Brewers Starters: The Upcoming Regression | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Brewers’ starters stunned and amazed by generating a 1.99 Earned Run Average (ERA) against the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, two bona fide postseason contenders, during the Brewers’ first five games.

We know that is not going to last.  The Los Angeles Dodgers have a ridiculous rotation, certainly more talented than that of the Brewers, and their league-best ERA last year was 3.13.  So, the Brewers rotation will regress, with each starter moving toward some combination of their career and the overall major league averages as they do that.

But that does not mean that the Brewers’ rotation is doomed to become mediocre.  Although these divine numbers will not last, some of the above-average peripheral statistics can certainly stick, and some of their sub-par peripherals will actually regress upward and improve.  Put another way, while it is reasonable to expect the Brewers’ rotation to end up being generally average, it is entirely possible they end up being quite decent.

As the Brewers’ rotation works through a second, third, and fourth time, here are the peripheral statistics I think are worth watching for each starter.  The extent to which this rotation can sustain its early success depends on how these attributes balance (or don’t balance) each other out.

Yovani Gallardo

Stat that will Worsen: Home Runs Allowed.

So far, Gallardo has given up zero home runs in 12.2 innings.  This is lovely, but is obviously impossible to maintain, particularly at dinger-friendly Miller Park.  Major-league starters averaged 1.01 home runs allowed per nine innings last year, and Gallardo’s career average is .93 home runs per nine innings.  Gallardo will end up fairly close to those numbers, which will notably increase his ERA.

Stat that will ImproveStrikeout Rate. 

Fortunately, Gallardo’s current strikeout rate of 4.97 K/9 is also unsustainably low.  His career average is 8.82 K/9 and major-league starters averaged just over seven strikeouts per nine innings last year.

Takeaway: Gallardo probably won’t strike out a guy per inning anymore, but he almost certainly will strike out more hitters this year than his current pace, which should partially offset the upcoming increase in his home run rate.

Kyle Lohse

Stat that will Worsen: Strikeout Rate. 

Lohse is a very good pitcher, but he has never been a big strikeout guy.  Rather, his strength is staying ahead of batters and inducing weak, flyball contact.  After two starts, though Lohse has struck out Braves and Red Sox starters at a clip of 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings: a slightly above-average rate.  Expect that to decline closer to his career average of about six strikeouts of nine innings.

Stat that will Improve: Walk Rate.

Surprisingly, Lohse has displayed an uncharacteristically high walk rate in 2014, currently 5.25 walks per nine innings.  This will improve for two reasons.  First, this is unsustainably awful; even a terrible starter usually maxes out at about 4.1 walks per nine innings, and Lohse is a very good pitcher.  Second, Lohse has recently been a terrific control pitcher who minimizes walks, consistently under two walks per nine innings in recent years.   Father Time will eventually rob Lohse of that ability, but walk rates tend to be consistent from year to year, and none of the major projection systems see Lohse allowing more than two walks per nine innings this year.

Takeaway: Lohse’s strikeouts have helped keep him competitive through two challenging starts, but lowering his walk rate will lessen the need for a strikeout in the clutch.

Matt Garza

Stat that will Worsen: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)

In his start against the Braves, Garza experienced extraordinary luck on balls hit into the field of play, culminating in a .056 BABIP.  That has no chance of sticking.  Garza’s career BABIP allowed is .287 and the major league average last year for starters was .294.  Expect about 220 points of additional production to show up from batters going forward, which will move Garza’s ERA closer to his career average of 3.83.

Stats that will HoldHome Run Rate and Strikeout Rate

Garza’s one start was so good that there is frankly very little room to improve on it.  So, let’s note which things are likely to stick around.  Garza’s home run rate during his stellar start was 1.13/9, which is very close to his career average.  Likewise, his strikeout rate of 7.88/9 is identical to last year’s mark, suggesting that it, too, is unlikely to move much, and will probably improve slightly.

Takeaway:  Don’t get used to performances like the one against the Braves, but the potential for displays like April 2nd are why the Brewers pursued Garza.

Marco Estrada

Stat that will Worsen: Left on Base Percentage (LOB%)

Estrada benefited from some luck during his start against the Red Sox, managing to strand over 89% of Red Sox runners that reached base.  That is not sustainable.  The major league average for starters last year was 73% and Estrada’s career average is 70%, although he has been improving.  With more of those runners coming across home plate, Estrada’s ERA is going to go up.

Stat that will Improve: Walk Rate.

Although Estrada is not going to strand as many runners going forward, he should have fewer runners on base to strand.  Estrada’s walk rate in his first start was an absurdly-high 4.76 BB/9.  But, that was due largely to Red Sox hitters who are notoriously patient.  Some of them fouled off numerous balls before finally drawing the walk.  Most clubs do not have the Red Sox’s plate discipline.

Takeaway:  Estrada remains a tantalizing talent who should be a solid mid-rotation starter for the Brewers this year, even as his 1.59 ERA comes down to earth.

Wily Peralta

Stat that will Worsen: Strikeout Rate.

In his first start, Peralta mowed down the majority of the Red Sox lineup, at a rate of 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.  Maintaining anything close to that would signify breakout year for the Brewers #5 (but highest upside) starter.  More likely is that Peralta will regress closer to his career average of 6.54 K/9.  If his regression goes no further than the major league starter average of 7.07 K/9, however, that will still be a notable, and important improvement.

Stat that will Improve: Home Run Rate.

Peralta gave up two big home runs in his first start, and at least one of them was the culmination of bad defensive plays around the diamond.  Fortunately, the 1.80 HR / 9 rate from his first start will definitely improve, probably to less than 1 HR /9 innings, which would both match his career average and be better than the typical major league starter.  Peralta both tends to minimize fly balls and throw very hard, two factors that make it more difficult to send his pitches over the outfield fence.

Takeaway: Peralta is hinting at the possibility of big things this year.  A few more strikeouts and increased control could put him over the top.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.

All statistics from Fangraphs.  Starter statistics are for pitchers with at least 50 IP as starters in 2013.  

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. L says: April 9, 2014

    Here’s to the current trend of excellent starting pitching performances continuing throughout the season. Go Brewers!

  2. Joel says: April 10, 2014

    are, you, serious? we are literally eight games in… find something useful to fill your writing quota

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