Macay McBride was like any other worker getting fired. He got called into the office Wednesday and told his company was simply going in another direction.
His bosses wanted somebody different, somebody they believe might be a bit better. For his sake, McBride might be better off. He might need a change of scenery, just as many of us in the real world do when we're told we're no longer needed.
McBride looked good at times as a reliever, and then he would turn around and look out of place. Remember last season when he was mediocre in the first half (5.41 ERA in his first 36 games with 22 walks in 28.1 innings), but then turned it around in the second part of the season (1.91 ERA in his last 35 games with only 10 walks in 28.1 innings).
And then this year he came out of the gate and looked worse than ever. McBride had 11 walks in his first five games (3 innings pitched). The Braves sent him down to Richmond where he worked on his mechanics with pitching coach Guy Hansen. When he returned he was clearly improved, but at times he would just lose his command.
McBride had not allowed an earned run in the month of June (six games) when he came into the game in the ninth inning Monday against the Red Sox. The Braves had a six-run lead, but McBride struggled. He walked a batter, threw a wild pitch, and the control issues visibly bothered Braves' Manager Bobby Cox, who had to bring in his closer to finish the game.
McBride came into Tuesday's game as well and hit a batter. He got out of the inning without further damage, but Macay still didn't look comfortable out there.
I watched McBride in his first full season in Macon when he dominated the Sally League. There's little doubt in my mind this kid can pitch, but I think circumstances may have truly necessitated a move.
The Braves moved him to the bullpen a few years ago. It wasn't because they believed he could not be a starter. But at the time they had Kyle Davies and Chuck James and others developing as starters. The Braves just thought they needed one of their starting pitching prospects to move to the bullpen, and due to his bulldog mentality and his stuff, McBride was the choice.
It was a logical move, but now you have to wonder if McBride might have been better left in a starter's role. Between 2002 and 2003, when he was in Macon and then Myrtle Beach, McBride was 21-16 as a starting pitcher with an ERA of 2.54. Now granted, that was A-ball, but he was also very, very good.
McBride was never really that effective again. Was it because he just couldn't hack it against the better competition of AA, AAA, and then the major leagues? Or was he just out of place as a relief pitcher?
With the Braves' fifth starter being a revolving door this season, there were rumors McBride might once again get the chance to be a starting pitcher. But instead the Braves decided to go in a different direction and traded him to Detroit.
We'll see if the change of scenery helps McBride. It might. Perhaps pitching for the hometown team is not always a good thing. Maybe getting away to another club will allow McBride to just be himself again, especially if the Tigers give him a chance to start in the future.
But now the Braves turn to Wil Ledezma, who has many similarities to McBride. He's left-handed, has bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, and has had his share of control troubles.
Ledezma was first signed by the Red Sox in 1998 but was a Rule V pick by Detroit in December of 2002. He remained on the Tigers' big league roster in 2003 and was mainly a reliever. The Tigers sent him back down to the minors in 2004 and he thrived as a starter (10-3, 2.42 ERA, 24 walks and 98 strikeouts in 111.2 innings) in Double-A.
The last two years Ledezma, who at 6'4" is much taller than McBride, has bounced back and forth from the pen to the rotation. When he was in Triple-A Ledezma was a starter - and he was good (9-6, 3.68, 112 hits in 122.1 innings, 50 walks, 110 strikeouts).
Now let's look at Ledezma's splits as a starter and as a reliever in the major leagues:
* As a starter: (33 games) - 8-13, 5.56, 188 hits in 162 innings pitched, 100 earned runs, 63 walks, and 92 strikeouts.
* As a reliever: (73 games) - 7-5, 4.61, 125 hits in 121 innings pitched, 62 earned runs, 63 walks, and 79 strikeouts.
These numbers do show one thing: his control was better as a starting pitcher, which may be the reason the Braves are considering him a starter for the future.
From various reports, most Tigers' fans believed Ledezma was one of those pitchers on the cusp of breaking out and becoming a decent pitcher. He's got a better fastball than McBride (maybe up to 94 occasionally) and Ledezma mixes in a change, curve, and even a slider.
Ledezma has never really been solid against lefty hitters, which is another reason to believe he can't be a lefty specialist for the pen. Lefties are hitting .340 against him this season, and in his career the number is .293. Right-handers, on the other hand, are hitting .277 against Ledezma in his career.
With Mike Gonzalez out for the year, and McBride in Detroit, Ledezma is now the only lefty in the Braves' bullpen. But if Buddy Carlyle continues to struggle as the fifth starter, will the Braves be tempted to go ahead and move Ledezma into the rotation? General Manager John Schuerholz hinted Wednesday that Ledezma could be a starter in the future, but with the rotation needing someone to plug the hole in that fifth starter's role, the Braves may not have a choice but to make that change sooner rather than later.
Ledezma is certainly not the veteran lefty you want complimenting Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman, so don't be shocked if the Braves seek another veteran later this summer for that role.
Until then the Braves could promote lefty Will Startup from Richmond, who by all reports is ready for the big leagues. He's done well again in Triple-A this season (2.43 ERA in 28 games, with 12 walks and 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings), and he's held lefty hitters to a .237 batting average.
Startup now has a 2.37 ERA in 100 career minor league games. While his stuff is considered by scouts to be somewhat ordinary, Startup is fearless on the mound and has the ability to get people out. The Braves love those attributes in a reliever, and it could mean the former Georgia Bulldog is next in line to join the Atlanta pen.
So the McBride-for-Ledezma swap could have several implications, and the Braves just hope the pitching staff will be better overall with the change. McBride gets a fresh start in Detroit, and in Ledezma the Braves get a pitcher that could be used in a couple of roles.
It could be the first of several changes this summer for a team searching for consistency.
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 be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will Ledezma fit in with Atlanta?
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