The Brewers’ 2011 Rotation

The Brewers made the 2008 playoffs thanks, in large part, to a rotation led by C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Yovani Gallardo has since established himself as a frontline starter, but the Brewers have struggled to surround him with equally capable arms. Barring injuries, the Cardinals and Reds will have strong rotations next year. Here’s how Milwaukee’s starting five will compare.

Gallardo leads all NL starters with 10.1 K/9 and his 2.86 ERA ranks eighth in the league. He’ll be the team’s opening day starter in 2011. Doug Melvin’s challenge: fill out the rotation with other capable arms.

Randy Wolf was supposed to be a solid complementary starter this year, but Melvin’s big offseason addition hasn’t worked out nearly as well as most Brewers fans hoped. Wolf has been durable enough to make his starts, but his walk, hit and homer rates are up and his strikeout rate is down. The Brewers will have to hope Wolf, now 33, bounces back in 2011.

Left-handers Manny Parra, Chris Capuano and Chris Narveson have all started games for the Brewers this year. Parra can strike major leaguers out and could win a rotation spot despite his high walk totals. Capuano has started just two games since returning from his second Tommy John surgery, but has pitched effectively. And Narveson (5.62 ERA and 131 hits in 115.1 innings) has been hittable. Like Parra and Capuano, Narveson strikes out twice as many batters as he walks, but the Brewers will presumably want alternatives to this trio of southpaws heading into the season.

Doug Davis ($6MM mutual option) and David Bush are both eligible for free agency after the season, but the Brewers can consider promoting a couple of prospects. 

Amaury Rivas has a 3.21 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 21 AA starts this year. He was the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 and impressed Baseball America with an efficient approach based on “three pitches, command, confidence and aggression.” It’s easy to imagine the 24-year-old starting for the Brewers at some point in 2011.

Former fifth-overall pick Mark Rogers has a 3.78 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9 in the upper minors. He has a mid-90s fastball, but the 24-year-old needs a John Axford-esque improvement in command to succeed as a starter in the majors. Baseball America liked Rogers’ stuff enough to rank him 11th among Brewers prospects before the season, but they suggested he “fits best as a reliever” because of his command and health issues.

Rivas and Rogers are promising pitchers who could contribute in 2011, but they are not sure things. Neither are Narveson, Parra and Capuano, so Milwaukee will presumably be in the market for one or two starting pitchers this winter.

If the Brewers entertain offers for Prince Fielder, as expected, they’ll presumably ask for big league-ready starters in return. Even if they trade Prince, they could have interest in re-signing a pitcher like Bush (he has turned in a solid season). Milwaukee has many question marks behind Gallardo and Wolf, so it would be a surprise if starting pitching is not at or near the top of Melvin’s offseason wish list once again.

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