Braves 2003 Arms Inspection

Stephen Paul Webb discusses the Braves new-look pitching staff from Greg Maddux down to Trey Hodges, and gives his Fantasy opinions and projections.

It's spring and the first pitches have been tossed, the chalk lines have been drawn and you have probably already drafted your fantasy team. One mainstay on fantasy draft lists are pitchers from the Atlanta Braves. Guys like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Kevin Millwood have been key members to fantasy rotations since the mid 90s. Even guys like Albie Lopez, Terry Mulholland and John Burkett got 2nd looks on draft day because they had a tomahawk across their chests. The sun rises, you pay taxes, and Atlanta Braves pitchers are always very reliable for your Fantasy Rotation. It is the way it is and always has been, at least since 1991.

This year things are more uncertain - Tom Glavine has moved to the Big Apple to pitch for the rival Mets. Kevin Millwood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Damian Moss is now in pitcher-friendly SBC Park. Even the bullpen is new for the Braves, since Mike Remlinger, Tim Spooneybarger and Chris Hammond have all filled out change of address cards for the 2003 season. Replacing them is a cast of rookies and veterans that are hoping to continue the storied tradition of excellent Atlanta Braves pitching.

Who is still here?

Greg Maddux Four time Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux will be back for at least one more year after signing a record $14.75 million dollar one-year contract to avoid arbitration. Maddux battled last year with nagging injuries to his back, neck, calf, and hip that caused some to question his durability. Despite the injuries, Maddux still won 16 games to join Cy Young as the only two pitchers in Major League history to record 15 consecutive 15 win seasons. Maddux also ranked 2nd in the National League with a 2.62 ERA.

2003 Fantasy Outlook Maddux, if he remains healthy, should be in line for a 15+ win season to break Cy Young's record. It is somewhat disturbing that Maddux's total innings pitched dropped for a third consecutive year in 2002, but I'll chalk that up to the nagging injuries. Maddux is still worth a $20 + bid in auction leagues and is a solid top 15 pitcher in drafts. Due to his low strikeout totals, Maddux is even more valuable in the 4X4 format.

Projection: 16-8 3.18 ERA 1.25 WHIP 205 IP

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Jason Marquis Jason Marquis failed to deliver what many people thought would be a solid, if not breakout year in 2002. He had a decent first half going 6-5 with a 4.17 ERA, but crashed after the All Star Break going 2-5 with a 6.21 ERA and an astronomical 1.80 WHIP. Marquis is still young at 24 and has a tremendous amount of potential; however, the future needs to be now for Marquis or he risks falling out of favor with the organization.

2003 Fantasy Outlook: Unfortunately, it looks like Marquis' poor 2nd half from the 2002 season has trickled over into 2003. His spring stats are: 2-2 with a 10.06 ERA. He has given up 20 runs in 17 IP. Opposing batters are hitting .347 against him. Typically, I throw spring stats out the window if they are vastly different from the player's career norms, but his spring coupled with his 2nd half from 2002 makes me hesitant about Marquis this season. He is a fantastic talent and will have a 2nd chance at the beginning of the year filling in the 5 hole for the injured Paul Byrd, but he is facing a difficult challenge to hold off rookie Horacio Ramirez for the final spot in the rotation once Byrd returns. In a keeper league, Marquis is worth a $1 or $2 bid. Stay away from him in one year leagues unless he shows signs of production.

Projection: 8-10 4.60 ERA 1.65 WHIP

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Trey Hodges Trey Hodges has won 15 games in the minor leagues the past two seasons. In 2002, he earned an All Star appearance at the International League All Star Game and went 15-9 with a 3.19 ERA and had a 116-56 K/BB ratio. Hodges was also a late season call up for the Braves in 2002 and picked up 2 wins in relief on the big league club despite posting a 5.40 ERA.

2003 Fantasy Outlook Hodges came into camp to compete with Jason Marquis for the 5th starter role. Though Hodges has out pitched Marquis this spring, he didn't win the 5th starter spot due to the incredible performance of Horacio Ramirez. It's likely that Hodges will start the season in Richmond again this year, but if Byrd misses more time and Marquis continues to struggle, it is still possible we could see Hodges starting for the Braves in 2003.

Projection: 2-2 3.95 ERA 1.35 WHIP (16-8 3.25 ERA 1.25 WHIP in AAA)

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Who is new here?

Mike Hampton Only three years ago Hampton was one of the best pitchers in baseball and a fantasy stud. What a difference a couple of years (of thin air) make. In 2002 Hampton went 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA a 1.78 WHIP and only struck out 74 in 178 + innings. That is bad. I'm not talking "Oh, that's unfortunate, Hampton had a bad year," bad. I mean not worthy of being the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5th starter bad. Mike Hampton didn't deserve to sell fantasy hot dogs at your fantasy concession stand in 2002. That being said, I really like Mike Hampton. I have for several years. He has a never-quit, bulldog like mentality and he is a warrior out there on the mound.

On the surface it is easy to write off Hampton's problems in 2002 to the Coors Field effect. Well, statistically Hampton was actually worse on the road in 2002 than he was at Coors:

2002 Coors Field: 4-3 5.68 ERA 1.64 WHIP .247 BAA 2002 Road: 3-12 6.44 ERA 1.88 WHIP .288 BAA

Interestingly enough, he gave up only 7 HR at Coors, while giving up 17 HR on the road. These numbers make it rather difficult to blame Mike Hampton's poor season on Coors Field. Or does it?

Hampton's success depends on how effective his sinker is. A sinker ball is extremely difficult to throw in high atmosphere. Hampton seemingly altered his release point just slightly to compensate for the lack of motion on his sinker while pitching at Coors. That simple change could very well be enough to throw off his entire sequence and pitching motion. Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone is reported to have found a flaw in his delivery in less than 10 minutes of watching Hampton pitch this year. That could be great news for Hampton and Braves fans.

2003 Fantasy Outlook: Can Hampton rebound and become a solid #2 pitcher in this league again? Yes. Will it be this year? Probably not. He will certainly be much better than he was in 2002, but it's going to take some time to see how much of the old Hampton comes back. With the exception of one very poor outing, Hampton has pitched fairly well this spring. Someone will end up paying way too much for him. Don't be that guy. If you have already had your draft and you were that guy, try to trade him to the other guy that was bidding you up on him before the season gets underway. Anything more than $4-$5 is too much in a keeper league.

Projection: 11-11 4.50 ERA 1.50 WHIP

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Russ Ortiz Ortiz, who came over from San Francisco in exchange for Damian Moss and prospect Manuel Mateo, had control problems once again in 2002, walking 94 batters. He at times has great stuff that is dependent on his locating his low-90s fastball. If he can locate the fastball for strikes, he can usually fool batters with his curveball and changeup. There is some concern that Ortiz will struggle away from SBC Park, but he did have a very solid 3.77 ERA on the road last year. Even with the control problems, Ortiz has won 45 games over the last three seasons and manages to walk batters and then work himself out of the inning.

2003 Fantasy Outlook: If Leo Mazzone is able to help Ortiz work out his control problems, he could become a #2 pitcher, and there is no reason to believe that Mazzone won't make some sort of positive impact on Ortiz's numbers. The jump from SBC to the Ted isn't as huge of a drop as some might say and should not affect Ortiz's numbers negatively at all. If your leagues counts walks against pitchers as opposed to straight WHIP, he is a bit less valuable. A $14-$16 bid in mixed leagues would be fine.

Projection: 16-9 3.37 ERA 1.39 WHIP

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Paul Byrd At first glance, Paul Byrd had a wonderful season for a Kansas City Royals team that only won 62 games in 2002. Byrd finished 2002 with a 17-11 & 3.90 ERA. That's the good news. The bad news is that in the process Byrd gave up 224 hits in 228 1/3 innings. He throws an array of off-speed pitches that include a sinker, changeup, curve and slider mixed in with an occasional screwball so he has an arsenal big enough to keep the hitters guessing. Problem is, with 224 hits allowed last season- they rarely guess wrong. With a better defense behind him, Byrd should cut back on the walks.

2003 Fantasy Outlook Byrd has battled groin and elbow problems all through spring training and will start the season on the DL. These are nagging injuries that can affect a pitcher throughout the course of an entire season. Byrd isn't a good bet this year. I wouldn't suggest any more than a $3-$4 bid on draft day.

Projection: 9-8 4.15 ERA 1.23 WHIP

Horacio Ramirez While Horacio Ramirez may be a new name to the casual Braves fan, he isn't new to the organization at all. A fifth round draft pick by the Braves in 1997, Ramirez won 15 games in the Carolina League in 2000 and was ranked as a top prospect. Three games into the 2001 season, Ramirez needed Tommy John surgery. Ramirez's 2002 campaign was very good considering he was coming back from such a serious injury. He went 9-5 at Greenville with a 3.03 ERA in 16 games. The lefty had an amazing Arizona Fall League and continued his success during Spring Training this year. Ramirez led all Major League pitchers with 4 spring training wins while also posting a 1.90 ERA and 14 strikeouts against only 3 walks.

2003 Fantasy Outlook The biggest question looming over Horacio this season is his arm strength. Typically it takes pitchers two full seasons to fully recover from Tommy John surgery and regain their arm strength. Ramirez wonderful work in spring training has earned him the 5th starter spot in Atlanta's rotation. Providing he stays healthy he could be as good if not better than Damian Moss was for us last year. Ramirez could eventually be a #2 or #3 starter in the big leagues. He is worth a late round pick in mixed leagues or a $1-2 bid in keeper leagues.

Projection: 11-9 3.35 ERA 1.24 WHIP

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As you can see, there are more question marks in Atlanta's rotation this year than on the Riddler's costume. This group could easily be labeled as "The High Risk-High Reward Rotation." My advice to Braves fans is that if you are going to take a chance on any of these guys other than Maddux, pick one. This is not the year to load up on Atlanta Braves pitching. There will be someone who will pay too much or draft them too early. If my Fantasy experience has taught me one lesson, it is that being a Homer in Fantasy Sports rarely pays off.

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