Friday, October 4, 2013

Recapping 2013 for the Milwaukee Brewers - Pitchers

I am not going out on a limb when I say that the Brewers 2013 season was a bit of a disappointment. At 74-88, finishing ahead of the Cubs was the lone bright sport from a final record perspective. Despite playing in a division that sent three teams to the postseason, I believe that the organization and the fans expected much more from the club than we got in 2013. I will recap the season in two parts for the blog, starting with the pitching.

Upon the signing of Kyle Lohse just before the regular season began, it was believed that the Brewers rotation could be a strong point, with Lohse and Gallardo teaming up to form a solid 1-2 punch, followed by Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, and youngster Wily Peralta. The crew was also hoping to get a strong return season from Chris Narveson, who missed all of 2012 thanks to a torn rotator cuff.

It’s safe to say that things didn’t go as planned with the rotation. Gallardo did not pitch like a number 1 starter much at all throughout the course of the season, and an early season DUI didn’t help his popularity. Gallardo pitched to a 12-10 record and a 4.18 ERA that was much helped by a very strong finish in his last few starts. While his home runs and walks allowed were down quite a bit from last year, he struck out just 144 batters, his first time under 200 in four years.

Lohse was the bright spot in the rotation, finishing with a record of 11-10 and a 3.35 ERA. He did give up a surprisingly high number of home runs, allowing 26 balls to clear the fence, his most since 2004, but was without question the strongest member of this year’s starting staff. He is 35 now, but remains under contract for two more season and has shown no signs of slowing down.

After his first full workload on the mound, Peralta heads into 2014 with high expectations
After the two veteran arms in the starting rotation, the Brewers were counting on a number on younger guys to step up and handle the back end, but didn’t quite receive the results they were hoping for. Wily Peralta actually pitched rather well, at times, in his first full season in the show but he did not go without struggle. The Brewers would like to see him strike out more batters, especially considering his impressive fastball which ranked among the best in terms of average velocity in the national league. He showed an ability to go deep into games, even throwing the Brewers first complete game shutout since 2011 when he struck out a career high six Reds on July 9th. This was a bit of a turning point in Peralta’s season, as his ERA sat at an ugly 5.27 entering the night. He finished with a record of 11-15 and a 4.37 ERA. Beyond Peralta however, the young arms the organization hoped to lean on didn’t really pan out. Fiers struggled mightily, spending much of the year in the minors after failing to get batters out in his first few starts and Mark Rogers continued to battle injuries that have hampered him his entire career. Youngsters Hiram Burgos and Johnny Hellweg, who have impressed in the minor leagues, also had their share of struggles in their time with the big league club and spent much of the year continuing to develop in the lower levels. Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson were the final two budding stars to get a shot with the big league club during the season. Thornburg was particularly impressive, pitching to a 2.03 ERA between starting and relief appearance and remains a possible candidate for the starting rotation moving forward. Nelson put up another solid season in the minor leagues before getting a shot with the club in September. In four appearances, including one start, Nelson struck out eight batters over 10 innings while allowing one run.

The final two pieces of the starting pitching puzzle, Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada spent the year battling injuries as well. Narveson was again sidelined all season and continues to look to make a push for a starting spot in 2014. Estrada actually pitched rather well in the time he was able to see the field, coming out with a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts. He remains a favorite to make the rotation in 2014, but must continue to work on decreasing his home runs allowed and prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Moving forward, the crew looks to be in the same position they were entering the year in regards to starting pitching. Gallardo and Lohse will top the rotation ahead of several questions marks as to who can fill the final three spots. Peralta and Estrada will likely make up the three and four spots with several others vying for the fifth.  Thornburg, Nelson, Fiers, Burgos and Hellweg need to prove that they can pitch with the big boys over a full season.

That's no Photoshop. That's John Axford as a Cardinal.
Heading into 2013 it was no secret that the Brewers bullpen needed to improve. After ranking dead last in ERA in the national league at 4.66 in 2012, Doug Melvin put great emphasis on retooling the group to produce better results. Whatever he did seemed to work, as the 2013 squad ranked third in the league with a 3.19 ERA. Jim Henderson led the way with 28 saves, kicking out an impressive 2.70 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 60 innings. His power fastball has proved to be effective in the closer’s role and he looks to have a firm grasp on that spot heading into 2014. Brandon Kintzler earned a spot in the bullpen after an impressive showing with the club late in 2013 and stepped up in a big way for the crew, tossing the most innings out of the group and putting up an impressive 2.69 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 77 innings while holding opponents to a .234 batting average. He looks to be a promising piece of the pen moving forward. One of the arms that Melvin went out and got for the relief corps during the offseason was Tom Gorzelanny. The veteran added value as a lefty with starting experience and an ability to throw multiple innings out of the bullpen. He did very well filling in as a starter when needed and was particularly valuable out of the bullpen. Gorzelanny pitched just 36 innings of relief but was impressive, finishing with a 2.70 ERA in those outings. Another offseason addition that proved to be valuable was Burke Badenhop, who Melvin acquired from the Rays in a trade for Raul Mondesi, Jr. Ron Roenicke leaned heavily on Badenhop early in the season and the righty performed well when called upon. At the end of the season his ERA sat at 3.47 after tossing 62 plus innings. Michael Gonzalez was also acquired in the offseason after an impressive season with the National in 2012 where he put up a 3.03 ERA. Gonzalez had his struggles with the Brewers however, finishing with a 4.68 ERA and will likely land somewhere else in free agency. Two pitchers that the Brewers have leaned on heavily in the past in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez were dealt during the season and found success with their new clubs. It was sad to see Axford go, but exciting to see him get another shot at the post-season with the Cardinals. Looking to next year, the Brewers have several promising bullpen arms in youngsters Rob Wooten, Donovan Hand and Michael Blazek, who all experienced a moderate amount of success this season. It is also possible that we will see any of the younger guys mentioned above as possible starters end up in the bullpen in 2014 along with Alfredo Figaro, who performed well as a spot starter and long man, posting a 2.94 ERA in relief.

I could see Melvin making some minor moves to improve the pitching staff heading into 2014, but I think we will mostly see guys that we saw this year. The bullpen seems to have the necessary pieces to see repeated success and the rotation simply needs youngsters to develop and prove they can pitch at the big league level. If they can do that, and guys can stay healthy, I think the Brewers pitching can be a strong point in 2014.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Joseph Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

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