Monday, May 21, 2012

Milwaukee Brewers: A Mid-Market Rotation with Mid-Market Mistakes

The Milwaukee Brewers are an interesting team to talk about at this point. They’re not looking good by even the loosest of definitions at the moment, which is anything but a surprise at the moment. The Brew Crew didn’t resign Prince Fielder this offseason and have replaced him in their lineup with a cast of various infielders which has, to state the obvious, not produced nearly as well as Prince would have. I’m not saying that committing 9+ years to a home run hitting blimp was necessarily the right decision, but replacing him with whoever else is still on the roster was certainly the wrong approach. That said Milwaukee probably could have done with upgrading their rotation some, while they have 3 very good starters, they were running with a 4 man rotation from the start, and that just won’t do in the bigs.

Chris Narveson made 2 starts for the Brew Crew early in the year, and has been a below average starter at the back of their rotation for a few years now. Almost fortunately for the Brewers who looked content to keep putting the 30 year old “innings eater” (not exactly great at that either) out there every 5th day, Narveson will be spending the rest of the year recovering from rotator cuff surgery. I don’t feel it’s right to revel in an injury for any player, but this might actually be a good thing for the team as they will be forced to see what someone else within the organization can do while it’s already clear what Narveson is capable of.

Marco Estrada appears to be that someone else. Estrada was pitching in relief for the Brewers early in the season, and much of last year. He doesn’t look to be a significant improvement overall, but with 2 years less experience, he may not have absolutely reached his ceiling yet. So far Estrada has thrown 5 starts, and has successfully eaten innings in 3 of those outings, one of which was a quality start. Estrada’s walk and strikeout numbers are encouraging, as he’s walking fewer than ever before while striking out batters at roughly the same rate as last season. His home run rate is more than a little troubling though. Estrada has given up 9 home runs in 35 innings so far. Estrada is an extreme flyball pitcher, and has seen batters tee off on him in the past. I’d be surprised to see Estrada make any significant changes to his approach, but if he does get closer to his groundball rate from last season he will probably be a good bit less homer prone and could become an effective back of the rotation arm who is cost effective for the mid/small market Brewers.

Randy Wolf has been holding down the fort as a league average pitcher who can really rack up the innings (where most of his value lies), and so far this year has looked like decline has come and taken his familiar brand of mediocrity and pounded it into the ground. Wolf has been neither of the things he’s usually good at, he’s well below league average with an ERA+ of 61 and he’s not eating innings at any particularly admirable clip (42 & ⅓ innings over 8 starts) If Wolf keeps this up, he’ll be putting together his first sub 200 inning effort with the Brewers and could be looking at having the team walk away from his contract option. Wolf’s BABIP is sitting at an eye popping .358, up about 67 points above his career average. What’s most perplexing about this is while his line drive rate is sitting right around his career average, he’s getting more ground balls than ever before and giving up fewer home runs than any time in recent memory. He has however walked 18 batters so far which has also contributed to his 1.795 WHIP. The Wolfman is a veteran who should certainly know how to pitch better than this. I’d look at him to make a few changes and get back to his own personal brand of 4 or 5 starter quality innings. I wouldn’t however be terribly surprised if he really is slipping some, and makes it a real tough call for Brewers brass with his 10 mil option looming at season’s end.

Shawn Marcum has 6 quality starts in his first 8 having thrown 49 rather effective innings for the Brew Crew so far this season. His walk rate is up about 1 walk every 2 innings over last year, though he’s also struck out about 1 more batter per 9 than ever before, so it’s something of a trade off. His WHIP is a respectable 1.245 and is about 90 points off of last year’s mark and is well closer to his career mark. Marcum is having a good year so far, and hasn’t changed much about his approach, his particular brand of flyball pitching seems to be suiting him just fine so far and despite giving up fewer homers than the past few years, he is giving up line drives at a higher than desirable pace (22% of balls in play). That could catch up with him, but he seems to be doing pretty well so far. I’d look at Marcum to try to limit line drives, and that’ll help him keep runners off the base paths and build even further on his strong start to the season.

Yovani Gallardo has started nine games so far and has had 7 quality starts so far. He has had to exit very early twice so far, his first start against a potent St. Louis lineup and yet again against that St. Louis lineup, so far compiling 5 and ⅔ innings and 14 earned runs against the Cards while pitching no less than 6 innings and putting up a quality start against every other opponent he has faced this year. Gallardo has walked a disgusting 4.4 per nine so far, which will have to change if he doesn’t expect for opponents other than the reigning WS champs to to take notice and start teeing off when he gets behind in counts. Aside from his walk rate however Gallardo has more or less been the same guy he’s always been this year. Not giving up a gaudy number of home runs, getting his fair share of strikeouts, and pitching deep enough into games that he shouldn’t be looked at to burn up bullpen arms on a regular basis.

Zack Greinke is putting on a show in his walk year.He has so far only allowed 1 home run in his 9 starts so far, is walking less than 2 per 9 and is striking out more than a batter per inning all to the tune of a pretty well deserved 2.70 ERA Greinke had one rather ugly outing (3 & ⅔ innings 8 ER) against the Cubbies early on but has otherwise only been knocked out of a game before the 6th once Greinke has the same real red flag as Marcum, he gives up an ugly number of line drives (21%) but that’s nothing new for him, and he is much more of a groundball pitcher than really anyone else on this Milwaukee staff, though that’s really just been the last 2 years for him. It appears that Greinke is going to use this season to gear up for his pay day this offseason. I’d look for Greinke’s performance to continue at an impressive (if not quite his current 145 ERA+) level. I wouldn’t exactly be shocked to see the Brewers flip Greinke at the deadline for a good haul if he’s continuing this type of production at the midway point in the season.

The Brewers are a middling team at best across the board and I’m sure it stings them to go from Postseason contenders to keeping the Cubbies company at the bottom of the NL Central, but thems the breaks. I don’t see much reason for the Brewers to pull themselves up from the bottom of their division, but with a division that has gotten very close over the weekend, more surprising things have happened. I’d lean toward seeing them as sellers at the deadline, rather than on the cusp buyers.

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