Spring Training is underway and it seems that the Milwaukee Brewers free agency additions are complete. Many fans will say that the team missed out on improving the pitching staff by not making a trade for Corey Kluber or signing free agent Dallas Keuchel.
People outside the organization have been saying for quite a while now that the Milwaukee Brewers don’t have enough starting pitching to win consistently. Last year clearly proved those people wrong.
However fans shouldn’t be too worried, because this group of starting pitchers are solid.
After the postseason ended and the celebration was over, many said the same thing; the Brewers need to get a top of the rotation starter. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Brewers missed out on Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, the two top pitching free agent targets. Darvish, six years at $126 million, and Arrieta, three years at $75 million, combined for 11 wins and 187 strikeouts in 39 games.
This offseason, with other needs, the Brewers re-signed infielder Mike Moustakas, made trades to better the farm system and signed one of the best catchers in baseball, Yasmani Grandal. The Brewers were linked to trade rumors for Corey Kluber and free agent Dallas Keuchel.
For Kluber the asking price was too steep for General Manager David Stearns, who was not willing to part with top second base prospect Keston Hiura. In the case of Keuchel, it seemed the dollar amount was too high, expecting similar money as Arrieta and Darvish.
Stearns and Manager Craig Counsell look confident going into 2019 with the current group of “initial out-getters” they have at camp.
Five is just a number
The days of the five-man rotation are over. The Brewers used 11 starting pitchers in 2018, with seven making double-digit starts.
Led by Jhoulys Chacin, the Brewers starting pitchers won 51 games and worked 716.2 innings or nearly half of the innings the Brewers pitched in last season. These stats don’t tell the whole story however. Wade Miley was missing the first part of the season, Zach Davies never fully recovered from an early season injury, Brent Suter was lost in July to Tommy John Surgery, and 2017 ace Jimmy Nelson was recovering from off-season surgery.
The Brewers were forced to use 11 pitchers by necessity. This season, the Brewers walked into Spring Training with eight pitchers that could easily fit into the starting rotation.
This provides questions, let’s see if we can provide some answers.
Who starts Opening Day?
If you were to build a lineup and go-to pitcher for opening day, why not go with the guy you trusted for 5.2 innings in Game 163 against the Cubs? Last year, Jhoulys Chacin quietly put together a quality season, 15-8 record, 3.50 ERA, 156 strike outs, and a 1.16 WHIP in 192.2 innings.
He had the 14th-best ERA in the National League, sixth-most wins, tenth-best WHIP and 24th-most strikeouts. He is in the second and final year of a two year, $15.5 million deal the Crew gave him last off-season.
The return of Jimmy Nelson
After Chacin, you can’t ignore the determination of Jimmy Nelson. At Brewers On-Deck he made it known he wants to be the Opening Day starter, and wants to lead this team. However, the Brewers are taking it slow and careful with the 29-year-old. If he can repeat the 2017 performance where he had a 12-6 record, 199 strikeouts, 3.49 ERA, and a 1.25 WHIP in 175.1 innings, he will be a perfect second in the rotation pitcher, and will take the place of Miley.
The Brewers are being very careful with Nelson though, even giving him an additional day off to monitor his arm fatigue and discomfort early in camp.
The young aces in waiting
Corbin Burnes, 4th Round pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, made his pro debut in July 2018 and never looked back. Many thought he would be up and down and that at some point the Brewers would work him into a starting role but it didn’t happen that way. Burnes was lights out coming out of the bullpen. In 30 games, he was 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.
This offseason, Burnes was told and the Brewers made it public knowledge he would be looked at for the starting rotation. The 24-year-old seems ready for the pressure of starting in the big leagues. During the playoffs, it never seemed like the pressure was too much for him. In six games he gave up only four hits in nine innings throwing in high stress situations late in ball games against the Rockies and Dodgers.
The Brewers drafted Burnes to be a starting pitcher and this season he will take his rightful place in the rotation.
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The other young pitcher that will most likely end up on the starting rotation will be 22-year-old Freddy Peralta.
Peralta came up to the big leagues on Mother’s Day last season and dazzled the Brewers with a 5.2 inning shutout, raking up 13 strikeouts against the Rockies. Freddy did have his struggles though, finishing the season 6-4 with a 4.25 ERA. However he did put up a 1.14 WHIP with 96 strikeouts in 78.1 innings, and worked out of the bullpen down the stretch and in the postseason.
Peralta is just 22 and could do with some seasoning in Triple A, but the Brewers know he can handle the workload and given the chance he will be a good bottom of the rotation starter in 2019.
The last young pitcher the Brewers have that could snag a starting spot is 26-year-old Brandon Woodruff. The folk hero of NLCS Game One announced this week that he is preparing himself to pitch 200 innings. Woodruff had mixed reviews in four starts in 2018, but overall was strong in 19 games, going 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
During the postseason, he was strong in four games, going 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. He will be given a chance to compete for a starting spot this season and is just as important to the Brewers future rotation as well as their future.
Can they bounce back?
To say that Chase Anderson and Zach Davies want to get past 2018 would be an understatement. Davies never really got in a groove after being injured. Davies just turned 26 and prior to last season he owned a 31-18 record, with a 3.91 ERA, 1.297 WHIP and 283 strikeouts in 67 games. Like Nelson, if Davies can find his 2017 numbers (17-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 124 strikeouts, 191.1 IPs) the Brewers will be happy to have Davies in the rotation.
Anderson is a fascinating case.
Chase is 45-36 in his five year career, including 21-12 in the last two seasons. His career ERA is under four and has 120 or more strikeouts since moving to Milwaukee in 2016, but last season it seemed he was on the verge of being benched. That benching happened, as he ended up getting pulled from the rotation in September and did not pitch in the postseason.
Anderson made a promise to himself to bounce back. In early camp he is focusing on a new delivery, one that matches his delivery from 2017. During the winter he worked with new Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook and bullpen coach Steve Karsay, hoping to find that magic again. They agreed he needed to change his delivery.
If Chase can find that magic he will be a good back of the rotation pitcher for the Brewers in 2019.
Who else could be a starter?
Those seven are the current front runners, however the crew has so many others that can be counted on to start a game if needed. Junior Guerra was 6-9 in 31 games last season, getting 136 strikeouts in 141 innings. He was just above his career ERA and WHIP at 4.09 and 1.40. He will most likely find himself in the bullpen in 2019 as he found success in September and October for the Brewers playoff run.
Aaron Wilkerson is another guy that is available for spot starts, but will most likely working out of the bullpen if on the roster. The 29-year-old saw action in three games last year, spending most of the 2018 season in Triple-
The wild card could be 34-year-old Josh Tomlin, who is a bounce back candidate after a poor 2018 season in Cleveland. The Brewers brought him in on a minor league deal, and are hoping that he can find the command and accuracy that helped him go 30-20 from 2015-2017.
Suter will most likely not be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John Surgery, but it is all depending upon how he is feeling and the needs of the team.
Brewers current Minor League Pitcher of the Year Zack Brown was 9-1 in Double-A but will most likely spend the 2019 season in Triple A.
Any way you look at the starting pitching options, the Brewers are set for near-term and long-term success. Currently the Milwaukee Brewers are spending less than $25 million on the group they have, and with many of them in arbitration status each year, this allows the team to control the majority of them for years to come.