Rounding the Bases: Starting Rotation | 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. Over the past few weeks they have previewed the Brewers Infield and Outfield. This week, they discuss the rotation.

Ryan Topp:

Well, Steve, here we go. Whatever the 2013 Brewers become, it will be largely either because the rotation allowed or caused it. While you could say that about every team in MLB every year, this year the range of possible outcomes in the rotation is particularly wide for Milwaukee, or at least so it seems.

At the top of the rotation, Yovani Gallardo has turned into a reliable, inning eating number 2 starter. He flashes dominance at times, hinting at the ability to maybe be a true ace if he could ever develop plus command of all his pitches, but thus far he hasn’t. Not that I’m complaining. A number 2 is a great thing to have, especially one locked into a well below market contract for the next 2-3 years. Sure, everyone wants a “true ace,” but they’re really in remarkably short supply and teams have won World Series with less impressive staff leaders than Yo.

The problem is what comes after Gallardo. It’s not that guys like Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Chris Narveson and Wily Peralta don’t have things going for them. They do, to a man. It’s just that not one of them comes without significant question marks, and they (and possibly a few others) are about to be asked to try and hold down 4/5th’s of a rotation. So what do you think, Steve, are they up to the task?

Steve Garczynski:

Gallardo is the clear number one on this squad and could pitch in any rotation. At this point in his career, he can be penciled in for 30-33 starts, 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. That’s comforting for a manager. It’s too bad that Gallardo’s flaws prevent him from reaching an elite level. His lack of command leads to a high walk total and home run rate, and his inefficiency forces him out of games early. Gallardo has pitched 33 per season in 2011 and 2012, but just barely topped 200 innings. A more efficient pitcher could stretch an extra half inning per start and then you’re talking about a 220 innings per season.

Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers are probably the only other two solid spots on the staff. Estrada doesn’t seem very sexy, but the guy actually had a higher K/9 than Gallardo last season. Combine that with the fact that he walked 1.69 fewer batter per game than Gallardo last season and you can see why their WARs were similar in 2012, even though Estrada pitched 66 fewer innings. It’s the gopher ball haunts Estrada. I’d like to cut and paste the Estrada info when talking about Mike Fiers, since he’s another guy that lacks overwhelming stuff, yet still finds a way to rack up strikeouts. Fiers doesn’t quite have Estrada’s command. He does have a longer track record for above average strikeout rates and is a little better at keeping the ball in the yard.

I really wish those two were the Brewers’ 4-5 starters and instead of 2-3. I like those guys, I’m just not sure I want to settle down with these flawed men.

Ryan Topp:

I think that last, oddly Jason Parks-like line, sums up my feelings on Estrada and Fiers too. I would feel really good about contending having them as the 4th and 5th best starters on the staff, but the Brewers are going to need them to be better than that. I’m just not sure they’re up to it, especially when it comes to needing to eat innings. Before moving on, I should throw out the caveat for the sake of JP’s head not exploding that while the results between Fiers and Estrada tend to look something alike, they really aren’t the same pitcher.

Anyway, beyond the top 3, there is talent, but laden with question marks. Top prospect Wily Peralta showed quite a bit in the majors, posting a 2.48 ERA over 29 innings, most of them in September. Even though most people don’t talk much about it, he’s one of the hardest throwing starting pitchers in all of MLB. He also loses command of the zone at times, missing both in and out of it, leading to too many walks and hard hit balls. When he’s on, he’ll generate a lot of ground balls and strikeouts, but just how often will that be?

Mark Rogers is a whole other issue entirely. Well, not entirely. Like Peralta, he’s struggled to command his pitches for much of the year in the minor leagues last year before putting it together and making a solid run at the end of the year in the majors. On top of that are the long standing health issues that have limited him year after year. Do you trust Rogers?

Steve Garczynski:

I’ve always been of the opinion that if Rogers is healthy, the Brewers should let him throw. Shutting him down hoping to avoid further injury seemed foolish, and what do you know? Rogers is having a terrible spring with decreased velocity, pitching like a guy with extended DL stints in his immediate future.

Peralta looks like he has the goods to be a solidly above average pitcher in Milwaukee. I don’t know if I can count on it coming together, though. The Brewers organization has done such a poor job of developing pitching talent, I don’t think I can buy a project like Peralta reaching his projection, let alone his ceiling. He is talented enough that barring an injury, he’ll spend 6 seasons as a Brewer.

Ryan Topp:

Yeah, I can’t see expecting anything out of Rogers except probably some time on the disabled list. Not that he can’t give them anything, I just wouldn’t want to expect it. I think I’m a little more bullish on Peralta than you are, though. The talent is obvious, and he’s shown flashes of realizing it. I know you’re nursing some ancient grudges against the team’s pitching development staff for the dark years of the 00’s. The fact is that at this point, though, his development is mostly going to be in the hands of pitching coach Rick Kranitz and his staff. They’ve only been here 2 years and they’ve had their share of successes, so I don’t see inevitable disappointment. It is probably going to be an uneven road ahead for Peralta, but, if he can stay healthy, I think he’ll have some really good years.

Steve Garczynski:

We need to circle back to your comments about Yovani Gallardo. I know you think Gallardo, at age 27, could potentially break out as an elite starter. This ignores the reality of his game. I was surprised when reading Paul Sporer’s 2013 Starting Pitchers Guide to see that Doug Thorburn had graded out Gallardo’s mechanics as an F. He lacks balance, posture, has a short release distance and is inconsistent with his delivery. Looking back at the examples of Gallardo’s poor command, it made sense why he gives up so many home runs. Poor posture, inconsistent delivery, poor command.

We’ve already seen the best of Yovani Gallardo.

Poor mechanics may plague the organization (Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers are two other 2013 starters with this issue) which appears to focus on a high, over the top release point. That forces a lean into the pitcher’s delivery instead of a lower arm slot that maintains a straighter back and longer stride towards home plate.

The Brewers ranked 21st in baseball with 3.25 BB/9, and that was with 21 starts by Zack Greinke to keep that number in check. Is this pitching staff built to pitch in a high run environment like Miller Park?

Ryan Topp:

You make some valid points about the Brewers, and I would encourage everyone to check out the link you referenced where they were pretty hard on the Brewers mechanically. It’s always hard to be too definitive with pitching mechanics, because credible minds can disagree on what makes up “good” and “bad” mechanics. We’re going to try and get Doug Thornburn on the Bernie’s Crew podcast to talk about this issue in more depth.

Moving on to the rest of the guys, we have Chris Narveson looking pretty good for a spot in the rotation, at least to start the year. It’s hard to know what to expect from a guy coming off major shoulder surgery, but at least he presents another possible credible major league starter. I guess the #7 man at this point would have to be Tyler Thornburg, though I’ve always seen him as more of a reliever than a starter.

After that, you start getting into guys who have yet to pitch at all in the big leagues. Hiram Burgos looked really good during team Puerto Rico’s run to the WBC finals, and it’s not hard to see him possibly pitching in Milwaukee in 2013. Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann are both probably more in line for a 2014 debut, but it’s not impossible to imagine them earning their way up to the big leagues sometime really late in the year.

Steve Garczynski:

Tyler Thornburg is unlikely to make an impact in the starting rotation. Like you said he’s a reliever, and even then you have to question what kind of reliever with his propensity to give up home runs making him ill-suited to put out a fire in the middle of an inning.

This spring has given me some hope that Chris Narveson will be useful. He seems have most of his skills intact, so durability may be the biggest question for a guy coming back after rotator cuff surgery. You know, back in my day that ended a guy’s career.

As far as Burgos, Nelson and Jungmann are concerned, either they’re suddenly doing something special in the minors, or the Brewers are in a very bad spot if these guys are getting called up to start. I wouldn’t give the WBC any more weight than Spring Training, and the minor league track record for all three is solid at best. Maybe I can wish really hard for a pleasant surprise.

Ryan Topp:

I’m at least optimistic that Thornburg’s stuff is going to play up if moved to the rotation, especially the fastball velocity. If he does pick up a few miles an hour there, as so many do once asked to just let loose, it’ll be a lot harder for guys to consistently square up on him and the home run issues should lessen.

I share the skepticism on Burgos spring numbers, and really all spring numbers. Long term, I still think of him as having sort of a 5/6 starter upside, though the way things might play out this year that could end up being useful. Nelson and Jungmann are probably either a disaster or a miracle away from any pre-September action, though both are possible this year.

I guess, in the end, we didn’t break much new ground here. The rotation after Gallardo is mostly question marks, which really everyone knows. There are some things that suggest they might possibly be able to get by if most things break right and the lineup and bullpen do some really good things. Honestly, though, part of me feels like they’re mostly just sifting and winnowing through this current group and hoping that a few of them can stick and later be added to some of the younger arms in the system currently working their way up. That’s probably the best way to play things at this moment, even if it isn’t the ideal position for a franchise to be in.

Next week, we’ll complete our survey of the Brewers 2013 roster by looking at the bullpen.


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