Inbox: Should Atlanta turn Folty into a closer?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields Braves fans' questions

January 15th, 2018

How do you feel about making Mike Foltynewicz a closer? In my opinion, it's the best fit for him and solves an issue for our team.

-- Russell I., Woodstock, Ga.

A year from now the answer might be different, but for now, I think it's best for the Braves to give Foltynewicz, 26, a chance to spend one more full season as a starter. Yeah, he's spent portions of each of the past three seasons within the rotation and yeah, he's tallied 65 career starts (one more than made before he made the profitable transition to the bullpen).

But at the same time, he's spent just one full year at the big league level and quite frankly, the Braves have the luxury to extend the trial period as they likely stand at least a year away from constructing a playoff-caliber rotation.

Foltynewicz completed at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his 28 starts last year and allowed three earned runs or less while recording at least 18 outs in 15 of those 28 starts. He also managed to allow at least five earned runs in exactly 25 percent (7 of 28) of starts. These numbers tell you exactly what your eyes saw last summer: Nearly every start could be described as either pretty good or pretty forgettable.

It should be noted most of those pretty forgettable starts occurred as he allowed five earned runs or more four times within a five-start span from July 31-Aug. 21. His only impressive outing within this span occurred on Aug. 5, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and limited the Marlins' potent offense to one run over 6 1/3 innings.

Per Statcast™, Foltynewicz's 95.2 mph average fastball velocity ranked seventh among all Major Leaguers who threw at least 1,500 heaters last year. He limited opponents to a .196 batting average with his slider and induced a decent 15.43 percent swing-and-miss rate with the pitch. The .202 xBA (expected batting average) he produced with the curveball provides a glimpse of the soft contact he frequently induced with that pitch.

Foltynewicz has the arsenal needed to become an elite starter. Time will tell whether he can harness the command of both his fastball and emotions enough to live up to his physical potential. But for now, it seems prudent to stay away from the easy solution, which would be to move him to the bullpen.

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Is the new general manager honest enough to admit the pains an organization has to go through to be a legitimate contender?

-- Matt H., Belton, S.C.

Looking back, I don't think there were many of you who bought into what John Hart was trying to sell when he approached the 2015 and '16 seasons often saying the team was trying to walk parallel lines. It's impossible to remain competitive while undergoing a rebuilding effort as massive as the one the Braves began after the '14 season, and it's unrealistic to think it can be completed in just a few years.

With that being said, I think some of the frustration that led to your question stems more toward last year, when the Braves added more than $30 million to their payroll and claimed the team was going to be much better. Much of that money was spent on , and the club's altered mindset was shown in late July when was sent to the Twins for essentially nothing more than cost savings.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has inherited this team in the fourth year of its rebuild. It's still too early for him to confidently predict a postseason run. But at the same time, part of his job is to surround his club with optimism. If he says, the "team will be better this year," his words will at least seem more genuine than those spoken during the early portion of this rebuild.

Why is it that we refuse to move any of the pitching prospects we have? It seems to me if we wait to do so then some of them will inherently lose value.

-- Ryan L., Douglasville, Ga.

Actually, I think Anthopoulos would be wise to stick with the plan for him and his scouts to make their own evaluations of these young pitchers before making a significant trade. Yeah, there are existing reports and even some holdover scouts who are quite familiar with what the likes of Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and the others can bring both on and off the field. But it would be much more comfortable to make one of these potentially franchise-altering decisions after having gained the chance to make evaluations with your own eyes and ears.

Assuming the Braves sign a third baseman this offseason, do you think it would be a player with a short-term or long-term deal?

-- Bryan O., Kennesaw, Ga.

The Braves could go a few different directions as they attempt to bolster different aspects of their club. But in relation to the possibility of adding a third baseman, there is no doubt they are only looking at short-term options. They do not want to make an acquisition that could block rising prospect Austin Riley or erase the possibility of making a serious bid to buy Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson off next year's free-agent market.