The Brewers beat the Braves 6-1 on Wednesday due in large part to a stellar performance from starter Kyle Lohse. The Brewers took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first on a Mark Reynolds grand slam and Carlos Gomez later added a two-run shot to close out the scoring. Lohse pitched eight innings, allowing only one run on four hits, no walks and striking out eight. The start left him with a 2.67 ERA for the season in 67 1/3 innings pitched.
The start was Lohse’s ninth quality start of the season, which is defined as a minimum of six innings pitched and no more than three runs allowed. That moved him into a tie for first place in the major leagues. It was the Brewers 34th quality start of the year overall, and put them into sole possession of first place in the big leagues in that stat.
As one might expect from a team leading the league in quality starts, the Brewers starters have been good at both preventing runs and eating innings. The team’s 3.32 ERA ranks sixth in MLB. Their 292 1/3 innings ranks second behind the Reds in all of baseball. It helps that, to date, they’ve only had two games where the starter failed to go five innings, and in both cases the starter had to leave early due to injury.
Individually, both Lohse and Wily Peralta have excelled early on. Peralta has especially been a revelation, with a 2.18 ERA and drastically reduced walk rate leading the way. Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada have had some ups and downs, and both currently sit with ERA’s in the mid three’s, but overall it’s hard to criticize either too much for their performance. Only Matt Garza has truly “struggled” with an ERA close to five, but some of his peripheral numbers suggest that he’s been a little bit better than the runs allowed would make it appear.
In trying to figure out what might be in the future for this group of starters, it’s tempting to start by looking right at their Fielding Independent Pitching numbers (FIP and xFIP) and maybe be somewhat pessimistic. FIP attempts to remove a lot of the luck and defense from the equation for pitchers and judge them more on what they can control themselves. While the team was seventh in MLB coming into the game in ERA (3.39) they were 24th in FIP (4.09) and 14th in xFIP (3.77). Those numbers surely got better with Lohse’s eight strikeout and no walk performance, but there is still going to be something of a gap there.
Not all indicators are that bad, though. The team is ninth in WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched) and in walk percentage. They’ve also allowed more home runs than might be expected based on the number of fly balls they’ve allowed, which is the sort of thing that usually regresses back towards the average. If the team can improve somewhat upon their 18th place standing in strikeout percentage and allow a few less homers, there is no reason they can’t continue to stay near the top of the league in quality starts.
Really, solid outings is what it’s all about for the Brewers starters. They don’t need to be dominant for the team to be successful because they have solid depth (both in the majors and the minors). They just need to consistently keep the club in games and let the offense take over as the team hopefully gets a bit healthier and reinforcements are added. So keep an eye on those quality start numbers. It’s not the greatest stat in the world, but any pitcher that throws one has at least given his team a reasonable chance to win the game, and that means a lot when it’s happening day after day.