may have lacked the star power of the Phillies and Nationals, but its depth and overall level of ability from 1 to 7 was high and only matched by one or two teams.  Injuries will play its unfortunate role and who knows if Arodys Vizcaino would have been the x-factor.  But that does not excuse the undeniable disappointment this rotation has been.  Braves fans shouldn't have to be this excited about Ben Sheets.  They shouldn't droll at trade targets to be the answer.

But they are.  This rotation, to this point, has given them no reason not to.

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