Rounding the Bases: The Milwaukee Brewers Bullpen | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly column where writers Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski participate in a discussion on one baseball topic. This week, the two tackle the Brewers’ bullpen. You can follow @RyanTopp and @SteveGarczynski on Twitter.

Steve Garczynski:

I’m going to get the thoughts on Kyle Lohse out of the way. Lohse makes the starting rotation better than it would have been by bumping everyone under Yovani Gallardo down a spot in the rotation. He had a career year in 2012, throwing a career high 211 innings and posting a career best 2.86 ERA. He might duplicate the innings, but the ERA will probably be at least a full run higher in 2013. This would have been a decent signing for a team that is right on the playoff bubble. The Brewers aren’t that team, so it looks like another Mark Attanasio vanity signing.

The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen was historically bad in 2012, so Doug Melvin did his best to bandage the wound in the off season. Gone are Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe and Manny Parra, and Melvin raided the Nationals to sign lefties Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez. The best way to demonstrate the difference between the two is that Gorzelanny threw 72 innings in 45 appearances, where Gonzalez threw 35.2 innings in 47 appearances.

The pen is anchored by John Axford. The Axe Man was incredible in 2010 and 2011, and a gas can in 2012. If I were a betting man, I’d say that his 19.2% home run to fly ball rate doesn’t carry over to 2013. That is an insane number, and guy that’s striking out over 10 batters per nine innings shouldn’t get hit that hard again. It would be nice to see him get his walk rate back under 4 BB/9.

Ryan, do you think Doug Melvin did enough to fix the bullpen? Do the new arms matter, or is it addition by subtraction?

Ryan Topp:

I can’t really argue with anything you’ve said about the Lohse signing. You buy a guy with unremarkable stuff who relies on command at the age of 34 for 3 years and you’re basically just praying the bottom doesn’t fall out too soon. The fact that his FIP was a half a run higher than his ERA, and his xFIP was a full run higher tells me that you can add fears of regression to the obvious age issue. The fact that future clubs will have to pay the price for this for the next half decade makes it even less appetizing, as does the loss of the 17th pick in the Rule 4* Draft this year. As GM Doug Melvin has said repeatedly, teams in markets like Milwaukee can’t afford to give up first round picks.

*Steve incorrectly wrote “Rule 5″ when editing this piece. Ryan would like everyone to know that he wouldn’t make that mistake.

Anyway, moving back to the bullpen and your question, I have to just be honest and say I haven’t the foggiest idea of whether or not Melvin “fixed” the bullpen. Going into last year, I thought the pen was set up to be really good, and they completely imploded, so I’m getting out of the bullpen projection business. I think they have some arms that could gel into a successful unit, but exactly how that might unfold I’m not going to presume to know.

As for Axford, I really do think you’re onto something when you point to his home runs. I don’t think that is remotely likely to continue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the walk rate dropped a bit accordingly. It seemed that at times Axford became afraid of coming over the plate, which is only natural. I don’t know that we’ll ever again see the Axford of 2010-11, but I also don’t think that the 2012 version is all we’ll ever see again.

Steve Garczynski:

Jim Henderson was a pleasant surprise for the team in the second half of 2012. He’s a hard thrower who punched out 13.21 batters per 9. That number won’t hold this season, though he could still be a 9+ K/9 pitcher out of the pen. Projections are all over the place for Henderson, ranging from a 3.63 ERA from Steamer and a 4.94 ERA from ZiPS. His BB/9 and HR/9 are going to go a long way toward determining how useful he’ll be to the Brewers.

Hey, did you remember that the Brewers traded Raul Mondesi Jr. for Burke Badenhop back in December? Badenhop is a sinker baller who should add depth to the pen. There aren’t many interesting facts about Badenhop. He does have a career .69 HR/9, so maybe he’ll do a decent job of keeping the ball in the park, especially in Cincinnati and in the summer in Chicago when Wrigley turns into a launching pad.

Really, this is just another bullpen and as noted, it’s a fool’s errand to try and predict the success or failure of a bullpen before the start of the season. Small samples sink season stats, and in reality, the production of the bullpen is dependent on the number of innings that a starting rotation is able to cover. A well rested bullpen can dominate, and the same bullpen looks like they’ll never hold a lead if they’re called into the game before the 7th every night.

Ryan Topp:

Yeah, it’s tough to talk about a bullpen, because every assumption you make seems just about as likely to be right as wrong. For instance, I think Badenhop is essentially the new Kameron Loe. Both are sinker guys with some platoon issues, who can be useful at times but will also become hit prone at others. But what does that mean for this year? In 2010, Loe was really good for the Brewers. In 2011 he was less so and last year he got even worse. Will Badenhop look like the 2010 version of Loe, the 2012 version or none of the above? Who knows? The vagaries of the small sample are just too much to be very certain about anything.

Going back to some previously mentioned guys, the two new lefties in the pen, I get why they added Gorzelanny. He can get out lefties and righties with some effectiveness and is capable of eating innings, and the price was OK. What I don’t get is what use Gonzalez has at this point. He’s dynamite against left handed batters, but isn’t really useful anymore against the right handed. That plays in the playoffs and with managers who like to play matchups, but over the course of the long season I question whether Roenicke will make enough use of him to make him worthy of the roster spot.

Finally, I wanted to talk a little about the young guys. Brandon Kintzler is going to get his first full shot at MLB, and he seems to have the stuff to be an effective middle reliever if his health holds. Beyond him, there is a real chance that we could see Tyler Thornburg in the MLB bullpen if the team finally gives up on starting him or if options run low. Johnny Hellweg is in the same sort of boat, though maybe a little further away. Beyond them, there are some guys like Kyle Heckathorn and Michael Olmstead who could easily get a look if they pitch well. Care to venture any guesses as to who we’ll be talking about coming off a big year in 2013 this time next year?

Steve Garczynski:

If someone is going to breakout in that group on raw stuff, I’d have to go with Hellweg. The Brewers are going to give him every chance to fail as a starter before putting him in the bullpen though. Thornburg is the most intriguing potential bullpen piece. He could be more of a workhorse reliever that eats multiple innings in a game and gets pulled before he has to make another turn through a line up. I’ll admit that it’s wishful thinking that major league managers will start using their bullpen arms in that way.

Overall, this unit of relievers should be an improvement over 2012, if only because their awful luck is unlikely to haunt the Brewers for a second consecutive year. I’m inclined to be a little more optimistic in guessing a win total for Milwaukee this year, giving them an extra couple wins from a bullpen that holds close to a league average number of leads.

Win total predictions will have to wait until Opening Day.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Bob says: March 29, 2013

    One thing I haven’t really considered about the Lohse signing to this point, but came to mind as you started off talking about him in an article on the bullpen, is how it affects the bullpen.

    According to the Brewers website, the current active roster includes Gallardo, Lohse, Estrada, Fiers, Peralta, and Narveson. Without Lohse, that would be our 5 SP. With him, that means one is pushed into the bullpen (likely Narveson). Is Narveson a better RP than the player the Brewers would otherwise have kept on the roster? And when Rogers returns (likely as RP), is he also better than the player the Brewers otherwise keep on the roster? I think the answer to both is “yes” – both in terms of ability and in terms of stamina. Those two will be able to pitch multiple quality innings, which could help tremendously if Fiers, Estrada, or Peralta struggle to pitch deep into games.

    Maybe signing Lohse strengthens the bullpen, in an indirect manner. Or maybe I’m just trying to talk myself into it.

    • Jon Bollig says: March 29, 2013

      I agree but I think that they need to keep Chris in the starting rotation. The need a lefty as a starter and already have a couple in the pen.

  2. Nels says: March 29, 2013

    Narveson isn’t going to the bullpen

    • Bob says: March 29, 2013

      Fiers, Estrada, and Peralta are all better than Narveson. The only reason I can see Narveson in the rotation is if RR wants to put the lefty at 4, so the rotation goes R-R-R-L-R.

      • Nels says: March 29, 2013

        Huh, well I guess that shows how much I can read into things. I thought since fiers had struggled so during SP that he would be the odd man out. At least they’ll see what he’s got I guess

  3. Ross B says: March 29, 2013

    I still think everything Bob said applies to Fiers as well as Narveson. I said the minute that they signed Lohse that whichever of the two should be used the way the Giants did with Lincecum in the playoffs last year since the Brewers have several starters that have struggled to turn the lineup over three times. That being said, I wish it was Fiers staying in the rotation just because I think having a lefty is overrated if he isn’t one of the best five starters, and I don’t think Narveson is one of the best five starters.

    • Jon B says: March 29, 2013

      I dont know, I still like Chris over Fiers. 2010-2011 he won 23 games lost 17 with a average ERA of 4.75. Not the greatest numbers I know but proven numbers when he’s on the mound Brewers give him run support. I think that Fiers still cant handle a full season (believe me I want it to, he pitched amazing the first few months he was called up). But I think the starting rotation should be Yo, Kyle, Marco, Chris, Willy. Just my opinion.

      • Ross B says: March 29, 2013

        Remember, those numbers are pre-Rotator Cuff surgery, which means it isn’t a given he ever gets back to his form as an adequate back-end starter.

      • Jordan says: March 30, 2013

        Not only were those numbers pre-rotator cuff surgery, but they also aren’t very good….at all. 4.75 ERA?? I’d rather go with a higher upside guy if that’s what’s in store. Also, I’m going to pretend you didn’t cite his W-L record to support him….

  4. Ryan Topp says: March 29, 2013

    Thanks everyone for reading.

    I think in a perfect world, the rotation you would like to see over 162 is Yo, Lohse, Estrada, Fiers and Peralta. I think that represents the most upside they have to offer, and this team is going to need some upside to hit if they want to make the playoffs.

    The problem is that Fiers (and to a lesser extent Peralta) just didn’t throw the ball that well in the spring. Add in the facts that Narveson is out of options and will thus need to be rostered or lost and it’s setting up that he’ll be in the rotation over Fiers, at least to start the season. If Fiers is the the pitcher I think he is, he’ll force his way back in sooner rather than later.

    I think it’s really important not to overrate the importance of the opening roster configuration. It’s going to change a lot as the season goes on and players will emerge and others will play their way out.

    • Ryan Topp says: March 29, 2013

      Shows what i know. McCalvy is reporting that Narveson is going to be in the pen. Better long term move anyway, but I’m surprised.

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