Can Brewers Win With Below-Average Starters? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

It’s said that pitching wins championships. In particular, starting pitching wins championships.

This sentiment particularly resonates in Milwaukee because the organization has largely failed to develop quality starting pitching for longer than most fans care to remember. It resulted in many below-average years — as well as bad free agent contracts — and the only way the Brewers were able to catapult themselves into the postseason was through acquiring proven starting pitching via the trade market at high expense.

So, you’ll have to excuse Brewers fans for getting antsy this winter while Doug Melvin and the Brewers’ front office have chosen to rely on unproven, young pitchers to make up the majority of the 2013 starting rotation. Such a large number of unknown quantities in the starting rotation leaves the Brewers with a massive range of expected performance from the starting staff. Knowing that, the organization desperately wanted to add a veteran workhorse to the rotation this offseason for stability, but the inflated free agent market has prevented the Brewers from signing a number-two or number-three starter, as the club expects to dramatically reduce their payroll to roughly $80M in 2013. They seemingly do not have the funds available to stay competitive in free agency this winter.

The Brewers’ starting rotation ranked ninth in the National League last season with a 3.99 ERA, and that included 247 innings from Zack Greinke and Shaun Marucm, both of whom are no longer with the organization. It’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that the Brewers’ rotation will be below-average — as it’s a rotation that possesses legitimate upside — but no one should reasonably expect the Brewers to be one of the best pitching staffs in the National League.

Does that mean the Brewers have no shot at competing for a postseason berth in 2013?

The second Wild Card berth heightens the Brewers’ chances next season, but since the 2000 season, only eight teams with starting rotations that ranked in the lower half of the National League have made the postseason. Those eight teams are highlighted in red below.

Only eight of 53 postseason teams (15.1%) since 2000 have featured starting rotations that finished in the bottom half of the National League. In that way, the Brewers do not project to have much of a chance if their rotation replicates last season’s performance. It gets worse once we realize that the 2006 Cardinals benefitted from a weak NL Central and only won 83 games. The 2005 Padres only won 82 games. The Brewers are in a much-improved National League and a division that includes the Cincinnati Reds, who are seemingly built for a big year, so it’s unlikely that 82 or 83 wins results in a postseason berth for Milwaukee.

So, we’re really looking at six teams that featured below-average starting rotations and still played in October. The 2004 Dodgers were very much like the 2012 Orioles, in which they rode a dominant bullpen and won a disproportionate amount of one-run games (32). The Brewers do not project to have a dominant bullpen unless the planets align and everything breaks perfectly.

Instead, the Brewers can look to the 2011 Diamondbacks, 2010 Reds, 2007 Phillies, and 2001 Astros for a blueprint for postseason contention. Each of those four teams won at least 89 games and did so by mashing the baseball and outscoring their opponents. The Reds and Phillies scored the most runs in the National League in their respective seasons, while the Astros were second and the Diamondbacks were fourth.

Milwaukee scored the most runs in the National League last season and return each of their starting position players. While players such as Aramis Ramirez and Norichika Aoki could be due for regression, the projected upticks for Rickie Weeks and the entire shortstop position should be enough to keep the offense from falling off the map. They still should be well above-average offensively. But even then, it’s not as if we’re talking about a large sample of high-powered offenses that made up for below-average starting rotations. It would still be a long shot.

Of course, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers could step up and be mid-rotation starters, while Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers hold down the back end and Yovani Gallardo puts up a breakout season. It’s certainly possible. The talent is there. In that case, we would absolutely be talking about a postseason contender. That’s just a lot that needs to go right in the rotation for an entire season. I’m not certain the Brewers can enter the season with the expectations that will happen.

Most likely, the Milwaukee Brewers are looking at a season with mediocre pitching and an above-average offense. History shows us that can be a recipe for success. However, it’s also proven difficult, so the Brewers need to hope that either they win a large percentage of one-run games to outplay their expected win totals or the second Wild Card berth lessens the needed win-total enough that they can sneak in and try to win a one-game playoff.


The Milwaukee Brewers reportedly signed 17-year old Dominican outfielder Geraldy Martinez for a $50,000 bonus. DPL Baseball first reported the signing, and they provided a very brief scouting report of the young outfielder.

Martinez is a product of trainer Christian “Niche” Batista, he’s an athletic player at 6’3″ with a muscular toned body weighing 180lb. Geraldy is a 6.7 (60 yard) runner and posses solid average arm strength. The right hand hitting outfielder’s best tool is his bat; He has good bat speed and hits the ball hard gap to gap with true power from pull side.

Of course, one should take the scouting report with a grain of salt because the DPL obviously has a vested interest in hyping the prospects coming through their system.

Interested in a six-second video of Martinez? DPL Baseball once again has you covered:

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. devin says: December 19, 2012

    that 3.99 would have been alot lower if randy wolf starts were taken out. there offense is way better than above average. once they went on there winning streak they were scoring like 6.2 runs a game thats not above average thats elite level. the only player i see regressing considerably is maybe ramirez. if there players stay healthy that offense could score 900 runs easy.

  2. Nicholas Zettel says: December 19, 2012

    This is good stuff, Jim — I think the overall sentiment about starting pitching leading teams to the playoffs remains important in the Wild Card era. But, I do think there are more teams with poor pitching staffs that sneak in.

    For instance, the 2012 Giants and 2011 Cardinals were both approximately 40 runs below average (against their league and park); the best starter on either of those teams was Matt Cain (he was nearly 20 runs better than average); after that, even their next best starters like Carpenter, Lohse, Vogelsong, and Bumgarner were only a handful of runs better than average.

    I wonder if the championships of the Cards and Giants show a changing tide in the playoffs — these teams didn’t have particularly good pitching staffs, but they put together strong wins at the best possible moments. I think the 2013 Brewers have a chance to accomplish that.

  3. Bob says: December 19, 2012

    A 6.7 second 60 yard dash? I hope that is a typo, because that would be a horrible time.

    • Dan S says: December 19, 2012

      6.7 seconds in a 60 yard dash would roughly translate to a 4.45 second 40 yard dash. Which is pretty much what RGIII ran at the NFL combine. I think he is a pretty quick dude.

      The guy might not be Usain Bolt, but it doesn’t sound like he’s going to look like David Ortiz out there running the bases.

      • Jake says: December 19, 2012

        While you can’t just take 2/3 of the time (considering time to accelerate to full speed)…yeah I agree with your point. It might work out closer to a 4.7-4.8. Also, sorry for the duplicate post on this comment. When I drafted my response, there wasn’t any comments, yet. Didn’t mean to pile on the argument, Bob.

    • Jake says: December 19, 2012

      I don’t know if it’s terrible…but I’d say very average. If it were the 40 yard dash…I think most average Joe’s on the street could run that. But with the extra 20 yards, it’s maybe not as dreadful as it seems.

      I like the push for international players, whether from Central American or Asia. There is a wealth of talent Milwaukee has been reluctant to take gambles on, so hopefully it pays off!

  4. Matt says: December 19, 2012

    Estrada would be the best backend starter in the league if he went out and did last year. Hell, Fiers too for that matter. We should HOPE the rotation does what it did last year.

    • Matt says: December 19, 2012

      *does what he did last year.

  5. david says: December 19, 2012

    I wonder if Gomez will also have regression

    • mbradleyc says: December 25, 2012

      I wish they would trade Gomez right now for pitching or prospects. I don’t think his value will ever be higher. Schafer can do fine.

      I like the Packers’ approach. Keep bringing up the young guys.

      • Colorado Brew says: December 29, 2012

        No offense, but I’m tired of people talking up mediocre at best players. You don’t replace Gomez, he might not be a world beater but he can actually create offense, hit the ball with power, and play solid defense. Gomez’s issue is consistency and getting out of his own head. Schafer is a 4th outfielder, just like Lorenzo Cain, Tony Gwynn Jr. Cole Gillespie, Caleb Gindl, and Michael Brantley (though I really liked Brantley’s plate discipline) before him. There’s a good reason each of those guys aren’t regulars, they don’t have a single tool that could scare a pitcher, hitter, or runner into doing something they don’t want to or aren’t good at.

  6. david says: December 19, 2012

    I hope one of our minor league prospects does better then mid to back half of the rotation projection, or we will be having this same discussion for the next few years.

    • J.P. Breen says: December 19, 2012

      Guys like Peralta/Nelson/Hellweg have the potential to be mid-rotation starters, but they all have question marks (largely command issues). The good news is that the organization has enough depth that the odds suggest at least one or two should work out long-term.

  7. Gman says: December 19, 2012

    LAA just received Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales…A 29 year old guy who can hit, but has no real position and has only one all-star level season under his belt.

    Could we have used a 29 year old LHP who had 14 wins and a sub-4 ERA (albeit with poor peripherals) in exchange for Hart, a 30 year old guy who can hit, has no real position, but an extended track record of success?

    This is what’s going on around the league. They have to make some kind of move for pitching, don’t they?

    • Chris says: December 19, 2012

      Gman this was a trade where the two players were arb controlled and combined around 7mil in salary with 1more year in contract. Hart is 11mil? this year and then Free Agency. Hart has a bit less in trade value over Morales. His salary is something you can only expect a top dozen in payroll to be willing to take on for 1year. Seattle not one of them.

    • J.P. Breen says: December 20, 2012

      Neither Morales or Vargas are anything special and neither have the same kind of trade value as Hart. In response to Vargas to the Brewers: Vargas is a product of Safeco. His ERA was pretty, but he had a 4.69 FIP last season with extreme fly-ball tendencies without the ability to miss many bats. That’s not a recipe for success in Milwaukee.

      Morales is a DH with severe injury concerns and struggled against lefties last year. He’s very limited, as is Vargas — which is why the trade makes a certain amount of sense. With that said, I tend to like Seattle’s side of the deal much more.


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