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Starting Pitching Miscellanea

Marco Estrada was finally able to land his first win of the 2012 season on Tuesday evening against the Cubs, and it was a long time coming.  Estrada has now started 16 games, with 95.2 innings pitched and a 4.23 ERA.  That translates to roughly 6 innings pitched per game, which is actually more than I expected, considering he seems to never pitch deep into games.  Estrada has done a serviceable job as a replacement starter this season, but I think the team would be crazy to use him as a No. 5 starter in 2013.  That sounds like hyperbole, and it’s not that I think he would be a disaster, because Estrada has proven he can be an OK major league starting pitcher.  It’s just that if the Milwaukee Brewers want to reach the postseason and do something if they get there, they will have to aim higher in terms of rotation quality, even for a No. 5 guy. 

The last two years have shown that the Brewers think Estrada is someone they can plug into the rotation if something happens to one of the other starters.  I found this to be an unappealing but plausible plan while Zack Greinke was out last year, but I haven’t been a supporter of leaving Estrada in the rotation long term in 2012.  Granted, the Brewers have dealt with injury setbacks to their rotation (notably with right-hander Shaun Marcum) that have encouraged them to keep Estrada a starter.  Estrada has pitched slightly more innings this year than last; his home runs allowed are up, but so are his strikeouts and the walks are down from last year.  I like Estrada as a bullpen pitcher, maybe a spot starter.  He throws strikes and he’s shown the ability to get strikeouts looking and with the swing and miss.  For a team looking to the stars for bullpen answers, it seems like a no-brainer to use Estrada in that capacity.  The team appears bullish on keeping Estrada in the rotation for now, but I sincerely hope they take a serious look at his potential for the bullpen in the offseason. 

The sudden departure of lefty starter Randy Wolf was a bit jarring, simply because the team was relying on him to deliver innings in a lost season, if nothing else besides his pleasant veteran presence in the clubhouse.  Wolf always seemed genuinely contrite about his failures on the mound, and truly Wolf was a good guy to have around, unless he was the brutal, bad Wolf.  He won a playoff game for the Brewers in St. Louis last year when they badly needed it, and he was pretty good for most of the bloated contract the Brewers gave him before the 2010 season.  This year, though, saw Wolf reach a lower standard and despite blown saves from the bullpen, he just seemed off and out of whack most of this year.  A handful more good, quality starts from him would have helped a lot.  Wolf has allowed 90 earned runs (more than all of 2011) and 179 hits in 142.1 innings pitched.  His 5.69 ERA overall (and it was worse earlier on) in 2012 is just what the team didn’t need when it was desperately trying to tread water in May and June.  Wolf could have provided some cushion to pitchers like Fiers, Rogers and Estrada in terms of their innings limits, but in hindsight it’s not a surprise to see GM Doug Melvin release Wolf so that he might get a chance to catch on with another team and get regular starts to finish the season.  Wolf could even end up pitching in the playoffs (who knows?) if he latches on somewhere before September 1.  It may not be probable, but teams like the Dodgers, A’s, Pirates, Orioles or Tigers could take a flyer on him for the pro-rated minimum. 

Could the Brewers look into acquiring pitcher Edinson Volquez from the San Diego Padres?  Volquez was placed on revocable waivers this week, and while the Padres are not necessarily looking to move him, he could bolster the Brewers’ rotation for the 2013 season.  With the possible and somewhat likely departure of Shaun Marcum, the Brewers will be looking to add at least one starter to the rotation for next year, and they probably won’t be in the market for a big-money pitcher unless Zack Greinke decides he wants to come back home to Brew City.  That means finding a ‘gem’ with a reasonable salary in a claim or trade would be the best way to go.  Volquez has had an up-and-down year with the Padres after spending many seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.  He has a 4.18 ERA in 26 starts for the Padres, and while his walks are up this year, he still possesses strikeout stuff that could be very useful if harnessed.  Volquez is also not making a ton of money; he earns $2.24 million this year and is under team control through 2013.  He would represent a low-cost and high-upside starter without a long-term commitment if the Crew can successfully claim him and/or work out a trade.  Kevin Correia of the Pirates and Gavin Floyd of the White Sox ($9.5 million club option) are other starters the Brewers could consider.  Without a ton of money to spend (and it would probably be wise to stay away from the free-agent market for starters if it requires a deal of much duration), the Brewers will need to be creative and think outside the box to acquire a decent starter who makes a reasonable salary.  Maybe they could still re-sign Marcum to a team-friendly deal with incentives.  Depending on how he pitches for the rest of the year beginning with his return this weekend, he may be in high demand for the 29 other clubs.  The 2013 free-agent market for starting pitching features a lot of pitchers who will be out of the Brewers’ price range, and slim pickings between the ‘elite’ and the scrap heap.