The Brewers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have an ace. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have anything that resembles an ace. As hard as you squint, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make Matt Garza look like anything but a good, middle-of-the-rotation starter. But the Brewers have an entire rotation of solid, middle-of-the-rotation starters, and teams can find value in that. Zips projects every member of the Brewers rotation to accumulate between 1.0 and 1.6 WAR. Essentially, Zips believes that all five starters will produce roughly the same amount of value.
Zips also projects that the Brewers starters will have between a 3.82 ERA (Garza) and a 4.21 ERA (Wily Peralta). That kind of consistency in a rotation rarely happens. Teams can win this way, but the teams who begin the year with this kind of rotation often depend on one or two young guys to take a step forward and outperform projections. The Brewers arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t completely void of upside plays, but their upside plays arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily promising either.
Mike Fiers likely has the most upside among likely starters. Fiers only threw 64.2 innings as a starter last year, but he pitched extremely well during that time. Fiers 2.13 ERA and 2.94 SIERA showed he has some promise and could significantly upgrade the Brewers rotation if he can take one or two steps forward.
Fiers fastball averaged 89.5 MPH last season. He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t throw especially hard, but he did have a solid 27.7% K strikeout rate in 2014. If he can continue to strikeout batters and keep his homerun rate down (25.8% in 2013, 8.4% in 2014), Fiers could provide the Brewers rotation value they desperately need. But is he that much better than the other starters? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not yet sold.
The other starter with upside is Jimmy Nelson. He struggled last year with an ERA near 5.00, but his peripherals suggest he pitched better than that. Even so, I find it hard to believe in Nelson as he threw a fastball or slider roughly 98% of the time last season. Two pitch starters often have inconsistent success. NelsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fastball averages over 93 MPH but that likely isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t good enough to get away with only showing two pitches.
As Nick Kirby noted on Monday, the bullpen has a number of big names. Unfortunately for the Brewers, a couple of those big names seem destined to struggle in the near future. Francisco Rodriguez almost flamed out of the league a few years ago but continues to trek on. His homerun rate went from roughly 15% in 2013 to 23% in 2014. His strikeout rate also declined from 2013 to 2014. His arrow is pointing downward.
Chris Perez saw his strikeout rate drop and his walk rate rise significantly from 2013 to 2014. His FIP the last two years has been 5.08 and 5.07. Perez has pitched consistently poorly for a couple years now, and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see any signs that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll pitch markedly better this season.
But the Brewers do have a few bright spots in the pen. Our old friend, Jonathan Broxton, saw improvement in his peripherals and ERA last season. In 2014, he had his best strikeout rate in four seasons and had his second lowest walk rate of the last seven years. Zips projects Broxton to pitch to a 3.44 ERA, and I doubt he is any worse than that.
Newcomer Corey Knebel brings a potent fastball and considerable upside to the bullpen. He has the tools to dominate in a relief role and could help solidify a bullpen that has a number of solid but not dominant pieces.
If you are going to have a mediocre pitching staff, you need a solid defense to support that staff. The Brewers have a solid defense. No one that will see significant playing time plays especially awful defense, and some of their regulars play excellent defense.
They have a strong defense at key positions as well. Carlos Gomez has a career 80.9 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and may patrol centerfield better than anyone this side of Billy Hamilton. Jonathan Lucroy not only hits like an All-Star, he also excels behind the plate.
Scooter Gennett has played an average defensive second base if not slightly better (0.2 UZR). Shortstop Jean Segura is slightly below average (-4.0 UZR in 2014) but not so much that the Brewers seem likely to move him off the position.
While not a starter, Gerardo Parra is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. He brings value off the bench even if he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t start. The Brewers have the defensive pieces in place to help mitigate the problems that come with not having a number one or two starter.
The Brewers have a deep pitching staff of mediocre pitchers. They arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bad by any means; they just wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t blow anybody away. Their defense is good enough to have a significant impact on the number of runs allowed, which may help them compete in the division for much of the season. While the Brewers certainly have talent, I can help but think the Reds are a better team when healthy.