15. How good is Macay McBride?

Macay McBride showed he can be an effective lefty reliever in the second half of the 2006 season, but how good might he be? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

When Macay McBride was drafted back in 2001 in the first round, the Braves knew they had a very talented left-hander. After a few impressive seasons as a starter, the Braves examined McBride and believed he could best help the organization as a reliever.

Years ago pitchers were switched to the bullpen when it was believed they could not be a starter anymore. But that's not the case now. These days organizations try to develop relief pitchers, and that process starts with identifying which pitchers might be better suited in that role.

McBride's bulldog approach, along with his solid stuff, convinced the Braves that he could handle the responsibility of being a reliever. The transformation started in 2004, after McBride had great success as a starter the previous two seasons in Macon and Myrtle Beach. After a year and a half apprentice as a reliever, McBride made his big league debut in August of 2005.

So as he entered the 2006 season, McBride was being counted on to fill a big role in the Atlanta bullpen. But the season started a bit late for the southpaw, as he missed April with a strained forearm. It really took him a while to get in a groove, as his season can really be split into two halves.

In his first 36 games, McBride was 1-1 with a 5.41 ERA. He allowed 29 hits in 28.1 innings, 19 runs, 17 earned runs, 22 walks, and 18 strikeouts. But then in his last 35 games, McBride was drastically better: 3-0, 1.91 ERA, 24 hits allowed in 28.1 innings, 9 runs, 6 earned runs, only 10 walks, and 28 strikeouts.

The improvement was due to a couple of reasons. First, the Braves released fellow lefty Mike Remlinger in late June, allowing McBride to become the main southpaw out of the bullpen. It should also be pointed out that McBride hot streak started just before the acquisition of Bob Wickman as the closer, so the order that Wickman brought to the bullpen also helped McBride. And obviously, McBride's control was much better as the season progressed. That is due to work he did with Pitching Coach Roger McDowell, who helped him with his delivery.

McDowell had seen McBride pitch in the South Atlantic League back in 2001, when McDowell was the Columbus Catfish's pitching coach and McBride was the Sally League's Pitcher of the Year. McDowell wanted to get McBride back to that level of performance, when he dominated the league with excellent control and as a strikeout pitcher.

McDowell had McBride work on finishing his delivery toward the plate, which in turn created better location for McBride's curveball. The results are obvious, as McBride did show glimpses that he can be a dominating left-hander out of the bullpen.

McBride was much tougher on lefty hitters than right-hander hitters. He allowed only a .181 batting average against lefties, while right-handed hitters hit .312 against him. And since facing lefties is going to be his main job in the big leagues, that's an awfully good sign.

With McBride showing in the second half of the season that he can be an effective reliever, the Braves are more than ever enthused about his potential. He turns 24 years old next week, so he's still very young. And you have to wonder how much having Wickman above him as the closer for the full season will help McBride. When a team has a designated closer, instead of the helter-skelter approach taken in the first half of the season, there is definitely more order in the bullpen. And with the roles clearly identified now, and with McBride knowing his role, he could continue the effective pitching he showed in the second half of the season.

McBride has great stuff, with a blazing fastball that can get into the mid-90s, a curve, and slider. As he gets more experience and does well, his confidence will grow even more. With Wickman being 38-years-old, you have to wonder who the long-term closer might be, and McBride's got to be at the top of the list. If he continues to earn his stripes as a setup man, he could possibly easily transition into the closer's role in a few years.

But for now, McBride will be one of Wickman's critical setup men for the 2007 season, and the Braves have to feel good about their top two relievers. McBride has a chance to become one of top lefty relievers in the National League, and for a team that has been starved for quality arms out of the bullpen, it makes you awfully happy they identified McBride early on as a potential reliever.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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