How Many Starters Do the Brewers Need? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Throughout the 2012 season, National League clubs used more than 160 distinct starting pitching roles. These roles included regular starting pitchers, swingmen, replacement starters, and “emergency” pitchers that made one start. It’s an understatement to say that the five man rotation was non-existent; just 1/4 of NL rotations used eight or fewer pitchers, and a rotation full of average, 100+ IP full-time starters would still require extra starts from replacement pitchers in 2012.

Heading into 2013, Brewers GM Doug Melvin provides the best slogan about the potential for an all-young Brewers rotation: as reported by Adam McCalvy, “Do all of us have the nerve to do that? Do we have the patience to do that?” Melvin captures the spirit of MLB front offices, implying that the standard order of business for building a rotation includes the acquisition of veteran arms. Yet, without worrying about the audacity or patience of the Brewers’ front office, one can pose the problem of a young Brewers rotation in another light: following Melvin, do we have the innings to do that?

The Brewers used eleven starting pitchers in 2012, including six regular starters, four replacements, and an emergency start by Josh Stinson. Those starters included the very first MLB rotation roles for Fastballer Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, and Mark Rogers. Swingman Marco Estrada also worked his first stint as a regular starter, moving from the bullpen to grab a rotation spot. Together, these starters averaged approximately 154.7 IP workloads between the MLB and minors, which falls approximately two-to-three starts short of an average workload for a 2012 NL regular starting pitcher. However, those workloads were not evenly distributed, as Rogers, Thornburg, and Estrada worked fewer than 150 innings, whereas Fiers and Peralta pitched full season workloads.

This discrepancy between workloads is even greater when one considers the workload development of Rogers and Thornburg. Not only did Thornburg and Rogers work fewer than 150 innings in 2012, but they also pitched workloads that were small enough to place them beneath a regular starting workload in 2013, if one uses a typical 20 IP-to-30 IP increase between 2012 and 2013. One of the real issues with these workloads of approximately 135 IP for Rogers and Thornburg is whether they can be counted on to pitch an entire season without running out of gas or hitting an innings ceiling. This is a real issue, of course, because the extent to which youngsters can work full seasons will definitely inform the number of rotation spots that Melvin and the front office need to fill from the free agency market.

Yet, one might ask, “Does the Brewers front office adhere to standard IP workload increases?” In 2012, there is evidence that the Brewers’ front office will allow pitchers to increase their workloads significantly, if the circumstances are right. Rogers is a tough case because of his injury-plagued seasons, and his IP workload would have been capped around 80 IP if it was based on the previous season; compared to 2010, however, Rogers only increased his workload by approximately 18 IP in 2012. Meanwhile, Fastballer Fiers, Estrada, shooting star Hiram Burgos, and Greinke-loot Johnny Hellweg all increased their workload by 50 or more IP between 2011 and 2012. These increases are especially interesting in the cases of Burgos and Hellweg, which perhaps shows some value to having an unexpected season as a fringe prospect; perhaps Hellweg and Burgos were allowed to continue to pitch simply due to their effective performances. These innings workloads set them up well for fringe replacement options in 2013. Estrada and Fiers continued working throughout 2012 out of necessity, as other innings caps, trades, and transactions thinned out the Brewers’ rotation somewhat as the season progressed.

Judging the Brewers’ 2013 replacement options and young starter options for their rotation, here are how their 2011-2012 workload increases look:

Rogers 2012: 39 IP MLB; 95.3 IP AAA (134.3 IP, +90 IP over 2011; +18.3 IP over 2010)
Fiers 2012: 127.7 IP MLB; 55 IP AAA (182.7 IP, +56.7 IP over 2011)
Estrada 2012: 138.3 IP MLB; 8 IP AAA (146.3 IP, +53.7 IP over 2011; +3 IP over 2009)
Burgos 2012: 171 IP MiLB (+51.3 IP over 2011)
Hellweg 2012: 139.7 IP MiLB (+50.3 IP over 2011)
Stinson 2012: 9.3 IP MLB; 145.3 IP AA (154.7 IP, +32.7 IP over 2011)
Peralta 2012: 29 IP MLB; 146.7 IP AAA (175.7 IP, +25 IP over 2011)
Heckathorn 2012: 119.3 IP MiLB (+3 IP over 2011)
Thornburg 2012: 22 IP MLB; 112.7 IP MiLB (134.7 IP, -2 IP over 2011)
Nelson 2012: 127.3 IP MiLB (-18.7 IP over 2011)
Rivas 2012: 67 IP AAA (-83.7 IP over 2011)

In order to frame the Brewers’ offseason, one must ask whether it is prudent to allow Rogers and Thornburg the type of free-wheeling IP increases experienced by Fiers, Estrada, Hellweg, and Burgos. On the one hand, one could design a categorical imperative for Rogers that reads, “PITCH WHEN HEALTHY,” whereas Thornburg might deserve more protection for his future (given his age and potential ceiling). However, these pitchers’ potential as strong bullpen arms also complicates this IP workload equation. Now that Melvin is emptying the bullpen, he has a great opportunity to fill the ‘pen with high impact, young arms that lose rotation roles. In that regard, both Thornburg and Rogers provide excellent depth options as swingmen or middle relievers for the Brewers, perhaps splitting the season as combination set-up men and starters-when-needed. This option not only presents the Brewers with prudent opportunities to steadily increase these pitchers’ workloads, but they also give the Brewers hard-throwing options out of the bullpen.

Meanwhile, Peralta, Estrada, and Fiers are ready for full-season workloads. In this regard, limiting their roles as starting pitchers is more a question of performance and less a question of prudence. Is Estrada’s value still suited for a swingman role? Does his improvement as a regular starter in 2012 warrant a regular role in 2013? Or does he yet again serve the Brewers as one of the best depth options in the NL? One might ask similar questions about Peralta and Fiers, focusing on potential control issues for the former and potential stuff or stamina issues (based on that sputtering-to-the-finish-line performance in late 2012) for the latter.

89.5% Workload Projection: 2013 Rotation and Replacements
1. Fiers (197 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
2. Peralta (184 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
3. Burgos (180 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
4. Estrada (166 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
5. Stinson (165 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
6. Nelson (159 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 50 IP increase)
7. Rogers (156 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
8. Hellweg (152 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
9. Thornburg (147 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
10. Heckathorn (143 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30-50 IP increase)

Working from the 2012 workload reduction that resulted in regular NL starters accumulating only 89.5% of the full rotation spots of a 5-man rotation (approx. 29 GS vs. 32.4 GS), the Brewers have few full-season workloads to choose from in this gang of starters. Pitchers such as Estrada, Fiers, and Peralta provide the best opportunities to meet the demand of full-rotation spot needs at the MLB level. Burgos and Stinson have strong IP workload foundations, but are not likely to pitch the entire season in the Brewers’ rotation for a variety of reasons. Nelson, Rogers, and Hellweg begin the descent into likely swingman roles, or less-than-full-time starting workloads. Judging these pitchers against (a) averages of potential IP workload increases, and (b) prorated workloads due to typical season wear-and-tear, effectiveness issues, and replacement needs gives us a more realistic picture of these pitchers’ IP potential than basic models that max out their potential workload increases.

Prorating their IP increases against the year-long workings of an MLB rotation, the Brewers’ top IP pitchers on that list (Fiers, Peralta, Estrada) grab the Brewers approximately 96 starts for the 2013 season. Keeping franchise starter Yovani Gallardo‘s rotation spot warm, the organization still needs at least 30 starts to complete their 2013 rotation. It is certainly likely that the Brewers could fill those remaining starters with a combination of swingmen starts from Rogers and Thornburg. However, with that number of available starts conveniently matching the number of turns made by a veteran rotation hurler, as well as potential arguments for keeping any combination of Estrada, Fiers, and Peralta as swingmen, it is more than likely that the Brewers will land at least one starting pitcher this off-season.

In fact, countering against their gang of eleven starters in 2012, and the National League trend for using boatloads of hurlers, there are good arguments to be made that the Brewers should sign two veteran starters.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 6, 2012

    Looking at the SP free agent list my targets for Brewers would be: Hiroki Kuroda a 1-2year veteran signing who has performed well!
    Brandon MCCarthy…He could be a Gio Gonzalez type steal could he stay healthy
    Carlos Villanueva….Comes full circle…bye Marcum welcome back Carlos. With Carlos he’s Livan Hernandez with an actual potential to spot start and K hitters.
    Scott Baker. Same as McCarthy only likely not as high a ceiling.
    I’d be very satisfied with Kuroda. May be helpful with Aoki.
    Villanueva I mean come on! Cerveza team! Yo,Go,Segura,Rami…I just like his bullpen to SP potential based on what you wrote above. This young gun staff wears out he just may be your savior.
    McCarthy/Baker both guys who may have a big upside for the cost involved seeing their past injury risks. McCarthy though is young and was #2 SP for Oak when he pitched. Plus he just went to post season.
    In my perfect world you get Kuroda,McCarthy,& Villanueva. Let the young guns fight for the last 2 SP spots and fight for bullpen time put the others in AAA to develope more/keep IP at a minimum

    • Nicholas Zettel says: November 6, 2012

      Thanks for the comment, Chris. I think the benefit of those deals is that they would be short-term, and those are also pitchers who would fit well in swingmen positions. You would not necessarily have to start McCarthy, Villanueva, or Kuroda; those starters could be interchanged with bullpen roles if the youngsters were doing a more effective job.

      • Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 9, 2012

        Nic here’s a question for you. R.A.Dickey has been thrown around as trade bait. The Mets are desperate for C and OF. Knowing Maldonado is stuck behind Lucroy is there any chance of putting a deal together to get Dickey?
        If so, would you try acquiring him? Knuckleballer/HRs relation put aside pitching at Miller Park, the guy has to have top 5 in Quality Starts over the past 3seasons of all MLB pitchers. With the young staff and no guarantee deep pitching starts, Dickey could prove invaluable to the team’s bullpen with his ability to pitch 8/9inn cgs.
        This whole mindset of acquiring him is with the idea that the Brewers can win/compete Now for a title. There’s only so much time having Gomez,Hart, and Ramirez. Then it’s unknown how their replacements will perform. Offensively speaking the team may be at its peak and adding a stud pitcher for a couple prospects could result in an immediate title contention. Dickey just had his option picked up for 5mil so being a 1year player(unless a sign&trade is done) I would think the Mets couldn’t haul away much. The fact Dickey is 37years of age has to decrease his trade value and asking price.

  2. Luke says: November 6, 2012

    Where is all this Villanueva love coming from? I liked him when he was here, but I really don’t think he’s effective enough as a starter or a reliever to warrant a role that Estrada or Fiers could arguably perform better in. McCarthy seems like a good option, but the health risk is pretty great. Most of the opinions I’ve seen are that he will get a 2/20 deal. I’d bring him in for that. Crowdsourcing came up with a 4/52 deal for Anibal Sanchez while Heyman predicts 5/70 for him. If the Brewers could get him on a deal that splits the difference between those, it’d be a pretty big win. He’s been a 4 win pitcher in the last 3 seasons, and a slight overpay for that kind of production seems better than the alternative of betting on McCarthy to 1) Return to form after major brain surgery 2) To avoid the other kinds of health issues that have plagued him his entire career. But he’s gotta be healthy one of these years right? Man, Melvin has a tough job right now.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: November 7, 2012

      Sanchez is on my wishlist, bigtime. He’s a type of pitcher with good stuff, excellent K/BB/HR, and good overall performance that will fly under the radar this offseason. While Greinke receives the attention, Sanchez is hardly a step down, but for less money indeed. One might not receive the excellent ceiling/potential that Greinke has, but then again, that ceiling/potential has not resulted in Greinke performing much better than Sanchez from 2010-2012.

    • Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 9, 2012

      Latest is Sanchez wants 6/90.

      • Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 10, 2012

        Also, Villanueva wants a 30starts starting so nix him.
        Baker declined 9+mil offer from Min which kinda sets these pitchers we crave in the 10+-15mil a season
        And I guess Dempster is the first rumored Target for Crew.
        Kuroda is out since he costs a draft pick, same with Lohse who I fully expect to stay a Cardinal.
        kinda puts Grienke,Dempster,McCarthy, heaven forbid Haren and Jackson….
        I wonder if the team just goes with the young guns

  3. bob says: November 7, 2012

    The crew need to go after TWO starters in free agency!! Then work the young studs into the rotation nice and easy. Then go after a couple of middle relievers! Who knows we might have decent middle men already in the system? This team can already hit!! WE need arms!! Kuroda had a real good year but he’s a little long in the tooth and has a history of getting lit up in hitters parks like miller….

  4. Dan V says: November 7, 2012

    I hate to say this but I like Dempster, or I should say from a practical standpoint I think he makes a lot of sense. He’ll give you your 30 innings and have a sub 4 era + he can’t own Brewers hitters. I despise his little glove thingy as much as the next man, but he’d be a good bet on a 2 year deal. Sanchez on four makes me nervous, McCarthy is great but we’d need a backup plan with his history.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: November 7, 2012

      What would you pay for Dempster? I am concerned his early season campaign might inflate his price somewhat.

      • Dan V says: November 7, 2012

        His price tag may be inflated but I feel he’s a less risky investment than some others on the market. Sanchez may be out of reach given the current market. With such a powerful offense getting an innings eater who can grind a bit is worth paying for.

        I like the Villanueva idea if we can court a higher ceiling player like McCarthy to keep my hopes up if V doesn’t work as much of a starter. He does lend some flexibility as a swing man long reliever which a positive.

        Original q, Dempster 2 years 30 mil./ 3 yr 43 mil. I say pull the trigger, Corey is coming off the books next year and there are pitchers in the pipeline (maybe not elite) that are not far off.

        • hinkleyhick says: November 12, 2012

          Why all the love for Villanueva?? At best he is a #4 or 5 guy. I would rather see Rogers or Fiers (assuming Peralta and Estrada make the rotation along with a good #2). Sanchez/Jackson/McCarthy all are better and more expensive options.

          • Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 13, 2012

            The love for Villanueva isn’t on a SP level its more long relief/ capable replacement SP if needed. Versatility is what he offers. But like I said above he’s looking to strictly be a SP…I’m sure that’s all about the money. He signs a 1-2yr deal and starts. Performs guess where the big payday is. Ceiling is much higher in pay for a SP than a swingman rp/sp.
            The SP full season doesn’t fit the Brewers in my mind

  5. Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 7, 2012

    In regards to Dempster, I think his pay will be out of a range of Brewers salary. Truth be said with Sanchez too. You gotta realize the crop of pitchers there are. Kuroda is ranked #2! And how close to a hitters ballpark can New York get!
    My thinking on Kuroda is a solid 2yr deal. He’s 37 something that should shy some of the market away from him.
    But at 28 in Sanchez with playoff experience now, I think a team will jump big on him. He’s the youngin of the bunch. Add the tv deal and I picture a team throwing 6/80mil at him.
    The love on Carlos. He’s neither a season long starter nor your #1 bullpen guy. But he has 28yrs old a near 9k/9 and just the experience of being the dual role. With the Brewers young staff I just see him as a great stop-clog fit, way better than Livan Hernandez was.
    Yes lots of injury risk with McCarthy, but that’s likely to drop his price down. Something that should he recover, his return on the contract could just be immense! He’s 29 a 3yr deal puts him at 32 where if he performs you can figure he’s in for a big final 5year payday.

    Dempster for his numbers I see a 4/66mil contract. Maybe up to 72. Contracts that I expect for 2nd tier guys like Haren,Jackson,Lohse even(pitcher that has to have a stud base-stealing catcher)

    Just with the current makeup of Milwaukee pitching prospects I think the short term deals on quality guys when on the mound works best. Your frontline pitchers are going to want 4+years which can bog the team and youngsters down.

    • hinkleyhick says: November 12, 2012

      The highest estimate I’ve seen so far for Sanchez is 5-$65M. If they are going to throw that kind of money out there I hope they get E. Jackson. McCarthy is very affordable comparatively speaking and certainly has a huge up side, but his injuries could be risky. Most are estimating Kuroda at 2/#28M-$30M. With quite a few young guys coming up or already in the bigs, he may be a decent option. I also heard S.D. is willing to deal Volquez for so OF help.

      • Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 13, 2012 check their rumormill. Sanchez looking for 6yrs/$90mil So I feel my predicted 6/80 will be the likely deal a team willing signs him.

  6. Jason H says: November 7, 2012

    Obviously it seems that Greinke will be priced out of Milwaukee’s range. If Sanchez falls into that 4 years 55 million range they should go for it, but knowing how limited the market is, I would not be surprised if Sanchez became too expensive for the Brewers as well. The 2 starters that I would like the Brewers to look into if those top 2 become too expensive are Edwin Jackson and Brandon McCarthy. Both have the potential to form a solid enough top 2 or 3 with Gallardo at the top of the rotation. The price has to be right for these 2 though. Dan Haren would be another solid option for the right price

  7. Bryce says: November 8, 2012

    Notice that all the pitchers you mention are RHP. If the Brewers go with two FA starters, they most certainly need to choose at least 1 southpaw. In addition, you fail to mention Narveson at all. Depending on how he produces, this could be your lefty starter answer.

    With this stable of guys who preliminarily have proven their ability to effectively start games (Peralta, Fiers, Estrada, Narveson, Rodgers, Thornburg, SIX guys!), I would prefer the Brewers spend GOOD money on one lights-out starter, rather than getting a middle-high end starter and a middle-to-low-end starter. Like you say, you need 96 starts out of these 6 guys — how many swingmen do you need?

    • Jason H says: November 8, 2012

      The one issue with your signing a lefty FA is that there aren’t many out there. The lefty starting pitcher pool includes Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders, Jonathan Sanchez, Andy Pettitte, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Francis, and Zach Duke. Pettitte is obviously either going to the Yankees or retiring. Wolf, Sanchez, Francis, and Duke are all not very good. Which leaves only Liriano and Saunders as the only ok lefty starting pitchers. Neither is very inspiring. I do agree that Narveson could be the lefty answer

  8. Jason H says: November 8, 2012

    It would be nice to trade for starting pitching, but no one ever parts with starting pitching through trades in the offseason very easily

  9. Garret says: November 8, 2012

    i think we will need 1 true #2 starter ( edwin jackson, sanchez, etc) and 1 guy that could be a 5 if needed or just let go if the young guys prove there worth ( dave bush type guy )

    • Garret says: November 8, 2012

      also any word on narveson? havent heard much about his rehab

      • Nicholas Zettel says: November 10, 2012

        Narveson is throwing from 90 feet as of September, apparently. It will be interesting to see his level of production that the organization expects. Part of me expected him to be non-tendered and re-signed to a minor league deal. Perhaps he will be a part of the rotation plans? Anyhow, he’d be a fine swingman.

  10. Nicholas Zettel says: November 10, 2012

    Well, Kuroda and Lohse have to be out for the Brewers; they both rejected arbitration contracts, which means that the Brewers would have to surrender their first pick if they signed one of those arms.

    I think for their level of production, the Brewers can get an equivalent pitcher without surrendering a strong chance at an MLB-bound prospect.

  11. hinkleyhick says: November 12, 2012

    I’m with Bryce. I don’t think the Crew needs two starters unless one falls into their lap or comes cheap. With Gallardo, Estrada and a Jackson/Sanchez/McCarthy they have 4 guys (1.Rogers 2.Peralta 3.Fiers 4.Narveson) to fill the other 2 spots with the remaing two in the pen. With Thornburg, Burgos, and Hellweg at AAA and Perez, Jungmann, Nelson, Bradley at AA in 2013 the Brewers have some very promising young pitching coming up. Get one good solid starter and let the young guys do the rest. With payroll always a major concern, younger starters are the way to go.

  12. Chris K in Sheboygan says: November 22, 2012

    So upon further review and thought.

    I’m comfortable with the Brewers standing pat at Starters. If a pitcher took an offer that seems Brewers got value on it then sure do it.
    My change of thought is this. Young, dumb in terms of properly assessing where this team stands. Full of arms. Brewers have multiples right now adding another just clogs team even more.
    My thinking is this, the Brewers lineup should more than likely have us in contention come ASbreak through to trade deadline. When you’re full of young arms with roles not fully distinguished/ being established 80games in to a season sure would clear it up. Why pay a SP in this questionable FA market 12+mil(likely going rate) for returns that are equal to what is on team now? But at 80games and a need for a SP there’s the whole via a trade route. Maybe a non-contending team has a SP making 12+mil on the year and want to dump off the 6+mil owed remaining on season. You see, not overspending now, and starting the season with 85+mil in team salary just to be there can free up the ability to trade up on salary for a 1/2 season return on a suddenly less questioned make up on Brewers SP then where stood now. We would know more what the answer is.
    Narveson? Is he the Lefty for Milw? Does he even pitch to SP status?
    Fiers? Did he just get a tired arm? Or is that 6+era more telling in the end he just had to be figured out by ML bats?
    Peralta,Rogers? Do they become fixtures on the rotation?
    Gallardo,Estrada and those 4 question marks equal 6 SP rotation. You need 5. Maybe those 4 become their own positive answers to the Brewers SP questions. And the outside SP source just turns in to not being needed.
    I never really approached the angle from if M.A. doesn’t start with an 80-85mil team salary by season start he’s simply not trying. Rather the team is just been fortunate to be set up at a budget friendly team payroll and M.A. simply can make money this year as a savvy owner. One positive year where maybe he jumps payroll like Toronto just did seizing an opportunity down the road that opens up. Not every year does 85-100mil team payroll need to be if the team is getting production out of the farm system/great drafting. That’s kinda the case I see right now at pitching. Spending just because you can isn’t always the way to go about managing the club. That’s when the bad contracts are made, tossing 2-5mil extra a season for x amount of seasons for a player who can’t possibly return value on that contract just for the sake of filling the teams payroll allotment while looking like addressing a need on the team. M.A. is a pleasure to have as an owner. He’s made ASbreak trade deals. So going in to a season with questionable pitching staff doesn’t worry me as much. If it becomes a problem M.A. has the gumption to address it


Websites mentioned my entry.

  1. Daybreak Doppler: And So It Begins – Badgers’ Hoops |
  2. What is a dependable starting pitcher? 2008-2012 NL SP | Disciples of Uecker
  3. Quality against Quantity: Shuffling the Rotation | Disciples of Uecker

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