This is certainly a dilemma that the Brewers haven’t encountered in a long time. In years prior to their 2011 National League Championship Series run, it felt like there was almost always an open audition for at least one or two spots in the Brewers’ rotation. Until Yovani Gallardo came up in 2007, Ben Sheets was really the only starter who was able to hold down his rotation spot for the better part of the decade. Then Gallardo came, and he’s been able to hold his spot since his call-up. Obviously, CC Sabathia was in no jeopardy of losing his rotation spot during the playoff run in 2008, the brief time he was in Milwaukee.
But nowadays, the Brewers haven’t had many issues filling their rotation spots, even in the case of an injury. Shaun Marcum is currently on the disabled list, which has left an extra spot open in the rotation. Marco Estrada and Michael Fiers are both pitching in the rotation right now, and are both doing solid jobs filling in (Estrada was already replacing Chris Narveson). But, once Marcum returns from the DL, and barring an injury to Gallardo, Zack Greinke, or Randy Wolf, either Estrada or Fiers is moving to the bullpen. Actually, if it’s Fiers’ case, he could even get sent down, because he has options left. But with the way he’s pitched, I’d have tough time imagining that.
Fiers’ basic numbers, unlike Estrada’s, look remarkable. He’s 3-2 with a 2.29 ERA, and has taken decisions in five of his six career starts. He made his big league debut in early May against the Dodgers, picking up a win with seven strong innings. He struck out just three that start, which led me to believe he was going to be more of a contact pitcher in the Majors, but that hasn’t been the case since. He’s struck out at least five batters in his five following starts, including a stellar ten-strikeout performance his last time out against the Diamondbacks. Like Estrada, Fiers unexpectedly strikes out a lot of batters- his fastball rarely exceeds 90 MPH, and usually lives in the Marcum range of 86-89. Yet, his K/9 is 9.4. But, Fiers has better stuff than Estrada, in my opinion. In his start against the White Sox during Interleague, he threw one of the best curveballs I have ever seen (you can watch the pitch here). Anyway, it’s needless to say I’m very high on Fiers.
If I had to choose which one of these pitchers would stay in the rotation following Marcum’s return, I would have to go with Fiers. There’s a bit of personal bias there, but I have a few reasons for it. Like I’ve kept saying, I think Fiers just has overall better stuff than Estrada. I also think Fiers will be more consistent for the long run, since he’s always been stretched out as a starter, and can avoid the big inning better.
But, there’s the possibility that, by Opening Day 2013, Greinke, Marcum, and Wolf are all off the roster. Despite what Ron Roenicke has been saying lately, the Greinke trade appears to inevitable. Marcum showed interest in staying in Milwaukee over this past offseason, but Doug Melvin didn’t acknowledge that, and odds are it’s too late now. Wolf would be the easiest of the three to retain, but the season he’s having right now tells me that the Brewers won’t pick up his $10 million option. Unless he has a monster second half- which isn’t out of the question, he did it in 2010- Wolf is as good as gone as well. Anyway, you’d hope the Brewers can keep at least one of these guys, preferably Greinke or Marcum.
It’s pretty much a given that that both Estrada and Fiers will be in the Brewers’ rotation in 2013. But, right now, the Brewers have to make a decision on who’s staying in the rotation when Marcum returns. And it should be Fiers.