Defining and labeling starting pitchers

The Braves must ask some tough questions before Friday's trade deadline.

As the Braves listen to potential trade offers Friday before the 4:00 pm ET deadline, there is one question they must ask when determining the potential deals of any starting pitcher?

What exactly do we have in the pitchers on our roster?

Defining pitchers can be very important. Most teams shy away from publicly labeling pitchers with a number between one and five. They will resist saying a pitcher is a fourth starter, or even labeling a starting pitcher as a two. But truthfully, determining or at least projecting what a pitcher is can be important.

For example, Alex Wood was traded Thursday in the big, three-team trade. When deciding whether they wanted to trade Wood, the Braves had to ask, “What exactly is Alex Wood? Is he a number two starter? Can he develop into a solid two? Or is he a number three, a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher?”

Make no mistake about it. There is nothing wrong with a three or a four. A fifth starter, you could argue, is somewhat interchangeable. But there’s nothing wrong either with the last member of your rotation being a solid young pitcher that you hope can develop into a three or four, or even something more special.

But what is Wood? What could Wood become as he gets older? For the Braves this season, Wood was the third starter behind Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran. You could argue with Teheran’s road troubles that Wood was a bit better and might have been the number two. But with Teheran’s success the last two years and the fact he has proven he can still pitch (at least at home), I would lean to having Wood as the three.

So as the Braves thought about including Wood in the deal for Hector Olivera, they had to wonder if they had the pitchers in the rotation that could be a number three starter, making Wood expendable for the needed bat. Obviously, by including Wood in the trade, the Braves believe they have that.

Is Matt Wisler a number three, or at least does Wisler have the potential to be a strong number three starting pitcher? Well, he’s made only seven big league starts, but with his stuff and his early success, I at least feel comfortable labeling Wisler a good number three starter, even right now. I believe Wisler has the ability and potential to be a good number two starting pitcher.

Can Mike Foltynewicz be a solid two or three? Well, he’s a power pitcher, and if he harnesses his stuff, there’s little doubt in scouts or coaches’ minds that Folty has that potential. He’s not there yet, but the ability is there for Foltynewicz to be a special pitcher.

What about Manny Banuelos and Williams Perez? Neither have power arms, but both have done well this year in their first big league experience of showing they can get hitters out. Can they, at the least, be good number four starting pitchers? Yes, I believe so.

The Braves have to do that with minor league starters as well. Right now, they are likely wondering how good Tyrell Jenkins can become. He's in AAA and doing well, so they have to soon label him as a potential number in a big league rotation. Is Jenkins special to become an ace, or is he at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

Upside is important. When the Braves drafted Kolby Allard last month, they believed his upside was tremendous. "High impact" is the term often used, and they used it with Allard. They think he can develop into a high impact starting pitcher, which would mean a one or a two. It will take time, but you have to label a prospect based on his talent and intangibles.

With the Braves racking up a lot of starting pitchers, they are doing a lot of labeling. And look, it's okay, for example, to believe the pitchers they got from the Mets last week in the trade can be - at the least - good four or five starters. Those pitchers have value, even if it's trade value. That's fine. You have to have trade prospects, as well.

Miller is an interesting case. You might believe he is becoming an ace, but first define what an ace is. For me, your number one pitcher is not necessarily an ace pitcher. Aces are elite. There may be only 15 aces in the game today. The Braves had three aces in the 1990s, with Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. It’s not that aces are all potential Hall of Famers, but you know an ace is one of the best pitchers in the game.

The Braves don’t have that, at least not yet. Maybe Miller has a chance at being an ace, and there is nothing wrong with Miller being the number one pitcher in a rotation. He can be really good at that and may become an ace. If his ERA sticks in the mid-2.00 range, Miller will soon become an ace.

Let’s go back to Teheran. What is Julio Teheran? Now, to start this season, Teheran was Atlanta’s number one. He’s likely been shoved to the two spot with Miller’s performance this season. But on a championship-caliber team, is Teheran a two or, like Wood, is he more like a three?

Here’s a scenario that I think is worthy of discussion. Let’s say the Braves spend part of their money coming off the books this winter on an ace. Zack Greinke and David Price, two aces who grew up Braves fans, will be at least discussed. Let’s say Greinke is signed, making him Atlanta’s ace.

That makes Miller the two and then Teheran falls to a three. But again, can’t Wisler, or even Foltynewicz or Perez or Banuelos, be a good three, a good middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher? If Teheran could be replaced in that role, if that’s what he is defined as, doesn’t that make him expendable, especially with the team needing another solid offensive weapon?

Look, you might think Teheran is special. You might believe Teheran can still be an ace and could be a good number one. But if he’s not, then maybe they do need to trade him before the deadline today. Maybe they need to take advantage of the fact Teheran is under contract at a reasonable rate and get a good return for him as soon as possible.

Is Teheran special, or is he easily replaceable? Well, Wood was obviously labeled by the front office as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, which made him a perfect candidate to be traded for an offensive player they like. They thought Wood was replaceable. Now they have to ask if Teheran is replaceable.

Considering the free agent list this winter for offensive players is not impressive, the best way for the Braves to get another bat is to trade pitching. They did it Thursday by dealing Wood for Olivera in the big deal, and more than likely a trade of Teheran is step two in that process.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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