Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Brewers’ “Problem”: Excess of Relievers


With the way the Brewers have been playing lately, it may be difficult to see potential conflicts on the horizon. The Brewers do, however, have very real concerns, including a very thin bench due to injuries to Ryan Braun, Jean Segura, and more recently, Aramis Ramirez.

The best problem that the Brewers have is their stalwart bullpen, and how the team will react when Tom Gorzelanny returns to the team. While there is no set time frame on Gorzelanny’s return, it is interesting to consider what the team would/will do in the event of his return. For starters, Gorzelanny is useful as a swingman, as he has experience as both a starting pitcher and as a long reliever.

Incumbent swingman Tyler Thornburg could lose that distinction given his recent success in late, high leverage innings. In the long term, Thornburg and the team both want him to succeed as a starter, but with a full rotation, he has been thriving late in ballgames.

Another option is Will Smith, who started 17 games for the Kansas City Royals, but posted a 5.48 ERA in those instances. Currently, Smith looks like a talented late-inning reliever more than a future starter.

The third option is Zach Duke, who, like Thornburg, has been so good in relief that the Crew may be reluctant to start him, something he struggled at for years with the Pirates. Duke’s transition to a lower arm angle is also indicative of the team’s wish for him to remain a reliever. While Gorzelanny is not by any means a high level starter (4.62 ERA), he has started over 100 games, and looks more like a swingman than the others at this time.

The addition of Gorzelanny to the bullpen, out of which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 2013, looks, on the surface, to be a sure thing. The trouble comes from the current staff in the ‘pen, all of whom are currently earning their keep. Smith and closer Francisco Rodriguez have posted a combined 0.00 ERA over 26 1/3 innings. Thornburg has an ERA under 1, while Duke and Brandon Kintzler currently have sub-2 ERA’s.

Removing any of these players would be detrimental to the team as it currently stands. The remaining arms in the Brewers bullpen are Rule 5 Draft choice Wei-Chung Wang, and last year’s closer, Jim Henderson. Wang is essentially untouchable, because removing him from the 25 man roster would likely mean returning him to his original team, the Pirates. The Brewers seem committed to placing Wang in low leverage situations, and clearly plan on retaining the 22-year-old all season.

The process of elimination leads us to Jim Henderson, who last year saved 28 games for the Crew in 2013. On the first night of the season, fans were surprised to see K-Rod, and not Henderson, come in to save the game. Ron Roenicke has spoken at length about his concerns with Henderson’s velocity and command issues coming out of spring training.

Furthermore, after being roughed up two weeks ago (3 ER in 1.0 innings), Henderson has appeared in just five games. Henderson has by no means been terrible, earning a 3.72 ERA over 9 2/3 innings, but his velocity is still down, and he appears to be the odd man out in the Brewers bullpen.

As noted earlier, Tom Gorzelanny has no timetable for his return, but, as things stand today, it seems reasonable that Roenicke would elect to send Henderson down to AAA, and hope for improvement, while Gorzelanny adds depth to the team’s already outstanding bullpen. The Brewers are riding high early this season, and no manager wants his team’s momentum to slow.

Roenicke is the type of aggressive leader that would send down a reliever coming off of a breakout year, simply because he believes it strengthens the team. Roenicke has no-nonsense demeanor and unwavering self-confidence, and is consistently proving he will do whatever it takes to improve his team. His decision to slide K-Rod into the closer’s role has worked like a charm, leaving little doubt that he understands the ins and outs of his team.

Tags: Featured Milwaukee Brewers Popular Tom Gorzelanny

  • Jack Anderson

    How long does it take till this season is a season of no regret where the Brewers hold nothing back because honestly I know they like Wong a lot but he is hampering this team. Last Night there was no way the Brewers were winning that if Wong would of needed to pitch and Roenicke knew that and pitched and hit Duke in the 11. When does the organization say, we need to go all in and try to get a best roster on the field every day and not try to hide a rookie. I think the time is now but Melvin seems like he wants to look in the future.

    • Steven Jewell

      I think you make a good point, especially given the Brewers’ recent success. If the Brewers are a .500 team, the idea of a pitcher like Wang appearing in throw-away innings seems totally legit. Inversely, the more the Brewers win, the more Wang looks like a black hole out of the ‘pen. The one thing I would say in defense of the original idea is that the Brewers have been playing in a lot of long, close games with very few blow outs in either direction. Big wins and big losses will be more frequent than they have been so far, meaning Wang will have more opportunities to eat innings, make his presence felt, and (hopefully) develop as a pitcher.

    • Steven

      Wang is currently the 2nd best Brewers pitching prospect, behind only Jimmy Nelson. Getting rid of him would be sad, and stupid. Every team has a mop up guy who you don’t trust in tight games. Look at the Cardinals and Maness, the Dodgers and Jose Dominguez/Brian Wilson, the Braves and Gus Scholsser.

    • Steven Jewell

      Jack, I think you make a good point, especially given the Brewers’ recent success. If the Brewers are a .500 team, the idea of a pitcher like Wang appearing in throw-away innings seems totally legit. Inversely, the more the Brewers win, the more Wang looks like a black hole out of the ‘pen. However, in defense of the original idea, the Brewers have been playing in a lot of long, close games with very few blow outs in either direction. Big wins and big losses will be more frequent than they have been so far, meaning Wang will have more opportunities to eat innings, make his presence felt, and (hopefully) develop as a pitcher.

    • Ross

      Good young pitching is what creates sustainable success in baseball. Look at the Rays. You say let Wang go now but then in 2 years when Lohse is gone, Gallardo/Garza are less effective or gone and Peralta and Estrada may or may not still be starters here you’ll complain about the lack of pitching. You need pitching prospects if you want to win in the future. And other than Jimmy Nelson who is still kind of a toss up the Brewers don’t have much. They need Wang.

  • Jackjohn Loehr

    I highly doubt the Brewers will send down Henderson and keep 4 left handers in the pen. Wang can’t/won’t be moved. Smith has been darn good. Duke has been solid. I think they try to move Duke or Gorzelanny for an A or AA player with some upside. Or they could try and make a deal with Pitt so they could send Wang down.

    • Steven Jewell

      It might be tough to trade a guy coming off injury-with modest upside- especially so early in the season. Also, trading Duke, if he and the team are both flourishing, would potentially be a big mistake. I also think the Pirates would require some high prospects to let us keep Wang, but I should have mentioned trade possibilities, thank you for the input.

  • BeansNRice

    Wang can be moved. Why do people say he can’t be moved? Rule 5 guys get sent back all the time….in fact it happens most of the time. If the Brewers remain legit contenders, sure seems likely, I don’t see how the Brewers keep Wang. It would cause the Brewers to be short in key games. It will result in a worn down pen eventually, sooner than later. Can’t do this on a competitive team unless Wang starts pulling his fair share. They can find a way to trade with Pitt to keep Wang, perhaps. But it is not a good idea to hide him when the brewers are playing so many meaningful games. This isnhis’t a 90 loss team here.

    • Ross

      With how bad the Brewers farm system is especially in terms of young arms you can’t afford to let Wang go back to the Pirates. He’s too valuable long term. Its unfortunate that he has to take up a roster spot but that’s the decision you make as a long term outlook. How about they find a guy to replace Rickie “I’m a second baseman” Weeks. His value in trade market is as high as ever but his value to the team is nothing. Bring in a utility infielder instead of Weeks and they’d be fine in terms of roster spots for the bench and the bullpen.