Is Yo The Worst Brewer Starter?
I think he probably is. People have been waiting for Yovani Gallardo to make the leap to “ace status” whatever that means, but it’s safe to say at this point that that isn’t happening. Some people think Gallardo is due for a bounceback year, but… read this piece by J.P. Breen . I’ll wait.
Still think he’s bouncing back? I suppose you can make a case, but when the fastball starts to go, especially for a righty, it can go bad in a hurry.
Yo has always been kind of a weird pitcher. He’s been an extreme nibbler with an unreliable curveball as his out pitch. He’s always been one of the league leaders in strikeouts looking which is great if you throw the pitch for a strike and your fastball is notably faster than your curveball. The reason that Yo probably won’t bounce back is that to do so requires him to regain some velocity. This appears to be a physical impairment, not just some random mental fluctuation. Most of the projection systems DO like Yo to bounce back a bit. ZIPS, for instance, has him pegged for a 3.89 ERA, and 3.75 FIP, down from last years 4.18/3.89 , but if you understand a bit about how projection systems work you can make a solid case that this is overly optimistic. Projection systems almost all take a weighted average of at least the last 3 years (Marcel and Oliver use 3, ZIPS uses 4, I have no idea what PECOTA does but it’s safe to assume it is similar). They all do something a little different with this data, but ultimately in some way all of those years count. ZIPS probably looks at Gallardo and sees not just the 3.89 and 3.94 FIPs of the last 2 years, but also the 3.59 and 3.02 in 2011 and 2010 respectively. If Yo is basically the same pitcher that’s fine, but we can look at how he’s actually pitched and see the extremely perceptible decline in his stuff, and adjust our expectations accordingly. While trends usually regress to the mean, sometimes the mean has a funny way of shifting on us.
Kyle Lohse is almost certainly the Brewers’ best pitcher and I don’t think that’s controversial. Over the last 3 seasons he’s thrown in the neighborhood of 200 innings and his ERA has never exceeded 3.39.
Matt Garza is a question mark because of his durability, but when healthy his ERA is consistently south of 4.00. ZIPS likes him to the tune of a 3.70 ERA with a 3.65 FIP.
Health is also the biggest concern for Marco Estrada who has never thrown full starters innings in any given year. The second biggest concern for Estrada is the long ball, but for a soft-tossing righty who pitches backwards he’s been remarkably effective when he’s been able to pitch. In 2012 he threw 138 innings with an ERA of 3.64 and last year he threw 128 innings at 3.87. Considering his limited stuff the fact that he misses bats like he does (9.3 K/9 in 2012, 8.3 last year) while barely walking anyone (1.89 BB/9 in 2012, 2.04 last year) is amazing. Estrada has a highly crushable fastball and does give up home runs, but as long as he keeps people off base (which makes his walk rate that much more important) he can generally manage the damage. A dominant changeup doesn’t always get you onto scouts’ radars, but Estrada boasts one of the best changeups in baseball. If he can avoid nagging injuries he’s a great bet to be one of the most valuable 3rd or 4th starters in baseball.
This brings us to young Wily Peralta . Peralta throws much harder than Estrada with what most would consider better stuff, yet only managed to K 6.33 batters/9 over 183 IP last season. More concerning for Wily are the walks as he put on 3.58 per nine. Optimism from Peralta derives from a stronger 2nd half which saw his strikeout numbers increase (while walking about the same amount), and his youth. Most of the time a second half surge doesn’t translate into better results the next year, but when it does happen it generally happens with developing younger players. I would describe myself as a Wily skeptic. His FIP didn’t really improve in the 2nd half , he generated fewer ground balls, and he had a lower BABIP. Unlike with Gallardo I suspect will see some regression to the mean with Peralta, but he’s only 24 years old and it’s certainly possible that he’ll take a step forward.
Gallardo was named the opening day starter recently and honestly it doesn’t really matter who pitches in game one, but it’s extremely possible that the Brewers will be leading off the season with their worst starting pitcher. Lohse and Garza are almost certainly better and Estrada is more effective when he’s healthy. Gallardo might still be better than Peralta, but the two are following opposite trajectories.
Sometimes a team will hurt itself through a bad free agent signing as the Brewers did a few years ago with Jeff Suppan. Matt Garza has had a rough spring (somewhat by design) and I’ve heard whispers around twitter comparing his signing to Suppan’s. This is a huge overreaction as spring training stats are basically worthless. The thing is, everyone notices a bad signing, but sometimes a team screws itself just as badly with the move not made. There were signs of a Gallardo decline in 2012, and while he was still productive with a respectable 3.66 ERA, his FIP spiked and his fastball decline was already apparent. Gallardo likely could have fetched a decent amount on the trade market as a mid-tier or back end starter who will go 200 innings. Now the Brewers are probably stuck with him for better or for worse.
If you’re looking for the new Jeff Suppan don’t look to Matt Garza. Instead, take a look at the home-grown not-quite-ace.