Analyzing the Milwaukee Brewers Starting Pitching

Pitching and defense are well known to be those two intangibles that lead Major League Baseball franchises to prominence and championships. We look at the St. Louis Cardinals as an example of this motto, as they seem to assemble a top notch pitching rotation every single year, which then seems to be followed by a postseason berth every single year.

The Milwaukee Brewers struggle year in and year out in both of these categories. But, in a National League Central Division that has risen to greatness, pitching will be sure to lead to instant success on the field for the years to come. The Brewers last made the postseason during the 2011 season. In 2011, Zack Greinke was the ace of the team, winning 16 games to go along with a 3.83 ERA. Yovani Gallardo won 17 games that season. Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf each won 13 games, and even Chris Narveson won 11 games. Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, and Wolf all finished their seasons with ERAs under 4.00.

We fast forward now to 2015, and the Brewers are about to clinch their fourth consecutive season without a postseason berth. Let’s take a bit of a look at all of the pitchers to have made at least one start for the Brewers this season.

  1. Jimmy Nelson (25 starts, 10-9, 3.60 ERA)
  2. Matt Garza (23 starts, 6-14, 5.26 ERA)
  3. Kyle Lohse (22 starts, 5-13, 6.27 ERA)
  4. Mike Fiers (21 starts, 5-9, 3.89 ERA)
  5. Wily Peralta (15 starts, 4-8, 4.55 ERA)
  6. Taylor Jungmann (14 starts, 7-5, 2.66 ERA)
  7. Tyler Cravy (5 starts, 0-5, 6.67 ERA)
  8. Tyler Wagner (1 start, 0-0, 12.27 ERA)

We see a bit of a theme here, right? The Brewers most consistent pitcher in 2015 has been Jimmy Nelson, but as I am sitting here writing, he has just let up 8 walks to the Cleveland Indians. Outside of Nelson, rookie Taylor Jungmann and his 2.66 ERA have been impressive in his first 14 career Major League starts. Outside of these two pitchers, there’s not a whole lot to like in regards to the Brewers current and future starting pitching rotation.

This offseason, starting pitching will certainly be at the top of the agenda for the new general manager of the Brewers. Starting pitching is difficult to trade for. In order to acquire young, controllable arms, teams will have to exchange other valuable pieces. Teams don’t trade pitchers with favorable contracts anymore. Young, affordable pitching is a hot commodity. First, let’s examine the Brewers current rotation options for 2016. We will then look at the Minor League depth chart, along with potential free agents that the Brewers may look to target this offseason.

The Current Rotation

With a flurry of off days over the next two weeks, the Brewers are currently carrying a four-man starting rotation. The rotation has been led recently by second year pitcher Jimmy Nelson, who struggled to begin the season, but has really broken out this summer. Prior to his start against Cleveland, Nelson leads the Brewers with 10 wins to go along with a modest 3.60 ERA. Nelson is sure to be a part of the Brewers starting rotation for the years to come.

Another sure thing for the 2016 rotation is rookie pitcher Taylor Jungmann. The Brewers selected Jungmann with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, and he finally broke the big leagues with the Brewers this season. He did not put up dazzling numbers in the minors. In fact, in 11 games (9 starts) for Triple-A Colorado Springs this season, he went 2-3 with a 6.37 ERA. But, since making his debut on June 9, Jungmann has been fantastic. He has thrown strikes and has excelled at changing speeds. Expect Jungmann to make a big impact on the Brewers for the next several years.

Entering the 2015 season, the Brewers had very high hopes for Wily Peralta. He broke out in 2014, going 17-11 with a 3.53 ERA. 2014 was a very encouraging season for both Peralta and the Brewers, as they really watched him struggle in 2013. Unfortunately for the Brewers, 2015 has been far too much like 2013, as Peralta has really struggled to establish consistency. He also missed over two months with an injury. On the season, Peralta is 4-8 with a 4.55 ERA in 15 starts. In his six starts since returning from the disabled list, he is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA, which is far from impressive.

Then, we have Matt Garza and the remaining two years of a 4-year, $50 million contract. Through his career, Garza is 81-89 with a 3.95 ERA, which isn’t too pretty for a $50 million pitcher. Even less pretty are his 14 losses and 5.26 ERA. The Brewers will certainly look to find a taker for Garza this offseason if at all possible, and may even be willing to eat some money to do so. Still, I would be shocked to not see Garza on the Opening Day roster in 2016.


The Brewers surprisingly have some pitching depth in the minors. Below I will outline three names to keep your eye on in the very near future.

  1. Tyler Cravy: Although he has really struggled in his last few starts, I would expect to see the Brewers give Cravy a fair chance of seeing what kind of success he can have in the Major Leagues. Many seem to forget his debut for the Brewers on June 2nd of this season, a game in which he unfairly lost to the Cardinals in St. Louis by the score of 1-0. In that game, Cravy went 7 innings, allowing only 4 hits and 1 earned run, while striking out 6 batters. While his last few starts have not been as perfect, he has been pitching with a mionr shoulder injury, and will hopefully receive one or two more starts in 2015 to make up for his recent poor performance.
  1. Tyler Wagner: Wagner made his debut with the Brewers on May 31, 2015 against the Diamondbacks, in a game that lasted 17 innings. He had been promoted straight from Double-A to make the start. In that game, Wagner lasted only 3.2 innings, allowing 9 hits and 5 earned runs. He was sent back to Double-A after that start. In Biloxi this season, Wagner has been extremely impressive, and should receive another call to the Majors sooner rather than later. In 22 starts this year in Double-A, he has gone 10-5 with a 2.21 ERA. Also, in High A Brevard County in 2014, in 25 starts, he went 13-6 with a 1.86 ERA. These numbers are making Brewers officials drool. There’s a lot to be excited about in Wagner.
  1. Zach Davies: Some expect Davies to receive consideration for the 2016 rotation, and quite possibly even a September call-up this season. Acquired from the Orioles on July 31 for Gerardo Parra, Davies, listed as only 160 pounds, has received praise from minor league scouts all across the country. He has only made 4 starts for the Brewers Triple-A affiliate, but in 18 starts for Triple-A Norfolk in the Orioles system in 2015, Davies had a 5-6 record to go along with a 2.84 ERA.

Others in the Brewers System:

In the Brewers trade with the Houston Astros this past July, they not only acquired two of their top outfield prospects in Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips, but they also acquired two highly talented arms in Josh Hader and Adrian Hauser. In his first four starts at Biloxi, Hader has put up a 2.29 ERA. He has struck out 30 batters in 19.1 innings. In his first five starts at Biloxi, Hauser has put up a 2.17 ERA. Both pitchers figure to be on track for the Majors in 2017 or 2018.

Remember Johnny Hellweg, one of the key pieces to the Zack Greinke trade in 2012? Many have forgotten about Hellweg, due to the fact that he had to undergo Tommy John Surgery in early 2014. But, he has now made a full recovery and is currently pitching in Double A; however, he has really struggled in his first five starts at Biloxi, carrying a 9.60 ERA. He is still on the road to recovery, and could be a name to watch in the coming months.

Jorge Lopez is 12-5 in AA Biloxi this season with a 2.29 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He has been excellent down south for the Brewers farm system, and the development team is very excited about his production this season. At only 22, Lopez may not see the majors next season, but he’s worth keeping our eyes on moving forward.

Additionally, teams may also consider pitchers with relief experience as options for the starting rotation. Here are three names to watch for the Brewers: Michael Blazek, Tyler Thornburg, and Rob Wooten. All three pitchers have had some sort of success in the Brewers bullpen over the last few years, but also have experience starting games in the Minor Leagues. It is unusual for teams to want to move a reliever that has seen success pitching out of the bullpen, as Blazek has in 2015. While I would doubt to see Blazek jump into the rotation in 2016, I find it totally feasible to try out Thornburg in the rotation. In 2013, in 18 games (7 starts), he went 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. He has plenty of starting experience, and has not seemed comfortable pitching out of the bullpen over the last two seasons. Wooten has only started one career game in the Minors, but was stretched out this past Spring Training as he was competing with Thornburg and Blazek for a long relief role. He has seen limited success in the Brewers bullpen at the Major League level, and may look to switch things up a bit as a result.

Free Agent Targets: 2016:

The Brewers last two big free agent pitcher signings, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, have not panned out too well. Therefore, I would highly doubt to see the Brewers spend big money on pitching this offseason. They will not throw money at David Price or Johnny Cueto. Also, a reunion with Zack Greinke and/or Yovani Gallardo seems highly unlikely. Instead, I would expect the Brewers to take a look at some low-risk, short-term contracts with veteran starting pitchers. Below is a laundry list of possible targets:

  • Mark Buehrle
  • Trevor Cahill
  • Doug Fister
  • Jeremy Guthrie
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Scott Kazmir
  • Ian Kennedy
  • Mike Leake
  • Tim Lincecum
  • Justin Masterson
  • Bud Norris
  • Mike Pelfrey
  • Jeff Samardzija
  • Alfredo Simon
  • Ryan Vogelsong
  • Jordan Zimmermann

Of this list, the most intriguing option is Zimmermann, who is often overshadowed in a very deep Washington Nationals starting rotation. Zimmermann would make sense for the Brewers, as he is only 29 years old and could be considered ace material. As a native of Auburndale, Wisconsin, and graduate of UW-Stevens Point, he may be willing to take a hometown discount and be willing to pitch close to home.


  1. Pitching wins championships. The Brewers need to model themselves on their 2011 roster, and emphasize consistent starting pitching, especially in an improving National League Central Division.
  2. The only true locks for the Brewers 2016 rotation are Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann. Wily Peralta will almost certainly be assured a spot as well, and Matt Garza’s contract may force the Brewers to keep him in the rotation too. Outside of these four pitchers, the Brewers face many question marks regarding their starting rotation for the years to come.
  3. The Brewers have some quality young pitching in the minors. Some names to watch in the coming years include Tyler Cravy, Tyler Wagner, Zach Davies, Johnny Hellweg, Jorge Lopez, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser.
  4. The Brewers may look to convert some of their relievers into starters, such as Michael Blazek, Tyler Thornburg, and/or Rob Wooten.
  5. Trading for starting pitching is often times difficult these days, but they are sure to monitor the free agent market this offseason. They will look to avoid the poor decisions they made on both Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza.
  6. The Brewers must emphasize starting pitching both in the present and in the future for the years to come.


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