Braves Add Gaus to Sputtering Rotation

For as pitching-rich as the Braves may be, they could not afford to stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, particularly given the recent struggles of their rotation, the uncharted territory towards which their top starters are heading innings-wise, and a 31-games-in-31-days stretch that has only just begun. On Tuesday afternoon, they dealt four prospects and $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money to the Orioles in exchange for 27-year-old righty starter Kevin Gausman and 35-year-old righty reliever Darren O’Day It’s the second deal in three days between the two teams, following Atlanta’s acquisition of 32-year-old righty reliever Brad Brach, also in exchange for slot money.

At 56-47, the Braves entered Tuesday half a game back in both the NL East (behind the Phillies) and the Wild Card races (behind the D-backs, .001 ahead of the Rockies). They’ve generally gotten good work from their starters this year, at least in terms of ERA, as the rotation ranks third in the NL (3.68). They’re a shakier eighth in FIP (4.19), with a gaudy 9.8% walk rate, the league’s second-worst. The team’s 9-13 record this month owes plenty to the unit’s recent struggles; their 4.90 ERA and 4.95 FIP in July both rank in the bottom third of the league.

All of that has been a problem, but if the Braves stay In This Thing, they’ll have another:

Braves Starters’ 2018 Performance and 2017 Innings
Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP WAR 2018 IP 2017 IP
Kevin Gausman 21 124.0 4.43 4.58 1.3 124.0 186.2
Sean Newcomb 21 119.2 3.23 4.05 1.5 119.2 157.2
Julio Teheran 21 115.0 4.46 5.33 -0.1 115.0 188.1
Mike Foltynewicz 20 112.1 3.04 3.54 2.2 112.1 154.0
Brandon McCarthy* 15 78.2 4.92 4.79 0.2 78.2 100.1
Anibal Sanchez 13 75.0 3.12 3.93 1.0 81.2 125.0
Michael Soroka* 5 25.2 3.51 2.85 0.6 66.1 153.2
Max Fried 4 19.2 2.75 2.91 0.5 80.0 144.2
Matt Wisler 3 17.1 3.63 4.03 0.2 96.2 126.0
Luiz Gohara 1 4.0 4.5 3.16 0.1 68.1 153.0
* = disabled list.
2017 and 2018 innings totals include all roles and all leagues for regular season and postseason.

Of their top starters, only Tehran and the resurgent Sanchez have ever pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, though the latter hasn’t done so since 2013, amid a slew of injuries and a general decline of effectiveness that was only reversed this year. Add another 55 to 65 innings to Gausman, Teheran, Folty, and Newcomb — as we project in our Depth Charts — and the last two will set career highs even before any potential postseason activity.

That’s one big reason they acquired Gausman, who has two straight seasons of at least 30 starts and around 180 innings under his belt. The former overall No. 4 pick out of Louisiana State, Gausman admittedly has had mixed results while dialing back his velocity (he’s averaging 93.9 mph on his fastball according to Pitch Info, down from 95.3 last year) in the service of better control. He’s amid his second straight season with a rising FIP (from 4.10 in 2016 to 4.48 last year and now 4.58) and a falling strikeout rate (from 23.0% to 21.9% to 19.5%), and while he’s trimmed his walk rate (from 8.7% to 6.0%), his home-run rate has risen (from 1.4 per nine to 1.5). Meanwhile, in each of the past two seasons, he’s been cuffed for an xwOBA in the neighborhood of .345. He doesn’t have a particularly consistent home/road split, but getting out of Camden Yards, and the AL East in general, should be a blessing. A division with the opposing lineups of the Marlins and Mets is preferable to one with those of the Yankees and Red Sox, and if he unlocks a new level of performance, he wouldn’t be the first former Orioles pitching prospect in recent memory to flourish elsewhere.

For the Braves, the other nice thing about Gausman is that he’s under club control through 2020. A Super Two who was yo-yoed between the minors and the majors from 2013 to -15 — his transaction log on Baseball Savant indicates that he was recalled from the Norfolk Tides nine times in that span — he’s making $5.6 million this year, with additional $50,000 bonuses for reaching 25, 30, and 33 starts.

The Braves have recalled 20-year-old lefty Kolby Allard to start on Tuesday night against the Marlins, his major-league debut. That’s part of a plan to use a six-man rotation to get through a particularly grueling stretch of their schedule. The Braves’ next off day, August 6, is followed by a doubleheader against the Nationals. After that, they don’t get another off day until August 27, with the next one not until September 13. All told, they will have played 47 games in 49 days dating back to July 26, with series against the Brewers, Rockies, Pirates, D-backs, and Red Sox, plus a makeup game against the Cubs. With McCarthy and Soroka both on the 60-day disabled list until the end of August due to injuries (right knee tendinitis for the former, shoulder inflammation for the latter), Gausman’s ability to take the ball alongside Teheran, Newcomb, Foltynewicz, and Sanchez still means relying upon one of the less experienced pitchers — Fried, Gohara, and perhaps Touki Toussaint are in play — each time through the order.

The full trade is below.

Braves receive:

Orioles receive:

O’Day is out for the season after undergoing left hamstring surgery a month ago. He’s signed for $9 million next year. Between him, Gausman, Brach, the previous trades of Zach Britton and Manny Machado, and Tuesday afternoon’s trade of Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers for Jonathan Villar and two prospects, the Orioles have shed somewhere between $30 million and $35 million in future salary commitments according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

As for the Orioles’ side of things, Cumberland is a 23-year-old in Double-A who placed 12th on the Braves’ top-prospect list this spring. Encarnación, a 20-year-old in A-ball, was 32nd on that list. Phillips, a 23-year-old in Triple-A, made four appearances totaling four innings for the Braves earlier this month, while Zimmerman is a 23-year-old in Double A. Our prospect team of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel has included scouting notes on all of them in a separate post.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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4 years ago

Was rather pleased they traded the players they did for something until this one was fully finished. O”s included o”day to save cash and 2.5 mil of international prospects. Sigh rather then getting the best return and 2.5million in lottery tickets they decided to save 15ish million dollars.

Was really hopeful they would invest in international talent this year and going forward. Sigh.

4 years ago
Reply to  Ajbarrell0521

The return for this was…underwhelming.

Jonathan Sher
4 years ago
Reply to  Ajbarrell0521

I thin Jay got that aspect of the trade backwards as every major news outlet I can see has reported the Orioles are getting international slot money in this deal, not giving it up.