And we’re back with Round 2 of our 2019 755 Projections. If you missed the position player projections that went up yesterday, you can find them here.
The biggest difference between our position player projections and our pitcher projections lies in one word — depth.
While just like with the other side of the clubhouse most of the same names from 2018 carry over to the 2019 pitching staff, the abundance of quality names is what makes the things far more optimistic in today’s projections.
A lot of the fanbase wanted the Braves to go out and get a frontline starter like Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber this winter, or to go hard after a dominant closer like Craig Kimbrel. Obviously, neither of those things happened, but unlike with the question marks in RF and off the bench, these wishes were more just that than actual needs.
The starting rotation enters 2019 looking much the same as it did to end 2018. The biggest difference being Anibal Sanchez and Brandon McCarthy aren’t around as veteran arms to eat up 200+ innings this year.
In their place will be Kevin Gausman for an entire season, and a core of young arms who now have an extra year under their belt, with a lot of them getting to pitch in critical situations down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, and Julio Teheran are the mainstays, with Gausman giving the team a formidable front four, even if they lack one singular guy who is going to garner Cy Young votes at the end of the year.
Joining that foursome is the first wave of one of the best young pitching systems in recent memory — Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Bryse Wilson. In any other situation than that of a defending division champion, you may even see that group thrown out to make 20+ starts per on their own.
Instead, the likeliest of scenarios is a backend by committee, with the outside arm(s) likely to bridge the gap in the bullpen in an effort to make every inning they throw this year matter.
Those numbers aren’t bad. Like I said above, there isn’t a name that stands out to you as one that is going to carry the team the way a Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer will for our division rivals, but the depth contained within is just ridiculous.
Foltynewicz sees a significant drop over last season, but the difference here is the fact we don’t know if he is going to be able to pitch injury-free in 2019. Last week word started to leak out he was dealing with some elbow discomfort, and now we have found out he likely won’t be ready for Opening Day. Best case scenario he bounces back and only misses a couple of starts; worst case scenario he misses significant time and our 28 projected starts becomes significantly less.
Gausman, Teheran, and Newcomb are the keys in 2019. All three were all over the map last year, showing flashes of brilliance at times and getting absolutely rocked at others. If all three can push the bounds of two wins, the team should end up not missing that frontline starter everyone coveted.
And then there is the young guns.
I have admittedly spent way too much time adjusting and tweaking the number of starts each of Wright, Toussaint, Soroka, Fried, and Wilson will get this year. At any given point during the time I have been working on these projections, each of those names has seen their starts range from zero to twenty depending on who was getting the most buzz.
Right now, Kyle Wright is setting the world on fire and impressing everyone who has seen him pitch this spring. Originally, I had Toussaint getting a lot of the starts that migrated over to Wright, but Soroka and Fried have always been the two guys who were the spot starters. Wilson remains the odd man out, and if push comes to shove, he is likely to be the first name on the trading block with the second wave of starters bubbling just below the surface.
Like with the middle of the rotation, if these five guys can accumulate around 2-3 wins as a collective, with as electric as their stuff is, we certainly won’t need to buy high on a starter down the stretch.
The bottom line on the rotation: the sum of the parts as a whole are gonna need to shine a lot brighter than their individual numbers.
The 2018 bullpen was… Problematic.
But not for the reasons most would expect.
Overall, the bullpen performed a lot better than you would expect from a bunch of castoffs like Dan Winkler, Shane Carle, and Jesse Biddle. Ultimately the problems ended up coming about because of overuse of the castoffs and over-reliance on fringe guys and veterans like Sam Freeman, Luke Jackson, and Peter Moylan.
The backend combo of Arodys Vizcaino and AJ Minter did sufficient work, but still lacked the lights out dominance one would expect from a division winner.
The shutdown closer still isn’t here, but like with the rotation, there are a host of names with much better stuff and also a full season awaiting from veterans Darren O’Day and Jonny Venters.
There is a lot of carryover from the rotation discussion. I slotted Wright, Toussaint, Soroka, Fried, and Wilson in for a significant time out of the bullpen as well, because honestly, there really isn’t anywhere else for them to go, and little left for them to prove in the Minors. Their ability to pick up innings so that history doesn’t repeat itself and the strongest bullpen arms don’t end up being overused by July.
The biggest concern remains Minter/Vizcaino. The two combined for a little short of two wins last year over 100 combined innings, and that number is significantly less looking towards 2019, with more innings allotted due to Vizcaino’s injury woes last year.
The combination of O’Day/Venters as potential 7-8th innings guys also leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of that falls on Venters, unfortunately.
Those four question marks at the end of games are why the reliance on the leftovers from the rotation is going to be the difference maker. The bullpen could, and maybe should, end up being a reliance on every arm available instead of having names slotted into certain roles and to be used only under certain circumstances.
It remains to be seen whether or not Brian Snitker has the mental fortitude to be able to accomplish such a thing, however.
Overall, based on projections, the pitching staff slots in almost exactly where their 2018 counterparts did in terms of production. The 2018 staff accounted for 15.0 fWAR, whereas the 2019 version falls just short of that at 14.7 WAR.
As a whole, projecting both position players and the pitching staff, the 2019 Braves are exactly what the 2018 Braves were.
Factor in the variable of a Replacement Level team being worth 47-48 wins depending on which WAR system you use and the Braves look to be around an 87-89 win team.
Will that be enough in a stacked and revamped NL East?