It’s no secret that the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation is struggling. Well, struggling might be putting it too nicely. The starting rotation is like the movie Jack and Jill; you know it’s going to be excruciating to watch but you still show up with hopes Adam Sandler puts on a good show. However, admirable performances happen only once in a blue moon.
Coming into the season, nobody expected much from Milwaukee’s corps of starting pitchers and for good reason. Yovani Gallardo is not a “bonafide ace” as Fox News labeled him, Marco Estrada gives up more home runs than Josh Hamilton‘s Home Run Derby pitcher, Kyle Lohse has had only two great seasons in his career thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals fantastic pitching coaches, Wily Peralta doesn’t trust his pitches quite yet, and Hiram Burgos probably needed another season in the minors under his belt before making the jump.
Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin knew this season was going to be a battle, especially for the rotation, but I don’t lay all the blame at the feet of the starting pitchers. Part of, if not most, should go to pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
But this isn’t an article that bashes Kranitz. This is how to get the starting rotation back on the right track. While there is no quick fix (there might not be any solution at all), here are some ways the Brewers starting rotation can improve.
Increase Strikeout Rate
The Brewers starting rotation is averaging only 6.17 strikeouts per nine innings – fifth-lowest in baseball. Contributing to that low number is Gallardo. Gallardo’s strikeout numbers have been down, as has his performance. Gallardo has a 6.23 K/9, 2.08 lower than his career average.
The decrease in strikeouts means more balls are being hit into play. Milwaukee’s starting rotation has the highest BABIP (batting average of balls in play) in the National Leauge at .310. All five starting pitchers have allowed a BABIP of .300 or higher with Peralta leading the way with a .318 BABIP.
Another area that’s reflecting the high BABIP is the Brewers defense. Aside from Jean Segura, the infield is anything but strong, especially with Yuniesky Betancourt tasked with playing first base while Corey Hart is on the mend. The limited range of Betancourt and Ramirez has surely helped raise the BABIP.
If Gallardo and the rest of the rotation can get more swings-and-misses and start racking up the strikeouts, a lower BABIP and fewer baserunners will be sure to follow.
Pitch Deeper Into Games
For as long as I can remember, the Brewers starting pitchers have had a strenuous time pitching deep into ballgames, aside from CC Sabathia. By the 5th inning, pitch counts are Mt. Everest high. None of the starters have a dominant out-pitch. They get ahead of the batter 0-2 and then throw three straight garbage pitches outside of the zone with hopes that the batter will chase. Of course pitch counts are going to soar if they throw like that.
Not helping the starters is Ron Roenicke who is very strict on pitch counts. As soon as one of his guys approaches the century mark, Roenicke yanks him and gives the ball to the bullpen. If Estrada or whoever it may be is struggling, then yeah, it’s understandable to replace him. But when he’s only given up two or three runs and he’s approaching seven innings with a pitch count in the low 90’s, put him back out there. Throwing 110 pitches isn’t going to ruin a pitcher’s arm.
Brewers’ starters have the highest ERA (5.19) in the National League which is the leading cause as to why they are in the bottom of the pile in innings pitched. They average only 5.2 innings per outing.
Luckily with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez, the Brewers have a stacked bullpen and can afford the starters only going five innings…for now. If this trend continues, the bullpen will be feeble come July. Kranitz must figure out a way to get his starting rotation to pitch deeper into ballgames or the Brewers will keep sliding downhill.
Limit Home Runs
The starting five allow the most HR/9 in the National League at just over 1.30. Understandably, Miller Park is a hitter friendly arena; Milwaukee’s starters have combined to give up 25 home runs at home while only 11 on the road.
Fastballs are the easiest pitch to crush and the Brewers throw a lot of them – 57.8% of their pitches are fastballs. That number would be okay if the rotation was full of flame throwers, but their fastballs average only 90.8 MPH. Peralta has the most speed on his heater by far, averaging close to 95 MPH. But the rest? Gallardo barely tops 90 and Lohse, Estrada, and Burgos are in the high 80’s. With a team velocity in the low 90’s, it would be wise for the Brewers to start switching things up and either throw different pitches a bit more or locate the heater better.
Ryan Braun and company are currently in a home run slump. After their nine-game winning streak where home runs seemed to be flying out of the park every pitch, the round-trippers have ceased. If the Brewers offense can’t hit them and the starters can’t limit them, the outcome is not going to be pretty.
I don’t know if there’s any way to completely solve the issue that is the Brewers rotation but at least this is a start.
What’s your opinion on how to fix the starting rotation?