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Article:Brewers Report Cards: Pitching Edition

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I didn't want to do this to be honest, but after listening to the radio this morning, and hearing every one say that Ryan Braun deserves an A for his contribution to the team and Prince Fielder deserves a C+, I've gotten a little riled up. But I don't want my emotions to get a hold of me, so after a bit of thought, I want to go over each individual player, show you what they did last year up to this point, what they've done this year, and then explain what they've improved or wavered on. But I have a to offer you all a bit of a disclaimer. I'm a notoriously tough grader. My standard and expectations are those of a top playoff caliber team, and if I think anyone is pulling the team away from that goal, I'm going to go for the throat. On with the show.

We'll start with the rotation:

Ben Sheets:
Last Year: 87 IP, 7-3 record, 3.31 ERA, 61 K's, 19 BB's
This Year: 123 IP, 10-3 Record, 2.85 ERA, 108 K's, 28 BB's

It's amazing what a contract year and a new catcher can do for you. Sheets has been phenomenal this year, tossing gem after gem. And interestingly, he's given a lot of that credit to Jason Kendall, who perhaps is the reason that Sheets' K-rate is back up to 0.87 K's per inning. This could be a selling point at the end of the year should the Brewers make a big pitch for the rightie. Last year, Sheets didn't see himself on the DL to start the season either, though he did skip a couple of starts, which would account for the fewer innings pitched in the first half last season. But a lot of those starts only went six innings, while this year he is going through the seventh on a much more consistent basis.

A lot of the success he's having reall appears to be a result of comfort and health. If you remember, in years past, Sheets would often do that back bend before each pitch, even after he had surgery to repair the problem. Then there was the torn muscle in his upper back that altered his mechanics for much of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. But now, nothing seems to be holding Sheets back, and a healthy summer not dedicated to rehab, but strength seems to have paid off considerably, allowing him to exceed some expectations. Look for Sheets' ERA to climb just a bit, but the success will be there, as it always is when he pitches.

Grade: A

Jeff Suppan:
Last Year: 117 IP, 8-8 record, 5.00 ERA, 61 K's, 41 BB's
This Year: 101.1 IP, 5-6 record, 4.71 ERA, 55 K's, 44 BB's

Soup has had a rough year and is notoriously known for coming on strong in the second half. That really didn't appear to be the case this season and Soup carried a 3.93 ERA heading into June this year, but an injured elbow perhaps causes his downslide. Or perhaps it's just his walks. Nevertheless, Jeff has done what the Brewers have needed and expected him to do: stabilize the rotation with a .500 record and a carry a 4.50 ERA. Last year, Soup was doing exactly that and was probably the only successful pitcher the Brewers had in August and September, where he lowered his ERA in nearly every outing.

I'm not really sure what this savvy vet will end up doing the rest of the season. I'm sure he'll get his innings in, but he's never had an elbow injury before. Even though it isn't a pitching related injury, it could do a lot to screw up Jeff's mechanics. Time will only tell on this one. Nevertheless, the Brewers will need Jeff to be a solid contributer in the second half.

Grade: B-

Manny Parra:
Last Year: (Minors) 106.2 IP, 10-4 record, 2.45 ERA, 106 K's, 33 BB's
This Year: 100 IP, 8-2 record, 3.78 ERA, 78 K's, 50 BB's

Last year's numbers are pretty close to the All-Star break. I don't have a game log, so I can't be totally accurate here, but his late July call-up tells me those numbers are pretty close to what he did in 13 starts for Huntsville and just four for Nashville. As for this year, Manny has been inconsistent for much of the year, at least as far as command goes. The success hasn't been all that inconsistent though, especially recently. Since really struggling in Washington at the end of May, Manny has turned the corner significantly as far as limiting the long balls and working around his walks. At this point in the season, he is the sole reason why the Brewers haven't been terribly hurt by the loss of Yovani Gallardo. The walk numbers are extremely scary though, and you have to ask yourself how much longer he can get away with walking 4-6 batters every outing.

But Manny has shown considerable composure and is being molded into a solid number two or three starter. It's really fun to watch. Toss in a pretty good bat to boot and Manny might be another one of those guys you try to lock up long term for cheap. But there's still a few concerns, but not as far as his talent goes. Manny only pitched 132 innings last year and is on pace for well over 200 to finish this year. Yes, Manny missed a considerable amount of time by breaking his finger last year and probably would have hit the 180 inning plateau, but there's always fear regarding shoulder health and pitchers. I hope he can handle the strain, or at the very least Ned Yost can skip a few of his starts down the road if the team gets any sort of healthy lead. If the Brewers make the playoffs, it's hard not to start Manny, but you have be a little concerned about the youngster's future.

Grade: B+

Dave Bush:
Last Year: 107.1 IP, 7-7 record, 4.86 ERA, 80 K's, 24 BB's
This Year: 106.2 IP, 5-8 record, 4.39 ERA, 66 K's, 26 BB's

Bush is a tale of two halves this season, or perhaps of just home and away. Bush was particularly difficult to watch to start, giving up 15 HRs in his first 11 starts, but has flourished since. He has yet to give up a home run in his last six starts and has avoided walks like the plague, saving his season and my grumblings for another post. As you can see by looking at the numbers, Dave was essentially the same pitcher this year, but found himself getting lit up a lot more to start this season because of a dramatically lowered K/Rate. Interestingly, that K-rate is astonishingly lower if you take out the 20 strikeouts he's had in his last 16 innings of work. It goes from 0.51 to 0.62. But the splits are pretty scary for Dave, who carries a 2.49 ERA at home and a 6.95 ERA on the road, largely due to the change in his pitch movement, which Brew Crew Ball showed a week ago or so.

What will Bush do in the second half? I haven't a freaking clue. Yost continues to talk about a platoon for him and McClung, but it doesn't make much sense to do considering the numbers Dave has put up in his last six starts. That sickens me to say, but it's true. McClung has earned his right to pitch as well though, so I'm not too sure how this going to work out. He won't be happy about not being in the rotation, but it might be in the Brewers interest no to platoon them, but simply have them pitch on the five days no matter what happens and flip flop who starts the game based on where they are pitching. Bush may be better suited for a few innings of relief on the road and another gem at home.

Grade: B-

Seth McClung:
Last Year: (AAA) 77.2 IP, 3-5 record, 1.85 ERA, 93 K's, 48 BB's
This Year: 75.2 IP, 5-5 record, 4.16 ERA, 64 K's, 36 BB's

Seth has been the biggest surprise for the Brewers this year. Since altering his mechanics slightly, McClung has gone from a 97-100 MPH pitcher to a 92-95 MPH pitcher with significantly better command. He started off in the bullpen and looked particularly good in his long relief role. This success allowed him to take over the starting role for the then struggling Carlos Villanueva. The results have been mixed, but mostly good. In nine starts, Seth has a 4-3 record with a 4.41 ERA, mostly due to his rough outing against Atlanta. But the problem for Seth has been control. When he doesn't give up charity baserunners, he's lights out, giving up only 48 hits in his 49 innings of work.

But Seth looks like he's going to be the odd man out when Suppan returns from the DL. I imagine Melvin and Attanassio may put the kabash on the platoon idea, but you never know. I would have no problem saying that every fifth game is a tag team between Seth and Bush. Nevertheless, look for Seth to continue his inconsistencies until next season. The off season and Spring Training will give him time to really get used to his new mechanics and work out his command issues.

Grade: B+

Overall Rotation Grade: B

The bullpen has been pretty interesting all year. It's had its huge, huge highs and its lowest lows, but all in all, they've been reliable when the game has been on the line. We always remember the lows though, never the highs. Let's look at the numbers.

Carlos Villanueva:
Last Year: 60.1 IP, 6-0 record, 2.83 ERA, 55 K's, 24 BB's
This Year: 76 IP, 3-5 record, 4.97 ERA, 60 K's, 21 BB's

Carlos, my favorite Brewer, struggled pretty badly this season in the starting rotation, going 2-5 with a 6.43 ERA in his 49 innings of work. But since then, he's been a picture of consistency, going 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his last 16 appearances and 27 innings. Not bad for a second year player. The big difference has been the strike outs and, similarly to Bush, avoiding the long ball. Carlos has given up only three homeruns in relief and 12 when he was starting. He's struck out 29 in relief and 31 as starter. Pretty drastic splits if you ask me, considering he started almost double the innings. A lot of it has to do with Carlos keeping the ball down, which he wasn't doing at all to start the season. Whether or not that had to do with large pitch counts or his mental state, he's obviously changed something and it's worked.

The Brewers really have to figure something out for this guy. Last year he was effective for all but a month and a half of the year. That's damn good. Unfortunately for him, that time may have been the time he was in the rotation, which killed his numbers. This year, though he's been sort of relegated to the long relief role regardless of the situation. That means if we're down five in the fifth, Carlos comes in and saves the bullpen. That's not where he belongs, but the Brewers have no choice because they wanted to keep Mitch Stetter around. As a result, Carlos is the only pitcher who can go more than two innings at a time. That needs to change and fast because Carlos is more than capable of being a 7th and 8th inning set up man every other day. That may actually more beneficial to this bullpen than eating innings on a rough night. Until then, his talents are being wasted a bit.

Grade: C+

Brian Shouse:
Last Year: 21.1 IP, 1-1 record, 2.95 ERA, 9 K's, 8 BB's
This Year: 33.0 IP, 3-1 record, 1.91 ERA, 21 K's, 8 BB's

At this time last year, Shouse was pretty much relegated to left handed hitters, as shown by the fact that he only pitched 21 innings in 35 appearances. But as the year grew on, Yost realized his slightly altered approach was effective against both sides of the plate. This year, Shouse has seen considerably more time, like 40 more appearances and 26 more innings in less time. So that worries me a bit, but Shouse has been a savior for the Brewers the last two years. Though people need to stop talking about his inherited runners streaks. Every time he gets one, somebody opens their mouth and it gets busted wide open. But for good measure, since I already ruined J.J. Hardy's streak by mentioning him last year, only 16 of his 42 inherited runners have cored. That's not bad.

It's hard to say what Shouse will do this year because his workload has been pretty heavy. But the thing is that Yost isn't using him on back to back days nearly as he did last season, so it could pay off in the long run. As the most under-rated member of this staff, Shouse is the glue that keeps this bullpen together and he is just as important to the Brewers run than anyone else.

Grade: A+

David Riske:
Last Year: 40.2 IP, 1-2 record, 2.21 ERA, 32 K's, 16 BB's
This Year: 29 IP, 1-1 record, 4.66 ERA, 18 K's 14 BB's

Riske was a solid Brewers free agent pick up in the offseason that has yet to pan out. I still believe Riske has a lot of talent and will get to see some of it in the second half, but he disappointed in the first half. As you can see by the numbers, David's biggest problem to start the season has been command, a common trend among Brewers pitchers. As a result, he's found himself not getting out of jams that he normally would have last year for KC. To top it off, he found himself on the disabled list for more than a month with an elbow problem. Since then, he's been quite successful giving up only two runs in his last eight innings.

If Mota continues to struggle, David is going to be the go to guy down the stretch in the seventh alongside Carlos Villanueva, leaving the eighth for Eric Gagne and Brian Shouse. As long as he continues to get sustained work, the Brewers will get a lot better numbers from him down the stretch. How good is up to David's work ethic on improving his walk rate, which is pitiful.

Grade: C-

Guillermo Mota:
Last Year: 21.2 IP, 0-0 record, 6.65 ERA, 19 K's 6 BB's
This Year: 34.1 IP, 2-5 Record, 5.77 ERA, 31 K's, 17 BB's

Mota's recent struggles have been command related, but not really on the walk side of things, but rather hangers. As a result, he's carrying a 10.80 ERA over his last 11 1/3 innings, which is awful. As a result, nobody seems to remember the first two months of the season, when he carried a 3.18 ERA and was carrying more than his share of the load with Turnbow gone. Nevertheless, the lack of movement on his pitches recently is a huge cause for concern, which Ned thinks he can fix. Unfortunately, Mota's psyche appears to be more than just fragile and it's going to take quite a few successful mop up innings for him and every one else to gain some confidence in him.

I doubt Mota will ever get back to his three ERA over the last few months of baseball, nor will he even pitch near it, but he'll have to be at least respectable and keep that ERA around five or so and take all of those nasty innings eater outings. If it's a blowout, he can keep it that way.

Grade: D

Eric Gagne:
Last Year: 27.1 IP, 2-0 record, 12 SV, 1.32 ERA, 23 K's, 11 BB's
This Year: 23.1 IP, 2-2 record, 10 SV, 7.33 ERA, 21 K's, 16 BB's

It's amazing what a year can do. Thus far the Brewers have all but wasted their $10 million investment on a washed up closer, who perhaps won't play for any one next year. Gagne has shown flashes of good stuff, but the command (I'm sick of writing that) has absolutely destroyed him. He has yet to learn how to pitch without trying to over power hitters, and it appears that's what he constantly relied in when he was a beast back in the day. As a result, even Jason Kendall behind the plate can't help him, considering he only has three pitches.

Eric has looked good recently though, Saturday's game excluded. He had the ball down, the changeup was biting and he was working ahead in the count constantly. Saturday's performance shows what happens when he doesn't get ahead. Look for Eric to be a little more reliable down the stretch. No one expects him to be utterly dominant, but he's our eighth inning guy with Villanueva pushed to more of a long relief role. A four ERA the rest of the way wouldn't help his numbers much, but it would be a breath of fresh, and would be worth at least a fifth of the money we gave him.

Grade: F

Salomon Torres:
Last Year: 28 IP, 0-3 record, 12 SV, 5.14 ERA, 25 K's 10 BB's
This Year: 49.1 IP, 4-2 record, 15 SV, 2.74 ERA, 33 K's, 20 BB's

Torres has garnered tons of fan support since arriving this spring. Milwaukee fans were initially very skeptical about the veteran ball player after his retirement threat, but Torres has been as professional as you can be. Much of this success he attributes to the Brewers strength and conditioning coaches, who have him on an altered throwing plan. For those who don't know, they basically just didn't throw him in Spring Training. Torres must have been thrilled and has rewarded the Brewers by taking over the closer role from Eric Gagne. Torres has struggled at times this year, but things should have been a lot better since the defense has been his biggest pain. Nevertheless, when he has struggled, he's fought back and prevented the worst from happening.

Salomon's numbers are significantly different because of his mental health though. He has a lot of camaraderie with Jason Kendally and enjoys the organization a lot more than Pittsburgh, who burned him in the end. I think this has made him considerably more consistent this season, and will continue to push him forward this season. He's over achieved quite a bit this year, but I doubt that will change and he will have continued success for the remainder of the season, hopefully garnering him his first playoff appearance.

Grade: A

No comments on Stetter, DiFelice, Dillard or Jackson, but the replacements have been solid and deserve an A for their solid appearances. Stetter and DiFelice get huge nods for the success. Dillard will be here in the near future.

Position players tomorrow. This is a lot more work than I thought it would be.


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