First Month in Review, Part II: The Pitching

Pitching MVP and LVP of the Month:

MVP: Tim Hudson - apologies to Rafael Soriano in a "close" game.

LVP: Mark Redman "Plug" - apologies to Kyle Davies and Macay McBride.

There were a lot of average performances from our pitching staff this month. John Smoltz, Chuck James, Rafael Soriano, Oscar Villarreal, Bob Wickman, Tyler Yates, and Chad Paronto all have ERA's between 3.00 and 6.00. They have been good at times and bad at times, but not the best and not the worst.

The rotation can be broken down into good and bad, and on the good side there has been some great and on the bad side there has been some awful. A consequence of the biggest injury to hit the club this year - the loss of Mike Hampton for the season - has led to possibly the worst decision by John Schuerholz since the acquisition of Dan Kolb - the signing of Mark Redman. Here is a guy who was unsigned in the middle of spring training. He was at home throwing in his basement to get ready for the season, but he has proven that a tarp in the cellar is a far cry from a major league lineup. What could we have possibly seen in this guy? He throws in the low 80's, is left-handed, doesn't have an out pitch, and he was supposed to be a quality innings-eater. Well, he certainly can't get many people out, has been all too hittable, and is averaging less than five innings a game through his first four starts. His problem has not been the problem that plagues most below average pitchers, which is walks; his problem has been that he is all too hittable. The Plug has given up 29 hits in just 18.2 innings pitched - that's a .354 opponents' batting average. He is a COMPLETE waste.

Another pitcher who has scuffled is our youngster Kyle Davies. He has been the victim of his own lack of control. With a WHIP that is almost 2.00 (1.85), Kyle has walked a team-high 16 batters. He has looked great at times, but far too often he falls into a hole and has to try and pitch his way out of it - I call it the Russ Ortiz approach, and it doesn't work for long. The announcers on TBS said the other night that Davies might be holding back or approaching his pitches a tad bit gingerly because of the injury he suffered last year. While he is physically back from the injury he may not be completely mentally back, and indeed ever since his return from injury he has not been the Davies we saw in 2005 and the first part of 2006.

Chuck James has suffered the ups and downs of a season, starting out really well then scuffling for a couple of games before regaining his form. He has been able to keep his walks down, but he too has been nothing short of hittable. Teams are hitting at a .299 clip verses James and all those base runners are leading to more runs crossing the plate.

John Smoltz has also gotten off to a not-so-Smoltz-like start, encountering some trouble early in the year. Like James and Davies and of course Redman, Smoltz has been rather hittable this year - 43 hits in 38.2 innings pitched. - a .279 average. Compare the batting averages against from these four starters to that of Tim Hudson:

Starter - Batting Average Against
Redman - .354
James - .299
Smoltz - .279
Davies - .266
Hudson - .186

Here is a quote about Huddy from ESPN columnist Jayson Stark, who names Tim as his starting pitcher of the month:

If he'd just exited after eight innings Wednesday in Florida, he would have become the second pitcher in the last 35 years to start a season with five straight starts of seven innings or more, while allowing one run or none in each. (Fernando Valenzuela was the other, in 1981.) But even though Bob Wickman helped him screw up that note by combining on a three-run ninth, Hudson still finished April 3-0, with a Maddux-esque 1.40 ERA. "Best pitcher I've seen all year," says one scout.

Hudson certainly is earning his keep this year. Perhaps we were reluctant to believe him when he said again this off-season that he was rededicating himself to regaining his form, but he is proving a whole lot of Braves fans wrong, myself included. Hudson has undergone a renaissance; now let's hope he can be this ace all season. If so, he's the shoe-in for his first Cy Young.

The bullpen, even though it has let us down in the last week or so, has been a far cry from last year's bullpen. Atlanta doesn't have the best bullpen, but it has been what the team has needed to finish out wins. One big difference from last year to this year is the strikeouts from our bullpen. Last year we struck out only 383 batters in 512.1 innings. This year we have struck out 71 in 76.2 innings - almost a strikeout per inning. Yes the new guys like Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano have brought the strikeout with them, but our carryovers from last year Tyler Yates and Oscar Villarreal are also striking out more than a batter per inning - continuing their good work from the end of last year.

One thing that has not changed from last year's bullpen to this year's are the walks that are being given up. Last year we issued 248 free passes as a bullpen, almost one for every two innings pitched. This year we are issuing walks at an even greater rate - an NL high 54 walks in 76.2 innings pitched. This is something we MUST correct lest we slip back into the bullpen woes of last year. For being more of a strikeout pen, the walks have been worked around at times, but they are still being issued much too frequently.

The two most prolific issuers of the free pass have been the now demoted Macay McBride and the now disabled Bob Wickman. McBride had all sorts of trouble as he battled with a "dead arm." His 11 walks in just 3 innings of work make our staff totals look a bit worse than they may actually be, and Wickman's 10 walks in 11.1 innings are extremely troubling even before finally succumbing to a bad back.

I think the jury is still out on what kind of bullpen we have and what will become of some of our starters - as I write this Mark Redman is being removed in only the SECOND inning of his latest horrid start. What seems certain is that something will have to be done with the bottom two slots in our starting rotation. Perhaps the return of Lance Cormier from injury will be the answer, or perhaps Schuerholz will move with the same speed he did in replacing Langerhans to replace Redman from either within the organization or from the outside.

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