Second Half Preview: The 42% | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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


Yeah, we had a bad first half. It was terrible. But you know what? On a positive note, we can have a good second half.
-Jonathan Lucroy

Our beloved Milwaukee Nine open the “second half” with a daunting task: 14 games scheduled over 13 days. This is a daunting task because the Brewers have cobbled together a rotation based around three main starters and a few swingmen / replacements / extended emergency starters over the past few weeks. By my count, the Brewers needed seven starters to handle the last 21 games (played over 22 days).

Here we find a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for the Brewers: as Adam McCalvy said best, a club that is so banged up cannot simply move forward and start over for the second half. While a positive attitude might make things seem better, even placing aside the Brewers’ batting injuries, their set of potential starters is banged up or out-of-reach, too:
-Hiram Burgos: minor league rehab
-Marco Estrada: 15-day DL (minor league rehab)
-Mike Fiers (minors; broken arm)
-Alfredo Figaro: 15-day DL
-Johnny Hellweg (minors)
-Chris Narveson (minors; outrighted, off 40-man)
-Mark Rogers: 60-day DL

One can argue about the potential ceiling of those starters, but it is worth noting that this list features DofU‘s #3 Brewers prospect, as well as three starters that combined for 300 notably above average innings for the 2012 Brewers. Where we once had offseason debates about whether or not Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers could repeat their performances (or continue to produce average or serviceable MLB innings), now there is no debate whatsoever that they have had little chance to prove themselves in 2013.

National League Rotations
Oddly enough, the Brewers are not alone in their midseason plight. The 2013 National League teams have already used 124 pitchers to start ballgames — including nine pitchers that have only made one start for their respective club. While the average club used 8 starters, the median for the league is at 9 (thanks to some transactions that already have a trio of starters working for different NL clubs). Oddly enough, the number of pitchers a club uses does not absolutely correspond to their success in 2013, as approximately six clubs that are contending in their divisions (or “roughly” competitive in the wild card race) have used eight or more starters thus far (including excellent pitching clubs, St. Louis and Pittsburgh).

Atlanta: 6
Arizona: 7
Cubs: 7
Cincinnati: 7
Philadelphia: 7
San Francisco: 7
Colorado: 8
Miami: 9
Mets: 9
St. Louis: 9
San Diego: 9
Washington: 9
Los Angeles: 10
Milwaukee: 10
Pittsburgh: 11

Not surprisingly, among these clubs, the Braves have the strongest, most-regular five-man rotation. Five of Atlanta’s starters have made at least 18 starts, and four of those have already reached 19 starts. By contrast, Milwaukee’s 10 starters include three workhorses with 19 or more starts (Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and franchise starter Yovani Gallardo), but no one else above 12 starts (including four pitchers with three starts). The Brewers are one of eight clubs that have yet to use a “true” emergency starter (pitcher with one game started); they join Arizona, Colorado, the Dodgers, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and St. Louis. This stat reflects the fact that the Brewers’ rotation has been so unstable that a few of their “emergency starters” have become regular fixtures (most notably Tom Gorzelanny, who is one of the reasons the Brewers’ pitching has stabilized lately).

One of the problems with using ten starting pitchers is that a club loses the opportunity to present a solid, consistent rotation. Not only does this tax the bullpen (as arms are shuffled into and out of the pen, as the Brewers have recently practiced), but it also makes it less likely that the club will be able to establish a consistent routine among its starters. “Starting pitchers” are reduced to, “potential starting pitchers.” In the Brewers’ case, that means three workhorses, and a handful of other potential options.

Rotational Shifts
Since Alfredo Figaro‘s last start on June 23, the Brewers have employed a strange version of a three-man rotation. This rotation is fortified with Donovan Hand, Johnny Hellweg, and most recently, Gorzelanny. Given Gorzelanny’s performance, he has not only earned himself a spot in the Brewers’ rotation, but he has arguably increased his potential trading stock for a mideason contender. While contenders might only acquire Gorzelanny for their bullpen, having the veteran southpaw available as an emergency starter (or swingman) is definitely a more attractive option than merely trading for a LOOGY. Gorzelanny’s biggest obstacle to establishing himself in the Brewers’ second half rotation might be a transaction that moves him to another organization.

If the Brewers have four dependable arms at the moment, their fifth spot raises some questions. Tyler Thornburg has been excellent out of the bullpen, including two consecutive outings that stretched him beyond 80 pitches. As the Brewers received excellent pitching performances from a few surprising arms after “selling” in 2012, one wonders if Thornburg will be the young pitcher to step up and make his case for a starting job in the second half of 2013.

Given their hardscrabble composition, the Brewers’ recent pitching performances of 4.14 (June) and 4.35 (July) runs per game are quite impressive. As the replacement offense works through a revolving door of injuries, the story of the Brewers’ second half can be seized by their pitchers:

Optimistic Storylines
If Gallardo and Lohse are not traded, and if Peralta continues his noted improvements, the Brewers’ starters could fortify a strong, young middle diamond core entering 2014. While one might justifiably argue that the Brewers do not have a core suitable for building a legitimate, 90-win contending club next year, they could establish a strong case for building a competitive roster in 2014.

One might argue that the Brewers’ run in 2012 falsely convinced the front office that their club could be competitive for 2013. On those grounds, one might argue that the Brewers should trade anyone they can and work on a quick, aggressive roster turnaround. However, one might respond by noting that baseball rosters are suited to fluctuate year-to-year, and for that reason, simply building or maintaining a competitive core is all that’s necessary to set a club up for a run at a playoff spot.

This latter scenario obviously hinges on a lot going right, but one might counter that with a question, “what else could go wrong?” If the Brewers did not suffer injuries (and ineffectiveness) to a handful of starting pitchers, if the Brewers did not suffer season-ending injuries to their 1B and fifth-spot batter, if the Brewers did not suffer consistent, nagging injuries from their LF and 3B, while also enduring the standard streaks and slumps (see Lucroy, Rickie Weeks, even Peralta, Lohse, etc.), we might be able to address the Brewers’ roster from a completely different angle.

Clearly, we cannot use the flipside of Murphy’s Law to argue that this 2013 club was a definitive contender. But, they certainly could have been a more competitive club, and here’s where decisions get dicey for 2014. While it is easy to say, “trade, trade, trade,” the Brewers players themselves have an opportunity to grab their jobs, prove their ability to produce, and compete to close 2013. If Murphy’s Law is reversed enough at the end of 2013, the Brewers could have a core of three starters and the strongest middle diamond in a decade going forward. One can dream, anyway.

2014 Core
SP1 Yovani Gallardo
SP2 Kyle Lohse
SP3 Wily Peralta

C Jonathan Lucroy
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Jean Segura
LF Ryan Braun
CF Carlos Gomez
RF Norichika Aoki

Here’s 40% of the Brewers’ potential 25-man 2014 roster. It is worth noting that, according to Cot’s Contracts, the Brewers have less than $75 million in contracts guaranteed for 2014 (and that number should remain relatively low if arbitration-eligible players such as John Axford are traded). This type of 10-man core leads me to ask, “if a few players seize jobs and answer questions about their potential and ability, is this a competitive roster core?”

RESOURCES:
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Cot’s Contracts. BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2001-2013.

IMAGE (Milwaukee Brewers): http://onmilwaukee.com/sports/articles/tylerthornburgrole.html

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Steven says: July 18, 2013

    Is this a competitive roster core?

    The core of Braun, Gomez, Segura, Lucroy is about as good as you could ask for, especially with 3 of them at premium positions. And Aoki, Ramirez and Weeks are adequate. But I just do not think the pitching is good enough to be competitive. Yo no longer looks like a legit ace (if you ever thoguht he was), Lohse doesn’t strike enough people out for the Brewers porous defense, and Willy is still a question mark.

    The answer to me is, unfortunately, no.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 18, 2013

      I agree to an extent on the downside (esp. on Lohse and Peralta), although I’m not sure the argument that Yo is not a legit ace is a knock against him; by that definition, there are about 5 legit aces in baseball (which i would agree with). The fact is, Gallardo is one of only a few pitchers to put together 4 consecutive above average seasons with 100+ IP; if he finishes this year below average, it will be the first below average year of his career.

  2. SecondHandStore says: July 18, 2013

    I don’t see competing next year as an optimistic story-line. In my opinion it’s the worst-case scenario as it takes away the team’s ability to put themselves, via trades, in a better position a couple of years down the line when they might have a chance at sustained competitiveness. It’s sacrificing the future for one last shot and it’s going to lead to atrophy.

    • david says: July 18, 2013

      I do think this can be a competitive team. I do like Aoki more than most people because I think he gives the Crew a left handed bat and one that draws walks. Aoki also has decent defense at a reasonable salary. I do not care to address Weeks, as it seems to be done ad nauseum.

      For this team to win, everything must go there way. No major injuries and some good luck. Last year was proof of that. We have to win with decent starting pitching, a reliable bullpen, and an offense that can produce just enough runs. If one of those areas is lacking we end up just trying to reach five hundred.

      As I look to the future, It doesn’t look overly optimistic. We will have to depend on minor league pitching which hasn’t proved much this year. Lots of arms but none that are dominant. Same is true with position players. There might be a few outfield bats at the lower minor league levels, so it’s hard to get overly excited at this juncture. With that said, Melvin has worked out getting a few important pieces by trades or free agency that has worked out good. If we could only start drafting better, especially pitching, we could have a really great team.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 18, 2013

      I think both your posts show the difficult dynamic of this roster. Frankly, I think there’s a middle ground. I absolutely do believe they should try and trade as many players as possible, but it’s not like they NEED to; if they’re not blown away for YoGa and Lohse, they have a serviceable rotation base into 2014. Ramirez, Weeks, and Aoki are tougher; they may have less upside for the roster, but are still solid pieces if on the roster.

      I believe if they can trade what they need to, they have a good enough core for an “everything goes right” season to keep the club competitive. I believe there can be an intermediate between “contending” and “rebuilding” while they see how their farm shapes up.

  3. Hank George says: July 18, 2013

    The outfield is solid subject only to what happens with Braun and MLB management.

    The infield is anything but, save for Segura. Can Ramirez return to form in 2014? Can Hart? I just don’t think Weeks is the answer at second. This is an area I hope they consider in any deals this month.

    I would not let Aoki go. I would love to move Rodriguez and he is perfect for a team making a run.

    Lucroy is aces now and will be a perennial all-star soon.

    Nelson could pitch for us now. There are a couple of arms that should break out next year. I have reservations galore about Thornburg and Fiers. I don’t see them contributing. But I know Hellweg will be a front end starter or ace reliever in a year or two. Estrada is more than adequate if he’s back to his old self. I like the upside on Burgos. And there is more help that could emerge next season.

    They can contend next year if a lot of things break right, most notably Braun’s outcome and what Hart and Ramirez can contribute.

    This is far, far from a “sell off and start over” club.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 18, 2013

      I like this upside of the roster; I think we do need to consider a “best case” as well as a “reality” snapshot of the farm / organization.

    • SecondHandStore says: July 18, 2013

      It’s not a sell off and start over move. There is talent in the system. It’s just not high end or flashy. It’s just solid/average but that’s pretty important. Not every player has to be a super star. It’s a sell off and develop players for a year or two move. This team has a shot to compete next year for sure, but if they take it then they don’t have much to look forward to coming up from the minor league system over the next 3-5 years and then they’d really be in trouble. Then they’re likely to be in full blown rebuild mode everyone is so terrified of. Sell off some pieces now that aren’t likely to contribute past 2015 anyway and you’ve got a solid chance, or at least a better chance to have impact talent coming up over the next 5+ years because you’re not having to deplete the farm system over and over to fill holes by acquiring MLB players through trades for short windows of competition.

      Trade Gallardo because, and I say this as a fan of his, he is post peak. He has always had command/control issues and his velocity is trending the wrong way. He’s on contract through next year, 2015 if they exercise the option and then what? Extend him? Why?
      Trade Lohse because he’s not going to ever be worth any more than he is right now and he’s old and getting older. He’s already had issues with his elbow this year so the potential injury warning signs are there.
      Trade Aoki because he’s only on contract through next year and he’s getting older. 2012 was likely the best he’s ever going to be so waiting only hurts his trade value. Already this year his slugging numbers are down as are his net steals.
      Trade Axford, K-Rod, Gonzalez, Henderson because they’re pitching well right now and they’re relievers which are by nature both volatile and fungible.
      I wait to trade A-Ram and Weeks because they’re value is either incredibly low or non-existent right now.
      I know people want a Skaggs type pitcher for Gallardo but it’s not going to happen anymore. Take what you can get now or in the offseason. Same with Lohse. Both of them starting next season with the Brewers is a failure in my book.

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