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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