After Mike Leake got rocked for 7 runs in just 2 innings of work on Wednesday John Brebbia stepped in and really saved the bullpen. In his first appearance since the all-star break Brebbia threw three scoreless innings. This was huge in keeping the bullpen from being overworked as well as stopping the bleeding from getting any worse.
Brebbia has a great story. The former 30th round pick by the Yankees was released following the 2013 season. He then played two seasons in independent ball before being signed by the Diamondbacks and then selected as a minor league rule 5 draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Since being called up on May 27th the 27 year old righty has put up some pretty impressive numbers. He has a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings pitched as well as a 0.77 WHIP. He has been used pretty sporadically but he’s done his job admirably nearly every time that he’s been called upon.
So what’s the problem?
While Brebbia’s results have been very good in his limited major league experience, there are some concerning underlying numbers. Despite his 1.64 ERA, he is sporting a 3.91 FIP. A 3.91 FIP isn’t the end of the world. I mean, Jonathan Broxton hasn’t seen a FIP that low in years. It does, however, show that some serious regression is in his future.
Now it’s no secret that ERA is not the best way to evaluate relief pitchers given their small sample of innings from year to year. A lot of people like to look at a pitchers WHIP to see how they’re doing, and Brebbia’s WHIP is impressive. A big part of what is driving his 0.77 WHIP is a 4.7% walk percentage. This is very low and bodes well for his future performance. He’s had pretty good walk rates in the minor leagues as well so there’s no reason to expect this to rise a whole lot.
Where Brebbia’s WHIP is likely to see some regression is in his batted ball luck. Batters facing him have only a .177 batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. This is very low as the MLB average is around .300. As this stabilizes it’s fair to expect him to allow more hits which will raise his WHIP significantly and lead to more runs allowed.
Now a big part of what has kept his BABIP so low is that he is inducing a 54.8% fly ball rate. If he had the innings to qualify this would be the highest FB% in all of baseball this season. The good thing about fly balls is that they lead to a very low batting average as most of them are caught. The bad thing about fly balls though is that they can turn into home runs very easily.
Brebbia has seen some home run luck as well
He has allowed just two home runs in his 22 innings and has just a 5.9% HR/FB rate. A league average HR/FB rate is around 10%. Pitching half of his games in Busch Stadium will help keep that number a bit lower, but it’s still sure to come up somewhat.
I typically prefer to look at FIP instead of xFIP because I do believe that some pitchers are better at suppressing home runs than others and xFIP assumes an average home run rate. However, in cases like this when looking at a very small sample size, I do think that xFIP can be useful. Brebbia’s xFIP on the season is a whopping 5.47. So basically, if both his batted ball luck and his home run luck regress to league average, he’s going to be in some trouble.
Unless Brebbia can start striking batters out at a higher rate, I think his success in the majors is going to be short-lived. He is only striking out 6.14 batters per 9 innings, which is a well below average rate. He could also see some improvement in his future outlook by inducing more ground balls going forward.
What this means for the bullpen
Back around the time that Miguel Socolovich was sent to Memphis and Jonathan Broxton was released I remember Mo talking about how they had too many guys that couldn’t be moved. By getting rid of those two pitchers, he created exactly what he was looking for. Brebbia has options, and if the league starts catching up to him he can be sent back down in exchange for another arm. This kind of revolving door at the back end of the bullpen is a great way to keep guys fresh and get good production in the middle innings of games because pitchers don’t get over exposed. I expect that Brebbia will be with the major league club until his performance slips. At that point he will likely be swapped with a different reliever from Memphis.
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