Sean Newcomb was once a top five pitching prospect in the Braves farm system, and he looked like a superstar in his first four starts in the big leagues. The Braves hope one day he will be dawning the Atlanta uniform as they take the field in the World Series once the team transforms into more of contenders rather than pretenders. Although Newcomb has put up some gaudy numbers since his red-hot start, can he still be the star that us Braves fans hoped that he could be?
Newcomb is 24 years old and was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014. He made 33 starts while with the Angels but all in their minor league system and went 9-4 with a 3.40 ERA over that span. He was involved in the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. After joining the Braves squad, he played his whole 2016 season with Double AA Mississippi. He made 27 starts there with a 8-7 record and ERA just below four. He began the 2017 season with Gwinnett and made eleven starts with an ERA of 2.97, receiving the call to the majors halfway through the season.
The problem that was not mentioned in that paragraph were the walks. At Mississippi he struck out a high of 152 but also walked 71. He has always struggled with control, even with the Angels. This has been the reoccurring problem with the Braves as well. He has never had a season with a WHIP below 1.25, and in the MLB, where walks lead to the demise of even the best pitchers, that is not going to hold up too long.
His call up came in mid-June, and while he looked sharp in his first four starts he only locked up one win. He went six innings in all four, allowing no more than six hits in an any outing, including two starts in which he allowed zero earned runs. The key here was Newcomb limiting the walks to a combined seven compared to 21 punch-outs. But, those four outstanding starts came against four teams with losing records. After those four starts, the struggles came while having to make his next five of six starts against first place teams. Now that is obviously a rough stretch for any pitcher, but especially for someone who has made only four career starts in the big leagues.
First came the Astros. At that time they were easily the best team in the league and were smoking every opponent that got in their way. They had ten hits off of Newcomb and sent him to the showers with one out in the fourth inning. He gave up seven earned runs and followed that up with a performance against the Nats where he went just four innings and gave up four earned runs. This is where his control issues started to get a little out of hand. He walked four batters in that game, walked at least three batters in the next four games, and in one game actually walked seven.
But do not let that run of poor pitching fool you, Newcomb has actually been one of the best pitching prospects to make his debut this year on any ball club. He has made twelve starts with the Braves, recording an ERA of 4.45 and a WHIP of 1.48. He is 1-7, which looks bad, but in reality, you should never base how good a pitcher is off of a win-loss record. He has pitched 64 innings and has 69:37 K/BB ratio. He fairs a lot better on the road and struggles at SunTrust which has become a theme for Braves pitchers this year. The southpaw has pitched 27 innings on the road with a 3.67 ERA and has walked 17 batters, while at home, he is 0-6 with a ERA just above 5 and has walked 20 hitters in 37 innings.
As you can see, his stats can be a little deceiving at first but a lot of that has to due with the unfortunate string of opponents he has faced, having to play the Astros, Cubs, Nats and the Dodgers twice in his last six starts. Since then he has made two starts against the Phillies and Rockies, going six innings in both starts, giving up just three runs and has had a much better K/BB ratio. After some rough starts, Braves fans might have begun having second thoughts on Newcomb and the trade with the Angels in general. After all, Andrelton Simmons is having a career year out West. Maybe Newcomb is a bust and John Coppollela is not as terrific as advertised, but we are here to tell you that could not be further than the truth. Newcomb is only 24 years old and will most definitely turn things around. Pitchers take time in the big leagues to develop and usually have to make a few minor changes to their games before ultimately succeeding. This is the stage Sean Newcomb is at in his career, and once his mind catches up to his stuff, the sky is the limit for left-handed rookie.