The addition of Matt Garza to the Milwaukee Brewers‘ starting rotation has given the franchise something no other NL club has: three starters in the top 20 of strikeouts per nine innings (K/9).
Garza (14th), Yovani Gallardo (17th) and Marco Estrada (12th) are the only trio of teammates to be ranked this high in the NL over the last three seasons. While the stat itself doesn’t guarantee success, it’s indicative of the likelihood a pitcher will consistently be effective in limiting the opposition’s offense.
For reference sake, the top two NL starters in K/9 since 2011 are the Washington Nationals‘ Stephen Strasburg and two-time Cy Young award winner, the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Clayton Kershaw. A couple of guys I’m fairly certain you’ve heard about once or twice.
It should be obvious to understand why strikeouts per nine innings is such a valuable measurement by which to judge pitchers. Not every guy will throw the same amount of frames, so this standardizes the ability to get batters out without allowing the ball to be put in play. Generally speaking, the more often you can retire a hitter without the need for defense, the more successful you will be over the course of an entire season.
Shoddy defense and luck can play roles in a hurler’s ERA and WHIP, but those factors are limited in the long run by sitting down the opponent on three strikes.
The biggest concern for the aforementioned Brewers isn’t their overall talent, necessarily; it’s their ability to pitch enough innings to be as effective as the top pitchers in the league. For example, the top 10 pitchers in innings pitched since 2011 tossed, on average, 628 frames during that span. That equates to 209.1 innings per season.
By comparison, Garza has averaged just 152 innings and Estrada just 120 frames per year. Granted, Estrada’s numbers are a bit skewed because he pitched in relief for the majority of the 2011 campaign. However, many will argue his K/9 is likely to drop should he rack up more frames over the course of 2014. That will be something to keep an eye on.
Gallardo has been the one horse for Milwaukee, completing 197 innings on average over the past three seasons. He tossed 180.1 last year, one in which he had numerous obstacles to overcome, including his mother’s death, the World Baseball Classic, a drunken driving arrest and then an injury. Most believe he’ll bounce back and offer up another 200-strikeout season.
That takes us back to the K/9 statistic. With those three guys consistently putting up strong strikeout numbers, the Brewers gain a slight edge on their enemies in each series. It also limits the occurrence of long losing streaks due to the rotation’s balance and lack of a deep hole in talent.
The Brewers’ hurlers being in the top 20, but all outside the top 10, is an illustration of what many believe about Milwaukee’s rotation this season. No one is seen as a true ace like Kershaw, Strasburg or the St. Louis Cardinals‘ Adam Wainwright, but they have a deeper starting five than most clubs.
Another related stat that incorporates the punch out is the strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB). The Brewers have three guys in the top 25 here as well. The Cardinals are the only other team with three teammates within that range over the last three seasons. For Milwaukee, it’s Estrada (fifth), Kyle Lohse (15th) and Garza (23rd) filling those spots.
Now you’re talking four different pitchers ranking in the top quarter of the NL in two important stats. If these trends continue, and guys like Garza and Estrada can offer up more innings that their career averages indicate, Milwaukee will be right in the think of a playoff race.