Yesterday, Brewers management announced that Jeff Suppan would be moving into the 5th starter role after a rehab start with Wisconsin, a move that pushes Manny Parra into the bullpen. This move certainly surprised me, as Suppan was absolutely horrible this spring (7.71 ERA, 10 K, 8 BB+HBP, 6 HR in 16.1 IP). Parra’s 5.03 ERA wasn’t great, but his peripheral numbers were much better – 13/6/1 K/BB+HBP/HR in 19.2 innings. Certainly doesn’t look like justification to me.
Either way, that means that the Brewers are going with a replacement level starter every 5th day. McCalvy said on his blog that “Suppan got the nod because of his track record.” That means that Suppan got the job because of two starts and 15 innings back in October of 2006. Suppan has done nothing else in his entire career. He’s had one season with a sub-4.00 ERA. He has never had a season with an FIP below 4.50. No reputable projection system (sorry, Bill James) that I don’t have to pay for (sorry, PECOTA) projects Suppan to have a FIP below 5.20 this season. In other words, he’s terrible – or to be more precise, replacement level.
Yes, Jeff Suppan is a proven commodity. We know that he will give you 120-150 innings of awful pitching in a weak league with no designated hitter. Manny Parra has had a rough go of it, yes. A lot of it, though, is just bad luck. In 332 major league innings, Parra has given up a ridiculous .349 BABIP and has only managed to strand 68.3% of runners. That is unexplainably worse and likely unsustainably worse than the league averages of .300 and 72% respectively. That’s why Parra has a career 4.40 FIP and 4.23 xFIP, much lower than his 5.17 ERA, and that’s why he’s projected to put up a 4.30-4.50 FIP this season.
Even if we take Parra’s ERA at face value, then Suppan and Parra are roughly equal pitchers. That’s where the “proven commodity” label comes in again. Yes, there is a chance that Parra’s 2010 as a 5th starter would be worse than Suppan’s 2010 as a 5th starter. However, Manny Parra is loaded with potential. We saw that in the first half of 2008. We saw it as he tore through the minor leagues. The chances of Parra putting up a sub-4.50 ERA are far higher than Suppan’s, and as a team with a roughly 15% chance to make the playoffs this season, that’s just a chance that the Brewers have to take.
I refuse to even address the issues of Manny Parra’s mental health, as I feel it is irresponsible of us as fans to attempt to make diagnoses as these without knowing anything about the player or his situation. Regardless of Parra’s mental state, his potential is still much higher than that of Suppan’s, which is the crux of the argument that this move is the wrong one.
Regardless, the Brewers are unwilling to let their 12.5 million dollar man sit in the bullpen, and instead are willing to risk letting their Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun playoff window close just to avoid admitting that they were wrong to sign Suppan. That means that the bullpen will contain both Chris Narveson and Manny Parra, lefties who should be able to pitch 2+ innings in some appearances. Parra does have a changeup which should be able to neutralize right handed batters, and Macha has shown no aversion to sending Narveson against right handers. At least when Suppan needs to come out after giving up 5 runs in 3 innings, the Brewers will be ready with two superior pitchers in the bullpen.
There’s no question in my mind that this move is wrong. There aren’t any data points from the last 4 years that suggest that the Brewers should give Suppan 120 innings or more of starting pitching while limiting Parra to likely 50 or 60 low leverage relief innings. As mentioned above, the Brewers only have a slim shot of making the playoffs this season, and so they need multiple things to go right. With this move, Brewers management is limiting the potential of this team.