In December, the Milwaukee Brewers somewhat surprisingly picked Gus Varland out of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in the Rule 5 Draft. The right-handed pitcher has not played higher than Double-A, but he took a lot of steps forward last year once he transitioned into the bullpen.
Being a Rule 5 Draft selection, Gus Varland has to remain on Milwaukee's 26-man roster all season. If at any point the Brewers want to remove him, they have to offer him back to the Dodgers. This has made him an intriguing player to keep an eye on during spring training.
How has Rule 5 Draft selection Gus Varland performed during spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers?
If you were to take a quick glance at Varland's peripheral statistics, you would immediately be turned off by his performance to date. Through five innings of work he has a 7.20 ERA, four earned runs, and seven hits allowed.
However, a deeper look at his performance tells a different story.
Of his 15 outs recorded, nine of them have came via the strikeout. He has also pounded the strike zone. Of his 45 pitches thrown, 40 of them have been for strikes. In three of his five appearances, he has not thrown a ball.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Curt Hogg, Varland has been sitting near 96 MPH with his fastball. The spin rate on his fastball averaged out at 2,435 RPM in one game, which would have ranked him in the 90th percentile in MLB last season. To complement the heater, he has been mixing in his slider and reportedly a change up as well.
The contact Varland has been giving up has been weak. In a recent outing, where he got tagged with two earned runs, four balls were put in play. Three of those had exit velocities of 81 MPH or lower that included one at 36.5 MPH that should have resulted in a double play, but the throw to second base was off the mark.
While the standard statistics may not indicate a successful spring for Gus Varland so far, the advanced analytics tell a different story. As mentioned above, if the Brewers desire to keep Gus Varland around they simply just have to keep him on the active 26-man roster.
There are two weeks of spring training left yet, so the team will likely continue to gather as much data as possible before Opening Day, but for now this is one roster decision to monitor closely as bullpen spots are still up for grabs.