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The Brewers should start Eric Lauer before Freddy Peralta in the NLDS

Choosing the Game 3 starter is a pivotal decision in the opening series

MLB: Washington Nationals at Milwaukee Brewers
Eric Lauer has arguably been the Brewers’ second-best starting pitcher in the second half of the season.
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt Freddy Peralta took a huge step forward for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. His 2.81 ERA through 28 games (27 starts) is phenomenal, but there has to be some concern based on his recent outings. It is to the point that it’s fair to wonder if Eric Lauer should be Milwaukee’s Game 3 starter in the NLDS.

Lauer has been fantastic since June 27 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and a .515 opponents’ OPS over 75.2 innings (14 games, 13 starts). Lauer wouldn’t be able to stick to a sub-2.00 ERA over an entire season, but is it realistic to think he can be this good for five more starts? It’s a call worth exploring when every game matters so much more in the playoffs.

When it comes to a short postseason series, there’s no time to mess around. Game 3 could be the swing game that gives the Brewers or the NL East champion a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five NLDS. It could also be an elimination game. Who does Craig Counsell believe gives the Brewers the best chance to win the all-important Game 3?

Peralta has the better “stuff,” but he hasn’t been able to find a groove since coming off the IL on September 3. Over those five starts, Peralta owns a 4.70 ERA (3.90 FIP) in 23 frames. In fairness, his first two starts upon returning were shortened as they worked his arm back up (5.2 total innings). However, Peralta gave up seven runs on 12 hits in 11.1 combined innings (5.56 ERA) over his last two outings against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers
Whether it’s fatigue, regression to the mean, or something else, Peralta has not been the same pitcher the past couple months.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Even if you include Peralta’s three starts before the IL stint, to give you a larger sample size, his ERA sits at 4.71 with opponents putting up a .747 OPS. His best start over this stretch came on September 14 in Detroit when he gave up zero runs on two hits while striking out nine Tigers. That is the draw of Peralta – the upside is huge in any given game.

But Lauer has been far more consistent, allowing more than two runs just once in his last 13 starts. In nine of those starts, he gave up one run or fewer. Additionally, over his last five starts, Lauer gave up one run in four starts and zero runs in the other. In those five September outings, Lauer has thrown 31.1 innings, allowing just four runs (1.15 ERA, 2.71 FIP) and 14 hits while holding batters to a ridiculous slash line of .133/.195/.210/.404 combined.

Looking at the recent performances and Lauer’s long run of success, this call is more difficult than people might think at first glance. There could also be another wrinkle in the Brewers’ decision-making. If we assume Milwaukee will face the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS (96.4% chance to win the division as of the morning of September 29), how much does it matter that Peralta is a righty and Lauer is a southpaw?

Atlanta hitters in 2021

  • vs. RH Starter: .239/.314/.429/.742
  • vs. LH Starter: .255/.333/.451/.784

Depending on how much you believe in platoon splits like this, it could sway who you trust more. However, one thing to consider is that the Braves have had 4,320 combined plate appearances against a right-handed starter, but only 1,557 versus lefty starters. Does the gap in the slash line make enough of difference to “make up for” the smaller sample size? If you go by these splits, Peralta might be the choice.

But you can also look at the individual hitters in Atlanta’s lineup and see what they have done in their careers against starters. Right-handed hitters like Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Austin Riley actually have WORSE overall numbers against left-handed starters in their careers. Meanwhile, left-handed hitters Freddie Freeman and Joc Pederson are far worse against left-handed starters. Pederson wouldn’t start if Lauer pitches, but having Freeman’s .799 OPS against lefty starters instead of his .925 OPS against righty starters could be a huge advantage. So maybe it swings the pendulum back on Lauer’s shoulders.

Righty Dansby Swanson and switch-hitting Ozzie Albies would be the two concerns versus Lauer – and truly, Albies is far more dangerous. In his career, Albies owns a .303/.344/.521/.865 slash line against southpaw starters, while only a .262/.318/.460/.777 numbers versus right-handed starters. He would be a problem in that game, but that may be countered by the lower production of the rest of the lineup.

It is likely Counsell and company have other stats and matchup information that they will consider for their postseason rotation. Based purely on performance, it should be Corbin Burnes in Game 1 and Brandon Woodruff in Game 2, but as you can see, the third starter might be a surprisingly tough call.

Hopefully the first two contests go the Brewers’ way and the Game 3 starter is simply looking to close out the series. That would lessen the pressure of a decision for the Brewers – because Lauer should probably get the ball.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference