Doug Davis and the Milwaukee Rotation

With their rotation consisting of Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Nobody entering this offseason, it was clear that the Brewers would have to make at least one move. Given the lack of talent in the rotation and lack of depth outside of it, a second move would probably be required. The first move was the Brewers acquisition of Randy Wolf in December. The second came on Wednesday as the Brewers picked up Doug Davis on a 1 year, 4.25M contract with a mutual option for 2011.

Davis is an underwhelming talent, but he’s managed to get outs over his career. Despite a fastball that averages 85 MPH, Davis manages to get a decent number of strikeouts – at least 6.5 K/9 since 2004. He does tend to nibble, and as such he gives up quite a few walks, usually somewhere in the 3.75-4.5 range.

As such, since his K/BB ratio tops out around 2.0 and is usually closer to 1.5, Davis has to keep the ball in the park to be effective. He doesn’t give up many fly balls – 35.4% last year versus a 34.7% career average – and as such, his 1.11 HR/9 rate was the highest he’s seen in years. With some regression, that should lead to an FIP in the 4.60-4.70 range, as projected by both CHONE and Marcel. That makes Davis about a 1.7 win player in 160 innings pitched.

More importantly to the Brewers success will be how the rest of the pitching staff is handled. The first three spots will certainly go to Yovani Gallardo, Wolf, and Davis. Parra, Bush, and Suppan will then compete for the last two spots. It will be tempting for the Brewers to hand the two spots to Bush and Suppan, who will receive a combined 17.75M (roughly, based on Bush’s arbitration case) in 2010, and either start the 400,000 dollar man Parra in AAA or the bullpen.

This would be a deadly mistake for a team with playoff aspirations. The Brewers are roughly an 80-82 win true-talent team with the addition of Davis. That’s about the lower bound for any team to have a chance at the playoffs. What the Brewers will need, then, is luck in the form of health and players developing at the major league level – Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to continue to improve as sluggers, Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez to add some hitting to their tremendous gloves, and, most pertinent to the subject at hand, improvement out of their league-worst starting rotation from 2009.

Suppan is projected for 1 run above replacement by CHONE. He hasn’t had an FIP better than 4.40 since 2004. His fastball has lost 0.5 MPH since he joined Milwaukee. His walk rates have been steadily increasing. He is 35 years old. Upside does not exist here. Bush is just simply better, although he has had struggles with home runs recently, and Parra has tremendous upside, and even at the lower bound of his projections, he’s about equal to the 50th percentile projection for Suppan.

The Brewers need to put their most talented team on the field without worrying about who is receiving what paycheck. The Brewers have little hope of reaching a wild card berth without the talent of Manny Parra on the field, and Doug Melvin must not let the mistake of signing Jeff Suppan haunt him any further than it already has.

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You’ve hit the nail right on the head, but I’ll add one important factor. Let’s imagine that Suppan is DFA’d (as he has so rightfully earned). That leaves 5 guys for 5 slots. Now let’s imagine someone gets injured — how do you value the AAAA guy the Brewers start in the now-vacant rotation spot? Will Chris Narveson outperform Jeff Suppan? He certainly can’t do any worse than Braden Looper.

This is a team that had everything click financially to go out and get CC Sabathia and make a playoff run. Now, they have dead money in Suppan (1 year left, thank goodness) and Bill Hall (we are paying Boston by way of Seattle to have him “hit lefties”). That’s upwards of $20MM coming off the books after this season. If the Brewers don’t do anything creative financially with that money other than reup Doug Davis and sign Prince to some deal worth $15MM AAV, that should leave the window open for another season. However, it all comes down to pitching. When you can replace an injured Ben Sheets with Yovani Gallardo, you can stay in a playoff run. When you replace Sabathia and Sheets with Looper and a prayer, you ought to fall out of the playoff run. When you replace Looper and a prayer with Wolf and Davis? Milwaukee’s fingers are crossed.