Martin Perez, David Price, Cole Hamels, and Marcus Stroman: these are the four pitchers that former Brewers starters Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada have out-pitched during their 2015 American League Divisional Series. The former rotation mates share a playoff series for the first time since 2011, when Gallardo helped to anchor a strong Brewers rotation, and Estrada broke out as the club’s swingman phenom. Now, they are facing one another for the chance to head to the Championship Series, and both of these righties have not only had strong 2015 campaigns, but they have out-pitched some of the most notable, elite pitchers in the game.
It would be easy, but mistaken, for Brewers fans to feel bitter about their success. How soon we forget that after solid 2012 and 2013 campaigns as a member of the rotation, Estrada was 10 runs below average and lost his rotation spot before entering his final year of reserve control. Top prospect Jimmy Nelson was looking for a rotation spot (after the club spurned win-now trade offers involving the young power arm), and Wily Peralta had just become one of the most improved starting pitchers in the entire National League. President & GM Doug Melvin hardly made a poor decision when he flipped Estrada’s rotational-depth (a strength) and home-run question-marks (a weakness) to Toronto for Adam Lind. In fact, the move worked out swimmingly for Milwaukee, as Lind became one of the 2015 Brewers most consistent run producers.
The Yovani Gallardo trade may be the one that is tougher to swallow in retrospect, given the relative gamble to hand rotation spots to both Mike Fiers and Nelson for 2015. At a time when the Brewers arguably should have maintained pitching depth, they used that depth to acquire more young, controllable talent. Once again, Melvin made the right move: Nelson pitched a solid rookie campaign, and Fiers was the best member of the opening-day rotation before he himself was traded in a rebuilding move. The Brewers landed strong, flexible defensive depth in Luis Sardinas, a legitimate back-end bullpen prospect in Corey Knebel, and a “lottery ticket” in Marcos Diplan that suddenly did not look like quite a gamble as the 18-year old leapt from the Rangers’ Dominican Academy to the Pioneer League (an aggressive promotion).
If anything, it is more frustrating to look at these trades and understand that Melvin did not make bad moves. This is frustrating because the 2015 Brewers continued to perform as the listless version that closed 2014. That terrible baseball was difficult to explain once again, which makes the trades frustrating because it’d be easier to say that Doug Melvin simply made bad moves, and then get on with it. Such hand-wringing would be much easier to navigate.
In reality, Melvin shrewdly gambled on his homegrown pitchers (a success), looked to improve a corner-position weakness (successful gamble again), earnestly began rebuilding even if it didn’t seem like it (successful here again), and also acted according to the maxim of swapping single-year contract control for more years of control (a success in the cases of Lind, Knebel, Sardinas, and Diplan). These are all strengths for the 2015 Brewers, but unfortunately several other areas of the roster would be hit hard with injuries and ineffectiveness.
|Gallardo & Estrada||2.8||7.7|
|Lind / Knebel / Sardinas||2.1||3.4|
Of course, the biggest issue for Brewers fans is that both Gallardo and Estrada surged to career years in 2015. Gallardo posted an exceptional campaign that showed his improvements from 2013 were no fluke, and he continued his transformation into a “total slider” pitcher. Estrada completely reversed his difficult 2014 season, and doubled his full career WAR in just one season. So, perhaps a more difficult issue emerges for Brewers fans, in the context of Peralta’s (and maybe even Nelson’s) inconsistency, and the completely ineffective campaigns by Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse: to what extent did the coaching staff’s inability to relay scouting information and encourage mechanical adjustments hurt the 2015 Brewers?