Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Goldschmidt's Granny Dooms Brewers in Game 3

If you've followed the Brewers this season, you probably know manager Ron Roenicke is not a huge fan of the intentional walk. Time and time again he has said it is something that he doesn't like to use.

It's pretty fitting that the Brewers matched up with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the NLDS. In fact, they are two very similar teams. They both hit their fair share of home runs. Both teams rely mainly on the strength of their top three pitchers. They also don't issue free passes.

In game one, Kirk Gibson was faced with a very interested scenario. After a two out double by Ryan Braun, Gibson watched as Prince Fielder walked to the plate. After taking the first pitch, Fielder deposited the next into the right field stands, giving the Brewers a 4-0 lead and basically solidified game one for the Brewers. Many argued Gibson should have walked Fielder to get to Weeks. That's just not their game.

The Brewers and Diamondbacks finished dead last in the league in intentional walks. Both teams finished the season with 16 IBB issued. Only the Boston Red Sox (11), had less this season.

Ron Roenicke was faced with a similar dilemma to Gibson's on Tuesday night. He decided to take a path he rarely travels and walk Miguel Montero to load the bases for Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt then followed with the first grand slam in Diamondbacks history. The dinger gave the Diamondbacks a 7-1 lead and basically game three.

So was Roenicke right in walking Montero?

According to fangraphs, the move slightly lowered the Brewers chances for victory, but I would argue this doesn't tell the whole story. Montero already hit two balls very solidly off Marcum and was one base hit from putting the D'Backs up three. Instead, the Diamondbacks were forced to rely on Paul Goldschmidt. While Goldschmidt has just as much, if not more power than Montero, he was less likely to deliver a hit. Goldschmidt struck out 29.9% of the time this season. He hit just .250, as opposed to Montero's .282. If I'm Roenicke in that situation, I try to avoid what beats you there. While a base hit might not deliver a knock out blow, it significantly puts the Brewers in trouble. In my opinion, Roenicke made the correct move.

It's pretty interesting that two teams who don't issue free bases have had to ponder it in two game changing situations. All said, you have to feel pretty good if you are a Brewers fan still one win from the NLCS.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Future Isn't That Bleak

We've heard it time and time again; the Brewers are going 'all in' this year. While it's tough to question that logic, is it exactly correct?

There is little doubt arguing Brewers did dealt away many of their top prospects in an already slim minor league system this offseason. First, they sent top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. Then, the sent Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi to the Kansas City Royals for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt. Those were certainly two moves that drastically changed the future plans for the Milwaukee Brewers.

But, despite sending those key pieces away, the Brewers find themselves in a pennant race and I would suggest many think those trades worked out. It's tough to argue with that logic considering the excitement surrounding the club at the moment. However, what many feared in these deals was not the immediate consequences, but the long term effects.

I'm hear to argue that although those trades certainly didn't help the future chances of this organization, they didn't entirely cripple them either.

The minor league system currently has some very nice pieces falling into place that should benefit the future Brewers clubs. Here are some of those options that will be explored in years to come.

Mat Gamel

While Gamel always seems to be forgotten and not labeled as a top prospect, I argue there is no player more in the minor league more important than Gamel. Gamel has a couple of things going for him. First, he can hit. Despite struggling in limited playing time in each of the last three years in Milwaukee, Gamel has consistently been tearing the cover off the ball in AAA. He has averaged an OPS around .900 over of the last three years in Nashville. Even more impressive is the ability he possess to get on base. In each of the last two seasons, Gamel has posted OBP's of .387 while playing everyday. Sure, he's not going to be Prince Fielder, but few are with the bat.

Another nice thing for the Brewers regarding Gamel is he is cheap. To date, Gamel has just over one year of MLB service time under his belt. He is cheaply control for years to come. While not playing him in the major leagues has frustrated me, it has also allowed the Brewers to save money in the future. There is little doubt in my mind, if Gamel plays everyday in Milwaukee, he will hit.

Taylor Green

If there is one player that has helped soften the blow of losing Brett Lawrie this offseason, it's Taylor Green. After posting some very impressive numbers to start his pro career, Green really fell off the map. His walks regressed, as did his power. However, that seemed to all change this season. Green is murdering AAA pitching to the tune of a .337/.419/.587 line. Yes, that's correct, Green's OPS is over 1.000 in 449 plate appearances. His wOBA currently resides at an incredible .431. Green is sure to be a big part of the future plans in Milwaukee and, again, will come very cheap.

Caleb Gindl

Gindl, like Green is also enjoying a resurgent season in Nashville. Despite always posting very good walk totals, he always seemed to struggle with a low batting average that seemed to kill his value. This season, Gindl has changed that. He is batting .298/.381/.473, while playing everyday in right and center for the Sounds. He, like Green must be placed on the 40-man roster by the end of the year to avoid the Rule 5 draft. Obviously, it's pretty clear both players will be in Milwaukee next season.

While there are others who could certainly contribute (Kyle Heckathorn, Tyler Thornburg, ect.), in the future, these look to be the most immediate impact in Milwaukee. With the entire starting rotation intact for 2012 and the majority of the positional players, next year looks just as good in Milwaukee. What I'm arguing is that after that won't look like the early-2000's either.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Brewers Acquire K-Rod

In a move that can only be categorized as stunning, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets along with $5 million Tuesday. Milwaukee will send two PTBNL back in exchanged for the eccentric 29 year-old RHP.

While the bullpen has been taking a beating of late, the Brewers have a large variety of talent at their disposal. Kameron Loe leads the team with seven loses and a bunch of late inning mishaps, but all his numbers would suggest that would only turn around. After dealing with injury problems, Takashi Saito is finally healthy and ready to return to late inning duties, but is likely to move into a seventh inning role with this move.

The biggest motivator for the Mets in this trade was the $17.5 million option looming over them next year. That option would have automatically have kicked in if Rodriguez would have finished another 21 games for the Mets this season. Seeing as he was the teams closer, that is something that was very likely to happen. However, the trade doesn't take this part of his contract away. So, to recap, if K-Rod finishes another 21 games this season, the Brewers will automatically have his contract on the books in 2012. Easy solution to that is to relegate him to setup duties. A move the Brewers will almost certainly do. With Rodriguez manning setup duties, and John Axford closing, the Brewers have gone a long way in trying to limit the opponent's game to seven innings. There is no question how valuable a lock down back end of the bullpen can be (i.e. 2010 San Diego Padres).

The biggest concern for the Milwaukee Brewers heading forward lies at shortstop. They continue to give ample playing time to Yuniesky Betancourt who has responded to the tune of a first half WAR of -0.8. Surely, many fans could expect the Brewers to be active at the trade deadline, but obviously for a shortstop.

There are options available for the Brewers to explore at shortstop, but with the trade, this does close some doors. Obviously, trading for Rodriguez and the $5 million he's still owed this season (plus the $3.5 million buyout for next year), puts an already high Brewers payroll at the breaking point. The Brewers received $5 million in this trade, so essentially take on $3.5 million for Rodriguez and his services.

As of now, there is no way to tell if Doug Melvin further emptied an already razor thin minor league system. With the news of the Mets sending $5 million to the Brewers in this trade, I would assume they would expect some talent to be returned. However, Buster Olney is reporting the Mets made a straight salary dump here. If true, this becomes a very nice pickup at a decent price for the Brewers.

While his velocity may have dropped in past couple of years, Francisco Rodriguez is still a very good pitcher. This season, he is striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. He also possess a very good 52% groundball rate that should only help him at Miller Park. His FIP currently sits just south of his good 3.16 ERA.

Rodriguez will no doubt help an already good Milwaukee bullpen. But, if this acquisition means they have to stomach a bad shortstop for the remainder of the pennant race, the Brewers may have misfired here. Addressing flaws should be priority number one for a contending baseball team. The Brewers failed to address their top concern Tuesday night. While Rodriguez will certainly improve the club, the bullpen was not the problem. Shortstop will remain the biggest variable in the Brewers 2011 season as long as Yuniesky Betancourt continues to see extended playing time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kameron Loe's Struggles

There have been a lot of things the Brewers have been unsure about this season. Just who should hit behind Prince Fielder? Who should bat second? Who should be the starting centerfielder? However, those issues have seemed to take a backseat of late. Sure, the Brewers don't have a viable protector behind Prince, but when Braun returns, it should sort itself out.

The more troubling thing from my point of view has been what has been occurring in the eight inning. Since he grabbed control of setup duties last season, Kameron Loe has seemed to cement himself in that role. Despite some terrible struggles of late, Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke has stuck with Loe. Problem with that is he is just not pitching that well.

As of now, Loe is sporting a very lofty 4.87 ERA. Despite being a reliever, Loe has a team-leading seven loses. Granted loses are a very misleading stat, but if a reliever leads your team in them, it's probably not a good sign. So what exactly has been the issue with Loe this season?

In 2011, Loe has seen his ERA jump more than two runs. Obviously, that sounds like trouble. However, he has also seen both his FIP and xFIP decrease this season. That would be a sign of an unlucky pitcher. In fact, Loe's strikeout rate has actually increased to 7.3 K/9 this season. Also on the increase is his already stellar groundball rate, which currently sits at 62.6% (up 3% from last year).

While those are all good numbers for Loe, he is running into problems in other areas. His LOB% (percent of his runners that don't score) currently stands at 64.1%, which is 9% lower than the league average. Easily put, when a runner reaches on Loe, he is touching the plate more than 1/3 of the time. While that may be something very difficult to control, especially for a reliever, it also can lead people to believe you're not very good. It's just another day in the life of a reliever. Even starters have full seasons where luck is just not on their side. For a starter, they have 200+ innings to even out their fortune. For a reliever, they get maybe 1/3 of that same time.

Takashi Saito was signed this offseason to assume the eight inning duties. With Saito returning from injury last week, that is something he will likely regain after getting some work under his belt. However, that's not to say he is incapable of throwing quality, high leverage innings for the Brewers. Loe is throwing very good baseball right now. The stats just don't lead fans to think that's the case. Over time, hopefully things will level out for Kameron and the Brewers bullpen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Can't Control Baseball

If there is one thing that has been pretty indicative of the first seven weeks of the Brewers season, it's been that there are simply some things out of the control of those involved with the game. Batters can hit the ball right on the screws and not find holes. Or, in Zack Greinke's case, pitches can make all the correct pitches and still end up with no so dominant results.

Obviously the Brewers weren't expecting Greinke to come in and have an ERA of 5.79 through his first five starts of the season. Surely, those are disappointing numbers for the former Cy Young award winner. However, how Greinke has gotten that ERA is much more important than the number itself.

Taking one glance at Greinke's numbers, it's pretty tough to understand why they are where they are. He has struck out 39 batters in just 28 innings. That's not the problem. Maybe he is walking batters. Well, again that can't be it as he has allowed just three free passes all season. If you really want to understand why Greinke has 'struggled' this season, one has to take into account things the pitcher just can't control.

Greinke has cruised through inning after inning this season, only to see one inning come back and bite him. Generally, the damage has come through the home run ball. Greinke's HR/FB ratio is currently at an astounding 17.9%, or 11.2% higher than his career average. Batters have also found hits with 34.8% of the balls put in play against him this season. Again, that is 4% higher than his career norm.

Obviously, those are numbers that will come back to earth and are contributing to Greinke's woes this season, but are not the most telling stat. Even though so few batters have been able to make contact against Greinke, and even fewer have reached base, those who have, have been scoring. In fact, 48% of the baserunners Greinke has allowed this season have come around to score. That's one of the most ridiculous statistics I have ever heard. For reference, in Jeff Suppan's worst season as a Brewer, just 29% of his runners were scoring. In fact, that number has little to do with talent and much more to do with luck. Simply put Zack Greinke has pitched incredibly this season. Take that in two ways: incredible and incredibly unlucky. If he continues this incredible pace he is on, his ERA is going to end of much closer to his current xFIP of 1.58 than his current ERA.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Return of John Axford

After a rough start to the season, Brewers fans had reasons to be concerned about John Axford. He seemed to struggle with his location and simply wasn't getting batters to chase the pitches that made him successful in 2010. Sure, it was only 6.1 innings, but some signs for regression were there.

I wrote an article depicting the struggles from Axford and blaming most of it on location. The velocity was still there, but Axford wasn't placing his pitches where he wanted them. Looking back, Axford has seemed to solve this issue and return to his 2010 form of a dominant arm at the back end of the Brewers bullpen.

Since those problematic 6.1 innings, Axford has been unhittable. Looking at his numbers before and after are a pretty good representation of Axford's turnaround.

Before April 19th

6.1 IP, 6 ER, 8 Hits, 6 BB, 6 K, 3 Saves, 2 Blown Saves

Since April 19th

15 IP, 4 ER, 15 Hits, 2 BB, 21 K, 9 Saves, 0 Blown Saves

The outcome looks even more promising for Axford. Thus far, batters who put the ball in play have had that ball land for a hit 38.6% of the time. While Axford has done a very good job of limiting the amount of contact being made against him (11.5 K/9), his has been unlucky thus far. If those numbers dip to the league average of 29-31%, Axford's late inning effectiveness will only increase.

He has also improved his ability to throw strikes during this span. Through those first seven outings, Axford was throwing strikes at a 60.4% clip. As that number has increased, so has his productivity. Since April 19th, Axford's pitches have gone for strikes 68% of the time. This obviously leads to the increased strikeout and reduced walk totals. Also leading to that positive turn has been Axford's ability to get hitters to swing and miss when he is throwing those strikes. Right now, Axford's getting swings and misses at 21.3% of the pitches inside the strike zone. For a reference, Axford recorded just 15.8 in that category last year.

However it's looked at, John Axford's production is on the rise. For a closer who is controlled very cheaply, this is great news for the Brewers. As long as Axford continues to throw strikes and use his plus arm, the Brewers have a very nice asset at the back end of their bullpen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Offensive Offense

Let's be blunt, the Milwaukee Brewers are pretty tough to watch right now. The bullpen is struggling. The defense has been horrendous. Most important, they have lost seven in a row.

How they have looked in those seven games has been an even worse story. The offense has been just awful. The stats are very simple over the past week. In those seven games, they have scored just seven runs. They have just 34 hits over that same span. Even worse, they have struck out 62 in those games. That is pretty terrible, but even worse considering they have walked just nine times. What does that come out to? A near seven to one strikeout to walk ratio for opposing pitchers.

Looking at the numbers for the opposing pitchers during the streak is just incredible. One way to analyse how good someone pitched is by looking at their game score. The formula for game score is, start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded (3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk. While that may seem complicated, just remember the higher the score, the better the outing and the average score in baseball is 53.

Wandy Rodriguez 74

Bud Norris 81

Jair Jurrjens 61

Tommy Hanson 63

Tim Hudson 90

Brandon Beachy 70

Jaime Garcia 90

Sure the pitching isn't exactly doing it's job right now, but the responsibility of this losing streak lies with the offense. Drastic steps need to be taken. Carlos Gomez should never see the two hole again. Wil Nieves needs to be sent down. Yunieski Bentancourt needs to sit more. Until these steps are taken, the Brewers are not giving themselves the best chance of breaking out of their current slide. I'm not going to jump ship yet on this offense, but changes need to be explored.