There was a stretch during the 2017 season where Mike Foltynewicz looked like he was becoming the top of the rotation arm that the Atlanta Braves have been looking for. However, an up and down season once again poses questions about what his realistic ceiling actually is.
What were the expectations?
The Braves were looking for Foltynewicz to take another step forward and prove that he should be a part of the team’s rotation plans going forward. He was part of what was described as a competition for the team’s fifth starter spot but the reality was that the job was always his to lose. Foltynewicz had performed like a pretty average pitcher the prior year, and the hope was that he could build on that.
When it comes to pure stuff, Folty has no equal on the Braves staff. When he is dialed in he can be pure dominant. Consistency has always been the question mark as has his ability to handle difficult decisions. A questionable call by an umpire or a fielding mistake behind him have often caused him to lose focus and have led to big innings for opponents.
His season can be best characterized as a bunch of good starts with enough implosions sprinkled in to skew his final numbers.
To illustrate, Folty allowed 11 hits and eight runs in a loss to the Nationals on June 12 and then put together his best stretch of the season. Over his next nine starts, he allowed three runs or less in eight of them. This included a start against Oakland where he carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning.
He followed that stretch up by allowing a combined 20 runs in his next three starts before settling back in for the final four starts of his season. A cut on his finger ended his season two weeks early which was kind of welcome, as he appeared to be wearing down after throwing a career-high 154 innings.
The chart below plots Folty’s Game Score (v2) for each start over the course of the season. Essentially, 50 represents an average start, 75 a start where only a quarter of all starts made are better (in other words, a good start), and 25 a start where three-quarters of all starts made are better (in other words, a bad start).
As you can see, most of Folty’s starts fell around the 50 mark, and he generally did not manage to go more than four or five starts before a bad outing (though at least he also didn’t tend to follow up clunkers with more clunkers). While he had a handful of really good starts on the year, they too were generally followed up with average or bad starts.
Overall, he finished with a 4.79 ERA, 4.33 FIP, and 4.60 xFIP, along with 1.8 fWAR. Given the changes in the overall run environment, this suggests he may have taken a slight step forward this year, especially by showing a propensity to avoid the longball, but his walk rate also escalated into uncomfortable territory. As a result, he still ended up being an average pitcher over the course of the season.
Folty’s outlook for 2018 hasn’t really changed a whole lot from 2017. Atlanta will be looking for him to take another step forward while occupying one of the top three spots in the rotation.