By all accounts, Jeff Suppan is a good guy.
He's considered a veteran, calming clubhouse presence for young pitchers like Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra, a positive character in the community (due to his strong Catholic faith), and during his struggles last year, a stand-up guy when it came to taking responsibility for his struggles down the stretch, especially during last year's deciding playoff game versus the Phillies.
But he's going to destroy the Brewers this year.
It's not as simple as the fact that since last August:
- he hasn't won a game
- he's given up 12 homers and 20 walks
- his E.R.A. is over 10
It's that he's only pitched 32 innings in his eight starts, or four innings per start. On average, Jeff Suppan hasn't been around by the fifth inning.
To put this in perspective, take a look at the World Series teams from last year. Here are the innings, starts, and innings-per-start of the Phillies' and the Rays' top three starters.
Hamels: 227 innings, 33 starts, 6.88 in/start
Moyer: 196 innings, 33 starts, 5.94 in/start
Myers: 190 innings, 30 starts, 6.33 in/start
Shields: 215 innings, 33 starts, 6.51 in/start
Sonnanstine: 193 innings, 32 starts, 6.03 in/start
Garza: 184 innings, 30 starts, 6.13 in/start
Looking at the Brewers' top three last year:
Sabathia: 130 innings, 17 starts, 7.65 in/start
Sheets: 198 innings, 31 starts, 6.39 in/start
Bush: 185 innings, 29 starts, 6.36 in start
Jeff Suppan last year: 177 innings, 31 starts, 5.71 in/start. Which isn't as alarming except when you look at his innings/start in his last four years with St. Louis and Milwaukee—6.06 in 2004 and 2005, 6.13 in 2006 and 6.06 (with MIL) in 2007.
When GM Doug Melvin signed Suppan, it wasn't because they were looking for an ace. His job was to eat innings and stay uninjured, something their regular Ace (Sheets) couldn't do.
"Jeff's experience and durability should have a positive influence on our entire pitching staff," said Melvin when he signed Suppan. But how positive can your starter be when he can't make it to the fifth inning?
When a starter, any starter, can't make it to the fifth, it becomes an albatross around the neck of every player on the team. Braun, Fielder and co. are coming into games knowing five runs might not cut it on Suppan's days. Middle-inning relievers have to come in earlier and pitch more when Suppan pitches, meaning starters (especially Gallardo and Parra) are pressured to pitch deeper in May and June because manager Ken Macha needs to rest his middle relievers sometime.
Dave Bush and Braden Looper can make it into the 6th and 7th, but they're worn down by then. For Parra (who hit a wall last year) and Gallardo (who could hit it if Macha doesn't monitor his innings), Suppan's inability to pitch deep could hinder them in August and September when an ace needs to pitch on shorter rest (see Sabathia).
Everyone knows the Brewers can score runs, but so can the Cubs, Cardinals, and a dozen other teams in the NL. What separates the playoff teams from the pretenders is pitching (especially, starting pitching). Sabathia separated the Brewers from the rest of the NL wild card contenders last year. Supposedly, Melvin is looking at Jake Peavy, who could do the same. But if that deal cannot be done, Jeff Suppan could be the direct and indirect reason for the Brewers' 2009 season ending before September begins.