The snow is beginning to melt (not in Wisconsin but hopefully somewhere) and 95 mph fastballs are whizzing through the air. Pitchers and catchers have reported and that means: live baseball is back.
Milwaukee, and its general manager David Stearns, have been busy in an otherwise quiet offseason trading the farm for stud outfielder Christian Yelich and signing wily veteran leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain to a huge contract.
With the glut of outfielders now dominating the Brewers roster and a theoretical need in starting pitching, it would make sense for Stearns to make a trade. (See rumors galore about Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi)
But if things stand as they are, with only Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacín locks for the starting rotation, the Brewers will be absolutely fine.
Who will round out the five spots? Yovani Gallardo, Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra, Brent Sutter, Aaron Wilkerson and now Wade Miley will be all competing in Spring Training for a spot in the rotation. Some familiar faces, some young faces. But no one willing to write home about.
I contend we do not need anyone to write home about. Due to the sheer quantity of pitchers vying for the two open spots, one is bound to put up decent enough numbers to be an average or above average number four pitcher.
Looking to Junior Guerra, former 2017 Opening Day starter, it looks like a bounce back is in order. During the 2017-18 Venezuelan playoffs, he ate up 28.2 innings, allowing only 25 hits and zero homeruns.
His ERA was second best for playoffs at 2.20. Guerra was not going against major league talent, but he has found his lost velocity that hurt him in the 2017 MLB season. According to Octavio Hernandez and reported by BrewCrew Ball, he was consistently hitting 92-94 mph.
So what about the fifth option?
Enter ‘Johnny Wholestaff.’ Towards the end of the 2017 season, manager Craig Counsell resorted to his fifth starter, being the bullpen. He would toss the likes of Suter, Matt Garza and even former closer Jeremy Jeffress out to start and eat up two or three innings. Then he would turn to the workhorse bullpen to finish out the last six.
In 61 innings of work, ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ gave up only 18 earned runs, producing a 2.65 ERA. That would be an elite fifth spot pitcher in any rotation.
Last year the Brewers resorted to the bullpen option because of an injury to ace Jimmy Nelson and Garza’s ineffectiveness as a normal starting pitcher. Not much has changed, and in fact, Milwaukee has even better arms for the ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ option.
With former starters like Gallardo and Wade Miley, who have lost their edge, traditionally they would be subject to either being waived or relegated to long-relief.
But maybe starting them once in a while with lower inning totals would allow them to last a whole season while being effective. Suter also showed flashes of being a pitcher able to work four or five very effective innings. Then having Josh Hader, who was criminally good striking out almost 13 per nine innings, and Corey Knebel, who one-upped Hader, striking out almost 15 per nine innings, will close it out.
Now it is fair to still have worries about the rotation. The front end is lacking the traditional stud ace. A workhorse, dominant pitcher. But Chase Anderson, who flashed a 2.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 3.24 over only 144 innings will have a well-rested arm.
Anderson missed much of the second half of the season due to an oblique injury retained in the middle of the season.
Davies, the de facto number two, set a record for consecutive scoreless innings on the road with 42 1/3 innings. If he can find some of his road magic, 2.04 ERA over 97 innings, at Miller Park, where he had a 5.82 ERA over 94 innings, Milwaukee will have a very solid number two.
And there is reason to believe he is trending up. Post All-Star Break, Davies tossed up an overall ERA of 2.87.
Chacín is the real question mark. There has never been platoon starting pitchers in the MLB, but if there was a set, Chacín would fit perfectly.
Against righties, in 2017, he only gave up a batting average of .217 and a .602 OPS. Facing lefties, he is a drastically different pitcher. Left-handed batters batted for an average of .255 against him and had a .789 OPS.
Would signing the likes of Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb help this pitching staff? You bet. Would trading for Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi or Marcus Stroman help this pitching staff? Even more so than a free agent. You bet.
If Slingin’ Stearns decides to stop slingin’ this offseason and hang up the phones though, Milwaukee is not as in dire shape as others will have you believe.
Johnny Wholestaff can hold down the fort, at least up until the trade deadline. And, next week, come back to see why their minor league pitchers can also help the Brewers.