Rotation Locks: Mike Foltynewicz (3 of 3)

There is so much to say about the rotation. The rotation is the linchpin of everything the Braves have been doing since November 2014. The rotations of the past few seasons have seen the disappointment of Top 100 prospects like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, the collapse of Bartolo Colon, the slowed development of Mike Foltynewicz, the inconsistency of Julio Teheran, and the encouraging success of Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, and Luiz Gohara. The rotation is the most variable thing for the 2018 team. The floor is frighteningly low, but the ceiling is higher than any rotation the Braves have had this decade. And while the Opening Day rotation is more impressive than in years past, the unit has the potential to get even better as the year goes along. This segment is on the 3 locks to make the rotation as of now: Julio Teheran, Brandon McCarthy, and Mike Foltynewicz.

What an enigma. Mike Foltynewicz is now 26 years old. He’s made 65 starts now for Atlanta after being used exclusively in relief at the major league level for Houston. You have to start wondering if we’re the suckers. It wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher took into his peak seasons to get his career moving in the right direction, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Folty at one point was a top prospect. After the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him the Astros’ #3 overall prospect (hey, Rio Ruiz is #8!). But at the time, there were still concerns about his ability to stick as a starter. But there has always been optimism with Folty’s big fastball, sometimes wipe-out slider, and his dominant performances from time to time. Really smart people seem to think that he’s almost there like all the way back in 2016.  But in 385 career innings, he has a 4.87 ERA. But while 385 innings is a sizable sample for a young pitcher, it’s still hard to give up on the talent. After all, he’s produced some incredible outings:

I wonder if the Braves know that three of his best outings have been on the road against AL teams. At any rate, it would be hard to give up on an arm that incredible. But the Braves are clearly not sold. In a move that was heavily scrutinized by most, both local and national, the Braves took Folty to arbitration over $100K. Was it the $100K that the Braves really wanted? Obviously not, as the Braves undoubtedly knew that it would cost almost $100K anyway to perform their role in the arbitration process. The only logical conclusion I can reach is that the Braves were looking to make a statement or prove a point to Folty. Maybe they wanted to go in the room. Maybe they wanted an arbiter to side with the Braves as a case was laid against Folty that he just wasn’t as good as he thought he was. Who knows? But the Braves have squabbled over $100K exactly one time, and it was with Folty. There has to be something behind that.

So what’s going to happen this year? No, seriously, I’m asking you what is going to happen. Could he put in another average season? Could he be in the bullpen by July to make room for a more talented pitcher? Could Mike Foltynewicz turn the corner and string together more of the aforementioned dominant starts to become the staff ace?

67 thoughts on “Rotation Locks: Mike Foltynewicz (3 of 3)”

  1. Apropos to this post, I feel the need to correct a JC inflicted on myself:

    @37, 41

    Newcomb needed to demonstrate at the higher levels that he could throw strikes, in my opinion. He had a 6.00 BB/9 for the Angels in 7 AA starts. Spent all of 2016 at AA for Atlanta with a 4.56 BB/9. So you promote him to AAA, he makes 11 starts, and he has a 5.15 BB/9 (!!), and they call him up. If someone is struggling that much with their ability to throw strikes, let him spend more time at AAA. But we needed him. Bart had a 7.78 ERA at the time, and his last start was 3 2/3 IP and 8 ER, and at the time, we were 27-32, and a strong argument could be made that you could have flipped that record if Bart wasn’t so bad. The opposite of “rushing” a prospect is making them earn a promotion, and I’ve clearly outlined the circumstances that proved that Newcomb didn’t do that. So, in my opinion, that’s pretty darn close to rushing.

    Folty is even more obvious. The Astros had used him in relief in 2014. He had an ERA of 5 that year in AAA for Houston, and he had made 10 starts at AAA for Atlanta, the Braves were 19-20 at the time, and a rotation of Teheran, Shelby, Wood, Eric Stults (5.36 ERA at the time), and Trevor Cahill (ERA of 8.08) needed reinforcement. They probably felt like they were still in it. Folty didn’t earn a promotion either.

    Contrast that with what happens going forward. For Wright, Allard, and Soroka to see the rotation, for Wisler and Blair to see the bullpen, they will actually have to earn it. That was not the case when Folty and Newcomb were promoted. Newcomb should have made 30 starts at AAA and improved his walk rate. Folty should have at least spend more than 45 days at AAA before he got the call.

  2. If someone is struggling that much with their ability to throw strikes, let him spend more time at AAA. But we needed him.

    I think you’re missing my point. I’m saying maybe the Braves called him up because they suspect he’d never have improved if they let him stay in AAA for whatever number of games anyway. It’s not that we’re rushing him, and it’s also not to say that he doesn’t have good qualities…but it may be that he’s actually not that good, and they know it.

    Same with Folty.

    Or put it another way: if they thought these guys were the answer, they’d have traded Allard at least already.

  3. It could also be that maybe they could be (could have been?) good and the time in AAA could’ve helped, but Coppy kind of didn’t know what he was doing.

    I could be persuaded to believe that.

    But let’s just not lose sight of the fact that Folty was worse in 2017 than he was in 2016. He just threw more innings last year, is all.

  4. FIP-wise, he was nearly identical (4.24 in 2016 and 4.33 in 2017). His ERA was worse, but there’s some hope there. Some.

  5. He has a surprising tendency to get hit hard from time to time. His control has made a noticeable improvement the last 2 seasons, making me think that he tips his pitches. Hopefully the adjustments to his delivery stop that.

  6. Here’s something I’m curious enough to put out there but not curious enough to look up myself…

    Rob likes to tout these three great starts. It’d be great if a more industrious person than me:
    – looked up the game scores from these three great starts
    – also looked up how many pitchers in 2017 had three game scores at least as good as…what’s the best way to do this? The average of Folty’s best game scores? The worst of Folty’s three best game scores?
    – to be on the safe side, might as well do the same for pitchers in 2016 too

    The point being, let’s figure out how much does cherry-picking any starter’s three best starts tell us about their potential.

  7. I think Folty has a ton of potential, but his downfall has been the development of a third pitch.

    His fastball is dominate. His slider is good, but isn’t always there.

    If you get him on a night where his slider isn’t great, you can tee off on the fastball.

    He also is a head-case if he gets in trouble.

    In the end, guys with two pitches end up in the pen. Guys with one dominate pitch and one somewhat inconsistent pitch end up pitching the 6th inning.

  8. I’m not sure if there’s an easy way to find all the game scores for 2017 in one big list.

    bbref let’s you rank by avg game score:

    we don’t have anyone in the top 70, which isn’t surprising, just depressing. Folty has 5 starts above a 70, which I bet matches up favorably with a lot of the best starters. He just has a lot more really bad ones than the top guys.

  9. The other possibility with Newk is that the Braves felt his stuff was so dominating at AAA that he could get by with a 5+ bb per 9 and still be above average — and they wanted some adversity to force him to make adjustments. It worked for Kershaw.

  10. 7 — He actually throws 5 pitches, but the only good ones are his 2 seamer and 4 seamer. I think he slows down his arm motion for his offspeed pitches making them less effective as the hitter will pick up on the arm speed.

    Someone posted somewhere that he is really good the first time through the order but kinda sucks after that. If he doesn’t figure it out this year he probably goes to the bullpen.

  11. @6

    Folty had 15 starts this year where he went at least 5 innings and gave up 2 ER or less. Obviously 5 IP is not good enough. He had 12 starts where he went at least 6 with 2 ER or less, and he had 5 starts where he went at least 7 innings, all allowing 2 ER or fewer. So, he has enough starts, not just the three I linked, to give some optimism.

    He also had a period of over two months where he was quite good immediately preceded and succeeded by starts where he got bombed (4 IP with 5+ runs given up): 5/12 to 7/25 where he went almost 6 IP per start, went 9-1, and had a 3.56 ERA. After said start where he got bombed, he had another strong start (6.1 IP, 1 ER, 11 K on 8/5), then he was just trashed for the rest of the year. Over the last almost two months of the season, where you would have expected 8-9 starts, he makes 7 starts and only averages 4 2/3 innings per start, and 7.91 ERA. He only pitched 16 innings across 3 starts in September during that same period. He didn’t pitch after 9/14. So clearly something happened there. They basically shut him down almost the last month of the year.

    Bottom line is he had almost half of the year where he was very good. But he had two periods almost equaling half the season where he was quite bad. I’m sure the Braves and Folty would like to know why. If he got people out with two+ pitches for two months, he could have done it the other two months.

  12. Kershaw is a tough example. His half season at AA before being promoted, he cut his walk rate almost in half from the previous AA season (down to 2.79 BB/9) before he got called up. He made his adjustments in the minor leagues, repeated at AA for 11 starts, and then earned his promotion.

    It should be telling that Soroka and Allard will most likely make close to double the high minors starts that Wisler, Blair, Newcomb, and Folty did. That won’t have been an accident. They will earn their promotion; they won’t get it because of team need.

  13. It’s 2018, we launched a Tesla Roadster into space, AI is coming for all of our jobs, and yet there’s no easily accessible online list of game scores by season…

  14. Wisler is at 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 K’s in his split-squad assignment. Good for him. Just do that, oh, about 8 more times and grab yourself a spot in the pen.

  15. I think the hopes for Folty are predicated less on cherry-picking his best starts and more on the (apparent) belief of the Braves’ player development personnel that they can help Folty unlock his potential on a more consistent basis. Just to pick a recent example, J.A. Happ appears to have quite legitimately developed into a very good starter quite late in his career, and to some extent, same with Charlie Morton.

    I mean, probably not. But if the Braves are ever going to get back to the World Series, they’re going to need to turn some of these prospects into pitchers.

  16. Florida Project for Best Pic – 2:08 – How do we get the Braves to flip-flop Albies and Gohara’s diets?

    Keith Law – 2:08 – Ironically, they’re both pretty big drinkers. That would be my bigger concern.

    From the recent Keith Law chat. Gohara doesn’t exactly surprise me, but Ozzie I’d never heard before.

  17. Posting the Fangraphs fantasy write-up for Folty: Mike Foltynewicz showed promise in 2016 with a K/BB on the right side of three, but the gains eroded in 2017, making him unusable. Among his five offerings, only his changeup grades out above average, and only slightly, too. It’s also his least-used pitch; the remaining 94% of the pitches he throws are very mediocre. The status quo simply will not cultivate success for Folty – there’s just nothing to like. He’s still young, entering his age-26 season, but he needs a lot to happen to reach whatever his assumed upside as a former 1st-rounder used to be. Until further notice, he’s an innings-eater in NL-only leagues and nothing more.

    Again, this is for fantasy purposes, but still just brutal. The comment about his changeup is the most interesting part. You’d assume big fastball, but apparently not…perhaps that’s the source of his frustration out there. Maybe he’s not the pitcher he wants to be.

  18. I think that last sentence is right on. Until he turns a corner, he’s meh.

  19. When I first saw Foltynewicz pitch I said “He reminds me of Matt Clement.” Tall, sturdy right-hander with live stuff, but problems with putting it all together. I think I even mentioned that on here. Well, I just checked Foltynewicz’s B-Ref page and there at #5 through age 25 for comps is Matt Clement.

    Clement bounced around in his career. always frustrating because his tantalizing stuff would give him more than his fair share of dominating games…he just couldn’t string enough of them together. Had a decent enough career where he made a lot of money, though.

  20. @19 First I’ve heard of that. Hopefully the Sabathia comps for Gohara are strictly limited to the mound

  21. Is it in Keith Law’s best interests to be calling prospects heavy drinkers?

  22. Why wouldn’t it be in his best interests?

    It’s in his interests to generate page views. Scandal-mongering helps with that.

    To do his job, he needs access to other scouts and management, not the prospects themselves. Maybe the Braves are protective and react to this by cutting him off, or maybe they’re the source of the rumor and leaked it to try to influence their players’ behavior.

  23. I’m thinking I disagree with both @25 and @27. He’s a prospect analyst. It helps absolutely nobody — not his readers, and not ultimately the players — for him to cover up or hide his knowledge about the players he covers. I don’t think that player drinking problems are frequently scandals, actually, but a serious propensity to party too much has definitely affected a lot of careers, including many Braves from Bob Horner to Rafael Furcal to Raul Mondesi to Melky Cabrera.

    He’s scouting the players. That isn’t access journalism where he has to be careful about not hurting their feelings. If he can’t be honest about a guy’s strengths and weaknesses, he can’t be an effective analyst.

  24. It’s my impression that there’s some access journalism component to being a prospect writer. People like Keith Law have sources within organizations that they check in with to compare notes and get updates on guys they haven’t seen recently, or at all. They all share info and help each other out, and I’m sure organizations think about how to use Keith Law to get information to fans.

  25. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Alex, that it’s his job to uncover weaknesses. And I’m glad I now know that Albies and Gohara drink too much. But when it comes to Law — and this is strictly my opinion based on what I see of him — he’s a pretentious jerk. A huge one. And trust me, us pretentious jerks can spot our own kind. It smacks of “I know something y’all don’t know” that I wouldn’t feel if it was coming from J.J. Cooper or Eric Longenhagen or Kiley McDaniel. Law is more larger than life, undoubtedly because of his notoriety with the Worldwide Leader, than the other prospect guys, and I see his personality a lot in that declaration. But like I said, it’s just simply my own opinion, and it could be tainted by the simple fact that he’s the only person, to my knowledge, to block me on Twitter.

    Did Melk Man drink too much?

  26. @30

    I would say the first part of your comment is the risk from Law throwing something like that out in the way he did. “Pretty big drinker” and “drinks too much” are not inherently synonymous, but it doesn’t take much to make the leap, and I initially went there too. I think you could easily have 20 reasonable people give 20 different definitions of what it means though, and with Law leaving it vague like he did, (whether intentionally or not) he invites interpretations that may not accurately describe the situation.

  27. Going to Braves/Yanks tomorrow with Kazmir on the bump. Looking forward to a generous helping of 85 MPH chowder for a few innings.

  28. I think “pretty big drinkers” is a dangerous claim. Compared to what? Those guys are 20-ish, of course they may drink a beer or a few… Would that generally mean they are “pretty big drinkers”? What does that even mean. Stupid claim without any other information to add. Who here is a “pretty big drinker”?

  29. Ozzy Albies
    the source of his power is no longer a tease
    his Jim Beam endorsement
    apparently beyond the reach of FO enforcement.

    Keith Law
    ex cathedra, just write what you saw
    you’re no Pope
    tabloid stuff, give him enough rope.

  30. the prospect analyst
    his expertise abounds, it’s a long list
    books, politics, video games
    boozing stories are good when you can-safely-name names.

  31. Not a lawyer but…

    that is actionable…

    they can’t/won’t of course at this delicate stage of their careers…

    the sad thing, which gives it its actionable base, is they will be remembered for this.

    now, if, way back, he had picked Chipper…!!

  32. @, 30, I guess I’d just say that while we’re certainly not friends, I’ve met Law a couple times, and liked him in our interactions. I get that he can come off in the way that you’re describing, but I also don’t think of him in those terms. And since that context clearly influences the way that you’re reading the meaning behind he’s written, I’d just say that I don’t read him the same way — I don’t think his intent is coming from a place of self-aggrandizement. But I also think that he is likely to be very unwilling to turn a blind eye to a serious health problem that has hurt countless players because too many people were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

  33. there was a young slugger named Ozzie
    who wasn’t the first now, wazz he
    to find that a slap
    off some muscled chap
    a double at least when he’s sozzi.

  34. blazon @38,

    I am a lawyer and actionable is way too strong of a word.

    First problem, “truth is a defense.”

    Second problem, Gohara and Albies, as Major League ballplayers, almost certainly would be considered either “public figures” or at least “limited public figures” for any libel or slander litigation. Limited public figure covers the person’s “connection to the public” but not their “other” life. So, anything these guys do that relates to baseball or their performance at it would fall in this category. That means to be “actionable,” they (the ballplayers) would have to prove either (a) intentional attempt to harm (without “truth”) or (b) reckless disregard for the truth (“some dude said” is sufficient for this if any credible witnesses testify to the acts at trial).

    Actually, if KLaw really has info that goes to potential performance issues he should not sit on it. He should seek some corroboration. I do agree that frequently he is a snarky jerk. He also fights vigorously any attempt to point out his misses. However, I do not believe (don’t know) he just threw something like that in from being a jerk.

  35. Actually, if KLaw really has info that goes to potential performance issues he should not sit on it. He should seek some corroboration. I do agree that frequently he is a snarky jerk. He also fights vigorously any attempt to point out his misses. However, I do not believe (don’t know) he just threw something like that in from being a jerk.

    Fully agree with everything Cliff said here, stated far more succinctly than I did.

  36. Acuna just hit a laser no-doubter to center. It was glorious in person. I’m in love. I’m a believer.

  37. I’m not sayin Kazmir is going to be successful for the Braves this year but I remember a Braves/Phils game a number of years ago in Philly that I attended, and Jamie Moyer topped out at 84-85. I remember thinking how is this guy still in a major league rotation, but he made it into the seventh and gave his team a chance to win. I think he was like 43 or 44!

  38. Kazmir ain’t got it anymore, but what a pretty delivery with that high leg kick.

  39. I can’t vouch for this because I’ve never seen him personally, but a well-connected friend says that Ruth guy for the Yankees is a big drinker. Big eater, too. Big womanizer. Big everything, really. Fantasy drafters, draft accordingly.

  40. As Lincoln reportedly said of Grant, we should find out what Acuna’s drinking and send it to all the players

  41. Anybody remember the sound the ball used to make off of Heyward’s bat? Yeah, I still have issues getting over what became of him. I’ll likely have issues believing in Acuna until he’s 3 major league seasons in averaging 25+ homers per year.

  42. Careful @48, I have that phrase trademarked. Well, anyway that’s what I named my Brave Journal fantasy team, and that’s almost the same thing, right?

  43. Fun to see a full squad in person. Ender/Ozzie/Freddie/Johan/Acuna delivered against Tanaka in the first inning, and Acuna clearing the bases with a rocket home run was exciting as a preview of what is to come. I did find it interesting that Camargo hit clean-up, by the way.

    We bought the Steinbrenner Field ticket that gives you some beverage accommodations, so Mrs. Copenhaver and I just sat at a high top that you can watch the entire field from, and talked with other Braves fans. Fan expectations aren’t real high — we all know we’re not contending this year — but there’s a legitimate fan engagement right now with getting to watch this product.

    Alex Jackson missed a home run to dead center by what looked like about a foot. He and Riley have impressive size, and they both looked more athletic than last year. I saw a lot of both of them at A+ last year, and they’ve bulked and trimmed.

    Pache is a real athlete, people. He is noticeably bigger. He ranged into the gap next to Dustin Peterson, who is no small man either, and you could clearly see that Pache had some sort of growth spurt. Watching him run and throw, he was the most athletically gifted non-Acuna athlete out there. He has me excited. Speaking of Dustin Peterson, sadly, he just does not look impressive.

  44. If you couldn’t get to see the Yankees game this afternoon MLBTV is replaying it in full tomorrow, Saturday, morning on their main channel- 6 thru 9am.

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