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The Future of Braves Pitching

In Major League Baseball, pitching is paramount. Sure, good bats are needed to win games, but solid pitching can lead to championships. Fans who watched the Braves play in the ‘90s can attest to that. The Bravos established National League dominance throughout the ‘90s and beyond with brilliant starting pitching.

They had many noteworthy pitchers during their extraordinary ‘90s run. Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, and Kevin Millwood were all very good pitchers who made tremendous contributions to the Braves’ success during that decade, but their legacies are severely overshadowed by three other pitchers from that same era.

madduxGlavineSmoltzGreg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz were three of the greatest pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball, and Braves fans still hold a tremendous amount of reverence for them. Their achievements were remarkable. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz piled up a combined 648 wins while on staff in ATL. They carried the Braves’ organization to multiple World Series appearances between ’91 and ’99. During their era, they were unquestionably the best pitchers in all of baseball — along with Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez.

Can the Braves ever produce another dominant pitching staff?

Obviously, the future is impossible to forecast with 100% certainty, but there is reason to believe that the Braves can build another legendary staff in the near future. The talent is already within the organization.

 

The Next “Smoltzie” — Lucas Sims

johnsmoltz“Smoltz’s pitching repertoire included a trio of exceptional pitches: an impressive fastball, a slider that veered away from right-handed batters, and a splitter that darted under the swings of left-handed batters.” – National Baseball Hall of Fame

Smoltzie was a right-handed pitcher who stood 6’ 3” and weighed around 215 lbs. in his prime. His fastball was his best weapon. He could hurl it consistently around 95 MPH. He was a true strikeout artist, amassing over 3,000 strikeouts in his career.

lucas_simsLucas Sims is a right-handed pitcher who stands 6’ 2” and weighs around 225 lbs. His fastball is his best weapon. Like Smoltz, he can easily throw it over 95 MPH. Also like Smoltz, he’s a strikeout artist. Last season in the Minors, he accumulated 100 strikeouts while pitching in only 92 innings. Hopefully, this 21-year-old flamethrower will be ready to enter the Braves starting rotation by 2017.

 

The Next Tom Glavine — Kolby Allard

tom-glavine“Tom Glavine never lit up the radar gun, so opposing batters often came to the plate anticipating a good at-bat. But in most cases, those same batters trudged right back to the dugout – victimized by a steely-eyed strike thrower who overwhelmed opponents with control and determination rather than speed.” – National Baseball Hall of Fame

Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected, Tom Glavine was a left-hand pitcher who stood 6’ 1” and weighed around 190 lbs. in his prime. He used a combination of pitches to frustrate batters throughout his career. Glavine loved painting the outside corner while alternating between his fastball and changeup — he almost never challenged hitters with pitches down the middle of the plate. This style of pitching produced a lot of base runners, but Glavine was highly skilled at getting out of innings before any of the runners crossed the plate.

AllardKolby Allard throws left-handed, stands 6’ 1,” and weighs 180 lbs. Physically, he is very Glavine-like, both having small frames. He can throw his fastball a little harder than Glavine did (Allard can reach 96 MPH while Glavine’s fastball never got out of the low 90s), but his changeup still needs some work before it can be compared to Glavine’s changeup. The kid is only 18 years old, so he won’t be expected to make it to the Big Show until around 2018 or so, but he could be special when he gets there.

 

The Next “Mad Dog” — Aaron Blair

greg_maddux“At times, Greg Maddux’s mastery of the strike zone truly seemed effortless. Fastball down-and-away – on the black – for strike one. Fastball in on the hands for strike two. Change-up away for strike three. Pitch after pitch, strike after strike for the average-looking right-hander who elevated “control” to a new definition in the 1990s.” – National Baseball Hall of Fame

Standing only six feet tall and weighing around 195 lbs. in his prime, Greg Maddux’s appearance wasn’t overwhelming, but his ability to pitch definitely was. Maddux was a right-handed pitcher who, like Glavine, was all about control and placement — he didn’t specialize in striking batters out. His best pitches were his circle changeup and his two-seam fastball, and he would use them effectively to induce a lot of ground balls. He was also a tremendous fielder, earning 18 Gold Glove Awards in his career.

Blair_AaronIn terms of size, Aaron Blair is nothing like Greg Maddux. Blair is a big kid, way bigger than Maddux ever was. He’s 6’ 5” and weighs 230 lbs. But in terms of what he does on the mound, he has Maddux potential. Blair demonstrated his Maddux-like control last season in the Minors in route to a 13 – 5 record with an ERA of just 2.92. He pitched 160 innings and only gave up 50 walks. He throws his fastball with more velocity than Maddux did (which is no surprise given Blair’s larger size), and he locates it very well. Like Maddux, he also has a great changeup. Blair is 23 years old and has a chance to break into the Majors as early as next season. Braves fans would be thrilled if this kid develops into anywhere near the same caliber of pitcher that Greg Maddux once was.

Only time will tell…

 

***Disclaimer*** Expecting these young players to develop into world-class pitchers is probably unwise. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were extremely rare talents, and that kind of pitching staff only comes around every once in a blue moon. These comparisons are just for fun… but you never know. It doesn’t hurt to dream.

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