Atlanta Braves pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Lake Buena Vista, Florida today to begin preparations for their first training session on Friday.
A palpable sense of optimism could be felt at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, likely due in large part to the players being able to escape the icy grip of the Atlanta weather. But also certainly because of an eagerness to improve on 2013’s MLB best 3.18 team ERA.
The Braves had the best overall pitching staff in baseball last year, with an inexperienced (yet surprisingly consistent) starting rotation and an unprecedentedly dominant bullpen. Anchored by the likes of Tim Hudson, the 5-man rotation was not quite piecemeal, but it certainly was a work in progress over the course of the year. With Brandon Beachy not returning to the rotation as quickly or with as much effectiveness as expected (and having to go under the knife again after just 5 starts), Hudson going down in late July with a season-ending ankle injury, Julio Teheran pitching in his first full big league season, and true rookie Alex Wood stepping in in Hudson’s absence, the Atlanta pitching staff had no business anywhere near the top of the league in team ERA and quality starts.
The Braves bested everyone in the first category and were topped only by the Detroit Tigers‘ 108 QS. With Kris Medlen both the oldest (28) and highest paid ($2.6 million) starting pitcher in 2013, the Braves got more bang for their buck than perhaps any team in recent memory. And 2014 should bring them more of the same.
The staff is young, but not so young that they might experience a sort of sophomore slump. They’re inexperienced, but not so inexperienced that they might forget what they learned over the course of the last couple seasons. They’ve got enough big league time under their collective belt to make real strides forward this year. And that is a scary prospect for the rest of baseball.
A lot has been made of the Braves’ lack of ace, and even more about the front office’s seeming unwillingness to spend the money to acquire one in the offseason. But by the All-Star break (or perhaps even earlier) we may all be signing the genius of Frank Wren and Co. for sticking with whom they had. Spend less, get more — it’s a basic rule of economics and efficiency.
The Atlanta pitching staff will be better in 2014. That is not to say that their ERA will necessarily be lower, or even that they will amass more quality starts. But they will be improved, more experienced, wilier. They will be better pitchers, more adept and composed in pressure situations. The statistics might not tell the whole story — it will be difficult to be statistically better than the Braves were in 2013.
But nevertheless, the Braves’ pitching staff will once again be the best in baseball in 2014. Having lost only the aging Hudson, the staff should be much improved. And they should carry an intense amount of optimism throughout Spring Training and into the season.