When the Braves acquired Mike Foltynewicz from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade back in January 2015, they knew there would be some inevitable growing pains. Foltynewicz always had the stuff to be a frontline starter, but he lacked the consistency and mental fortitude to regularly work deep into games. He had tantalizing potential, but would he ever get there?
The answer, after three years of ups and downs, was a resounding yes in 2018.
Foltynewicz made 31 starts (plus two in the NLDS) and tossed a career-high 183 innings. He finished with a 2.85 ERA, tied for 8th best in MLB, along with a 3.37 FIP, 27 percent strikeout rate and 9 percent walk rate.
So, what changed?
For one — and this is something Mike acknowledges — he’s matured on the mound. In past years a missed strike call would seemingly be the beginning of the end as Folty would become unhinged. This would frequently snowball into other issues, and before you knew it the inning was out of hand. Foltynewicz says the birth of his son, Jett, has matured him as a person and as a pitcher. Isn’t fatherhood great?
The other major change came with his approach to opposing hitters. While he continued to pop his upper-90s fastball regularly, he actually threw fewer fastballs and increased his slider usage (27% of the time compared to 19% in 2015-17) especially against left-handed batters. Foltynewicz continued to occasionally use his curveball and changeup, although he was often at his best when the fastball-slider combo was working well.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? The breakout season everyone hoped for happened. His 3.9 fWAR on the year was more than he had produced in the rest of his career combined, and this ratio is even more egregious when you compare his 5.0 RA9-WAR in 2018 to his 6.4 career mark. Only 18 pitchers in baseball had more fWAR this year, and only 14 had more RA9-WAR.
Will Foltynewicz be on the roster next year? I’d say there’s a 99.9% chance.
What is he going to do next year? Building off his successful 2018 campaign and emerging as a true No. 1 starter would be the best-case scenario. His underlying statistics show he was a tad lucky and he might be due some regression (3.77 xFIP, for example), although that would still make him a No. 2 or No. 3 option.
Highlight of 2018: He tossed two complete games, one of which came against the Nationals on June 1st. In that game he struck out 11, walked one and gave up just two hits. His game score was 97, one of the best marks of any starting pitcher this year.
Lowlight of 2018: Foltynewicz absolutely deserved to start Game 1 of the NLDS. Unfortunately, the thunderous Dodgers lineup got to him early as he surrendered a leadoff homer to Joc Pederson and then a three-run shot in the second inning. He lasted just two innings in a game the Braves lost 6-0.