Milwaukee Brewers: Depth Options at Starting Pitcher
In the last of our series previewing the MLB Trade Deadline, we take a look at who the Milwaukee Brewers could target for depth at starting pitcher.
What other options might be out there on the starting pitcher market for the Milwaukee Brewers to explore getting?
In this final piece exploring who may be available at the MLB Trade Deadline, we take a look at what options might be out there for the Brewers to target for depth. These are the starters who may not be the most impactful players now, but who can still provide the team with additional depth if they so choose.
If you want to read our other articles exploring other positions or tiers of players, feel free to go over to our analysis page to get an in-depth look at those lists.
There are more than a few starters out there who might be worth a look as buy-low options for the Milwaukee Brewers to explore.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles
Dylan Bundy was once regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Unfortunately, like many top pitching prospects have experienced in Baltimore’s system, he’s failed to live up those lofty expectations.
Bundy has struggled in 2019. His ERA sits at a 5.28 through 18 starts. Much of his struggles have come from the long ball. Bundy gave up a league high 41 home runs just a season ago, and has given 21 so far this season.
Some of Bundy’s underlying stats, though, suggest he could be better than he’s pitched. Bundy struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings just one season ago and is at 9.5 K/9 so far in 2019. He’s never struggled with walks, as his career three BB/9 rate shows. Bundy is also just two season removed from pitching to a 4.24 ERA over 169 2/3 innings, a sign that he could be a good starter under the right circumstances.
Bundy is in desperate need of a change of scenery. He may never become the front-line guy he was once thought to be, but he still has the stuff to be a good starter in the League. Out of all of the possible buy-low options we’ll discuss on this list, Bundy may present the highest upside out of any of them. He is, after all, just 26.
Caleb Smith, LHP, Miami Marlins
Caleb Smith has emerged as a capable option in the Miami Marlins pitching staff.
Smith had his first prolonged chance to start last season for the Marlins. He didn’t disappoint. He pitched 77 1/3 innings over 16 starts, recording a 4.19 ERA. He struck out 10.24 batters per/nine while giving up just 1.16 HR/9.
In 2019, Smith has been virtually as good as last season. He’s pitched 83 innings over 15 starts, an average of 5.5 innings per start. His ERA sits at a very respectable 3.47. Smith has improved his K rate to 10.95 this season while seeing his BB/9 drop from 3.84 to 3.04. His one weakness has been his on the long ball. Smith is giving up an alarming 1.73 HR/9, a very alarming statistic when considering that he’s getting ground balls on just 28.1% of the balls put in play against him this year.
Smith is still young (27) and controllable for several more years. That may encourage Miami to keep him. However, Smith could land a sizable return if he moves now. He might be worth a look for a team looking for a young, controllable starter with some encouraging signs in his profile.
Jordan Lyles, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jordan Lyles came in to the Milwaukee Brewers via trade just one season ago. Despite pitching quite a few innings for them during his few weeks on the club, the Brewers decided to move on from him in the off-season.
Lyles has found some deal of success as a starter in Pittsburgh this season. Lyles had made 16 starts so far, pitching to a 4.91 ERA. His ERA, though, is inflated thanks to a blow-up start he made on July 13th when he gave up seven earned runs against the Cubs in just two-thirds of an inning.
Under the hood, Lyles stats paint a picture of some substantive improvement. Lyles has a career best K/9 rate of 9.71. His walks are tad higher than last year (3.57 BB/9), but is still in a manageable range as his his HR/9 (1.45). His FIP (4.39), xFIP (4.32), and WAR (1.1) all suggest he’s been a decent pitcher in 2019.
Given that he was just let go by the Milwaukee Brewers in the off-season, a deal seems very unlikely to happen. That said, Milwaukee could do a lot worse than him. Lyles could them additional depth in the rotation and/or the pen if they decide to pursue him again.
Trevor Williams, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Another Pirates starter who could make sense as a depth option via trade is Trevor Williams.
Like Lyles, Williams has an ERA (5.19) that is a bit out-of-line with his underlying stats (FIP 4.49, xFIP 4.79). Williams is striking out 7.16 batters per nine while walking under two (BB/9 of 1.88). Though he’s had issues with home runs relative to seasons (1.44 HR/9 in 2019), his bigger issue this season has been the amount of hits he’s given up (88 over 76 2/3 Innings). He’s still been good for 1.1 WAR in 2019 despite some of his struggles.
What would make Williams worth a serious look is his past success. Williams was 2.7 WAR pitcher just a season ago, and was a 2.4 WAR pitcher in 2017 too. He’s shown in the very recent past that he can be a solid starting pitcher.
It’s unlikely that the Pirates will move him given that he’s just 27 and is coming off two solid seasons. However, if they’re open to it, Williams is worth a very serious look as a potential buy-low option. He has several more years of team control, making him an enticing option.
Jakob Junis, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Jakob Junis isn’t a flashy option as a starter, but he’s proven over the past three seasons that he can be a back-end starter.
Junis was a one WAR player in his rookie year in 2017, a 1.4 WAR player in 2018, and has been a one WAR player again so far in 2019. Junis does not have the greatest stuff, but he has improved his K/9 rate in each year in the Majors to the point of setting a career high 8.68 rate this season. He doesn’t walk many batters (career BB/9 rate of 2.54), but he has had major issues with home runs (his HR/9 rate is 1.55 for his career). That’s helped lead to him posting an ERA consistently in the fours (his ERA in 2019 is a career-high 4.83).
He is just 26 and under control through 2024. Both of those things make it unlikely that he’ll move this summer. However, given that he likely profiles as nothing more than a back-end starter, the Royals don’t exactly have a major incentive to keep him as a lock on their roster during their rebuild.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers
Daniel Norris has never been able to find his footing on a consistent basis in the Majors.
Norris was one of the headliners in the trade that sent David Price to Toronto back at the 2015 MLB Trade Deadline. He was actually regarded at that at time as being potentially the best prospect in the trade, and was thought as one of the better starting pitching prospects in baseball.
Norris showed real promise in 2016, but hasn’t been able to replicate that since, bouncing between the minors and the Majors. In 2019 so far, he has a 5.02 ERA through 100 1/3 innings pitched. He’s regressed in his strikeout rate this year (7.36 compared to a 7.98 career average), but has reduced his walk rate from 3.86 last year to 2.33 this year. He’s been plagued by home runs issues throughout his career (1.34 HR/9) and 2019 has been no different (1.52 HR/9).
Like Bundy, Norris is still young (26) and is under team control through 2022. A change of scenery seems like it might be in the best interest of both parties. Though he could still develop into a decent starter, it sure seems like Norris won’t become that so long as he’s in Detroit. He may make another good low-buy option for someone at the deadline.
Mike Leake, RHP, Seattle Mariners
One final option worth exploring is Mike Leake of the Seattle Mariners.
Leake is the pitcher with the best track record to appear on this list. Leake has been a consistent, middle-to-back-end innings eater in Major League rotations for years.
2019 has been yet another solid season for Leake. He’s pitched 124 1/3 innings over 20 starts and sports a decent 4.27 ERA. His K/9 rate has always been low (6.59 this year, 6.12 career), but he never walks batters (2.02 BB/9 career). He’s walked a career low 1.38 batters per nine so far this year.
Leake’s one weakness, like many pitchers to appear on these lists, has been on home runs so far this season. Leake has given up 1.74 HR/9. He’s always given up HR at a high rate on the fly balls he’s given up, but it’s hurt him more often this year since his groundball percentage is a career low 46.3%, down from a career average of 50.5%.
The elephant in the room with Leake is his contract. Leake is on a $16 million salary this year and is due $15 million in 2020. As good as he’s been throughout his career, that’s a lot of money for a team to take on for a middle-to-back end starter.
That said, he might make sense for the Milwaukee Brewers on the right price. His ability to eat innings, and keep the ball on the ground, makes him an enticing option to man a spot in the rotation. He would essentially give the team a better version of what they have now in Zach Davies. Leake is the most realistic option on this list for the Brewers to get.