Milwaukee Brewers: Breaking Down the Starting Rotation and Bullpen

Pitching depth is always a positive, but it is creating a number of tough decision for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017.

With extremely rare exception, teams should always expect a number of injuries to their pitching staff. That is why manager Craig Counsell and GM David Stearns may handle the Milwaukee Brewers hurlers differently.

There are a handful of pitchers who already have spots on the 25-man roster. Junior Guerra has been announced as the Opening Day starter and Zach Davies is clearly ahead of the other potential arms in the rotation.

In the bullpen, free agent reliever Neftali Feliz has a job locked down – likely as the regular closer. It’d be better if Counsell took a different approach to relievers, but that’s another story. Carlos Torres and Jhan Marinez will also be with the big league club (deservedly so). Also, Corey Knebel looks to have a role secured in relief. It’s not a guarantee, but he should be pretty safe.

Peralta had a strong second half in 2016 (2.92 ERA) and still has good stuff. If he can figure out how to get lefties out, he can still be a solid third or fourth starter.

That’s the point where it starts to get dicey in terms of figuring out the rotation and bullpen. Who stays, who goes – and where – depends first on how many pitchers the Brewers keep. The organization is contemplating keeping eight relief pitchers instead of the usual seven. One reason may be that the team plays its first 23 games with only one off-day mixed in.

If they choose to keep the extra pitcher, it means either Jesus Aguilar or Scooter Gennett won’t be on the Opening Day roster. That doesn’t seem likely as Aguilar has been terrific in spring (and serves as insurance for Eric Thames). Meanwhile, to his credit, Gennett has proven (in a small sample) that he can handle a utility bench role.

So let’s stick with the plan to keep 12 total pitchers on the Milwaukee Brewers staff. That leaves five arms in the starting rotation and seven relievers in the bullpen.

For the other three spots in the rotation, it should go to Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta and Matt Garza. That would mean the Brewers need to make decisions on Chase Anderson and Tommy Milone. This isn’t a misprint, and here’s why.

Nelson struggled last season due to a lack of control and the reduced use of his curve ball and slider. He has shown better command this spring and has been incorporating his breaking pitches more often.

Peralta had a strong second half in 2016 (2.92 ERA) and still has good stuff. If he can figure out how to get lefties out, he can still be a solid third or fourth starter. In one start during the World Baseball Classic, Peralta tossed four innings, struck out six, walked one and gave up only one run.

As for Garza, he would be a mental disaster if you tried to put him in the bullpen, likely making him

Milwaukee Brewers Jimmy Nelson

Milwaukee Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson had a 2.88 ERA in his first 11 starts in 2016. Photo Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

a distraction for the rest of the pitching staff. So, unless they decide to release him and eat his $12.5 million salary for this season. It’s possible, but I think they want to see what he can do in a few starts to open 2017 before making that call.

Anderson and Milone are just sort of “guys” who don’t stand out much. Milone has had some very limited experience in relief, striking out 20 batters with just 5 walks and a .173 opponent batting average in 15 frames.

Anderson has the mental makeup to handle a shift to the bullpen and it keeps him available for spot starts or to pick up chunks of innings if another starter struggles.

The other bullpen candidates would be fighting for only one job to open the season. A few guys have thrown the ball very well in Arizona for the Milwaukee Brewers, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll make it. I think these four pitchers will begin 2017 in the minor leagues.

Jacob Barnes – He has absolutely electric stuff (sitting at 94-95 MPH), but he has had a difficult time this spring (12.71 ERA, .424 opponents average) and needs to make adjustments

Tyler Cravy – He’s had some success in the majors and has been effective in 10.1 spring innings (0.58 WHIP, 2.61 ERA). He has a chance, but also has a minor league option, unlike some others.

Taylor Jungmann – The former starter is looking to remake his career as a reliever. He has been strong in March (1.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), but he has options and could use seasoning in the minors.

Brent Suter – As a lefty, the Brewers could see value in keeping him to open the year. He’s been effective everywhere he pitches, though he probably is a better fit in triple-A right now.

That leaves a non-roster invitee as the final man to fill out Milwaukee’s Opening Day relief corp.

Rob Scahill, who had a 177 ERA+ in 18.1 innings with the Brewers last season, has the experience and track record to hold down this spot.

In 47 frames with the Pittsburgh Pirates the past two years, he posted a 124 ERA+ and a 7.1 strikeout-per-9 inning rate. Plus, his spring has been terrific. Scahill had not allowed a run in 10 innings with 7 strikeouts, a .200 opponent average and earning a WHIP of 0.80 (he finally allowed one – 0.87 ERA now). He deserves a job in relief, though it’s still anyone’s guess what the club will actually do.

So to recap the projected pitching staff on Opening Day – at least from this perspective:

Starters – Guerra, Davies, Nelson, Peralta, Garza

Relievers – Feliz, Torres, Marinez, Knebel, Scahill, Milone, Anderson

There are a few other scenarios that could play out. One would be if the Brewers felt comfortable asking Anderson to start the year in triple-A. He has an option left and perhaps he’d choose to be

a starter in the minors instead of toiling in the MLB bullpen. He can’t refuse the assignment.

Or Milwaukee could decide Milone isn’t in their plans right now after he gave up 7 runs in 3.1 innings last outing. His ERA now sits at 7.50 this spring. They could also ask if he’d take a minor league assignment.

The other consideration is if the Brewers decide to cut their losses with Garza and release him. That would let them slide Anderson into the rotation in Milwaukee.

Then you could congratulate Cravy or Jungmann for making the big league roster. They wouldn’t complain.

By the time you read this, other things may have been decided. Maybe an injury crept up on someone or Stearns made a deal. Regardless, this is what the Milwaukee Brewers should do to begin the 2017 campaign. Of course, the bullpen will likely be a rendition of musical chairs throughout the coming season anyway.