Milwaukee Brewers: Is ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ success sustainable?

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Manager Craig Counsell
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Manager Craig Counsell /

With only three regular starters remaining in the rotation, the Milwaukee Brewers have used their bullpen to win three games in September.

Matt Garza’s ineffectiveness and Jimmy Nelson’s season-ending injury, the Milwaukee Brewers have implemented a strategy of using short starts to fill spots in the rotation. This approach of a bullpen day has been affectionately dubbed ‘Johnny Wholestaff’.

When have the Brewers used ‘Johnny Wholestaff’?

In September, the Brewers have had their starting pitcher go three innings or less four times:

September 3: 7-2 win against Washington

September 6: 7-1 loss at Cincinnati

September 12: 5-2 win against Pittsburgh

September 15: 10-2 win “at” Miami

Even though the Garza start on September 6th wasn’t considered as a ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ day, the Brewers used six relievers. He gave up five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.

Why It Worked

With an abundance of different looks in the Brewers bullpen, opposing batters were unable to get comfortable. Control lefty Brent Suter threw the first three innings on September 3 and September 12th. With the hard throwing righty Jeremy Jeffress followed both times. Craig Counsell was then able to play the match-ups to get to the late innings. On September 15th, Jeffress started the game, likely as a better match-up against the powerful Giancarlo Stanton.

How many times will the Brewers have to use ‘Johnny’ in the final two weeks?

Because the Milwaukee Brewers only have three regular pitchers in the rotation, they will need to use the ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ approach five more times.

Suter is scheduled to start the first of these games on September 18th at Pittsburgh. The next open slot will be September 20th in Pittsburgh. If the Brewers keep Zach Davies and Chase Anderson on regular rest, September 23rd against the Cubs and September 30 at the Cardinals will be the most prominent of these bullpen heavy games.

Recent call-up Aaron Wilkerson may make one of these starts. After an effective debut, Wilkerson would be an option to start against the Pirates. But he would probably be on a short leash with the Brewers in a pennant race.

Will ‘Johnny Wholestaff’s’ success continue?

Because the Brewers have 17 pitchers on the active roster, thanks to September call-ups, the bullpen should stay well rested despite the short starts. However, should Zach Davies or Chase Anderson get in trouble early, it could overtax relievers. But the success of ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ will largely depend on if Milwaukee continues to keep pace in the playoff chase.

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While the loss of Jimmy Nelson dealt a big blow to the Brewers playoff chances, the bullpen has kept Milwaukee from falling out of the pennant race. Unless Suter or Wilkerson are able to stretch out into longer starts, middle relievers will decide the Crew’s postseason fate. But, the ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ approach has worked thus far.