Jimmy Nelson was the Milwaukee Brewers’ second round selection in 2010. After spending five seasons in the minors, Nelson earned a spot in the rotation in 2014. His minor league success did not translate as smoothly as the Brew Crew had hoped, as Nelson started 14 games, winning only two, while sporting a 4.93 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.
Nelson was solid in his first full season with Milwaukee, posting an 11-13 record with a 4.11 ERA. His WAR of 2.0 placed him within the top 60 pitchers of 2015, showing that at 26 years old he was an above average arm at the time.
Nelson regressed in 2016, winning only eight games, while posting a 4.62 ERA and 4.91 xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, which according to fangraphs.com “is a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the performance of their defense”.
His 4.19 xFIP is considered awful on fangraphs.com’s rating scale. His WAR of 0.7 shows that he was barely better than a replacement level player that season.
Nelson has quietly been incredible this season. His WAR of 4.9 ranks fourth in the MLB, only behind Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer, showing how serious of an impact Nelson was making in Milwaukee. Also, his 3.49 ERA, 10.21 K/9 and 3.14 xFIP place Nelson statistically within the top-10 in each category in the MLB.
In only 175.1 innings, Nelson fell one strikeout short of 200, which was a huge improvement from his former career high of 148, which were thrown in 177.1 innings in 2015.
One major adjustment Nelson has made from season-to-season has been the usage rate of his curveball. In his respectable 2015 campaign, Nelson threw his curveball 21 percent of the time, although in his poor 2016 season, he only used it at a 12 percent clip.
Now in 2017, Nelson is once again is using his curveball 20 percent of the time, which has been key to his success. According to fangraphs.com, his curveball is currently valued at 9.2, where zero represents average value, positive are considered above average and negative are below.
To put this in better perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball has been valued at a total of 63.8 over the course of his career and is currently valued at 6.4.
Nelson is being slept on because of his unproven track record and lack of exposure due to playing in Milwaukee, although statistically he clearly is performing up to par with the elite. If the season was to end today, it is safe to say that Nelson would have been a top-5 NL Cy young candidate.
Impact of the injury
The 28-year-old will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding head-first back into first base. According to Matt Carlson of The Washington Post, general manager David Stearns said that “he does not know if surgery is needed.”
Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright suffered a similar injury while pinch running at the end of the 2016 season, jamming his shoulder while sliding back into second base. Wright also missed the remainder of his breakout season, although the injury seems to have had a serious impact on his pitching ability moving forward.
In his 24 innings since returning, he has allowed 24 runs on 40 hits. Obviously with Wright being a knuckle baller, the situation is very different, although it seems fair to say that the future is uncertain for Nelson after sustaining this type of injury.
The Brewers, who are sneakily only four games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central and three games back of the Colorado Rockies in the wild card race, are going to seriously feel Nelson’s absence because of how successful he has been, although the rest of the rotation is nothing to scoff at.
The Brewers rank 10th in the MLB in team ERA and 12th in strikeouts and batting average against. Zach Davies is currently leading the team in wins with 16, while Chase Anderson is leading in ERA with 3.06. 27-year-old rookie Brent Suter has emerged seemingly out of nowhere, posting a 3.55 ERA 51 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.
Veterans Matt Garza and Junior Guerra have struggled, both posting ERAs over five, although they have been able to eat innings, pitching a combined 174.2. It is clear that Nelson was not the only quality arm in Milwaukee, although he was their unquestioned ace and will be missed. The anticipated replacement options for Nelson include prospects Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader.
Woodruff was an 11th round pick in 2014, and has had two very successful seasons at the high-A and double-A levels. He has made four major league starts in 2017, posting a 1-1 record with 1.52 ERA and 7.61 K/9. According to MLB.com, Woodruff ranks 84th among all MLB prospects this season and looks to be the most ready and reliable option for the Brew Crew to go with.
Hader was a 19th round selection, although he has been widely recognized as one of baseball’s top prospects, as in 2016, Hader was ranked 34th on MLB.com’s prospect watch list after posting a 30-31 record with a 3.11 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 593.1 innings in the minors. In 2017, Hader was called-up to assume a bullpen role, where he has made 28 appearances with zero being starts. He has been successful so far in the majors, so it seems like the Brewers won’t rush Hader into a starter spot even with their current situation.
Featured image by MLB.com
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