As the Atlanta Braves move into SunTrust Park in 2017, the front office has made a number of changes to try and improve their recent struggles. Many of those changes can be seen in the projected rotation, where the Braves will return just one of their four opening day starters of a year ago.
Their rotation looks pretty well set heading into spring training thanks to their new additions, though one could argue that the final spot could be up for grabs. We aren’t likely to see the fifth starter much during the opening 11 days of the season given the Braves have three off days in that span.
1. Julio Teheran: Despite the numerous additions the Braves made during the offseason, Teheran returns as the ace of the rotation after posting a very solid 3.21 ERA across 30 starts in 2016. Though his 7-10 record may be anything but exciting, Teheran had only seven starts last year when he allowed more than three runs. His strikeouts per nine innings were higher than it had been in the previous two years, while the now 25-year-old also allowed fewer walks than in any of his big league campaigns.
As he enters the prime of his career, Teheran’s future will once again be at the center of much speculation at the trade deadline as contenders scramble to add an extra arm or two to bolster their rotation. Though Atlanta seem committed to the right-hander, it’s possible he may find himself traveling to a new home later in the year.
2. Bartolo Colon: The next three members of Atlanta’s projected rotation could be thrown into a hat and taken out in any order, but because Colon made 33 starts in 2016 and has started at least 30 games in each of the last four years, he gets the nod as the number two behind Teheran.
A fan favorite across the major leagues, Colon enjoyed a successful season with the Mets last year that brought with it the fourth All-Star appearance of his career. He went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA across 191 2/3 innings, owning the lowest walks per nine rate in the National League. That performance led to him signing a one-year, $12.5 million deal with Atlanta early in the offseason – the third-highest yearly earning of his career and highest since 2007 when he made $16 million with the Angels.
Colon’s 2016 campaign was also memorable for another reason as he hit his first ever major league home run, a solo shot against the Padres that drew quite a reaction from teammates.
3. R.A. Dickey: A journeyman knuckleballer, Dickey will be looking to return to his 2014 form that saw him hold a 3.71 ERA in 34 starts with the Blue Jays. That he, he averaged 7.2 punch outs per nine and allowed roughly one homer every nine innings as well.
The 42-year-old didn’t quite reach those heights in 2016, but the Braves have signed him more as an innings eater anyway rather than the staff ace. Innings is certainly something Dickey can provide, throwing a career-high 233 2/3 in 2012. He worked at least five innings in all but four of his starts last season, getting through a season-high eight innings when he allowed only three hits against Texas in mid-May.
4. Jaime Garcia: Like Dickey, Garcia’s best years are certainly in the rear-view mirror, though he is still capable of putting together some good outings on the mound. While 2016 wasn’t anything special, the 30-year-old is just a year removed from pitching to a 2.43 ERA in 20 starts with the Cardinals. That season, Garcia had career-low rates in hits and home runs allowed per nine innings as he walked only 30 batters in nearly 130 innings.
A poor start to the season could push Garcia out of the rotation and into the bullpen, but after producing some reasonable results of late there is reason to be optimistic about his chances of starting around 25 games throughout the course of the season.
5. Mike Foltynewicz: A guy who has to be one of my personal favorites in the big leagues, ‘Folty’ has the potential to be a really solid back-end starter. He finished 2016 with a 4.31 ERA but during the first half that was down at 3.67 when he had a much better strikeout-to-walk rate. The 25-year-old ended up throwing 123 1/3 innings last season, averaging a career-high 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
His best start of the year came on May 14th when he hurled eight-innings of shutout ball in Kansas City. That solid resume from last year ensures Foltynewicz will likely beat out the likes of Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Josh Collmenter for the final spot in the Braves rotation.
Atlanta’s rotation in 2017 will look a lot different to those that Braves fans saw last year. There is a clear focus on the veteran arms to eat as many innings as possible while hopefully putting together some solid numbers that gives the team an opportunity to win as many games as possible. With Colon and Garcia both signed only through to the end of this season, it’s likely more change could be ahead in years to come.