Baseball is a sport that changes. It changes ever so slowly though. Most of the time we don't notice these changes until they've been around for years. There was once a time when it wasn't considered extreme for a pitcher to make 35 or even 36 starts. Earlier in this countdown series I profiled the first Brewers teams and was shocked when I saw some starters pitch that much. Today a team would probably be accused of abusing their pitchers. It's a feather in a pitcher's cap to make 32 or 33 starts now. Last year the Brewers only had one starter break into the 30's. That was Jimmy Nelson who made exactly 30 starts. So I got to wondering what we can expect from the rebuilding Brewers.
It is likely that Wily Peralta is the opening day starter so let's begin with him. He was hurt last year--intercostal strain--and missed a significant part of the season. As a result he only made 20 starts. He's never had that problem in the past though and hopefully with better conditioning he can avoid it in the future. He made 32 starts in each of the prior two seasons. ZiPS projects him for 26 starts and Steamer 29. The thing about projection systems is they can't really account for injuries. They only see the innings logged, but don't know why. Peralta is only 26 so there's no reason to think his body is beginning to break down. I feel pretty confident that Peralta can return to making 30+ starts.
Jimmy Nelson is next. He made 30 starts last year in what was his first full season at the major league level. The previous season he made 28 starts. We are talking about a guy who was a minor leaguer until mid-season last year. So we can't really go any further back to judge his durability. He was still building it up in those years. ZiPS projects him for 27 starts and Steamer 31. Interesting that ZiPS is the low man again. I see no reason to think Nelson can't make at least 30 starts though. He's more prepared now not only to handle the load but to face major league hitting. I'm hopeful he can build on last year and continue to improve.
Now we get to our first tricky one. Matt Garza only made 25 starts last year, but it wasn't entirely his fault. Well, it kind of was. He did get hurt--intercostal here too--but he only spent the minimum 15 days on the DL. So if the Brewers hadn't pulled him from the rotation, he very well might have made it to 30 starts. However that's not a level he's reached since 2011. Injuries have held him back in every season since. ZiPS projects 23 starts and Steamer 28. The Brewers are going to want to thread the needle this year between letting him pitch enough to build up trade value, but not enough to make it easy for his vesting option to vest--he needs 59 starts over the next 2 seasons. Of course they can't just pull him from the rotation for no reason. So if he fails to make 30+ starts it will likely be due to injury or performance issues again. The smart money is on injury unfortunately. So I'd guess he fails to reach that 30 start plateau.
When Taylor Jungmann was drafted the hope was he could become a frontline starter. After a couple seasons of struggles that hope was down graded to mid-rotation innings eater. After more struggles that hope was further downgraded to any kind of major league starter at all. But last year came up and pitched in 21 mostly successful starts logging a 3.77 ERA and 3.92 FIP. He also made 9 starts in AAA so he did start 30 games last year. He has the build to support the workload of an innings eater. ZiPS projects him to make 28 starts and Steamer 21. Hey, this time ZiPS has more faith in him. I do too. I'm not sure what kind of results to expect, but since the Brewers are rebuilding they'll probably be happy to let him soldier on through some hard times. The alternative is pitching in Colorado Springs. So unless he really struggles or gets hurt, I think he can make 30+ starts.
Finally we come to the newest Brewers rotation member: Chase Anderson. He was hurt a bit last year too limiting him to 27 starts--not counting a 4 inning rehab start. That's a career high for him. He also made 27 starts in 2014 between AA and MLB. ZiPS projects him to make 26 starts while Steamer takes the under with 24. I'm not entirely sure what to expect out of him. But again, the Brewer should be happy enough to let him play through bad performance. So injury might be his only obstacle from finally getting to that 30 start plateau.
One last thing to consider are the Brewers pitching prospects. Zach Davies is major league ready right now. Jorge Lopez is pretty close. Adrian Houser might be too. Josh Hader will be pitching at the same level in the minors, but he's not on the 40-man roster and I don't see him getting added before September. But any of the other three could force their way to the majors by mid-season. That "problem" might solve itself if someone gets hurt or is playing poorly. Or it could allow the Brewers to trade a starter or two.
Pitchers are hard to predict. Sometimes a guy will go years without an injury and then suddenly boom, he misses half a season because he moved wrong. Of course the opposite could happen for a guy like Matt Garza. Maybe this is the year he's finally fully healthy. I could honestly see each of these guys make 30 starts. It's not that out of the question. And it's answer I'm really looking forward to learning. I think this rotation has the chance to really surprise people.
Statistics including ZiPS and Steamer projections courtesy of FanGraphs