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30% of your 2016 Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitching showing signs of life

While the offense has sputtered a bit recently, the starting pitching has picked up the slack.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Through May 27th (48 games)

Record: 22-26

As a result of last night’s 9-5 win over the Reds, the Brewers completed their first winning 10% of the season by going 9-7 over the past 16 games. While the offense has sagged in terms of scoring runs over the past two plus weeks, the starting pitching has seemingly turned a corner while the bullpen has continued their season-long run of excellence. It has certainly been an entertaining stretch for the Crew. They have been competitive in each game, with their biggest loss coming by a score of 3-0 in the opening game against the Padres. While the recent string of success has many fans clamoring for an acceleration of the rebuild, I’d pump the brakes on that type of talk. The true talent level of the Brewers’ starting pitching is somewhere in between the two extremes we’ve seen this year: not as bad as the first 32 games of the season, yet not as consistently good as we’ve seen over the past 16 games.

As a result of a good stretch by the Crew and a dreadful 11 game losing streak by Cincinnati, the Brewers find themselves comfortably in 4th place within the NL Central. The Cards have yet to gain any traction to this point as they are only 2.5 games ahead of Milwaukee. The NL Central is shaping up to be a two team race between the Buccos and the Cubbies, as Chicago has looked a bit more mortal in recent weeks. Starting with their doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Padres, the Cubs went through a 4-8 stretch recently. While still one of the elite teams in MLB this year, they have certainly fallen off their blistering pace to begin the season.

Offensive Team Stats:

BA NL Rank OBP NL Rank Runs NL Rank HR NL Rank BB NL Rank K NL Rank SB NL Rank
Through 16 games 0.226 13 0.315 7 60 11 15 8 66 3 147 14 5 14
Through 32 games 0.246 8 0.328 7 144 7 39 5 126 4 290 14 18 7
Through 48 games 0.244 8 0.328 6 204 8 53 6 198 2 475 15 39 1

The offense has certainly slowed over the past 16 games when compared to games 17 – 32. Most notably, the team has scored 24 fewer runs and hit 10 fewer home runs in the last 16 games as compared to the previous 16 games. It has been encouraging to see the team continue to show a patient eye at the plate, drawing the second most walks in the National League. Equally impressive (in a bad way) has been the teams’ propensity to strike out at a high clip. It’s becoming pretty clear to see the type of roster David Stearns is trying to build: hitters who strike out, hit for power and walk in bunches.

Chris Carter has cooled off considerably lately, with an average dropping to .235 and an on-base percentage down to .289. His hot start in terms of average was never going to last, given his historical production levels. As expected, he leads the team in strikeouts by a wide margin (65). However, when he runs into a pitch, the ball absolutely flies off his bat as he has registered a number of tape measure shots already this year. As a clearly rebuilding squad, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Carter remains on the Brewers’ roster all season. If they found the right trade package, Stearns would no doubt pull the trigger and deal the 29 year-old slugger. However, with no can’t miss prospects entrenched at first base in the minor leagues, it would make some sense to hold on to Carter who does not become a free agent until 2019.

Two additional bright spots around the infield include Jonathan Villar and Aaron Hill. Villar and Hill represent two very different types of assets for Milwaukee. Villar , while extremely maddening to watch on the base paths, has become a viable option at second or third base for the next contending Milwaukee squad. With an average of .306, on-base percentage of .402 and 17 stolen bases, Villar has fit in as a prototypical leadoff or 2-hole hitter. Whenever Orlando Arcia get called up, it will be interesting to see where the Brewers find at-bats for Villar, as they will no longer be at shortstop.

One option would be to see Gennett, Hill and Villar split time somewhat evenly at second and third, as Hill and Villar can capably play both positions. However, if Hill can continue his recent success over the next month, it is highly likely that he’ll be traded as his contract is up at the end of the season. His average is up to .271 along with a .340 OBP. Even if the return is something similar to the Aramis Ramirez package last season, the Brewers will be looking to move Hill at the deadline if not sooner. By trading Hill, the Brewers would net a player in return and free up more consistent at-bats for Villar once Arcia is called up.

Pitching Team Stats:

ERA NL Rank HR NL Rank BB NL Rank K NL Rank
Through 16 games 5.52 14 27 14 66 13 99 15
Through 32 games 5.59 15 49 14 132 13 217 15
Through 48 games 4.52 12 67 14 184 11 353 12

The regression to the mean we were hoping for after 32 games was a bit delayed, but has definitely shown up over the past few weeks. Their full season ERA has been lowered by over a run in the last 16 games. They’ve managed to significantly cut down on both home runs and free passes while increasing the number of strikeouts.

#2016BrewersAce Junior Guerra has been a real shot in the arm since replacing Taylor Jungmann in the starting rotation. His 11 strikeouts against the vaunted Cubs lineup have to be on the short list of the best starts this season for Milwaukee. His consistent ability to churn out quality starts have given the Brewers some measure of confidence that 2 out of every 5 games, they should at least be in the game when Guerra or Jimmy Nelson are toeing the rubber. Anderson, Davies and Peralta have strung together some good starts in the past few weeks. While their season long number still aren’t pretty, the recently results are at least encouraging and a step in the right direction.

With the Brewers being in numerous close games recently, the bullpen’s continued success has been integral to their 9-7 stretch over the past 16 games. Jeremy Jeffress finally blew his first save in the middle game against the Cubs, but has otherwise been strong at the end of games with a sub 2.00 ERA. Tyler Thornburg has settled into the 8th inning role nicely, striking out nearly 13 batters per 9 innings. With Corey Knebel and Will Smith’s return to the bullpen in the not so distant future, the biggest strength of the 2016 squad should only become more formidable.

Once Smith returns to the bullpen, it will be interesting to see how he will be used. Before the season, it was fairly obvious that he had a higher trade value than Jeremy Jeffress and would have had the inside track as the team’s closer. As Jeffress has experienced success in the closer’s role, it’d be hard to imagine Counsell pulling Jeffress from that role in favor of Smith. If Smith can pitch up to his ability, the Brewers would have one of the strongest setup-closer combinations in the majors as well as two enticing trade chips.

30% awards

MVPP – Most Valuable Position Player

Ryan Braun: Braun has yet to cool off at the plate as we approach June. His .353 average and .426 on-base percentage both lead the team by comfortable margins. As he gets deeper into the season while maintaining high average and good power numbers, the trade rumblings will only begin to intensify. Missing a handful of games here and there with neck and back ailments recently has certainly clouded these trade talks. If Braun can maintain something close to his current pace while cutting down on the number of games missed, David Stearns may have his choice of multiple trade packages from which to choose from for his prized left fielder.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Villar, Jonathan Lucroy

LVPP – Least Valuable Position Player

Colin Walsh: Similar to Jimmy Nelson on the Most Valuable Pitcher ballot, this award will be Walsh’s to lose. He clearly looks overmatched every time he steps to the plate as he has struck out in nearly 35% of his plate appearances. The jump from AA to the big leagues is not one that is commonly done successfully, and Walsh is no exception. If he did not have the Rule 5 designation attached to him, he would have been sent down to the minors a month ago, if not sooner. The Brewers have essentially refused to start Walsh recently so he is solely a pinch hitter/defensive replacement at this point on this roster. While Walsh has shown the ability to consistently get on base every step along the way throughout the minors, you wonder when or if he runs out of rope on the major league roster. Walsh will be 27 in September so his ceiling is limited. Even on a rebuilding team, it’d be hard to see the Brewers leave him on the 25 man roster all season if he doesn’t show any signs of improvement.

Dishonorable Mention: Martin Maldonado

MVP – Most Valuable Pitcher

Jimmy Nelson: Nelson has upped his game in recent weeks, dropping his ERA under 3.00 for the season. The team has won his last two starts, and he’s pitched into the 8th inning in 2 of his last 3 games. Equally impressive has been his efficiency in those two games that he’s gone deep into the game. He’s only needed 99 and 104 pitches, respectively, in those two games. As the season progresses, if Counsell allows Nelson’s pitch count to be extended, we’ll probably see a complete game or two out of Jimmy by the end of the year. Junior Guerra is on the radar for this distinction, but it remains Jimmy’s to lose.

Honorable Mention: Jeremy Jeffress, Junior Guerra

LVP – Least Valuable Pitcher

Wily Peralta: As a result of Chase Anderson’s miraculous near no-hit bid against the Cubs, this distinction moves back to Wily at the 30% mark. Peralta has consistently struggled to pitch deep into games, with his high water mark being 6 innings, only achieved twice. As Matt Garza is set to make some rehab appearances and return to the starting rotation within a few weeks, it’ll be interesting to see who he replaces in the rotation. There have been rumblings that Peralta could be shelved on the disabled list or moved to the bullpen if his struggles continue. With Knebel and Smith returning to the bullpen in short order, the bullpen could be the less likely destination for Wily. When Garza returns, they could just ship Zach Davies back down to Colorado Springs as he has struggled with consistency since coming to the big leagues this year. The best option could be to continue to trot Wily out there every fifth day in the hopes that something clicks and he can turn things around yet this season. Struggles with injuries and consistency have marred the past few years for Peralta. He is still relatively young and has too much raw talent to completely right off, especially for a rebuilding team with limited quality starting pitching options.

Dishonorable Mention: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies

Highlight of the Season (so far): Sunday’s ninth in home run in St. Louis has been dethroned. It was a fun moment, but only counted for one win. The highlight of the season to this point would be the home series against the Cubs. Chicago came into that series with a record of 27-9 and the Brewers should have legitimately swept the series. Jeffress blew his first save in the Brewers loss, a game in which the winning run was scored by issuing a bases loaded walk to a pitcher! It was still nice to be able to send those smug Cubs fans home disappointed in two of three games. With the Brewers rebuild is still in its infancy, it was nice to see the club stand toe-to-toe with the best club in baseball and come out ahead, if only in a 3 game series.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference