I think it goes without saying that the two names below will do a whole heck of a lot to determine the fate of this edition of the Milwaukee Brewers.
I have not devoted much attention to Estrada around here but he is an intriguing piece to the puzzle in the following sense-- 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.
Contract situation: 2014: $3.325 M
ZiPS: 135 innings, 22% K 6.2 % BB, 3.8 FIP, 3.9 ERA
Jordan's over/under: Under. I can see a higher innings total but I don't think he matches those rates over more innings. On balance, that could actually be a good thing.
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.
Contract situation: Pre-arbitration 2 (~$500,000)
ZiPS: 164 innings, 17.6% K 10.4 % BB, 4.4 FIP, 4.4 ERA
Jordan's over/under: Over. I just can't see myself betting on the guy putting up basically the same line he did last year. Maybe he's the same, roughly fifth starter as last year. But that velocity and that stuff is just too much to pass up.
The rest of the starting depth
I think it's fair to say that Tyler Thornburg will get his fair share of innings at the major league level this season and that he certainly deserves the opportunity to have the first shot to fill in. But I think that the real intrigue here lies with Will Smith. I won't get too deep into the Smith analysis now, he's going to be someone I check in with during spring training or early April, but everybody seems to agree that the stuff is there. Check out his ZiPS line:
138 innings, 20.4% K 7.6 % BB, 4.2 FIP, 4.2 ERA
This may be an result of Smith spending last year in relief and posting great peripherals but still being looked at as a starter by the projections systems, but a line like that gives the Brewers two legitimate options. It's amazing what the Garza signing did for my outlook on this team's starting pitching depth. They no longer need to find a passable 5th starter out of these two, they can be pure luxury for depth or bullpen help until somebody hits the DL.
The more I learn about bullpens the less I know about bullpens. I think anyone who is paying attention knows that paying big money for all but the top tier of relief pitchers has backfired again and again and again, so all you can do is find pitchers who have a track record of being able to both strike batters out and avoid walking them and hope that things work out. Mantra number two is that there is no such thing as a bad one year deal if you have the money. Melvin has generally adopted this philosophy well, and it's worth appreciating how many options they have to fill out this bullpen.
Established tier: Rodriguez, Henderson, Kintzler, Gorzelanny
Starting depth tier: Thornburg, Smith
Possibly helpful tier: Figaro, Wooten, Hand
Wild card tier: Duke, Wang, Hellweg, Fiers (<--- remember his 2012?)
That's 13 pitchers who could plausibly be effective, and you only need 7 at a time. It might be good, it might be bad, but it's better than bringing in 3 David Riskes on multi-year deals to be setup men and trying to slot everything right in its place before it all goes horribly wrong. I have no clue what this bullpen is going to look like in April, much less September, but I do have quite a bit of faith in it. Tell me why I'm wrong.