Three MLB vets who have certainly pitched their way to their first All-Star Games

It took six seasons for three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to make an All-Star team. Clayton Kershaw, 2014 NL MVP and three-time Cy Young winner, finally made the NL All-Stars in his fourth season. Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pitched for five years before earning a spot in the “Mid-Summer Classic.”

It takes time for even the greatest pitchers to develop into All-Stars. James Paxton, Trevor Bauer and Mike Foltynewicz are MLB veterans who have surged this season, and should be in good shape to pitch in their first All-Star Games in July.

James Paxton, LHP Seattle Mariners

James Paxton threw the sixth no-hitter in Seattle history on May 8. From that game forward, the lefty has been tremendous. He is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.15 in that span. But, things didn’t always look so agreeable for the Seattle ace.

Paxton debuted in September of 2013. In four starts, he went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA that season and a lot of excitement surrounded his development. But, injuries derailed his career for a time. They held him to just 13 starts each in 2014 and 2015.

Afterwards, he struggled getting back to form in Spring Training 2016, and he was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to begin in the season. He was brought back up after 11 starts and finished the year with a respectable 3.79 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings in the majors.

After a healthy 2016, he had his best season yet in 2017. He posted a 2.98 ERA and career bests in WHIP (1.103) and FIP (2.61). A short DL stint in May and a tough month of June most likely kept him out of the All-Star Game, but he responded well with a dominant July. Through 39.1 innings that month, he struck out 46 hitters, gave up just six runs and went 6-0. He won 2017 AL July Pitcher of the Month.

This season, Paxton has been dynamic once again. He is one of just three pitchers at this point with multiple complete games as of June 12. He has the ninth highest WAR out of Major League pitchers, behind seven past All-Stars and Aaron Nola. He is striking out batters at a career-best rate, 11.2 per-nine. That is the eighth best in baseball.

Also, despite losing their top hitter (Robinson Cano) to an 80-game suspension and being in a division with the defending champion Houston Astros, the Mariners are thriving. At 43-24, they have the third-best record in baseball. A lot of their success can be accredited to Paxton’s performance, as Seattle is 9-3 over his last 12 starts.

Trevor Bauer, RHP Cleveland Indians 

From the time Trevor Bauer was drafted, expectations were high. This resulted from his three fruitful seasons at UCLA, where Bauer racked up awards such as 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, 2011 First-Team College All-American, 2011 Pac-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year and 2011 NCAA National Pitcher of the Year.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected him third overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. In June 2012, he was called up at just 21-years-old, and he stumbled out of the gate. In his first four starts, he gave up 11 runs and walked 13 hitters through 16.1 innings.

Fast forward to December of 2012, Bauer was shipped to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal between the Diamondbacks, Indians and Reds.

As a member of the Indians, Bauer was given a regular rotation spot in 2014. From 2014 through 2017, Bauer never lived up to the potential that was seen at UCLA. He never had an ERA under 4.18 and he had control issues. He led the league in walks in 2015 and followed that up by walking the seventh most batters in 2016.

Also, during his first three full campaigns in Cleveland, he never finished a season well. ERA-wise, September was his worst month in all three of those years.

But, last season, the opposite effect occurred. Despite having a less than rousing first-half of the season with a 5.24 ERA heading into the All-Star Break, he broke out with the best span of his career to end the year. He went 10-1 over his final 14 starts with an ERA of 2.60. His walks diminished and his strikeout rate rose to the sixth best in the league.

This season, he has performed even better than how he finished last year. His strikeout rate is the highest of his career (and once again the sixth-best in the league), while his walks rate is his personal lowest. His ERA is the fifth-lowest in the AL at 2.62. Also, his swing-and-miss rate is the highest of his career and his fastball average speed is faster than it has ever been, college or pros. He has allowed two or less runs in nine of his 13 starts.

Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Atlanta Braves

Mike Foltynewicz was the nineteenth pick by Houston in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was selected out of high school, and didn’t debut until 2014, but he got hammered by opposing hitters in Houston. He gave up 11 runs on 23 hits in just 18.2 innings.

He was shipped off to Atlanta during the following offseason, and has been a part of the starting rotation ever since. But, he has never had a season like this year.

“Folty” ranks third in the NL in ERA at 2.16, only behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.  Prior to 2018, he never earned better than a 4.31 ERA.

Compared to his NL All-Star competition, he fares very well. He ranks in the top-10 in the National League in WAR for pitchers, strikeouts and strikeout rate, adjusted ERA+ and hits and homeruns per-nine.

Also, Foltynewicz is gaining momentum at the right time. The All-Star Game is about a month away, and the Braves’ big righty is going through a dominant stretch. Over his last seven starts, he has thrown 42 innings and given up four runs.

In this period, he pitched a complete game shutout of the division rival Washington Nationals, a game of which he struck out 11 hitters. It was the second time in that span where he sent down double-digit batters on strikes.

MLB Season Preview: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves rebuilding process showed signs of paying off last season, but nothing materialized consistently enough to get them anywhere other than a 72-90 record. The team had been on the decline ever since first ballot Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones retired, but all of that will begin to change in the near future.

INFIELD

The Braves are more than okay when it comes to defensive play in the infield.

Despite spending time in the minor leagues and at third base, Freddie Freeman still has the talent to be an All-Star first baseman. His .996 Fielding Percentage is on par with Indians 1B Carlos Santana. Freeman had a fielding value of 0.9 during his injury riddled 2017 season, but the previous two years he had a fielding value of 4.4 according to fangraphs.com.

The young middle infield of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson has the potential to be one of the better defensive 2B and SS duos in Major League Baseball in the near future.

Swanson has already proven himself to be a defensive stalwart in the majors, filling the defensive hole left by Andrelton Simmons quite well. With a range factor of 4.13, the ninth best in the MLB, Swanson will definitely be able to at least keep up his .965 fielding percentage but look for that number to improve this year. His 20 errors in his rookie season tied him for second worst in the majors, but many of those errors will become lessons learned.

As for Albies, he posted a .987 FP in 57 MLB games, which is a small sample size but also a great sign for the Braves defensively.

Lastly, he hot corner will likely be patrolled by Johan Camargo, as Austin Riley is not quite ready for the majors. Camargo is very much a utility man, and while defense may not be his strong suit, his 1.3 fielding value and 1.6 positional value will likely prove extremely helpful when the Braves’ season unfolds.

The remaining infield position is catcher. Neither Tyler Flowers nor Kurt Suzuki is a gold glove catcher, but both of them are capable of keeping balls in front of them, and Flowers has the arm to throw out runners.

OUTFIELD

The Braves currently have two of their outfield positions set for Opening Day, with the left field spot still up for grabs.

Center field belongs to back-to-back Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte. His .993 FP and 2.76 range factor are huge, but the fact that his Defensive Wins Above Replacement (DWAR) was positive at 0.8 despite being on a team that struggled to win 44% of their games is huge.

Right field will house Nick Markakis. Markakis is no longer a name to fear defensively, but he will get the job done and that’s really all that a rebuilding team needs right now.

The big question mark for this team is LF. Last season, Lane Adams spent some time all over the outfield, but he is more of a utility guy that this team will want to use intermittently as a pinch runner or in rest games for Inciarte. They also have Preston Tucker on the roster currently, another utility outfielder who has seen limited time in the majors to this point in his career. The best thing the Braves can hope for here is to have top prospect Ronald Acuña ready by the All-Star break.

PITCHING

The Atlanta Braves strong suit is most definitely not pitching, but it may not be their biggest weakness either.

Eventually, this team will want either Newcomb or Sims to be their ace, but for now they will have Julio Teheran play that role. The rotation will likely start with Teheran, have Foltynewicz second, Newcomb third, Sims fourth, and either Brandon McCarthy or Scott Kazmir fifth.

The odd man out will most likely come out of the bullpen, which was bolstered by the acquisition of Peter Moylan following the loss of Jim Johnson. The one thing the Braves are missing when it comes to pitching is a true closer. Arodys Vizcaino will be able to close for them, but that has been a deficiency ever since Craig Kimbrel was dealt away.

BATTING

Expect the Opening Day batting order to look something like this:

  1. Ender Inciarte
  2. Ozzie Albies
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Tyler Flowers
  5. Nick Markakis
  6. Johan Camargo
  7. Dansby Swanson
  8. Lane Adams/Preston Tucker
  9. Pitcher

The lowest projected batting average is Dansby Swanson at .246. Swanson also has the lowest projected SLG, .358, but Albies’ .319 OBP is the lowest projected total.

The Braves would thrive the most if two things can happen. They need Swanson to hit comfortably enough to slide into the number two spot in the order, and they need Acuña to come up and hit somewhere in the 3-4-5 area. A 1-5 of Inciarte, Swanson, Freeman, Acuña, Albies followed by a combination of Flowers, Markakis, and Camargo would have the potential to carve up opposing pitchers, and it’s something that Braves fans can look forward to in the near future.

PROJECTED RECORD

Rotochamp.com has the Braves finishing at 74-88, which has them at fourth in the division. Fangraphs.com has them repeating last year’s record and also finishing in fourth. Personally, I think this team is good for somewhere between 75 and 78 wins, and I also do not think it is likely that the Braves finish fourth in the division. They almost definitively will not make the playoffs this season, but if the Mets cannot stay healthy a sub-.500 Braves team could take second in the NL East.