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Milwaukee Brewers Biggest Weakness: The Starting Rotation

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One thing will almost certainly hold down the Brewers’ 2017 W-L record

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made of the depth in the Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation competition this spring, with a minimum of seven names in the mix for a regular rotation spot. And probably more. We have seen suggestions for a six man rotation or piggy-back starters to get more of these arms into the mix, lessen the load on the top of the rotation arms, and maximize production.

All good ideas, except I have one problem with this: the top of the rotation pitchers are average, and the rest aren’t - they are pretty bad. They look to make the construction of the bullpen a moot point: if the rotation is regularly putting the Brewers in a five or six inning hole, it won’t matter if the pen does well or not. A closer with nothing to close doesn’t have much value, whether he’s good or not.

I look for a little better offensive production this year compared to last, but the actual chances are it will be pretty similar. I’ve tried to look at the starting pitchers objectively, but I’m generally an optimistic fan...so the following projections are probably too good.

Milwaukee’s goal has to be to get as good as the Chicago Cubs eventually, so I’m including them in this mix. It is unrealistic (well, delusional) to expect the Brewers to compete with the Cubs this year. The Cubs’ offense is better than the Brewers, but the biggest difference is the starting rotation. But the next time the Brewers will compete, it will almost certainly be on the Wild Card level. Just for the sake of argument, I’m giving the Washington Nationals and LA Dodgers their divisions. I’m then going with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets as the top Wild Card contenders.

The projections are my own, but are largely based off of last year's totals as well as projections from Steamer and ZiPS. As such, they have as much value as any of your projections. Not that that will affect my opinion!

2017 Projections:

Cubs Starts Innings Hits Earned Runs Homeruns Walks ERA WAR
Jon Lester 30 200 165 65 20 45 2.93 4.2
Kyle Hendricks 30 185 160 65 18 44 3.16 3.6
Jake Arrieta 30 195 151 64 17 60 2.95 4.0
John Lackey 27 175 157 69 21 47 3.52 2.8
M. Montgomery 15 110 105 50 13 45 3.95 0.9
B. Anderson 14 75 80 35 9 20 4.33 0.9
others 16 60 65 30 6 20 4.50 0.6
Team 162 1000 883 378 104 281 3.40 17.0


Giants Starts Innings Hits Earned Runs Homeruns Walks ERA WAR
M. Baumgarner 32 210 180 70 22 45 3.00 4.8
Johnny Cueto 31 208 190 73 19 49 3.16 4.1
J. Samardzjia 30 190 182 77 20 42 3.65 3.0
Matt Moore 28 158 147 65 15 54 3.70 1.9
Matt Cain 20 120 135 57 13 30 4.28 1.3
others 21 114 165 58 15 42 4.58 0.8
Team 162 1000 999 400 104 262 3.60 15.9


Mets Starts Innings Hits Earned Runs Homeruns Walks ERA WAR
N. Syndergaard 32 205 174 71 19 50 3.12 5.0
J. de Grom 28 178 164 67 19 46 3.39 3.5
Steven Matz 26 160 148 62 18 46 3.49 2.8
Matt Harvey 24 155 140 62 17 44 3.60 2.6
R. Gsellman 25 152 150 67 17 48 3.97 1.5
others 27 150 175 80 27 60 4.80 0.5
Team 162 1000 951 409 117 294 3.68 15.9


Brewers Starts Innings Hits Earned Runs Homeruns Walks ERA WAR
Junior Guerra 30 195 190 85 20 63 3.92 2.4
Zach Davies 30 195 193 81 22 50 3.75 2.5
Jimmy Nelson 26 160 160 76 25 54 4.30 1.6
Wily Peralta 22 140 170 76 23 49 4.90 1.4
Matt Garza 22 125 145 71 24 42 5.10 1.2
C. Anderson 23 130 140 71 25 44 4.90 1.1
Tommy Milone 9 55 70 29 6 22 4.75 0.9
Team 162 1000 1068 489 145 324 4.40 11.1
    Basing each rotation on 1000 innings gives us a pretty good look at how the teams compare.
    Now for a bit of old school: John Lester; Kyle Hendricks; Jake Arrieta. Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob de Grom.

Junior Guerra? Zach Davies? Which of these names are not like the others?

WAR is an inexact science, but these will work as comparative numbers. The estimates above give us a relative look, though, and those teams above the Brewers a demonstrably better. By plenty. I've said it before and I'll repeat it ad nauseam: the Brewers need to develop some 1s and 2s in their system to compete. That has not been happening; perhaps a young player like Josh Hader will make that jump. To acquire top flight starting pitching will always cost the Brewers a premium over what a Chicago, New York, LA, even San Francisco would need to pay. It would be nice to start getting a leg up on that process, or the rebuild will flounder.