Quality against Quantity: Shuffling the Rotation | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

After signing Tom Gorzelanny, Burke Badenhop, and a gang of minor league relievers, and (thankfully?) losing out on starting pitching free agents such as Ryan Dempster or Francisco Liriano, it is apparent that the Brewers are going to trust their young core of starters. These starters seized jobs throughout 2012, and present the 2013 Brewers coaching staff and front office with a flexible-if-unassuming look. Now that we can highly expect that the Brewers’ rotation is an in-house gang, we can revisit some questions posed throughout the offseason. This morning, I’d like to take a quick look at innings pitched ceilings.

Revisiting Workloads
On November 6, I asked, “How many starters do the Brewers need?” I focused that article on the Brewers starters’ innings pitched workloads and ceilings. Digging deep into the gang of in-house arms, it became apparent that the Brewers’ young pitching staff featured some arms better suited for the bullpen than full-season starting roles. Considering Wily Peralta, Fastballer Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Tyler Thornburg, and Mark Rogers as the main starting pitching candidates (along with the injured Chris Narveson, we can revisit their 2012 workloads…

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)
Peralta 2012: 29 IP MLB; 146.7 IP AAA (175.7 IP, +25 IP over 2011)
Thornburg 2012: 22 IP MLB; 112.7 IP MiLB (134.7 IP, -2 IP over 2011)

…as well as their potential 2013 ceilings (judging them by the standard 30-50 IP increase, and the fact that only 89.5% of 2012 NL starts were made by the regular five rotation spots):

Fiers (197 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
Peralta (184 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)
Estrada (166 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
Rogers (156 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP-50 IP increase)
Thornburg (147 IP maximum, assuming .895 of 30 IP increase)

These IP ceilings do not look large, but then again, when we look at numbers like this, we typically assume “hey, everything is going great in the rotation, and everyone is pitching full time.” Of course, this is typically not the case in — in fact, only five 2012 National League teams had rotations with four starters that reached 147 or more IP; nine NL teams featured four starters with 147 or more IP in 2011 (2012 Nationals, 2012 Reds, 2011 and 2012 Giants, 2011 and 2012 Cardinals, 2012 Phillies, 2011 Diamondbacks, 2011 Brewers, 2011 Dodgers, 2011 Pirates, 2011 Astros, 2011 Marlins, and 2011 Mets). Overall, fewer than half of the National League clubs in 2011 and 2012 featured rotations with four spots that pitched what we might consider a full-time starting role; and that, of course, doesn’t even approach the fact that somewhere in there, a fifth rotation spot is floating around.

Accompanying Data: 2011-2012 NL Rotations with Runs Prevented

The Lack of Glamor in NL Rotations
If it feels like I am piling on the wishful thinking lately, good, I am. The reason is, this is our rotation, we have a lot of questions about it, and there are a lot of potential issues with the rotation. However, just like we can address the causes of Fiers’s difficult 10 GS stretch, or look at why Estrada’s late season surge is not uncharacteristic, we can address the make up of NL rotations themselves. By looking at the actual composition of rotations, we can learn about how our assumptions about starting rotations are mistaken; although we might like to look at a group of starters and see more than Yovani Gallardo and a gang of question marks, the truth is, most rotations don’t get any better than that. This fact should influence how we view the Brewers’ 2013 rotation.

Even further, rotations like the 2012 Giants surely had few question marks before the season, and yet that rotation’s main starters were more than 20 runs below average (thanks largely to Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito). We can say the same about the 2011 Cardinals rotation, which missed Adam Wainwright but still managed to start four regular pitchers; those pitchers were nearly 30 runs below average (thanks to Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook). I think that even the 2012 Reds’ rotation is instructive of how question marks about starters work: their rotation was one of only a handful to feature multiple, notably above average starters; but, how many of you would take Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake (as a group) over Peralta, Estrada, and Fiers (as a group)?

If we hold the Brewers to the standard of constructing a rotation with four or five solid, “dependable” spots, we are holding the Brewers to an unrealistic standard. Not only is our assumption about five man rotations mistaken — that is, most NL clubs do not field even four starters that reach 147+ IP, but our assumptions about the inherent quality of a five man rotation is mistaken: you can have Cain, Vogelsong, Bumgarner, Zito, and Lincecum, run ‘em out there every day, and still have a rotation with two replacement-level performances and an aggregate 20 runs below average. How about the 2011 Mets behind R.A. Dickey? Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and Chris Capuano were each between 13 and 25 runs below average. Same with Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, and Ricky Nolasco as a rotation in 2011 (-31 R); and, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Brett Myers, and J.A. Happ in 2011 (-48 R). Jeff Karstens and Paul Maholm pitched well in 2011, but rotation-mates Charlie Morton, James McDonald, and Kevin Correia significantly dragged down that rotation. Even the 2012 Cardinals made the playoffs with one great pitcher (Kyle Lohse), one above average one (Lance Lynn), two below average starters (Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook) and a few placeholders.

In this case, even some of the exceptions in that class of full-time, four starter (or more) rotations from 2011 and 2012 are instructive about our questions for the 2013 Brewers. Before 2011, how many of us would have taken Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Joe Saunders, and Daniel Hudson as a group? A group that was 61 aggregate runs above average!

Conclusion
By now, the point should be clear: certainly, there are questions about the 2013 Brewers’ rotation. We question the previous workload of our starters, we scrutinize their good performances to see if they’re flukes, we might even expect the worst for some reason. As fans, I can’t help but think some of us are fine-tuned for “Murphy’s Law,” and after years of disappointing Brewers teams, maybe we default to the mode of lowering our expectations so the eventual losses aren’t as crushing. Yet, this set of starters, this gang of Gallardo to Narveson, Peralta to Rogers, Fiers to Thornburg, and pocket ace Estrada, are nothing like those old, disappointing Brewers rotations of yore. Their workloads might look suspect, and their IP ceilings questionable, but this is the National League where most rotations have the exact same questions (or worse); the fact that we might not expect these guys to work more than 180 IP each (or something) is not a detrimental argument against a starting rotation in contemporary baseball.

Rotation Alignment
(a) Full-time Starters:
Gallardo (once every five days, please!)
Fiers (IP profile projects for a full 25+ starts)
Narveson (start the season, see what happens)
Peralta (IP profile projects for a full 25+ starts)

(b) Part-time Starters:
Estrada (perfect sneaky ace, but also a good swingman. Flexible SP, with an IP profile that still projects for 25+ starts)
Rogers (pitch arsenal profiles well for bullpen. Swingman #2) (See J.P. Breen’s mailbag for an excellent counterargument)
Thornburg (Was 2012 organizational treatment indicative of future in bullpen? Swingman #3)
Gorzelanny (certainly found himself as a reliever, but good history as a swingman. Swingman #4)

Series
2012 NL 100+ IP Rankings
Mike Fiers Pitch Selection & Struggling Starts Profile
Marco Estrada’s Excellent Starts Profile
What is a Dependable Starting Pitcher? 2008-2012

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nels says: December 28, 2012

    Nice Article. I understand the people who are crying out for another top of the line starter with experience, but I think the crew is making the correct decision with their rotation. I don’t know, Maybe Doug is learning a bit from Ted over in Green Bay. The irrational market for superstars dictates that the brewers have to draft and develop quality players. It’s the only rational business decision you can make, and sooner or later you’ll have to throw these guys in the fire. Some will step up and some won’t, but we have a few behind them that we can throw in when we need to. Buying an old horse who only has a year or two left only prolongs the maturation process of our young dogs. Long term success is obviously more profitable than short term and if you have the patience you can build a brand that turns a consistent profit by drafting talent and filling the holes. We sure have the rabid fan base that will keep the coffers full.

    • Mike says: December 28, 2012

      I don’t quite understand the headline to this story. It says Quality Against Quantity. The headline suggested to me that the Brewers have a few quality pitchers, but not a quantity of pitchers. I think the exact opposite is true. The Brewers have a number of MLB-caliber pitchers. The question is whether any pitcher, other than Gallardo, is a front-line pitcher, or whether they are mostly 4s/5s.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: December 28, 2012

        Indeed, Mike — the headline was just a riddle. Like, “Quality Against Quantity” in general. I agree with you that the Brewers have a quantity of pitchers; I also would say that they have quality starters, perhaps some that will surprise Brewers fans.

    • Brewerfanx1 says: December 28, 2012

      Nels,

      Very well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: December 28, 2012

      I agree, overall, Nels, although I do think that with Sanchez or Greinke, this was the offseason where a big contract could have been potentially justifiable (especially since neither SP cost a draft pick — that’s worth approximately $15M to $30M in controllable MLB value depending on the pick). Luckily, the Brewers have these starters, and new TV revenue forthcoming from the MLB — they will have the ability to spend in the near future, which will allow them to fortify their existing controllable players.

      • SecondHandStore says: December 28, 2012

        My fear there is that the Brewers missed the boat and, not so much the Greinke contract, but the Sanchez and Jackson contracts are going to look like great value(or at the very least market value instead of an overpay) next year. In other words, since next year is when the huge increase from National TV money starts, the contracts are going to skyrocket even more than this year. I fee like a lot people, and just to be clear I’m not saying anyone here, look at the contracts this year like an aberration due to a poor buyers market instead of the upwards trend that I see. If that holds true, then a guy like Jackson is going to get more than $13M AAV, so if we sign a guy like that next year, we’d end up paying more in the long run, so that we could cut the budget this year. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see how I could be.

      • Nels says: December 28, 2012

        Well I guess it would’ve been nice to have one of those guys, but I still wonder if those contracts are justifiable for the brewers. Player prices aren’t going to freeze at 2012 levels The price of all players will continue to rise and eat into that added tv revenue but obviously not all of it. By the time that 150 million is paid to a declining zack or sanchez and If one of our home grown players turns out we will have less money to sign them.

        It will be interesting to see if our offensive prowess can make some of these so called 4/5′s into 2/3′s through better run differential.

  2. SecondHandStore says: December 28, 2012

    “…only five 2012 National League teams had rotations with four starters that reached 147 or more IP”.

    This is what worries me. I agree that it’s doable to patch together spot starts throughout the year to make up for missed starts from injured pitchers, but aren’t we talking about rotations where 3, maybe 4 guys are expected (w/caveat that anything can happen and no starter is guaranteed to give a single inning in any given season) to go 180+ IP? So if that is true, and pitchers often fall short of their projected IP ceilings, shouldn’t we expect that our guys, with their lower ceilings, also have a good chance to fall short? I don’t think I’m being overly pessimistic or anything, I’m not trying to be anyway. This prospect just really worries me.

  3. randall dybzinski says: December 29, 2012

    nice write up. i guess it can’t hurt to expect a staff to be the orioles of the early 1970′s, but as you point out, it just doesn’t happen that often. do you think the brewers staying away from the suppan and wolfe three year deals is because the fa pool is bad? or because melvin’s been there and done that and doesn’t want it no more
    or is this a new approach all together—going with draft picks that the brewers have developed?
    experts mock the brewers inability to draft and develop pitchers it seems often.
    i like the idea of home growns getting a legitimate chance.

  4. Sean Boho says: December 29, 2012

    I’m a little surprised by the Liriano comment… To me, he is the exact type of risk player the Brewers need. Granted, there is a lot of risk, but at his best, he is relatively cheap and has the potential to be a 2/3. Most people forget his best and in the national league he could be dominant. Upside great, downside, he eats some innings, gets injured and gives the youngsters a chance.

  5. Dan says: January 3, 2013

    Unfortunately with the percieved rotation Milw projects you are looking at third or fourth place. It just like these clowns last year that were singing the praises of Francisco Rodriguez. These are young unproven pitchers except for Gallardo. They truly need to sign a starter.. We will see

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