Reworking the Starting Rotation: The Addition of Kyle Lohse


You’ve heard it now. If you haven’t, you’ve been living in a hole. One of the most peculiar free agency situations in MLB history has finally come to an end, and the final destination is in Milwaukee… Kyle Lohse is a Brewer. Pending an official announcement from the Brewers, Lohse is signed for three years at $33 million.

Like it or not, those are the facts. The response and reactions by Brewers fans have been decidedly polarized, many arguing that Lohse is just going to be another Jeff Suppan, while many others believing that his success with the St. Louis Cardinals will translate to Milwaukee. After all, Lohse doesn’t have to start against the Brewers anymore—a team he owns a career 4.44 ERA against.

This article isn’t really about what I believe regarding Lohse, what I think about the reactions, or anything like that… though my opinions will be present in my evaluation of him. It’s just that I’ve been sitting here racking my brain trying to figure out how this is going to impact the starting rotation. Who’s in, who’s out? How will those chosen to carry the starting torch perform? And what will the outsiders looking in be left to do?

To start, we’re going to go with the three certainties of this rotation. Barring injury, these first three pitchers make a formidable punch in the National League (which is somewhat hinting at my opinion on Lohse).

1 – Yovani Gallardo 

The ace of the rotation, even though the man just signed gave up 0.8 less runs per nine innings than Gallardo last season. That’s not a knock on Gallardo—he’s the best pitcher in this rotation until someone definitively shows otherwise. His ERA is consistently bloated by a few really, really bad starts every year. For roughly 27 games, you can expect Gallardo to go on the mound and be one of the best pitchers in baseball. For the other five, you have to watch his 93 MPH fastball get clobbered out of the ballpark over and over again. His stat-line last season was pretty decent—16-9, 3.66 ERA, 204 IP, 204 K, 1.304 WHIP—but it’s only a glimpse of what he’s capable of.

Gallardo always puts together numbers similar to those… a K/9 of around 9.0, an ERA in the mid-3′s, and pretty good numbers everywhere that just don’t shout “ace”. To see the ace in Yovani, you have to go deeper than the numbers and realize that he’s better than his statistics indicate. He’s a dominating presence on the mound almost every time he steps out, he’s capable of going the full nine (even though skipper Ron Roenicke won’t allow it), and he will give you 200 good innings a season. He has the stuff of an ace, with a fastball sitting around 92-94, a new cutter around 90s, a slider/cutter hybrid in the mid-80s, and a huge power curve in the low 80s.

He will continue to be the ace for the foreseeable future… hopefully a contract extension is in the works.

2 – Kyle Lohse

The man that started the article, the man that is lighting up Milwaukee fans around the country, and the man that everyone is glad to see find a home, if for no other reason than to end the news cycle. Lohse’s free agency expedition is well documented and commented on, and may very well be the catalyst in reforming some of the draft-pick compensation rules that came with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A client of Scott Boras (AKA: He Who Must Not Be Named, You Know Who, LORD VOLDEMORT), Lohse naturally came out of the season and into the winter aiming for the stars, seeking a deal for as long as five years at $15 million a year. Yeah right. If the Brewers had jumped on that grenade, maybe then I’d be a little perturbed.

Behind Gallardo, Lohse is going to carve a nice home in the Keg. The many doubters out there will point to his mediocre-to-bad seasons, primarily when he was in the American League, but it’s a lot easier for me to look at the very recent success he’s had in a division he’s very familiar with. The Suppan comparisons are, quite frankly, outrageous. Lohse has some very good pitches, and since he’s developed his low-90s two-seam fastball, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the NL Central, leading the league in win percentage last season (16-3), and as I mentioned besting Gallardo by a significant margin in ERA with a sparkling 2.86 ERA in 2012, and another great ERA of 3.39 the year before. Suppan had a fastball that sat at 87 MPH, and didn’t have much else. He was a bum and a bad signing, period. Lohse is not the same pitcher.

He’s a ground ball pitcher, not relying much on the strikeout. That’s okay though, because Aramis Ramirez played Gold Glove defense at third, Jean Segura is a young and very talented shortstop, Rickie Weeks will commit his fair share of errors, but is an altogether solid defender at second, and once Hart is back in action, he’ll be fine at 1st.

Lohse probably won’t replicate his sub-3 ERA with Milwaukee this season. I’m expecting him to give them around 200 innings of mid-3 ERA work. My official prediction: 209 IP, 3.48 ERA, 135K, 1.110 WHIP. Good enough to be a strong No. 2 behind Yo.

3: Marco Estrada

Entering Spring Training, long before the addition of Lohse, Estrada was pegged as the No. 2 starter behind Gallardo. I don’t think he’s going to have his feelings hurt being knocked down one peg to number three, especially when it’s an established veteran like Lohse taking his No. 2 spot.

I’m a huge Marco Estrada fan, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. The fact that the Brewers obtained him for pretty much nothing and have turned him into an absolutely fantastic pitcher is a beautiful thing to me. He had a remarkable season last year, with a sparkling stat-line (5-7, 3.64 ERA, 138.1 IP, 143 K, 1.142 WHIP, and a ridiculous K/BB of 4.93), and a solid pitching repertoire that has continued to blossom. He hits his spots with his low-to-mid 90s fastball, and he misses a ton of bats with his strong cruve, and his bread and butter, a fading change-up in the low 80s.  Estrada can strikeout batters in droves, and in most starts, he looks like Yovani Gallardo 2.0 (with an even better ERA and K/BB!)

This will be his first season entering opening day as a starter instead of a long reliever. Given this immediate boost, and barring an injury, Estrada will be another pitcher who gives the Brewers 200 innings and he will deliver a K/9 around 9.0, similar to that of Gallardo. The thing is, I think Estrada isn’t just going to be as good as last year—I think he’s going to be better. If his strong spring training is any indication (1.88 ERA, 14.2 IP, 12 K, 9.5 OppQual), Estrada is going to emerge as a household name in 2013, and could very well outshine the two high-profile names above him. Don’t be surprised if Estrada posts an ERA in the low-3′s. His method of pounding the strike zone while still getting hitters to miss the ball is an ability no other Brewers pitcher has. It could be special.

4. Chris Narveson

Okay, here’s where things start to get tricky. Narveson has performed fairly well this spring, and appears to have come back from a season ending torn rotator cuff that limited him to two (bad) starts last season. He’s a lefty with a lot of major league experience, and he knows how to pitch in the majors. I’m not wild about Narveson, and in most other rotations, I believe he’d be the No. 5 starter at best, but we’ll get there in a minute.

Realistically, Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz are going to keep Narveson on a very, very short least, especially to start the season. Five inning outings, and any sign of trouble will result in Narveson being pulled and evaluated. Narveson doesn’t have any pitches that blow you away, and his fastball only touches 90 once every blue moon, but he mixes his pitches well, and even with his lack of knockout pitches, he still does a good job of striking batters out, owning a career K/9 of 7.4 (compared to Lohse’s 5.6). The fact that he’s done well this spring and is a left handed pitcher gives him the upper-edge over the other guys vying for the last two spots in the rotation. You can expect a so-so year from Narveson as long as he stays healthy. Around 160 or so innings, an ERA in the mid-4′s… you know the drill with Narveson. Nothing that will astonish you (except on the occasional night when he looks like an ace), but nothing that will repulse you.

5. Wily Peralta AND Mike Fiers

Okay, okay. I know. One spot, two pitchers. But think about it… does platooning the fifth spot not make at least a little sense? Mike Fiers clearly showed us last year that he is more than capable of pitching in the majors, and was, at one point, the most un-hittable man on the mound in the country. Peralta is a young fireballer who saw success in his limited time as a Brewer last season. Both are ready to start in the majors (even if their spring training numbers haven’t been great), and both are good enough to earn this fifth spot. After the top three, the Brewers are going to be doing a lot of mixing and matching, so why not start the season out with a six-man rotation, having Fiers and Peralta start once every 10 days each, with some bullpen time inbetween to keep their arms active? It’s an experiment worth trying when you’re looking at two candidates both deserving of the job.

If the powers that be in Milwaukee decide it has to be one or the other (which they probably will), I’d have to say they’re going to give Peralta the job, but have Fiers on speed dial ready to make a run like he did last year in place of an ineffective or an injured pitcher. Giving the nod to Peralta is because of his upper-90s fastball and devastating slider… two pitches that are just too good to pass up, and even though his spring numbers aren’t much to look at, I think he’s going to be just fine if he’s given the opportunity.

The rest of it. 

Mark Rogers is out of minor league options and to say that he has underperformed this Spring is an understatement. He’s suffering from a case of “dead arm” right now, lowering his velocity and greatly limiting his control. He’s confident this will blow over and he’ll be ready to contribute to the team. But when… well, if this happens, what role will Rogers serve? Tom Gorzelanny is the long reliever, and Melvin already made plenty of upgrades in what was the the worst bullpen in the majors from last year.

Rogers is going to start the season as a middle relief pitcher, probably getting a few long relief appearances if Gorzelanny is seeing too much action in too short of a time. There’s no way the Brewers risk placing him on waivers to go to the minors, because any number of teams would scoop him up in a heartbeat, and there goes a fifth overall draft pick with seemingly unlimited, but still unrealized potential. If this dead arm phase passes, and Rogers starts to perform, what happens to the rotation? What about Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg, both sent to AAA Nashville, but both nearly ready to make it in the bigs?

A lot of people are saying this rotation lacks depth, but I’d argue that they’re suffering from a bit too much, though that’s not really a bad problem, given the fact that any number of these pitchers could be injured at any point (knock on wood).

I love the addition of Lohse. Without him, the rotation is too young and too volatile. I think he’s going to perform well in Milwaukee, and I think the comparisons to Jeff Suppan are pretty outlandish.

If nothing else, with the addition of Lohse, the Brewers’ top three starters combine to make a formidable punch, and the bottom of the rotation (along with the outsiders looking in) contain massive upside. This is not a rotation to be overlooked.

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Tags: Brewers Brewers Bullpen Brewers Pitching Chris Narveson Kyle Lohse Marco Estrada Mike Fiers Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Cardinals Wily Peralta Yovani Gallardo