After taking an in-depth look at the 2017 Atlanta Braves and their fantasy-relevant hitters, the next logical step would be their staff. Now, the Braves revamped their starters to the point that you probably could not guess them in 100 tries. Which is good for you, because most of them are not worth considering, though one tempting sleeper does sit at the bottom of the rotation.
Teheran had a bounce back 2016 campaign after a disastrous 2015 campaign for the Braves. Teheran had an unusually high walk rate, low K-rate and an out-of-line HR/FB rate that led to his ERA ballooning over 4.00 in 2015; he was an obvious positive regression candidate last year. The Teheran of 2017 should recapture some of his 2013 and 2014 form, but he provides limited strikeout potential. He will need to take a huge step forward to find him anywhere near the top-fifteen, but a top 20-30 finish is his sweet spot thanks to his low ERA, low WHIP and high number of innings.
He’ll shake his belly like a bowl full of jelly and you’ll turn around and he’s chewed up 190 innings for the Braves without doing anything spectacular. He doesn’t strike out a ton of people, he doesn’t give up a lot of hits, and he doesn’t do a great job of stranding people. He’s more fun to have than he is a quality pitcher. You can forgive him if he slips a bit this year. He’s literally been pitching in the majors since Dodgers’ SP Julio Urias was in diapers. He’s the unofficial mascot of MLB Twitter, but he’s not worth it in fantasy baseball circles unless you’re looking for an innings eater to plug some holes mid-season.
The Man Who is Impossible to Tommy John continues chugging along like other knuckleballers before him. The Braves are likely hoping that the impeccable pitch framing of Tyler Flowers paired with the unpredictable nature of Dickey’s knuckleball gives him a very, very late career bounce back. At age 42, Dickey would be the old man in the clubhouse for most MLB clubs, but he’s a pup compared to Colin (43). Dickey will return to the division where he won his Cy Young, but don’t expect him to return to that form: that was a half-decade ago.
Garcia made his way to Atlanta via St. Louis, as the Braves acquired Garcia after his disastrous 2016 campaign, wherein he pitched 171.2 innings of 4.67 ERA, 1.37 WHIP baseball. It’s not great, but Garcia has always been a pitcher who would perform well when he actually pitched. Last year was a complete outlier, as his HR/FB rate was a disaster, which led to a home run rate nearly double his career average, and a BB/9 double his 2014 campaign. Garcia got really bad all in a hurry, and nothing in his peripheral numbers indicate a cratering of that magnitude (outside of losing a couple ticks on his slider in the second half). Garcia is essentially free in fantasy baseball drafts, and a great bounce back candidate for 2017.
Folty regularly flirts with 100 MPH, but like most pitchers who do so, he rarely knows where it is going. Still, according to research from Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, he pitched a higher percentage of his pitches ahead in the count than any other pitcher in the majors last year. That consistency of being ahead in the count gives me hopes for his ability to build on his 2016 campaign. The Braves obviously hope the tutelage of Colon and Dickey can straighten Foltynewicz out, and he has a lot to build on with a K-BB% that would have been top-30 last year among starters had he qualified. Folty is basically undrafted, even in twelve team leagues. His velocity and strikeout potential make him a great flier at the end of your fantasy baseball draft or off the wire in the first few weeks. He could, however, flame out (quite literally) and follow the Tony Cingrani path straight to the bullpen.
The (Fantasy Baseball Relevant) Relievers
Jim Johnson (CL)
Johnson was one of the worst pitchers in baseball before going down with injury last year. In the second half of the year, he cut his ERA nearly in half, dropping from 4.06 to 2.14 while striking out an extra three batters per nine innings. He maintained his strikeout rate while dropping both his HR rate and walk rate, which put them back in career lines. He’s not a sexy reliever, but he is going to be one of those you draft and never think about again and he ends the year with 30 saves, barring injury.
The fire-baller is next up or when Johnson falters. Much like Folty, he blasts them in there with little regard for where they’re headed. He has amazing talent and a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but usurping a closer is a zero-sum game. If Johnson continues his hot stretch from the second half of the year, Vizcaino is just a good holds guy (and a saves punter target).
Cabrera continues the Braves’ trend of getting guys who just rifle it in there, as he averages 100 miles per hour on his fastball. He’s third in line behind Johnson and Vizcaino, but both are injury prone, and they might get moved at the deadline. He’s more of a name to file away than one to target unless you want to stash him or are in a particularly deep or saves-desperate league.