The Milwaukee Brewers (73-59) sit 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs and currently lead the Rockies by a game in the race for the second Wild Card spot. Once upon a time, they had a sizable lead in the division, and once upon a time — on July 10 — they were a season-best 18 games over .500. Milwaukee has spent a total of 76 days in first place this season, and they seemed primed for an October appearance, yet since the Major League Baseball trade deadline on July 31, the Brewers are 11-12, all the while losing significant ground on the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
General manager David Stearns — a hero among Brewers fans and the architect of one of the quickest rebuilds in recent memory — was an active participant in the trade market, though the trades he executed were seen by some as confusing and unnecessary. Stearns acquired third baseman Mike Moustakas (106 wRC+) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (90 wRC+) right before the final buzzer sounded. To the surprise of the masses, the Brewers watched the trade deadline expire without acquiring a starting pitcher. On Tuesday, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweeted the following:
No change in David Stearns’ public stance about adding a pitcher. Says he is open to it but has confidence in who Brewers have, despite staff’s rough start to August. Asked whether in hindsight it was a mistake not to add a starter before July 31, he said, “We’ll find out.”
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) August 21, 2018
The argument can be made that Milwaukee’s biggest weakness leading up to the deadline was its offense. Not many can disagree with that sentiment. For the season, the Brewers have been shut out 10 times, and have scored two or fewer runs 42 times in the team’s 121 games, for a record of 9-33 in those contests. Their 92 wRC+ as a team in the first half ranked 19th in the majors. The Brewers needed offense, and Stearns attempted to address that need when he acquired Moustakas and Schoop. Though those two haven’t exactly elevated the offense — at least so far — as much as the Brewers had hoped, at least the front office made an attempt to bring more runs to the team.
The same cannot be said for the pitching side of the club, and that’s where Stearns may have made a mistake.
Let’s first look at how Milwaukee’s rotation has performed before and after the trade deadline.
Stearns has said over and over that he and his front office value his team’s starting pitching more than the outside world. That’s been the case all season. But it wasn’t hard to see regression was coming as quick as another Avengers movie, and even Stearns had to know his starters — the best one being Jhoulys Chacin — couldn’t keep this up. No move was made, however, as the Brewers showed interest in the starting pitching market, but failed to pull the trigger on any deal. As a result, Milwaukee’s rotation has been unreliable since July 31.
We can’t judge Stearns’ inaction just by the Brewers’ rotation alone. We must also look at how the starting pitchers who were traded at the deadline have fared since joining their new teams to see if any of them would’ve been a significant upgrade. (Apologies if I left someone out.)
*does not include their starts on 8/26
Every pitcher on the table above — with the exception of Archer — has been absolutely brilliant (small sample size alert) since switching teams. Gausman seems to be finally reaching his potential, Happ is as reliable as ever, Lynn has figured something out after a miserable short tenure with Minnesota and Hamels thinks it’s 2011 again. The Brewers were rumored to have interest in all of these pitchers, and although I didn’t see anything that linked him to Milwaukee, Mike Fiers — who was traded after the non-waiver deadline — has been lights out with the Athletics, as well. Aside from Archer, acquiring these players came at a relatively low cost, a cost the Brewers could’ve easily managed.
Stearns’ love for the rotation he constructed has cost the Brewers wins, and it has allowed the Brewers to play second fiddle to the Cubs once again. A rotation consisting of Chacin, Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta, Chase Anderson and Wade Miley — who has the second-largest difference between his ERA (2.32) and FIP (3.99) among starters with at least 50 innings — doesn’t inspire much faith, except, apparently, to Stearns. For a team that has playoff hopes, and for a team who, on paper, has a formidable offensive lineup, the rotation is a sight for sore eyes, and Stearns should be criticized for not improving it.
The Brewers still have the ability to add a starter or two if they claim someone on revocable waivers or work out a deal for a player who went unclaimed. However, the market is rather dry, and there aren’t too many eye-opening arms out there. Milwaukee has shown interest in Nationals’ starter Gio Gonzalez, and although his 2018 performance to date has been disappointing, he could still give the Brewers some quality innings down the stretch.
Stearns said “we’ll find out” when asked if he made a mistake by not acquiring a starting pitcher. Well, I think we can safely say that he did, and while there are other factors involved, it’s a big reason why Milwaukee’s playoff odds have significantly dropped.