Nelson Start Imminent?


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Every passing day seems to bring the Brewers infinitely closer to pulling the trigger on a Jimmy Nelson call-up. This will not be a September call-up or a spot-start, but will instead -ideally- be the start of a long career for Nelson as a Brewers starting pitcher. This has caused understandable reluctance on the part of the organization, but the time has come for the move to be made.

Much has been said about the enormous discrepancy between the 2014 performances of the Brewers top prospect and Brewers veteran Marco Estrada, and rightfully so. Estrada came into the season as an undervalued member of the club, but has been knocked around while Nelson has flourished with AAA Nashville.

Estrada’s inability to keep the ball in the park has drawn national attention, as he currently owns a HR/9 (2.27), which would be the worst in the history of Major League Baseball. Inversely, groundball pitcher Jimmy Nelson has averaged .24 homers given up per 9 innings, with balls leaving the park 89% less often than Marco.

Estrada has performed better in  his last three starts, but in his last two, he has ended games with FIP’s of 7.28 and 4.91, and a blowout always seems just a few base runners away. Many fans -and surely, personnel- have been wondering when enough will be enough, so management is likely to pull the plug on Estrada sooner rather than later.

Also helping Nelson’s cause is his minuscule 1.46 ERA, and talks seem to have intensified among Brewers management that the dominating AAA starter could replace Estrada as soon as this Saturday. Ron Roenicke has stated that Estrada starting is no sure thing, but has  remained characteristically vague when asked for any more specific insight.

Obviously if the Brewers were to promote Nelson this weekend, Estrada would have to clear out of the rotation.  I feel strongly that Estrada’s stuff would play up out of the bullpen, much like fellow starter/relievers Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke, and Will Smith. Many pitchers have been slid into the bullpen out of necessity, with particularly noteworthy recent reclamations including the Royals’ Wade Davis and the Orioles’ Zach Britton.

Estrada joining the boys in the ‘pen would require a roster move, and only two pitchers seem somewhat expendable. The only plausible moves would include either Rob Wooten or Brandon Kintzler’s departure from the team. I feel strongly that it should be the latter, as Kintzler has seemed frequently overwhelmed and outmatched this season. He is also currently performing well under his FIP (5.19), with an ERA of 3.86, meaning he has farther to fall. Wooten, however, has faced tougher luck, and his FIP (2.41) indicates much better performances than his ERA (4.20).

These moves should all strengthen the core of the team, and make them look more like a playoff team.

A player’s transition from AAA to MLB is never easily predictable, but Nelson is the Brewers’ top prospect for a reason, and he will soon have earned his way onto the team. Nelson could do with some time to settle into his role with the Crew as well, rather than letting him tear through batters in AAA while Estrada underperforms. Most agree that the Brewers playing their hot hand should result in favorable returns, and at the very least, Nelson is very unlikely to let up home runs at Estrada’s rate.

Brewers fans will greet Nelson with open arms, and maybe even grow to re-appreciate Estrada as a reliever.