Milwaukee Brewers: Junior Guerra a top reliever?
After a strong first week of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen has certainly seen its share of struggles ever since. Amid those struggles, Junior Guerra has reinvented himself as possibly the most consistent arm among the relief corps.
Yes, most of Josh Hader‘s stats are still eye-popping. However, he has been tagged by the long ball a few times now this year and currently sports a 2.5 HR/9, the highest of all Milwaukee Brewers relievers currently on the roster.
Meanwhile, Junior Guerra‘s numbers are consistent across the board. His 2.20 ERA is second on the team to the recently-optioned Donnie Hart, though Guerra has pitched almost three times as many innings. Guerra’s impressive 0.918 WHIP is second to Hader. He has also held batters to just a .489 OPS, tops of the entire pitching staff.
From the rotation to the bullpen
A very solid beginning to the year eventually led to a rough patch and ultimately a change in role for the right-hander. In 2018, Guerra exited the month of June with a 6-4 record and a 3.05 ERA in being one of the team’s better starters. Unfortunately a 4.68 ERA in July followed by a 7.03 ERA in August resulted in a move to the bullpen while the team was pushing for a playoff spot.
That move would work to the team’s and Guerra’s benefit. After being removed from the starter’s role, Guerra would give up only three hits and zero runs to finish the season over five appearances with eight strikeouts and no walks.
After not making an appearance against the Rockies in the NLCS, Guerra continued his strong work out of the pen against the Dodgers in the NLDS. There he gave up just one run in 4 2/3 innings over two games, though that one run proved costly as it was the game-winning run for the Dodgers in the marathon 13-inning Game 3 loss for the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, Guerra continued to impress as a reliever.
Perfecting a craft
After being told he would be more than likely used as a reliever in 2019, Guerra worked on his new role over the off season. In the Venezuelan winter league, Guerra worked exclusively as a reliever. The numbers weren’t awe-inspiring – five earned runs and seven hits in five innings with two walks, three strikeouts and a home run given up. But that isn’t uncommon when pitchers are working on new things.
Spring Training looked a little better for Guerra with a 4.50 ERA over 10 innings. However a 1.20 WHIP, .256 opponents batting average, and 12 strikeouts to only two walks showed that the work was paying off. His numbers to this point in the 2019 regular season have proven that to be true so far.
The key to Guerra’s newfound success as a reliever may be tied directly to his new spread in pitch usage. According to FanGraphs, his splitter has increased in usage from 16.6% in 2018, the lowest of his Brewers career, to 26.6% in 2019, the highest of his Milwaukee Brewers career. Guerra has also added a curveball to his repertoire, discontinued usage of his slider, and is using his fastball less than last year.
With a lack of very many consistent options in the Brewers bullpen this year, an extremely steady Guerra has been a pleasant development and extremely necessary while several other relievers work through struggles. There have been issues in the rotation as well, but manager Craig Counsell would be hard-pressed to remove arguably his best arm from a group still searching for some answers.
The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season yet, so there is still time for the bullpen to settle in. Until then, hopefully Guerra will continue to be the consistent reliever that keeps the group afloat.