Breaking Down the Staffs: Atlanta Braves Edition

Kevin C. Cox

Alex Kantecki breaks down the fantasy value of all 30 starting rotations for 2013, starting with the Atlanta Braves.

Over the next ten weeks leading up to the 111th annual Baseball Winter Meetings, I will be breaking down the starting rotations of all 30 teams by giving you my rankings of each starting pitcher by team in terms of 2013 value. In the majority of cases, I will be using the most recent depth charts provided by MLBDepthCharts.com.

Trades and free agent signings certainly will change a few things along the way – in addition to prospects potentially on the way up – and I will do my best to at least note these players as I see fit.

Let’s start in the National League. First up: the Atlanta Braves, whose starters compiled a 69-54 record with a 3.75 ERA and 4.05 xFIP in 2012. I’ll rank pitchers from worst to best in terms of value for 2013.

5. Tommy Hanson (13-10, 174.2 IP, 8.30 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, 4.48 ERA, 4.24 xFIP)

I continue to think many mistake Hanson for a fire-baller with huge strikeout potential, but that’s simply not the case. Outside of a shortened 2011 season in which he posted 9.83 K/9 in 130 innings, Hanson hasn’t been anything special, having reached 170 strikeouts just once in his career. Maybe, just maybe he was on his way to big things before being shut down with a shoulder injury in 2011, but all that upside has seemingly gone away.

In 2012, Hanson’s fastball dipped below 90 mph for the first time in his career. As recently as 2010, Hanson was averaging 92.7 mph on his fastball. That’s a significant drop. While I give Hanson credit for reinventing his delivery to avoid further injury, his fantasy value has suffered because of it. You can’t trust a guy with 3.66 BB/9, and you certainly can’t trust a guy who has yet to put together back-to-back seasons with at least 150 innings pitched.

Hanson will probably go into the season as the Braves No. 5 starter, and I personally won’t be touching him in any leagues. He simply cannot be trusted, even in the most favorable matchups.

4. Tim Hudson (16-7, 179 IP, 5.13 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 3.62 ERA, 4.10 xFIP)

Since debuting in 1999 with the Oakland Athletics, Hudson has been one of the more consistent and reliable pitchers in the league with 200 innings or more in eight out of 13 seasons, and in 170 innings or more in ten. And wouldn’t you know, Hudson got it done once again in 2012, leading the Braves to a playoff berth with 16 wins.

The nice thing about Hudson is you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s not going to carry your staff, but he’s a nice complement. His strikeouts per nine did take a pretty big dip from 6.61 last year to 5.13 in 2012, but all of his other stats match up nicely with his career averages.

Hudson turns 38 next year, but I’m fairly confident he can repeat his 2012 numbers and get his K/9 closer to his career mark of 6.04. Still, it’s pretty remarkable that a 38-year old like Hudson is a more reliable pitcher than Hanson, who just turned 26. Go figure.

3. Paul Maholm (13-11, 189 IP, 6.67 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.67 ERA, 3.84 xFIP)

After joining Atlanta midseason, Maholm went 4-5 in 68.2 innings with a 3.54 ERA and 3.19 xFIP, providing solid production at the back end of the rotation. The 30-year old lefty boosted his strikeouts per nine from 6.06 while with the Cubs all the way to 7.73 while with the Braves. Since he didn’t change leagues, I don’t put a whole lot into the increase, but it’s worth noting that his 6.67 K/9 in 2012 was the best of his career.

After earning $4.75 MM in 2012, Maholm has a $6.75 MM club option for 2013, so it’s unclear if the Braves will retain his services or let him test free agency. If they do keep him (and I believe they will), Atlanta can expect more of the same from Maholm – a serviceable lefty who will keep his offense in the game. For fantasy purposes, Maholm is useful in the majority of matchups and he won’t kill your ERA or WHIP. The strikeout boost is an added plus. I think he’s a solid No. 4 of No. 5 guy who you don’t have to tinker with much based on matchups.

2. Mike Minor (11-10, 179.1 IP, 7.28 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 4.12 ERA, 4.32 xFIP)

One of the first pieces I wrote for Fake Teams back in early September was about the turnaround of Mike Minor. That turnaround continued all the way to the end for the 24-year old. Back in May, the hyped sleeper posted an insane 9.93 ERA, got it down to an equally ugly 6.20 at the end of June yet finished the season with a respectable 4.12 ERA.

Minor’s problem is the tendency to give up the long ball, but he improved month to month. He ended the season with 1.30 home runs allowed per nine innings, and while that’s not a great number, he did improve by posting 0.76 HR/9 in August and 0.29 HR/9 in September and October.

Minor is a fly ball pitcher who occasionally will suffer by giving up the home run, but he proved very useful down the stretch for both the Braves and for fantasy owners. I won't go out of my way to draft Minor, but he offers plenty of upside as a No. 3 pitcher on your staff. If he gets off to a slow start again in 2013, make sure you give him a little more leeway. He should put up better all-around numbers in 2013 with an outside chance to become the Braves best pitcher.

1. Kris Medlen (10-1, 138 IP, 7.83 K/9, 1.50 BB/9, 1.57 ERA, 2.97 xFIP)

Medlen didn’t qualify for the ERA title because he spent the first half of the season pitching out of the bullpen, but if he did, he would have obliterated the competition. In 19 starts, Medlen went 9-0 with a 0.94 ERA and a 95:14 K:BB ratio in 95.1 innings. In other words, he was flat out dominant.

No one can realistically expect Medlen to repeat his 2012 dominance over a full 2013 season, but it’s obvious that he’s a better pitcher than we previously thought. In his last go around as a starter in 2010, Medlen made 14 starts, going 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA, 3.49 xFIP and a 83:21 K:BB ratio in 107.2 innings.

Medlen is going to be a popular pick again in 2013, but beware that there’s some serious regression coming. I feel confident in Medlen as a No. 3 pitcher on your staff, but it wouldn't surprise me if Minor became the pitcher who offers the best value at the end of the year.

Wild Cards:

Can Julio Teheran finally break the Braves rotation for good? In limited big league action over the past two seasons, Teheran hasn’t looked ready. He’s gone 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA, 4.88 xFIP and a 15:9 K:BB ration in 26 innings. That's a small sample size, but Teheran also took a step back in the minors by going 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA and 97:43 K:BB ratio in 131 innings at Triple A. I don’t know if Teheran will break camp with the team, but remember, he’s still only 21. He may be a few years away.

Randall Delgado looked on his way out of Atlanta at the trade deadline, but a Ryan Dempster stalemate kept him with the Braves for now. It’s possible the Braves could shop Delagado this offseason, but it’s clear he’s more ready than Julio Teheran. In 17 starts in 2012, Delgado went 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA, 4.13 xFIP and a 76:42 K:BB ratio in 92.2 innings. His walks need to come down considerably, and I don’t think Delgado should be on fantasy radars just yet. He may be better suited for a bullpen role.

**Brandon Beachy is recovering from Tommy John surgery and it's possible he could be back sometime around the All-Star Break. Beachy, who went 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA, 4.14 xFIP and a 68:29 K:BB ratio in 81 innings before being injured, would slot into the front end of the Braves rotation upon returning. Don't forget about him in drafts, especially in leagues where you can stash players on the DL.**

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