Grading the Brewers: Starting Pitchers

CC Sabathia proved to be an excellent student, as his report card shows. Check out what grade he got as well as the other members of the starting rotation.

Considered one of the team's strengths because of depth heading into the season, the starting rotation suffered through many a bumpy ride.

The biggest blow occurred May 1 when second-year sensation Yovani Gallardo blew out his knee at Wrigley Field. That moved Seth McClung into a more prominent role, which he slowly adapted to. However, Carlos Villanueva imploded and was sent to the bullpen.

With Ben Sheets performing at an All-Star level and Manny Parra exceeding expectations, then skipper Ned Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux managed to patch things together until the team's offense picked up the pace in late May.

Things went smoothly, but general manager Doug Melvin knew it wasn't enough, so he pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of the year and one of the biggest at midseason in history, getting CC Sabathia for what eventually became four prospects.

Milwaukee then rolled through July and August as one of the best team's in baseball. But then the bottom dropped out—except for Sabathia and Dave Bush—as the Jeff Suppan and Parra floundered nearly as much as the team's anemic offense in September.

So, after such a topsy-turvy season, it's time for report cards, and here are the grades:

Ben Sheets

Big Ben heard the clock strike 158 times this season against 47 walks in 198.1 innings, making more than 30 starts for the first time since the 2004 season. However, that was painfully not enough as he scuffled and suffered through an elbow injury from late August on, skipping a start late in the year, lasting only 2 and 2.1 innings in his final two appearances and missing out on the first postseason action of his career.

It was the fourth consecutive campaign in which he missed time because of injuries, all under his four-year, $38 million contract. And this was the most painful of all because of the team's race for the playoffs and how it created so many problems with the rotation that interim manager Dale Sveum could piece together.

Still, Sheets finished 13-9, the most victories of his eight-year stint in Milwaukee. He fashioned a 3.09 earned-run average, registered five complete games and recorded three of his four career shutouts.

Sheets started 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA through April and improved to 10-1 before losing his final start before the All-Star break. He was named the National League's starter for the Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium, working two scoreless innings.

The big right-hander then lost four of his first five decisions after the break, partly due to a lack of run support and because he couldn't get guys out on his biting curveball or hung his breaking pitches, oftentimes while ahead in the count.

His problem always has been the lack of a consistent, quality third pitch or one that he can throw for strikes. He also walked 47 batters, the most since his second season of 2002.

Although he had more hits (5) and higher average (.075) than any season since '04 and knocked in a career-high five runs, Sheets continued to be mostly a liability with the bat.

Final grade: B-

Jeff Suppan

Jeff Suppan

The veteran righty was mostly disappointing again. Suppan started the 2007 campaign 5-2 before faltering to finish 12-12. In 2008, he went 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA against losing teams in August, except for a no-decision against the Dodgers, who were only three games above .500.

Other than that, he was 5-10. That means Suppan finished 10-10 with a 4.96 ERA, the highest of any starter and better than only Eric Gagne (5.44), David Riske (5.31) and Derrick Turnbow (15.63).

Everyone knows that Suppan doesn't have lights-out stuff and pitches to contact, and that he did well this year: He gave up a whopping 207 hits in 177.1 innings. And to top it off, he issued 67 walks. That's more than 1.5 runners per inning.

And when the team needed his experience and production the most, Suppan failed. He finished 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA in September, allowing 45 runners in 21.1 innings. Then he gave up three homers and five runs in putting the Brewers in a deep hole in Game 4 of the NLDS.

One could argue that he earned his salary in August, but Suppan didn't live up to his reputation as an innings eater and allowed way too many base runners. He batted .140 and was a good bunter, but the team and fans deserve better than a .500 pitcher for their $42 million.

Final grade: D

CC Sabathia

What can be said that already hasn't? This cat was awesome. The big southpaw should win a Cy Young award—anyone--but probably won't because, by no fault of his own, he pitched in both leagues. But he's by far the biggest reason for the Brewers even being in a pennant race because he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, seven complete games and three shutouts after being obtained from Cleveland in early July.

The California native finished 4-0 in July and 5-0 in August. Although Sabathia suffered his only two defeats, he still went 2-2 in September with a 2.11 ERA and 43-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, starting his final three times on short rest, to help end Milwaukee's 26-year playoff drought while the rest of the staff was falling apart around him.

He allowed only 106 hits and 25 walks in 130 innings while striking out 128.

Sabathia was lit up for five runs in Game 2 of the NLDS in Philly, but there's no doubt that he would have fared much better had the series gone to a deciding fifth contest.

He also provided a big stick from the No. 9 hole, finishing 11 for 48 (.229) with two doubles and a homer. He was second behind Manny Parra (12) in hits by a pitcher despite only being a Brewer for half the season.

Final grade: A

Dave Bush

Dave Bush

He finished second to Sheets in innings with 185, giving up 163 hits while striking out 109 and walking 48. He did give up 29 homers, second-most to Suppan's 30, and fashioned a 4.18 ERA and 9-10 record. Not too bad for a back-of-the-rotation guy who was making far less money than his much-heralded counterparts.

Bush rallied nicely after a 0-3 April and 1-5 mark with a 6.04 ERA through May. He registered successive monthly ERAs of 3.65, 3.49 and 2.12 (4-0 in August) before falling to 4.50 in September, although he only had one terrible start, that being a two-homer, six-run outing against the Mets to start the month.

He then got the team's only playoff victory, a 4-1 decision in which he worked the first 5.1 innings, giving up only one run and five hits while striking out three and walking none.

If not for his slow start and the ill-advised platoon with Seth McClung, Bush was pretty solid all-around and nearly had a no-hitter against Toronto in June.

He failed to knock in a run and batted only .088, below his usual standards but at least he knows what he's doing at the plate.

Final grade: B-

Manny Parra

Manny Parra

The much-needed lefty in the rotation before Sabathia arrived, Parra showed growth and hopefully will learn from his rough second half, finishing 10-8 overall with a 4.39 ERA in 166 innings.

Command issues, partly because of a lack of trust in his pitches, led to 181 hits and 75 walks against 147 strikeouts. That's far too many base runners and something he'll have to improve upon in his second full season in the big leagues.

Parra started 1-2 but rattled off eight consecutive victories, including two wins against Houston and one versus Minnesota that had his ERA as low as 3.65. But then his season went south as back-to-back losses to the Astros and Cubs at home were followed by the defeat at Cincinnati on Aug. 4, the one that might have ignited the team because of Prince Fielder's uncalled for dugout tirade and shove of Parra.

Parra won only once after that, Aug. 20 vs. Houston. In September, he compiled a 7.79 ERA with 27 hits and 15 runs in 17.1 innings. He was banished to the bullpen during the final two weeks, but he tossed 2.1 scoreless innings in two appearances against the Phillies in the NLDS.

He, like Sabathia, provided the Brewers with a nice stick from the ninth spot, and a lefty to boot. He finished at .226 with a team-high 12 hits for a pitcher, including five doubles, a triple and six RBIs.

Final grade: C-

Seth McClung

The big redhead also swung from the left side and showed he could rake, collecting five hits, including a double, in 19 at-bats for a .263 average. His highlight was two hits against Randy Johnson.

However, he proved valuable as a starter and reliever, except during the aforementioned platoon with Bush, which created an up-and-down campaign while bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving.

McClung finished 6-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 37 appearances, including 12 starting assignments. His results were as varied as his innings as his monthly ERAs went 5.40, 4.42, 3.68, 4.81 and 6.75. But in September, he was pretty much lights out: McClung allowed two earned runs in 16.1 innings, striking out 17 and walking nine, four of the free passes coming in a spot start at Cincy.

McClung was particularly impressive against the Cubs, tossing six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.

Final grade: C+

Yovani Gallardo

The young potential No. 1 starter began the year on the disabled list after undergoing surgery on his left knee in spring training. Then, in the fifth inning of his third start at Chicago on May 1, he tried to avoid a sliding Reed Johnson on a play at first base and blew out his ACL in his right knee, even though he finished that inning and one more after the injury.

His season was over after 20 innings, but what a 20 innings they were: 13 strikeouts, 19 hits, six walks and only four earned runs—and two of the latter occurred after he tore his ACL. So he had a 1.80 ERA.

But wait a minute. His bulldog mentality and superhuman healing abilities allowed him to come back and give the team a much-needed boost in the final week. He started and worked four innings against Pittsburgh, allowing one run on three hits while striking out seven in a game the Brewers eventually won in the 10th on Ryan Braun's walk-off grand slam.

Gallardo then answered the bell to start Game 1 of the NLDS, surrendering three unearned runs in four innings of a 3-1 defeat. He then worked in relief in Game 4, tossing three scoreless frames upon taking over for Suppan.

He only got to bat nine times with one hit, a double, after hitting .250 as a rookie.

Final grade: B+


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