Today is our third and final look at the roster projections. We looked at the projected lineup on Monday and the projected bullpen yesterday. Today we're taking a look at the projected rotation. The five pitchers that will comprise the rotation were decided weeks ago. But their ultimate order wasn't made clear until just recently. So I'm going to list each player relative to their place in the order.
It feels like not so long ago Wily Peralta was just a rookie looking to break onto the scene. Now he's the longest tenured Brewers pitcher at just 26 years of age. Unfortunately the break out we were all hoping to see from him hasn't really occurred yet. He's had a couple nice seasons but nothing that could define him as anything more than a league average pitcher or fourth starter.
Last year was a disaster for him. He only made 20 starts and pitched to the tune of a 4.72 ERA and 4.84 FIP. His already mediocre strike out rate bottomed out at 12.6%. His average fastball velocity also dropped from a peak at 95.8 mph in 2014 to a 94.3 mph. It's not a huge drop, but Peralta's one true elite skill was his fastball velocity. If that continues to drop he may have even greater struggles.
However Peralta was hurt last year. He injured an oblique mid-season and struggled with it for the rest of the year. He wasn't exactly good the first half, but he was worse the second half. So the hope here is that after another year of experience, with full health behind him Peralta can at least prove he's more the 2014 version of himself than the 2015 version. At least then we can still hope there is a 3/4 SP somewhere in there.
Jimmy Nelson is more or less right where Peralta found himself in the 2014 season. He was the Brewers best pitcher last year, but that's not saying much. His 4.11 ERA and 4.10 FIP over 30 starts equates to roughly league average/4th starter production. It doesn't seem impressive, but it was his first full season in the majors and there are reasons to believe he can improve upon his season.
For one thing, he introduced a brand new pitch last year. We were all very excited and for good reason. Out of the gates his knuckle curve looked like a plus pitch that came out of nowhere. But as the season wore on, the curve started to get muddy and looked more and more like his slider. That's not a good thing. But I keep wondering just how hard it is to throw a brand new pitch like that over a whole season. Coming into this year he'll have that experience to build on. Hopefully he can keep the pitch crisp longer.
Speaking of better utilizing pitches, I'd like to see him throw his changeup more this year. He barely threw it last year, presumably because he was going to his curveball instead. Incorporating both pitches could really help him out--assuming the changeup isn't complete garbage. And at least during his final minor league season the reports were he'd made significant progress with the changeup.
Now Nelson has 43 major league starts under his belt. That experience could help him as well. He has a plus fastball and a good slider. If the curveball remains crisp that's another above average pitch. Add to that even a fringey changeup and there's still a chance for Nelson to reach that 2/3 ceiling.
Matt Garza was the worst non-altitude hindered pitcher in baseball last year. That's not hyperbole and that's not sour grapes. That is objective fact. His 5.83 ERA was the second worst among all starting pitchers with at least 140 innings. Only Kyle Kendrick was worse and he pitched half his games in Colorado. There's no sugar coating how bad Garza was last year. But if you're expecting him to be that bad again you're expecting something historic to happen.
Since the millennium began only 64 starters have had a worse ERA than Garza did last year. That's an average of about 4-5 pitchers per year. None of those 64 pitchers repeated their awfulness in back-to-back seasons. So the odds of Garza being that bad again are incredibly low. And that's just looking at baseball's recent history.
Looking at Matt Garza's personal history suggests he won't be nearly as bad again. Aside from 50 innings in his first ever major league season, Garza never posted an ERA above 4.00 until last year. And his fastball velocity remained strong. Those are the good things.
There are a couple bad things though. His strikeout rate has been declining for several years which isn't a good thing, but his swinging strike rate was above average from 2011-2014. He saw a sharp drop last year (7.8%). So is that his declining stuff catching up with him or just a fluke? I'm not certain. But even with these potential negatives, I expect Garza to be much better this year, even if he's nothing more than a league average pitcher anymore.
Expectations were (too) high for Taylor Jungmann when the Brewers selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He didn't move through the minors as swiftly or cleanly as hoped. But none of that really matters once you get to the major league level. All that matters is what you do at that level. And he did pretty well.
Jungmann made 21 starts with a 21.4 K%, 9.4 BB%, .238 BAA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.77 ERA, and 3.92 FIP. That's all roughly average or ever so slightly above. Given his struggles in the minors I think most fans were happy with that and would be happy with that kind of production over 30 starts this year.
That's what I'm hoping for from Jungmann. He should be able to handle a 30 start workload. He started that many games last year plus two appearances out of the bullpen. If he can put up an ERA in the range of 3.75-4.00 and pitch in close to 200 innings that's a solid 2 win pitcher. And that's pretty good from a 4th starter.
Chase Anderson is the newest member to the rotation. He came from Arizona where he had something of an uneven season. He ended the year having made 25 starts with 152.2 IP, 4.30 ERA, and 4.14 FIP. That's not horrible, but it's not all that great either. But we should take a closer look at his season.
He was hurt last year. He went on the DL in mid-July but might have been playing hurt for a while. When he did return, his strike out rate and velocity saw a jump. His results were correspondingly better. In fact, he was pretty solid in the second half: 21.1 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.76 ERA, 3.79 FIP.
The hope is that his second half success was a fluke but a result of being healthy. And furthermore, that he can carry that success into this season. If he can he would have similar upside to Taylor Jungmann. An average to slightly above average starting pitcher. And that's really good from a 5th starter.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs