There isn’t much evidence to suggest a strong finish to one season carries over to the new campaign five or six months later. At the same time, the performances of individuals can be a sign of things to come thanks to experience, development and confidence. The Milwaukee Brewers are hoping the great second half of 2013 was a precursor to a full season of quality starting pitching from the same five.
The Brewers’ projected rotation of Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg made up 75 percent of the starts in the second half of last season. All five of the hurlers had impressive outings and finished with good-to-great numbers for their starts after the All-Star break. Even if you factor in the other pitchers making starts down the stretch, the Brewers’ starters finished in the top five in the National League in four important categories.
Milwaukee’s starters finished with the second-best ERA in the second half (3.36). The Brewers also allowed the second-lowest batting average (.239) in the final months. The rotation was also a top five group in WHIP (1.21) and line drive percentage (20.9). Line drive percentage is a valuable indicator, because line drives produce 1.29 runs for every out while fly balls create 0.13 runs and grounders only 0.05 per out.
The question remains if this quintet can produce throughout the 2014 season. Many will remember the Brewers’ 2012 rotation ended strong only to see nothing go right at the start of 2013. Instead, it was another Mark Rogers injury and the league catching up with Mike Fiers. It should be different for this group thanks to their experience and what the numbers suggest. However, there always needs to be caution and a backup.
Lohse is solid and will be the ace again, barring injury. He posted a 2.92 ERA in the second half, giving up few line drives and inducing a high rate of infield fly balls. Add in his usual low walk rate and he is set up to prosper. You can see more details on his resurgence in this article.
The longest-tenured starter, Gallardo, is a curious case because of his extreme struggles to start 2013. His participation in the World Baseball Classic was largely to blame due to improper preparation and early fatigue that affected his mechanics. In the second half he looked more like his usual 200-inning, 200 strikeout self. He earned a 3.09 ERA, allowed a .239 opponents’ batting average and boosted his strikeouts per nine innings to 7.12 in the second half. His continued issues with walks remain a concern.
Peralta was the most disappointing of the five with an ERA of 3.99, more than three-and-a-half walks per nine frames and trouble with the long ball. Still, he had bright spots as well. His strikeouts were on the higher end and he limited line drives effectively. I’m chalking up some of the struggles to throwing the most MLB innings in his career by far (183.1).
The two other pitchers are interesting cases in that they’ve shown some short-term value but there are questions over the long haul. Estrada has looked great in spurts, including last year’s second half where he was phenomenal over nine starts: 58.2 IP, 2.15 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .163 opponent batting average and 8.59 punch outs every nine innings. This is a small sample and he’s had great stretches before. The concern is that Estrada gets exposed after a certain amount of time, leading to a horrible home run rate that becomes his fatal flaw. He’s earned the spot for now, but he is one reason depth in the organization is so important.
The jury is out on Thornburg, but he impressed to close out 2013 with a 1.47 ERA over 43 innings. Most scouts and analysts believe he’s the perfect option for the bullpen and fool’s gold as a starter. I also lean toward his sustained success coming in relief, but if he continues to throw in spring like he did last fall, the fifth spot is his to lose.
Any team or individual can get hot over a short period of time. The challenge for this crew will be consistent production from start to finish. The Brewers may not have a top five rotation in 2014, but I suspect they will surprise a lot of people with how well they perform.