Monday, January 25, 2010

At WAR with the Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers are in one of the most important times in franchise history. Prince Fielder is just two seasons away from hitting free agency, which has turned the organization into a "win now" mindset. With the team looking for immediate help, the one way to accomplish this goal is to improve the team. While it has been a busy offseason in Milwaukee, whether the team is any better is up for debate.

One of the most important stats to look at when determining the value of a players is WAR. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, which tracks a player's value to a team over a certain season to the production of a replacement level player. In a nut shell, replacement level is what an average AAA callup could produce if they are given everyday playing time in the major leagues.

Finish 80-82 last season was certainly not how the Milwaukee Brewers wanted to respond after their first playoff appearance in 26 years. Sure the departure of C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets hurt, but with one of the most potent offenses in baseball returning, the Brewers had a chance. The offense lived up to expectations all season. Combined in 2009, Milwaukee Brewers position players posted a 25.8 WAR (good for 2nd in the NL and 6th in MLB). Problem is, the pitching also lived up to what many feared. As a staff, Milwaukee Brewers' pitchers were just 3.0 WAR. For a reference point, that was good for last in all of baseball.

After the terrible pitching display shown all season in Milwaukee, it would only make sense the club labeled it their top priority this offseason. The Brewers went out and landed both Randy Wolf and Doug Davis to help limit the damage. With the Brewers being on a limited budget, to acquire these players, others had to go. Doug Melvin found his solution by trading J.J. Hardy to Minnesota in exchange for CF Carlos Gomez(saving the club around $4 million). With the addition of Gomez, the Brewers decided to not renew the contract of Mike Cameron (saving around $9 million). So basically, the starting pitching was address at the expense of two important positional players. Sure the pitching improved, but what about the team?

Looking at the additions/subtractions from this offseason, based on their 2009 season is alarming.

Additions- Randy Wolf (3.0), Gregg Zaun (1.8), Doug Davis (1.7), Carlos Gomez (0.7) and Latroy Hawkins (0.3)

TOTAL in 2009- 7.5 WAR

Subtractions- Felipe Lopez (4.6), Mike Cameron (4.3), J.J. Hardy (1.4), Jason Kendall (1.2), Mark DiFelice (0.4) and Braden Looper (-0.9)

TOTAL in 2009- 11 WAR

Based on their 2009 numbers, the Brewers team WAR has been reduced by 3.5 with these moves. Seeing as this was just one season, this doesn't give an accurate assessment of what the Brewers have lost/gained this offseason. Alcides Escobar will be playing everyday and is not considered an addition. While I am reluctant on how much Escobar can produce, he will provide value to the team next season. Also, after giving Carlos Gomez the everyday job in CF, he will likely outproduce his 2009 WAR. He is only 24 years old and playing everyday could develop him into a productive player.

One of the main question marks is Rickie Weeks. Weeks has always been a good player (many will tell you otherwise), but he is coming off an injury. After a hot start in 2009, Weeks racked up a 1.5 WAR after just 37 games. Expand that start into a full season and Weeks' WAR of around 6.0 easily helps cushion the blow of losing Felipe Lopez. Now I'm not saying that Weeks can produce that kind of 2010, but even more pressure will be put on him. Rather than being a good player in a potent lineup, Weeks will now need to be a major contributor.

After the Doug Davis signing, the Milwaukee Brewers 2010 club seems to be set. The pitching has certainly taken a step forward, but it came at the expense of some very productive position players. Sure the club is more balanced now, but are they actually better?


Yanoff said...

I do think that they are going to be better. I know that WAR is the hot statistic these days, and based on your article, you stated:

Additions- Randy Wolf (3.0), Gregg Zaun (1.8), Doug Davis (1.7), Carlos Gomez (0.7) and Latroy Hawkins (0.3)

TOTAL in 2009- 7.5 WAR

Subtractions- Felipe Lopez (4.6), Mike Cameron (4.3), J.J. Hardy (1.4), Jason Kendall (1.2), Mark DiFelice (0.4) and Braden Looper (-0.9)

TOTAL in 2009- 11 WAR

I don't think that is a fair comparison. While you have Wolf and Davis as additions, you should take away fully who they are replacing, not just who actually left the team. Specifically, you took away only one starting pitcher, Looper, even those 2 starting pitchers were added. How does it look when you subtract Suppan, or Parra, knowing that only one of them will be a starter?

In a one-to-one comparison, how will it be adding Weeks back in to make up for the loss of Lopez? How about Escobar versus Hardy?

Here's an interesting article: instead of subtractions versus additions, perhaps you could line up 2009 versus 2010 (projected) as far as the starting 8 position players go by WAR and a guess at 5 starting pitchers and maybe a few relievers? I'd be interested in seeing how the totals compare.

In any case, I think they're better regardless of the WAR metric, and that's probably what they want the average fan to think because it's going to translate into ticket and merchandise sales.


E.S.K. said...

Echoing Scott, the numbers look slightly better when you subtract Suppan's -.7 WAR from 2009. Let's assume Melvin lets Macha remove him from the rotation. CHONE/Marcel/James are all prediction a signigicant improvement from Parra in 2010 (translating to around 2 WAR I would guess, up from 0.6).

Assuming Suppan goes to the pen, there is a chance he is able to get to positives if they use him in a long relief role (once through the order-ish) so estimate something like a .3 WAR, that's a full point swing just from moving him to the pen.

On the other hand, I think you're too optimistic about Carlos "Alex Sancez" Gomez. 2-ish is the best we can hope for.

All in all I think the above changes result in something of a wash? We're just juggling numbers at this point, and I think we're arguing whether or not the Brewers will win 75 or 80 games at the end of the day.

Jonathan Ede said...

Yanoff and E.S.K.-

I completely agree with that statement about 75-80 wins next season, which is a huge problem. Although the Brewers have drastically changed the look of the team, they are still pretty mediocre. I guess this is the price you pay when you sell low. I have continued to think trading Hardy was a mistake, especially for what we got. The two positions that were address in that trade were SS and CF. Problem is the Brewers are now worse in both positions. Sure Escobar and Gomez have potential, but there are likely 2.0 WAR players in 2010. Mike Cameron posted a 4.3 WAR in 2009 and could easily repeat that next season. While Hardy struggled in 2009, I fully expect him to return to his 2007-2008 form when he was a near 5.0 WAR player. When the Brewers make the decision to go for it by not trading Fielder, trading away/not signing back talent is not the way to go. Sure the pitching has been upgraded, but it's tough to think enough was done to be considered an elite baseball team.

Regarding Suppan, I left him in the rotation because he could easily still find himself as a five starter. I've been hearing recent rumblings the Brewers are considering releasing Dave Bush in order to save some money. This would be an absolute huge mistake. Bush is no doubt a better pitcher than Jeff Suppan. Sure Suppan is making $12.5 million next season, but just because he is the highest paid Brewer doesn't mean he deserves a spot. Performance should dictate who plays, not paychecks. The Brewers clearly made a huge mistake in the Suppan signing, but they are only making matters worse by continuing to pitch him. It's time to cut the losses and release Suppan. Giving him innings over Bush/Narveson literally makes no sense.