The Brewers found themselves on the wrong end of a walk-off win on Wednesday night when Tony Campana drove in the winning run for the Diamondbacks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The loss obscures one of starter Matt Garza’s better efforts this year. He went 7 2/3 innings allowing three runs, only two earned, on seven hits and no walks.
The start was the Brewers 49th “quality start” of the season, tying them for the MLB lead with the Atlanta Braves. Brewers’ starters now also lead all of MLB in starters’ innings pitched with 458. Though their effectiveness has varied from man to man, each of the five men who have started multiple games for the team have done their fair share to eat up those innings. In fact, before Wednesday’s start by Garza, he along with Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, and Marco Estrada had each made 14 starts and pitched between 84 and 87 2/3 innings.
It’s hard to overestimate how important these five men have been to the Brewers’ success this year. They have rarely been dominant and won games for the team on their own. Simply by keeping the team in the game as often as they have, though, they’ve given the offense a chance to score enough runs to take leads for the bullpen to hold down. That’s a big deal for this season and their ability to keep it up will go a long ways in determining how far the Brewers are able to go.
As for the future, how does that look?
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If the Brewers wish, they can bring back every pitcher who has thus far made a start for the Brewers in 2014 in 2015. After that, though, things get fairly dicey. On Wednesday, Jonathan Judge wrote about the Brewers’ new emerging core and had this to say about the young pitching:
In the rotation, the Brewers will likely have core-level performances expected from Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and perhaps even Matt Garza. Will Smith will probably transition to the closer role, broadening the core even further.
Wily Peralta’s first half has continued the progress he made after the break in 2013. He possesses one of the five fastest fastballs of all qualified starters in MLB and has dropped his walk rate while increasing his strikeout rate. If he continues to build on this success, it’s quite possible the Brewers could have a future front-of-the-rotation starter in Peralta.
At AAA Nashville, Jimmy Nelson is currently awaiting his opportunity to start at the major league level on a regular basis. He’s made a number of real improvements in his game, specifically to his mechanics and his command. ESPN.com’s Keith Law recently said that he may even be more than a mid-rotation starter sometime down the road.
There are two young former starters who have found success in the major league bullpen this year, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg, who could quite possibly find their way back to the rotation at some point should the team decide to head that direction with them. Either way, they offer exciting possibilities for the future.
Even excluding Nelson, there is at least one intriguing potential big league starter at each full season level. 2011 draft picks Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Jorge Lopez have all taken steps forward in their development this season. At the rookie ball levels, the team will soon have two outstanding live young arms in Devin Williams and Kodi Medeiros, both of whom offer the kind of front-of-the-rotation upside so coveted by all teams in the game these days.
The Brewers’ 2014 draft was recently highly praised by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, who called it his pick for the best draft of any scouting department in the game. Yes, there was risk involved in picking how they did, but they unquestionably added a ton of high-upside talent to the farm system.
For years, the line on the Brewers has been that they’re pretty good at developing hitters but really struggle to produce arms of top flight ability with any regularity. Somewhat quietly, though, the Brewers have actually produced a number of quality pitchers in the last few years and more appear to be on the way. So what has changed?
The Brewers have actually been undergoing a process of self evaluation and reinvention of the pitching development side for quite a while now. Going back to 2010, every year the team has had an annual “pitching symposium” where they meet as a staff and try and come up with ways to more effectively develop and ensure the health of young pitchers.
MLB.com’s Caitlin Swieca recently wrote a very nice piece highlighting some things that the Brewers are focusing on pitching development wise. There were a number of interesting points made, among them trying to change the overall mindset of the group and also in getting more feedback from pitchers throughout the season in an effort to improve results:
“I’ve asked the guys to take a little bit more pride in what we’re doing,” said Brewers pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin. “Nobody likes to be looked at as lower in parts of the game or ranking lower in areas of certain things. We got the guys’ attention. We asked them to redirect their thoughts and their efforts and we placed some emphasis on a few different things, and I’m very pleased with the direction we’re headed right now and the effort that we’re getting from everybody.”
“We’ve placed an emphasis on not being fearful to throw the ball across the plate, trusting our pitches a little bit more,” Tomlin said. “We’ve changed the mindset a little bit, and the guys bought in, and I think it’s a combination of redirecting their thoughts a little bit and redirecting our efforts.”
This year, the organization has benefited from a new self-evaluation system that opens up lines of communications between players and management. Every night during the season, each Minor League player fills out an online form rating several aspects of their day. For pitchers, questions range from “How well did you sleep last night?” to “How happy were you with your bullpen session today?”
The system, which was conceptualized at the team’s annual pitching symposium last fall, allows coaches and scouting directors to more specifically address one area that might be holding a player back, while giving players a chance to reflect.
How much stuff like this really matters is always up for debate, because it is by definition unquantifiable and hard to define. The nature of developing players, especially pitchers, is such that there are always going to be failures, some of them will be quite spectacular. Still, it is comforting to know as a fan that the team has some good, solid positive momentum going on the pitching development side.
When you play in the smallest market in baseball and have your budget limited as a result, it’s very hard to be constantly paying market prices for pitchers. That’s why it’s so critical that the team do everything it can to effectively develop young pitchers and give themselves an ever-replenishing stable from which to draw talented arms. If current trends in this department continue, 2014 might not have to be the last gasp of contention for a while for the Milwaukee Brewers franchise.