With the start of Spring Training less than a month away, it’s time to look at what the Braves roster might look like on Opening Day. First up is the starting rotation, which potentially could gain an external addition before the regular season begins.
Over the past six weeks, gaining a frontline starter, an outfielder and bolstering the bullpen have been described as needs for the Braves. But it would be more accurate to describe these as “wants.” If necessary, Adam Duvall could serve as Atlanta’s third outfielder, and there are plenty of internal options to fill both the rotation and relief corps.
But after assessing the stalwart rotations of the Mets (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler) and the Nationals (Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg), the desire to defend the National League East crown creates the need to enhance Atlanta’s rotation, which currently counts Mike Foltynewicz as its only frontline starter.
Whether the Braves acquire Sonny Gray or upgrade their rotation via another trade remains to be seen. But for now, we’ll simply look at the candidates for a rotation that will be influenced by the strides made by Sean Newcomb and the Major League-ready prospects who should be given more chances to prove themselves at the game’s highest level.
The ace: Foltynewicz
The decision last offseason to simplify his windup proved quite beneficial for Foltynewicz, who improved from a 4.79 ERA with a 4.33 FIP in 2017 to a 2.85 ERA and a 3.37 FIP last season. The 27-year-old right-hander earned his first All-Star selection and concluded his breakthrough season by posting a 2.55 ERA over his final 10 starts.
Per Statcast™, among the 61 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 four-seam fastballs last year, Foltynewicz ranked fourth with an average velocity of 96.3 mph. His .325 xwOBA (Expected Weighted On-base Average) against this pitch ranked 25th and was higher than his overall .274 xwOBA, which ranked eighth among all NL pitchers.
Foltynewicz’s ability to consistently command his fastball enhances the value of his slider, which limited hitters to a .197 xwOBA, the seventh-best mark among pitchers who threw the pitch at least 500 times. His swing-and-miss rate with the slider improved from 15.1 percent in 2017 to 18.5 percent in ’18.
Though there is room for improvement, Foltynewicz possesses the physical tools necessary to maintain his status among the game’s elite.