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Brewing up a special rotation in Milwaukee

Just when it appeared the Milwaukee Brewers were caught in the middle between contention and rebuilding, the team continues its complete overhaul of its starting pitching staff, acquiring 2009 AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for a bevy of prospects. While the merits of the prospects will certainly be debated, what cannot be argued is that Greinke makes the Brewers staff among the most formidable in the National League.

Greinke followed up his 2009 Cy Young campaign with a solid, if unspectacular 2010. His traditional numbers were not very good (10-14, 4.17), his K/9 rate had a significant drop (from 9.50 to 7.40, closer to his career average) and his HR/9 rate nearly doubled, from 0.43 to 0.74. But many of Greinke’s problems in 2010 were not his fault.

Zack Greinke

GreinkeGreinke posted a career-high ground-ball percentage (46.0%), but he was doing so with terrible fielders responsible for getting to all those ground balls. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Kansas City was 30th in all of baseball in Defensive Runs Saved in 2010 (-88). Greinke’s FIP (3.34) was over three-quarters of a run better than his ERA. The 2010 Brewers were league-average defensively last season (-0.7, 16th in Team UZR), but that represents a drastic improvement for Greinke.

One red flag is Yuniesky Betancourt, who is coming with Greinke to the Brewers. Betancourt was the third-worst starting shortstop in MLB in 2010 based on UZR (-9.5) and the less he plays at shortstop for the 2011 Brewers, the better.

Milwaukee acquired Shaun Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays on December 6th, giving the Brewers a right-hander with success against the power bats of the AL East. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Marcum had an impressive 2010, going 13-8 with an ERA of 3.64 and a nearly equal FIP of 3.74. He had a very low walk rate in 2010 (1.98 BB/9), despite the fact that only 48.7% of all strikes he threw were in the strike zone.

Shaun Marcum

MarcumMarcum is adept at getting hitters to chase, with nearly a third of all swings against him being on pitches outside the zone (30.4%). Marcum had a significant change in his arsenal coming off of Tommy John surgery. He threw a higher percentage of fastballs in 2010 than he had in 2008 with the Blue Jays (from 48.3% to 61.2%). He also threw a greater percentage of changeups (23.2% to 24.1%), but was more effective, with his batting average against his changeup dropping from .213 to .152.

‘New Starters’ vs ‘Old Starters’
2010 Season

Clearly, the Brewers can expect an upgrade in performance from their staff. But just how much? By using the Wins Above Replacement statistic, it’s possible to estimate how much of an upgrade Greinke and Marcum will be.

In 2010, the Brewers’ fourth and fifth starters -- Dave Bush and Manny Parra -- combined to give the team 47 starts, going 10-20, 5.09 ERA. That combined production was worth -0.1 Wins Above Replacement.

On the flip side, Greinke contributed 5.2 WAR and Marcum chipped in 3.5. So, assuming Greinke and Marcum repeat their performances from 2010 -- a reasonable suggestion -- the Brewers stand to gain nearly nine wins. That’s the difference between 77-85 and 86-76. Or, between non-contention and contention.