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Weekend Mug - Bring back the Soup!

Instead of my usual drivel, I thought I would take some time this weekend to look at how the Brewers starting rotation may shape up in 2010, and specifically address the idea of cutting Jeff Suppan shortly after or during Spring Training.

1.) Jeff Suppan is a terrible pitcher, and he will probably pitch worse in 2010 than he did in 2009.

I certainly would not argue against this. I think Suppan was bad in 2009, and it is likely he will be somewhat worse in 2010. In fact, at the conclusion of 2010 I am betting Suppan will replace Jeffery Hammonds as the "Most hated FA acquisition" in Brewers lore.

2.) Jeff Suppan is not one of the Brewers top 5 starters and should not be in the rotation.

Gallardo, Davis and Wolf, are clearly better options than Suppan -- and they will fill out the 1-3 spots in the Brewers rotation. The next four options for the final 2 spots in the rotation are Dave Bush, Manny Parra, Chris Narveson and the Soupster.

Dave Bush often has great facial hair, however, (much like his pitching) his shaving is inconsistent, and that is worrisome. Bush had a shaky 2009 that produced bad results (6.38 ERA). Bush could be cut in ST which would save the Brewers some salary costs, but I think that would be a huge mistake. I do think that while Bush is unspectacular, he does have the inside track on at least the 5 spot (if not the 4 spot) in the rotation.

Manny Parra, of the 4 pitchers listed above has the most electric stuff, however, he gets hit really really hard. If you haven't read this article "The Curious Case of Manny Parra", and still feel good about how Manny Parra has pitched the last couple of years, this article is a must read. Benjamin Button's problems are much less curious than Manny Parra's pitching.

Chris Narveson was a great story for the Brewers in 2009, after the Cardinals gave up on him. Narveson pitched well as a starter, and reliever for the Brewers last season, but he has only made 5 career MLB starts. Is it really prudent to assume a pitcher with his resume can fill the 5th spot in the rotation? Narveson is 28 years old, and by no means a phenom. In 2008 Narveson pitched 136 innings in Nashville, it should be asked "Is Narveson stretched out enough to hold down the 5th spot in the Brewer rotation?"

3.) The Brewers only need 5 starters to get through the 2010 season.

How many starters does a team need to get through a season? The traditional response to this question has been "5". However after doing some research, it has become clear to me that a team breaking ST should have at least 7 pitchers that could start a game for them, and really probably somewhere between 9 & 10 starters throughout the season.

a.) How many MLB teams have gotten through a season with only 5 starters?

Initially, I looked at the last 20 years, (1990-2009), for a MLB team that only used 5 starters. Only the 2003 Seattle Mariners (Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro) were able to use only 5 starters to get through 162 games.

Then I wondered, "what about the era of the 4-man rotation"? Where those teams able to get through seasons using only 5 starters? Again, only one team from 1940-1980 was able to use only 5 starters, the 1966 Dodgers (Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Joe Moeller, Claude Osteen, Don Sutton).

b.) What has been the trend regarding number of starters used in the last 10 years (2000-2009)?

30 teams have played in the last 10 seasons, giving us a data set of 300.

My starting point was to find out how many teams got at least 150 games from 5 starters, that is, how many teams got a minimum of 30 starts from 5 pitchers. Only 4 teams out of 300 were able to get at least 30+ starts from 5 starters. (2006 White Sox, 2005 Cards & Reds, 2003 Mariners). I then started playing with the "minimum starts" value to try to find the point where 10% (30 teams) where able to get the most out of their 5 starters. The number I locked in on was "23 starts". In the last 10 seasons only 32 teams were able to get through a season with their top 5 starters each starting at least 23 games.

c.) What happened in the games that were not pitched by the top 5 starters?

Below is a table that has 3 values for each of these 32 teams.

The number in parenthesis is the number of pitchers (above the 5 starters) a team used in a season, the number to the right of the parenthesis is the number of games those pitchers started, and the bolded number, is the number of games that team ended up winning that season.

So for example "(2)13 100" signifies that this team used 7 starters (5+2). The 2 pitchers started a combined 13 games and the team they pitched for ended up winning 100 games in that season.

(0)0 93 (2)2 100 (2)3 90 (2)3 101 (1)4 93 (1)4 95 (3)5 98 (5)7 92
(1)7 95 (6)8 76 (3)8 105 (2)8 88 (4)9  97 (2)9 98 (5)10 94 (4)11 88
(1)12 88 (3)12 72 (4)12 101 (5)13 75 (2)13 100 (4)13 95 (1)14 92 (4)15 92
(3)15 83 (4)15 91 (5)18 78 (3)19 74 (4)19 91 (4)22 83 (4)22 96 (3)25 83


What does this mean? -- I really am unsure exactly. Hopefully someone smart will tell me.

It is apparent to me that teams that manage to get the most out of their 5 starters, overall have won a lot of ballgames. It is also easy to see that a team may need it's 6-8th+ starters to start 15-25 games for them, even on the teams that are in the top 10% of "5 starter reliability".

At this point, it should become apparent that unless you think Dave Bush, Manny Parra are rock solid, that the Brewers are going to need at least 2-3 starters in addition to the 5 in the rotation to get through the season.

This leads us to this...

4.) Jeff Suppan is below replacement value, which means any of our AAA starters could do a better job than him.

"Below Replacement Value" is somewhat arbitrary, and often a misused concept. Jeff Suppan is not the only pitcher in organized baseball that is "Below replacement value", in fact there are many pitchers that are as bad as Suppan, and in reality there are many pitchers that are worse than him.

The next question is "What pitchers pitched in the role of the 6-10th starters in 2009, and could they have provided better results than Suppan?"

160 pitchers made a start in the National League last year. Below is an abbreviated table of those starters with the Brewer pitchers of interest bolded. (ERA rank, Pitcher, starts, ERA). Suppan ranked 106th by ERA which is terrible, however it should be clear, the Brewers could, and in fact, did much worse than Suppan last year.

15 Nieve 7 3.12
16 Weaver 7 3.13
19 Kendrick 2 3.18
22 Padilla 7 3.38
23 Narveson 4 3.38
33 Martinez 9 3.63
38 Milton 5 3.80
54 Richard 12 4.08
65 Smoltz 7 4.26
80 Norris 10 4.61
86 Wells 7 4.78
106 Suppan 30 5.29
111 Gorzelanny 7 5.40
112 Mock 15 5.40
117 Thompson 8 5.65
120 Hart 14 5.73
122 Cabrera 9 5.89
124 Mujica 4 5.94
127 Vazquez 7 6.09
128 Bush 21 6.27
129 Parra 27 6.36
130 Medlen 4 6.38
131 Villanueva 6 6.52
132 Reyes 5 6.58
133 Ortiz 13 6.61
138 Balestar 7 6.82
139 Burns 8 6.86
140 Park 7 7.29
141 Martinez 5 7.61
142 Mulvey 4 7.65
143 Parnell 8 7.93
146 Taylore 3 8.18
148 Silva 6 8.76
149 Bazardo 6 8.77
150 McDonald 4 8.78
151 Banks 3 9.39
154 Samardzija 2 10.80
156 McClung 2 12.27
157 Carillo 3 13.06
160 Fogg 1 18.00


Even if you allow Suppan to regress further in 2010, it should be apparent that he probably will be better than a substantial number of pitcher much worse than him.

As a side note, before someone goes on a rant about the flaws of using ERA and small samples, I only am intending to make some broad observations, and not compare specific pitchers. If someone thinks pitchers like Lofgren, Loe and Estrada can jump right in, and provide results better than Suppan in 2010, I can certainly understand the desire to cut Suppan. However, I tend to think a lot, if not the majority of AAA guys like Loe, Lofgren and Estrada, when they inevitably get their shot, they will be the 2010 version of Mike Burns.

5.) Money. What role does money play in all of this.

As we have said many times, Suppan is a sunk cost. Any pitchers that we bring in like a Pedro Martinez, Rodrigo Lopez, or a Josh Fogg, are only going to increase our salary expenditures. While there may be all sorts of former MLB pitchers floating around, it is probably going to cost the Brewers $1M, each to find out how bad they suck.

6.) Conclusions.

a.) Jeff Suppan is and will be terrible in 2010.

b.) The Brewers are probably going to need 8-9 starters to get through the season. I am not sold on Manny Parra or Chris Narveson being able to make 23-30 starts this season.

c.) I don't think the Brewers have 8 starters better than Suppan -- at least at this point. There may be a point in the season where it makes sense to cut Suppan. I don't think we are at this point yet.

d.) There is no cost benefit to cutting Suppan now. Let him start the season in the bullpen, and make a few spot starts when needed.