Despite the loss to the Cubs, the Brewers moved a little bit closer to the playoffs yesterday. The team announced that Jeff Suppan will no longer be in the starting rotation – very good news, as he was at best the 7th best option on the team. His 8.68 ERA and 6.89 FIP will not be missed. Unfortunately, management has decided to go with the 6th best option in the 5th starting rotation spot: Chris Narveson.
On the plus side, Narveson is almost certainly a better starting pitcher than Suppan. Entering the season, ZiPS, CHONE, and Marcel were all in agreement, projecting a 5.22-5.26 FIP for the aging starter. That’s slightly above replacement level – a definite improvement over last season – but still extremely poor. If anything, the performance we’ve seen from Suppan this spring and early summer have suggested that he is worse than that.
The projections for Narveson are a bit tricky, due to his mixed role as a starter an a reliever. Relievers typically perform anywhere from 0.7 to 1.0 runs better in relief than they do as a starter – that is, a 5.00 ERA starter will probably perform in the 4.00-4.30 range as a reliever, and vice-versa. Narveson is projected at a 4.13 FIP by CHONE and a 4.68 FIP by ZiPS. CHONE is projecting Narveson as a reliever, but due to his experience as a starter and his repertoire, I believe the lower 0.7 run penalty is applicable here. That would project Narveson as a roughly 4.90 FIP pitcher, above replacement level but also well below average. Most importantly, that is a marked improvement over Suppan.
ZiPS is in agreement – it’s projection has Narveson making 14 starts and 19 relief appearances. At least 70% of his projected 104.1 IP would likely be in a starting role in that scenario, and so we only apply 30% of the 0.7 run “starting penalty” to his reliever numbers. Again, we get a roughly 4.90 FIP. Over 100 innings, this 0.3 run difference in ERA is worth roughly 3 runs, or 0.3 wins. Given that Jeff Suppan is likely even worse than his projection at this point, the gain from this move is likely greater than that.
As I mentioned above, Narveson is probably the 6th best SP on the team right now. The 5th (possibly even 4th) will remain in the bullpen as a result of this move. I am referring to Manny Parra, who, according to Adam McCalvy, will remain in the bullpen partly due to how good he has looked as a reliever.
Before I get into how ridiculous that statement is, let’s take a look at what we could expect out of Manny in a starting role. First of all, Parra’s 4.88 FIP last season – among the starting rotation of Gallardo, Parra, Bush, Suppan, and Looper, that number ranks second. His lack of success was greatly exaggerated and was largely a product of extremely poor luck – his 64.7% left on base percentage was roughly 7% below the league average, and that’s a number that is typically out of the pitcher’s control.
Parra is projected to put up decent numbers by CHONE, Marcel, and ZiPS. All three of them project Parra in the 4.30-4.50 FIP range. Why do they project Parra as so much better than Narveson? Unlike Narveson, Parra actually has major league stuff – his strikeout rates as a starter a projected to be roughly equal to those projected for Narveson as a reliever. Parra also does a better job of keeping the ball on the ground -his ground ball rates the last two seasons have hovered near the 50% mark, whereas Narveson is historically a heavy fly ball pitcher.
The difference between Parra and Narveson as a starter is about half a run per 9 innings, or about half a win per 100 innings. It seems clear to me that Parra should be given the chance – Narveson is a mediocre pitcher with mediocre stuff. Parra has had mediocre results in his career, but has had demonstrably poor luck and has demonstrably better stuff than Narveson.
Regardless, Parra will remain in the bullpen. As McCalvy mentioned, he has been effective – obviously, as he hasn’t allowed a run yet. If that is truly the reason that Parra is not moving to the rotation, Ken Macha must start using him in important situation. Currently, Parra has an inLI – Leverage Index at the start of innings in which he has pitched – of 0.22. That’s ridiculously low – the average situation has a Leverage Index of 1.00, the typical setup man situation is 1.30, and the typical closer situation is about 2.00. Basically, Parra has only seen action in which the game has been out of hand.
If the Brewers are truly happy with Parra’s performance out of the pen, he should start seeing action in some important situations. He is now the only left hander in the bullpen, and should see action in tight situations against left handed batters. Because of his changeup, he won’t need to be removed from the game against right handed batters either. Parra’s 4.30-4.50 FIP as a starter suggests a sub-4.00 FIP as a reliever, which would make him a great option against lefties and a good option against righties.
This move is a positive, make no mistake – the starting rotation is improved with Narveson in over Suppan. It’s simply disappointing to me that one of the Brewers most talented pitchers is being forced to waste away in the bullpen. If the Brewers wish to make the postseason this year, they will need to maximize their resources. They’re closer now than they were last week, but this still isn’t the best team that the Brewers can put on the field.