‘Folty’ pitching like far more than No. 5 starter

 

Anyone who still believes that wins are an accurate or even semi-reliable means of measuring a pitcher’s performance probably isn’t going to be persuaded otherwise at this point, so I won’t present the case of Mike Foltynewicz as further evidence to the contrary.

Mike Foltynewicz has been the Braves’ most consistent starter in the early portion of the season. (Getty Images)

I’ll just point out that the guy who’s been the Braves’ best starting pitcher this season happens to be the only one who doesn’t have a win. Which, again, means nothing other than the fact that wins and losses are a flimsy way to gauge a pitcher’s value in any given season.

(Over the course of a career, I still believe the win has plenty of value as a pitching stat because the vast majority of top starters are going to end up with significantly higher win totals than the vast majority of mediocre pitchers, since things tend to even out over multiple years — i.e., the guy who has the terrible run support for a season or two is going to have years where he gets the best run support on the team, and pitchers who toil for many bad teams eventually pitch for good teams, too. The one notable exception: Nolan Ryan, one of the best and most dominant pitchers of my lifetime, pitched for mostly bad to terrible teams, hence his 324-292 career record despite a 3.19 ERA and otherworldly 5,714 strikeouts in 5,386 innings and 222 complete games in 773 starts. But that’s another story.)

So tonight in a series opener against the Cardinals, the Braves turn to the pitcher who is technically their No. 5 starter, but who has thus far been more consistent and produced better numbers than anyone else in the rotation, including a 2.81 ERA that’s more than one full run lower than two of the three veteran starters the Braves signed during the offseason, R.A. Dickey (3.94) and Jaime Garcia (3.99), and nearly 3 ½ runs lower than the ERA of the other, Bartolo Colon (6.27).

Braves opening-day starter Julio Teheran is 2-2 with a 4.33 ERA that got jacked up significantly by a six-run, six-inning outing in his Monday start against the Mets. Even before that game Teheran hadn’t pitched as consistently as Foltynewicz, who is 0-3 in five games (four starts), the fewest starts on the team because the Braves skipped his turn once the first couple of weeks of the season when they had several off days in the schedule and wanted to keep the top four starters closer to regular rest.

Foltynewicz has allowed one or two earned runs in each of his four starts and has received 0, 0, 1 and 3 support runs while he’s been in those games. He has allowed eight hits and two earned runs with 15 strikeouts and two walks in 13 innings over his past two starts, losses at Philadelphia (by a 5-2 score) and Milwaukee (4-3).

Foltynewicz, 25, handled that early-season scheduling disruption well and has demonstrated why Braves officials had him penciled in for a rotation spot well before spring training, and why he would’ve had to fall on his face in spring training and been far outperformed by a Matt Wisler or Aaron Blair or whoever to not have that fifth rotation spot entering the season.

It’s also why the Braves never really considered trading Foltynewicz in the offseason, even when they were in talks to pursue one of the available aces, Chris Sale or Chris Archer. Braves officials watched Foltynewicz closely last season, after coming back from the frightening blood-clot episode the previous September when he had to have emergency thoracic outlet syndrome surgery when his arm swelled grotesquely overnight.

He came back from that incident — and an offseason in which his activities were largely curtailed and his conditioning put on hold per doctor’s orders — and once he cleared to pitch in the spring he did so with an admirable determination to not just make it back but to be better, to fully realize his talent.

The potential career-threatening incident gave him a better appreciation for his talent and opportunity, and since then “Folty” has moved toward become the hard-throwing, potentially dominant frontline starter the Braves envisioned when they got him from the Astros.

The right-hander made big strides last season and especially this year at spring training to better control his emotions and not let his temper and frustrations boil over into a meltdown inning, the kind that wrecked many of his promising starts in the past. He’s still got a lot of passion and fire on the mound, but he’s learning to channel that and control it, not let it overwhelm him and dictate the flow of a game.

Foltynewicz leads Braves starters in WHIP (1.208), opponents’ average (.229), opponents’ OPS (.656) and strikeout rate (8.1 per nine innings), well ahead of Teheran (6.9) in the latter category.

Teheran (.678) and Garcia (.728) are next behind Foltynewicz in opponents’ OPS, while the 40-something starters, Colon and Dickey, are over .800.

He still has work to do, but Foltynewicz looks to be on his way to becoming a guy who could stick in the rotation as a relatively experienced starter when the Braves have two or three of their rising young elite prospects in the big leagues in the next year or two.

• Just because it feels like a George Jones kind of day, here’s one from the Possum, the greatest voice in country music and one of the best in any genre of music.

“THE COLD HARD TRUTH” by George Jones

You don’t know who I am
But I know all about you
I’ve come to talk to you tonight
About the things I’ve seen you do.

I’ve come to set the record straight
I’ve come to shine the light on you
Let me introduce myself
I’m the cold hard truth.

There is a woman we both know
I think you know the one I mean
She gave her heart and soul to you
You gave her only broken dreams

You say your not the one to blame
For all the heartaches she’s been though
I say you’re nothing but a liar
And I’m the cold hard truth.

All your life that’s how it’s been
Lookin’ out for number one
Takin’ more than you give
Movin’ on when you’re done.

With her you could have had it all
A family and love to last
If you had any sense at all
You’d go and beg her to come back.

You think that you’re a real man
But you’re nothing but a fool
The way you run away from love
The way you try to play it cool

I’m gonna say this just one time
Time is running out on you
You best remember me my friend
I am the cold hard truth.

You best remember me my friend
I am the cold hard truth.

 


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