The trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks was definitely exciting for Braves fans with their eyes towards the future, but no so much to those that want to see the team compete in 2016. Many Braves fans, writers and more believe that the rotation will suffer greatly without Miller to lead the way. Is that really the case though? I don’t think so. When fangraphs.com projected the Braves as a 67 win team for 2016, I thought that was low and I still do. The reason is simple: The starting pitching will struggle. While that may be true, let me explain why it’s not as big of a deal as people think.
Miller posted a 3.02 ERA for the Braves in 2015 and won just six ballgames. Six. In his 33 starts, 15 times he allowed less than three runs. How many of those games did the Braves win? Six. The Braves won 10 times when Miller gave up less than three runs for the entirety of the 2015 season. In all of Miller’s starts, the Braves won 11 of Miller’s 33 starts in 2015. An All Star pitcher with an ERA just north of 3 for the season got his team 11 wins. Are you telling me that Manny Banuelos, Jhoulys Chacin, Mike Foltynewicz, Bud Norris or Matt Wisler couldn’t get the Braves at least 11 wins if they toed the rubber 33 times? Again, this isn’t a reflection on Miller, but a reflection of a terrible offense around him. I’ll write later why I think the offense will be better this season.
Many of Miller’s starts were wasted. When a pitcher gives up two runs or less in 16 outings, he probably walks away with at least 75 percent of the wins and the team winning about 90 percent of those contests. That wasn’t the case in 2015 for Miller and the Braves.
My point is that with an improved offense the Braves will score more runs a game. If Miller were starting those games, yes you would win more of those contests. To go along with an improved offense, the Braves bullpen should be much better than it was. Arodys Vizcaino showed that he could be a long-term option in the ninth, Jason Grilli returns from injury and Jim Johnson resigned with Atlanta, a place where he enjoyed a lot of success until he was traded in July. When two areas of your team improve and you lose one starting pitcher (albeit a very good one) it’s hard for me to understand why this team is slated for just 67 wins. This team was competing up until it traded Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe (two fixtures of the Atlanta offense) in July to the Mets.
Yes, one part of the Braves rotation will suffer, but my point is that you didn’t really use many of Miller’s starts in 2015 anyway. So why expect the drop-off now?
The Braves will roll with a rotation (as of now) that features Julio Teheran, who I think will improve, and any combination of Banuelos, Chacin, Foltynewicz, Norris, Wisler, Kyle Kendrick, Williams Perez and more. I don’t think any of the names mention above (other than Teheran) will be able to duplicate Miller’s numbers from 2015, but they don’t have to. The Braves wasted those numbers one year ago to a point where any of these guys could have seen a similar win-loss record in his place.
In short, I don’t think the Braves will sit at 67 games. As they stand right now, I would guess that they would be in the high 70’s and are one piece away from being a dark horse playoff team. Again, that’s as this team stands now. If they start doing a fire sale again this July, then 67 could very well be the win total, if not lower.