Bradley’s Buzz: Should we worry about the Braves’ pitching?

Atlanta Braves pitcher Jared Shuster arrives for the third of the Braves spring training at CoolToday Park, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in North Port, Fla.. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta Braves pitcher Jared Shuster arrives for the third of the Braves spring training at CoolToday Park, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in North Port, Fla.. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Pitchers who won’t be in the Braves’ starting rotation when the season begins: Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Michael Soroka, Kolby Allard and Bryce Elder. Which isn’t to suggest that some if not all won’t start big-league games, of which there are 162, over the next six months. The concept of the rotation has undergone alterations.

From 1991 through 1996, the Braves won their division five years running. (We won’t count 1994, truncated in August by the players’ strike.) The Braves used eight starting pitchers in 1991, seven in ‘92, six in ‘93, seven in ‘95 and nine in ‘96.

The Braves have again strung five first-place finishes together. They used 13 starting pitchers in 2018, 10 in 2019, 14 in the 60-game 2020, 10 in 2021 and 13 last year.

Yes, times have changed. Yes, the Braves’ rotations of the early ‘90s were legendary amalgams of skill and health. From 1988 through 2007 – that’s 20 years – Tom Glavine averaged 33 starts a season. The 2022 Dodgers won 111 games; they used 12 different starters, with only Julio Urias topping 29 starts.

The Dodgers, who’ve made the playoffs 10 years in succession, needed 12 starting pitchers to get through 162 games in 2022. The Dodgers were the first club to grasp the power of the 10-day injured list, which came into being in 2017. Though the 10-day list differed from its predecessor by only five days, shelving a starting pitcher for 15 days seemed a big deal. Shelving a starter for 10 days meant one missed turn.

The baseball writer Joe Sheehan coined the term “Dodger vacation,” so often was the mechanism used by the L.A. crew. Alex Anthopoulos was the Dodgers’ assistant VP for baseball in 2017. He was named the Braves’ GM in October of that year.

Anthopoulos has described his two years working under Andrew Friedman - the Dodgers president of baseball operations - as graduate school. (Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ GM for six seasons before resigning in October 2015.) What he learned most involved depth and the value thereof. The best buys aren’t always guys who make the All-Star team; seasons can be saved by a call-up who has a hot week when a week is all that’s required.

MLB has since tweaked its IL rule to make pitchers sit at least 15 days. The idea endures. No 21st Century club gets impatient with pitchers, starters especially. There’s a reason those guys cost so much, even in the days of “openers” as opposed to “starters.” The quickest way to lose a game is, and will always be, to fall behind 4-0.

Wright, Soroka and Allard have had physical issues and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – it’s a long season. Max Fried began 2019 as a reliever. After Sean Newcomb was demoted in early April, Fried became a starter. He’s still a starter. Spencer Strider was a reliever this time a year ago.

Near the end of the shortened-by-COVID 2020 regular season, Fried was essentially the Braves’ only starter. King Felix Hernandez opted out. Newcomb again washed out. Cole Hamels worked a total of 3-1/3 innings. Robbie Erlin – remember him? No? – worked five starts after being claimed off waivers.

The playoff rotation included Anderson, a veteran of six big-league starts, and Wright, who’d made 12. Those Braves fell one game short of the World Series.

Just because we won’t see Wright/Soroka/Anderson/Allard in the opening series in D.C. doesn’t mean we won’t see them over the breadth of 162 games. Then again, Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd might do as Strider did – seize an opportunity and render themselves rotational fixtures.

Pitching is weird. There’s no such thing as too much. Of the 12 teams with the lowest ERAs in 2022, 11 made the playoffs.

The Braves took Shuster in Round 1 of the 2020 draft, Dodd in Round 3 the next year. They arrived, we note, after the club had seen its rebuild-around-pitching begin to bear fruit. But we think of those who came and went – Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair. We wonder about Soroka, who last worked an MLB game on Aug. 3, 2020. We wonder about Anderson, who has lost something. We wonder if Wright will have another season as good as 2022.

We wonder about pitching because to follow baseball is always to wonder about pitching. But good teams stay good by finding what they need. The Braves have been good for five years.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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