And no, I'm not referring to plastic surgery. The Brewers agreed to terms today with lefty Doug Davis, who pitched for the club for three plus seasons from 2003-2006. The deal is still pending a physical, but all accounts say that it will be for one season with mutual option for 2011. Year one of the deal is worth $4.25 million while year two, if exercised, is worth $6.5 million with a $1 million buyout. So guaranteed money is $5.25 million.
Enough of the numbers, lets get into why this is a good deal.
Find Someone Better
When the offseason began, Doug Melvin said he wanted to sign two starting pitchers. It's clear that the team felt John Lackey wasn't within their price range, so they targeted Randy Wolf. Check. After the calender turned to 2010, indications were that the team was still in the running for another starter.
The choices? Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jon Garland. Washburn had struggled in three of his four years with Seattle and then stunk after a trade to Detroit (To be fair he was hurt). Garland was the youngest option, and statistically bears a remarkable resemblance to Jeff Suppan at that age. And Davis was fresh off a year in which he walked 103 batters.
So why is Davis the best option? He's accustomed to the National League and also has been putting up solid numbers despite pitching in hitter's parks (Miller Park and Chase Field). There's also a comfort level when bringing in a pitcher that has been with the club before.
Over a three year period Davis' ERA was 4.25 - 4.32 - 4.12; Washburn's numbers are 4.32 - 4.69 - 3.78, if that's the best he can muster while pitching in the cavernous Safeco Field it's scary to think about what his numbers would be in Miller Park. Garland's numbers were 4.23 - 4.90 - 4.01, that third season bolstered heavily by six games he pitched for the Dodgers at the end of the year. Nothing like a pitcher who puts up good numbers in a contract year, huh.
What's most important is not who the team didn't sign, but who they did. The question that you have to ask to compare players is did they improve? Clearly they did. Davis' 2009 was a better year than 4/5 of the the Crew's rotation.
He pitched more innings than any returning starter (Randy Wolf had more) and only Yovanni Gallardo struck out more batters and had a lower ERA (Wolf had a better ERA as well). This is a very substantial upgrade from the teams awful starting rotation in 2009. Combined with the signing of Wolf the Brewers have made huge strides in their Starting Pitching.
Odd Man Out
Addition by subtraction. Signing Doug Davis to the club means the team will have six starters for five spots. Gallardo, Wolf and Davis will be in the rotation, there's no doubt about that. I would be surprised if Manny Parra didn't start as well, which leaves Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush competing for the last spot in the rotation.
Just the fact that one of these two pitchers won't be in the starting rotation means the team has gotten better. It also bodes well for depth, one of the main problems last season was that when Bush and Suppan went down with injuries, the team had no viable replacements. They ended up giving starts to Carlos Villanueva, Seth McClung, Mike Burns and Chris Narvesen. Villanueva and McClung were at their best in the bullpen while Burns looked overmatched. Narvesen had his moments but September stats are as trustworthy as spring stats, basically useless.
Narvesen will still be around in 2010, and will likely be one of the chief options when injuries do occur. Starting pitching depth was a foreign concept a year ago, but it may be a strength in 2010.
Look, Doug Davis will not be the staff ace, he's not even a No. 2 starter. It's a stretch to even call him a No. 3 pitcher, but he's better than who the Brewers trotted out there a season ago. Yea, he'll walk too many batters and he'll be frustrating at times. But it's only a one-year commitment. If it doesn't go well the team doesn't have to bring him back for another season.
What does build confidence is that Doug Melvin was able to attract the two free agents to his squad that he targeted. Milwaukee might never be a premiere free agent destination, but give Melvin his due, he attracted the guys he wanted without a Suppan-esque trainwreck of a contract.
The Brewers are better, and at the end of the day that's all that matters.