One Game In, What Can Brewers Fans Expect From Jeff Suppan in 2010?

By: Big Rygg

Talk about your worst-case scenario.

The Brewers had lost two in a row to the Cubs at Wrigley, the second game punctuated by a LaTroy Hawkins meltdown when the Brewers had a three-run lead in the eighth inning. The wind was blowing out for the third day in a row. Derrek Lee was back in the lineup (for a while at least) after sitting out the game prior while nursing a thumb. Cub ace Carlos Zambrano was on the bump for the home team coming off a strong outing against the Mets despite his Opening Day woes in Atlanta.

And the coup de grace? Jeff Suppan was on the mound for Milwaukee, making his first start of the 2010 season after starting the year on the disabled list due to an injured neck which many fans attributed to Suppan craning his neck to watch all of the hits he was giving up during Spring Training.

Ever hear of a perfect storm?

Well, with apologies to Chris Berman, “That’s why they play the games.”

Sure, Suppan wasn’t great. In fact, he wasn’t even good. He surrendered four earned runs over just five innings of work on six hits (including two home runs) and a walk. His season ERA now stands at 7.20.

But this article isn’t about what the results were today. That’s old news. We’re here to break down how Suppan produced those results and what it could mean about his projected performance for the balance of the 2010 season.

The wind was blowing out, this is true, but both of the home runs the Suppan gave up (to Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd, respectively) would’ve been homers on a different wind day too. They were crushed. Suppan missed up on Lee’s home run, but at least it was on the same third of the plate as his catcher’s mitt. On Byrd’s blast, the target was set on the outside corner and the pitch drifted back to just inside the middle of the plate, just above the knee.

Other than those mistakes, Suppan was hitting the corners decently well and even struck out four batters today. The day was, however, a Brewers-career-in-a-bottle game for Suppan right down to the “except for a couple of pitches, Soup pitched great!” soundbyte from former Brewer manager Ned Yost.

Soup always seems to maximize the damage he does to himself with those bad “couple” of pitches. Either it’s a multiple-run home run or walking the bases loaded before giving up a two-RBI bloop single or three-RBI gapper.

It’s bad luck when it happens some of the time. It’s a trend when it seems to happen most of the time. It’s telling when you keep doing it to yourself.

Catcher Gregg Zaun, who caught today, said (to paraphrase) that no more could have been asked out of Suppan today.

Now I realize that he’s just being a good catcher, but can we as fans really not ask more than 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 2 HR? I think we absolutely have to ask for more, nay demand more.

The problem with Jeff Suppan, though, is not with what can be asked of him, rather it is how much can be expected of him.

Assuming Suppan sticks around in Milwaukee and makes, say, 20 more starts this season for the Brewers, I think all that can be expected is seven wins courtesy of a 5.50 ERA and a WHIP around 1.75 at best.

Look, the offense won’t be able to bail Suppan out like they did to Braden Looper so many times in 2009. The win/loss record and the supporting numbers should much more accurately reflect Suppan’s pitching ability then did Looper’s 14-7 record from a year ago.

I’d love to be able to see Jeff Suppan’s career resurgence as he’s in a virtual contract year. I’d love to see a 20-6 record over 33 starts with a sub-3.50 ERA. I’d love to see the Brewers actually have to consider exercising Suppan’s option before still deciding to cut him loose.

I’d also love to win the lottery tomorrow. I don’t play.

I have to be realistic in my thoughts about Jeff Suppan in 2010 and therefore I have to temper my expectations every fifth day as long as his number keeps getting called.

If Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ken Macha settle on a different fifth starter for the bulk of this year, the Brewers have a chance to win seven to 10 more games. That’s a big swing out of the five-hole, but if anybody can live down to expectations better than Jeff Suppan…

Well let’s just say that I wouldn’t want him on my team either.

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