The Fates of Forty Men 2009: Part 2, Starting Pitching

No one will debate that this was the Brewers’ achilles’ heel in 2009.  The Brewers starters had the worst collective ERA in the National League.  Of their 5-man rotation on opening day, 4 finished with an ERA over 5.00.  2 had an ERA over 6.00.  To put it simply, if they return over 40% of this rotation next year, it will NOT be a good 2010.  Having “innings-eaters” on your team is one thing, but if they’re not giving you a legit chance to win, what the hell’s the point?

* – denotes a player that is a lock to make the 25-man roster for opening day in 2010

** – denotes a player that is a good bet to be on the 25-man

Yovanni Gallardo* – Yo did not start the first game of the season, but was the de facto ace throughout 2009.  After an injury-shortened 2008, Gallardo came back to start 30 games, win 13, strike out over 200 batters, and pitch 185 innings.  He had his bouts of wildness as well, though, and the coaching staff shut him down for the year with a week to go in the season after he eclipsed 3,000 pitches for the year.  He also led the staff with 94 walks.  Gallardo will absolutely be back, hopefully with an extended contract, but also hopefully with some more help at the top of the rotation.  He’s one of only a couple home-grown talents the Brewers can tout on their pitching staff, and one of the best pitchers in baseball.  A top-flight pitching coach (which the Brewers claim to be after) could be beneficial for him.

Jeff Suppan** – A year ago, I grudgingly conceded that the Brewers would have no choice but to bring him back.  Suppan’s albatross of a contract will continue to strangle them for one last season.  After cutting Bill Hall loose and eating about 7 million dollars of that terrible contract, I don’t see them being able to afford another, by cutting Suppan.  However, if I were the GM, I would ask any team if they were willing to go halfsies on Soup’s 12 mil for 2010.  Once again, his 2009 was peppered with flashes of brilliance sprinkled across a wide tapestry of awful outings: there was the Easter Sunday game on national TV against Chicago, where he walked in 2 runs in one inning.  There was the 2-game stretch in late July where he gave up 15 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings against the dregs of the NL in Pittsburgh and Washington.  There was also the July 3 game vs Chicago, when he surrendered just 1 run in 7 innings but the Brewers couldn’t muster a win.  Over the course of a season, though, a 5.29 ERA and 1.69 WHIP speak for themselves.  Suppan looked erratic and overmatched more often than not all season long (even when he was rehabbing in Nashville, he was getting shelled).  I would cry a river of joyful tears if they could find a way to unload him, but it’s not going to happen.

Braden Looper** – As unlucky and awful as Suppan looked all year, Looper somehow bumbled himself to a winning record, and likely secured a spot on the 2010 roster (provided he wants to come back; his option for next season is mutual, so the team has to want him, and he has to want the team).  The guy would be crazy not to return.  He dished up 39 homeruns and racked up a 5.22 ERA but only lost 7 times, thanks to an unbelievable amount of run support.  He also stayed healthy all year, taking the ball 34 times over the course of the season.  No Brewers’ pitcher threw 200 innings this year, but Looper was closest, at 194 2/3.  With starting pitching in SUCH high demand throughout major league baseball, the Brewers would wise to bring him back.  BUT– they have to be willing to show him the door in camp if they manage to get some decent young bodies in here that actually know how to pitch.

Dave Bush* – He started out a little slow in spring, looked fantastic as the Crew cruised to 30-20 by the end of May, and then took a nosedive after getting nailed in the elbow by a line drive in Florida the first week of June.  After that, the David Bush of late ’08 and early ’09 disappeared.  Does he just need a full off-season to completely rehab that injury?  Can he be a steady cog in the middle of a contending rotation?  Will the Brewers use his last year of salary arbitration to find out?  Count on it.

Manny Parra** – Last year this time, I had become a Parra-believer.  I thought the Manny that 7-0 through the middle of 2008 was the “real” Parra, and his troubles down the stretch were bad luck.  Today, I am much less certain.  After a mid-season demotion to AAA, he was usually better, but still had his moments where he couldn’t find the strikezone.  He would cruise through some innings, setting full lineups down in order, then fall apart the next time through.  Worse, watching him in the dugout and listening to post-game interviews, the guy sounds like a total headcase.  How many times can you be told to trust your ability, but just not be able to do it?  Once again, starting pitching is a hot commodity, and Parra is still relatively young (just turned 27).  A team with some average to slightly-better-than-average alternatives could afford to wait for Parra to come around.  The Brewers might not be that team (they sure weren’t with Jorge De La Rosa).  I expect him back, but if a trade partner wanted Manny thrown in to a deal for a more mature, seasoned, older and proven starting pitcher, I would not hesitate to fork him over.

Mike Burns – He was a minor-league fill-in during the dark days of mid-summer when our rotation not only looked awful, but had been decimated by injuries.  Again, here’s a guy that showed some flashes, but in the end showed why he couldn’t cut it in the major leagues.  Don’t expect him back.

Josh Butler – Picked up from Tampa in exchange for Gabe Gross at the beginning of the 2008 season, Butler started ’09 in Class A, moved up to AAA, then later made his major league debut after the rosters expanded in September.  Clearly, the organization thinks a lot of the kid, but I wouldn’t expect him to crack the rotation in 2010.  Maybe 2011 if he does a good job at Nashville next year.

Tim Dillard – Unless the Brewers make more than a trade or two over the winter, Dillard is likely to be one of those guys they throw in there during spring training, just to see if he can stick in a major league rotation.  He spent less time on the big league roster in 2009 than he did in ’08, and he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in 140+ innings for Nashville (4.51 ERA).  Never say never, but I would be shocked if he were there on opening day.

Chris Narveson – Threw in 21 games in 2009 and managed to pull his ERA under 4.00 with a couple nice spot starts down the stretch, after pitching from the bullpen earlier in the year.  With the rotation in dire straits during the month of September, Narveson was the hot flavor of the week to save the rotation in 2009.  Like Dillard, he is likely to get a look (and deservedly, a longer one) in spring training.  Barring trades and injuries, though, they have to come up with a better option.  Narveson could prove to be a valuable guy to have on call in Nashville when the injury bug crops up for Milwaukee in 2010.

Coming Tuesday – a look at relief pitching…

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