Posted by Steve
The Brewers are on a serious roll here, and that seven-game losing streak is a distant memory. They’re the hottest team in the league, and they’re right back in the division race (if they were ever even out of it in early May… Which they weren’t).
They’re playing well in spite of a struggling offense that really only has three or four good hitters in it right now. That’s because the pitching–particularly the starting pitching–has been outstanding.
The Brewers are third in starting pitchers’ xFIP in all of baseball, and second in the NL. xFIP corrects FIP based on a normalized home run rate (further explanation here). Basically, it says what their ERA should be at this point with normal luck, defense, and home run rates… and the Brewers’ is 3.39.
When I’m evaluating a pitcher, the first thing I look at is k/bb ratio. Anything 3 or above is excellent. The Brewers’ rotation is 2.83–again, good for third in baseball and second in the NL. That’s a good number for a starter–about what you’d hope for from an average number two starter. For an entire rotation to combine for that number is very impressive.
The Phillies’ rotation, by the way, is as crazy good as advertised. Their k/bb ratio is 4.59! The second closest is Seattle at 2.99. It’s insanity, and they’re on a historic pace.
Regardless, the Brewers are in great shape with this starting rotation. It’s the best they’ve had in years, even better than 2008 to this point. 2008′s rotation had a 2.31 k/bb ratio and a 4.14 xFIP. That rotation was really CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, a little bit of Yovani Gallardo, and then a bunch of average guys. To this point, each starter in this rotation has been above average according to xFIP except Randy Wolf, who’s still been average.
Interestingly, Gallardo has been one of their worst starters to this point. He’s having the same issues with walks that he’s always had, but his strikeout numbers are also down. It’s to the point now where I’m almost disappointed when I realize Yo’s pitching. He should still be above average by the end of the year, but it drives me crazy watching him nibble and constantly fall behind hitters.
Gallardo should be forced to sit and watch footage of Shaun Marcum. Man alive, do I love watching Marcum pitch. I was at the game Saturday, and he had the Rockies, one of the best offenses in the league, completely off balance. After throwing 64 pitches the first four innings, he threw 40 over the last four. He works in the strike zone and has incredible command, and is putting up outstanding numbers with a fastball that’s averaging 86.4 mph. Yo has much better stuff than Marcum, but at this point, Marcum is the better pitcher overall.
A few other points about the rotation:
- Chris Narveson has been a revelation. He’s a number four starter who’s pitched like a 2/3 so far. Dan had a good post a while back on how he thinks Narveson is for real, and I tend to agree. I feel good about games he’s pitching.
- Anyone who’s worried about Zack Greinke’s 6.43 ERA at this point need not be. All his ERA shows is that small samples can yield some screwy results. He has an amazing 29 ks to just 2 walks so far. He’s giving up an inordinate amount of hits, largely due to bad luck and poor defense. His BABIP is .370, compared to a career .308 number. His home run/fly ball rate is 21.1%, compared to a 8.7% career number. His strand rate is just 49%, compared to 72.2% for his career. His ERA is 6.43, but his xFIP is 1.47! I could keep going… But you get the idea. Additionally, it’s pretty clear Greinke has still been building up his endurance into his first four starts. He’s frequently dominated the first 3 or 4 innings before unraveling a bit. He’ll be in mid-season form soon enough, and I’m expecting great things.
- Not only have the starting five done a great job, but the Brewers may have the best sixth starter in baseball. Marco Estrada did a great job filling in for Greinke, and he’s continued to pitch well out of the bullpen. Surely injury will strike in some form, but the Brewers appear to have a solid fill-in in Estrada.