Continuing from the Brewers season preview earlier today…
Can the Brewers compete with such inexperienced starting pitching?
That's not to say the rotation isn't good — there's plenty of minor league success among this group. Mike Fiers had a minor league ERA of 2.80, including a 1.86 ERA in Double- and Triple-A in 2011 before a successful rookie campaign in 2012 (3.74 ERA, 3.09 FIP). Wily Peralta is no stranger to Top-100 prospect lists. Mark Rogers, a former top-five draft pick, still has a mid-90s fastball to go with a wicked slider, even after injuries nearly derailed his career.
The talent is there. It's just that nobody knows what to expect from this group, and that's a scary spot for most clubs. Doug Melvin has been stressing patience with this group whenever he's addressed the rotation this offseason, but it's one thing to say it in February and March, and something else completely to stand your ground in July and August if they start to falter.
Really, the potential problems with the Brewers’ rotation isn’t with the pitchers themselves, but the *type* of pitcher many of them are. Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Peralta and Rogers all have the potential to put up big strikeout numbers (the Brewers led the majors in punchouts last year with over 1400 as a team), but also rack up big pitch counts getting there — they aren’t exactly the most efficient group in baseball (Milwaukee was also Top 10 in walks surrendered).
That translates into a lot of 5- and 6-inning starts, and lots of innings left for the bullpen to cover. Last year, the Brewers’ bullpen pitched more innings than anyone in the NL other than Colorado (with their unconventional rotation theory) and Washington (with their Strasburg rules and lockdown back end). Unfortunately for the Brewers, that bullpen was one of the worst-performing in team history, putting up an MLB-worst 4.66 ERA, blowing a combined 29 “saves” in 73 chances. It was a group that wasn’t very good to begin with, but fatigue didn’t help matters. In 2013, the rotation is simply going to have to pick up more innings.
Much of the Brewers' faith in this group is built on a strong six-week stretch to close last season that saw the Brewers climb back into wildcard contention. Of course, the Brewers fell back out of contention when Rogers was shut down for innings reasons and Fiers hit the Rookie Wall. If that happens again, the Brewers have more guys they could try — like Tyler Thornburg or Hiram Burgos — but they aren't the "proven starters" most people are looking for, either.
The Brewers were brought up in Kyle Lohse rumors all winter (and Ryan Dempster rumors, before he signed with Boston) because of the belief that they needed a solid, dependable #2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo. Here we are on March 6 and Lohse is still unsigned. The Brewers are standing their ground on this — they’d rather go with their group of young guys than surrender the 17th overall pick in the draft and $2 million out of their draft pool that it would takes to add Lohse.
The club has pointed to the likes of Oakland and Tampa Bay as instances of young, unproven rotations working. In what's looking like a tough NL Wildcard race to crack this year, the Brewers are going to need that level of success if they're going to be playing meaningful games in September.