On the morning of July 13th, Junior Guerra was the owner of a 2.79 ERA and 93 FIP- through 17 starts and 93.2 innings on the 2018 season. The Brewers were sitting with the best record in the National League at 55-39, and Guerra had undoubtedly been their best starter during the first half of the season. But then Junior started that night against the Pirates, lasted only four innings while allowing six runs, and was placed on the disabled list with an injury to his right forearm.
Guerra missed only the minimum stint on the disabled list and returned to active duty on July 24th to start against Washington. In terms of effectiveness, however, he never seemed to get all the way back. In seven starts since coming back from his forearm issue, Guerra has tossed 34.1 innings with a 6.55 ERA and 127 FIP-. Things came to a head during last night’s outing against the Reds, a debacle that ended with a line of 1.1 innings pitched, eight hits, two walks, a home run, and six earned runs allowed. By the time the 9-7 loss was in the books, Junior’s season-long ERA had ballooned to 4.09 across an even 132.0 innings.
Not all the damage can be pinned on Junior during this stretch. He’s actually limited opponents to a low 29.7% rate of hard contact since returning from the DL and has kept the ball on the ground more than 50% of the time. With a BABIP of .378 despite those factors, it’s fair to say that the defense hasn’t given Guerra much help of late. But Junior hasn’t exactly done himself many favors, either. The walks have been a bit of an issue - he’s issued free passes to nearly 9% of the batters he’s faced since returning - but the biggest problem has been his sudden proneness to serving up home runs. Batters have tagged him for 1.83 HR/9 over his last seven starts with a HR/FB ratio in excess of 22%.
Guerra has never had the best command, but earlier in the season he was more effectively able to work the edges of the strike zone. In the seven starts since coming back off injury, however, he has had difficulty keeping the ball out of the middle of the zone, or right in the batters’ wheelhouse. His arm slot has dropped a bit in the last month from where it was earlier in the season, as well. Wayward control of the baseball and a falling arm slot could both be indicators that Guerra is still having some health issues, although neither the club nor the player has indicated that there are injury concerns at this time. (For what it’s worth, though, Matt Garza pitched last season with a torn rotator cuff and we didn’t find out until after the end of the year).
Junior Guerra was outstanding for the Brewers during the first half of the season when he was desperately needed. Relegated to the minor leagues after a strong Spring Training performance, he had to wait until two weeks into the regular season to get his first shot at the big leagues on April 11th. He seized a spot in the rotation and prevented runs like an ace for 17 starts. But since injuring his forearm six weeks ago right before the All-Star break, he just hasn’t been the same hurler. We don’t know whether he’s pitching hurt or not, but the evidence supports that those 10 days spent on the disabled list changed the trajectory of Junior’s season.
Unfortunately for Guerra and for the Brewers, at this point in the season the team can’t really afford to continue running him out there while he tries to work his way through things. Last night’s loss dropped the club to 73-60 and they hold a tenuous half-game lead over the Rockies and Diamondbacks for the second Wild Card spot. September is rapidly approaching and we’re getting into “every game is a must-win” territory, and sadly, Junior Guerra just isn’t able to give the Cream City Nine a consistent opportunity for victory in his current state.
Asked if Junior Guerra has another start coming, manager Craig Counsell said, "We're going to have to talk about that." Guerra's turn comes up again on Sunday, the day Zach Davies is expected to be reinstated from the DL.— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) August 29, 2018
Rosters expand on Saturday and Zach Davies - who pitched a nine-inning complete game shutout for the Class-A Timber Rattlers on Monday - is eligible to return to the big leagues on Sunday. That happens to be the same day as when Guerra’s next turn in the rotation would be, so there’s probably a pretty good chance that Davies will wind up making that start instead. At this point, it would probably be for the best to send Guerra to the bullpen - or even the disabled list - and give him a rest from pitching for awhile. After all, including Spring Training and Winter Ball, he’s thrown some 240 competitive innings in the last 365 days.
Junior Guerra just hasn’t looked right since that forearm injury.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball