Brewers' rotation has remained strong
When a team's pitching staff is performing as planned, and all the cogs are working in conjunction with one another, things follow a fairly distinct pattern.
The bullpen's performance is, more often than not, overlooked — if the team's relievers are doing their job. Meanwhile, the starting rotation — again, if it's doing its job — gets the majority of the glory.
That's the model that comes with being a pitcher in the major leagues — and it's a model the Brewers have been neglecting all season.
Through 95 games, it's been difficult to notice anything but the bullpen's performance. And this week, those struggles have come to a head in Philadelphia. Milwaukee relievers blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Monday and a five-run lead in the eighth inning Tuesday to turn a sure 2-0 start to the series into a continued stumble of five straight losses. The Brewers now have the third-worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 4.76.
Lost in the relievers' struggles, as it has been all season, is the performance of the Milwaukee rotation, which has been as good as the group that drove the team to a division title in 2011. As hard to believe as that may be — considering all the injuries to Brewers' starters this season -- the statistics support the conclusion that Milwaukee's bullpen has overshadowed a group that's been as good, if not better, than last year.
Through 162 games in 2011, the Brewers used just six starting pitchers — a feat rather unheard of in today's baseball landscape. Injuries are commonplace among pitchers, as Milwaukee has learned in 2012. Through a little more than half of this season, the Brewers have used eight starters, two of whom had never started a major league game before this season.
But so far, the Milwaukee rotation remains in the same standing — 10th in the majors — as it held at the end of last season. This year's ERA is a bit higher at 3.94, compared to 3.78 in 2011, but in terms of the majors' other teams, the Brewers have been equally as efficient in limiting runs.
As far as letting players reach base, this year's starters have a higher WHIP by just 0.03 — a mark rarely cause for turning heads. The Brewers starters are in 12th in that category this year, as opposed to eighth last season but remain effective at keeping players off base.
When it comes to striking out batters, however, the 2012 edition of the Brewers' rotation has been much more effective. In fact, no team's starters have struck out batters at a higher clip than Milwaukee's.
Brewers starters had the third-highest strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark in baseball last season at 7.78, and that number has skyrocketed in 2012 to 8.31 — by far the highest mark in baseball and almost 0.2 strikeouts per game higher than any other team's starters. At this pace, the Brewers, led by the starters, will obliterate their single-season strikeout record by almost 300 punchouts.
Aside from Randy Wolf, each of the Brewers' current starters strikes out at least 8.7 batters per nine innings. But there's a downside to being known for getting players to miss pitches so effectively.
The Brewers' starters also throw the most pitches per plate appearance in baseball at 3.96. That mark means Milwaukee starters haven't lasted long in outings this season – in fact, Milwaukee's rotation has thrown the ninth-fewest innings of any rotation in the major leagues. Milwaukee is one of just three teams without a complete game from one of its starters this season.
Without starters going deep into games, Milwaukee has had to turn to its bullpen for longer outings than most teams, which, as we know, has been a recipe for disaster. Brewers relievers have responded with 18 blown saves and a 15-24 record -- both totals are the worst in the National League.
Still, there's no doubting the value the rotation has added to Milwaukee's performance this season. According to wins above replacement, the Brewers' rotation contains three of the five most valuable players on Milwaukee's roster.
Aside from Ryan Braun (3.9) — who occupies the top value spot — and Jonathan Lucroy (third at 2.2), the top three remaining spots belong to Mike Fiers (2.4), Zack Greinke (2.0) and Yovani Gallardo (1.8), with Shaun Marcum (1.5) and Marco Estrada (0.6) not far behind.
With a Greinke trade possibly in the near future, those numbers could very well change, but Marcum is nearing a return from injury and Marcum and Fiers have been excellent fill-ins all season.
This is a deep group, and one thing is clear: Despite a struggling bullpen dragging down its reputation for the majority of the 2012 season, the Brewers' rotation has lived up to its preseason billing as one of the NL's best.
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