The Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Colorado Rockies 6-5 on Sunday, completing a three game sweep and capping off a 6-1 road trip. The game also marked the end of a stretch where the Crew played fifteen of eighteen games away from Miller Park, a run they walk away from with an outstanding twelve and six record.
It wasn’t a cleanly played series by any stretch of the imagination. The series saw a total of seven errors, five belonging to the home team, but that was really only a fraction of the mistakes actually made. The Brewers allowed 19 runs total over the three games, though more than half of that came on Friday night when the stadium was playing at its most generous.
Friday night also happened to be Marco Estrada’s turn in the rotation. In fairness to him, a number of his seven earned runs really rightfully belonged on the defense’s ledger. He did strike out seven batters and allow only one walk, but also gave up ten hits and one very long home run. We’ve written quite a bit here about Estrada’s struggles, and the potential for replacement by Jimmy Nelson. Any thought that Estrada might lose his spot in the rotation before his turn comes up again Wednesday probably went out the window when Nelson started in Utah Saturday night, but the question isn’t going to go away.
Sunday night, I was curious to see where people stood on the issue, so I asked twitter:
Quick #Brewers twitter poll: Who would you rather have in the rotation at this point, Marco Estrada or Jimmy Nelson?
— RD Topp (@RDTopp) June 23, 2014
The results were predictable. Well at least mostly predictable:
When a pitcher struggles for as long as Estrada has and there is a seemingly viable replacement available at AAA, calling for a change is a pretty natural thing. I was mostly curious to see what the defenses for leaving Estrada in the rotation would be at this point. One justification for leaving well enough alone showed up in a couple of different tweets and it seems worth addressing:
@RDTopp would love to see a move made to bring someone in. Have to go with Estrada at this pt tho. Not the situation to use a rookie.
— Adam Yorkey (@The_WlLD_1) June 23, 2014
This idea of not wanting to throw rookies into a pennant race is something that certainly seems reasonable, especially on the surface, but does it really hold up? All three NL Central teams that made the playoffs last year prominently featured rookie starters, with two of them seeing critical action in the postseason. The argument could be made that Jimmy Nelson doesn’t come with the same “prospect status” as the likes of Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, and Tony Cingrani. Nelson has been so good, and has grown so much as a prospect, though, that it hardly seems outlandish to think it’s quite possible he can do better than Estrada, given the chance.
It seems inevitable that Nelson will be back up again this season in one capacity or another. He’ll almost certainly pitch out of the bullpen come September if no opportunity presents itself in the rotation before then. It would seem a waste to limit him to mere relief, though, if he truly is ready to shoulder the load of starting every fifth day. Nelson threw 162 1/3 total innings last year between AA, AAA, and MLB, and has thrown 96 innings thus far this year, so total innings shouldn’t be an issue until he gets up somewhere around 200.
Moving on to another subject, it’s come up now and then over the past few weeks how this year’s Brewers team compares with the 2011 squad. There are lots of different ways one can look at that question. On a team level, the offense is even stronger now than it was in 2011 in terms of runs scored per game against the league average. The pitching isn’t quite as good, though a good portion of that difference really comes down to the Wei-Chung Wang factor.
On a player by player level, there are some pretty interesting things to be gleaned by comparing the rosters. From each club, I selected the 10 position players with the most plate appearances and the 10 pitchers with the most innings pitched. For 2014, I expanded the pitchers list to 11 because I didn’t want to leave out Rob Wooten’s contribution thus far.
|11 Brewers||14 Brewers|
|Name||G||wOBA||wRC+||WAR (162)||Name||G||wOBA||wRC+||WAR (76)||WAR (162)|
|R Braun||150||0.426||171||7.2||C Gomez||68||0.401||155||3.5||7.5|
|P Fielder||162||0.410||160||4.9||J Lucroy||70||0.404||158||3.4||7.2|
|C Hart||130||0.376||137||3.7||S Gennett||68||0.352||122||1.8||3.8|
|N Morgan||119||0.344||115||3.6||R Braun||57||0.355||124||1.5||3.2|
|R Weeks||118||0.357||124||3.3||A Ramirez||51||0.356||125||1.5||3.2|
|C Gomez||94||0.296||82||1.9||M Reynolds||63||0.312||95||1.4||3|
|J Lucroy||136||0.311||92||1.3||K Davis||69||0.350||121||1.3||2.8|
|Y Betancourt||152||0.281||72||0||J Segura||72||0.274||68||0.6||1.3|
|M Kotsay||104||0.309||91||0||R Weeks||56||0.323||102||0.3||0.6|
|C McGehee||155||0.275||68||-0.2||L Overbay||56||0.284||75||-0.4||-0.9|
|Name||IP||ERA||FIP||WAR (162)||Name||IP||ERA||FIP||WAR (76)||WAR (162)|
|Z Greinke||171.2||3.83||2.98||3.6||K Lohse||102||3.09||3.59||1.5||3.2|
|Y Gallardo||207.1||3.52||3.59||3.2||M Garza||94||4.02||3.61||1.3||2.8|
|S Marcum||200.2||3.54||3.73||3.2||W Peralta||95.1||3.02||3.92||0.9||1.9|
|J Axford||73.2||1.95||2.41||1.8||W Smith||35||1.03||2.25||0.9||1.9|
|R Wolf||212.1||3.69||4.29||1.8||Z Duke||28.2||1.57||1.79||0.8||1.7|
|C Narveson||161.2||4.45||4.06||1.6||Y Gallardo||91.2||3.34||4.09||0.6||1.3|
|K Loe||72||3.5||2.80||1||F Rodriguez||37.1||2.17||3.03||0.5||1.1|
|M Estrada||92.2||4.08||3.67||0.8||R Wooten||23.1||4.63||2.65||0.3||0.6|
|L Hawkins||48.1||2.42||2.76||0.7||T Thornburg||29.2||4.25||3.76||0.1||0.2|
|S Mitre||33||3.27||4.36||-0.1||B Kintzler||27.1||3.62||4.91||-0.4||-0.9|
On the offensive side, we have a couple of measures of overall output (wOBA and wRC+) and WAR. On the pitching side, there is ERA and FIP, along with WAR again. Since 2011 is already over and 2014 is not, I had to convert WAR over the first 76 team games into what it would be if the players played at that same level and as frequently over 162 games. Both the present WAR (WAR 76) and projected numbers (WAR 162) are given for 2014.
Looking at the offense, the first thing that jumps out is how much more depth the 2014 squad possesses. In 2011, the team had one player putting up MVP-type WAR numbers in Ryan Braun. This year, the team has a pair of guys with legitimate MVP cases from a WAR perspective. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez were both on that 2011 team, but have so improved in the time since then as to be barely recognizable as the same players statistically.
The depth really stands out as well. In 2011, the Brewers had five hitters produce more than two wins. This year’s team has seven position players currently on pace to put up more than two wins. That 2011 team also had three significant players put up replacement level or worse performances, against only one in 2014.
On the pitching side, the 2011 club did have an obvious advantage at the top of the rotation over the current club. The 2014 team is also being held back, at least somewhat, by the sub-par performance of Marco Estrada. Brandon Kintzler’s WAR is a bit of an odd outlier, because he routinely out pitches the peripheral numbers it’s based upon, but I didn’t want to exclude him because he fell within the top 10 pitchers in innings pitched.
So what do you think, looking at those numbers? Is the 2014 club’s advantage on the position player side enough to offset the edge the 2011 club had in its pitchers? Let us know below in the comments.