Tag Archives: Marco Estrada

Matt Garza: Not a half-measure

In my last post, I called for no more half-measures for the Brewers: no more spending of resources on players who aren’t clear upgrades. That particular post discussed potential first base targets like James Loney or Ike Davis. The Brewers have thankfully taken a smarter route that costs them nothing in players/draft picks and virtually nothing in money. Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco will likely produce similarly to what Loney or Davis would have for a fraction of the cost. Sure, it isn’t as good as acquiring a great first baseman, but it’s a lot better than spending on a mediocre one.

The half-measures theory applies to all positions, including pitchers. The reason I like the Garza signing more than almost all of the Brewers’ major acquisitions in the last three years (probably second only to the Greinke-Segura deal) is largely because he provides an actual clear upgrade to what they had.

Current Brewers pitchers, 2011-2013

Yovani Gallardo: 592 innings, 3.48 xFIP, 7.3 WAR

Kyle Lohse: 598 innings, 4.01 xFIP, 7.5 WAR

Marco Estrada: 298.2 innings, 3.57 xFIP, 5.1 WAR

Matt Garza: 457 innings, 3.46 xFIP, 8.3 WAR

Over the last three years, Garza has been more valuable than any of the Brewers’ starting pitchers. He has a higher WAR than Gallardo and Lohse despite pitching far fewer innings. This is due to his strong strikeout rate and solid walk rate (His K rate is higher than Yo’s and his walk rate is lower).

This is a strong upgrade. Lohse-Garza-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta is a much stronger rotation than Lohse-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta-Thornburg/Hellweg/Nelson/whomever. This also adds decent depth to the rotation, as the guys now slotted 6-8 in the rotation could be okay as spot starters.

Of course, that whole “far fewer innings” part played a big role in this signing. Without the injury concerns, Garza would have earned a much larger contract than $50 million guaranteed. Garza hasn’t had any crazy long DL stints, but he’s missed a handful of starts over the last few years due to elbow and shoulder concerns. It led to some pretty creative contract language, and it certainly makes this contract a risk.

It is a risk worth taking, however. Garza’s upside is a pitcher that’s as good or better as any the Brewers currently have. Look at those numbers again. If those four pitchers come close to their performance of the last three seasons, the Brewers will actually have a pretty strong pitching staff. Yes, Gallardo declined last year, and yes, Lohse is getting up there in age, but even if they come close to those numbers, the rotation should be average-ish. Average-ish much, much better than last year’s rotation.

With an offense that could also return to average-ishness with Ryan Braun’s return, we actually could be looking at a Brewers team that is… average! With an extra playoff slot, that means some luck could give the Brewers a puncher’s chance at a Wildcard spot. It’s something, at least.

The second reason I like this signing, and what really sets it apart from the Kyle Lohse signing last year, is that the Brewers did not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Garza. Lohse is a solid pitcher, but I hated the signing, because the Brewers were not in a position where it made sense for them to forfeit a pick. They were not one starter away from being a contender, so they essentially forfeited a draft pick to take fourth place in the division.

The Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The recent Baseball Prospectus Top 101 confirms that, as there are zero (0) Brewers prospects to be found on the list. They cannot afford to forfeit any high draft picks. This signing doesn’t hurt any rebuilding of a farm system, which is what has me feeling okay about it.

Less Randy Wolf = More interest in Brewers

Posted by Steve

It’s only a fraction of how necessary it was to release Jeff Suppan a few years ago, but it still needed to happen: Randy Wolf has been released.

I’ll at least take a paragraph to reflect on Wolf’s tenure and his signing in general. He was okay here for two years, with last year being his best. His peripherals weren’t really even that different this year save for a bit of a higher home run rate; he was killed by a .340 BABIP. If you’re mad at Wolf for this performance, I don’t really agree with you. The honus should go on Doug Melvin for giving a declining player a three-year deal. Of course, if Wolf didn’t get a three-year offer from Milwaukee, he’d very likely wouldn’t have signed here, but so what? It’s just Randy Wolf. Point is, I don’t want to go more than two years on any free agent pitcher unless his numbers show he is solidly above average.

Essentially, my interest in the Brewers’ rotation going forward is inversely proportional to the presence of Randy Wolf. And now that Randy Wolf is gone, the rotation just got a lot more interesting.

We’ll get to see, presumably, all of the young-ish pitchers who have a shot at the rotation next season. Not just Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers, who have already had auditions, but Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg as well. We will also see a cameo from Shaun Marcum, who is auditioning for next season–I suppose there’s still an outsider’s outside chance Marcum could be dealt on waivers, but he’ll only have one, maybe two starts before the August deadline, so the chances of that are almost nil. More likely, he’s taking a longer audition for a chance to get a nice contract somewhere next season.

Basically, the rotation will consist of Marcum and Gallardo every five days,with some mash-up of Fiers, Rogers, Thornburg, Peralta, and Marco Estrada taking the last three spots. There have been rumblings of the Brewers shutting down Rogers, Fiers and even Estrada to prevent them from taking too much of a jump in innings from last season, which of course is smart in a now meaningless season. One way to accomplish this would be to piggyback them in starts–essentially each guy pitches three innings on the same day every five days. The starting pitcher would be Mirke Fiergers or something.

I did hear some concern over the release of Wolf in that the Brewers might need a veteran to eat some innings if they end up needing to shut down most/all of the younger pitchers. I’m really not worried about that; if that happens, the Brewers just need to call up some AAA soldier. I’m warning you now, Brewer fans: Brace yourself once again for some Claudio Vargas appearances in September.

Anyway, the Brewers are making some smart decisions now that they’re out of contention. By the end of this season, they should have a solid grasp of whether Jean Segura is ready to be the starting shortstop (I’ve actually been more impressed with his glove than his bat to this point, which doesn’t match his scouting report), and which of these pitchers should open up 2013 in the starting rotation.

Plus, it will simply be more fun to watch these guys pitch over Randy Wolf.

May: The month of repeated groin punches

Posted by Steve

Wow.

It’s hard to imagine this getting much worse. The injuries have reached a comedic point, with whatever broke Jonathan Lucroy’s hand taking the cake. It’s actually fun to imagine the possibilities, assuming the story is true. What was in his suitcase? Was he using an aluminum metal case? Was it full of unmarked bills? Did it contain the nuclear football?

The injuries are just piling up. They’ve used their fourth shortstop of the year, which really doesn’t matter because all of them suck other than the one they started the year with. They’ve also lost their catcher, two first basemen, a center fielder, a starting pitcher, that starting pitcher’s replacement, and a closer’s facial hair. That’s all in one month. Oh, and they’ve also gone 9-15 over that span.

After such a terrible month, it is difficult to see this ending well. Plenty of people seem to have given up on the season. Although the Brewers have made it much tougher than they’d like, it’s too early to give up on the season. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Brewers an 18.1% chance of reaching the playoffs, believe it or not.

Even with all the injuries, I don’t think the Brewers are as bad as they’ve played. Obviously, Baseball Prospectus thinks that way too, as they give the fifth place Brewers the third-best chance in the division of reaching the playoffs.

I still have some hope. For one thing, the starting pitching has been much better lately. Their starting rotation is 13th in the NL in ERA, but 8th in FIP and xFIP. First, that’s much better than what it was three weeks ago. Secondly, this, just like last year, shows us that the Brewers starters are better than their ERA implies. Some of this can be blamed on defense (again, like last year), but they have also been fairly unlucky–their allowed batting average on balls in play is .307, which is the third-highest in the NL. Save for the random Arizona debacle, Greinke has been lights out lately. Marcum has been very good, and Gallardo and Wolf have been better too. It will be interesting to see if Mike Fiers can hold down a spot with Marco Estrada out.

I also think the loss of Jonathan Lucroy could be overstated. I recently made a post at Reviewing the Brew explaining why we should have expected Lucroy’s numbers to come way down the rest of the season. People were too caught up in how he’s done this year and expecting that all season, when in actuality, it’s entirely possible that George Kottaras outperforms what Lucroy would have done over the next 4-6 weeks. Just as big of a loss from Lucroy to Kottaras will be from Kottaras to Martin Maldonado as the backup catcher. Maldonado has a good defensive reputation, but he’ll be close to an automatic out.

I still maintain the only injury that is possibly fatal at this point is at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez is a solid player, and any of the three guys they’ve used to fill in all suck. They’re in a catch 22 right now. They need a shortstop and better fifth starter to reach the playoffs, but to get in position to make trades for those players, they need to first play better.

The next 3-4 weeks are critical. If they’re ten games out of a playoff spot by July, I’m probably ready to call it a season. At that point, it’s likely goodbye to Zack Greinke. Marcum, K-Rod and Wolf would probably all be gone, too. As much as I’d like to see Greinke sign, the Brewers could get a great haul for him if they’re out of the running.

The one thing that could be devastating for the Brewers is if they stay under .500 but still close enough that management (okay, Mark Attanasio) doesn’t want to sell. If they finish near or below .500 without trading off any players, someone deserves to be fired. With the haul they could get for Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, and K-Rod, they could contend again fairly soon.

Still, it isn’t yet time to fully have that conversation. The schedule looks favorable as soon as the team returns home, and the Brewers will have one other thing going for them: I’ve been so busy that I’ve hardly posted this month, which is clearly why they’ve struggled. I’ll be posting more going forward, which can only help, right?

Or are you telling me that you’re doubting a team that will feature a batter of Mike Fiers and Martin Maldonado, Cody Ransom at shortstop and three other players with negative WARs on the season. Is that what you’re telling me?

How to replace Chris Narveson?

Posted by Steve

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Brewers just announced that Chris Narveson is headed to the DL with a torn rotator cuff. I suppose it’s not shocking, since his velocity had been down this season, but this was the first anyone outside of the Brewers had heard of any injury. It’s a tough break for Narveson, who was set to enter his first year of arbitration next season. It’s unknown yet whether he’ll need surgery, although I can’t imagine a torn rotator cuff not needing it.

So, just like that, there goes the Brewers’ health I have been talking about, along with their durable rotation. The question now obviously becomes: How should the Brewers replace Narveson in the rotation?

Mike McClendon is already in Milwaukee, as he was set to replace Kameron Loe for bereavement leave, anyway. McClendon is just a reliever though, although I’m guessing him to stick up here now after Narveson’s injury. Wily Peralta, the Brewers’ top pitching prospect, has also been called up. Before you get too excited, though, Gord Ash has already said Peralta will only be up until Loe returns. I’m guessing since Estrada isn’t fully stretched out, Peralta will be piggybacked with Estrada in tomorrow’s game, with them each throwing 3-4 innings or so.

To me, that sounds like Estrada will fill Narveson’s spot for now. He did a nice job of it last year when Greinke was gone, and to be honest, I like him better in that role than as a reliever anyway. Still, can Estrada stick in the rotation all season if the team wants to make the playoffs?

Chris Narveson is not a great pitcher. If you’re going to look on the bright side, it’s that he’s much easier to replace than any of the top three starters. He’s been an average starting pitcher at best over his career, including last season. Still, he was solidly above replacement level. Can Estrada match that?

I’m not totally convinced. I’m fine giving Estrada the next four or five starts and seeing how they go. It would help Peralta to get some more time in AAA, anyway. Still, I’m betting on Peralta being in the Major League rotation at some point this year. Another candidate could be Mike Fiers, who’s starting in Nashville, and a darkhorse could be Tyler Thornburg, who’s off to a great start in AA.

I suppose I’m obligated to mention that Roy Oswalt is still available, but I don’t see that happening. He seems like he’s very choosy about where he wants to go (if he even wants to play anymore), and I doubt he’ll commit to a team before it’s clear they’re in the mix for the playoffs.

If the time isn’t now for Wily Peralta, it’s soon. He’s not Yovani Gallardo, but he’s the best pitching prospect they’ve had since Yo. He was likely scheduled to arrive next season, but it looks like we may get an early look.

The forgotten pitchers

Posted by Steve

Despite the return of Francisco Rodriguez, I have my doubts that the Brewers’ bullpen will be as good as it was last year. Takashi Saito will certainly be missed, and so will LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, the Brewers are entering Spring Training with only four short relievers who had big league success last season (Axford, K-Rod, Loe, Veras).

This of course means they will need a lot of contribution from guys who didn’t play a role last year. Notice I didn’t necessarily say new pitchers, though. That’s because it’s quite likely that most of that production will be filled by old faces–the likes of Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and Brandon Kintzler. Parra, Rogers, and Kintzler are all coming off surgeries that cost them much or all of 2011, and Braddock is attempting to bounce back from some sleep/personal issues. The (very) early report on all of them is pretty good.

The fact that Rogers, a guy plagued with one injury after another over his career, is even throwing and feeling okay is good news. The former high first round pick is out of options, which means he’ll need to make the team this season. It seems the surgery he had last season for carpal tunnel syndrome was somewhat responsible for his sometimes high walk total, if you believe what Rogers says. If that’s the case, I feel pretty good about Rogers’ chances of becoming a good reliever. He still has great stuff, even after all this time, and I hope the Brewers give him a real shot in the pen. He will miss the first eight games of the season, however, as he finishes a 25-game suspension for a banned supplement. Seems the Brewers can’t get away from that stuff.

Another former starter who will need to be turned reliever is Manny Parra. Parra missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, but it sounds like he’s 100% this Spring. Parra and Rogers are very similar: missed last year due to surgery, former starter, and out of options. For this reason, I consider Parra all but a lock to make the team. If you remember, his last couple years he was being yanked around between starting and relieving, which yielded mixed results. Perhaps finally entering the year with a clear role will be beneficial for him.

Then there’s Zach Braddock, who not very long ago was my favorite Brewers prospect. Braddock had electric stuff, especially for a lefty, coming up through the system and into his rookie year. Then came 2011, which was a mess. Braddock battled off-field issues (which are fruitless to speculate on, in my opinion) that pretty much threw out his entire season. Reading his quotes yesterday, he sounds to me like he’s feeling great and throwing the ball well too. The Brewers basically went all of last season without a lefty reliever. Now it seems like they could have two power lefties out of the bullpen if things go well with Braddock and Parra.

Lastly, there’s Brandon Kintzler. He threw 14 strong innings before falling to injury himself last season. In 2010, he had a phenomenal year between AA and AAA. I expect him to play a role in the bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make the big league team immediately.

Obviously, the Brewers can’t bank on all four of these pitchers have successful seasons, but if they got strong performances from even two of them, it would go a long way toward matching the production of last year’s bullpen, a huge strength of the team. You figure the locks for the pen are Axford, K-Rod, Veras, Loe, and Marco Estrada (although I’m not personally convinced Estrada should be a lock). That leaves two spots for the four I’ve mentioned, with Rogers being eliminated because of his suspension to start the season. Due to the fact that Parra has no options, I expect him to make the team. That means Kintzler, Braddock, or others such as Frankie de la Cruz, Mike McClendon or Tim Dillard will likely battle it out for one spot. Due to the nature of the long season/inevitable injuries, though, I expect to see most, if not all of these players in Milwaukee at some point in the season.

 

Ron and his bullpen

Posted by Steve

One thing Ron Roenicke has continued to do throughout the playoffs is manage his bullpen like it’s still the regular season. In the games that the Brewers’ starter has been knocked out early, he’s brought in people like Marco Estrada or Kameron Loe. Twice he’s done this with a day off the next day. In fact, the Brewers lost Game 5 without pitching any of their three best relievers.

This cannot happen. The only way I’d be okay with seeing Estrada pitch today is if the Brewers are winning by six runs or more.

If Marcum gets knocked out early tonight, and the Brewers find themselves down by three or four runs, it needs to be Hawkins/Saito/KROD coming in to keep the deficit where it is, not Estrada to let the Cardinals tack on to their lead.

There is some debate over whether the Brewers should be pitching Marcum tonight. Other options could be to pitch Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest, or to start Chris Narveson.

I like the decision to stick with Marcum. He hasn’t been sharp lately, but I didn’t think he was horrendous his last time out. Plus, we know Marcum is a good pitcher–better than Narveson. He’s proven that over the course of the season and his career. I also don’t like bringing Yo back on three days’ rest. He’s never done it in his career, so doing it in the most important Brewer game in almost 30 years seems pretty crazy. Plus, then they’d be in a mess for Game 7.

I know I generally say you need to worry about winning the next game before managing for Game 7, but when the decision isn’t clear-cut (bringing back Yo on three days’ rest isn’t an obvious move), you might as well play to give yourself a better chance in Game 7.

I can’t say why, but I’m definitely expecting a win tonight. The crowd will be crazy, the team will be happy to be back home, and I expect them to score a lot of runs.

Most importantly, I’m just not ready for baseball season to be over yet. This team has been so fun to watch, and it wouldn’t be right for this to end before Game 7.

No, really. Start managing like it’s the playoffs.

Posted by Steve

It’s been a few days since I was able to post, and quite a bit has happened in the world of Brewers baseball over that time. It’s old news by now to talk about beating Arizona, so I’ll just say that attending that game was perhaps the most nerve-wracking and exhilarating thing I’ve ever experienced. Amazing.

But moving on to this series. Of course, my worst nightmare of facing the Cardinals came true. Anybody but the Cardinals. Since there’s nothing they can do about it now, let’s take a look at what we’re working with this series.

Everyone is talking about the struggles of the Brewers’ starting rotation. The starters have struggled, but people seem to be downplaying one important factor: They’ve been facing great offenses. Arizona scored more runs than the Brewers this season, and the Cardinals are the best offense in the National League.

I would argue that neither Zack Greinke on Sunday nor Shaun Marcum yesterday were awful. Both allowed some cheap hits and then made the fatal mistake of giving up a meatball with runners on. Marcum certainly doesn’t seem like himself, but he was hurt by bunting, hit-and-runs and poor defense as well.

At some point, you have to be willing to admit a good part of the runs the Brewers hav given up is due to the Cards’ great offense.

Now, how does that help any going forward? It doesn’t, really; they’ll still be facing a great offense. It’s why I don’t expect the Brewers to win this series, but you never know. The Brewers’ offense has knocked around Cardinal pitching as well, so I expect more slugfests going forward.

Before looking ahead to the rest of the series, I want to reflect on yesterday’s trouncing. Obviously, the pitching and defense needs to be better, but I was again discouraged by what I saw from Ron Roenicke. Again, his moves are ones that managers make in a regular season game. There was no sense of urgency.

After the top of the fourth inning, the Cardinals had a five-run lead. The Brewers finally got on the board with Weeks’ homer and cut it to 5-2. I ask you this: Is a three-run deficit heading to the fifth inning still a winnable game? Apparently not to Roenicke. At least that’s what his decision communicated.

After cutting the lead to three runs, the Brewers needed to hold the Cardinals right where they were. They had their 2-3-4 hitters coming up. Who does Ron turn to when he needed a hold? Saito? Hawkins? Even Loe with right-handed Pujols and Holliday due up?

Nope. The answer is: the last guy in the bullpen! That’s right; after cutting the lead to three and the heart of their order coming up, Roenicke called on Marco Estrada. Unbelievable.

Again, this move makes perfect sense during the regular season. Marcum wasn’t getting it done, they pinch hit for him in a scoring opportunity, and then they need the long reliever Estrada to eat some innings and save the bullpen.

But what are we saving the bullpen for now? Especially with a day off before the next game! The Brewers gained nothing by not having Saito, K-Rod or Axford pitch yesterday. They wouldn’t have lost anything either, as I mentioned, because of the off day today.

This is just like when he kept Randy Wolf in to face Cowgill in the game against Arizona. Both times it was crucial that the Brewers stop the bleeding, as they were very much still in the game. Both times RRR failed to recognize that fact, and the game blew up and got away from them.

As much as I despise Tony La Russa with every fiber of my baseball being, he runs circles around Roenicke when it comes to this. He removed his starting pitcher with a three-run lead in the fourth inning! Talk about something you’d never see during the regular season. Yet, it was the right move. TLR sensed the Brewers were figuring Edwin Jackson out, and he made a proactive move rather than the one Reactive Ron Roenicke (“Reactive” has replaced “Runnin'” until further notice) made.

So anyway. I want to see that change immediately, or the Brewers will waste more opportunities.

Quickly looking ahead. What do the Brewers need to do? They don’t necessarily need to win tomorrow; they just need to win one of the next two. I’d feel great about a 2-2 series. I’m not sure I see it, though.

I’m very nervous about tomorrow. I wish the Brewers would essentially punt Game 3 and put their eggs in the Game 4 basket. Here’s my reasoning: tomorrow is Yo against Chris Carpenter (ugh). Carpenter’s been lights out lately, and the odds of the Brewers beating Carpenter in the Cards’ first home game of the series is pretty low. So why waste Yo in this game? Pitch Randy Wolf instead. That way, if you lose the game, no big deal–you have a huge advantage in Game 4 with Gallardo against Kyle Lohse. And if you somehow win the Wolf-Carpenter match-up, well then you’re sitting pretty with Yo against Lohse in Game 4 and a great chance at a 3-1 series lead.

But if Yo loses to Carpenter tomorrow, suddenly they’re faced with Randy Wolf on the mound in a must-win game. Not an enjoyable thought, but  a very real possibility.

This is all moot, as Yo is going to start tomorrow. Like I said, this makes Game 3 much more crucial than I’d have liked it to be. For this reason, the Brewers need to do everything they can to give themselves an edge. Specifically, I’d like to see Carlos Gomez get the start in center over Nyjer Morgan.

I know it sounds funny to ask for Gomez to start against a righty over Morgan, but consider the factors. First, Morgan and Carpenter have their history, and you never know what sort of controversy might arise with Morgan in the lineup. More importantly, though, Morgan hasn’t been hitting lately, and he has very poor numbers against Chris Carpenter in his career. And most importantly, Gomez is the team’s best defender, and they’re going to need all the defense they can get in what could be a low-scoring game. Gomez isn’t likely to hit Carpenter, but neither is Morgan, so get the All-World defender in center if it’s a wash. Morgan’s play in center yesterday should only further help RRR to make this decision.

To be honest, I’d be fine playing Morgan in right over Hart. That makes the outfield defense fantastic. hart only has a .701 OPS against Carpenter in his career, so it’s not like the Brewers would be missing much.

So, to recap:

  • Remember it’s the playoffs, and manage accordingly
  • Flip Yo and Wolf.
  • Since you won’t flip Yo and Wolf, at least play Gomez in center. The Brewers need great defense in what they hope is a low-scoring game.
  • Win plz.

 

Is that Ron Roenicke or Ned Yost?

Posted by Steve

Telling moment yesterday. My brother missed the Brewer game. This is how our conversation went.

“How’d it go?”

“They got Roenicked.”

“Let me guess… Kameron Loe against Carlos Pena?”

When a manager is already that bad, that predictably bad, it’s pretty incredible.

Roenicke is absolutely clueless when it comes to bullpen management. He’s already approaching Yostian levels.

Last night he used Kameron Loe for the third day in a row, which is dumb enough in itself. But when you consider that LaTroy Hawkins hadn’t pitched in days, Hawkins is better than Loe anyway, and that Loe can’t get lefties out to save his life, it’s moronic.

Letting Loe face Carlos Pena, a classic “crushes righties, sucks against lefties” hitter, when Zack Braddock is available, screams of Yost having Brian Shouse walk Ryan Howard to face Pat Burrell. Here was Runnin’ Ron’s defense:

“It’s not a tough call,” said Roenicke. “Not if (Loe) can go, it’s not a tough call. He’s our eighth-inning guy and in tie ball games he goes (in) the eighth and ‘Ax’ (John Axford) will follow him.”

OH MY GOD. If there was such a thing as a List of Sentences That Send Steve Into an Unmitigated Rage, I’m pretty sure “He’s our eighth-inning guy” would top the list. The concept of an eighth-inning guy is even dumber than the concept of a closer, especially when your eighth-inning guy is a mediocre reliever who has never been able to get lefties out.

Here are some bullpen management idiocies that need to stop:

  • The Kameron Loe fascination. Can you believe he’s been in to face Joey Votto and Carlos Pena with the game on the line already this season?
    He shouldn’t face lefties unless it’s one sandwiched between righties. If it’s one of their best hitters, he should absolutely not be in.
  • Braddock as a lefty. While Loe is a ROOGY, Zack Braddock is not a LOOGY. He should have been in to start the eighth tonight, and he did not need to come out after facing one lefty. This is not Mitch Stetter; he is a power pitcher with great strikeout numbers all throughout the minors as both a starter and reliever.
  • Marco Estrada as a high-leverage reliever. Using Estrada over Hawkins is almost as bad as Loe against a lefty. Estrada is a minor league soldier who has done a nice job as a fill-in starter. He has not been good as a reliever. The other day I called for him to be sent to AAA to return to a starting role, and that will probably happen now–but waiting this long has already cost the Brewers a game.
  • Not using Axford in a tie game on the road. I won’t hold my breath on this one, as most managers don’t do this, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid. Tonight it seemed particularly dumb since Axford was already warmed up. Why not use him in the ninth instead of Tim Dillard, another pitcher who fares poorly against lefties?
I’m only addressing bullpen in depth in this particular post, because I don’t want to go on forever, but bullpen management is not Roenicke’s only weakness–just his most glaring. Other horrible decisions include continuing to bat Casey McGehee ahead of Corey Hart, the Wil Nieves Experiment, overkilling the suicide squeeze, and using Kotsay in center field/second spot in the lineup. 
The Brewers having a talented team is such a double-edged sword for me. Obviously, it’s a good thing, but the only good teams they’ve had have been managed by terrible in-game managers. It makes for some very frustrating games.

 

I love this rotation

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.