OOTP Brewers: How do You Solve a Problem Like Brett Anderson?

With another week in the books, our OOTP Brewers are locked in a holding pattern at 17-18. A three game set against the scuffling Cardinals (11-24 to start the season!) has gotten our run differential back on track, not that that’s particularly meaningful. But not all is well in Brew City. Our pitching situation, already a little sketchy, might be approaching critical status.

Before the season, the plan in Milwaukee seemed straightforward. Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser would provide starting prowess, Josh Hader would Hader his way to an ERA that looks like it’s from 1968, and everyone else would be an interchangeable whirring mass of acceptable pitching. To further that plan, and in anticipation of a busy bullpen shuttle, we even acquired two major league ready relievers from Kansas City — Tim Hill and Scott Barlow.

Only two weeks into the season, our decision looked prescient: virtual Josh Lindblom hit the shelf for four months and virtual Brett Anderson, just like real life Brett Anderson, was dinged up. Luckily, the Brewers are awash in pitchers who can either start or relieve. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta can fill in wherever they’re needed, and Eric Lauer fits the bill somewhat as well. We simply plugged Burnes, Lauer, and Peralta into the rotation behind the headliners and backfilled the bullpen.

Well, it’s May 5, and that bullpen backfill is in jeopardy. Anderson came back — and promptly hurt himself again. This time seems if anything less serious — a minor hamstring strain — but a 10 day injury is still enough to place him on the Injured List. Filling the rotation is, as I mentioned above, doable, but it leaves neither Peralta nor Burnes available for bullpen duty.

That would be fine — if the bullpen weren’t also banged up. Alex Claudio lasted all of two weeks before tearing his virtual rotator cuff, a cruel injury that will keep him out all year. Corey Knebel, a presumptive partner to Hader atop the reliever hierarchy, has been slower than expected in his rehab — he should be ready to join the team in a week or two, though we’d initially hoped to see him around the first of May. And Ray Black is now down for a while as well — forearm tendinitis forced him to leave a start, and he isn’t eligible to return for 10 days after hitting the IL.

That leaves the remaining bullpen in rough shape. Let’s take a look at some stats to show you what’s been going on so far:

Brewers Bullpen Pieces
Player OOTP Rating IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Scott Barlow 45 14 3.55 4.18 24.1% 14.8%
Ray Black 45 10 3.60 4.31 32.6% 19.7%
Alex Claudio 45 5.1 8.44 7.63 4.2% 12.5%
J.P. Feyereisen 45 16 7.88 8.49 18.9% 16.4%
Josh Hader 80 12.1 7.30 4.29 43.1% 19.0%
Tim Hill 45 8.1 3.24 3.07 20.6% 8.8%
Shelby Miller 35 1 9.00 14.31 25.0% 0.0%
Angel Perdomo 40 6 6.00 4.31 23.1% 19.2%
David Phelps 45 14 4.50 5.60 14.5% 12.9%
Brent Suter 55 19 4.26 4.74 22.4% 3.9%
Bobby Wahl 35 2.2 13.50 5.94 25.0% 25.0%
Devin WIlliams 50 13.2 7.90 6.46 37.5% 20.3%

Some very medium pitchers have been getting key innings. Barlow is perfectly fine, but he’s probably miscast as the team’s third-best reliever. Hill is a one-for-one replacement for Claudio, but Shelby Miller? Bobby Wahl? What’s going on here?

What’s going on is that a combination of blowouts and short starts has overworked the bullpen. Peralta, Lauer, and Burnes have all averaged roughly five innings per start. Anderson has made four starts this year. He’s lasted longer than an inning in only one of them — he’s been injured twice and gave up seven in the first at Colorado. The bullpen has been in a perpetual state of overuse, which is devastating when combined with the injury load.

The Brewers’ 40-man roster, in our OOTP universe, contains 20 pitchers. 18 of them have appeared in the majors this year, and Jesus Castillo, one of the remaining two, is currently on the minor league IL. It’s not simply an issue of not enough good pitching — it’s an issue of not enough pitching, period.

The underbelly of our bullpen is currently a shuttle of Miller, Wahl, Angel Perdomo, and J.P. Feyereisen. None of them are particularly good, but none are offensively bad, either. They’re simply out there to soak up innings, preferably of the low-leverage variety. That leaves Hader, Brent Suter, and Devin Williams as the key members of the unit, with Barlow, Hill, and David Phelps somewhere in between chumps and champs.

What’s the upshot? What decisions does our brain trust have to make today? I’ll level with you — I don’t have a great answer. We can’t choose not to bench Lorenzo Cain, or go trade-wild and pick up Adeiny Hechavarria. Carson Smith was the most enticing relief name out there, and he already turned down a contract from me, signed with the Royals, and sustained a season-ending injury (yeesh).

Mine tradable teams for relievers? Already done! 25% of our current bullpen started the year on the Royals. I will, of course, keep scouring the waiver wire as frequently as I can, as well as look for warm bodies from rebuilding teams. And when Knebel returns, the pressure will die down significantly; having to float two spots with a rotating cast of so-so minor leaguers is significantly more difficult than filling one.

Given that, I’m going to offer some milquetoast strategy options this week. They’re longer-term and more incremental than most of the changes we’re making. What should we do? Signing someone from the free agent pool is interesting; the best player in it right now is an as-far-as-I-can tell fictional character named Sam Pierron, who sits 97-99 with a fastball and supplements it with a filthy changeup. Everyone else is retreads and nobodies, but they could at least provide a few innings in a time of need.

Living with the current shuttle isn’t the end of the world. They haven’t been good yet — they haven’t even approached good, really — but the talent level is there, and Knebel could stabilize things. This option has the added benefit of letting us see what we have in several of these pitchers — Bobby Wahl could be great, or Miller could have rediscovered something, and we’ll never know if we proactively bury them.

Lastly, we could spend talent to acquire players. I’m not really in favor of using this strategy proactively — I prefer to acquire relievers when teams want to trade them rather than when I want to acquire them — but it’s certainly an option worth considering. Pick:

Quick programming note: I’ll be hopping onto FanGraphs Live at noon ET today for another OOTP Brewers stream. We can recap the successes and failures of the last week, laugh at the misfortune of the virtual Cardinals, and heck, maybe dive into the vagaries of Perfect Team if we get the time. OOTP has near-infinite depth, and any extra wins we can squeeze out of this Milwaukee team could be the difference between hanging up a pennant in the virtual FanGraphs readers stadium and staying home come imagined October.

Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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