Last week I began a series of a few posts looking back at my preseason projections posts. Today we tackle what I then saw as the bottom of the rotation. I only went in depth on Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta, but I'll talk a bit here about Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers as well.
It's safe to say things did not go according to plan for Marco this year:
...if the Brewers are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2014, it's likely going to have something substantial to do with him. He has had back to back years now of essentially the line you see below in his upcoming ZiPS projection. That has involved exciting peripherals numbers, low ground balls rates but also decent home run to fly ball ratios. At this point, he's thrown about 360 innings for the Brewers in his career and the peripherals have remained pretty spectacular. If we get to see 180 innings or more from Estrada, it could be a treat.
Those formerly awesome peripherals got worse, his fastball velocity lost another tick, and he led the entire freaking league in home runs allowed (29 of them, for the record).
The news wasn't all terrible. His walk and home run rates were much better after being moved out to the pen. He only gave up 2 home runs in 43 innings in a long relief role (which tells you a lot about how many he was giving up in the rotation). As we have talked about in many other situations, his skill level is probably somewhere between those two extremes.
We went into last year thinking about Estrada as a high-upside, solid option in the bottom part of the rotation due to his ability to strike people out and limit walks. With each of those skills declining along with his fastball velocity, now he's a reasonable long reliever and a fill-in starter who won't kill you if you need him in the rotation for a few weeks. We will see if the Brewers think that skillset is worth the $3-5 million he will likely get in arbitration.
I picked the under on this one, but did say he would probably throw more innings.
On to better news:
In 2013 five qualified starting pitchers had a higher average fastball velocity than Wily Peralta. They were Matt Harvey, Steven Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Cashner, and Jeff Samardzija. Behind him were Homer Bailey and Justin Verlander. The strikeout percentages of those top 8 pitchers, in order, were 28, 26, 28, 18, 16, 23, 23, and 24. Peralta was the 16%. Wily turns 25 in May, he's entering his prime, and this is the time for him to step forward.
This year, Wily took 3rd in that particular category, behind Garrett Richards and Yordano Ventura (in fairness, Fernandez and Harvey were hurt all year). He also took another step forward in skills, bumping his strikeout rate up 2% and walk rate down 2%. That may not sound like a whole lot but the difference can be about .5 runs per 9 innings. But he's still not in that upper tier of swinging strikes and strikeouts you might expect out of a guy with his stuff.
If Peralta planes out here in his development, he's a really solid middle of the rotation guy-- that's what he showcased this year, with his production mirroring that of Gallardo, Lohse, and Garza in the league-average starting pitcher range. As I talked about last week, that's pretty good. But with his fastball it's hard not to expect for more. Here's to hoping for another step forward next season.
I chose the over for Wily here, and he met my expectations.
Interestingly, I talked about 2 pitchers as potential injury fill-ins in the preseason projection post: Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith. Both of those guys started out in the bullpen and pitched well during the Brewers' hot start. Thornburg ended up missing the majority of the year to injury, and Smith settled into a late-inning bullpen role but struggled after the break.
All this brings us to Nelson, who was so good in AAA that he forced his way onto the big league roster (a 1.46 ERA in 111 minor league innings). In the past, Nelson has struggled in a transition to a new level by walking everyone, but he didn't show too many signs of that in his 69 big league innings. In fact his peripherals compared favorably to anyone in the regular rotation, but he was the victim of some bad luck and bad timing-- his batting average allowed on balls in play was over .340, and a disproportionate amount of the hits against him came with runners on base. I would not expect either of those things to continue. I think there's a reasonable chance that Nelson is the most productive Brewer starter next year.
Finally, there was the sudden re-emergence of Mike Fiers in August. Fiers did not make it into my preseason projections post, but somehow he was the most effective Brewer starter in the final month a half of the season. Among starting pitchers with at least 60 innings this year, Fiers was 4th in strikeout rate, behind Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Yu Darvish. Corey Kluber was 5th.
I suspect we will spend a good amount of time this offseason talking about the role of Fiers on the 2015 team. He's 29 so at this point he's not going to gain anything with more time in the minors. I don't think there's any way this lasts, but clearly there is something here. He's earned his shot.
One more interesting fact? In Fiers's impressive run as a rookie back in 2012, his fastball averaged 88 mph. This year he averaged 89.5 mph.