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Replacing Chris Narveson


The Brewers suffered a significant blow to their pitching staff today with the loss of Chris Narveson for what may be the rest of the year. Narveson went on the 15 day DL today with a torn rotator cuff, and, barring a second opinion, is likely headed for surgery. 

For parts of the last three seasons, Narveson has been the Brewers’ fifth starter, a spot many teams struggle to get decent production out of. However, the left-hander has been surprisingly valuable, especially for a player that was acquired for essentially nothing as a minor-league free agent. Since 2010, his first full season in the majors, Narveson has thrown 338.1 innings. Over that time, he has allowed runs at a rate around 83% of the league average. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s very good for a back-end starter, and was a lot better than the various alternatives the Brewers would have had: According to Fangraphs, Narveson was worth 1.5 WAR in 2010 and 1.7 WAR in 2011.

The Brewers are still going to miss Narveson’s production, but they likely won’t have to put up with replacement level pitching as long as he is gone: They have several pitchers on hand that could do better than that, and there’s a definite chance that they don’t miss Narveson much at all. Today,we’re going to try and sort through how that might (or might not) happen, both right now and for the rest of the year.

Narveson was scheduled to pitch Saturday night against the Rockies, and long reliever Marco Estrada has already been tabbed to replace him then. Estrada filled in for Narveson and Zack Greinke while they dealt with injuries last year, and did an admirable job — His 3.87 FIP (in 41.1 innings) was better than three of his 2011 rotation-mates.  However, there are a couple things that might not make Estrada the best option for the whole year:

First, Estrada has spent all Spring being groomed as a reliever, and it will take weeks for him to build up his stamina to go 100 pitches every five days. Also, an extended stay in the rotation may expose some of his weaknesses as a pitcher — Estrada is very prone to the home run, and has intermittently struggled with both barrages of hits and the free pass — in a way that one-inning outings don’t always do. To put it one way, there’s a reason that the idea of trading a starting pitcher in the offseason never got very far: Estrada simply is a bit lacking as a replacement.

Enter Wily Peralta. One of the Brewers’ top prospects for years, the 23 year old Peralta started this year in Nashville, before being called up to take Kameron Loe’s spot in the bullpen while Loe attends his grandfather’s funeral. (Our thoughts and prayers are with Loe and his family.) In three minors, Peralta had little trouble, building on an excellent 2011 season that saw him rise to AAA.

As a year-long option, Peralta might actually make the most sense. The right-hander has been worked as a starter all Spring, so the immediate transition would be relatively smooth — Peralta was even scheduled to start Saturday before being called up. Also, Peralta, though unproven, has the stuff to be an instant success, and probably has the best chance of all the Brewers options to fully replace Narveson’s production.

Peralta has major-league stuff in every sense of the term, with a fastball that gets into the mid 90s, augmented by a sharp slider and a solid, yet inconsistent, changeup. His command is acceptable, but there is still some room for improvement. Peralta figured to be slated for some kind of call-up this year, and a lot of people speculated that he would be the first option if a Brewers’ starter went down.

The main thing standing in the way of Peralta joining the rotation now is his own development. As we stated before, Peralta still has a few things to work on, and the minor leagues — where the competition is weaker and development is emphasized more — are almost always a better medium to refine one’s skills. In addition, Peralta has struggled with putting too much pressure on himself in the past, making on-the-job training in the thick of a division battle less than ideal.

All we know for sure right now is that Marco Estrada is scheduled to pitch Saturday, and that Peralta will be sent back down when Loe returns. So, it’s probably a safe assumption that Estrada will take Narveson’s spot for the time being. Besides that, there are too many variables to predict with any certainty. We haven’t got the final word on Narveson yet, we haven’t seen Estrada pitch as a starter yet, and we don’t know anything about other options the club might pursue — Brian Anderson even mentioned the possibility of Roy Oswalt coming out of retirement during Friday’s broadcast.

Personally, I’d expect Peralta to join the rotation eventually, even if not right away. Estrada is a nice pitcher to have around, but is likely to be overexposed over 100+ innings, if Narveson does require surgery. To me, it’d make the most sense to give Peralta, who is close to ready anyway, a chance to start a few months early.