Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Projections: Jimmy Nelson


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Prior to the 2014 season, Jimmy Nelson was universally regarded as the Brewers top prospect, and he outpitched even those honors. In 111 innings before his final call-up, Nelson posted a 1.46 ERA with 114 strikeouts with AAA Nashville. He fit excellently with Mike Fiers and journeyman Brad Mills, all of whom dominated the Pacific Coast League in the first half.

Nelson was selected by the Brewers in the second round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the top pick the Crew signed successfully after first-round pick Dylan Covey chose to instead attend the University of San Diego.

Nelson’s progression has lessened some of the pain of that lost pick with his quick run through the minor league system. Despite just 26 2/3 innings pitched with the Helena Brewers rookie team in 2010, Nelson was fast-tracked to Low-A Wisconsin in 2011.

He performed well enough to earn a move to High-A Brevard County for the 2012 season, where he started just 13 games before again moving up in the system, this time to AA Huntsville. He remained in Huntsville for the first half of 2013, before continuing his rapid ascension, joining AAA Nashville half way through that season.

He was first added to the Brewers 25-man roster as a September call-up in 2013, when he appeared four times (one start) and gave up just one earned run in 10 innings (0.90 ERA). As mentioned, Nelson then began 2014 in AAA, where he dominated his competition.

Nelson made an emergency spot-start in Milwaukee on May 25 before returning to AAA for eight more starts, until July 12, when he started against the St. Louis Cardinals. Though he was roughed up (6 ER in 4 1/3 innings), he remained with the team for the remainder of the year, and since the trade of Yovani Gallardo, projects as the Brewers number 5 starter for 2015.

All told, Nelson ending with a 4.93 ERA over 69 1/3 innings, but that tells a skewed story. Kyle and myself have made it a point to highlight the incredible tough luck that Nelson faced in his first year of extended time. His strand rate of 66.6% and BABIP of .344 were both immensely unlucky, and astronomically unlikely to repeat themselves.

His FIP (3.78), xFIP (3.92), and SIERA (3.76) all tell a much more positive story, and show fans why these advanced metrics exist. With all that in mind, here are our projections:

GS 29   IP 162   ERA 4.10   FIP 3.95   xFIP 3.98   WHIP 1.315   H/9 8.6   HR/9 1.o   GB% 47.3%   BB/9 3.2   K/9 8.1   K/BB 2.53

Nelson threw 180 1/3 innings between AAA and MLB in 2014, easily the most of his professional career. I expect he will take some games off given his relative youth and the late struggles of pitchers like Will Smith, who was undoubtedly overworked last season.

Nelson’s projections are possibly the most conservative in our series on the starting rotation, but a year like the one above would be an excellent building block for a pitcher will under 80 career innings in the Bigs. Meanwhile, Steamer projects Nelson to end with a 4.19 ERA (4.03 FIP) and a 1.4 fWAR, roughly in line with our projections.

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There are questions for Nelson heading into 2015, depending on how much you think a pitcher needs a third pitch to succeed as a starter. He does throw a sinker, a four seam, and a slider, but the former two are typically grouped together as “fastballs”, leaving Nelson as a two-pitch pitcher.

As I said, this is not necessarily a big deal. Nelson did have major discrepancies in his splits in 2012 and 2013, mostly because he dominated righthanders and was just OK against lefties. In 2014, however, his splits became less pronounced with righties posting a .589 OPS across AAA and MLB, while lefties posted a .655 OPS.

These are very good numbers, but they are also primarily based on his outstanding time in Nashville. There are noteworthy pitchers that have a similar approach, including Rays standout Chris Archer, but he still has a changeup, he just uses it sparingly (3-6%).

Many believe that fellow Brewer Wily Peralta is in need of a changeup to fend off lefties who have hit him hard in the Majors thus far. Nelson could end up in the same boat, but recently he has performed fine against lefties, and there are two-pitch starters who have reached high levels of success in the past.

There is no doubt that Nelson is well-(if not over) qualified to slot in as the Brewers’ No. 5 starter, and we at RtB fully expect him to lay the foundation for a long career in 2015.

Other Projections:

Kyle Lohse

Wily Peralta

Matt Garza

Mike Fiers