Walk-Off Talk: Atlanta Braves Pitchers & Season Prediction

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves

Previously, the boys from The Platinum Sombrero helped us out with their thoughts on how the Braves position players look as the 2019 season nears its official beginning. Please give that a read first. Now, we’ll shift to the pitching staff. Ryan is being bombarded with taking care of evil children (just joking about the evil part) so I’ll take the reigns as we shift gears. Stick around at the end where we all make end-of-season record predictions. See which writer sees the Braves missing the playoffs completely because he draws energy from being trolled nightly.

Before we begin, here are the members of today’s chat.

Dylan Short – Co-host of The Platinum Sombrero Podcast. Also a contributor with our buddies at Outfield Fly Rule. You can find him on Twitter @dylanxshort
Doc Herbert – The other co-host of The Platinum Sombrero Podcast. Also writes for The Talking Chop. You can find him on Twitter @bravesherbert
Ryan Cothran – Writes for us here at Walk-Off Walk and it was his idea to do this so I blame him. Send complaints to @baldheaded1der
Michael Francis – I brought him into an Out of the Park league and he thanks me by running away with the division. Send mean gifs to @michaelhfrancis
Tommy Poe – Started this blog. I don’t know what I’m doing. Tell me how I’m wrong at @WalkOffWalk1

Atlanta Braves Starting Pitching

It looks as though four of the five pieces of the rotation is secure (if all were healthy) in Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, and Julio Teheran. From there, we’ll likely see what we saw last year which is the shuffling of pitchers from Gwinnett to keep the rotation rested and fresh. What type of production do you foresee from the Braves starting pitchers?

Michael – The nagging injuries in camp have definitely shaken my confidence a bit, but I am still very bullish on this starting rotation. Will there be a true ace on the staff in 2019? No, but the amount of quality depth is remarkable. It gives the team a very high floor that gives them a distinct advantage over all of their NL East rivals. I firmly believe that some combination of the 10 or so starting pitchers that we will likely use this season will perform well enough to keep this team in the race all season long.

Doc – Even for all of the questions surrounding the rotation right now, I could still see a scenario where the pitching staff winds up being a strength of this team. In case you’re not already laughing at that, consider the amount of high-impact arms that are just waiting for their shot. These guys aren’t the Matt Wislers or the Lucas Simses of yesteryear, just placeholders who will invariably be sent back to AAA due to ineffectiveness. Guys like Max Fried (though he no longer carries prospect status), Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson – these are guys we rightfully pinned our hopes and dreams on for years, and there seems to be a sudden air of disappointment that they’ll be expected to fill any meaningful innings. The injuries to Folty and Soroka, and the uncertainty around Gausman – these things suck – but the Braves are well-equipped to handle these setbacks.

Tommy – While I hate the idea of shuffling pitchers back-and-forth, it’s hard to fault the approach when you have so much depth that you can both cycle in fresh arms and moderate innings. As Doc pointed out, these guys are of a higher quality than the first wave showed us – remember being excited about Manny Banuelos? – and they have the skills and potential to stick. Ideally, through performance, these guys end the shuffling by pushing Teheran and possibly Gausman to reduced bullpen roles or trade fodder. That, my friends, is where this rotation as currently theorized takes its next step. All that said, as our friend Andy Harris would want us to point out, the guy the Braves also need to take a step forward may not be the youngsters that are looking to establish themselves. Instead, it’s Sean Newcomb. We’re talking about a guy with nearly a K-an-inning and a 4.14 FIP in his first full season in the majors. If the encore improves upon that, he’s a 2.5-3.0 WAR player with potential for more. Hopefully, Rick Kranitz can help him take that next step.

Ryan – No matter what, this is the year that the Braves prospects get the chance. I’ve never been for signing Dallas Kuechel simply for that reason. If the Braves want to go out and trade for a clear ace that’s under control for 2-3 years, by all means, do so. However, I want to see what Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Max Fried, etc. can provide. And who knows, one of the aforementioned guys could be the next ace in the making but that cannot happen without innings. I think Braves stay in the top ⅓ in ERA in 2019 and gradually gain ground on that in the upcoming years to become a top-5 MLB rotation.

Dylan – Doc and I have been touching on this for the past couple weeks (if you haven’t listened yet then you absolutely should), but I absolutely hate the shuttling of starting pitchers. These guys need the opportunity to overcome adversity at the big league level without the fear of being replaced after a single bad start. Give them the leeway to actually grow in a defined role and the rewards could be immense. Whether it’s Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, or Mike Soroka after working his way back from some shoulder soreness, one of these young men need to emerge and put their stamp on the 5th starter spot. If you’ve listened to me at all you already know I’m not the biggest believer in Sean Newcomb. Personally I would’ve already swapped Fried and Newk, as I believe Max is the better bet for sustained success. That said; this year is paramount for Sean. Julio is a serviceable 4 or 5, Gausman is ok (never really been a fan of his, even after the 2 strong starts post acquisition), but at this point we don’t have a rotation complement for Folty. If Newcomb can iron out his control issues and do a better job putting 2 strike hitters away, then this rotation has a chance to be one of the more consistent in the National League. If he can’t, then repeating as Division Champs will be a much taller task.

Atlanta Braves Relief Pitching

The Braves were in the top-5 in relief pitching in the first half of 2018, but late swoons from nearly everyone left a bitter taste in the fans’ mouths. What type of production do you foresee from the Braves bullpen?

Walk-Off Talk: Atlanta Braves Pitchers & Season Prediction
Mar 1, 2019; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter (right) talks with catcher Brian McCann (left). Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Doc – Questions marks abound in the bullpen, but the talent is certainly there to take the next steps. If Darren O’Day’s forearm can hold up, that will be viewed as a sneaky good pickup at last year’s trade deadline. AJ Minter has it in him to take a big step – health permitting. Arodys Vizcaino can hurl hot fire – health permitting. See the theme? I’m bullish on Jesse Biddle and Dan Winkler being able to maintain solid performance deeper into the season than in 2018, as they both wore down while pitching more than they ever had. And the next wave of guys – Corbin Clouse and Thomas Burrows come to mind, plus Jacob Webb if his hand is OK – could provide valuable depth. If nothing else, at least we won’t have Miguel Socolovich pitching important innings against a division rival

Tommy – I’ve had the same view of the Braves pen each spring for about three years running. If you squint out of one eye, you see a damn good bullpen. Then you squint out of the other and you see why the pen could be a problem. Funny thing is – a bunch of people would blame the starting rotation for the pen breaking down, but the rotation logged the fourth-most innings per game in the NL. There’s no reason for the pen breaking down last season outside of lack of depth. That was a product of injuries and poor planning. That’s what I worry about for 2019. My hope is that we see more of these talented starters that, if they aren’t in the rotation, they are moving to the bullpen. I’ve seen all I need to of Sam Freeman and Luke Jackson. Give me Bryse Wilson mowing down the opposition when he doesn’t need to hold back for a second-and-third time through the order. Let Max Fried become Andruw Miller if there’s no room for him to be Peak Cole Hamels. If the change-up is a lost cause for Luiz Gohara, let him make guys look silly in the majors as a reliever. You can still have your one-inning guys like Minter, Vizcaino, Winkler and your LOOGY in Venters, but give me the best arms and let them do special things. It’ll open my eyes to new possibilities for the pen.

Ryan – I’m hoping that the Braves add here before the beginning of the season as, like Doc, the injury concerns are scary. It’s hard to predict what comes out of this bullpen, but there’s a solid top-5 if healthy then live arms to fill out the rest. If Max Fried is used as a regular 2-3 inning reliever, not a mop-up man, I’ll grow a little more confident in this crew. If Braves maintain health, this could be a top-5 NL bullpen in 2019. If the injury bug bites hard, it could be bottom-5. Add Craig Kimbrel to either scenario and the rankings get drastically better.

Dylan – This is the biggest unknown on the 2019 squad. The walk rate was atrocious, and no one seemed to really inspire boundless confidence, but there are a lot of arms to like. Guys like Jesse Biddle, Arodys Vizcaino, Darren O’Day (even though I abhor relievers who top out at 85-87), Jonny Venters, and Dan Winkler should all have fairly stable roles this season. The back end is where this gets a little tricky. While I’ll never deny that Minter has very good stuff, I’ve never been particularly high on him. I’ve definitely never been high enough on him to call him “the lefty Kimbrel”. He reminds me more of guys like Fernando Rodney: guys who consistently get themselves into trouble and have to walk a tightrope to get out unscathed. Should Touki fail to win the 5th rotation spot, then I could very easily see him as our very own version of Raisel Iglesias, and completely owning the final frame. Chad Sobotka is my x-factor. The spring numbers have been alarming, but I’m still a huge believer in his stuff. If Chad can replicate what he put forth a season ago, along with reinforcement guys like Corbin Clouse, Thomas Burrows, and Shane Carle, then this bullpen has the potential to take a massive leap forward.

Atlanta Braves Breakout Candidate: Pitcher
Who is your breakout pitcher for 2019?

Michael – There are so many pitchers that could be potential breakout candidates in 2019 especially if you open the discussion to pitchers that may pitch all season in the minors. However, I’m going to go with a guy that should see a lot of big league time this year, Kyle Wright. He was my top ranked player overall in the 2017 draft due to his floor and upside and it appears ready for it to all come together. I know it’s an extremely small sample, but he has looked amazing thus far in spring training and he is legitimately making a push toward the opening day rotation. While I think he’ll ultimately stay in the minors to begin the season, he may end up being one of our better pitchers down the stretch.

Doc – While you never want to see anybody get hurt, the sudden rash of injuries has it looking like Max Fried will finally get to stake his claim to a rotation spot. I have been a huge fan of his since before the Braves acquired him from the Padres (in 2014 – has it really been that long??), and I think with an opportunity to dig in and get comfortable, he holds the spot for the foreseeable future. It’s not every day you come across a lefty slinging 97 with a devastating curveball, but Fried’s got both, and he’s not just a thrower – he knows how to pitch.

Walk-Off Talk: Atlanta Braves Pitchers & Season Prediction
Sep 19, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Touki Toussaint (62) delivers a pitch to a St. Louis Cardinals batter in the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy – I mean, you can’t go wrong with Wright or Fried. I want to go with a Patrick Weigel, but I have my doubt whether the Braves will take the kid gloves off him until 2020. So, instead, I’m circling around to Touki Toussaint. You can take nearly everything Doc said about Fried and apply it to Toussaint. Watching Toussaint turn the corner in the summer of 2017 could be the stuff we talk about for years. And once he “got it,” it was only a matter of time until he was in the bigs. He hit the 160+ inning mark last year so he’s ready for another jump to 180 or so and he could hit 200 strikeouts if he gets that kind of opportunity. The walks were rough in his brief MLB run last year, but his control took a leap in the minors. Dude is hard as hell to make solid contact against and won’t even turn 23 until June. He’s still a pup. In 2019, he could become a big dog in the yard.

Ryan – I like all the picks above and there’s a luxury in numbers here, but I’m circling back to my boy that I’ve been writing about for 3 years and that is Bryse Wilson. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen out of him this spring, and the bulldog mentality of challenging hitters has me tingling all over. Couple that with the fact that his fastball can sit in the mid-90s late in a game and I’m expecting him to open a lot of eyes this year.

Dylan – This is what I get for writing my part last. You guys took all the good ones! Seriously though, I doubt you’ll find a bigger Max Fried believer than me, so I’m going to have to piggyback off of my partner. I already believe Max is better than Sean Newcomb and should already having a starting spot. He’s got 3 good pitches, an easy, athletic delivery, and the strikeout numbers to really elevate this rotation. Give him the 5th rotation spot and watch him flourish. The Braves have mismanaged Fried since he first got to the majors. It’s time to rectify that mistake and allow him to become a lynchpin of the rotation for years to come. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Bryse Wilson. He’s been a constant afterthought, always being undervalued and pushed to the side. I’m guilty of this as well, as I’ve always just assumed he was a bullpen guy due to his propensity to throw strikes without really possessing a pitch that was better than that of his compatriots. Those times are over. Bryse has done nothing but dominate at every level he’s been at, and in all honesty has been the best single pitcher on the squad this spring.

Atlanta Braves Win/Loss Record

A lot has been made about the improvements of the teams in the NL East and that point cannot be argued as all 3 teams have made additions that should significantly improve their 25-man rosters. What is your win/loss prediction for the 2019 Atlanta Braves?

Michael – 90-72. I’ve been very critical of this team’s off-season activities but I still believe it’s a strong team with tons of depth that can mask almost any injury. That being said, I don’t believe they did enough to repeat as division champions in 2019. I do believe they will outlast some of the other competitors in the East and finish with 90 wins, second in the division behind the Phillies. This should be good enough to capture one of the wild card spots.

Doc – 86-76, second wildcard. Make the NLCS and lose to – you guessed it – the Dodgers.

Tommy – I’m going 84-78, miss the playoffs by a couple of games. Someone should screenshot this and make fun of me when the Braves win 100 this season.

Ryan – 88-76. There’s going to be a big addition in June that pushes either the pitching staff or the lineup to the next level. And 88 wins are going to be enough to win the division this year by 1 game.

Dylan – 85-77, lose play in game to Cubs. No one denies (or at least they shouldn’t deny) that the Josh Donaldson signing was an excellent one. If healthy, Donaldson changes the entire complexion of the lineup. The Braves most assuredly got better this offseason. Unfortunately, they seemed to sit on their laurels after that while the rest of the division started firing off moves like they were in a John Wick movie. Totally aside from the mammoth offseasons of Washington and Philadelphia, the Mets just took more than a few wins away from Atlanta’s totals a season ago by making some substantial deals of their own. Philly is ultimately my favorite in the division, but this race will be so tight that I could conceivable see any of the top 4 finishing in any particular order and being separated by only a few games either way.

Again, I want to thank Doc and Dylan for this ambitious crossover. Remember to follow them and listen to their superb podcast. Also, if you liked this, remember to share on social media. Thanks!

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