The Milwaukee Brewers no longer have Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum pitching two out of every five games, but don’t sleep on the Brewers’ potential rotation for the 2013 season. It should still provide fantasy value for owners on draft day.
The starting rotation for Milwaukee last year compiled a combined 8.37 K/9 strikeout rate, which ranked best in all of baseball. Not all of that can be attributed to Greinke and Marcum, either. Four starters struck out more than a batter per inning — Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Yovani Gallardo — and all four could secure roles in the Opening Day starting rotation for the Brewers.
Over the winter, general manager Doug Melvin refused to guarantee more than two years to any free agent starting pitcher. That frugalness will leave the Brewers with a projected rotation heavily reliant on young, unproven talent. Just which starting pitchers will comprise the rotation, however, remains unclear heading into spring training.
Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada appear to be locks for the rotation, barring injury, due to their respective track records and their performances last season.
In terms of fantasy value, Gallardo is what he is at this point in his career. He’s a mid-3.00s ERA guy with ample strikeouts and a league-average WHIP. His walk rate spiked because he struggled with his command — only 39.3% of his pitches were in the zone — but he continued to find success due to opposing hitters not seeing the baseball well against him. Hitters only swung 39.3% of the time and compiled a .237 batting average against Gallardo. No qualified starter had a lower swing percentage last year. Expect more of the same from the right-hander in 2013.
Marco Estrada is often overlooked in the Brewers’ rotation, but the 29-year-old put together a three-win season in only 138.1 innings. He’s certainly a sleeper heading into the 2013 season. I outlined his sleeper status earlier in the offseason in this article.
For the remaining spots in the rotation, the Brewers are hosting an open competition this spring among a handful of options. Fighting for the final three positions will be Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, Chris Narveson, Tyler Thornburg, and Hiram Burgos.
Comments throughout the offseason lead one to believe Mike Fiers has a home in the rotation if he doesn’t implode this spring. His 3.09 FIP was second to only Zack Greinke amongst Brewers starters who threw at least 50 innings last year, but the right-hander really struggled down the stretch. His 4.89 ERA (3.27 FIP) in August and 7.09 ERA (5.01 FIP) in September and October have put his 2013 status in flux. If Fiers does break camp in the Brewers’ rotation, fantasy owners should take note. His 9.52 K/9 strikeout rate and 1.26 WHIP would play in every fantasy format. The real question, however, is whether his modest stuff can continue to translate into high strikeout numbers, and how each fantasy owner values him should directly depend on his or her opinion on that fact.
Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos are realistically on the outside looking in this spring. Thornburg remains one of the top prospects in the organization, but he struggled with the home-run ball in his brief stint in the big leagues last year and his ultimate role (starter or reliever) remains unclear. Burgos dominated minor league hitters from High-A to Triple-A, despite questions whether his middling repertoire will allow him to stick at the major-league level. The pair project to be waiting in Triple-A Nashville should they be needed in the majors.
That leaves Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, and Chris Narveson for the final two spots. Legitimate arguments can be made for all three pitchers. Rogers compiled a 3.92 ERA and struck out 9.46 batters per nine innings in his brief cup of coffee with the Brewers last year and has no minor-league options remaining. Peralta is the organization’s top prospect and posted a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP in his 28 innings with the big league squad in 2012. Finally, Narveson has ample experience in the majors, which could be highly valued by the organization with a potentially young rotation.
Of the six prime candidates for the Brewers’ rotation, only Chris Narveson is undraftable. The southpaw has never had a FIP better than the league average since his 88 FIP- in only 9.1 innings with the Cardinals in 2006. The remainder of the Brewers’ potential starters have some volatility in their expected performance, but every single one of them possesses the ability to rack up strikeouts and post at least league-average ERAs. They showed it last season. It’s now just a matter of transitioning that ability into 2013.
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