When the Braves decided to blow the whole thing up — though their plans were presented to the public in more palatable and euphemistic terms and served on a silver platter, adjacent to a “Burgerizza” — it was assumed there would be moments like this. But to see the number of pitchers they churned through in 2016 is nonetheless staggering.
The once pitching-proud organization has used 32 pitchers this season, and there’s still six weeks to go. They have used 14 starting pitchers, which is tied for the lead in the majors. Ten of their pitchers were making their first career start. Nine of them were making their major league debut.
This not only makes it difficult to win games, it’s almost impossible for the marketing department to find five worthy candidates for bobblehead night, so help me Madison Younginer.
Most believe the Braves have identified three starters for next season: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler. But Foltynewicz and Wisler still suffer from common prospect hiccups, and to suggest there’s a comfort level through the organization right now is more spin than reality.
“I’d say, ‘Wait until the spring,’” pitching coach Roger McDowell said when asked if he had identified three starters.
“At this time last year, you could’ve said we had Julio, Foltynewicz, Wisler and (Manny) Banuelos (who was thought to have starter potential, declined, was demoted, suffered injuries and ultimately was released). And we still had Shelby Miller.”
So you understand the discomfort?
“Yeah. But that’s where we are. The problem when you try to identity guys who are going to be part of the rotation is different guys take a different amount of time. Everybody is at a different maturity level. Everybody comes out of the gate differently. Some have talent but then they fall off or get hurt. That’s why there’s so many of them.”
With significant uncertainty about the rotation two years into the makeover, here’s another question: What’s the future of Roger McDowell?
He is in his 11th season as the Braves’ pitching coach. He’s at the end of his contract. He certainly wouldn’t have difficulty landing a job elsewhere, as evidenced when Philadelphia almost hired him away in 2014 when former Braves general manager Frank Wren slow-footed giving him an extension.
The Braves realistically can’t extend McDowell now because they don’t even know who their next manager is going to be — and there has been a growing feeling by some in the organization over the past couple of weeks that the team’s executive branch will not give the manager’s job to anybody in-house: not interim manager Brian Snitker, not Terry Pendleton, not Eddie Perez. This runs counter to what most believed after Fredi Gonzalez was fired in May, given the Braves’ tendency to not go outside, as was the case with Bobby Cox, Gonzalez, Wren and John Coppolella. Even John Hart, while in semi-retirement at the time of his hiring, was a close friend of John Schuerholz when he was brought in to look over Wren’s shoulder.
The Braves rank in the bottom third in several pitching statistics, including ERA (4.44), walks (432) and hit batters (48). But to blame McDowell would be nuts, given the backdrop.When the Braves had proven talent, McDowell’s staffs statistically ranked among the best in baseball. But this is a team that’s on pace to lose 103 games and has used players who either weren’t ready for the majors yet or never will be. Too many nights have been a Schlockfest.
You don’t blame the bricklayer when the wall falls down if the contractor told him to use Styrofoam bricks.
Snitker said McDowell “probably has the hardest job” on the team.
“When I came up as a third base coach I decided the two jobs I would never want was pitching and hitting coach. Everybody thinks they can do your job better better than you. Everybody has the answers.
“Roger has done a phenomenal job when you consider the turnover and all of the guys he’s had to touch and deal with. It would be crazy for the next manager to not keep him.”
McDowell is doing what he tells his pitchers to do: focus on today, control what you can control. He said he wants to stay in Atlanta. But he works in a strange business, where decisions aren’t always logical blame by the true decision-makers isn’t always accepted.
“I have confidence in my ability as a pitching coach,” he said. “I believe in my ability to teach pitching staffs whatever they need, whether they’re young or old or inexperienced to experienced. That said, I definitely want to be here.”
He’s the one decision that should be easy.