In the 2011 National League, I counted 71 pitchers that worked 100+ innings primarily as starters (i.e., more than 50% of their appearances occurred in games started). As you probably deduced during that sentence, that’s notably fewer pitchers than 16 full-time five-man rotations would require. Oddly enough, once one moves outside of the regular-starting pitcher range, the number of pitchers required to fill the remaining starts during a season expands by an extremely large percentage. Although you might say, “hey, 71 100+ IP pitchers is only 9 short from the 80 pitchers required to staff full-time five man rotations in the 2011 NL;” well, those “replacement” spots required 66 pitchers in 2011 NL (and that’s before you even count emergency starters, pitchers that worked only one start over the entire season).
And so, meet your 2012 Brewers — if there’s a more fitting motto for this team than, “what can go wrong, will,” I haven’t found it. While the Brewers were the only club to require six starting pitchers during all of 2011, they’re already searching for their seventh starter before Memorial Day 2012. Yesterday, Marco Estrada injured his leg while running the bases. Although the initial word is a “strained right hip flexor,” Jeremy Warnemuende reported that Estrada said he felt a “pop” in his quad:
Though trainers told him he’d injured the hip flexor, Estrada said he felt a “pop” in his quad as he ran to first. He’s not sure how he made it all the way to second.
Needless to say, the Brewers are looking at this as a potential long-term problem, awaiting an MRI for further details. In the short term, Ron Roenicke noted that Manny Parra would line up with Estrada’s next start, and he would need more rest after his recent appearances anyway.
So, there’s potential starter number 7. Johnny Wholestaff might be waiting in the wings for Estrada’s next scheduled start, but every Brewers fan must be wondering, “what’s the long term solution?”
Many Brewers fans have been champing at the bit to see Peralta work as a starter in the big show. Peralta stormed the prospect scene last year, potentially answering previous doubts about his conditioning and secondary pitches. Peralta throws a hard fastball, and also uses a change up and slider to accompany that main pitch.
I think the overall urge to see Peralta start for the Brewers is stronger after his brief cup of coffee earlier this season. However, the righty is currently struggling in Nashville, boasting a basic line of 9 IP, 14 ER, 6 K / 6 BB during his last two outings. While this should not necessarily derail the righty’s eventual trip to the Brewers’ rotation, the stronger developmental option might be to keep Peralta in Nashville to work out his recent control issues.
At this point, it’s more of a matter of “when,” not “if,” for Peralta, but that does not mean that rushing the righty is a good idea.
Fresh on the heels of his unreal 2011 campaign, Fiers leads the Nashville regulars in ERA, boasting an extremely respectable 4.12 mark in the extreme Pacific Coast League. Better yet, Fiers is building on his 69 K / 22 BB / 4 HR in 64.7 IP in the 2011 PCL, featuring 42 K / 16 BB / 3 HR in 48 2012 innings.
Fiers is a candidate to throw the baby with the bath water on the mound, as the righty boasts a full repertoire of pitches, including a year-old cut fastball. He might not blow anyone away with his fastball, but he exhibits strong control on the mound and has enough tools to keep batters off balance.
Replacement Grab Bag
There are other starters in the Brewers’ farm system that could be recalled, although several remain off of the 40-man roster, which would require a corresponding roster move by Doug Melvin.
Mark Rogers is working regular starts for the Nashville Sounds, and he is also on the 40-man roster, which would make a transaction easier for the organization. However, Rogers’s pitching line in Nashville does not necessarily impress — while his 5.29 ERA is at least serviceable in the Pacific Coast League, his 22 K / 19 BB / 6 HR performance in 32.3 innings is problematic. While it would certainly be a feel-good story to see Rogers finally claim a spot in the Brewers’ rotation, one must wonder whether that’s the best option for Rogers and the Brewers this year.
Seth McClung — one of my favorite swingmen of all time — and Claudio Vargas are currently working in Nashville, but would require corresponding transactions to jump onto the Brewers’ 40-man roster. While neither McClung nor Vargas is blowing away their Pacific Coast League competition, both have the benefit of MLB low-rotation experience, as well as experience in the sometimes-uncertain world of starter/reliever swaps in the big leagues. While Vargas is getting into the swing of things in Nashville, working 3 innings during his last start, McClung can boast a recent 7-scoreless-inning outing in his last start.
One benefit of the current Brewers pitching woes — if you can see a silver lining in this mess — is that the damage is occurring in the low rotation thus far. By now it should be common knowledge that no team truly has a 1-2-3-4-5-type rotation (the Brewers’ was more like 2-2-2-3-3 last year), but most teams still have extremely low performance levels in the low rotation (this is what made the Brewers’ rotation consistency so valuable last year).
Last year, the average NL 4th and 5th starters (100+ IP) worked between 165 and 177 innings while allowing between 90 and 105 runs (respectively, 165 IP / 90 R and 177 IP / 105 R, on average). In terms of replacement value, here’s how things deteriorated from regular starters to the most temporary of replacement starters:
Average NL starter: 178.5 IP, 82 R
Average NL Swingman: 98.35 IP, 54 R
Average NL “High Replacement”: 55 IP, 28 R
Average NL “Low Replacement”: 22 IP, 13 R
In the 4th and 5th rotation spots, teams already encountered performances that might be anywhere from 8 to 20+ runs worse than the league average starter. Beyond that, two swingmen might provide a team 190 innings at least 20 runs below the league average; there were some high-level replacements that produced moderate performance levels at 55 innings-a-piece (on average), while short-term replacements generally were of little value.
Generally, a team with a standard replacement pyramid might call on one swingman, one high-level replacement, and one short-term replacement. Ultimately, those three pitchers might work 175 innings and allow 95 runs. While that does not necessarily look all that bad compared to some standard 4th and 5th starters, keep in mind that the benefit of a regular starter is that a regular starter means that a team has the security of not having to make added transactions to find warm bodies to make starts.
It’s a small silver lining, but at the very least, the Brewers are currently replacing players for a rotation spot where one would not typically expect average performances. Unfortunately, that also allows us to see the relative value of Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada.
Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
J.P. Breen, Minor League Box Scores. Disciples Of Uecker.
Zettel, “2011 NL SP Rankings” series. 4 November 2011. JSOnline.com.