Milwaukee Brewers: Second Tier Starting Pitching Trade Options

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 04: Manager Craig Counsell #30 of the Milwaukee Brewers walks to the dugout during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Miller Park on June 04, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 04: Manager Craig Counsell #30 of the Milwaukee Brewers walks to the dugout during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Miller Park on June 04, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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Solid Options That Could Be Moved

This past weekend of baseball hasn’t provided much clarity on who may end being sellers ahead of the MLB Trade Deadline.

There are a few names, however, who appear to be available in trade discussions in the starting pitching market.

Mike Minor, LHP, Texas Rangers

Mike Minor has been an incredible comeback story.

Minor was one of the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves farm system at the beginning of this decade. Just when it looked like he was beginning to realize his lofty potential after a strong 2013 campaign, he suffered a major injury to his throwing shoulder that caused issues for him throughout 2014, and led him to miss the entire 2015 season due to surgery.

Since then, Minor has tried to work his way back into a Major League role.  He was a lights out bullpen pitcher in his return to the majors with the 2017 Royals, amassing 2.3 WAR over 77 2/3 innings in relief that season. That success he had in 2017 led to the Texas Rangers giving him a shot to hold down a spot in their rotation. He did not disappoint.

Minor pitched 157 innings last season over 28 starts and amassed a respectable 4.18 ERA. He posted a WAR of 2.5 on FanGraphs, and an even more impressive 3.7 WAR on baseball reference. Minor wasn’t a high strikeout pitcher in 2018, but still had solid K/9 numbers (7.57) and was able to find success by limiting walks (2.18 BB/9) and hits (138 hits given up in 157 innings). The only real knock on his game last season was that he was a bit prone to the long ball (1.43 HR/9).

In 2019, Minor has put together what might be his finest season in the league. Minor enters play on Tuesday with the sixth best ERA in baseball at 2.73. He has been the best pitcher in WAR according to Baseball reference at a 5.9, nearly a half a win better than Max Scherzer.

Minor has built his incredible season on the back of improvements in strikeouts (8.93 per/9), limiting home runs at a much greater rate (0.96 per/9), and continuing to limit hits (98 in 122 innings pitched). He’s also been a workhorse, averaging well over six innings per start (6.42 innings). Part of his success can also be attributed to inducing ground balls at a much better rate (43.8%) than he did last season (34.4%).

Despite his incredible season, and the fact that they’re well in contention for a playoff berth, the Rangers remain open to moving Mike Minor for the right price.

Minor would be an incredible add for the Brewers. His ability to be very efficient from start-to-start is something they sorely lack. He’s also more than just a stop-gap option. He’s under contract for one more season on just $9.5 million. A real argument could be made that he’s a top-tier option that could swing someone’s season if he moves this summer. His lack of track record was the only reason he didn’t feature in our first article last week.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

The other second tier option that may move this summer is Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner is a player whom the Milwaukee Brewers have been linked with consistently dating all the way back to the off-season. It’s not difficult to see why they want him.

Bumgarner is in the midst of a relative resurgence in 2019. After being just a slightly above average pitcher who’s struggled with injuries over the past two years, he’s found some of the form that made him one of the best pitchers in all of baseball during the Giants three World Series winning seasons.

So far this season, he’s pitched 116 2/3 innings over 20 starts (just under six innings per start) with an ERA of 3.86. He’s averaging his best strikeouts per nine rate (9.33) since his stellar 2016 season, while walking just 1.93 batters per nine. His WAR on FanGraphs stands at a solid 1.9.

Where Bumgarner has struggled, however, is on giving up hard contact. Bumgarner has given up 1.31 HR/9, the worst mark he’s posted since 2017. Opponents have made hard contact on an incredible 46.1% of the batted balls they’ve put in play against him too,  by far the worst mark of his career and the second highest rate in the Majors.  Though his FIP is below his ERA (3.80), his Deserved Run Average is a 4.40 suggesting he’s had a little bit of fortune not to have a higher ERA.

Bumgarner has, however, been improving in recent starts on reducing his hard contact given up and bettering his strikeout numbers. The amount of swings he’s getting on pitches out of the zone is a career best, and hitters are making contact off him less often than they have in any season since 2016. Like most pitchers in the league, he may have needed some time to adjust to the juiced ball this season.

The Milwaukee Brewers would be wise to at least explore their options here. Bumgarner may not be the ace that he was several seasons ago, but he’s still a solid rotation option. The hard contact profile suggests there’s quite a bit more risk here than with Minor, but that shouldn’t stop the Brewers from entertaining getting him if the price is right.