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Milwaukee Brewers Position Battles: Starting Rotation Update

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The Wade Miley injury alters the landscape

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Yesterday’s injury to Wade Miley both clarified and muddied the rotation decisions for the Milwaukee Brewers as they wind down their Cactus Cup 2018 season. Miley suffered a slightly torn groin that will keep the lefty out for an indeterminate amount of time, as reported by Tom Haudricourt of JSO:

The Brewers have to decide on how to handle this situation; they could release him outright, give him his $100,000 bonus and keep him in the minors to rehab on his current deal, or release him and re-sign him to a new minor league deal (that includes a base salary and incentives for if/when he gets back to the MLB). I expect the third option.

The Brewers’ rotation had three locks to start spring training, and that hasn’t changed. A brief scare with a lat twinge for Zach Davies was worrisome but proved to be minor, at least for now. Last year’s breakout season for Chase Anderson has landed him the opening day start next Thursday in San Diego as well as the nominal designation as staff ace. Offseason free agent signee Jhoulys Chacin has done nothing to change Milwaukee’s view of him as one of the three top starters with his spring performance.

Spring Training Numbers: Top Three

Chase Anderson:

5 app, 4 starts, 15 23 IP, WHIP 1.21, ERA 5.74

Zach Davies:

3 app, 2 starts, 6 13 IP, WHIP 1.74, ERA 4.26

Jhoulys Chacin:

4 app, 4 starts, 10 13 IP, WHIP 1.35, ERA 0.87

The injury to Miley deprives the Brewers of a pitcher who led the team in starts (5, tie with Junior Guerra), innings pitched (20, tie with Guerra), and pitches thrown (202). It’s seems reasonable to assume from these numbers that Miley and Guerra had the inside track on the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Miley’s numbers don’t look impressive (1.50 WHIP, 4.95 ERA), but his one blow-up start out of six appearances (one in relief) really skew the numbers. Without that awful start (and yeah, you can’t just eliminate it, but it might be more an exception than the norm), Miley’s spring numbers would be a WHIP of 1.12 and ERA of 2.12.

Guerra’s numbers from above position him as the fourth starter. He does have a minor league option, but has pitched solidly enough to justify an opportunity to try and recapture his 2016 magic - or at least be a solid fourth starter. His peripherals are concerning - a WHIP of 1.55, BAA of .321 - so his 3.15 ERA may not be sustainable.

That takes us to the likely fifth starter, Brent Suter. Suter looked good in his first several appearances but has been touched up in his last two. He carries a 1.26 WHIP and .258 BAA, which slightly belie his 5.40 ERA, but it is plausible to think he may go to AAA Colorado Springs to begin the season until he is needed as a fifth starter on Sunday, April 8th against the Cubs. That will allow Suter to make a start in AAA to stay sharp. He could also begin the year in the bullpen now that Boone Logan is on the shelf.

Two other candidates for the rotation, Brandon Woodruff and Aaron Wilkerson, haven't pitched well enough this spring to merit serious consideration for an Opening Day spot and have options remaining, so they will most likely begin their seasons with the Sky Sox and act as depth pieces. It is possible that last season’s Brewer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Corbin Burnes will pitch well enough at either AA or AAA to get a call-up at some point this year due to need or poor performance in the big league rotation.

The Brewers didn’t make that big splash signing in the off season that many expected. Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb will be starting games elsewhere. Brewers’ GM David Stearns didn’t see enough value in what they were paid to seriously compete with their ultimate contracts, and Milwaukee will be hoping that injured starter Jimmy Nelson can make a successful return at some point in the second half of the season to bolster the staff. That is a reasonable strategy. Whether it is a successful strategy or not will very likely determine whether the Brewers are a playoff team in 2018 or not.

Statistics courtesy of MLB.com