Early January Projection of Brewers ’13 Pitching Staff | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Despite a surprising late-season charge, the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers failed to reach the postseason in consecutive seasons since the ‘81-’82 seasons, and few would disagree that the main culprit was the pitching staff.

In particular, the bullpen imploded. John Axford experienced prolonged struggles for the first time in a Brewers uniform. Francisco Rodriguez had 14 meltdowns (as defined by FanGraphs), which tied for 11th-worst in all of baseball. Kameron Loe saw his ERA balloon to 4.61. The disappointing season for the bullpen obviously went beyond just those three. In fact, the bullpen’s 4.66 ERA ranked dead last in all of baseball. It’s no surprise the team only had a .429 winning percentage in one-run games. For comparison, the Baltimore Orioles significantly outperformed expectations and had a .763 winning percentage in one-run games.

Doug Melvin consequently deconstructed his bullpen early this winter. He and the Brewers parted ways with Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jose Veras which left more than half the bullpen to remake. The rebuild started with Burke Badenhop in an offseason trade, and it has continued with signing a pair of veteran lefties in Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez. Not only that, but Melvin acquired Michael Olmsted, Miguel De Los Santos, and Arcenio Leon via both minor-league free agency and waivers.

They also have a slew of young pitchers who either made an impact on the big league team last year or are poised to do so this season. Those include Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, and Hiram Burgos.

In short, the Brewers possess a slew of options to make up their 2013 pitching staff. In the end, though, only 12 or 13 guys get a chance on Opening Day, and the remainder will be either stowed away in Triple-A Nashville for future use or released. Much of this will be decided in spring training, so much is subject to change, but here is how I see the pitching staff shaking out at this point in the offseason:

Yovani Gallardo
Marco Estrada
Mike Fiers
Chris Narveson
Mark Rogers

John Axford
Tom Gorzelanny
Jim Henderson
Michael Gonzalez
Burke Badenhop
Michael Olmsted
Brandon Kintzler

Miguel De Los Santos
Josh Stinson
Jesus Sanchez
Tyler Thornburg
Wily Peralta
Hiram Burgos

Fautino De Los Santos

The vast majority of the bullpen is already set. Axford, Gorzelanny, Gonzalez, and Henderson are virtual locks — barring something bizarre — while Badenhop is almost a lock due to his experience and track record of retiring right-handed batters. He held righties to only .232/.260/.350 last year. After those five, it leaves two spots left.

As most of you know, I’m a big believer in Brandon Kintzler. His 92-93 mph sinking fastball, mid-80s slider, and underrated changeup give him the necessary repertoire to be a solid middle reliever. He showcased his abilities in September, compiling a 3.78 ERA (3.45 FIP) along with five shutdowns and only one meltdown in 14 appearances. He can go multiple innings, as well, adding flexibility to the relief corps.

With the final spot in the bullpen, I would give the nod to right-hander Michael Olmsted. I’m fascinated by him as a middle reliever, and think he has the potential to be more if everything breaks correctly at the big league level. It feels like an understatement to say he utterly dominated in High-A (1.19 FIP) and Double-A (1.30 FIP) last year in 59.1 combined innings. Not to mention, he’s reportedly sitting at 97 mph with his fastball, according to this article by Peter Gammons. A mid-to-high 90s fastball with a wipe-out slider? Yes, please.

That completes the bullpen. It’s not the flashiest bullpen, but it’s a league-average bullpen if John Axford returns to form — and it includes a couple upside guys who are potential impact arms.

Turning to the starting rotation, we’re now left with up to eight starters to fill five spots. Gallardo, Estrada, and Fiers should be locks for the rotation on Opening Day. Narveson gets the nod at this point because he’s a veteran and the only lefty of the group, but much of his inclusion depends on his shoulder recovery and his performance this spring. If he’s throwing 85-86 mph like he was last spring, he probably doesn’t make the rotation and could be designated for assignment.

So, we have one spot between Rogers, Peralta, Thornburg, and Burgos. Though I believe Peralta will eventually be the best starter of the bunch, Rogers likely gets the final spot because he has no options remaining and has more experience in the majors. Rogers showed glimpses of dominance last summer, and the organization likely wants to see if he can build on it this season before being forced to potentially cut ties. Multiple teams would claim Rogers on waivers, too, so it’s not as if the organization could sneak him through waivers to Triple-A Nashville.

I wrote this a couple weeks ago regarding Rogers:

Rogers received an extended look in the rotation last season with the Brewers, and he showed some skills suggesting he could stick as a starter next year. He displayed a nice feel for his slider, throwing it for strikes and even relying on it when down in the count. Opposing hitters only hit .224 off his slider last year. It allows him to work differently the second and third times through the batting order, working off his fastball early in the outing and later working off his slider while flipping up an occasional curveball or changeup to keep hitters honest. He also threw strikes early in the count better than he has throughout his career. The right-hander threw first-pitch strikes 61.2% of the time last year, while the league average only sat at 60.5% for starting pitchers.

Don’t get me wrong, the command is still a legitimate issue. He walked 3.23 batters per nine innings last year and can run up a pitch count in a hurry. Still, he showed improvement last year and even flashed an ability to be a true mid-rotation starter if he continues to develop — which is weird to say about a 27-year-old pitcher.

Barring a meltdown or injury in spring training, it seems likely that Rogers has the inside track on a spot in the rotation. For Peralta to break camp with the big league club, I think he needs to beat out Narveson throughout the Cactus League season and show enough consistency on the mound to shoulder the load for 150-175 innings. If he cannot do that, Peralta likely heads to Nashville.

The good news for the Brewers is that Triple-A Nashville should be teeming with potential big-league arms. If any of the arms don’t pan out early in the year, they should be able to fill holes in the pitching staff internally and not be forced to scramble and surrender talent. Of course, depth doesn’t replace elite talent. For an organization that has coped with a dearth of organizational pitching depth, however, it certainly feels like a luxury.

In this projection, the only arm that Milwaukee could potentially lose is right-hander Fautino De Los Santos because he has no options remaining. He’s a guy who could potentially clear waivers due to serious command issues, but it seems unlikely that a guy with his power stuff would go unclaimed by teams such as the Astros, Rockies, and Marlins — that is, unless he has a dreadful spring.

As stated early, the Brewers are poised to enter spring training with an open competition for approximately four or five spots on the pitching staff. This is only a projection in early January. Much can change. Heck, the Brewers could even add another couple pieces to add to the competition.

But, what do you think? How do you see the pitching staff shaking out this spring?

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. SecondHandStore says: January 9, 2013

    Thanks for the article. Really interesting to see where you have Rogers, Peralta, and especially Olmsted. So far this off-season I’ve been most excited by the Olmsted signing. Everything I’ve read says he’s got big upside if he’s able to maintain at the big league level. I was a bit surprised to see him in the bullpen right away though, and Peralta in AAA, but I understand your reasoning. A lot of the guys in the rotation come with questions, mostly in the form of innings pitched (IMO), but the guy that scares me most is Narveson. Originally, I wanted him in the pen serving the role Gorzelanny will, but clearly that will no longer happen. I personally want to see what Peralta can do with a full year and aside from Gallardo he seems like the best chance to pitch 180+ innings. I wonder if that’s reason enough to start him with the Brewers? Either way, they could always call him up if Narveson or Rogers start out horribly. They seemingly have a lot of starting pitching depth and that’s exciting. I’m very intrigued to see how they continue to develop Thornburg and Hellweg. Best case scenario is they stick as starters, but I could see either being very effective relief. Same goes for Rogers though honestly, I don’t know how easy/hard it is to convert to the bullpen. I try to be conservative in my expectations any given year, but I’m cautiously optimistic. If everything goes well I can see the Brewers being very competitive. On the flip-side, I can see them being sub .500. I guess, at least this year they’re gambling with young upside guys instead of throwing money at “proven” this or that “veteran arm”. I always want them to win, but I can also take pleasure in seeing how an experiment like this will turn out.

  2. JSVastness says: January 10, 2013

    Olmsted has three options. If he spends some time in AAA and called up in June, Brewers can have him for 6.5years not just 6years. So I think he should start next season in AAA. Also Kintzler has an option left. If I am DM, I will give a chance to Fautino who has more upside than Kintzler.

    If Peralta start next season in major, Narvesson will be a Bullpen guy. And it leaves only one spot left. I hope DM gives that spot to Fautino.

    If Peralta start next season in AAA, I think Fautino and Kintzler should be chosen.

  3. vBar says: January 10, 2013

    Peralta has a slight edge also because of his relationship with the second catcher, Maldonado. I personally hope he gets chosen over Narveson at least in the beginning to give Narveson more time for healing.

    If Peralta doesn’t make roster, out of the rotation described here, who would Maldonado catch?

    • Luke says: January 10, 2013

      I agree. I mean does Peralta really need that much additional seasoning? Between him and Rogers, they’re both pretty big gambles, but they’ll still be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

    • Ross B says: January 10, 2013

      I would rather not see them tie a catcher to a pitcher like they did with Kottaras and Wolf. It isn’t as big of a deal since Maldy doesn’t have the platoon splits that Kottaras did, but it would be nicer to have the flexibility to switch it up for day games after night games. And Maldy has caught everybody on the staff just about while filling in for Lucroy this past year, so it wouldn’t be an issue from that prospective.

  4. Clayton Roy says: January 10, 2013

    I have always had an issue with the debate of MLB experience. I am not a fan of Estrada, Fiers or Narveson. All of these pitchers lack the ability to go deep into games, they do not pitch well after multiple times through a lineup. Comparisons of these pitchers to other MLB starters prove they will not have continued success. Narveson is a poor man’s Randy Wolf, Estrada is a poor mans Ian Kennedy and Fiers is Josh Collmenter. I would take the inconsistency of Peralta, Thornburg and Bradley over these guys anyday. It looks to be another year of Poor start strong finish if these are the pitching projections. Why do Major League officials always have to be so caveman with there philosphy. Hellweg, Jungmann should also be considered in this mix. I really could care less about options, if a guy can play at this level and you hold him back just to have him for future seasons where the window to win a championship may not be there that is foolish. Power Arms, Power Bats Lets Go!! P.S. I know we would be super right handed heavy but I would trade Fiers, Estrada or Narveson for MIke Morse anyday.

    • Luke says: January 10, 2013

      Fiers did pretty well pitching deep before he ran out of steam, Estrada is good for 6 effective innings nearly every start, not much to complain about there. Thornburg will get his chance this year. But Bradley? How could you possibly project him to be anywhere near as effective as any of those guys when he hasn’t even passed A+ ball? He has the potential to be better than all 3, but is a ways away from reaching it.

    • Bry Jones says: January 10, 2013

      I understand what you’re saying but I’d just like to point out a couple of my own opinions. I’ll give you Narveson, he’s got a #4 ceiling, but he’s a veteran, something we are craving for pitching-wise. However, Fiers’ near PG last year, and the fact that Estrada threw 138 innings in 23 starts, about 6 innings per start prove they have the ability to go into games…It was their first year of MLB starting remember. They won’t be lights out, but they’ve proved they can perform on the highest of levels. Hellweg will be lucky to have the control to use his elite “stuff” to get him a back end of the bullpen job AND he is just transitioning to starting pitching, so I don’t see him in the mix. Jungmann and Bradley have high ceilings (IMO) but seeing them get lit up in their relief appearances in Spring Training was enough for me to say they need some seasoning yet. And to address Thornburg, he’s 6 feet even, and that’s just on the roster. After standing next to him I’d give him 5’11″ maybe. That’s all well and good when you’re a guy who throws 86 like Marcum, but when you are making your living off of a high 90s fastball, you need more of a downward plane or at least a heavy-sinking one, and he has neither. Point being, they aren’t being held back for future seasons, they are being held until they are actually ready to make a positive contribution to the club, rather than bring them up early, realize that they aren’t ready, and have the options and arbitration clocks start ticking. If you need an example of someone that happened to, you need to look no further than our own center fielder. The Mets had a lot of faith in Gomez, paid a lot for him, so they brought him up. He wasn’t ready, so they shipped him off to someone who was going to be able to pay him (one of their smarter moves of the past decade). The Twins eventually got sick of him in the same way, since he clearly wasn’t ready for a major league job, but had (again) paid too much for him, shipped him off to somewhere who could pay him. We ended up with him, and he’s FINALLY hitting and playing the way the Mets and Twins thought he would, so we got the rewards of the Mets’ mishap of bringing him up too early. Nothing worse than seeing the guy you once had, but messed up developing have success somewhere else (*cough RA Dickey *cough*)

      So yeah…that concludes my rant…I hope we figure out the best way to win this year and I hope it comes a lot earlier than last year. I also hope that people prove me wrong and out-perform expectations!! :D GO CREW

      • Clayton Roy says: January 11, 2013

        Estrada, Fiers, and Narveson will not combine to win 25 games I will take bets on that. I guess I am reaching and hoping so much for these young pitchers because our window will close if they cannot perform at the highest level in the next 2 years. I just dont look forward to watching Estrada, Fiers and Narveson pitch. I hope they prove me wrong. But if you look back at last year. Wolf killed our season it only takes one turd to dirty the bowl.

        • Isaac says: January 16, 2013

          Outside of major injuries, I would definitely take that 25 win bet.

          Plus, Wolf is hardly the reason for our collapse. The collapse of the entire bullpen was the reason for our bad year – even Wolf would have had 9 wins with us if the bullpen had saved all of his games.

  5. ecocd says: January 10, 2013

    As vBar touched on, there’s no way to tell how well Narveson will recover. He wouldn’t be the first pitcher to simply not be able to perform after his injury. He was a marginal starter before the injury, albeit an improving one. If his effectiveness reduces even a small amount at the beginning of the season, Peralta should have a good opportunity to start with the big league club.

    Speaking of injuries, the Brewers will inevitably be using at least 7 starters over the course of the season. Regardless of the combination of Rogers, Peralta and Narveson making the opening day roster, the #6 pitcher is going to see 10-20 starts during the regular season, anyway so it almost doesn’t matter which ones making Opening Day. With some good outings in AAA, Thornburg could be the #7 option by mid-season.

  6. Billy White says: January 10, 2013
    • Cory says: January 11, 2013

      I completely agree as long as Narveson proves that he can last 6-7 innings with no problem…that would be my only question mark. I’m not sure if we can trust him to do that right out of the gate so I would put Peralta in there and put Narv-dawg in the pen over Kintzler or Olmstead (although I love Olmstead a lot and I’ve been saying he needs to be on our ML roster since we got him) but I think Kintzler is out of options but I could be wrong there??


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