There is so much to say about the rotation. The rotation is the linchpin of everything the Braves have been doing since November 2014. The rotations of the past few seasons have seen the disappointment of Top 100 prospects like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, the collapse of Bartolo Colon, the slowed development of Mike Foltynewicz, the inconsistency of Julio Teheran, and the encouraging success of Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, and Luiz Gohara. The rotation is the most variable thing for the 2018 team. The floor is frighteningly low, but the ceiling is higher than any rotation the Braves have had this decade. And while the Opening Day rotation is more impressive than in years past, the unit has the potential to get even better as the year goes along. This segment is on the 3 locks to make the rotation as of now: Julio Teheran, Brandon McCarthy, and Mike Foltynewicz.
So now we talk about Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy came over in the Kemp trade, as I’m sure you know, and he’s slated to make $11.5M this year in the final year of his deal, which is palpable considering his 2017 performance. Between McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, who also came over in the deal, the Braves probably feel like they’re at least going to get one starter who will be on the mound this year.
It may be damning McCarthy with faint praise, but in just 16 GS last year, McCarthy would have been the Braves’ most valuable pitcher had he done it for us. His 2.4 fWAR season would have bested Mike Foltynewicz‘s 1.8 fWAR season as tops on the staff. If that doesn’t depress you, then I don’t know what will. Had he qualified in innings, he’d have been top 40 of starting pitchers in baseball. It was aided in large part by a FIP that was 3/4 of a run better than his ERA, due in large part to his strong peripherals: 6.99 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, and 0.49 HR/9. Had he been healty, he would have obviously been one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, but therein lies the problem with McCarthy: he can’t stay on the mound. He made 16 starts last year, 9 the year before, and 4 the year before that. And he’s 34, so it would be unwise to think that his best health years are ahead of him.
With that said, Steamer and Depth Charts like him to be about a 2 fWAR pitcher next year, which is not a bad 5th starter. The only problem is we may have an entire rotation of 5th starters. ZiPS has him at 16 GS, so his projection is for a 1.2 fWAR there. When he’s healthy, he can pitch, and so if he’s healthy to start the season, obviously he’s a lock to make the rotation. Because of his contract, you’d have to think the Braves will be looking to trade him if they can find a taker. That taker will only come if he’s healthy and performing, and you can say the same for Kazmir. If the Braves get a total of 30 starts from McCarthy and Kazmir combined, then I think the Braves will jump for joy. If they are able to trade one of them, I think Anthopoulis will do cartwheels instead. I’d pay to see that, actually.