Let’s place ourselves in a hypothetical situation to begin with: the Brewers are playing in the one-game playoff between Wild Card teams and Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada are both unavailable, leaving Shaun Marcum, Mike Fiers, and Wily Peralta all available to be handed the ball in the winner-take-all game. You are Ron Roenicke. Who do you choose?
Probably either one of the rookies, right?
Judging by Marcum’s lack of control and efficiency with his off-speed pitches since his return that have led to a 5.70 earned run average and 1.69 WHIP in five starts since his return from the disabled list, I doubt the 30-year-old right-hander would be most people’s selection. If there was a need for a further case, one can point directly to his struggles in “big game” situations. Marcum has proven to be the anti-James Shields after his 14.90 era in three postseason starts last season.
It’s a rarity that you would hand the ball to a rookie over a pitcher with 898 career innings pitched and a career FIP of 4.05, but, in the Brewers’ case, it’d be hard to let Marcum take the bump.
All hypothesizing about this season behind, the key is that Marcum becomes a free agent at the end of the year. Four-to-five months ago, when all was going well between he and Zack Greinke, it appeared that at least one of the two acquisitions of the 2010-11 winter would remain a Brewer past this year. No longer is that the case.
After injury to Shaun Marcum, the sudden emergence of one Mike Fiers and a separate Mark Rogers, and an implosion by the Brewers which rapidly turned the team into “sellers” (funny how that works, looking back) and dominoed into a deal with the Angels for Greinke, the future of the Milwaukee Brewers rotation looks promising.
And that promise probably won’t include Shaun Marcum.
Marcum is currently earning $7.73 million in his final contract year; though he hasn’t produced the prototypical “contract year
numbers” that have led to huge paydays for AJ Burnett, Johan Santana, Barry Zito, etc., he will undoubtedly demand more money than his current salary. Kyle Lohse, whose numbers (66-57, 4.07 FIP, 2.37 K/BB) are similar to Marcum’s (55-36, 4.26, 2.70) since the then-Blue Jay’s emergence in 2006, ranks as the 23rd-highest paid pitcher in 2012 at $12.19 million. The Brewers gave that kind of money to Randy Wolf, but when they dished out that contract, the starting rotation’s only staple was Gallardo.
Now it features a plethora of young arms led by Gallardo and a strikeout-laden supporting contingent of Fiers, Peralta, Estrada, Mark Rogers, and even shades of Tyler Thornburg. And those are just the guys who have reached the big league level (paging Taylor Jungmann, Hiram Burgos, Jimmy Nelson, and Jed Bradley in the minors…). And I didn’t even mention Chris Narveson.
There’s a lack of room and necessity in the rotation for Marcum; why spend $10-12 million that could go towards bullpen restoration with all the arms in waiting for 2013?
Fiers has regressed, as expected, from his jaw-dropping, sub-2.00 era beginning to his career. But I use the term ‘regressed’ lightly, as he still holds a 9-8 record (relative, I know, I know), 3.23 era, 9.05 K/9 ratio, and 2.77 FIP (second in all of baseball to only Kris Medlen) in 114.1 innings–large enough of a sample size for the Brewers to have confidence in giving Fiers a starting spot next year. The kid hailing from Cooper City, Florida (shoutout to his sister, Haley, who always keeps it real…follow her on Twitter!) has sneaky velocity on his fastball and, outside of the occasional slip-up, has shown impeccable command on the mound.
After a fall from first-round draft pick grace that was difficult to watch, Mark Rogers is living up to the promise that he showed when drafted in 2004. The Brewers shut him down after 134.1 innings between Triple-A Nashville and the majors because of injury history that previously kept him from reaching his potential, but he was impressive in that time. His average fastball reached 93.6 mph, often reaching into the 95-96 mph range, the slider has been his best pitch in terms of linear-weight run values, and he drew swinging strikes on 10.3 percent of all pitches (the same number as Chicago’s Chris Sale). Overall, he won each of his final three starts to finish 3-1 with a 3.92 era with 9.46 K/9.
Though Peralta and Thornburg have shown glimpses of what they can provide to the Brewers in the future, their sample size is limited and we know what can happen when we read too much into a small sample size.