It’s not really a problem to have six quality Major League starters, but the Atlanta Braves are about to have this “problem” when Brandon Beachy returns next Tuesday. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the press and in the blogosphere over what the Braves will do when Beachy comes back. We know that Beachy will start one game of the June 18th double-header, then after that the Braves will need to make a decision.
Making their decision even more muddled will be three off-days over the next 13 days following the double-header (see schedule snapshot on right). If the Braves immediately go to a six-man rotation — the most oft-suggested way to deal with Atlanta’s problem of six starters — one of the pitchers who starts that double-header would not pitch for seven days (six days rest), and their next start wouldn’t be for eight days (seven days rest). The pitcher who did originally start on the normal four days rest after that double-header wouldn’t start his next game for nine days (eight days rest).
You see the problem with a six-man rotation over this span of games? That’s a lot of rest. Not to mention all the other starters in the rotation getting unusually long periods of rest, possibly throwing off their natural Mazzonian rhythm of start, rest, throw day, and so on. It may seem like a good idea to give a starter extra rest, but there’s somewhat of a paradox of rest for starters, wherein their effectiveness goes down as they get more and more days of rest.
Think of a reliever who doesn’t work in a game for a week, and how rusty they can be when they finally reappear. Waiting a week between starts, a week between facing live batters, might make all those starters a whole lot less effective.
The Braves know this, and that’s why they will not go to a six-man rotation. I’m going to strike that from the list of possible options when Beachy returns. It won’t happen.
How about Beachy to the bullpen? I’m striking that from the list of options too. The Braves wouldn’t be spending all of this time stretching him out as a starter if they planned to move him to the pen after one start.
How about Kris Medlen to the bullpen? Nope. That’s not going to happen. Since the All-Star break last year, Medlen has the lowest ERA in baseball (1.81). You don’t remove that kind of effectiveness from the rotation.
Mike Minor has also been very effective as a starter since last year’s All-Star break (2.30 ERA), he’s not getting bumped from the rotation. Veterans like Tim Hudson or Paul Maholm don’t usually get bumped to the pen, so converting either of them to a reliever seems like an idea not under consideration by the team. Julio Teheran to the pen? Why risk messing up your prized young starter by converting him to relief. I don’t think Julio to the pen would happen. So then, what are the options?
I see this choice the Braves have to make as two options that are somewhat connected. The first option is that they will send Julio Teheran down to Gwinnett. This is not a demotion for pitching poorly, it’s a demotion because he’s the guy with options and the least amount of Major League experience in the rotation. This would allow the team to keep him on his regular turn in the rotation and limit his innings while keeping him fresh and stretched out as a starter in case they needed him back in the Majors. This is the “sorry kid, you’re the
fifth sixth starter” option.
The second option is to trade one of their starters, most likely Paul Maholm. Maholm is a free agent at the end of the year and wouldn’t return much in a trade, but he may return a reliever that the Braves need for their pen. A team like the Giants that needs starting pitching might want to swap one of their relievers for a starter. If this happens, then Julio stays in the Majors.
What all of this means is that we’ll need to keep our eyes peeled for trade rumors, or teams inquiring about starting pitching — especially teams with deep bullpens. If that doesn’t happen, expect Julio to be sent down after his start following the double-header or when Beachy is called up (a move that would necessitate Hudson and Maholm pitching on three days rest after the double-header — but remember, there are a ton of off-days after that) . The Braves have some time to make this decision, and circumstance could force their hand in a certain direction, but the Braves have a glaring need in their bullpen and the best way to address that is to deal from an area of strength and depth. In five days, starting pitching will represent that depth.
If we trade Maholm, and then another starter goes down because of injury, the Braves should be able to plug in a starter from the minors, like Omar Poveda or Sean Gilmartin. Assuming the Braves acquire a reliever, they would then probably send Alex Wood back to the minors and return him to the rotation where he could also be an option.
Brandon Beachy starts tonight for the Gwinnett Braves.