2011 NL Playoff Rotations: Milwaukee Brewers

As has been written ad nauseum both before and during the season, the Milwaukee Brewers went all-in for 2011, particular with respect to upgrading their pitching rotation. The Brewers have won a divisional title for the first time since 1982 and are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, so it worked. In 2010, the Brewers starters compiled 7.7 WAR, the third-worst in baseball. In 2011, the remade rotation accumulated 12.7 WAR, which only put them in the middle of the pack, but five wins is a nice improvement. How does the rotation stack up against the others in the playoffs?

For each pitcher, I list some of his 2011 stats, then his Oliver 2011 projected “true talent” ERA (as of the September 26 update) to do some of the regression and application of past performance for us. Take it all as you will: I put that stuff in there for ease of access; one can always look at the player pages for more.

Zack Greinke, 2011: 3.7 WAR, 3.86 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 2.55 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 3.38

During the off season, some “experts” opined that Greinke, who had “only” put up a five win season in 2010 after his monstrous, nine win Cy Young campaign in 2009, was merely “good,” not “great” (a sentiment coincidentally adopted on by a substantial segment of Royals fans on December 20, 2010). A look at his ERA this season seemingly confirms that judgment. After Greinke injured his ribs playing basketball prior the 2011 seaon, costing him his first few starts, there were rumblings that it was this sort of lack of “judgment” and “leadership” confirmed the trade in the minds of some Kansas City officials.

After his start on July 3, Greinke’s ERA stood at 5.66. Now it is down to 3.86. In an eerie-but-obvious case of two-way regression, his xFIP has actually been on the rise. Greinke has only slightly underperformed his FIP for his career, and he has never had good defenses behind him (I’ll bet he was thrilled that Yuniesky Betancourt joined him in Milwaukee). He currently leads all qualified starters in xFIP and strikeouts per nine innings. Perhaps he has not pitched “to the score” well enough, and maybe he should have aimed his batted balls towards center field, the only place where the Brewers have plus defense.

Another way of looking at it: Greinke is still one of the best pitchers in baseball, and if he isn’t quite as good as guys like Halladay and Lee, he is very close. He does not pitch as deep into the game as Halladay or Lee, but he his dominant while in the game — not many relievers have a strikeout rate over 10, and Greinke only walks a bit over 2 batters per nine innings. Greinke can potentially shut down any team the Brewers are likely to face, and gives them a strong chance to win against any other pitcher in the playoffs.

As for Kansas City, they were in a position where they had to trade Greinke, and they didn’t necessarily get “ripped off.” Still, homers (the same people who built up the image of “Saint Zack” during 2009) will have to keep repeating the hilarious “he quit on us in 2010″ mantra and hope that Jake Odorizzi fulfills his promise, as a poor man’s Brendan Ryan, a guy who couldn’t take a job from Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur, and a reliever who might never see the majors again is not the kind of return one expects when trading of one the best pitchers in baseball.

Yovani Gallardo, 2011: 3.1 WAR, 3.52 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.18 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 3.68

At least one person I talked to before the season thought that Gallardo was better than Greinke. Well, that was and is clearly wrong, but Gallardo is an excellent pitcher. His 2010 FIP and xFIP pointed to some “bad luck,” and in 2011 his fortunes reversed in that regard. While he has not struck batters out with quite the frequency of past seasons, solving his past problems with walks this season has made up for it. Gallardo is not an ace in a number two’s clothing like, e.g., Cliff Lee, but he’s far from being a paper tiger.

Shaun Marcum, 2011: 2.7 WAR, 3.54 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.88 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 3.39

So, the Royals got the pu-pu platter (as Bill Simmons would say — see, there is honor on the internet!) for one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Blue Jays got Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie? Lawrie wasn’t as highly regarded prior to the 2011 season as he is now after his small-sample explosion into the majors, but uh, wow. That isn’t to knock Marcum, though, and given the Brewers’ and Jays’ respective situations, both are probably happy with the outcome.

As for Marcum himself, I’ve always enjoyed watching him pitch. I remember watching Marcum and Mark Buehrle (I can’t wait until he retires so I can quit trying to spell his name) have an extended duel at the then-Skydome during which neither hit 90 on the radar gun. Prior to the season, someone expressed a concern that given Marcum’s reliance on his excellent changeup (and his reverse platoon split in 2010), he might not be quite as good as expected in the NL Central, where many of the best opposing hitters would be righties. That hasn’t been the case. Marcum might be a guy who has gone from being underrated to being overrated. Ihae even heard some people say he has “ace-type” numbers. Uh, no. He is a good number two pitcher, and he has been helped out by switching to the National League. That is not to say Marcum is not good — he is, and when your third starter would make a good number two, it is a sign of a strong rotation. Marcum manages his fly ball tendency well, and has better-than-average walk and strikeout rates. Any team in baseball would be happy to have Marcum in their rotation, and the Brewers surely are.

Randy Wolf, 2011: 1.3 WAR, 3.61 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 4.43 xFIP,
Oliver projected ERA: 4.14

When I first learned that Randy Wolf (a pretty funny name, if you are 13 years old and British) was getting the playoff starting nod over Chris Narveson (do people really call him the “Narv-Dog?” If so, I’m not sure if that is the worst or best nickname ever.), I was unimpressed. But after an exchange of messages with Jack Moore, I think it’s a decent move (so blame Jack if Wolf gets rocked). Wolf’s ERA has been better than his FIP for the past few seasons, so he may have that skill. He also typically pitches much deeper into games than Narveson, thus preserving the bullpen. While Wolf doesn’t strike as many hitters out as Narveson, he does have better control. From the other side of things, Narveson himself profiles better as a reliever (due to higher strikeouts and higher walks) than Wolf, thus deepening the Brewer’s bullpen. Wolf is not a machine, but he isn’t a pathetic number four starter in Tommy Hunter/Nick Blackburn mode, either. Teams have done much worse with their fourth starters in the playoffs (see previous sentence).

Two last semi-relevant notes:

1) Personally, my most anticipated potential National League playoff pitching match up is Roy Halladay-Zack Greinke. There is no way it could live up to my expectations. I have probably jinxed it as it is. I look forward to the reading the news that Greinke has left the Brewers prior to his first playoff start raise dental floss in Montana.

2) While it would be a disaster from the standpoint of Major League Baseball’s higher-ups, people without a rooting interest in the playoffs have to be hoping for Tigers versus Brewers, right? In my view, the teams have earned it.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


29 Responses to “2011 NL Playoff Rotations: Milwaukee Brewers”

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  1. LexDiamonds says:

    I really like your guys’ stuff, but the poor editing on this site is a real downer sometimes. I read this quickly and there were 3 easy spelling errors that most high school students would catch (paragraphs 2 and 4 of the Greinke section, in the Wolf part).

    Also…contractions!

    I’m sure there’s some college student out there that would pretty much crap his pants to get to edit this site. Let them, or wait for “if” to retire so you can quit trying to spell it.

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    • AK707 says:

      I really can’t get enough of commenters complaining about spelling. I mean, it destroys my ability to enjoy the articles that the writers feel that non-egregious spelling errors aren’t worth their time. And to those that would actually discuss baseball in the comments section – bully for you!

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      • cs3 says:

        Lex is right.

        Great content, but horrible editing.
        Unfortunate or not, it makes the writers appear to be lazy.
        The fact that Fangraphs doest require each article to be submitted to an editor (who actually does some editing), before being published is absurd.

        Its a shame that all the mistakes take away form the content

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      • LexDiamonds says:

        Dude, when this regularly happens it becomes an issue. I run a series of local newspapers. I edit probably 70 articles a week as part of my job, and I spend 10-15 minutes on each one, tops. If one of my proofreaders consistently found errors like the one above– stuff that I screwed up– I’d remove myself from the position.

        Obviously this is a numbers-savvy site, but it’s difficult to argue simple editorial mistakes don’t discredit Fangraphs, even if it’s just a little.

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      • CKrome says:

        As another writer/editor, I feel compelled to weigh in here: I don’t think it’s about the writers being lazy; It’s just impossible to proof/edit your own stuff. There’s no replacement for having another set of eyes look at an article, even if it’s someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and who is just looking for typos/grammar errors.

        And I do think those things make the site look unprofessional. But on the other hand, as someone else mentioned, the site is free. I’d certainly rather put up with the typos than pay for content.

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    • Can you spell, W-H-O C-A-R-E-S, pardon the caps.

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  2. wat says:

    U mad about Greinke brah?

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  3. Gleb Bakouline says:

    Halladay v Greinke
    Lee v Gallardo
    Marcum v Hamels

    Woah.

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  4. TitoSantana says:

    I agree with the main point that Greinke > Gallardo, but that won’t stop the Brewers from using Gallardo in Game 1. So you won’t get that Halladay-Greinke matcup that you want.

    The Game 1 starter is very important because he could also start a game 5. So it will be interesting to see if they choose Greinke or Gallardo. I;m guessing Gallardo.

    As for editing, well the site is free, so that is a bigger benefit in my eyes than any (minor) negatives that come from editing issues.

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    • Fiesta says:

      Gallardo was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but now has been scratched from the start for “TBA”. That’s probably a good indication that the Brewers want him pitching game 1 of the NLDS, because Greinke was already lined up for it and Gallardo was lined up for Game 3 before the pitching changes.

      If Greinke v Halladay happens, it’ll have to be in the NLCS.

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  5. Black_Rose says:

    ” While it would be a disaster from the standpoint of Major League Baseball’s higher-ups, people without a rooting interest in the playoffs have to be hoping for Tigers versus Brewers, right? In my view, they’ve earned it. ”

    I’d like the Rays or Tigers for the AL; and the D-Backs or Brewers for the NL in the WS.

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    • Neuter Your Dogma says:

      Baseball evidently needs Phillies v. Yankees. Surprised MLB hasn’t restructured the playoffs by starting this WS next week.

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  6. LeeTro says:

    I’m pretty sure Greinke will be pitching at home and Marcum on the road, however that would work with those two in the 2nd and 3rd slots.

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  7. sprezzident says:

    the editorialization about royals fans’ rejection of greinke’s 2010 campaign has some justification, but so does the notion that greinke gave less than 100% during 2010. the fact that you harp on this during what should be a completely unrelated article warrants this comment in my opinion (and that’s pretty much the only opinion that matters to me!)

    full disclosure–big royals fan; bigger greinke fan.

    assume that zack greinke is a rational actor and **at some point during 2010** expects that the royals are going to trade him at the end of the 2010 season–whether because he demands the trade or because the royals inform him that they will have to move him if he does not agree to a contract extension. also assume that his stated preference to play for a contending team is indeed the primary factor generating his preferences.

    within these assumptions greinke has no reason to care about the team’s relative success because everyone knew they would not compete in 2010. we would expect him, thus, to treat his 2010 season as a season in which he takes risks which are more likely to backfire on the team’s success but to limit risks which are more likely to backfire on his personal health.

    in other words, we expect him to feel free to experiment often with a changeup, because worst case scenario he doesn’t throw it well and learns to stay away from it when he’s on a contender, or at least use it sparingly. we also expect him to reduce his slider usage, a pitch that is notorious for being harsh on the arm–even though his slider is one of his two truly incredible pitch offerings.

    in 2010, what do we see? his slider usage drops further than it has been since 2005 and his changeup usage is the primary beneficiary.

    in 2011, what do we see? his slider usage settles much closer to his 2009 usage and his changeup rate dips below his career average.

    don’t act like the “informed” opinion automatically excludes the notion that greinke gave the royals something less than his all in 2010. listen, i believe he took the mound every night for the royals in 2010 and did his best within his game plan to give them a chance to win. but i also don’t believe he set the parameters of his game plan in a way that maximized his ability to give them a chance to win.

    and that makes saint zack a pretty damn rational saint.

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    • cs3 says:

      pretty interesting theory, and i think there may be some merit to this

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    • JSprech says:

      A well thought out out argument. And completely lacking in capitalization! LexDiamonds would hate this.

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    • It’s more than a theory, Greinke said as much, but for different, less Machiavellian reasons, he wanted more ground balls and thought he got them with the change enumerated. Anyway, blame Fangraph, he said he got the idea looking at his and other pitchers performance outcomes on an ‘unnamed’ internet baseball sats site. I wish I could find that interview again, but it seems to have evaporated from Googleland.

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      • grandbranyan says:

        Maybe this one? Came up when I searched Greinke FIP.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/sports/baseball/18pitcher.html

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      • sprezzident says:

        as a longtime royals fan // greinke obsessivist, i can assure you he got the idea directly from brian bannister.

        regardless, your anecdote/theory is perfectly compatible with the one i presented: he didn’t have to play around with the changeup to sabotage the royals, he could have experimented over a season to see whether more changeups and more ground balls work for him. such an experiment is easier to undertake for a team whose longterm and shortterm success you aren’t invested in. worst case scenario, you lose games. best case scenario, you learn to be incredibly effective with the change, you don’t hurt yourself throwing the slider, but you have the slider in your back pocket for the next season where your winning record is material.

        now, allow me to slide back into greinke fanboy mode: notice his declined use of the changeup in 2011 has also resulted in improved value from the changeup. this is pretty damn close to the best case scenario. GREINKE IS A GENIUS!

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  8. phoenix2042 says:

    i’m thinking it will be phillies vs rangers if the texas bats stay ridiculously hot.

    then it will really be a battle of great pitching meets great hitting!

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  9. I have a hunch (aka, back of neck nervous guess) it’s going to be the Tigers and the Brewers. Saves KW in NY and lets Boston go nah nah nah nah.

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  10. Matty Brown says:

    “Narv-Dog” has to be a reference to Andy Bernard’s nickname on The Office. (the “Nard-Dog”)

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  11. jts5 says:

    Narv-Dog = best nickname of all time

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  12. IvanGrushenko says:

    Kudos for the Zappa reference

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  13. Telo2 says:

    I hate WAR. I hope he loses fantasy baseball today…..Grienke will pitch him out of first place.

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  14. adr3 says:

    As incredible as Grienke is, he still scares the crap out of me. Purely anecdotal, but it seems that if one little thing goes wrong, he is prone to blow up. He’s very similar to Jaime Garcia in that regard, only Grienke has a bunch more talent to cover it up.

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  15. The Nicker says:

    Not to defend the Greinke trade, but, considering Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer were both above-average outfielders this year, there’s no shame in getting stuck behind them or near-MVP candidate Alex Gordon.

    Lorenzo Cain, in his age 25 season, put up an .386 wOPA (119 wRC+) in AAA and was fine in limited innings in the majors this year. Nothing wrong with him.

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