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The 2012 Brewers Rotation: Flying Under the Radar?

Ahh, the smell of pine tar, leather, and oil.  The sound of the crack of the bat and the snap of the catchers mitt.  Yes, it’s that time of year again as Spring Training is here once again.  Today marks Marcumthe return of the National League Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers as pitchers and catchers officially report, even though most of them and the rest of the team were at Maryvale Baseball Park for the better part of this past week anyway.  

With the official reporting of pitchers and catchers I thought it appropriate to take on a subject that has been bugging me for the better part of the offseason and that’s the lack of respect for our starting rotation, not only from the national media but from within the Brewers fanbase as well.

No question about it San Francisco and Philly have the best rotations in the National League, I think we can all stipulate to that.  The Giants feature Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain at the top while Philly retains their “Super Rotation” of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels as their top three starters.

But in almost every ranking that’s come out during this offseason the Brewers rotation has managed to be on the outside looking in.  They almost all say that we’re good, but just not good enough to be a top level rotation this season and frankly I think that’s complete and total crap.  What’s changed from 2011 to 2012 for a rotation that was amongst the best for all of 2011?  NOTHING, that’s your answer.  

So why the lack of respect from the media in their rankings?  

Personally, I believe it’s two fold.  First, it’s because these rankings love to “project” what teams can do.  Take the Nationals, whom I’ve seen in many a top 10 list, as a great example.  They have a projected starting rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman.  Only Gonzalez has shown he’s got what it takes on a year in and year out basis at the MLB level.  This team getting into the top 10 level is solely based on what people think could happen and not what has happened to the players that make up the rotation.  In reality we’re talking about a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery (Strasburg), a player that’s no longer in the cavernous confines of Oakland (Gonzalez), and a player with a history of back injuries (Zimmerman). 

Second, it’s the fact that we didn’t go out and do anything in free agency.  Look at teams like the Rangers, Angels, and Miami as great examples of the hype machine working for you in the offseason.  It’s human nature to talk and hype up what’s new and exciting.  We got a bit of that last season with the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to are already burgoning ace in Yovani Gallardo.  

Because of those reasons I can understand why the Brewers aren’t in the top 10 of many an offseason list from the media.  But what I can’t understand is the growing chorus of Brewers fans that are questioning this rotation.  

Yes, there is bitterness of being oh so close to the World Series only to see it slip through our fingers to the hated Cardinals, but we’re four plus moths out of the 2011 NLCS and some still haven’t let go of what happened in that series.  

Everyone is quick to blame the collapse of Shaun Marchum and the rest of the pitching staff for the losses and it’s certainly a part of why they weren’t in the World Series, but does that mean that all of the sudden this is a crap rotation?  What about the even worse defense behind them?  What about a bullpen that couldn’t help the struggling parts of the rotation?  There was plenty of blame to go around for what happened and putting it all on the starting pitching is totally ludacris in my book.  

Here we are on the first day of pitchers and catchers and we have the exact same rotation that we had in 2011, you know, the one that everyone had as the 2nd best rotation in all of the National League entering last season?  Yep, that rotation is back.  

It amazes me that many in Brewers nation have quickly decided to throw out an entire seasons worth of results for a select handful of games in the postseason and Shaun Marcum seems to be everyone’s favorite target because of that postseason performance.  

But I think it’s important to remember we’re talking about a pitcher that pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his MLB career (200.7), had the 2nd best ERA on the team (3.54), averaged nearly 7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, stranded nearly 74% of all base runners, gave up less than 1 home run per 9 innings pitched (0.99), gave up only 2.56 walks per 9 innings pitched, oh and not to mention had a 13-8 record as the third starter in the rotation.  I don’t know what more you want out of a 3rd pitcher for an entire season?  

Could it have been a case of a tired arm from throwing the most amount of innings he’s ever thrown in a regular season that caused his collapse and loss of command of his change up in the postseason?  I think that’s certainly a strong possibility.   

Let’s remember this is a team that had the 5th most strikeouts of any team in the NL and baseball last season.  They also had the 9th best ERA in all of baseball and ranked 3rd in wins from their starters behind only Philly and Texas.  We didn’t make the postseason last season strictly behind the bats of Braun and Fielder, our pitching staff clearly had a hand in getting us there.

It seems like people are forgetting this was all done with two starting pitchers (Greinke and Marcum) that had yet to pitch a season in the National League.  I have a feeling they’ll be making the needed adjustments and 2012 could be even better for them because of that.

Notice I haven’t even touched on Gallardo.  All he’s done is improve every single season he’s been in the majors.  He enters 2012 having had his best season to date last year.  A year in which he pitched career bests in innings (207.1), BB/9 (2.56), and wins (17).  

In the end all I’m saying is let’s not be so quick to condemn a team for one bad series of pitching.  I think I’ll take a full season of results as proof this is one of the best rotations in all of baseball.  After all this is a 162 game marathon, not a 5 or 7 game sprint.