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 Axford, Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Tom Gorzelany, Burke 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?