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Bush Named Milwaukee’s 4th Starter

On Saturday, Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha announced that David Bush will slot into the fourth spot in the rotation behind Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. The 30 year-old Bush is coming off of a grisly 2009 campaign in which he had a Boeing-level ERA and missed time in June and July with a right triceps tear after Hanley Ramirez scorched him with a comebacker. Is there any fantasy value to be had here?

In 114.1 innings pitched, the Wake Forest product had a 6.38 ERA. As you might expect, he wasn’t that bad: Bush’s expected FIP (xFIP), based on K’s, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate, was a not-terrible-but still-mediocre 4.79. He managed to punch out 7.01 batters per nine frames, while issuing 2.91 BB/9. Those are quality numbers. But, as has often been the case in his career, Bush was battered by the long ball: he surrendered 1.5 HR/9.

Bush wasn’t particularly unlucky in terms of his fly balls becoming fan mementos. His HR/FB rate was 12 percent, close to his 11.7 percent career average and within the typical 10-12% rate for pitchers. It’s just that hitters are lofting the ball far more often against Bush:

Since his halcyon 2006 season (3.8 Wins Above Replacement), Bush has seen his groundball rate dip every year. He had a 46.6 GB% in ’06, 43.4% in 2007, 41.1% in 2008 and just a 34.4% rate of grounders this past season. Consequently, his HR/9 figures have climbed from 1.11 in 2006, 1.3 in 2007, 1.41 in 2008 and the aforementioned 1.5 mark in 2009. Bush’s xFIP last year was over a full run higher than his work in ’06.

With a kitchen sink approach to pitching, Bush tosses at least five different pitches (his Pitch F/X data identifies an occasional two-seamer as well). His fastball has never been known for its zip, but it averaged a career-low 87.9 MPH last year and was bushwhacked for a -1.36 runs/100 pitches value. That was the 11th-worst mark among starters with at least 110 innings pitched.

Perhaps feeling that his fastball had abandoned him, Bush threw the pitch a career-low 49 percent of the time. Whether you consider them separate pitches or not (the Baseball Info Solutions pitch data does), his slider (+0.20 runs/100) and cutter (+1.06) were effective. However, Bush’s slow curve (-0.15) and changeup (-4.46) rated poorly.

With fewer fastballs thrown (Bush’s fastball percentage has gradually dropped from 57 percent in ’06 to last year’s 49 percent mark), he has placed fewer pitches over the plate:

Bush’s percentage of pitches in the strike zone, 2006-2009 (MLB average that year in parentheses)

2006: 56.5% (52.6%), +7% above the MLB average
2007: 53.9% (50.3%), +7%
2008: 51.8% (51.1%), +1%
2009: 50.5% (49.3%), +2%

His first-pitch strike percentage has fallen from the 62 percentage range in ’06 and ’07 to a major league average 58 percent last year. Not coincidentally, Bush’s walk rate has gone from immaculate to merely good.

Bush’s BABIP (.324 last year) will likely fall, and he should do a better job of stranding runners on base (63.3 LOB% in 2009, compared to a 68.6% career rate). But to be a fantasy option, Bush must prove he’s healthy and regain his once-average fastball (career -0.19 runs/100), rather than continuing to chuck a pitch that looks like a beach ball to major league hitters.

It’s hard to recommend him, given his evaporating groundball rate and increasing rate of free passes handed out. CHONE calls for a 4.79 FIP, while ZiPS shows a 4.57 FIP forecast. It’s possible that Bush could have some value in NL-only leagues, but I can’t see him becoming a good mixed league pick.

Now that Bush is in the rotation, there’s a three-way ruckus for the fifth spot between Manny Parra (chronicled here), Jeff Suppan and Chris Narveson. Given that Soup’s French Onion is better than his fastball, Parra looks like the best option.