Do The Brewers Have An Innings Problem? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

There has been a lot written, here and elsewhere, about the Brewers’ apparent decision to use most of the limited resources available this off-season to beef up a bullpen that was a major cause for the unraveling of the 2012 season and elect to go with a very unproven rotation. J.P. looked at just how common it has been for teams with bad rotations to make the playoffs and found that it’s not something that happens often, even with very good offenses. Nick looked specifically at how many innings were pitched, both in the majors and minors, by some of those young pitchers who will be counted on to carry the load for the Crew in 2013. We’ll expand on that, looking at things from a couple of different angles, to illustrate just what the Brewers are facing in terms of an “innings gap” headed into the 2013 season.

Looking at the 2012 season, the Brewers ranked 19th in MLB in starters’ innings pitched, with 941 1/3. That is more than 20 fewer than the league median of 963, more than 30 short of the playoff team average of 977, and almost 100 short of the league-leading Philadelphia. While 20 or 30 innings may not seem like a ton, remember that because teams tend to use their best relievers about as often as possible regardless of circumstances, these are innings that will mostly be covered by a teams worst relievers, and if a large enough gap opens up, it may even force a team to carry extra relievers.

What’s more, there is fairly good chance that things are going to get worse. Perhaps significantly worse. In 2012, the average start of a major league pitcher lasted 5.88 innings. Below is a list of the Brewers 2012 starters along with their average innings per start:

Yovani Gallardo: 6.18

Shaun Marcum: 5.90

Zack Greinke: 5.86

Randy Wolf: 5.85

Mike Fiers: 5.76 (5.50 in AAA)

Marco Estrada: 5.62

Wily Peralta:  5.60 (5.24 in AAA)

Mark Rogers: 5.57 (5.29 in AAA)

Chris Narveson: 5.67*

*= 2011 numbers

The 2013 Brewers will be sending out only one starter who posted an above league average innings per start number in 2012 in Yovani Gallardo. They will be replacing 64 combined starts from Greinke, Marcum, and Wolf and barring an unexpected addition, they’ll be doing so with starters who averaged fewer innings, some significantly, per start than them in 2012.

While the difference between, say 5 2/3 and 6 innings average may not seem like a lot, remember that over the course of 30 starts that adds up to 10 innings per spot in the rotation, and repeat that 3 or 4 times and you’re talking about 30-40 innings or about half of a season’s workload for a reliever. It may also be worse than that if Rogers and/or Peralta regress back to their AAA inning eating ways or if  someone absolutely blows up and gives the team significantly less over a number of  starts before being replaced.

Just to tread water from an innings-per-start perspective, the Brewers will need multiple guys to take significant steps forward without many major steps back. Even if they do that, they’ll probably again be below league average and have to count on the bullpen to carry a sizable load for the pitching staff as a whole. If the starters cannot eat innings, the team is going to be in a tough position. They’ll constantly need to cover middle innings with relievers, which means either working guys to death or punting away a bench spot or two to carry extra relievers. If this team has to carry 13 or even 14 pitchers at times, it will undermine the bench. Finally, having to count on the pen more puts pressure on Ron Roenicke to use his best relievers more than would be ideal. Overuse of a reliever is one of the surest ways of rendering that pitcher ineffective or hurt.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the guys who figure to be on the opening day roster simply do not have a track record of throwing the kinds of innings the Brewers will need to make it through the season. If the season were to start today, the pitching staff would probably look something like Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Peralta, Rogers, Narveson, John AxfordJim HendersonBrandon KintzlerTom GorzelanyBurke Badenhop and Mike Gonzalez. That group combined to pitch a mere 833 2/3 innings at the big league level and another 366 in the minor leagues in 2012. Even if they were to be able to convert all of those minor league innings into major league ones, that would still only be 1199 2/3 innings.

Considering major league teams have to cover close to 1,500 innings per season, the gap is sizable. While some of the young starters may be able to expand their innings totals 20 or 30 innings, it’s unlikely all will do so.  Once injuries and under-performance are taken into account, it’s pretty clear that, even more so than with most teams, the Brewers are going to have to rely on getting quite a few innings from guys not on the roster at the start of the year. Just who and how effective they’ll be is anyone’s guess. We’ll revisit the “innings gap” issue at the end of camp once all the rosters are firmed up and see how the Brewers compare with other clubs.

In the end, it all comes down to this for the Brewers 2013 pitching staff: a whole bunch of guys are going to need to step up, and step up in a big way. They don’t just need guys to be more effective when they’re on the mound, though their 22nd place big league finish in team ERA in 2012 says they need to do that too, but they also need to eat innings like they never have before. Not just one guy, or even two guys need to do this, but really more like three or four. It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where this happens, but the Brewers are betting on it to happen to help push them into contention in 2013. Only time will tell if they made the right bet, but if you were in Vegas, would you put your paycheck on it?

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Bob says: January 11, 2013

    I wonder if it would be better to plan on the younger guys not improving their IP/start, rather than hoping it does. The Brewers could plan to use guys like Gorzelany, Narvy, and/or Rodgers (depending on who makes the starting rotation) as long relievers out of the bullpen on a more regular basis. More IP than a typical reliever, but fewer total appearances. Considering thier history, they should have the stamina to go more than an inning or two as long as they get the appropriate rest days afterwards.

    • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

      I was just talking to J.P. about this subject last night, and I think the perfect candidate to eat some of these innings that seem likely to be out there is Thornburg. Use him for 10-12 batters every 3-5 days, making sure he gets a day or two off always, and that could help bridge the gap.

      The question is, would management (either front office or field) have the guts to try something like this. There is precedent for it, just go back to the days of the 2 2/3 inning save. It just hasn’t been done in a while and flys in the face of the modern bullpen structure in general.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: January 11, 2013

        That’s an intriguing view of Thornburg. That almost perfectly straddles his role between starter/reliever, and would fit very well with his natural IP ceiling for 2013.

        Nice work, Ryan — you really detail a lot of the potential IP shortcomings that I did not address. I think it’s rather clear that the Brewers will definitely need to rely on more than 5 starters this year; maybe as many as 8.

        • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

          Thanks! I think one of the bigger problems they’re going to have is there will be times when they need to carry 13 and probably even 14 pitchers just to survive. That’s scary.

          • SecondHandStore says: January 11, 2013

            I could be very wrong, but I can’t see them ever carrying more than 12 pitchers. Unless I’m forgetting someone, Schafer and Green are the only guys we could send down without exposing to waivers(Maldy too but that’s not happening) and of those two I think only Green is expendable and that still leaves us thin at 3B and 2B. I think it’s more likely they play musical chairs with guys like Kinztler and Olmsted(for example, if they were to make the 25 man roster), swapping in a Thornburg or Sanchez or anyone w/options remaining, when needed either for ineffectiveness or to give a guy rest.

        • Nicholas Zettel says: January 11, 2013

          Do you think their long arms in the bullpen could remedy that? Gorzelanny, Escobar, potentially Rogers, potentially Thornburg, etc., could all work long outings….but I suppose you can’t have 2-3 arms recovering from 40-60 pitch outings on a regular basis…

          • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

            If they choose to actually do it that way, it could help. Remains to be seen if they will. Signing a guy like Michael Gonzalez, who will be quite limited, doesn’t help get the most out of every slot, for sure.

    • SecondHandStore says: January 11, 2013

      I fully endorse using a couple relievers in this fashion. I’ve been thinking for a long time that a couple “super relievers” are the solution to the rotation problem. It makes so much sense, even more than that prototypical innings eater everyone said we needed. We do, but that guy would still only pitch once every five days doing nothing to help on the other four days. I agree with you guys that Rogers, Narveson, Gorzelanny, and Thornburg could serve in these roles. I just hope the Brewers are being realistic about this situation and will be open to trying this.

      • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

        I’m hopeful, based on Melvin’s love of “piggy backing” in MiLB and RRR growth last year in flexibility that it’s at least possible. Not likely, but I hope necessity becomes the mother of invention. Or reinvention, as the case may be here.

    • Bob says: January 11, 2013

      Did you look into how the pitchers arrived that those average IP/Start totals? If there is a pitcher who fluctuates between long starts (8 innings) and short starts (4 innings), it could make it even easier to work in a long reliever. As opposed to a very consistent pitcher who always gives 5 2/3.

      • Bob says: January 11, 2013

        I just did a quick and completely unscientific look at this. It looks to me like Fiers is an example of someone with a few poor, short outings that bring his totals down. Rodgers, on the other hand, is an example of someone who is very consistent in IP/start.

        • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

          Sorry, didn’t see this until now. Fiers was really solid until late in the season in terms of working deeper into games. Estrada was a guy who was very hit or miss, with some longer starts mixed in with some shorter ones. Peralta and Rogers were really small samples and it’s just hard to say what they’ll do given 20+ starts.

  2. Steven says: January 11, 2013

    I wanted to check NL only average for innings per start, assuming that the need to pinch hit would lower this number. But the NL average is the same, 5.89. I found this interesting.

    • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

      NL pitchers also get to face NL pitchers, which helps lower the pitch count and counteracts at least some of that effect.

  3. Luke says: January 11, 2013

    Great article. It almost seems like Melvin is thinking the same way if you consider the guys he’s acquired and called up, many of which are starters that will be taking up positions in the bullpen. Gorzelanny, Thornburg, Narveson and Escobar all are potential fill in starters. Obviously it’s unlikely they’ll all make the 25 man, but it intrigues me nonetheless. Melvin has put together a rotation/bullpen that has the potential for above average production for not much money.

  4. Beep says: January 11, 2013

    With all the young arms and Narveson on the comeback, what about a 6 man rotation to limit innings with Gallardo keeping 5 days?
    That means Gallardo 32 starts, and 26 apiece from Estrada, Fiers, Peralta, Rogers, and Narveson if everyone stayed healthy. Thornberg is ready in the wings just in case. That also allows for an emergency swingman on minimum 5 days rest built into the rotation if someone can’t make it through the opponents’ lineup twice.

    • Ryan Topp says: January 11, 2013

      We may end up seeing a modified 6 man rotation at some point. Not sure how I feel about it. Might help, might also make things worse. Have to think about it.

      Nick?

      • Nicholas Zettel says: January 11, 2013

        If they modify a rotation, it should go the other way — a modified 4-man, with Gallardo going every 5 — instead of six. A six man rotation with one man running every 5 days will create an awful lot of extended stretches between starts for some guys.

        Remember, most NL clubs need at least 6-8 starters to fill their season anyway. I think they’ll be fine going with a 5 man rotation and just swapping guys in and out, depending on injury and ineffectiveness.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: January 11, 2013

        More specifically, they can get way more IP out of Gallardo, Fiers, Peralta, and to a lesser extent Estrada, than any other pitchers on their staff.

        For that reason, I support leaning on those guys a bit more (in terms of regular starts, not high pitch counts, except Gallardo), and using the 5th spot as a “whoever is hot or effective or healthy” spot.

    • Beep says: January 11, 2013

      Upon further consideration, in reality, it doesn’t matter how many guys we use in the rotation because I don’t think that really affects how deep guys will go in games if RR keeps starter’s pitch counts at 100 despite the extra rest of an added SP in the rotation. At the end of the year, the Brewers will have some combination of 162 GS whether they use 5 SP or some combination of 20 SP (God I hope not). Bridging the gap between 1445 total IP comes down to how effective the combination of starters are with their 100+/- pitches.

  5. Jake W. says: January 12, 2013

    This truly is the clubs biggest problem. RR is going to manage the best season of his career to maximize several different starters. No matter how well “the kids” do, finding innings is tough. Something that could make sense is utilizing Narveson as a #3 or 4 starter until the late summer, then promoting one of the youngsters with a fresh arm to pitch down the stretch.

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