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If the Brewers add a starter, who gets the boot from the rotation?

Here’s a creative solution.

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Last year, Matt Garza was only able to start 19 games for the Milwaukee Brewers due to injuries and ineffectiveness. He pitched to a 4.51 ERA and a 4.49 xFIP, with a 1.50 WHIP. The team was still counting on The Count for a rotation spot this season, as the 33 year old was entering the last year of his guaranteed deal with the Brewers - with an option for next season that wasn’t going to vest.

But Garza again started the season injured, so it seemed unlikely that he would have much chance to fulfill the two good outcomes the Brewers were hoping for: pitch well, and help the team contend, or pitch well and be available to trade at the deadline for a low level prospect to a contender. The third potential result, that Garza would pitch ineffectively and quietly finish off his Brewers career, seemed the most likely.

Of the two positive outcomes, the second seemed by far the most likely. Contention for the Brewers seemed a remote possibility. But lo and behold, here we are after 94 games with the Brewers in first in the NL Central, leading the Chicago Cubs by 412 games, having won 11 of their last 14 games.

And Garza has pitched well - much better than would be anticipated. His ERA is below his career number (3.84/4.02); his FIP is below his career number (4.00/4.05). His xFIP isn’t as impressive, up to 4.66 against a career 4.10. His K’s/9 are down a full strikeout (6.05 from 7.28), probably a reflection of a pitch to contact approach as opposed to his power pitching approach as a young man. Garza’s HR/9 is down to .93, with a career 1.02 number. His BB/9 is down to 2.56, compared to 3.00 career.

Rumors have it that the Brewers are looking to add starting pitching, with interest in the A’s Sonny Gray and the Jay’s J.A. Happ - and of course, there may be others that are unreported. Milwaukee currently has three starting pitchers on the DL, but one of them (Brandon Woodruff) is really a prospect that hasn’t ever pitched in the major leagues and is most likely not in the plans for a stretch run. Junior Guerra is due off the DL tomorrow (Tuesday), and will start Tuesday night. Chase Anderson, one of the Brewers’ best starters this season (ERA 2.89, FIP 3.44, xFIP 4.33 in 90.1 innings) isn’t due back until mid August as he recovers from an oblique injury - an injury that is difficult to judge when considering it’s effect on the returning pitcher. Lefty Brent Suter has been starting in his stead (and has two good starts in two attempts) and goes tonight in Pittsburgh.

There are then two scenarios: the Brewers don’t make a trade for a starting pitcher, and compete for the division crown with the hand currently dealt to them; or they add a starting pitching arm and need to make an adjustment in the rotation to accommodate the new addition.

Option one would seem to clearly keep Garza in the rotation for the pennant chase. It would make little sense to send out one of the more effective starting pitchers in that case, and the major moves GM David Stearns has made all have made sense - at least once the dust has settled.

Option two is a little thornier. Starting pitchers Zach Davies and Junior Guerra have options available and could be sent to the minors. They could also be sent to the pen. Both of them have been worse this season than last, and Guerra has had two stints on the DL. Davies’ xFIP has gone from 3.94 to 4.71 from last season to this, and his WHIP is up to 1.50 from 1.25. Home runs allowed are up to 1.40 per nine innings from 1.10. Walks per nine are up from 2.09 to 3.07. All of these numbers are alarming. Of course, Davies has received top three run support this season, and his won-lost record is 11-4.

In Sunday’s Game Thread, we asked which pitcher BCB readers would remove from the rotation to insert Sonny Gray. Several commented that it was a tough question, but the results are:

  1. Junior Guerra (44%)
  2. Zach Davies (27%)
  3. Brent Suter (19%)
  4. Matt Garza (8%)
  5. Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson (1%)

We’ll discount the votes for Nelson and Anderson - must have been Cub fans. And of course, fan opinions (even those of such obviously educated fans as BCB readers) have no effect on decisions of professional teams (witness Rob Scahill in the Brewer bullpen over Michael Blazek).

But I offer two different ways to accommodate the addition of Gray, if it should happen (a BIG if): trade Matt Garza. I know, you can never have enough starting pitching, but bromides are not necessarily the truth.

There are two ways that Garza could be dealt: One, if the A’s would want a veteran arm in the rotation to fill out this season and replace Gray, Garza would fit right in. The A’s wouldn’t be obligated to him beyond this season, and perhaps the Brewers would help with some of the salary. Two, if the A’s have a young pitcher they’d rather use and don’t want Garza, he could still be used in a separate trade for a low level prospect with a contending team needing an arm due to injury or ineffectiveness. He would be, again, a short term rental, probably wouldn’t be part of post season plans, and would likely net the team monetary help from the Brewers to off-set the remaining $5 mil on this season. Garza can also be kept at $5 mil for next season on a club option.

Garza’s success this season could even influence the Brewers to pick up that option for next season. No matter what the final result, he has done exactly what the Brewers and Brewer fans hoped he would do: he has made the decision on what to do with Matt Garza short term and longer term more difficult because he has pitched well.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference