The Brewers have a bullpen problem

The bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers, as of now, doesn’t look so good. The team’s front office has been searching for an under-the-radar and cheap lefty to replace Zach Duke, who just happened to fit both of those descriptions in 2014, with no luck. Aside from that, the troubles that haunt Milwaukee’s bullpen are astounding.

Before the Winter Meetings kicked off, Doug Melvin stressed that adding “one or two pieces” to the bullpen was on the top of his to-do list. But the Meetings have come and gone with no additions. Why? It’s not like there were/are no options available, and don’t tell me that the free agent relievers are too expensive. Sergio Santos, a prime candidate for a bounce-back season who owns career 3.29 FIP, was just recently signed to a minor-league deal by the Dodgers. The Brewers should have been all over him (and hopefully they were). Now, there is still plenty of time to go out and make a move as it’s only January, but the longer the Brewers wait, the slimmer the pickings become. If Melvin is holding out hope on finding another diamond in the rough, he might be sorely disappointed.

There are still a plethora of serviceable relievers out there that could fit what Milwaukee is looking for. Carlos Villanueva (projected 0.3 WAR)  would be welcome sight back in Milwaukee, as would Burke Badenhop (projected 0.3 WAR). Both of those pitchers are coming off 1-win seasons and both have had success in Milwaukee in the past. Plus, Melvin has a history of bringing back former players, which is why I won’t be surprised if Tom Gorzelanny returns. I think there are greener pastures elsewhere, but the longer the Brewers go without signing a LHP, the bigger the likelihood becomes of them inking him.

You might be wondering why I’m down on the bullpen, and that’s fair. The Brewers were in the middle of the pack in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP in 2014, so it’s not like they stunk. But they weren’t the cream of the crop either. So, if you’re okay with mediocrity, you probably haven’t agreed with a single word of what I’ve written so far. However, I hope you stick with me and let me explain just what exactly is wrong with the Brewers’ relievers.

Jonathan Broxton 

Broxton will start the season as closer for the Brewers, but even now educated fans (and non-educated fans for that matter), feel like he won’t last long in that role. Brew Crew Ball tried to settle that argument and defended Broxton, but I’m on the doubters side of the fence. Broxton’s fastball has decreased in velocity each of the last three seasons, and his strikeout rate has really taken a dive (see chart below). There is cause for worry with him.

Broxton

Will Smith

Smith is one of the few pitchers in the ‘pen that I trust. He’ll most likely setup Broxton along with Jeffress. True, he slumped a bit during the second half of ’14, but I don’t believe that should sound off any alarms. However, he might not be in the bullpen for long. If the season starts to go down the pits, the Brewers may want to see what he can do in the rotation.

Brandon Kintzler

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised the Brewers tendered Kintzler a contract. Steamer is projecting Kintzler to finish with a 0.0 WAR next year. That means he’s the definition of a replacement player, which means the Brewers ought to be able to replace him. But yet, here he is. Kintzler posted a 4.68 FIP last season, which was by far a career high. Thankfully, that number should come down as his career FIP is only 3.63. But, Kintzler gave up an absurd 17.4% HR/FB ratio and struck out two batters fewer per nine innings than he did in 2013. He can’t be trusted.

Jeremy Jeffress

Jeffress is the second and last pitcher I completely trust out of the bullpen, and I think he’ll soon become a stud. I wrote more about him here.

Rob Wooten

Wooten has pitched in two major league seasons and has an ERA of 4.35 and a FIP of 2.87. In both seasons he’s outperformed his ERA. In 2014, he improved his K%, BB%, HR/9 and groundball rate from his rookie year. There is promise for Wooten, but his high 80’s fastball is something to keep an eye on.

Jim Henderson

Henderson is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, so his future is murky. Will he be able to maintain his velocity when fully healed, or will injuries continue to haunt him? His health will determine his effectiveness going forward.

Tyler Thornburg

The same goes for Thornburg with his elbow. Luckily for him, Tommy John surgery wasn’t necessary, but elbow injuries are always scary and force teams to be cautious. If both Thornburg and Henderson aren’t ready for the start of the season, who do the Brewers turn to if they don’t start signing some relievers?

Jimmy Nelson

Nelson has basically no bullpen experience as 13 of his 18 MLB appearances have come as a starter. If anything, he’ll be used as a long reliever to keep his arm stretched out in case he needs to fill in for a spot start.

Now you see why I think the Brewers have a bullpen problem. They have a lot of inexperience and a lot of question marks in their bullpen. Question marks are usually never a good thing, especially when they’re related to injuries. Melvin needs to act fast and improve his bullpen, otherwise it will be chaos; chaos in the bullpen and chaos when other bloggers write post after post demanding an explanation for Melvin’s ineptness.

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