Low Rotation Shift

The Brewers allegedly signed free agent Yovani Gallardo over the weekend, with official announcement of the deal awaiting physical. Brewers fans either expressed joy at seeing the return of Gallardo, or expressed puzzlement at GM David Stearns’s move, with the historical cynics taking their chance to point out how Gallardo’s position among the franchise’s best starters represents the club’s futility. But, prior to the details emerging, even prior to an announced role, this is a good deal for one reason: Milwaukee is shoring up their dreadful low rotation in the hopes of maximizing their strengths of the pitching staff.

These Brewers are a pitching first club: Milwaukee’s success in 2017 almost entirely hinged on the pitching staff, which prevented 61 runs against the NL / Miller Park. This performance was good for fifth best in the NL. Despite the overall club strength, the Brewers limped along with a weak and shallow low rotation, which ultimately defined their failure to reach the playoffs as a stretch run depended on a series of ill-conceived Johnny Wholestaff days. Here’s how the pitching staff played out, highlighting the low rotation:

2017 Brewers IP Runs Prevented
Matt Garza 114.7 -13
Brandon Woodruff 43.0 -1
Paolo Espino 17.7 -4
Tommy Milone 21.0 -4
Junior Guerra 70.3 -8
Wily Peralta 57.3 -21
Low Rotation 323.3 -51
Other Starters 600.0 62
All Other Pitchers 522.3 50

Gallardo, for all of his warts as he ages into a low rotation role, immediately solidifies that group of pitchers. David Stearns need not rely on Tommy Milone, Paolo Espino, Wily Peralta types, and instead can ideally roll all of those starts into one pitcher. At best, Gallardo can serve as the club’s Matt Garza, who was pretty much just “run of the mill” low rotation bad, (hopefully) instead of requiring disastrous performances by the likes of Peralta. As a reminder, here is how the thin low rotation and Johnny Wholestaff days lost a chance at the playoffs, or potentially even the division for the Brewers:

Late Season Back-End Date IP R Note
Michael Blazek 27-Jul 2.3 8 2-15 Loss / 1.5 GB / 84 win pace
Junior Guerra 29-Jul 3.0 0 1-2 Loss
Brent Suter 2-Aug 5.3 5 4-5 Loss
Matt Garza 3-Aug 5.7 1 2-1 Win
Brandon Woodruff 4-Aug 6.3 0 2-0 Win
Brent Suter 7-Aug 4.0 3 4-5 Loss
Matt Garza 8-Aug 3.3 8 4-11 Loss
Brandon Woodruff 9-Aug 5.7 2 0-4 Loss
Brent Suter 12-Aug 5.0 5 6-5 Win
Matt Garza 13-Aug 5.3 4 7-4 Win
Matt Garza 18-Aug 4.3 8 4-8 Loss
Brandon Woodruff 19-Aug 4.3 1 6-3 Win
Matt Garza 23-Aug 5.0 1 2-4 Loss
Matt Garza 29-Aug 3.3 6 2-10 Loss / 3.5 GB / 83 win pace
Brandon Woodruff 2-Sep 7.0 1 2-3 Loss
Brent Suter 3-Sep 3.0 0 7-2 Win
Matt Garza 6-Sep 2.7 5 1-7 Loss
Brandon Woodruff 11-Sep 5.0 6 0-7 Loss / 2.5 GB / 84 win pace
Brent Suter 12-Sep 3.0 2 5-2 Win
Jeremy Jeffress 15-Sep 2.0 2 10-2 Win
Brandon Woodruff 17-Sep 7.0 3 10-3 Win
Brent Suter 18-Sep 5.0 0 3-0 Win
Aaron Wilkerson 20-Sep 2.3 3 4-6 Loss
Brandon Woodruff 22-Sep 5.0 4 4-5 Loss
Brent Suter 23-Sep 5.3 1 4-3 Win / 1.0 Game back of Wild Card / 85-86 win pace
Brandon Woodruff 27-Sep 2.3 6 0-6 Loss
Brent Suter 28-Sep 5.0 3 4-3 Win
Junior Guerra 30-Sep 2.3 3 6-7 Loss / Eliminated from Playoff Eligibility
120.3 91 12-16 / 6.81 runs average (-28 runs prevented)

It is tempting to dig into Gallardo’s peripheral performance, and perhaps find a silver lining for the starter. If this is your path to thinking about the Gallardo deal, it is worth focusing on the veteran’s strike out rate, which is slowly climbing upward. Much has already been made on Twitter about the righty’s increased fastball velocity, but according to Brooks Baseball it’s the curve that fans should focus on. Gallardo continues to have aspects of his arsenal that generate whiffs, and perhaps as the Brewers transformed Jimmy Nelson into a big curveballer, Gallardo himself can move away from fastball / slider and toward fastball / curve to generate whiffs and groundballs.

Gallardo IP Runs Prevented K% / BB% / GB%
2015 184.3 16 15.2 / 8.6 / 51.0
2016 118.0 -15 16.2 / 11.6 / 44.0
2017 130.7 -18 16.3 / 10.4 / 45.0

Note the runs prevented here, however: Gallardo is not terrible, for all the noise about his bad surface statistics. Plugging in 130 innings of -18 runs prevented ball can actually help the Brewers if it means wiping out 130 innings of Guerra / Peralta (-29 runs prevented) type baseball. In fact, if this exact scenario plays out, David Stearns just bought the Brewers a win, a win at the fringes of the roster no less.

There is a downside to the deal, and it would be disingenuous of me not to mention it, as I have consistently argued in favor of using the waiver pick-up, or low-risk pick up to gamble on building out the back-end rotation. This is certainly a necessary type of move for Milwaukee, but it’s worth investigating the high risk of those replacement type deals. Here, Stearns is gambling that he will not need to make several replacement transactions (think Milone / Espino / Wilkerson / Woodruff), and instead can lend the rotation some regularity every fifth day. Indeed, this could even help to rest up the bullpen and keep those elite innings churning on a typical schedule, too. Along with hunting for that one win at the back of the rotation, Stearns is also trying to buy transaction certainty, which can also be an important aspect of the club. At the worst, he’s probably replaced Matt Garza, and likely for a much lower price, while pushing any waiver type deals to much lower leverage within the rotation.

It would be audacious to call this a playoffs move after all that, and it’s certainly not the type of top rotation grab that Brewers fans wanted to headline the winter meetings. But, this move is a winning move. Now it’s time to bolster the other end of the rotation, in order to further strengthen the bullpen (especially by keeping LHP Josh Hader, LHP Brent Suter, and maybe even Guerra there) and truly push Gallardo to the back spot of the rotation.


Photo Credit: Andy Marlin, USAToday Sports Images

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2 comments on “Low Rotation Shift”


Is Gallardo an upgrade over Garza? Just looking at their ERA and ERA plus over the past two years, Garza is the better pitcher. Garza is even a tick better in runs prevented last year as well. Whatever they are going to Gallardo, they could have paid Garza the same amount. Garza was extremely unpopular with the fan base but in my mind he is a better pitcher than Gallardo which in the big picture isn’t really saying that much.


He is similar to Garza, except he is 3 years younger and will have the benefit of working with DJ for the first time. Yo definitely maintains the status quo in the 5th spot, with the possibility of an upgrade.

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