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For your enjoyment, here are two pitching performances:

Pitcher A: 4 IP, 2.25 ERA
Pitcher B: 5 1/3 IP, 11.81 ERA

Sure, it’s a small sample size, so maybe it doesn’t mean that much. Let’s
look at a larger sample:

Pitcher A: 73 IP, 5.47 ERA
Pitcher B: 147 1/3 IP, 5.62 ERA

Hmmm…not much to choose from there. Neither of these guys looks
particularly good by those numbers. Let’s see some others:

Pitcher A: .208/.315/.410, 7.94 K/9, 1.7 K/BB
Pitcher B: .307/.358/.474, 5.86 K/9, 2.1 K/BB

Now we start to see some differences.

You’re probably growing impatient with this exercise, so I’ll stop throwing
random data at you. Pitcher A is Bruce Chen, while Pitcher B is
John Burkett. And in a particularly silly bit of roster shuffling
Tuesday, the Braves sent Chen to Richmond and kept Burkett on the team.

Chen’s lost a lot of his glow since he went into camp in 1999 as the
Braves’ #5 starter. He was beaten out for that job by Odalis Perez,
then bounced between Richmond and Atlanta last season, putting up the
major-league performance you see above. (The first set of numbers is the
two pitchers’ performances this year.)

Burkett, meanwhile, has been getting more hittable and chewing up fewer
innings each year. He had a nice run as a #4 starter for much of the 1990s,
but his decline hit a nadir this spring when he was unable to crack the
Devil Rays’ staff. After his release, the Braves signed him, and now seem
reluctant to let him go, despite his performance to date.

You probably don’t need me to tell you how silly this is. The Braves
already have one soft-tossing veteran swingman on the staff, and at least
Terry Mulholland has a few positives and a decent track record the
past few years. Atlanta has a flood of live arms for the bullpen, and many
of those (Chen, Luis Rivera, Kevin McGlinchy) have experience
as starters.

The only thing Burkett has on Chen is experience, and that’s not enough to
make up the yawning gulf between the two pitchers. The odd thing is that at
the same time the Braves are making this choice, they’re playing
19-year-old, straight-out-of-A-ball Rafael Furcal in the middle
infield half the time. There’s no internal consistency.

Rudy Seanez will be coming off the disabled list soon, and you have
to hope that this will spell the end of Burkett. It’s possible, though,
that Cox and John Schuerholz will instead ship out McGlinchy or Rivera in
an effort to keep around a player who simply has nothing to contribute to a
championship team.

Chen is a big part of the Braves’ future, and deserves a chance to make
that future now. He should be their #5 starter, and every start he makes
for Richmond is wasted by a Braves’ team that, for the first time in a
while, could really use the help in the rotation.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

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