If not for the Philadelphia Phillies and their hyped pitching staff, the Atlanta Braves would be in the spotlight due to a strong rotation that is returning four of the five after leading all of baseball in FIP last season. The Braves will likely fly under the radar because of the Phillies, but they should not be taken any lighter.
1. Tim Hudson: Hudson posted his best ERA since 2003 at 2.83. His FIP (4.09) and xFIP (3.87) were both much higher due to a .249 BABIP, but if you watched his season you would know he pitched to that low batting average balls in play number. He had a career-best groundball rate at 64.1%, a career-best line drive rate at 13.6%, and a solid flyball rate at 22.3%. All of this in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery is pretty incredible. However, 228 innings at 34 years old coming off elbow surgery does raise a few concerns.
I would not bet on Hudson repeating his 2010 numbers, but that doesn't mean he won't continue to be a number one-type pitcher. The projections seem to agree, raising his ERA to the mid-3s with a FIP that stays around four. As long as he keeps his walks down, which he always has, he will always produce enough grounders to be effective. Expect him to continue carrying the load for another year.
Bill James: 3.50 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.63 BB/9, 5.46 K/9, 0.72 HR/9
Marcel: 3.41 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 2.98 BB/9, 5.92 K/9, 0.81 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.70 ERA, 109 ERA+, 49 BB, 92 K in 148 innings
2. Tommy Hanson: My Hanson analysis here. He posted a 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP and 4.04 xFIP over 202.2 innings in his first full season in the majors. Hanson has a lot more riding on his 2011 season than people may think due to what I talked about in my analysis. He is beginning to hit his development peak, meaning he is about to hit his prime soon, and his durability and stamina are in question according to his velocity rates from last season. If he is able to gain strength and handle a 200-inning workload better over the next two years, the Braves have a starter capable of taking over the No. 1 spot. If nothing changes, he is No. 2 at best on good days.
The projections are predicting a return to his normal K/BB rates while maintaining the same ERA and FIP. I have to agree.
Bill James: 3.41 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 2.92 BB/9, 8.51 K/9, 0.74 HR/9
Marcel: 3.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 2.74 BB/9, 7.97 K/9, 0.67 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.10 ERA, 130 ERA+, 62 BB, 192 K in 203 innings
3. Derek Lowe: My Lowe analysis here. Lowe is someone Braves fans should keep an eye on in 2011. His trends last season, as I analyzed in the linked piece, spell a pitcher who may have figured something out as the season wore on. He posted a tremendous 1.17 ERA in September, and he seemed to be pitching with more aggressiveness and in a shorter amount of time on the mound. Despite being 38 in 2011, Lowe has a chance to be the surprise of the staff, but the projections seem to think he will stay close to last season's numbers, or worse.
Bill James: 3.87 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 2.66 BB/9, 5.74 K/9, 0.75 HR/9
Marcel: 4.19 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 2.81 BB/9, 6.14 K/9, 0.82 HR/9
ZiPS: 4.39 ERA, 92 ERA+, 62 BB, 118 K in 184 innings
4. Jair Jurrjens: My Jurrjens analysis here. Jurrjens was hindered by injuries for much of the season, but he gave some good outings when he was on the mound. He is key to the Braves in 2011 because if he can stay healthy that gives them four mid-to-front starters, which only a few teams can say they have. Jurrjens is said to have lost weight and gained strength in an attempt to prevent those injuries from happening again, so he's on the right track. I still would not go anywhere near him with an extension, but I think he could provide solid value in 2011 as he gets closer to his prime. Look for him to get back to his usual numbers.
Bill James: 3.82 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.24 BB/9, 6.54 K/9, 0.73 HR/9
Marcel: 3.57 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.09 BB/9, 7.01 K/9, 0.77 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.82 ERA, 106 ERA+, 62 BB, 135 K in 176 innings
5. Mike Minor: My Minor analysis here. Minor is the clear favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation, and his 2010 season gave him every right. He dominated the minors all the way to Atlanta in his first full season as a pro, showing improved velocity and strikeout numbers. If given 150+ innings, Minor should be able to provide very good numbers as a fifth starter. As with any rookie, he will hit his bumps, but he is in a great position as a rookie starting pitcher. The projections look pretty solid for Minor, but I am confused by ZiPS giving him such a high walk total.
Marcel: 4.44 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 2.96 BB/9, 8.29 K/9, 1.07 HR/9
ZiPS: 4.33 ERA, 93 ERA+, 74 BB, 162 K in 158 innings
6. Brandon Beachy: My Beachy analysis here. Beachy also vaulted up the minor league ladder in 2010, though he was a relative unknown heading into the season. If not for Minor, Beachy would probably be given first crack at the fifth spot, and I fully believe the Braves have enough confidence in him to give it to him out of spring training. Beachy will likely be the first option out of Gwinnett, and he should see plenty starts in Atlanta.
Marcel: 3.90 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.36 BB/9, 7.79 K/9, 0.81 HR/9
ZiPS: 3.91 ERA, 104 ERA+, 33 BB, 86 K in 99 innings
7. Rodrigo Lopez: My Lopez analysis here. Lopez is likely the second option out of Gwinnett. If he remains AAA filler and doesn't see major league innings, it means the Braves are lucky injury wise. An injury disaster is the only reason Lopez should see time in the majors, but he's nice to have just in case.
Bill James: 5.04 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 2.57 BB/9, 5.57 K/9, 1.39 HR/9
Marcel: 4.92 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 2.83 BB/9, 5.78 K/9, 1.44 HR/9