There’s been a bit of rumbling out there about Chris Narveson after his past two starts. He gave up 6 runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Nationals and then came back with 5 runs allowed in 4 innings against the Reds. This little stretch followed a nice 4-game run in which he threw 6 innings in three straight starts and then threw 7 1/3 scoreless against the Padres.
I think in this situation it’s wise to take a step back and consider just how good the Brewer pitching staff is this year that some fans out there are actually advocating skipping a start or pulling from the rotation a pitcher who has a 3.3 FIP and a 4.6 ERA on the season. Narveson is such an interesting case: after striking out 7 Reds in his 4-inning start on Monday he now has 8.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 on the year. That’s pretty much spectacular. Those are pretty much the same rates that Jon Lester is putting up on the season (he’s at 8.8 to 3.7, for the record). Narveson’s been doing a lot of things right this year– striking people out, limiting walks, and getting groundballs. He’s also given up more line drives than usual this year, something that should even out considering how well his peripherals indicate that he has pitched.
Given the description laid out here, it looks like we’re talking about a #3/4 caliber pitcher who has been down on his luck for the early part of the year. But we’re not, this guy is the 5th starter on the Brewers staff and fifth starters are, as a general rule, really bad. I thought it would be interesting to compare Narveson and his rest-of-season ZiPS projected 4.68 ERA to some of the other starters listed at fifth on team’s depth charts by MLB Depth Charts.com. So here we go.
The Cubs have Rodrigo Lopez as their fifth starter right now. He put up a 5 ERA last season as a starter and is projected at 5.4 the rest of the way. Doug Davis is listed as the fourth starter.
The Brewers faced the Reds current fifth starter last night, Chad Reinecke. ZiPS projects a 6.22 ERA the rest of the way for him.
Jordan Lyles, the top prospect of the Astros, is currently listed as their #5, but in the interest of projections, we’ll take a look at Aneury Rodriguez. Aneury is not exactly Wandy: he’s projected for a 5.40 ERA.
The Pirates fifth starter is Jeff Karstens. In addition to getting shown up by Ryan Braun, he also is known for his 5.16 projected ERA for the rest of the season.
The stupid Cardinals fifth starter is Kyle McClellan. He’s this year’s annual Cardinals bad reliever turned to good starter. ZiPS isn’t too helpful in figuring out his future performance because it’s heavily weighing his time as a reliever, but he’s struck out just 4.5 per 9 and walked 2.7 per 9 so far, and has a 4.6 FIP. Wouldn’t bet on him keeping the ERA under 4 the rest of the season.
Looking around the NL West, the Diamondbacks have Zach Duke (4.96). The Rockies still have Clay Mortensen in their rotation (6.54). The Dodgers’ #5 is Jon Garland (4.08, though I’d take the over on that one given his strikeout rate under 5, walk rate at 3.5 and declining ground ball rate). The Padres have Dustin Mosely (5.16), and the Giants have Ryan Vogelsong, who has been good, but projects for a 5.4 the rest of the way.
Moving on to the East, Mets have Chris Capuano (4.33, he’s been good this year), the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick (4.85) until Joe Blanton gets back, and the Nationals have some fellow named Yunesky Maya (5.6). The Braves and Marlins are “TBD” according to this site, and I’ll assume they’re working around injuries and will call up pitchers when the spot comes up. I’d investigate further but I think the point’s been made. Fifth starters are bad, and I think every team in the NL would trade their current fifth starter for Narveson. Let him keep doing what he’s doing and he’s going to get some very nice results. The average starter has about a 4.4 ERA in most years, and the Brewers might have a good chance at having their worst starter be above average– that’s when you know the rotation is a strength.