Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’14 – #30 Tyler Thornburg

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It’s the post that would have been written 33 days ago but for the fact that players are allowed to change jersey numbers should they choose.

So instead of 63, today’s profile will focus on 30 instead and its wearer for the 2014 season…

Tyler Thornburg.

Where do I begin with Tyler Thornburg and the 2013 season?

TylerThornburgLet’s start at the end because that where all the statistics have been compiled.

Tyler Michael Thornburg pitched in 33 regular season games in 2013. He pitched in 18 as a Brewer and 15 as a Nashville Sound.

Thornburg pitched with the Class-AAA Nashville Sounds to begin the season. He was called up to Milwaukee in early June out of necessity more than anything else. He wasn’t the first guy on Doug Melvin’s call list after how he started 2013, but that had a way of working itself out as you’ll see in a bit.

Thornburg started all 15 of his Nashville games and made seven starts for Milwaukee, including all of his September appearances. Thornburg profiles for me pundits as a relief pitcher, but he’s had trouble with getting his arm to rebound quickly enough to be available as often as most bullpen guys are. But I digress.

For now, more on why Thornburg wasn’t the first option in 2013. For that, let’s actually look at those season stats that I referenced a few paragraphs ago.

Here are his separate pitching lines for 2013:

  • AAA: 0-9, 5.79 ERA, 74.2 IP, 90 H, 54 R (48 ER), 11 HR, 29 BB, 87 K, 1.594 WHIP, 10.8 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 10.5 K/9, 4.11 FIP, 3.26 SIERA
  • MLB: 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 66.2 IP, 53 H, 17 R (15 ER), 1 HR, 26 BB, 48 K, 1.185 WHIP, 7.2 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 195 ERA+, 3.54 FIP, 5.00 SIERA

If you’re new to the structure of Major League Baseball, let me first point out that Class-AAA (Nashville) is an easier circuit than the big leagues. That may sound like an obvious statement, but Thornburg’s results suggest anything but.

I’ve made known my theory as to why Thornburg struggled in Triple-A last year so much a few times before via various mediums (radio, blog, podcast), but here it is one more time for posterity.

Part of the reason that some feel Thornburg will eventually wind up in the bullpen is that they don’t feel his stuff is dynamic enough to allow him to continually get the same hitters out over extended periods of time. To put it another way, they think Thornburg can be “figured out”. I don’t know how much stock I put in that because I’m not a baseball scout, but it got me to thinking.

Thornburg raced through the Brewers system after being drafted in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He actually skipped over Nashville on his way up to the bigs and debuted in Milwaukee before throwing a pitch as a Sound. He would then be optioned back to Nashville in 2012 to continue to develop. Through that, and the guys he pitched against on the way up starting to reach Triple-A, and with 2013 starting back in Nashville…. it seemed to add up to the idea that maybe too many of the hitters at that level had seen enough of his stuff that he was starting to get hit harder. Combine that with a bit of bad luck (he had a .383 BABip in Nashville in 2013 which doesn’t factor in his 1.3 HR/9 rate), an offense that didn’t do him any favors, and a mental snowballing effect, and you can see how Nashville simply got out of hand.

And it may sound silly to the saber-minded, but with a fresh stat line in Milwaukee, a mental reboot of a new environment, and the excitement of being back in the big leagues, Thornburg went out and pitched very well, even dominating at times.

The only other option is that Thornburg was sulking because he wasn’t in the big leagues, but that doesn’t match up at all with the man’s personality, determination, and demeanor.

The true test of that theory will be 2014 though. Despite Doug Melvin’s correct stance to not want to trade Thornburg for the likes of Ike Davis, the right-hander is unlikely to break camp with the parent club this year after the free agent signing of Matt Garza. After all, nobody makes it through a season with just five starting pitchers so the Brewers brass will likely want to maintain their sudden depth in starting pitching and have Thornburg stay stretched out by fronting Nashville’s rotation.

Thornburg could start the season in the big league bullpen, but the Brewers have enough options there that he shouldn’t have to. I’d prefer for him to start all season and confirm that his 2013 Nashville experience was a fluke.

Expect Thornburg to start for Milwaukee at some point this year though. That feels like a virtual certainty given the law of averages coupled with the injury histories of both Garza and Marco Estrada.

And if I know Thornburg, he’ll be ready to go whenever he gets the ball the next time for the Brewers.

You can follow Tyler Thornburg on Twitter: @TylerThornburg

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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