Year in and year out, you see no-name pitchers brought into the Braves organization that produce. The man to thank for this is pitching coach Roger McDowell. McDowell has provided the Braves with consistent success from his pitching staffs since he was hired in 2005. The former big leaguer has a reputation for helping pitchers with control issues. Newly acquired pitcher Jim Johnson cited McDowell as a big reason for him signing with the Braves. Former Braves pitcher Eric O’ Flaherty actually recommended McDowell to Johnson while he was struggling last season in Oakland. Johnson’s ERA this Spring: 1.42. Why does McDowell have such a great reputation? He’s earned it. Take a look at this chart, which includes a pitcher’s ERA the year of and the year prior to working with McDowell:
|Name||ERA Season prior to working with McDowell||ERA 1st Season with McDowell|
|Eric O’ Flaherty|
These are just a handful of guys that McDowell has been effective in helping. The Braves have a long list of guys that have come up through the farm system that he’s helped achieve great success. This season, McDowell has his work cut out for him in the sense that he will have many new faces to work with. Shelby Miller is a great young pitcher that has had some control issues but I think he’s a perfect project for Roger McDowell. I think he and Teheran will be competing for the #1 spot for years to come. Fans have to be pleased with the results they have seen from Eric Stults this spring. In the bullpen, he has a couple new established veterans to work with in Jim Johnson and Jason Grill, but also potentially has to work with younger pitchers such as Juan Jaime, who has had control issues. McDowell will also work with Trevor Cahill, who was acquired late in the Spring. Cahill is coming off a rough year and I think this move shows the confidence that the front office has in Roger McDowell. If Cahill can turn things around in Atlanta, he could be a valuable member of our rotation or a very attractive trade chip. Considering that Grilli and Johnson both have closer experience, the possibilities are endless for this year’s bullpen as well. McDowell has done a lot more with a lot less. Expect the Braves’ pitching to be lights out per usual this season.
Due to the Braves’ horrendous offensive collapse last season, former hitting coach Greg Walker stepped down from his duties. Was Walker fully to blame? No. But when an offense’s output decreases substantially as a whole, signs point towards Walker being a big factor in their struggles. Let’s take a look at each of the Braves’ starters batting average in 2013, and then 2014.
|Melvin Upton Jr.||.184||.208|
Not only did more than half of the team see a decrease in batting average, only a single player on this list hit over .275 last season. That is abysmal. Bring in new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Like McDowell, Seitzer is a former major leaguer. This is Seitzer’s fourth stop as a hitting coach, spending last season with the Blue Jays. What makes Seitzer so important to this year’s team is the new hitting approach he brings. Seitzer is a contact hitting coach who stresses hitting the ball to all parts of the field. We have seen teams like the Royals achieve success recently using a contact and small ball approach, and that will be a big part of the way the Braves play this season. Seitzer played a big part in helping players such as Alex Gordon during his tenure with the team. The feast or famine style of hitting the Braves have used in recent years is no longer. Seitzer will ensure the team cuts down on strikeouts and we get men on base.
The Braves’ Core Youth
The great thing about what the Braves did this offseason was they rebuilt their farm system while retaining their young core players. I think one factor that many are sleeping on is the fact that young players such as Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, and Alex Wood gain another year of experience. Add young players such as Shelby Miller, Jace Peterson and Christian Bethancourt to the mix and it’s clear that the Braves have started a youth movement. The Braves did lose Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward, but have Jim Johnson and Nick Markakis to patch holes until the Braves bring up more young prospects. Is there a lot of overturn? Yes. But I firmly believe this is the year where Simmons and Freeman break out.
I think the Braves still manage to surprise many, but fans should temper their expectations. I say the Braves finish the season at 80-82, sitting right under .500. Compared to many, this is actually generous. I do see the Marlins and Nationals finishing above the Braves this season, with the Braves in third. But this is the beginning of a new era of Braves baseball. Going .500 in a rebuilding year is a great stepping stone for future success. I think fans will still love to watch the young players develop as the Braves go back to their traditional methods of building through the farm system. I think the Braves will remind many of last year’s Marlins team, who underwent a similar rebuild. But who knows? This is baseball, and anything is possible.