Among qualifying National League starters, he’s third-worst in walks per nine innings. He’s eighth-worst in ground-ball percentage, which suggests his homerless streak might have been a fluke. He’s fifth-worst in Fielding Independent Pitching, which FanGraphs defines as “what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.” He’s worst in xFIP, which – FanGraphs again – “replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they SHOULD have allowed given the number of fly balls they have surrendered.”
The belief here has long been that the Braves will again win the National League East for the simple reason that they’re the best team. The one thing that could compromise that is – no, it’s no longer the bullpen, which keeps ticking upward – but a rotational breakdown.
Kevin Gausman has, ahem, plantar fasciitis. Sean Newcomb could become the closer soon. Kyle Wright was just summoned from Gwinnett, where his ERA was 6.08. Max Fried, who’s 25, seems to have stabilized, but this is his first time in a big-league rotation. Mike Soroka, who’s 21, is on pace to work 161 innings, which would constitute his heaviest load as a pro. Mike Foltynewicz was just demoted. Keuchel just arrived.
We saw last year just how much depth mattered. The NL’s division winners were the Braves, the Brewers and the Dodgers. Over 162 games, they deployed 13, 11 and 11 starting pitchers. This year’s Braves aren’t quite to the halfway mark, and they’ve already used 10.
The famous Bostonian Bob Ryan told me back in the ’70s that the most important stat in baseball was innings pitched. There are many more exotic gauges today, but the power of IP hasn’t faded. The team that works the most good innings is the team that finishes first. (I seem to remember a team finishing first over 14 consecutive completed seasons. I also remember it having pretty fair starting pitching.)
Given the outlay for Keuchel, the Braves’ deadline shopping figures to involve adding relievers, which is what every contender does every July. Still, the icebergs regarding this rotation remain. The Braves hold the NL’s second-best record despite having posted the 11th-best ERA among starting pitchers. That’s not sustainable over a six-month season.
With Folty’s flameout and Gausman’s sore foot and the youth of Soroka/Fried, the Braves really do need another top-of-the-rotation arm. That description should fit Keuchel, but it might not fit Teheran. If he’s your No. 4 starter, you’re OK. If he’s anything above that, you’re not.