Should the Brewers Stop Developing Pitchers? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

The 2006 Houston Astros featured as many home-grown starting pitchers on their roster as the Cincinnati Reds would develop and employ from 2006-present. Shockingly, the 2006 Cincinnati Reds’ starting rotation did not feature one single starting pitcher drafted or signed by the Reds. This is especially impressive given that the Reds sent eleven hurlers to the bump to start a ballgame in 2006. Elizarrrrrrrrrrrdo Rrrrramirrrrrrrrrrrrez (Thanks, Ueck!) and Brandon Claussen were cast-offs that joined veterans from other organizations — Bronson Arroyo, Kyle Lohse, Aaron Harang, and Eric Milton — to form the core rotation. Five other swingmen, emergency starters, or replacements rounded out the rotation. Indeed, the Reds sent 11 starters to the mound once again in 2007, but this time phenom-to-be Homer Bailey joined the fun. Over the years, this would open a series of homegrown starters in Cincinnati:

Cincinnati Reds Homegrown SP Performances
Stats Key: Year (Homegrown / Total SP): Name (IP, ERA+ for organization pre free-agency)
2007 (1/11): Homer Bailey (686.3 IP, 93 ERA+)
2008 (2/10): Bailey; Johnny Cueto (921.3 IP, 117 ERA+)
2009 (2/9): same
2010 (5/9): Bailey, Cueto; plus Mike Leake (526.7 IP, 96 ERA+), Sam LeCure (198.7 IP, 114 ERA+), Travis Wood (208.7 IP, 96 ERA+)
2011 (5/10): same
2012 (3/6): Cueto, Bailey, Leake
2013 (4/6): Cueto, Bailey, Leake; plus Tony Cingrani (29 IP, 168 ERA+)

On the other hand, the Houston Astros featured a whole gang of homegrown aces, solid starters, and replacements in 2006. Marquee ace Roy Oswalt was joined by Wandy Rodriguez in the regular rotation — rounded out by veterans and other organizations’ previous prospects, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Taylor Buchholz. Four homegrown replacements and swingmen joined the veterans, providing a sneak peak at the arms that would lead the Astros into their first series of seasons suspended between rebuilding and competing:

Houston Astros Homegrown SP Performances
2006 (6/10): Roy Oswalt (1932.3 IP, 133 ERA+), Wandy Rodriguez (1306.7 IP, 102 ERA+), Fernando Nieve (107 IP, 96 ERA+), Jason Hirsh (44.7 IP, 74 ERA+), Chris Sampson (358.7 IP, 97 ERA+), Matt Albers (125.7 IP, 76 ERA+)
2007 (7/10): Oswalt, Rodriguez, Sampson, Albers; plus Felipe Paulino (208.3 IP, 70 ERA+), J.C. Gutierrez (21.3 IP, 76 ERA+), Troy Patton (12.7 IP, 128 ERA+)
2008 (2/10): Oswalt, Rodriguez
2009 (4/10): Oswalt, Rodriguez, Paulino; plus Bud Norris (608.7 IP, 91 ERA+)
2010 (4/10): same
2011 (3/9): Rodriguez, Norris; plus Jordan Lyles (245.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
2012 (5/11): Rodriguez, Norris, Lyles; plus Dallas Keuchel (101.7 IP, 77 ERA+), Fernando Abad (84.7 IP, 78 ERA+)
2013 (2/6): Norris, Lyles

Over the last eight years, the Astros produced double the homegrown starters as the Cincinnati Reds. Interestingly enough, both teams only had two winning seasons between 2006-2012. The difference, of course, is that the Reds made their winning seasons count, winning the division in both 2010 and 2012. Their exceptional starting rotation in 2012, anchored by emerging ace Johnny Cueto and solid seasons by Bailey and Mike Leake (not to mention newcomer Mat Latos and veteran Arroyo), proved to be no match for the San Francisco Giants’ bats. For those six homegrown pitchers, including some strong performances, the Reds had two division crowns to show off, as well as a strong roster core moving forward.

Tracking Homegrown Pitchers
I am beginning a series of projects tracing organizational development of homegrown starting pitchers: pitchers signed or drafted by an organization, and then raised through that organization. I am doing this, of course, because a common thread among Brewers fans is, “General Manager Doug Melvin can’t draft or develop starting pitching.” Harmonies to this refrain are common fan lines about the club’s inability to put together a dependable, reliable rotation for 2013. Ironically, Melvin’s club features one of the most homegrown rotations in the National League this year. Franchise Pitcher Yovani Gallardo is joined by last year’s phenom–and now farmhand–Fastballer Mike Fiers and newcomers Wily Peralta and Hiram Burgos. In the grand scheme of things, that’s about as much as a homegrown rotation as one could ask for. However, the question remains, “how far into the future can we project successful seasons by Fiers, Burgos, and Peralta?”

We all know the story by now: Melvin’s pitching draft picks have faced a seemingly uncanny amount of bad luck, stalling development, character issues, and injury troubles: Mark Rogers, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi are Melvin’s only first round picks to make the big leagues as pitchers; Odorizzi has the best chance of success among the trio, although it will come as part of another organization after the trade for Zack Greinke prior to 2011. While Taylor Jungmann made the Disciples of Uecker Top 10 after a strong finish to correct some of his developmental struggles, the bulk of Melvin’s six remaining First Round (and Supplemental First Round) pitchers from 2008-present have questionable status as prospects. Some of the flashes of brilliance provided by Rogers during his stint as a swingman and replacement starter make his injury troubles all the more gut wrenching; one just can’t shake the feeling of, “what might have been?” with Rogers. With other Brewers pitching prospects, Melvin receives more criticism than luck considerations (Eric Arnett jumps to mind here, as many Brewers fans were immediately critical of that pick, and some question the prevalence of question marks about Arnett’s arm prior to the draft).

Nevertheless, the Brewers’ homegrown starters from 2006-present don’t look as rough as one might expect. First, Brewers fans have a tendency to harshly judge Melvin by immediately taking Gallardo out of the equation. “Oh, besides Gallardo, who has Melvin drafted?”

Milwaukee Brewers Homegrown SP Performances
2006 (3/12): Ben Sheets (1428 IP, 115 ERA+), Dana Eveland (59.3 IP, 64 ERA+), Ben Hendrickson (58.3 IP, 60 ERA+)
2007 (3/8): Sheets; plus Yovani Gallardo (958.3 IP, 112 ERA+), Manny Parra (513 IP, 81 ERA+)
2008 (3/8): Sheets, Gallardo, Parra
2009 (2/9): Gallardo, Parra
2010 (3/10): Gallardo, Parra; plus Mark Rogers (49 IP, 120 ERA+)
2011 (1/6): Gallardo
2012 (5/11): Gallardo, Rogers; plus Wily Peralta (68 IP, 97 ERA+), Mike Fiers (137 IP, 106 ERA+), Tyler Thornburg (22 IP, 94 ERA+)
2013 (4/6): Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers; plus Hiram Burgos (18 IP, 137 ERA+ thus far)

Of course, Melvin didn’t draft pitchers such as Ben Sheets, Manny Parra, Dana Eveland, or Ben Hendrickson, but each of those arms were drafted by the Brewers and developed, to some extent, in Melvin’s organization. Interestingly enough, despite Parra’s rough performance in the seasons that followed, Parra’s presence on the 2008 Brewers helped the team to keep a deep, consistent rotation, as Gallardo missed significant time due to injury. Performances such as Parra’s show the importance of developing homegrown starters; Parra wasn’t able to develop into a consistent starter, but his strongest season resulted in a Brewers’ playoff berth. If anything, that kind of timing is crucial for an organization — landing a key performance from an inexpensive player within the organization is an important aspect of producing valuable transactions as an organization.

Brewers fans can criticize Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Fiers, and Burgos all they like, but each of these pitchers showcase another potential strength for the Brewers’ current organizational approach to pitching. Specifically, this gang of starters exhibits the Brewers’ depth, which can help the Brewers make it through 162 games while competing. This was especially evident during the closing months of 2012, where the young starters seized open jobs after the Brewers traded Greinke. In a way, this type of merit-based rotation is also important for an organization. There’s an extent to which the Brewers’ youngsters deserve a chance to prove themselves this year, given their strong performances last year, when the jobs became available. However, one only needs to look at the Astros’ development after 2006 as an indication of what homegrown pitchers can turn into; the other troubling area of developing starting pitchers for the Brewers is when to move on from a youngster that is not yet performing. In this regard, the Brewers’ aggressive move with Fiers earlier this year suggests that the organization is not content to simply wait around for these youngsters.

Are Homegrown Pitchers Necessary For Success?
Focusing on the NL Central, St. Louis Cardinals clubs from earlier this decade provide an interesting model of competing (and winning Championships) without necessarily relying on their own drafted, signed pitchers. Indeed, even though we think of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright as iconic Cardinals, neither one is a product of the Cardinals’ draft or amateur signing efforts. Rather, both pitchers exhibit a key area of success for the Cardinals: the Cardinals obtained both pitchers through other transactions, and honed their abilities and attributes into successful pitchers in St. Louis. Indeed, it’s not until the last couple of years that the Cardinals have really entered the realm of producing multiple high-end, successful, productive starting pitchers from their own draft and signing efforts.

St. Louis Cardinals Homegrown SP Performances
2006 (3/9): Anthony Reyes (220.7 IP, 82 ERA+), Brad Thomson (385.7 IP, 99 ERA+), Chris Narveson (9.3 IP, 96 ERA+)
2007 (1/12): Thomson
2008 (4/11): Thomson; plus Mitchell Boggs (304 IP, 95 ERA+), Mike Parisi (23 IP, 52 ERA+), Jaime Garcia (539.7 IP, 114 ERA+)
2009 (3/9): Thomson, Boggs; plus P.J. Walters (50 IP, 54 ERA+)
2010 (4/10): Garcia, Walters; plus Adam Ottavino (22.3 IP, 46 ERA+), Blake Hawksworth (130.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
2011 (4/9): Garcia; plus Kyle McClellan (378 IP, 106 ERA+), Lance Lynn (253.7 IP, 109 ERA+), Brandon Dickson (14.7 IP, 81 ERA+)
2012 (4/8): Garcia, Lynn; plus Joe Kelly (117.7 IP, 97 ERA+), Shelby Miller (50.3 IP, 213 ERA+)
2013 (3/5): Garcia, Lynn, Miller

Placed side-by-side, the Cardinals indeed have relied on many more homegrown starters than the Brewers from 2006-present, but the roles of those starters are linked more to eventual stints in the bullpen, or replacement roles:

Ben Sheets (1428 IP, 115 ERA+)
Yovani Gallardo (958.3 IP, 112 ERA+)
Manny Parra (513 IP, 81 ERA+)
Mike Fiers (137 IP, 106 ERA+)
Wily Peralta (68 IP, 97 ERA+)
Dana Eveland (59.3 IP, 64 ERA+)
Ben Hendrickson (58.3 IP, 60 ERA+)
Mark Rogers (49 IP, 120 ERA+)
Tyler Thornburg (22 IP, 94 ERA+)
Hiram Burgos (18 IP, 137 ERA+ thus far)

Jaime Garcia (539.7 IP, 114 ERA+)
Brad Thomson (385.7 IP, 99 ERA+)
Kyle McClellan (378 IP, 106 ERA+)
Mitchell Boggs (304 IP, 95 ERA+)
Lance Lynn (253.7 IP, 109 ERA+)
Anthony Reyes (220.7 IP, 82 ERA+)
Blake Hawksworth (130.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
Joe Kelly (117.7 IP, 97 ERA+)
Shelby Miller (50.3 IP, 213 ERA+)
P.J. Walters (50 IP, 54 ERA+)
Mike Parisi (23 IP, 52 ERA+)
Adam Ottavino (22.3 IP, 46 ERA+)
Brandon Dickson (14.7 IP, 81 ERA+)
Chris Narveson (9.3 IP, 96 ERA+)

Indeed, pitchers like Mitchell Boggs, Joe Kelly, and Kyle McClellan show more of the Cardinals’ homegrown strengths than the Brewers’ pitching development. One might note that the Cardinals don’t have a Sheets or Gallardo under their belt (yet; the jury is out on Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia), but the Brewers don’t have that series of dependable arms that regularly jumps between the rotation and bullpen. Perhaps this is where the Rogers injuries hurt the most, or the development issues with some of the Brewers’ other top round pitchers; it’s not necessarily true that homegrown pitchers will always succeed in the rotation, but having someone that can succeed in the bullpen, and then work in the rotation from time to time, is crucial to keeping a team competitive throughout 162.

Perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates, more than any NL Central club from 2006-present, showcase the dangers of sticking with homegrown pitchers for too long. The Pirates only used a couple more organizational draft and sign starters from 2006-present than the Brewers, but they stuck with below average pitchers for quite some time. Specifically, Zach Duke, Ian Snell, and Tom Gorzelanny never seemed to reach their potential with the Pirates; Paul Maholm was the best homegrown Pirates hurler over that time period, and he alternated some strong seasons with rough outings, too.

Pittsburgh Pirates Homegrown SP Performances
2006 (5/10): Paul Maholm (1143.7 IP, 95 ERA+), Zach Duke (964.3 IP, 93 ERA+), Ian Snell (693 IP, 91 ERA+), Tom Gorzelanny (383.3 IP, 90 ERA+), Shane Youman (79 IP, 86 ERA+)
2007 (7/10): Maholm, Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny, Youman; plus John Van Benschoten (90 IP, 47 ERA+), Bryan Bullington (18.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
2008 (5/13): Maholm, Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny; plus Yoslan Herrera (18.3 IP, 43 ERA+)
2009 (3/9): Maholm, Duke, Snell
2010 (3/11): Maholm, Duke; plus Brad Lincoln (159.7 IP, 83 ERA+)
2011 (2/10): Maholm; plus Jeff Locke (84.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
2012 (1/10): Kyle McPherson (26.3 IP, 138 ERA+)
2013 (2/6): Locke; plus Phil Irwin (4.7 IP, 50 ERA+ thus far)

Notably, I began to think of this project while reading a Pirates blog. A Pirates commentator, previewing Burgos, wrote something to the effect of, “hey look, it’s a rookie and the Brewers are letting him pitch.” One gets the feeling that Pirates fans are biding time for their next set of top prospect pitchers to wear the black and gold; one can image that watching Maholm, Duke, Gorzelanny, and Snell anchor the rotation for years drives fan desire to see the new prospects succeed.

Chicago Cubs Homegrown SP Performances
2006 (9/15): Carlos Marmol (528.7 IP, 128 ERA+), Rich Hill (337.7 IP, 106 ERA+), Sean Marshall (530 IP, 112 ERA+), Carlos Zambrano (1826.7 IP, 122 ERA+), Juan Mateo (45.7 IP, 88 ERA+), Mark Prior (657 IP, 124 ERA+), Kerry Wood (1219.3 IP, 119 ERA+), Jae Kuk Ryu (15 IP, 56 ERA+), Ryan O’Malley (12.7 IP, 223 ERA+)
2007 (3/8): Hill, Marshall, Zambrano
2008 (4/10): Hill, Marshall, Zambrano; plus Sean Gallagher (73.3 IP, 87 ERA+)
2009 (4/9): Marshall, Zambrano; plus Randy Wells (528 IP, 103 ERA+)^, Jeff Samardzija (388 IP, 103 ERA+)
2010 (4/9): Zambrano, Wells, Samardzija; plus Casey Coleman (165.7 IP, 70 ERA+)
2011 (5/10): Zambrano, Wells, Coleman; plus James Russell (199.3 IP, 107 ERA+), Andrew Cashner (65 IP, 98 ERA+)
2012 (5/12): Wells, Samardzija, Coleman; plus Chris Rusin (29.7 IP, 64 ERA+), Brooks Raley (24.3 IP, 50 ERA+)
2013 (1/5): Samardzija
^technically drafted by Toronto for the 2008 season (Rule V draft), but Toronto returned Wells to the Cubs for majority of 2008 season

Ironically, of all the NL Central clubs, it’s the Cubs that used the most organizational starters over the last eight years. Of course, this is ironic because Chicago is by far the largest television market in the NL Central, and the Cubs could conceivably run out and sign a guy like Greinke or Sabathia much easier than a club like the Brewers, or even the Cardinals or Reds. Yet, the Cubs relied on pitchers with roles as diverse as workhorse Carlos Zambrano to bullpen-and-rotation jumpers such as Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs appear to run their organizational pitchers according to the theory that relievers truly are pitchers that simply cannot start consistently; if this sounds like a joke, it’s not, given the Cubs’ ability to draw valuable performances from some of their former starters, once they hit the bullpen.

Question / Argument
I will continue this analysis over a detailed look at how NL teams employed their draft and sign starting pitchers from 2006-present. I asked the title question to be eye-catching, but also to address a serious issue with homegrown starters: namely, while some clubs (such as the Giants) continuously draw from deep, successful sets of young, organizational starters, it is not necessarily a club’s homegrown starters that determine that club’s success. The Cardinals’ successful run with Wainwright and Carpenter (not to mention their success with Jeff Suppan, Jake Westbrook, Jason Marquis, and Joel Pineiro, among others) prove that an organization can consistently compete while using arms from outside of their organization. It’s simply a matter of making the correct assessments and making valuable transactions for those pitchers (Cincinnati’s deal for Latos, as well as the Cubs’ deal for Matt Garza, and even the Brewers’ deals for Greinke and Shaun Marcum support this idea, too). In this regard, perhaps we turn away from Melvin’s record developing organization starters, and look at his record with free agent signings and trades. Does the Brewers’ relative inability to develop consistent, dependable, controllable starting pitchers outline their main organizational problem? Or, is the organization’s use of free agent contracts and veteran acquisitions more problematic?

I would like to continue analyzing homegrown starting pitching performances in the NL, because I am not yet convinced that the Brewers’ organizational development of pitching defines that main problem with starting pitching. If we understand the extent to which clubs rely on organizational starters, we can understand the correlation of those starters with organizational success. Once we understand these areas, we can analyze the Brewers’ transactions and development, and analyze the outlook for their starting pitching.

CUBS (17):
Carlos Zambrano (1826.7 IP, 122 ERA+)
Kerry Wood (1219.3 IP, 119 ERA+)
Mark Prior (657 IP, 124 ERA+)
Sean Marshall (530 IP, 112 ERA+)
Carlos Marmol (528.7 IP, 128 ERA+)
Randy Wells (528 IP, 103 ERA+)
Jeff Samardzija (388 IP, 103 ERA+)
Rich Hill (337.7 IP, 106 ERA+)
James Russell (199.3 IP, 107 ERA+)
Casey Coleman (165.7 IP, 70 ERA+)
Sean Gallagher (73.3 IP, 87 ERA+)
Andrew Cashner (65 IP, 98 ERA+)
Juan Mateo (45.7 IP, 88 ERA+)
Chris Rusin (29.7 IP, 64 ERA+)
Brooks Raley (24.3 IP, 50 ERA+)
Jae Kuk Ryu (15 IP, 56 ERA+)
Ryan O’Malley (12.7 IP, 223 ERA+)

Jaime Garcia (539.7 IP, 114 ERA+)
Brad Thomson (385.7 IP, 99 ERA+)
Kyle McClellan (378 IP, 106 ERA+)
Mitchell Boggs (304 IP, 95 ERA+)
Lance Lynn (253.7 IP, 109 ERA+)
Anthony Reyes (220.7 IP, 82 ERA+)
Blake Hawksworth (130.3 IP, 97 ERA+)
Joe Kelly (117.7 IP, 97 ERA+)
Shelby Miller (50.3 IP, 213 ERA+)
P.J. Walters (50 IP, 54 ERA+)
Mike Parisi (23 IP, 52 ERA+)
Adam Ottavino (22.3 IP, 46 ERA+)
Brandon Dickson (14.7 IP, 81 ERA+)
Chris Narveson (9.3 IP, 96 ERA+)

Paul Maholm (1143.7 IP, 95 ERA+)
Zach Duke (964.3 IP, 93 ERA+)
Ian Snell (693 IP, 91 ERA+)
Tom Gorzelanny (383.3 IP, 90 ERA+)
Brad Lincoln (159.7 IP, 83 ERA+)
John Van Benschoten (90 IP, 47 ERA+)
Jeff Locke (84.7 IP, 77 ERA+)
Shane Youman (79 IP, 86 ERA+)
Kyle McPherson (26.3 IP, 138 ERA+)
Bryan Bullington (18.3 IP, 76 ERA+)
Yoslan Herrera (18.3 IP, 43 ERA+)
Phil Irwin (4.7 IP, 50 ERA+ thus far)

Ben Sheets (1428 IP, 115 ERA+)
Yovani Gallardo (958.3 IP, 112 ERA+)
Manny Parra (513 IP, 81 ERA+)
Mike Fiers (137 IP, 106 ERA+)
Wily Peralta (68 IP, 97 ERA+)
Dana Eveland (59.3 IP, 64 ERA+)
Ben Hendrickson (58.3 IP, 60 ERA+)
Mark Rogers (49 IP, 120 ERA+)
Tyler Thornburg (22 IP, 94 ERA+)
Hiram Burgos (18 IP, 137 ERA+ thus far)

REDS (6):
Johnny Cueto (921.3 IP, 117 ERA+)
Homer Bailey (686.3 IP, 93 ERA+)
Mike Leake (526.7 IP, 96 ERA+)
Travis Wood (208.7 IP, 96 ERA+)
Sam LeCure (198.7 IP, 114 ERA+),
Tony Cingrani (29 IP, 168 ERA+ thus far)

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.

IMAGE (Al Bello):

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