Friday, May 18, 2012

All Growed Up Over Night: Brandon Beachy is the Braves' Salvation.

I'm loathe to start off this post with a cliche this trite, but here goes: appearances can be deceiving.  Given that the Braves are currently tied for the 3rd-best record in baseball, maybe I'm just picking nits here, but there's a pretty glaring flaw in the shiny gem that has been Atlanta's 2012 campaign thus far.  For a team that has maintained a reputation for strong pitching over the past two decades, the dirty secret about the Braves this season is that their starting rotation is phenomenally average.  On paper this probably shouldn't be the case, but reality has an annoying way of superseding "on paper" with vicious finality.  (Ask any 2011 Philadelphia Eagles fan about this.)

Just look at Atlanta's starters, and the actuality of their performance compared to what they're theoretically capable of.  Veteran Tim Hudson's ERA is pushing 4 as he tries to recover from surgery and rediscover his rhythm on the mound.  Touted young arms Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado aren't exactly pitching poorly, they're simply not fulfilling their considerable potential.  Former ace Jair Jurrjens is back in the minors with his delivery a shambles, and if JJ has fallen completely apart, Mike Minor's construct is one Jenga block away from a similar disaster.  Sure, the bats have been mighty and the bullpen is certifiably filthy, but the guys on the mound for the 1st inning have been a shaky proposition all season.  So, you know, thank heaven for Brandon Beachy.

(Cue beam of radiant light and choir of angels.)

The undrafted 25-year-old sophomore logged his first complete game last night: a five-hit shutout masterpiece that seemed a culmination of sorts.  Beachy had two semi-related knocks on him coming into this year: a chronic inability to pitch deep into games and a propensity for nibbling too often on the edges of the strike zone.  All it took was a concerted effort in the off season to rectify those issues.  At 6'3" and 215 lbs, Beachy's got the build to be a true hoss, he just had to figure out how to utilize it.  As for the nibbling, he's managed to mostly fall out-of-love with the temptress of the strikeout, who had him in thrall for much of his rookie season.  He's figured out that pitching to contact is a fine way to get outs as long as you set up the hitters correctly.  This is also keeping his pitch counts down, contributing to increased endurance on the mound. 

No one would accuse Beachy of having electric stuff, but he doesn't really need it.  He's got a good arsenal and, more importantly, hits his spots with precision on nearly every pitch.  His low-90s fastball tends to have a decent cut to it, he's got a pinpoint curve, and an effective slider.  His changeup is a thing of terrifying beauty.  When he's mixing the right gumbo with those pitches (read: pretty much all the time this season), he's a monster for opposing bats.  Watching him on the mound last night, looking for all the world like he was born to be there despite having played 3rd base for much of his baseball life, he had the air of a man in complete control.  The batters came and went with nary a hitch.  Even in his one semi-jam during the top of the 5th, Beachy just took a breath and calmly extricated himself from the trouble via that devilish changeup.

Now, playing paint-by-numbers for a moment, exactly how good is this kid who's keeping the Braves' rotation afloat?  Well, statistically speaking: out-freaking-standing.

He's sporting a 5-1 record and a league-leading 1.33 ERA.  His WHIP is a stellar 0.89.  He's allowed precisely one home run in 54 innings of work this year, and he's generating a 1.10 GB/FB rate.  We can expect some regression towards the mean here, of course.  Unless the baseball gods are feeling particularly generous, I doubt that .214 BABIP is going to hang around, and his 3.81 xFIP and 3.86 SIERA forecast a little less rosily than his current pace.  Nonetheless, Beachy right now looks like one of the best in the game, and if he keeps plastering the zone with artistry like he has so far this year, that's going to become a truism instead of mere hopeful projection. 

Yes, Huddy is still getting back into the groove.  Yes, JJ is a train wreck.  Yes, Minor needs to settle that fidgety and unnatural delivery down.  Yes, we need better performances from Hanson and Delgado.  But while we wait for the rest of the rotation to recalibrate themselves, let us give thanks for Brandon Beachy.  He may not quite be the second coming of Greg Maddux, but so far this season, and pardon me here for the awful pun, he's definitely in the ballpark.  For now, that's plenty good enough.  

No comments:

Post a Comment