The Brewers are in the middle of what could already be considered a rather successful rebuild. There have been plenty of trades, and figure to be several more before it's all said and done. In a rebuild, every player is available for a price. But some should be harder to pry away, even if their major league performance to date isn't stellar. One such player is Jimmy Nelson.
In a total of 256.2 IP with a 4.21 ERA and 3.97 FIP. While it's not that impressive, it's also not awful. The majority of those innings came last year when he made 30 starts, throwing 177.1 IP with a 4.11 ERA and 4.10 FIP. That's the line of a pretty reasonable fourth starter. Those types are very expendable and one might think any offer should be considered. However that assumes Jimmy Nelson is just a pretty reasonable fourth starter. And there is enough evidence to suggest he can be better.
For one thing, he slightly improved his swinging strike rate from 9.2% in 2014 (69.1 IP) to 10.0% last year. That's right around league average (9.9%), as is his 19.7 K% (lg avg is 20.4%) which improved from an 18.3% in 2014. Again we see average numbers, but it's encouraging to see even modest improvements. Playing at the major league level is hard and sometimes it just takes time for guys to figure things out.
And figuring things out is something Jimmy Nelson has proven adept at in the past. It has probably been talked to death at this point, but Nelson spent his minor league career splitting time a different levels each year. And when he first graduated to a new level he would struggle a bit--not entirely unexpected for any prospect. But the next year at the same level, he would make significant improvements. I think we all expected or hoped this would happen at the major league level. And by some measures it did to a degree. It just wasn't the big jump we were hoping for. But we're not talking about adjusting to AA or AAA. We're talking about adjusting to the most competitive level of baseball that exists. Maybe we should have expected it to take him longer to adjust than it did in the minors.
And lastly, he introduced a brand new pitch last year. His knuckle curve sounded like a "best shape of his life" type spring training story. But he brought the pitch into the regular season and it actually looked really good. Well, at least for a while. Its movement started to lose its form a bit towards the end of the season and as a result started looking a lot like his slider--which is not a good thing. But it was just the first full season he threw the pitch. So I think it's fair to hold at least some measure of hope he can better repeat the pitch with more repetition.
If he can throw his knuckle curve throughout a whole season, like he did in the first half of 2015, that should be enough to improve his production. And if he continues modest improvements in his strikeout rate, like he did from 2014 to 2015, that should be enough to improve his production. If he can do both things, then he might be in store for a significant improvement in his production. And that's why the Brewers aren't going to trade him. He could very well be the best starting pitcher in their entire system.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs