The Atlanta Braves were busy over the last 10 days as they signed veteran starting pitchers Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to one year deals for the 2021 season. Fresh off an appearance in the National League Championship Series, the Braves are well-positioned to make a 2021 World Series run especially after signing Smyly and Morton. The Braves are set to pay Smyly $11 million and Morton $15 million for the 2021 season.
Prior to the 2020 season, Smyly signed a low risk/high reward 1 year deal worth $4 million (not prorated) with the Giants. Smyly went onto have a fantastic year on the mound as he pitched to a 3.42 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 2.56 xFIP, and 2.86 SIERA with a 29.7 K-BB% across only 26.1 innings. Prior to 2020, Smyly had an extremely unfortunate few years as he was forced to have Tommy John surgery which held him out of action at the Major League level in 2017 and 2018 and struggled in 2019 with the Rangers and Phillies pitching to a 6.24 ERA, 6.26 FIP, 5.21 xFIP, and 4.86 SIERA with a 12.6 K-BB% across 114.0 innings. Before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, Smyly pitched to a 3.94 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, and 3.81 SIERA across 395.0 innings with a 16.3 K-BB% pitching for the Tigers and Rays from 2014-2016.
After an extremely successful two-season stint with the Astros in which he pitched to a 3.36 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, 3.61, and SIERA across 313.2 innings with a 19.1 K-BB%, Morton signed a two year deal with the Rays worth $30 million prior to the 2019 season. In his two year stint with the Rays, Morton built off his success with the Astros as he pitched to a 3.33 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 3.40 xFIP, and 3.61 SIERA across 232.2 innings with a 22.4 K-BB%. Over this four year stretch, I’d say Morton established himself as an elite starting pitcher.
Assuming the Braves don’t add anymore starting pitchers to their roster before the start of the season, it appears Smyly and Morton will join young stars Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson in the Braves’ rotation. Although I view Morton as the best starting pitcher of the group, I think he will slide into their third starter on the depth chart behind Max Fried and Mike Soroka. As for Smyly, I think he’ll be penciled in as the fifth starter on the Braves’ depth chart behind Ian Anderson. If any starters go down with an injury or drastically struggle, the Braves can plug in one of their young right-handers, Bryse Wilson or Kyle Wright into the starting rotation. If all goes right, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Braves end up having the best rotation in all of Major League in 2021.
For the signing of Smyly, I’d give the Braves a B. Although his peripherals were fantastic in 2020, Smyly only pitched 26.1 innings which isn’t a great sample size to evaluate his future performance. Additionally, his injury history and 2019 season are definitely concerning to me. Had the amount of money Smyly received been in the $5-8 million rage, I’d probably have given the Braves a B+ or A- but that wasn’t the case. As for the signing of Morton, I’d give the Braves an A. Morton has been a top 15 pitcher in baseball since signing with the Astros in 2017 and I feel he fills the Braves’ past starting pitching need perfectly. The only concerns I have with Morton is that he’ll be 37 years old in 2021 and that he’s landed on the Injured List in two of the past three seasons in regards to his shoulder. Nonethless, the Braves drastically improved their starting pitching staff for the 2021 season by signing Smyly and Morton.