Jimmy Nelson Is Putting Together An All-Time Brewers Season
The Crew’s ace is in the midst of a historically great campaign
This past Sunday, as Jimmy Nelson was finishing up his (ultimately wasted) eight-inning gem against the Rays, Disciples of Uecker blogger Ryan Topp asked Twitter, “Jimmy Nelson is having the best season for a #Brewers starter since when? [Yovani Gallardo] in 2011?” And, sure enough, checking out the numbers, Big Jim is indeed having a Brewers season for the ages. He has a 3.24 ERA, good for eighth best in the league and ranks among league leaders in innings pitched and strikeouts. His WAR of 3.1 ranks 10th among NL pitchers this year and is already better than any of Gallardo’s years in Milwaukee.
Nelson is on pace for a WAR of more than 4.5 this year, which would place him in some pretty exclusive Brewers company: Only 21 Brewers starting pitchers have ever topped that mark in a single season, the most recent being CC Sabathia in 2008. If Nelson continues on his hot streak (he has an ERA of 2.60 over his last 10 starts), he has a chance to crack 5 WAR—a mark that only 11 Brewers starters have ever reached. Nelson also has an ERA+ of 133. Only nine other qualified starters in team history have posted a better mark over a full season, the last being Ben Sheets in 2008. Fielding-independent pitching (FIP) places Nelson in even more select company, with his FIP of 3.04 (third best in the NL this year) trailing only six other qualified starters in team history and the best since Zack Greinke’s 2.98 mark in 2011.
More traditional numbers also show Nelson on pace for a historic season. His 3.24 ERA is a mark that qualified Brewers starters have bested just 17 times ever and only three times in the past quarter-century. Only 21 Brewers starters have ever registered a WHIP lower than Nelson’s 1.19. And when it comes to striking men out, Nelson is truly among the franchise elites. Assuming Nelson gets another nine starts, he is on pace for about 220 strikeouts, which would rank only behind Sheets’ bonkers 264 K campaign in 2004 and Teddy Higuera’s 240 K 1987. Nelson has averaged 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings this year—a pace that lags only behind Greinke’s 10.54 K/9 from 2011. But beyond just the K’s, it has been Nelson’s ability to limit walks that has aided his huge step forward this year. After leading the league in walks last season, Nelson has halved his walk rate for 2017, and his 4.65 K-to-walk ratio trails only Sheets’ 2004 team record of 8.25 among qualified starters.
Barring a late-season collapse, Nelson’s 2017 will rank as one of the best seasons by a Brewers’ starter of the past decade. He has certainly been more valuable than Gallardo in ’11 and, if he stays sharp, has a chance to record the greatest full-season performance since Ben Sheets’ 2004 (which probably ranks among the two or three greatest pitching season in team history), Sheets’ 2008 (an underrated, injury shortened year), or since. By any measure, Nelson has been one of the most valuable cogs in the Big Blue Machine this season and seems to be aligning himself as the anchor of the Brewers rotation for what should be a highly anticipated 2018 season.