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Milwaukee Brewers Camp Battles: Starting Rotation Update

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Who will man the final three slots?

World Baseball Classic - Pool C - Game 5 - Dominican Republic v Columbia Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

BCB’s Kyle Lesniewski published his review of the starting pitching situation, and I’d like to take it a step further: who will the final three starters be in the rotation?

Competing for the three spots are Chase Anderson, Matt Garza, Tommy Milone, Jimmy Nelson, and Wily Peralta. The Brewers will have set up parameters to determine who will get those jobs, and what to do with the other contenders. My guesses as to said parameters are:

  • past performance
  • spring 2017 performance
  • contract status
  • options available
  • bullpen availability
  • left/right handedness
  • age
  • injury

Past performance is most likely limited to last season, but previous seasons can be looked at if the pitcher is young enough. For instance, Wily Peralta’s numbers from the last two seasons are underwhelming, but his 2014 campaign was very good. At Wily’s age (28 in May), the Brewers can hope that Wily will bounce back - especially when you factor in a successful last couple of months last year. But Matt Garza (33) won’t have the Brewers looking back to his 2010-2012 seasons for clues to this year. Garza’s 2016 statistics are average, but he is transitioning from a four-seam fastball pitcher into more of a slider/change guy, since his swing and miss rate is poor on his fastball but good on the slider (about 18% last year for the fastball, about 48% for the slider) and he missed considerable time last year with a lat strain.

Contract status can mean a lot in these decision. Jimmy Nelson is making the league minimum ($535 K), Tommy Milone would make ($1.25 M) if his non-guaranteed contract is picked up. Chase Anderson will make $2.45M that came with a “lost” arbitration hearing. Wily Peralta signed a one-year deal for $4.3 M to avoid arbitration, and Garza will get $12.5M no matter what. This is probably a huge strike against Milone - one perhaps balanced by his being the only lefty in the bunch (including Davies or Guerra). It would seem that Garza would have to be significantly less effective this spring, with little hope for improvement, for the Brewers to not pitch him.

Nobody has really distinguished themselves with overpowering numbers this spring, although Garza has pitched very poorly - so rather than somebody earning a spot, perhaps somebody has pitched themselves out of one. Garza has gone 8.2 innings with a WHIP of 2.08, an ERA of 8.31, and one homer allowed. Anderson is perhaps the best; in 10 innings his WHIP is 1.30 with an ERA of 2.70. Everyone has a small sample size, so how they are throwing pitches is more important than the results. One bad outing will totally skew the numbers, so these numbers might not impact the final decision very much. If command is poor, velocity is down, or a certain pitch is not effective, Craig Counsell might choose a bullpen spot for one of these candidates - or more.

And of course, injuries can still play a significant part in this whole situation - including the health of Davies and Guerra. I will be surprised if the Brewers’ starting pitchers repeat their mid-level finish in the NL; my guess is bottom third.

My conclusion? We will see Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Wily Peralta in the rotation to start the season. Matt Garza will be in the bullpen, and Tommy Milone just might be, well, alive at least. Nelson seems to me the most likely to pitch his way out of the rotation, while Anderson the most likely to be solid throughout the course of the season and Peralta has the most potential to be above average. I suspect Garza will get some starts, unless the Brewers get off to a surprisingly good start and are looking to contend when the All Star break comes around. Garza’s best chance to pitch impact innings this season was likely to show well this spring and be dealt to a team needing a back-end starter either before the season or during the early stages.

If/when Tommy Milone doesn’t make the major league roster, I expect the Brewers to attempt to re-sign him to a minor league deal with the assurance that he’ll receive the call up when one is inevitably needed. Milone will, of course, have the option of becoming a free agent, but with rosters set and not much recent success at the major league level, the Brewers might be his best “option”.

Further compounding the “what to do with (insert name here)” scenario for those that don’t make the rotation is the performance of three righty reliever candidates this spring. Rob Scahill, Tyler Cravy, and Taylor Jungmann have combined to make 24 relief appearances, throw 28 innings, only allowing 14 hits and 6 walks. That’s a WHIP of 0.71; their ERA is 1.61. Jungmann and Cravy have started, so could be counted on to be a sixth or long man, and Scahill could go multiple innings. Jungmann in particular was very bad last year, but having these three pitching often and well this spring further clouds the status of the pitchers that don’t make the rotation.

Pitch usage information courtesy of Brooks Baseball, spring training statistics courtesy of brewers.com.