The Braves Ace of the past is an Ace no more. We already knew that coming into Tuesday night’s start, but there was still hope Foltynewicz could shake off the rust and show some resemblance to his 2018 self relatively soon. Lamentably, whatever is left of that faith is but a glimmer after yet another debacle against the Cardinals.
Folty allowed eight runs over 4.2 innings as the ice-cold bats of St. Louis woke up in a big way, crushing three home runs. That’s been a common theme for him in his four starts this season. Foltynewicz has yet to have an outing without giving up at least one home run. He’s allowed eight thus far in just 21.1 innings. Folty has also let four or more runs cross the plate in each of his appearances.
I’ve pounded on his primary fault after each outing – his slider. It’s spending way too much time dancing over the middle of the plate, failing to show that hard biting down and away action (to righties). This is a pitch he’s throwing nearly 30% of the time when it’s challenging to justify tossing it at all to this point, and Foltynewicz doesn’t have any better offspeed pitches to turn to. When it’s this abysmal, it’s time for the Braves to seriously mull over the possibility of sending him back down to Gwinnett.
Folty’s fastball velocity has also been down significantly. Last year, his average heater was 96.4 MPH. In 2019, it’s dropped to 94.3 MPH. That’s the type of fall usually attributed to a lingering injury. Although, Foltynewicz has reiterated after each start that he hasn’t had any discomfort in his arm on the mound.
Due to his decreased velocity and inability to throw offspeed pitches with consistency, Folty has seen his K% fall off a cliff. This was one of the best strikeout machines in baseball a year ago, fanning 9.9 batters per nine innings and recording a 27.2% K-rate. He finished with 202 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.08. Do you all remember that guy? This year, Folty is sporting a K% of 14.2, which is in the bottom 5% of the entire league. Something is off here, and there is no way it hasn’t done some damage to his confidence.
It took Foltynewicz a little while, like most young pitchers, to find his footing in the majors. Body language has always been an area of concern. He would often let a missed strike call or a couple of hits negatively affect him, leading to crooked numbers. Folty’s honed that in as he’s matured, but we’ve seen glimpses of it this year – and it’s not going to get any better if the Braves let this continue.
Looking beyond Folty’s struggles (which is admittedly difficult to do), the Braves have a plethora of arms on the horizon itching to take his place. Sean Newcomb has enjoyed some success in AAA and the bullpen since being sent down. He’s due for another crack at the starting rotation. Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, and Kyle Wright are also options – and frankly, they are substantially better options right now.
Sending down Folty isn’t the same thing as giving up on him. Every sense of me still believes he can come back and be the pitcher he was in 2018, and maybe even better. But these kinks, these growing pains, whatever it is, needs to be worked out in the minor leagues. The Braves are in a playoff race that actually started a month and a half ago (I’m not sure they got the memo). Atlanta has already dug themselves a pretty sizeable hole to a loaded Phillies team. They cannot continue to send Folty out their to get slaughtered every five days anymore.