New Look Braves Rotation?

In 2008, the Atlanta Braves had a very disappointing season. I know, thanks Captain Obvious, but still, many analysts pegged them to at least be competitive and they essentially fell short in that regard. Granted, they lost John Smoltz after five starts, saw 13 replacement level starts from Tom Glavine before losing him for the rest of the season, made up that difference with slightly above replacement level performance from Mike Hampton, and saw Tim Hudson fall prey to Tommy John Surgery. Whew. By the end of the season, the rotation was headlined by Jair Jurrjens and accompanied by Jorge Campillo, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Hampton.

Here are the values of the primary Braves starters from 2008. Keep in mind that this only includes their numbers as starters, not bullpen appearances:

NAME               IP       FIP      WAR
Jair Jurrjens     188.1     3.59     +3.6
Tim Hudson        141.0     3.83     +2.6
Jorge Campillo    137.0     4.27     +1.9
John Smoltz        27.0     2.32     +1.0
Jo-Jo Reyes       110.1     5.04     +0.5
Mike Hampton       78.0     4.94     +0.5
Tom Glavine        63.1     6.02     -0.3

Put together, these seven pitchers combined for +9.8 wins above replacement. Glavine is not very likely to return in 2009. Hudson will miss most, if not all, of the season recovering from his surgery. Hampton just signed with the Astros. Jo-Jo Reyes was initially rumored as part of the Javier Vazquez-deal, and though his moving did not come to fruition, I think it’s safe to say he is not necessarily part of the Braves 2009 rotation hopes.

That leaves Jurrjens and Campillo. Smoltz will likely return as long as he can physically throw a baseball, leaving two rotation spots open. One of them was filled the other day, as Frank Wren traded a package of prospects for Javier Vazquez. And, if the reports I have been reading are true, and the Braves are offering that guaranteed fifth year, it seems A.J. Burnett will soon round out that rotation. What would this rotation look like compared to last year?

NAME              IP     FIP      WAR
A.J. Burnett     190     3.90     +3.3
Javier Vazquez   200     3.92     +3.3
Jair Jurrjens    160     3.84     +2.9
Jorge Campillo   160     4.12     +2.4
John Smoltz       94     3.57     +2.0

Campillo’s projection was a tad skewed due to Jorge pitching out of the pen and lacking much major league tenure entering this year, as well as the fact that it does not slot him as a full-time starter in 2009. I adjusted it to something in between what the systems are calling for, taking his rotation spot into account. For Smoltz, this assumes he only pitches 2/5 of the season or so. Still, even with 40% of Smoltz, this rotation would be worth 13.9 wins above replacement, a four-win improvement from last season.

What happens if Smoltz comes back and pitches more than these 94 innings though? What if he logs 165 innings at a 3.45 FIP, which would actually be his highest such mark since 1994? In that scenario, Smoltz would be worth +36 runs, or +3.6 wins as opposed to two wins. In that scenario, the Braves would be getting a steal with Smoltz, because there is no way he will sign a 1-yr deal for his fair market value of $18 mil. It would also add another 1.6 wins to the projected 13.9, bringing the Braves potential rotation to +15.5 WAR, an improvement of almost six wins.

We don’t know if Campillo can build on his 2008 performance; if Jurrjens can avoid the sophomore slump; if Smoltz will return and/or stay healthy; or even if Burnett will end up as a Brave. If all of this comes to fruition, however, the Braves could realistically put out an extremely potent rotation.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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