Jimmy Nelson is currently 27 years old. Thus far in his career he’s pitched to a 5.08 DRA in 2014, 4.94 DRA in 2015, and 4.95 DRA thus far this season. While some have noted that Nelson has struggled this year, this is probably the pitcher he is, and will be going forward. A slightly below average pitcher who will give teams a good amount of innings, but will never be a top or even middle of the rotation starter. Nelson is probably a backend starter who gets a lot of groundballs but simply doesn’t strikeout enough hitters and is too prone to the home run ball to become anything better than a slightly below average pitcher. Nelson’s line obviously isn’t set in stone. He can still make adjustments, but he will have to if he wants to be anything more than he’s been.
Zach Davies and Chase Anderson are two other pitchers who can be thrown into that mold, although, Davies has pitched at a better rate than Anderson and Nelson, and deserves to be described as an average pitcher with his 103 DRA- this season.
These might seem like underwhelming pitchers, but I assure you, they are not. Whether rebuilding or contending, teams can use mediocrity. If a team truly plans on competing they’re going to need a few stellar pitchers, top of the rotation guys who more often than not are going to dominate a lineup. Or, you can be the Boston Red Sox and hit your way into the playoffs. Either way, even if a team has that top starter they still need a few back end pitchers.
The initial assumption is that these pitchers aren’t all that hard to find, but think about how hard Boston has fought to find one of these guys. They’ve trotted out Roenis Elias (5.80 DRA), Henry Owens (5.83 DRA), Eduardo Rodriguez (5.58 DRA), Joe Kelly (5.12 DRA), Sean O’Sullivan (5.54 DRA), and Clay Buchholz (6.29 DRA).
The Red Sox have tried to make up the final two spots in their starting rotation with all of these pitchers. Needless to say that it hasn’t worked, but they can’t be blamed for trotting some of these guys out there. Eduardo Rodriguez was one of their few bright spots last season, and before he got injured he looked like a potential future star. He still might be. Henry Owens was a highly touted prospect, and while he had some command issues, many thought he’d be able to hold his own. The much maligned Buchholz used to actually be a competent pitcher, so you can forgive the Red Sox for giving him an opening day job. I’m not sure you can forgive them for giving him so many chances. They allowed Buchholz to start 13 games and pitch 80.7 innings even though he’s been there worst starter. Yes, even worst than Sean O’Sullivan.
Even in this day and age of high strikeout rates and dominant pitching, finding a mediocre pitcher can still be a struggle. The Red Sox know all about it, and there not the only ones. The Orioles, who currently lead the American League East, have allowed Ubaldo Jimenez to start 17 games, and he’s got a DRA of 6.55 which is 7th worst in all of baseball (Wily Peralta is still last with 7.82 min. 50 innings pitched). The Tigers, who try to contend every year, have allowed Mike Pelfrey to start in 17 games, and he’s pitched to a 7.49 DRA (which is the third worst in baseball). Even the former World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals, have struggled to find good back end pitching. Last year, Chris Young was a revelation for them as he pitched to a 2.98 DRA. This season Young has been an unmitigated disaster, as he’s pitched to a 6.82 DRA in 13 games started, which is the sixth worst DRA in all of baseball.
The incredible part, again, is that these are all contending teams. The Red Sox are currently second in the AL East and are only two games back of the Orioles. While the Royals and the Tigers are still fighting for one of those wild card spots.
Any of these teams could use the production of Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, or Jimmy Nelson. You obviously don’t want to have an entire team filled with back of the rotation pitchers, but I think we sometimes forget how valuable these pitchers can be. Sure, every now and again there going to have one of those starts where you ask yourself why there even on the team. Nelson had a start on June 15th where he gave up 8 runs in 3.7 innings. Needless to say that the game was out of reach. But, more often than not these pitchers are going to keep you in the game, and every now and then they’re going to throw a gem. As I’ve mentioned before, Zach Davies has the highest game score of any Brewer this season and Nelson had a start where he went 7.3 innings and didn’t give up any runs.
The problem with those other pitchers noted above is that they don’t give the team a chance to win. It’s a common cliché, but I think it applies in this case. Just remember the feeling you had every time Wily Peralta went out there and pitched. The game was often over after the first few innings.
The next step is figuring out what you do with these starters. The Brewers obviously have a handful of them, and deciding whether to keep them will be important. But, if the Brewers do decide to move one of these pitchers, this evidence should show that there will be some sort of market. A team probably won’t end up giving up a major piece, but acquiring one of these mediocre pitchers could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.