Much has been discoursed concerning the starting rotation for the Brewers this Hot Stove –along with revamping the bullpen, it is evidently the team’s most pressing need.
Time to intermittently halt the talks frenzied by the Winter Meetings and glance within; Ron Roenicke’s squad returns five starters who all experienced respective levels of success in 2012. Only one of these (Yovani Gallardo) had minimal prior experience as a big-league starter.
Granted it is, however, that despite the positives shown over the course of this past season, a rotation of Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Mark Rogers poses more questions than it does answers. Outside of Gallardo, none have thrown 155 innings in any season at any level professionally. There’s no ambiguity here; Doug Melvin, in some way, shape, or form, needs to add another answer to the rotation for the sake of reliability.
In terms of reliability, the two starters not named Yovani that do pose, at the very least, some semblance of “this guy can probably be an answer to the rotation” are Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada.
Fiers, though 27, has tended to fall in among the likes of Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Jimmy Nelson, and so on of “prospect arms” when discussing the Brewers’ possible five starters. After three seasons with Milwaukee, Estrada may be the most reliable option for the rotation aside from (obviously) Gallardo despite being the least-flashy candidate and the talk about the other options.
In August, FanGraphs published a similar post about Fiers or Estrada for the future. It was posted the day immediately following Fiers’ best start of the season when he carried a perfect game through six and gave up three hits and one run over eight marvelous innings–one of the best starts I’ve ever seen in person. Admittedly, I was still all “I ALMOST WITNESSED A PERFECT GAME” the following day and voted for Fiers in the fittingly-titled ‘Fiers or Estrada’ poll at the bottom of the article.
I just voted again. My vote changed.
After both being unexpectedly thrust into the starting rotation and remaining there due to injuries and a certain Zack Greinke trade, Fiers and Estrada started 22 and 23 games, respectively. Estrada 138.1 innings topped the 127.2 of Fiers, whose innings the club monitored toward the end of the season.
Sample sizes: similar.
Fiers posted a 3.09 FIP and 3.47 XFIP with 9.52 K/9, 2.54 BB/9 compared to Estrada’s 3.35 FIP, 3.48 XFIP, 9.30 K/9, and 1.88 BB/9. Their LOB rates are 0.9 percent of each other, though Estrada gave up over 2 more homers per five starts than his situational counterpart.
Then why, exactly, am I choosing Estrada?
Well, for one, after Fiers’ almost too “where the heck did this from” start, he came back to earth. Hard. In the 11 starts after his near perfect-o, he covered 47.2 innings (only 4.1 per start) and gave up 37 runs, all earned, for a 7.76 era. His innings were limited, yes, but Roenicke pulled the plug early five times (for sure), though that number could easily be seven-to-eight if we could dig into the mind of the skipper. Fiers lost four of his last five decisions.
On the contrary, Estrada finished the season red-hot. Each of his three September wins, if you recall, were scoreless efforts. Wins and losses can be, at times, incredibly misleading, but Estrada’s victories were not. In his five wins, covering 31.2 innings, gave up a grand total of zero runs. Zip. Zilch. Nada. None.
Fiers faded fast (alliteration, anyone?). While his decline was by no means deserving of the end of the world, it was evidently noticeable. Hitters began to catch on to his deceiving stuff and his home run totals soared relative to the two long balls he surrendered over his first eleven starts. His wCB, after hovering above 1.0, ended at -0.2.
I really like Mike Fiers. Really, really like Mike Fiers. I expect him to mature as a pitcher in his second season and come out with improved numbers. But I also really, really like Marco Estrada.