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Braves season in review: Solid foundation for the starting rotation

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In today's installment of our season review and preview series, we take a look at the 2015 starting rotation and also who could make up the rotation for the 2016 season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike our previous positional review (shortstop), there are a ton of moving pieces when we get into the Braves starting rotation, as with many other teams. The starting pitching as a whole took a step backwards in 2015, but there is a solid foundation here for an impressive rotation in the future, depending on how some of Atlanta's young arms develop and recover from injury.

We'll take an in-depth look at each of the pitchers* who started for the Braves this season, and also break down some of the arms who will have a chance to leave spring training in 2016 as a member of the rotation, or spend some time there during the season.

*I picked 50 innings as the cutoff for this part of the post, effectively getting rid of Eric Stults, Trevor Cahill, Manny Banuelos and Ryan Weber. Stults and Cahill are obviously not in the organization's future plans, but Banuelos and Weber are certainly discussed in the latter section of this post.

2015 Starting Rotation:

*Years with an asterisk signify minor league statistics.

**All tabular data from Fangraphs. Pitch usage data from Brooks Baseball. Exit velocity data from Baseball Savant. I also used Baseball-Reference for game log data.

Shelby Miller

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014

183

6.25

3.59

3.74

4.54

4.47

9.9%

.256

2015

205.1

7.50

3.20

3.02

3.45

4.07

6.4%

.285

Career

575.1

7.56

3.24

3.22

3.82

4.08

8.6%

.274

Ah, Shelby. Poor guy. He was the best and most consistent starter for the Braves throughout entire season, but because of how bad the team was, he finished with a 6-17 record.

And since we've stumbled upon pitcher wins and losses right away, let me go ahead and tell you that I'm not going to touch on them again. They aren't indicative of a pitcher's performance or skill — as we obviously learned with Miller this year — so we'll be focusing on the peripherals.

Near the end of a disappointing 2014 season with the Cardinals, Miller made the change from a fastball/curveball pitcher into a three-fastball pitcher, and the early results were encouraging. So in 2015, Atlanta fans saw a different Miller than St. Louis fans may have been used to. After throwing 68 percent fourseam fastballs and 20 percent curveballs during 2014, Miller predominantly worked off of his fourseam, sinker and cutter. He threw the fourseam 44 percent of the time, the sinker 23 percent of the time and the cutter 21 percent of the time.

While this transition means we likely won't see the 2013 version of Miller who struck out almost 9 batters per nine innings, that doesn't mean he can't be an effective front-line starter. In fact, by many measures, 2015 was Miller's best season yet. Miller is now generating more groundballs than ever before, and limiting home runs as well. His 47.7 percent groundball rate is easily the highest of his career, and with Andrelton Simmons playing shortstop behind him, that's especially nice to see.

I'm still not convinced that Miller is a No. 1 starter — I'd pencil him in as a solid No. 2 for now — but it will be nice knowing that the 24-year-old will be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come.

Julio Teheran

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014

221

7.57

2.08

2.89

3.49

3.72

8.1%

.267

2015

200.2

7.67

3.27

4.04

4.40

4.19

13.0%

.288

Career

633.1

7.70

2.53

3.44

3.90

3.96

10.2%

.280

Teheran certainly struggled through 2015. That much isn't really up for debate. He posted the his highest ERA in a full season at the Major League level and was abysmal on the road. Away from Turner Field, Teheran had a 5.40 ERA and an opposing slash of .293/.375/.510. He often struggled to command his fastball and tried working off of his two-seam at times, and also shifted back to the first base side of the rubber.

Throughout the season his vertical release point was lower than it has been at any other point in his career, which could have been part of the problem.

The good news though, is that at some point during the season, Teheran finally started to figure things out. From April 6 to June 27 (16 games, 94.2 innings), Teheran posted a 4.94 ERA and allowed an .803 OPS. After June 27 (17 games, 106 innings) Teheran posted a 3.23 ERA and allowed a .667 OPS.

The last month especially was a nice way for Teheran to finish off the season, but the 1.62 ERA he put up might be a misleading as he stranded 93.3 percent of runners on base (an unsustainable level) and his peripherals didn't show any sort of dramatic change.

Teheran is probably the most confusing pitcher of this entire group, because there's not really one thing that I can find to point to for his drop off this year. If I had to guess I would say that it has to do with him not locating as well this season — particularly with the fastball to set up at-bats and his other offerings. There seems to be some evidence of this, with a jump in BB/9, his shift back to the first base side of the rubber and his many comments about his struggles with control this season.

Whether all of this stems from the lowered arm slot or not though is certainly still up for debate. Either way, it will be extremely interesting to see how Teheran rebounds in 2016.

Alex Wood

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014

171.2

8.91

2.36

2.78

3.25

3.19

10.0%

.295

2015

189.2

6.60

2.80

3.84

3.69

3.90

9.4%

.313

Career

439.0

7.91

2.69

3.30

3.34

3.50

9.0%

.310

Wood threw 119.1 innings and started 19 games for the Braves this season before heading to the Dodgers along with Jose Peraza in exchange for Hector Olivera. While he was with Atlanta, Wood was the second-best starter on the team behind Miller, and posted a 3.54 ERA during that time.

While he's obviously not going to be part of the Braves plans moving forward, it will be interesting to see how his career continues, since most of Braves country was thoroughly put out after the front office sent him to Los Angeles. Since joining the Dodgers, Wood has put up a 4.35 ERA and also tinkered a bit with his pitch selection.

Williams Perez

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014*

133

6.36

2.64

2.91

3.29

.283

2015

116.2

5.63

3.93

4.78

4.87

4.79

12.0%

.318

Career

116.2

5.63

3.93

4.78

4.87

4.79

12.0%

.318

Perez jumped on the scene for the Braves as quite the surprise, putting up a 1.49 ERA through his first six starts (plus one emergency relief inning). As we all quickly discovered though, most of that wound up being smoke and mirrors, as he proceeded to post a 6.05 ERA in his final 14 starts.

A lot of his success early on came from his knack for getting out of jams and stranding runners on base. I was never particularly impressed with Perez's low 90s two-seam fastball or his mid-to-upper 70s curveball. I do think his changeup could be a solid pitch, but at this point he doesn't have the repertoire to set it up effectively.

With Perez, he lives and dies with how he is able to locate his twos-seam fastball, and more often than not this season, the location wasn't great. He did finish the year by allowing two runs or less in three straight starts, but a 1.52 WHIP for the season isn't exactly encouraging.

Matt Wisler

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014*

116.2

7.79

2.78

5.01

5.14

.317

2015

109

5.94

3.30

4.71

4.93

5.10

10.5%

.298

Career

109

5.94

3.30

4.71

4.93

5.10

10.5%

.298

Like Perez, Wisler came on to the scene with a bang, throwing eight innings and allowing just one run against Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets. It was the first Braves debut of at least eight innings since John Smoltz did it 27 years ago — also against the Mets.

Also like Perez, Wisler had success during his first few starts — he posted a 3.43 ERA during his first seven games — before struggling down the stretch, and then ending the season on a few solid outings.

I'm a bigger believer in Wisler than Perez to make it in a big league rotation thanks to better command and a better fastball and offspeed pitch to work off of. Wisler's fastball is consistently in the low-to-mid 90s and he flashed a solid slider from time to time as well. I don't think Wisler has the stuff to ever strike out a ton of batters or become a top-of-the rotation arm, but I do think he can turn into a middle- or back-of-the rotation type of guy.

Mike Foltynewicz

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

HR/FB

BABIP

2014*

102.2

8.94

4.56

5.08

4.79

.321

2015

86.2

8.00

3.01

5.71

5.05

4.61

13.7%

.349

Career

105.1

7.78

3.08

5.64

5.01

4.66

12.8%

.346

Foltynewicz had the best raw fastball of this group in 2015, but as is so often the case with young pitchers, he struggled to locate it on a regular basis.

Because of that, Major League hitters took advantage and teed off on Folty quite a bit this season. The graph of his average exit velocity below puts that into a bit of perspective:

See how those blue lines are often way above that gray one? Yeah, that's not good. That's also why Folty has the second-highest HR/FB rate of this group at 13.7 percent, and why his xFIP thinks his ERA should be a run better than it was.

There's still a chance for Foltynewicz to improve his command and crack the rotation next season, but he's got a lot of work to do. And developing a solid offspeed pitch to keep hitters off of the fastball is going to be important as well.

2016 Starting Rotation:

The old baseball cliché is that you can never have too many pitchers, but with the many moves the front office made over the past year the Braves are certainly challenging that claim.

While Atlanta's starting rotation is still a few years away from being at the level they are hoping to be at, there are plenty of young arms who are going to be fighting for a spot in the starting five.

At this point it seems like Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler will form the base of the rotation with a plethora of potential options to round out the final two spots. Williams Perez, Mike Foltynewicz, Ryan Weber and Manny Banuelos should all be among those fighting for the spots given their contributions this season.

Weber was essentially a non-prospect before this season, but provided the team with solid starts in four of his five games in September and October. I'd be shocked if Weber made the rotation given the other pitchers he'll be competing with, but he's still a guy to keep track of.

Banuelos flashed some promise before his season ended after an elbow surgery to remove a bone spur, and he should be ready by the time spring training comes around. If you don't remember, Banuelos threw 5.2 shutout innings against the Nationals in his MLB debut, but he's battled several injuries and his stuff isn't what it once was — his fastball sat in the upper 80s/low 90s in 2015.

Mike Minor has been throwing in Orlando after a shoulder surgery took him out for the 2015 season, and despite non-tender rumors appears to be in Atlanta's 2016 plans. There's no telling what sort of pitcher Minor will be like until he actually gets back on the mound, but it's certainly worth a flyer if he can get back to 2013-form.

The biggest name that we haven't seen yet in the Majors is Tyrell Jenkins, who was named the Braves Pitcher of the Year in the team's Minor League Awards. Jenkins posted a 3.19 ERA in 138.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He is the highest-rated Braves prospect expected to see time with the club in 2016 and there's certainly a chance he could make the Opening Day roster with a solid spring training.

In addition to all of these players, there's also the possibility that the Braves go out and add a veteran arm. In a recent post from MLB.com's Mark Bowman, he writes this:

Over the past year, the Braves made a number of moves to acquire high upside starting pitchers, some of whom are at least two years away from being Major League ready. Still with Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler, they have a solid base for a rotation that could be enhanced by either a healthy Mike Minor, who is recovering from left shoulder surgery, or the addition of an experienced veteran.

In other words, after spending much of this past year as sellers, the Braves are ready to do some buying.

So, while we have no idea what the entire starting rotation is going to look like at this point, the one thing we do know is that there are plenty of options to round out the final two spots. Whether or not you are happy with the quality of those last two pitchers is an entirely different conversation.

At this point what we have seems to be a solid foundation, and a lot of questionable pitchers who we don't really know what to expect from next season. In the lower minors, there are plenty of talented arms to keep dreaming on, but guys like Lucas Sims, Touki Toussaint and Kolby Allard are still years away.

What are your thoughts on the state of the starting rotation? Any predictions for who the starting five will be to start the season in 2016? Let us know in the comments below.