The Braves' Rotation Gambit

ATLANTA, GA - Mike Minor #36 of the Atlanta Braves pitches to the Washington Nationals at Turner Field on May 26, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Braves sent down a reliever to prepare for a starting role. That puts two of the Braves' vaunted young pitchers in an uncomfortable spot.

This might not be a new one. But it's new to me. It's at least new and improved for the 2012 season. The Atlanta Braves are going to make a rotation change. That's not new. Teams make rotation changes all the time. But it's the way they're doing it. Reliever Kris Medlen went the minor leagues. When he comes back in a couple of weeks, he'll be in the rotation.

But the Braves haven't announced who is going to make room for this conversion. So in simpler terms:

The two gentlemen on the floor, scrambling for the broken pool cue, would be Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, both of whom have disappointed the Braves to this point in the season.

On pure upside, Delgado would be the one who stays. Minor is/was a fine prospect, but he never got slapped with the potential-ace label quite like Delgado, who throws hard and advanced through the minor leagues beyond his years. If I had to guess which pitcher's future the Braves would choose in a Sophie's choice, they'd go with Delgado.

But Minor is the pitcher who's come closer to reaching expectations already. Delgado is all upside, but that comes with the erratic control that young prospects are often saddled with. Minor is a lefty who relies on command and changing speeds, and last year he made fifteen starts, pitching more or less like a lefty who relies on command and changing speeds. The expectations were somewhat modest, and he met them. The idea was that he'd build on them in 2012 and turn into something more -- a mid-rotation starter for a team that already had plenty of internal options.

Instead, Minor's been the worse of the two, with a garish 6.98 ERA. His walk rate is the same (8.3 percent in both 2011 and 2012), his strikeout rate is about the same (21.3 percent in 2011; 20.2 percent in 2012), and his hit rate is the same (10.1 per nine innings in 2011; 9.9 in 2012). Even his extra-base-hit rate is the same (9.4 percent in 2011; 9.9 percent in 2012).

The biggest difference between Minor in 2011 and 2012 is that he's allowed a league-leading 13 home runs in just 58 innings. Even Bronson Arroyo makes a just-had-goatse-described-to-him face when he sees those numbers. That's the difference between a young lefty holding his own, and an early-season disaster who might be better off plying his trade in Richmond (edit: Gwinnett).

If you take the home runs out of the equation, which xFIP does, it's too close to call. If you think the home runs aren't just a fluke -- if you think they hint at a problem that isn't going to get fixed every fifth day -- Delgado takes the leftover spot, and the Braves hope he holds it for the next decade.

But this is all premature. There are still three more turns in the rotation before Medlen is ready. That might not settle the debate for good, but it will certainly have an effect on the final decision. So the Joker is Frank Wren. The two guys fighting for the pool cue are Minor and Delgado. And the pool cue represents a whole bunch of runs that the other guy shouldn't be giving up. I'm not sure why they'd be stabbing each other with runs. They should probably run away from the pool cue, screaming like it's a camel spider.

The analogy breaks down. But the competition is real. And after a couple weeks one of the two will probably be out of a job. It's rare to see a ticking clock quite like this for a rotation spot. No pressure, guys.

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