Both were demoted in 2019. Both were demoted in 2020. (Indeed, Foltynewicz was designated for assignment. Had any other team claimed him off waivers, he’d be gone. As is, he’s not on the 40-man roster.)
As best we can ascertain, neither is having arm issues. If they were, they surely would be on the disabled list. Even so, the decline in Foltynewicz’s velocity is alarming. Per Brooks Baseball, his four-seamer averaged 96.8 mph in 2018; it was down to 91.3 this year. His slider, his best pitch when he’s at his best, averaged 87.21 in 2018; it was down to 79.92 before this year’s DFA’ing. Newcomb’s fastball is almost exactly where it was in 2018, but his strikeout rate is at a career low.
When big arms that apparently aren’t sore arms go bad, the knee-jerk response is to blame the pitching coach. Foltynewicz and Newcomb had their best seasons in 2018 under Chuck Hernandez, who was fired that October. Alex Anthopoulos, then completing his first year as general manager, wasn’t a Hernandez fan, because why else change coaches after winning a division? Rick Kranitz was hired in December 2018, one month after the Phillies dismissed him.
As convenient as it might be to lay the failings of Foltynewicz and Newcomb at Kranitz’s feet, how then would we explain the breakthrough successes of Soroka and Fried? (Remember, Soroka hurt his leg, not his arm.) As an organization, the Braves like Kranitz a lot. That sentiment suggests – if consecutive seasons of demotions didn’t already – they’ve simply wearied of Foltynewicz and Newcomb underperforming.
Because the two were acquired when the Braves were loading up on young pitchers – Foltynewicz in the Evan Gattis trade of December 2014, Newcomb in the Andrelton Simmons deal of November 2019 – we tend to think of them as young pitchers. They really aren’t. Foltynewicz will turn 29 in October. Note: Julio Teheran started 239 games for the Braves; he’s 29. Newcomb is 27, older than Shane Bieber (25) and Jack Flaherty (24), not to mention Fried (26) and Soroka (23).
It’s fair to say the Braves aren’t far from the time when they must consider a future without Foltynewicz and/or Newcomb. Foltynewicz was signed for $6.425 million this season and will again be arbitration-eligible. Newcomb can file for arbitration this winter. Liberty Media just reported a 95 percent loss in Braves revenue for the year’s second quarter, over which there were no games and no fans. Soon now, this club will need to spend big to keep Freddie Freeman, whose contract lapses in 2021, and perhaps less big to retain Dansby Swanson, who can become a free agent in 2022.
The money lost because of the pandemic will never be replaced. There’s no assurance as to what next season, assuming there’s a next season, will bring. Take Foltynewicz and Newcomb off the board and the franchise dynamics change. Without either/both of those as contributing starters in the years ahead, the burden falls on Kyle Wright (6.75 ERA), Touki Toussaint (7.27), Bryse Wilson (10.80) or Huascar Ynoa (8.10). Hope remains for Ian Anderson, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft, but he’s 22 days older than Ynoa and he’s not here yet. That’s an indication of … something.
A rotation including Soroka, Fried, Foltynewicz and Newcomb at full health and in peak form would be formidable. Soroka figures to be back next year – again, it’s his leg – and Fried is fifth among big-league pitchers in WAR. As for the other two, nobody knows. Beyond those two, it gets dicey.