Last night, Mike Foltynewicz’s time with the Atlanta Braves came to an end.
Folty was destroyed last night by the Tampa Bay Rays: just over three innings pitched, four hits, six earned runs, four walks and three home runs in his first start of 2020.
After the game, Foltynewicz was designated for assignment; in a subsequent move, the Braves brought up relief pitcher Chad Sobotka to replace him at this time. This ends his string of 117 starts dating back to 2015.
Manager Brian Snitker said after the game when discussing the move that “we didn’t see enough increase in the velocity…the stuff hasn’t been there.” Folty had a tough summer camp this year trying to find that velocity. The team wanted to give him a chance in real time, and yesterday’s start was an abject disaster. The fall from grace has been precipitous as Foltynewicz started two games in the 2019 NLDS.
So let’s dive in and take a look at the stuff.
We can see immediately that after his breakout in 2018, Folty changed the pitch mix up. In 2018, he threw his four-seamer 40% of the time. In 2019, that dropped to 26.3%, a staggering drop. It is important to note that while the fastball had good velocity, it did not display much movement. Subsequently, a drop in velocity makes this pitch more hittable. To offset that, he began using the sinker almost 10% more, going from 16.4% in 2018 to 25.6% in 2019. Slider percentage remained close to the same, with a slight increase of 1%, and the change-up usage was up about 3% in 2019.
Now let’s take a look at the velocity of his pitches over the last three years.
You don’t need to understand advanced statistics to read this chart: the velocity is down across the map, on all five pitches Foltynewicz has in his arsenal. When he got the major leagues, Folty threw a hard four-seamer at 96.8 MPH, that during his breakout in 2018, hit 99 MPH regularly. When trouble hit last year, that average dropped to 94.97. While on the surface that might not seem like much, it’s an almost two MPH difference, and that can be the difference between success and failure at the game’s highest level.
The velocity on everything was down in 2019. The hard sinker: 95 MPH to 90 MPH. The slider from 86.9 MPH to barely touching 85 MPH.
Last night, the four-seamer was down to 90 MPH. His other offerings also seemed to lack any presence, and everything looked flat. Injury? Out of gas? The Braves will not wait to find out. It seems safe to assume that another MLB team may have an interest and give Foltynewicz time to work these things out or perhaps even get healthy and try again. He’s only 28 and is less than two years removed from a 13-10, 2.85 ERA, and 202 strikeout season in 2018. For his career, he stands at 44-42, with a 4.33 ERA, and an 8.6 K/9 rate. He will get another opportunity.
What does this mean for the Braves rotation moving forward?
Short-term, as in this weekend, it seems likely they may turn to Jhoulys Chacin or Josh Tomlin, veteran swingmen who can make spot starts. Neither would appear to be long-term options for a contending team. The Braves had been counting on Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels and maybe even Felix Hernandez to be their rotation. An injury to Hamels, and opt-out by King Felix, and the ineffectiveness of Folty leave Soroka and Fried as the only guys standing. Dubious beginning, but two good pieces to build around. Lefty Sean Newcomb and right-hander Kyle Wright have filled in for Hamels and Hernandez thus far.
Snitker also said last night that the Braves could go with an opener for the time being until they settle on a replacement, so it remains unclear as to who will get Folty’s open spot for the near term.
Looking at their current 60 man roster, here are some candidates:
Bryse Wilson: he has some experience at the MLB level. Wilson features a heavy four-seam fastball frequently clocked at 95 MPH that can touch 97-98 on some days. Interestingly, he also throws a variation of a two-seamer that shows some sink that might be a usable offering for him. He uses his changeup as his second pitch but struggles with consistency with the curveball.
Ian Anderson: Anderson is actually a higher rated prospect than Wilson. He pitched in the Futures Game in 2019. Known for a big fastball clocked at 96 MPH, Anderson has averaged 10.7 K/9 through his stops in the minor leagues. Command has been an on-and-off issue for Anderson but as he adjusts to each level, he makes gains here.
Tucker Davidson: this may be more of a long shot, but maybe not. Davidson has the stuff to compete and has quietly moved up the ranks to be a top ten prospect for Atlanta. He has a good fastball at 96-97 MPH and he throws two distinct curveballs. These are intriguing; one he throws very hard, getting hitters to chase it. The second curveball is a slower one, which can be referred to as a get-me-over, but he is showing improved control and command of these and got to AAA last summer.
We will have to wait and see how Atlanta sorts this out in the coming weeks. They need a solution and fast. Best wishes to Mike Foltynewicz as he searches for a new opportunity.