When you read the 2009 NL Central previews, just about everyone sees the Brewers taking a big hit with the departure of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, in some cases dropping us to 5th place in the division.
But will the dropoff from 2008 to 2009 be that bad? I'm not so sure.
In looking over last season's game logs, I believe that in games that CC and Sheets pitched, the Brewers went a sparkling 32-16. That's pretty impressive. When you replace those two with Gallardo and Braden Looper, it looks like a pretty sizable mismatch.
However, I think we're looking at the CC acquisition the wrong way.
When the 2008 seaosn started, our starting five was Sheets-Gallardo-Bush-Parra-Suppan. When Gallardo went down, we tried to patch his absence over with starts from Villanueva and Son of Clung, before landing CC last July. If you assume that Bush-Parra-Suppan in 2009 will be the same as they were in 2008 (a separate discussion entirely), then the real 2008/2009 comparison is as follows:
- 2009: Projected records in games started by Gallardo and Looper
- 2008: Records in games started by Sheets, CC, Villanueva, Son of Clung, and a little Gallardo
We know the Brewers went 32-16 in games started by CC and Sheets. The rest of the 2008 squad?
- Gallardo: 2-2
- Villanueva: 3-6 (until mid-May)
- Son of Clung: 6-5 (until early July, when Sabathia arrived)
(Note: my counts are based on what seem like starts from the game logs. I might be off by a game or two.)
When you add them all together, we're looking to replace 43 wins in 72 games, a 59.2 winning percentage. Gallardo and Looper aren't likely to pitch in 36 games apiece, of course, but let's say full seasons from each of them get us 32 starts each. Can the Brewers win 20 of 32 games in games that Gallardo starts? What about Looper? Last season, the Cardinals won 15 of the games Looper started, and I think the Cardinals were significantly worse than the Brewers in 2008.
If the Brewers win 20 games that Gallardo starts, 20 games that Looper starts, and 3 of the remaining 8 games to make it an even comparison...then we're at 43 wins again.
I think this is doable. Of course, there are other variables at work, such as the health of the pitching staff as a whole, so this isn't an exact comparison. If Gallardo goes down again, the point is moot, but the usefulness of this exercise takes a hit if even Suppan misses a significant amount of time. Still, I think there's reason to believe that the losses of CC and Sheets are being overstated, and 90 wins should be once again within reach.