I made a post near the end of last night’s game after Devin Williams couldn’t get out of the 8th inning after starting with a 4 run lead, and the Brewers only got out of the inning when Urias made a diving grab on a soft liner that threatened to put the Reds ahead. The comment was:
“The last few days have exposed the Brewers bullpen as not nearly the strong point everyone assumed it would be. And if the starters keep laboring to go 5 or 6 innings it’s going to become a big problem.”
If you want to see the responses that comment triggered, you can see them on the game thread.
First, let me make it clear that what follows is not a criticism of any of Counsell’s decisions regarding going with a 6 day rotation at this stage of the season or how he has used the bullpen. (Although in light of how the last week has gone with several short starts taxing the bullpen, Hader only pitching one inning in almost 2 weeks, and an off day on Thursday, it's harder to justify not bringing Hader in once it became obvious that Williams was struggling. It is fortunate that Naquin didn’t tie the game or put the Reds ahead.
My comment about short starts from the starters comes from this perspective:
1. I understand that starting pitchers generally don’t cover as many innings as they did decades ago.
2. The Brewers are supposed to have one of the best, if not the best, starting rotations in MLB. So, IMHO, statistics showing that the Brewers starters are among the league leaders in things like average IP per start and quality starts are not the standard the Brewers should be held to.
3. This is especially true because so many teams occasionally have to resort to “bullpen games” in which the plan is for the starter to go one inning, or maybe 2, and those starts are going to drive down their averages. It seems like Brewers opponents have done this several times, including strong teams like the Giants and Braves.
4. Because of the 6 man starting rotation, and the desire to use Boxberger, Williams, and Hader in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of winnable games, even with 14 pitchers on the roster, that leaves 5 pitchers to cover innings when the starter can’t complete 6. They also have to cover innings in lopsided games and games in which the Brewers are trailing going into the 7th inning or the top end relievers are unavailable due to heavy usage.
5. Right now, those 5 back end of the bullpen relievers are Suter, Milner, Gott, Perdomo, and Mejia (replacing Gustave). Gott has been effective, and Suter is a known commodity. But these are generally not pitchers you want to see very often in the highest leverage situations.
6. The Brewers as a staff may be among the league leaders with an average of 5.1 (or whatever it is) IP per start and 13 quality starts, but that is largely Burnes and Lauer weighting the scale to cover very poor peformances from Woodruff and Peralta. The IP per start from the 5 top starters so far have been: Burnes 6.4, Lauer 5.9, Houser 5.3, Woodruff 4.4 , and Peralta 4.4. Even Ashby in his 3 starts has covered slightly more IP per start (4.55) than Peralta and Woodruff.
7. Of the 13 quality starts, Burnes has 5, Lauer has 4,Houser has 2, and Woodruff and Peralta have one each (both against the Pirates). So, again, Burnes and Lauer are carrying the load and Woodruff and Peralta are not coming close to the standards expected from them.
8. I understand that it’s early in the season and not a time to panic. But, I come back to my comment from last night about the recent run through the rotation and the impact it has on the bullpen. Forcing the back end relievers to enter just to get through the 5th and 6th innings reduces the manager’s options both in that game and possibly future games. And when one of the top end relievers like Williams has a bad outing like last night, and Hader will not be used before the 9th, you’re going to see things like Perdomo trying to get out of a critical inning. You can blame the bullpen for that, but short starts from supposed aces of the staff share a significant part of the blame. Needing 3 relievers on Sunday and 4 more on Monday just to complete 8 innings in blowout losses might have impacted Tuesday’s game.
9. BTW, I wrote this before Houser's awful start today that does nothing to help the problem. An off day tomorrow and another one next Thursday might help. But when the Brewers face a stretch of 18 games in 17 days after that (11 of them on the road) they're going to need better performances and more innings covered by their SP, not just Burnes and Lauer.