2014 Best Case Scenario: Starting Pitching
Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The off-season is the best time to be a Brewer fan. Oh, the optimism! Best Case Scenario is an opportunity to dream in “what ifs” and see what happens when the Brew Crew catches all the breaks. This Brewer cocktail is made up of two parts dreaming big and one part reality. Feel free to shake your head and pour over ice.
It’s time to look at the starting rotation. The question going into 2013 was “How many young aces do the Brewers have waiting to break out?” Only one year removed from Mike Fiers‘ 2012 stretch of dominance, Wily Peralta’s coming out party and a healthy Marco Estrada, the sky was the limit. Then, everything went wrong. The writing was on the wall when the Brewers singed Kyle Lohse. Many wondered, why? Few expected him to become the shining star of the 2013 staff.
Kyle Lohse (#1) 2013 WAR 3.3, Projected 2014 WAR 2.5
Last year’s “ace” most likely starts off the season as the Brewers number one option in the rotation. It wasn’t always pretty in 2013, ending with a record of 11-10 and an ERA of 3.35, but Lohse provided stability to a very unstable group.
Yovani Gallardo (#2) 2013 WAR .5, Projected 2014 WAR 1.5
A DUI is not a good way to start off your season as Gallardo learned in 2013. Last year proved to be Gallardo’s worst season since becoming a regular in the rotation. In addition to his off the field problems, he struggled with pitch location and fastball speed. The second-half of the year provided somewhat of a recovery for Gallardo (pun intended). Yovani found his control and at times looked like the dominating pitcher that contributed to Brewer playoff runs. It’s quite possible that Gallardo has peaked and is no longer a number one guy (good debate whether he ever was), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few productive years left, especially if he pitches as he did the latter part of the 2013 season.
Wily Peralta (#3) 2013 WAR -1.1, Projected 2014 WAR 2.0
I expect Peralta will make a jump this year and prove he is a long-run pitcher for the Brewers. During 2013, though inconsistent at times, he showed an ability to go deep into games and eat up innings. His control improved over the second-half of last year as did his strike-out to walk ratio. Both will need to continue to improve if Peralta is truly going to make the jump.
Marco Estrada (#4) 2013 WAR 1.6, Projected 2014 WAR 2.5
At 7-4 with an ERA of 3.87, Estrada finished out 2013 as one of the pitchers to look forward to in 2014. Despite his lights out performance during the latter part of the season, health will be a factor for success (last year Marco only started 21 games). Can he sustain his second half stats with at least 30 starts in 2014?
Tyler Thornburg (#5) 2013 WAR 1.9, Projected 2014 WAR 2.5
Thornburg closed out 2013 with an impressive ERA of 2.03 (66.2 innings). Will Tyler be a stud pitcher in the top half of a rotation? 2014 should answer the question of Thornburg’s long-term role; however, barring a spring training meltdown he has earned a starting rotation spot to begin 2014.
Jimmy Nelson (#6) Projected 2014 WAR 1.0
Baseball America’s number one Brewer prospect, Jimmy Nelson, is a promising pitcher that many are excited to see. Assuming the Brewers don’t sign another starter, Nelson should have a chance to get twenty or so starts from the six spot, or filling in for often injured Brewer pitchers.
The rest can be be categorized many ways, I’m going with two: those that saw opportunity in 2013 and turned it into a disaster and the young prospects. Mike Fiers, Johnny Hellweg, and Hiram Burgos fall into the first group. Fiers posted an ERA of over 7.00 after only three starts. Hellweg and Burgos didn’t fair much better, both with an ERA over 6.00 after a half-dozen starts. Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Devin Williams fall into the latter category and are worth keeping an eye on. Both of these categories will want to impress in spring training to make the rotation prior to September (or call-up due to injuries).
After the 2013 first-half starting pitching meltdown and resurgent second-half, there are once again many questions heading into 2014, maybe even more than 2013. No longer am I hoping for multiple aces, I will be happy with pitchers who can stay healthy and consistently pitch deep into a game.
Using my 2014 projected WAR we are now at 87 wins with relief pitching still to go. We are getting close to Wild Card territory and that is the Best Case Scenario.
If dreaming big keeps the starting rotation healthy, the Brewers pitching may just surprise.