Pitching overhaul

Posted by Steve

After Doug Melvin’s first few years as Brewers’ GM, it appeared that the new regime may have rebuilt the team into a regular contender. It culminated in 2008 with that thrilling wildcard run. At that point, it seemed that Melvin would be known as the man who revived the franchise.

Fast forward just two years later, and it seems Melvin’s legacy may be completely changed. In a couple short years, the Brewers have gone from hopeful contenders to seeing their window nearly closed. Melvin has seen perceptions of him go from savior to one who has been unable to build a competitive pitching staff. And it’s not just at the Major League level; for whatever reason, the Brewers have had a terrible time drafting and advancing pitching through their minor league system. Some examples of blunders/bad luck:

  • In 2004 the Brewers had a very high pick–fifth, to be exact. They took hard-throwing high school pitcher Mark Rogers. He suffered a torn labrum and has missed two seasons due to shoulder issues. He has somehow managed to continue pitching, and is currently in AA, but without those injuries he’d probably be in Milwaukee by now.
  • Jeremy Jeffress was the Brewers’ first round pick in 2008. Another high school pitcher, Jeffress went 16th overall. He has twice been suspended for non-performance-enhancing drugs (revealed to be marijuana) and has essentially missed a full season. Jeffress is also pitching this year, but like Rogers, would have been further along had he not missed that playing time.
  • Last year, the team took college right-hander Eric Arnett in the first round. Arnett was expected to move quickly through the minors. Instead, he’s endured a nightmare season in which he was actually demoted from low-A Wisconsin for a short period. It’s certainly too early to call Arnett a bust, but this has more or less been a lost season as far as his development is concerned. The Brewers are surely disappointed with his performance so far.
  • Obviously, the Dylan Covey situation from this past draft has been a topic of conversation over the last week, and it’s one of the weirdest yet.

Only one of those four have been due to actual poor performance. Injury, a failed drug test, and an ill-timed Diabetes diagnosis have done the team in. Add that with Ben Sheets’ vestibular neuritis and Yovani Gallardo’s freak ACL tear, and the Brewers have sure had some bizarre luck with pitching over the last six or seven years.

Additionally, as much as the Brewers were praised for rebuilding through the draft, they have not had a great success rate with first rounders in the last seven years or so. In fact, aside from Ryan Braun, the last first rounder to reach the big leagues with the Brewers was 2003 draftee Rickie Weeks!

Now, things aren’t all bad. Jeffress has pitched well in relief, and I actually wouldn’t be shocked to see him in Milwaukee come September. Additionally, the Brewers do have some impact pitchers in their system currently–Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Heckathorn are two of the most exciting ones–but these pitchers are mostly in the lower levels of the minors.

————

This article is a couple weeks old now, but I wanted to get to it anyway. It’s no less timely now, and I find it very interesting. It concerns the Brewers’ new approach to developing and acquiring pitching. I highly suggest reading the entire article.

The “checklist” they came up with is interesting. Notably, their last two big free agent pitching signings (Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf) both wouldn’t have passed. Their study on homegrown pitching staffs proved interesting as well. I think many fans just assume many teams have multiple homegrown starters, but the reality is that not many have more than a couple.

If you grow frustrated as you read that article, you aren’t alone. That was my reaction as I read all the ways the deck is stacked against teams like the Brewers. Doug Melvin is exactly right about the draft process being broken. The draft is meant to give the worst teams the best players in the draft, but “signability” has kept that from happening in many cases.

Finally, on to the part of the article that truly angered me: no trade clauses.

It’s bad enough that the Brewers are at a disadvantage on the free agent market in payroll, but the fact that Milwaukee is on many players’ list of places not to play makes things even tougher. This fact in particular just about floored me:

Melvin had his staff compile a list of what he considered the “good, quality pitchers” in baseball and found that 24 of them have no-trade clauses that include Milwaukee.

Now, admittedly “good, quality pitchers” is pretty vague, but that’s still pretty incredible. You also have to love another tasty nugget that came out of this article: the Brewers made a huge offer for Roy Halladay before this season, but he vetoed it. Roy Freaking Halladay. Ugh.

Finally, Melvin mentioned something that I wouldn’t have even realized: many free agents feign interest in signing with the Brewers, only to sign elsewhere and then include Milwaukee in a no-trade clause! Talk about two-timing!

As Melvin said, these challenges don’t excuse the poor pitching, but you can’t help but sympathize with what he’s up against. He’s operating in an uneven financial playing field, and trying to rebuild through a broken draft system and free agent compensation system (remember the CC compensation debacle?).

If anything can be drawn from this, it’s that Melvin and company feel secure enough in their jobs. That must mean he’s not in danger of being fired this off-season. I will be very interested in how they address the starting rotation for next season. It’s bound to look very different. Really, the only ones with spots secured are Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf (mainly due to his contract). Dave Bush is unlikely to be back. Manny Parra hasn’t done anything to guarantee himself a spot, and Chris Narveson has been alright but still upgradeable.

Surely at least one pitcher will come from a Prince Fielder trade. It’s likely to be a young pitcher with limited or no MLB experience, but you can bet he’ll meet that checklist of at least a plus fastball and a quality breaking pitch. If nothing else, this has to mean we’ve finally seen the end of overpaying for aging veterans like Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf, right? Please?

2 responses to “Pitching overhaul

  1. What no impassioned plea for Carl Pavano this offseason?

  2. Why not? Although he won’t be a bargain anymore. He’s had a great season…. 3.52 ERA, 100 ks, only 29 (!) walks. He’s going to be 35, so I wouldn’t want to give him more than one year. Someone will give him a multi-year deal.

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