Chopcast: Braves pitching stays among best in baseball

Braves starter Ervin Santana holds the second-best qualified ERA (0.86) in the National League, ranking right behind teammate Aaron Harang (0.85).

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of Aaron Harang’s most recent start, a six-inning, 11-strikeout effort against Miami that served as his fifth phenomenal outing of the young season, the 35-year-old pitcher briefly discussed his new pitching coach, Roger McDowell, and his influence over the staff’s ridiculous 21-game start.

Harang, who is now pitching for the seventh team in his 13-year career (his fifth since 2011), said the well-regarded pitching guru is so effective because he keeps things "simple, but efficient." He doesn’t overload his arms with information — just the key materials needed.

It’s an approach that, from the outside looking in, would seem to come by necessity given the scenario McDowell was rushed into at the tail end of spring training: Harang and Ervin Santana were extremely late adds to the rotation (Harang was ready to go after spending the spring with the Indians; Santana needed to miss a start to stretch out), Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd have still not pitched an inning and Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy won’t at all. Throw three 25-and-under guys with a total of about 300 innings under their collective belt entering the season, and things could have started poorly, which would not have boded well for an offense that has been spotty.

The results, as anyone following this Braves resiliency can attest, have been nothing short of remarkable.

Entering Thursday’s off day up 2 1/2 games in the National League East, the division they ran away with in 2013, the new-look Braves rotation is the most valuable group in baseball to date. They are three wins above replacement level (WAR), the best mark in baseball ahead of the Tigers, Marlins and (believe it or not) Cubs, and boast a staggering 1.50 collective ERA. Part of that is due to one of the top defenses around, but that’s an earned run average 77 points ahead of the next-closest team and it’s a direct tribute to the immediate effect Harang and Santana have brought to the table as fitting veteran complements to Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and David Hale.

That group has been relied on more tha any other starting staff in baseball. It’s carried them to one of the best early-season records, too.

Roger McDowell has a hand in all of this. He always does — he’s considered one of the best in the game for this exact reason. Oh, and his bullpen only ranks second in WAR despite pitching fewer innings than practically every other relief corps around. Something special has happened — or, perhaps, is still happening — to the Atlanta staff through the first 21 games of the 2014 season. Writers Zach Dillard and Cory McCartney discuss the ins and outs of surprising run: