MLB

Brewers need a pitching makeover

Jeff Suppan represents little return on a four-year $42 million investment by the Brewers.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Brewers GM Doug Melvin will not want to fire manager Ken Macha, just as he did not want to fire Ned Yost with 12 games left in the 2008 season.

Owner Mark Attanasio, who made the call on Yost, could intervene again on Macha. Few would argue with the move. The Brewers are one of the game’s biggest disappointments, and if Macha is not exactly the problem, neither is his overbearing, sometimes grating style the solution.

But whether Macha’s replacement is bench coach Willie Randolph, the former Mets’ manager, or hitting coach Dale Sveum (the preference of many players), I’m willing to bet that Melvin will take responsibility for the near-total collapse of the Brewers’ pitching staff.

Melvin, a stand-up guy, knows that his record in evaluating pitchers over the last several years is not very good.

In fact, it drives him nuts.

The Brewers, projected by many to be a contender, are fifth in the NL Central despite ranking fourth in the majors — behind only the Yankees, Phillies and Rays — in scoring.

Their 15-24 record includes 10 wins in which they scored eight or more runs. They are 5-24 — that’s right, 5-24 — in games in which they fail to score eight.

What does that tell you?

Their pitching stinks.

Rick Peterson, the Brewers’ new pitching coach, is a difference-maker, but not a miracle worker. He needs better raw material, to say the least.

Brewers' average fastball velocities

    • John Axford, 94.8
    • Todd Coffey, 94.3
    • Manny Parra, 93.1
    • Yovani Gallardo, 91.8
    • Marco Estrada, 91.7
    • Carlos Villanueva, 90.1
    • Claudio Vargas, 89.5
    • Chris Narveson, 88.4
    • Randy Wolf, 87.8
    • Jeff Suppan, 87.1
    • Dave Bush, 85.7
    • Trevor Hoffman, 85.4
    • Mitch Stetter, 83.6
    • LaTroy Hawkins (DL), 92.6

    Source: Fangraphs.com


The Brewers, astonishingly, have only three pitchers whose average fastball this season exceeds 92 mph, according to the PitchFx statistics on Fangraphs.com.

Those three are rookie right-hander John Axford, righty Todd Coffey and lefty Manny Parra, all of whom are relievers, though Parra has made one start.

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the staff ace, averages 91.8 mph. Righty LaTroy Hawkins, a reliever, averages 92.6, but he’s on the D.L. with shoulder weakness and a 9.26 ERA.

Except for Gallardo, the Brewers’ starters are so soft, they can’t get through lineups twice, taxing the bullpen. The rotation is averaging less than 5 2/3 innings per start. Only the Pirates are getting fewer innings from their starters.

Velocity isn’t everything, but it’s not as if the Brewers are control artists — their walk rate is also the second-highest in the NL. Then again, if you were a Milwaukee pitcher, you might be afraid of contact, too.

The Brewers, after parting last winter with three up-the-middle defenders — catcher Jason Kendall, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Mike Cameron — rank last in the majors in defensive efficiency, a statistic that measures the percentage of balls in play that are converted into outs.

And you thought the Red Sox had problems with run prevention.

Hiring Sveum to replace Macha might create a happier workplace — Sveum won over the clubhouse with his relaxed, let-’em-play approach when he took over for Yost as interim manager and led the Brewers to the postseason in 2008. Neither Macha nor Randolph maintain as strong a connection with the players.

Still, there is only so much the next manager can do.

The Brewers feature two of the game’s best offensive players, first baseman Prince Fielder and left fielder Ryan Braun. But their pitching woes are so pronounced, it would be a shock if the team got anywhere close to contention.

Melvin made a wonderful trade for left-hander CC Sabathia in ’08, but consider his forays into free agency over the past several years:
  • 2006-07: Right-handed starter Jeff Suppan, four years, $42 million. Suppan, currently a mopup man, is 29-35 with a 4.97 ERA as a Brewer.

  • 2007-08: Closer Eric Gagne, one year, $10 million and right-handed setup man David Riske, three years, $13 million. Gagne was a flop. Riske had a poor 2008 season, then lasted only one game in ’09 before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

  • 2008-09: Closer Trevor Hoffman, one year, $6 million, and right-handed starter Braden Looper, one year, $5.5 million. Hoffman produced his lowest ERA since 1998. Looper won 14 games and threw 194 2/3 innings, but had a 5.22 ERA.

  • 2009-10: Left-handed starter Randy Wolf, three years, $29.75 million; Hoffman, one year, $8 million; right-handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins, two years, $7.5 million; left-handed starter Doug Davis, one year, $5.25 million. Wolf is getting paid like a No. 2 starter but pitching more like a No. 4. Hawkins and Davis, too, looked like decent, albeit expensive, choices at the time. Hoffman is 42, but after the way he pitched last season, few expected his sudden demise.

Some of this, obviously, is just bad luck; the pitching market is volatile, and every general manager, at one point or another, gets burned.

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But the Brewers, except for Gallardo, have also not developed impact pitchers. Their failure in that regard stands in direct contrast to their stunning run of success on the offensive side — Fielder, Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart.

Something needs to change, and not just the manager. Melvin is highly respected, but if pitching is not his strength, then he needs better evaluators, a different process or both.

The Brewers need to be like the Twins, a comparable mid-market franchise that routinely develops strike throwers, if not outright aces.

An awfully good offense in Milwaukee is going to waste.


Tagged: Brewers, Yankees, CC Sabathia, LaTroy Hawkins, Doug Davis, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo

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