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  • Free Agent Starters Who Could Provide Value at the Brewers' Price


    Tim Muma

    This past season's injuries and regression exposed the Milwaukee Brewers' lack of starting pitcher depth. While they won't look to acquire a top-line free-agent starter, the Brewers should kick the tires on a mid-level arm to provide quality innings.

    Image courtesy of © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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    It's unlikely pitchers like Carlos Rodon, Jacob deGrom, or even Jameson Taillon end up in a Brewers jersey. Each of the top eight free-agent starters expects anywhere from three-to-five years for at least $13 million per season. That's probably more than the Brewers are willing to spend with their current roster, especially with other necessary upgrades. However, there are a few hurlers on the next level that can provide the value Milwaukee needs.

    Zach Eflin (29 years old in April)
    MLB Trade Rumors Prediction: Two years, $22 million

    Eflin has owned a 4.08 ERA since the start of 2020 across 49 appearances (41 starts). But his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is just 3.57, thanks to a poor Philadelphia Phillies defense behind him. His 23.4% strikeout rate over that time would put him 22nd among qualified starters, while his 4.6% walk rate remains fantastic. Eflin's primary concern would be his home run ratio, sitting at 1.16 homers per nine innings. Of course, half his games were played at Citizens Bank Park, one of the top homer-friendly ballparks since its opening.

    Eflin baseball savant.JPG

    As you can see from the Baseball Savant numbers above, Eflin was among MLB's best in exit velocity allowed, hard hit percentage, and walk percentage, ranking above the 90th percentile. Those figures counteract the concern with a pitcher who doesn't get as many whiffs as most frontline starters.

    The Brewers will receive terrific value if Eflin takes two years for $22 million. GM Matt Arnold should feel comfortable going to three years up to $32 million for Eflin, who has proven he can pitch effectively out of the bullpen. That lowers the risk of the third year if he struggles as a starter in 2023-2024.

    Ross Stripling (33 years old to start 2023)
    MLB Trade Rumors prediction: Two years, $18 million

    After a solid beginning to his career as a swingman starter and reliever, Stripling scuffled in 2020 with a slight improvement in 2021. Last season he bounced back for the Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 3.01 ERA across 134.1 innings (24 starts).  Stripling relies on getting weak contact and 45% groundballs in his career. He's walked a higher percentage than Eflin but cut his BB% to 3.7% in 2022, and his career rate is better than the league average.

    Another solid arm for a two-year deal would be a perfect fit, especially for less than $10 million per season. Like with Eflin, his versatility to pitch in relief offers additional options for the Brewers across multiple seasons.

    Michael Wacha (31 years old to start 2023)
    MLB Trade Rumors prediction: Two years, $16 million

    If you're surprised, Wacha is only 31; that makes two of us. The right-hander came up as a 21-year-old and enjoyed six great seasons (3.77) ERA) before dealing with injuries, leading to a 5.11 ERA from 2019-2021. With a 3.32 ERA in Boston last season, Wacha hopes he has rediscovered his form. In fairness, he was a bit lucky in 2022. Wacha's FIP of 4.14 indicates his ERA outperformed his actual output, partially due to his worst strikeout-per-nine-inning rate since 2019 (7.4). The positive was Wacha's 1.115 WHIP and dropping HR/9 rate from 1.7 in 2021 to 1.3 last season.

    Two years for $18 million isn't a huge commitment, but Wacha has the most risk of these three starters. As a guy with an average strikeout percentage (20.2%) this past season, Wacha produces fewer ground balls than a team would like. Perhaps the Brewers' pitching lab could bump up his skills a notch. Improving his strikeout rate or groundball percentage would make Wacha a solid fixture in the 2023 rotation.

    Whether or not the Brewers trade Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, or Adrian Houser, they need to ensure they are covered for a full 162 games by adding to their depth. These three hurlers provide experience, a track record, and value in the middle-to-back of a rotation that expects to lead the club back into the postseason. Do you have a favorite among the three, or do you hate them all? 

     

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    13 minutes ago, Tim Muma said:

    This past season's injuries and regression exposed the Milwaukee Brewers' lack of starting pitcher depth. While they won't look to acquire a top-line free-agent starter, the Brewers should kick the tires on a mid-level arm to provide quality innings.

    author-tracker.gif author-tracker.gif
    zach-eflin.jpg.6068ff380bad8e97eeabb3ce73b5ecd8.jpg
    Image courtesy of © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

     

    It's unlikely pitchers like Carlos Rodon, Jacob deGrom, or even Jameson Taillon end up in a Brewers jersey. Each of the top eight free-agent starters expects anywhere from three-to-five years for at least $13 million per season. That's probably more than the Brewers are willing to spend with their current roster, especially with other necessary upgrades. However, there are a few hurlers on the next level that can provide the value Milwaukee needs.

    Zach Eflin (29 years old in April)
    MLB Trade Rumors Prediction: Two years, $22 million

    Eflin has owned a 4.08 ERA since the start of 2020 across 49 appearances (41 starts). But his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is just 3.57, thanks to a poor Philadelphia Phillies defense behind him. His 23.4% strikeout rate over that time would put him 22nd among qualified starters, while his 4.6% walk rate remains fantastic. Eflin's primary concern would be his home run ratio, sitting at 1.16 homers per nine innings. Of course, half his games were played at Citizens Bank Park, one of the top homer-friendly ballparks since its opening.

    Eflin baseball savant.JPG

    As you can see from the Baseball Savant numbers above, Eflin was among MLB's best in exit velocity allowed, hard hit percentage, and walk percentage, ranking above the 90th percentile. Those figures counteract the concern with a pitcher who doesn't get as many whiffs as most frontline starters.

    The Brewers will receive terrific value if Eflin takes two years for $22 million. GM Matt Arnold should feel comfortable going to three years up to $32 million for Eflin, who has proven he can pitch effectively out of the bullpen. That lowers the risk of the third year if he struggles as a starter in 2023-2024.

    Ross Stripling (33 years old to start 2023)
    MLB Trade Rumors prediction: Two years, $18 million

    After a solid beginning to his career as a swingman starter and reliever, Stripling scuffled in 2020 with a slight improvement in 2021. Last season he bounced back for the Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 3.01 ERA across 134.1 innings (24 starts).  Stripling relies on getting weak contact and 45% groundballs in his career. He's walked a higher percentage than Eflin but cut his BB% to 3.7% in 2022, and his career rate is better than the league average.

    Another solid arm for a two-year deal would be a perfect fit, especially for less than $10 million per season. Like with Eflin, his versatility to pitch in relief offers additional options for the Brewers across multiple seasons.

    Michael Wacha (31 years old to start 2023)
    MLB Trade Rumors prediction: Two years, $16 million

    If you're surprised, Wacha is only 31; that makes two of us. The right-hander came up as a 21-year-old and enjoyed six great seasons (3.77) ERA) before dealing with injuries, leading to a 5.11 ERA from 2019-2021. With a 3.32 ERA in Boston last season, Wacha hopes he has rediscovered his form. In fairness, he was a bit lucky in 2022. Wacha's FIP of 4.14 indicates his ERA outperformed his actual output, partially due to his worst strikeout-per-nine-inning rate since 2019 (7.4). The positive was Wacha's 1.115 WHIP and dropping HR/9 rate from 1.7 in 2021 to 1.3 last season.

    Two years for $18 million isn't a huge commitment, but Wacha has the most risk of these three starters. As a guy with an average strikeout percentage (20.2%) this past season, Wacha produces fewer ground balls than a team would like. Perhaps the Brewers' pitching lab could bump up his skills a notch. Improving his strikeout rate or groundball percentage would make Wacha a solid fixture in the 2023 rotation.

    Whether or not the Brewers trade Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, or Adrian Houser, they need to ensure they are covered for a full 162 games by adding to their depth. These three hurlers provide experience, a track record, and value in the middle-to-back of a rotation that expects to lead the club back into the postseason. Do you have a favorite among the three, or do you hate them all? 

     

     

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    Either of Eflin or Stripling would work at $9-$11M/year, along with Jose Quintana at $12M/year. Move Houser to the bullpen if the team holds onto Burnes/Woodruff. 

    If the team trades one of the aforementioned, sign 2 of them. The team has to have veteran SP depth if they want to challenge for a playoff spot, which I believe they can do even if they decide to move 1 of Burnes/Woodruff.

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    Tim Muma
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    2 hours ago, SF70 said:

    Either of Eflin or Stripling would work at $9-$11M/year, along with Jose Quintana at $12M/year. Move Houser to the bullpen if the team holds onto Burnes/Woodruff. 

    If the team trades one of the aforementioned, sign 2 of them. The team has to have veteran SP depth if they want to challenge for a playoff spot, which I believe they can do even if they decide to move 1 of Burnes/Woodruff.

    I almost included Quintana in here as I wanted them to grab him at the deadline. However, I don't trust he will keep it up this season, unless facing the Brewers, of course. That may have been the best argument for Milwaukee...to prevent him from starting against the Brewers.

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    While these guys won't break the bank, we are still talking about sizable contracts for a cost-conscious team. And will any of them provide greater results than a redeaux with Jordan Lyles? He will likely be substantially cheaper, and is pretty comparable numbers-wise.

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    Tim Muma
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    45 minutes ago, Ron Robinsons Beard said:

    While these guys won't break the bank, we are still talking about sizable contracts for a cost-conscious team. And will any of them provide greater results than a redeaux with Jordan Lyles? He will likely be substantially cheaper, and is pretty comparable numbers-wise.

    I see Lyles a notch below these guys...and Eflin especially could be significantly better in terms of production. And with Lyles making $7 million last season, I'm not sure he makes substantially less money. Do I think Stripling & Wacha will post their 2022 numbers? Probably not as good (Stripling better chance than Wacha). But I think Lyles ends up around a 4.75 ERA with Eflin and Stripling under 4 and Wacha 4.20 range. Just my view on them personally.

    Lyles 2021 - 5.15 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 1.39 WHIP
    Lyles 2022 - 4.42 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 1.39 WHIP

    Eflin 2021 - 4.17 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 1.25 WHIP
    Eflin 2022 - 4.04 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 1.12 WHIP

    Stripling 2021 - 4.80 ERA, 5.21 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
    Stripling 2022 - 3.01 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.02 WHIP

    Wacha 2021 - 5.05 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 1.31 WHIP
    Wacha 2022 - 3.32 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 1.12 WHIP

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    Unless Burnes and/or Woodruff is traded, the team would be looking at 5th starter/depth pitchers.  That's not going to be someone at $11 M.  More likely a quantity over quality strategy.  Three Zach Davies will cost less than any on this list.

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    Danny Duffy and Wade Miley would be interesting if healthy. Both would be inexpensive coming of injury and have been very good in past years. I also wouldn't mind Corey Kluber or Nick Martinez if the price is low-ish. From the article I like Ross Stripling a bunch as well.

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    I don't have anything against the pitchers you identified, but I'd be surprised if the Brewers made even that big of a splash in FA starting pitchers. Unless they don't tender Houser (or move him to the pen). I'm thinking more of a retread or two that can can be stashed in Nashville until we need them.

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    I agree that all of the names would be nice adds, but I think the Brewers will be closer to the dumpster in their free agent diving.  Someone in the mold of Brett Anderson.  A 1yr $5M contract in a prove it type year.  A Ryan Yarbrough just got DFAd and would not cost much, but I think they could do better than that.

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    Tim Muma
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
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    For those saying the Brewers are signing a 4th or 5th starter if no one gets moved so they will go cheaper. Maybe...maybe not. You could be right, but I see it all differently.

    For one, I would certainly take Eflin or Stripling over Houser & Ashby & probably Lauer in a full season. Plus the Brewers could be looking at a 6-man rotation again. That makes the 4th guy more important than the average #4 (IMO). We also don't know about Freddy & how his shoulder will be year to year.

    You also need to look at this starter as a 2 or 3 year investment. Maybe the Brewers don't deal guys this offseason, but maybe at the deadline or next offseason multiple pitchers could be gone.. And having a guy like this in tow could open up more possibilities for trades, too. They also have bullpen experience.

    Sure...you guys might be right that Milwaukee will just dumpster dive, but I get the feeling they make a play for someone better with a touch more cost because of the greater upside & future need.

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    2 hours ago, Tim Muma said:

    For those saying the Brewers are signing a 4th or 5th starter if no one gets moved so they will go cheaper. Maybe...maybe not. You could be right, but I see it all differently.

    For one, I would certainly take Eflin or Stripling over Houser & Ashby & probably Lauer in a full season. Plus the Brewers could be looking at a 6-man rotation again. That makes the 4th guy more important than the average #4 (IMO). We also don't know about Freddy & how his shoulder will be year to year.

    You also need to look at this starter as a 2 or 3 year investment. Maybe the Brewers don't deal guys this offseason, but maybe at the deadline or next offseason multiple pitchers could be gone.. And having a guy like this in tow could open up more possibilities for trades, too. They also have bullpen experience.

    Sure...you guys might be right that Milwaukee will just dumpster dive, but I get the feeling they make a play for someone better with a touch more cost because of the greater upside & future need.

    In what world would you take Eflin over Lauer in a full season? Eflin hasn't ever been as good as Lauer has been over the past two years. 

    And you do realize how talented and young Ashby is right? Here's his projection stat-line next year, per Steamer: 127 IP, 9.81 K9. 3.72 BB, 3.41 ERA, 3.37 xFIP, 2.1 fWAR. No way do you sign an Eflin or Stripling to limit his innings. He's still developing and has as much potential as anyone in our rotation, including Burnes. 

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    Tim Muma
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    38 minutes ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    In what world would you take Elfin over Lauer in a full season? Eflin hasn't ever been as good as Lauer has been over the past two years. 

    And you do realize how talented and young Ashby is right? Here's his projection stat-line next year, per Steamer: 127 IP, 9.81 K9. 3.72 BB, 3.41 ERA, 3.37 xFIP, 2.1 fWAR. No way do you sign an Eflin or Stripling to limit his innings. He's still developing and has as much potential as anyone in our rotation, including Burnes. Yo

    You know, I just never understood the condescending responses on here. Why not just have a good baseball discussion. "Do I realize how talented & young Ashby is?" Come on.

    As for my thoughts...I see the Brewers favoring using a 6-man rotation at times again. I don't believe Houser should be in the rotation, so Eflin for example wouldn't be taking away Ashby's opportunities. Also, I love Ashby's raw ability & have touted him online plenty; however, he he has a decent amount developing left, and if he is struggling while the Brewers are trying to win, I don't think they just send him out automatically. Also, he might end up being better suited as a reliever anyway if he can't figure out his command.

    As for Lauer, there is major volatility there with more than 3 BB/9 & his propensity to give up homers. Also, I believe in FIP. His ERAs of 3.19 & 3.69 the past 2 seasons are a big difference from the 4.04 & 4.50 FIPs respectively. Eflin, pitching in a better home run hitters park & with terrible defense behind him owns FIPs of 3.68 & 3.56 the last 2 years. More neutral home park in Milwaukee & even an average defense gets his actual ERA way lower. That is how I see Eflin being better than Lauer going forward.

    I could be wrong on all counts, but please don't treat me like I am pulling crap out of the air. I research & analyze & learn as much as I can as a lifelong player, coach, fan, and part time writer/media person.

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    42 minutes ago, Tim Muma said:

    You know, I just never understood the condescending responses on here. Why not just have a good baseball discussion. "Do I realize how talented & young Ashby is?" Come on.

    As for my thoughts...I see the Brewers favoring using a 6-man rotation at times again. I don't believe Houser should be in the rotation, so Eflin for example wouldn't be taking away Ashby's opportunities. Also, I love Ashby's raw ability & have touted him online plenty; however, he he has a decent amount developing left, and if he is struggling while the Brewers are trying to win, I don't think they just send him out automatically. Also, he might end up being better suited as a reliever anyway if he can't figure out his command.

    As for Lauer, there is major volatility there with more than 3 BB/9 & his propensity to give up homers. Also, I believe in FIP. His ERAs of 3.19 & 3.69 the past 2 seasons are a big difference from the 4.04 & 4.50 FIPs respectively. Eflin, pitching in a better home run hitters park & with terrible defense behind him owns FIPs of 3.68 & 3.56 the last 2 years. More neutral home park in Milwaukee & even an average defense gets his actual ERA way lower. That is how I see Eflin being better than Lauer going forward.

    I could be wrong on all counts, but please don't treat me like I am pulling crap out of the air. I research & analyze & learn as much as I can as a lifelong player, coach, fan, and part time writer/media person.

    I'm not attacking you personally whatsoever. In fact, I'm not attacking you at all, and I appreciate the article and the discussion it provokes. 

    I just completely disagree that Eflin is a clear upgrade over Lauer and Ashby, when that's far from the case. Over the past two seasons, Lauer has thrown 277.1 innings with a 119 ERA+ and a 3.7 bWAR. Eflin, meanwhile, hasn't even pitched 200 innings and has been just barely over league average in those innings with a 101 ERA+. Yes, his FIP is better, largely due to Eflin's superb walk-rate, but FIP evens out over the course of multiple seasons, and the best ERA Eflin has posted in his career was 3.97 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Moreover, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are virtually identical in HR and wOBA park factor. So, it's unlikely that Eflin's ERA would improve that much. 

    Again, Ashby is young and as talented as any pitcher we have. He needs to develop in the rotation at this point. And, even despite his youth and inexperience, his projected stats for next season are better than Eflin's. 

     

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