Posted by Steve
Entering July, the Brewers were 42-35 and had a two game lead in the NL Central. Hard to believe that was just a month ago. A 9-17 month has dropped the Crew to fourth place, prevented them from trading for an impact starting pitcher and dropped their playoff odds to 2.4%. It’s not often that a team’s season goes down the toilet in just one month, but the Brewers managed to pull it off beautifully.
To find the reason for their struggles, there’s no need to look beyond starting pitching. The Brewers have allowed the third most runs per game in the National League. Their starters are averaging 5.6 innings per game started, the second worst mark in the NL. That has unsurprisingly taken a toll on a bullpen that was a team strength, but has worn down due to overuse. Things aren’t going to go well when you have one above average starting pitcher on your team. Let’s look at this brutal rotation.
Good, but not great. His strikeout totals are great, but he’s fifth-worst in the league in walks per nine innings with 4.3. The walks have prevented him from being efficient and pitching deep into games consistently. It has not, however, prevented the Brewers from riding him like a rented mule. Gallardo leads the NL in pitches thrown per start with 108. That is mind-boggling. No, it’s actually infuriating. More than anything, even more than the awful July that took the Brewers out of the playoff race, the way Gallardo has been abused has me furious. THE GUY THREW 24 INNINGS LAST YEAR! He’s 23 years old! Am I missing something that Ken Macha isn’t? This is completely unacceptable.
Not good. Manny has had some good starts, but most have been the of the nibbling-then-grooving-strikes variety. He can be maddening to watch. I’m able to defend him a bit; he has had terrible luck. His ERA is an ugly 6.5, but his BABIP is .368 and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 4.59. In other words, he hasn’t been terrible, just below average. His walk rate continues to be terrible, though.
Incomplete. Bush’s injury has doomed the Brewers, because it allowed for the Mike Burns era to occur. Bush was the most known commodity in the Brewers’ rotation. You knew you’d be getting an unspectacular yet solid starter who, until this year, would be able to pitch all season.
Braden Looper/Jeff Suppan
Awful. Simply horrendous. I lumped these two together because each one doesn’t even deserve his own paragraph. If you want a good laugh (cry?), head over to fangraphs.com. Sort by league leaders, choose National League and sort by worst FIP. Alright, I’m sure you aren’t feeling that ambitious, so I’ll do you a favor and tell you what you’d find: Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan are number 1 and 2 on that list. That’s right ladies and gents! Out of all qualified starting pitchers in the National League, the Brewers have not one, but the two very worst pitchers in the league! That’s actually incredibly impressive. I wonder if that’s even happened before?
This terrible month has also eliminated them from being buyers at the trade deadline. It made no sense to give up any prospects for rental players with the team hovering at .500. The problem is, selling wasn’t a great option either. The rental players they had to sell include Trevor Hoffman, Mike Cameron, Craig Counsell and Felipe Lopez. There’s a strong possibility that the Brewers will attempt to bring back at least three of those players for next season, because they want to win next year. It’s tough to be a true seller when your aim is to compete the very next season. Also, many have mentioned J.J. Hardy in trade rumors, but I didn’t list him among the candidates to trade because I’m just not ready to hand over the everyday shortstop job to Alcides Escobar. Escobar is hitting .302/.352/.413 in AAA. Not horrible, but far from beating down the door to the majors. So basically, the Brewers were forced to stand pat.
(And yes, I count the Claudio Vargas deal as standing pat. They didn’t give up anything of value, so it’s low-risk, but I can’t stand watching the Human Rain Delay pitch).
It hurts to say it, but we have to be realistic. The Brewers are done for 2009. There’s no way they can compete with three terrible starting pitchers (Suppan, Looper and Burns) in the rotation. It’s a damn shame, too. They’re wasting career years from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Prince is actually having an MVP season. He leads in probably the number one stathead category, WPA (Win Probability Added). From fangraphs: WPA takes into account the importance of each situation in the game. A walk off home run is going to be weighted more then a home run in a game that has already gotten out of hand. This makes it a great tool for determining how valuable a player was to his team’s win total.
In other words, a strong argument could be made that Fielder has been the MVP. If nothing else, he’s the runaway number 2 candidate to Pujols. Either way, they’re wasting an outstanding year with their crap pitching.
It’s sad that we’re already forced to look ahead to the 2010 season. This team is likely going to look a LOT different next year, as it should. In the meantime, here’s to another two months of watching the Looper Grimace.