Examining Milwaukee’s Rotation

When the Brewers effectively replaced starters Manny Parra and Braden Looper with Randy Wolf and Doug Davis this offseason, the rotation seemed better-positioned to carry the team than it was last year, when Brewers pitching was largely disappointing. 

Their starters posted a 5.37 ERA a year ago and their pitching staff as a whole allowed more runs than every NL club except the Nationals. GM Doug Melvin discussed trading for Kevin Correia, Jarrod Washburn, Doug Davis, Brian Bannister and others when the team was in contention last summer. The Brewers even claimed Davis, but they never made a major move. 

This year the Brewers are among the worst teams in the National League in runs allowed (14th) and home runs allowed (15th). Their bullpen has been disappointing, but the starters have done better than last year, combining for a 4.70 ERA. 

Yovani Gallardo has been fantastic so far, with a 3.07 ERA and 11.0 K/9. Wolf's ERA is below 4.00, but he's walking significantly more batters than he did with the Dodgers last year. Like Wolf, Dave Bush has an ERA around 4.00, but is walking far more batters than usual. Meanwhile, hitters are batting .415 on balls they put in play off of Davis. That figure should drop and drag Davis' 7.56 ERA down along with it. Rounding out the rotation, Chris Narveson pitched well against the D'Backs on Sunday, but he is no sure thing.

The Brewers have some options within the organization should their current starters falter. Carlos Villanueva has experience starting and this year he's throwing harder than ever. Villanueva, the team's pitcher of the month in April, is striking out more than a batter per inning. John Axford, ranked 23rd among Brewers prospects by Baseball America before the season, is pitching well in Triple A and could be called upon to replace Villanueva in the 'pen.

The Brewers have a solid but unremarkable rotation at this point, though they're surely hoping to see Wolf and Bush limit their free passes. We can expect Davis to improve and Villanueva could contribute, so the Brewers don't appear as desperate to acquire arms as they were a year ago. It may all be a moot point. If Milwaukee can't turn things around, they may become sellers and Jeff Suppan, Davis and Bush could be trade bait for other clubs.

14 Responses to Examining Milwaukee’s Rotation Leave a Reply

  1. brewersnrays 5 years ago

    Chris Capuano has moved all the way up to AAA, as well, and so far has strong number in a very limited sample of low-minors rehab starts. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Brewers attempt to move Davis and replace him in the rotation with either Manny Parra or Chris Capuano somewhere down the line. We have a surplus of average veteran arms and a severe shortage of young, high upside arms (like most teams.) Perhaps we could help that situation out by moving a veteran starter or two, but the return would be pretty limited for anyone we’d be willing to move.

    If we had any chance of re-signing him, I’d like us to entertain the thought of acquiring Cliff Lee from the Mariners, should he become available. Perhaps a package starting with Manny Parra, who still has a lot of promise, and Angel Salome, a catcher with some pop who has seemingly fallen out of favor with the Brewer’s brass, could get it done.

  2. Flharfh 5 years ago

    It’s been mostly the back end of the bullpen (now DL’d Hawkins and Hoffman), below average defense (everyone except Escobar and Gomez) and the bi-polar run support that have really killed the crew.

  3. powertech84 5 years ago

    Escobar’s defense hasn’t been stellar either, not that he wont surely improve

  4. wakeupmacha 5 years ago

    New_Law_Era, have you followed Bush closely over the last few years to even know what you’re talking about? I’m not saying he’s a great pitcher, but what else do you want from a #4 SP, unless you’re the Yankees or a small handful of other teams. 7 starts this year, 6 of them quality starts (technically 5 qs since going 5 innings giving up 1 ER doesn’t qualify). You think he’s overachieving do ya? Every year, it takes him a bit to get going, then he goes on a tear, only to have a stupid injury derail him.

    Before pointing to your sabermetrics, have you actually watched him pitch? Strand rate is the most worthless stat available. Some pitchers bucker down and pitch better under pressure. Looking at numbers won’t tell you this. Watching games will. BABIP is also overrated, just not as much as strand rate. Sinkerball pitchers who have good defense behind them are going to naturally have a lower BABIP than a flyball pitcher at Texas stadium. My point is, generalizing and measuring every pitcher using BABIP does not prove how good a pitcher is or isn’t. Maybe a pitcher has a good BABIP because the movement on his pitches is so good that hitters don’t get the meat of the bat on the ball. Maybe a pitcher has a high BABIP because he has no movement and throws gopher balls like Jeff Suppan. It’s not always about luck and that the pitcher will revert back to the mean eventually.

    Try watching real games pitched by Bush, and you’ll see he’s not that bad. No, he’s not a #1, 2, or 3, but we were never expecting him to be.

  5. wakeupmacha 5 years ago

    The Brewers need to just let him go? Really? Just eat $4.125 million and release a very serviceable #4 SP, when our pitching is the weak link? He’s getting paid like a #4 SP, and he has, is, and will produce like a #4 pitcher. What exactly are we supposed to want out of the #4 spot right now? More innings out of him maybe, that that can be said for every pitcher on the starting staff right now, especially Gallardo.

    If it gets to the trade deadline and we are sellers, then they might look at trading him. No, we won’t get much of anything back for him, and no, legitimate contenders like the Yankees will want him. However, teams that are not out of the race, yet are not close enough to want to go “all in” at the deadline, would gladly take Bush if they have starting pitching/ injury problems. So, if someone trades for him, we at least get something back for him, whatever that may be, and that team pays the rest of his contract.

    Tell me why we should just let him go?

  6. wakeupmacha 5 years ago

    One more thing, to avoid this getting into an argument on metrics. I may have sounded a little harsh on the topic and that metrics are completely useless. Metrics can be very useful in predicting how a player will perform in the future, but only when combined with actually watching that player. Seeing is believing. From metrics alone, one would assume Bush has been getting very lucky. From watching every game he’s pitched, I’ve seen that he has been very unlucky (last outing, shoddy defense with 2 outs extended the inning and his pitch count by 30 more pitches).

    Take out the one bad outing where he gave up 7 ER, and what would his ERA be? Another example of how ERA doesn’t always tell the story of how valuable a pitcher is to his team. Everyone has a bad game; with Bush, his bad game is going to be really bad because he gives up a lot of HRs. That one bad game can not be used as an indicator of what he’ll do from here on out. Now, his ERA the rest of the year won’t be where it is without that one game, but sub 4.25 is very reasonable.

  7. powertech84 5 years ago

    Seriously? Do you even watch the games? Bush would have the most wins of any of our pitchers if the bullpen could hold onto the lead.

  8. AisoRed 5 years ago

    Bush is not the bad point of our rotation.

  9. Sage 5 years ago

    Consider, won’t you, that Suppan is no longer in our rotation…

    Now, I’ve been one of the people advocating for Bush to remain with the team. Then, I think about it a little. I look at his numbers, realize he’s been slightly below mediocre (he hasn’t been the same since getting hit in the arm by that Han-Ram line drive last year). One other important stat, is his K/9 and BB/9. His K/9 is 4.91, while his BB/9 is 4.02. His HR/9 is 1.79. So, every 9 innings, he K’s 5 batters, walks 4, and gives up 2 home runs. That’s not good, at all. Also, he’s 30.

    If the Brewers are going to suck like this all year, and end up giving up by the AS Break, we may as well do it right and toss Bush, Suppan, Davis, etc.

  10. brewersnrays 5 years ago

    Actually, wins ARE a great stat to tell you if the pitcher is doing his job.

    If a pitcher is racking up wins, I don’t care if his ERA is 18. He is doing what he needs to do in those situations for the team to win.

    What wins are NOT good at is indicating future performance. The strand rate and more advanced pitching metrics you listed certainly indicate that Bush is not likely to post a low 4’s ERA in the future, but if he were winning games, who cares?

    It’s the Braden Looper situation. He got the job done, technically speaking, last year – 14 wins. But every other measurable about his pitching made everyone sigh in relief when he wasn’t offered a contract. He simply was not likely going to win 14 games again.

    I agree with the point you’re making about wins not being a great stat to judge a pitchers skill- but on a start to start basis, or even within a season, it does show you if he’s doing as much as the hitters are to win any individual game.

    That being said,

    I agree. Get rid of Suppan and Bush. As long as we have a right handed starter available (which we don’t.)

  11. AisoRed 5 years ago

    I’d keep Bush over Davis and Suppan. So unless we find a lot of good replacements, he is a good bottom end of the rotation guy.

  12. brewersnrays 5 years ago

    We’re in agreement that Bush is a mediocre pitcher. I don’t think the Brewers have any better option, though. Bush has the capability to be a solid fifth starter, but not unless he is pounding the zone. Striking out and walking hitters and the same rate certainly isn’t going to get it done.

  13. brewersnrays 5 years ago

    Davis should be due to turn it around, but I’m starting to get worried that what we are attributing to bad luck is actually a severe drop off in skill. His .415 BABIP is ridiculous, and if you’ve been watching Brewers games I’m sure you’ve noticed everything that’s hit off of Davis has been hit hard – there haven’t been many cheap “bloops” against him. There is something very off about him this year – his walks and strikeouts are both way up, as is his groundball rate, and obviously, his BABIP.

    Time will tell, I suppose.

  14. Sage 5 years ago

    Honestly, I’d be happy to get another Bill Hall type of trade. Send Suppan off for some type of low level prospect. That way, we can call up a prospect who would probably pitch better than him, and we get something for Suppan.This team isn’t going anywhere this season. The way I see it, Fielder’s gone at the AS Break. I just wonder what we can get for him…

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