Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Battle to Round out the Rotation

Sure the Randy Wolf and Doug Davis signings improved the Brewers' staff, but it also confused the picture on who will round out the rotation. The Brewers currently have seven different options for a five-man pitching. With Wolf, Davis, Gallardo and Manny Parra likely locked into the first four spots, the final spot is up for grabs.

The three options for this spot are: Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush and Chris Narverson.

Jeff Suppan

Let's face it, the Brewers haven't gotten much back on their 4yr/$42 million investment they made on Suppan. In his first three years as a Brewer, Suppan has posted these lines.

2007: 34 GS, 206.2 IP, 12 W, 12 L, 4.62 ERA, 114 K, 68 BB, 4.42 FIP

2008: 31 GS, 177.2 IP, 10 W, 10 L, 4.96 ERA, 90 K, 67 BB, 5.51 FIP

2009: 30 GS, 161.2 IP, 7 W, 12 L, 5.29 ERA, 80 K, 74 BB, 5.70 FIP

While he pitched decently in 2007, Suppan has struggled mightily in each of the past two seasons. After posting a 2.5 WAR in 2007, over the last two years, Suppan has combined for a -0.9 WAR. As you can see, he has posted back-to-back 5.50+ FIPs.

What's even more alarming for me are his K/BB totals. He has seen them consistently fall over the past three seasons. This season, his K:BB ratio was just north of one. Those are not the numbers of a major league starter.

Dave Bush

There is nothing that really dazzles fans when looking at Bush. His fastball tops out in the high 80's. His curveball loops in around the high 60's. To say it bluntly, Dave Bush doesn't have overwhelming stuff. The one thing Bush does posses is control. Problem is, sometimes that control gets him in trouble.

In his first couple of years in Milwaukee, Bush maintained a solid GB/FB rate. However, in 2008 and 2009, the number of fly balls Bush allowed increased significantly. In those seasons, Bush allowed fly balls 43% of the time. This has directly lead to Bush's biggest problem: home runs.

Bush has thrown just shy of 300 innings in the past two years. In that same time frame, Bush has allowed 48 home runs. That equates to a very high 1.44 gopher balls in every nine innings he pitches.

If Bush is going to be successful, he needs to limit the number of fly balls he surrenders. From 2008-2009, when a batter hit a ball into the air against Bush, it left the ballpark 12% of the time. That is right in line with the league average. The solution to Bush's problem is simple: keep the ball on the ground. If the ball isn't hit into the air, it can't leave the ballpark.

Bush still remains a good option for the Brewers in 2010. While he did post an incredibly high 6.38 ERA last season, he continues to post a promising K:BB rate. There is little doubt in my mind that Bush could easily post an ERA in the mid to low-4's. He has great control and has pitched effectively before. The key is have that fly ball rate drop from 45% to 35%. If he's able to do that, he could have a lot of success.

Chris Narveson

For the breakdown on Narveson, here's a link to an article I had on him earlier this offseason.

Closing Thoughts

This will be the number one thing I will be watching in spring training. The Brewers have already made it clear that retaining Bush is not a certainty. The Brewers are already at, or over their budget for next season. Bush's $4+ million salary doesn't become guaranteed until the start of the season. If he is released in spring training, the Brewers are only on the hook for 1/6 of his contract.

This makes Bush's start in spring that much more important. Bush is the Brewers best option to round out the rotation. Cutting him to save a $3 million just doesn't make sense. This team was devastated last season by injuries. If anything, depth in the starting rotation should be the #1 thing on Doug Melvin's mind.

With Suppan, the Brewers need to just cut the cord. Sure his contract was a huge mistake, but the Brewers are only making matters worse by continuing to let him pitch. He simply doesn't have anything left. I've always said that's one thing that makes larger market teams so good. When a player doesn't work out, he doesn't play. Would this even be a discussion if the Brewers were not on the hook for $12.5 million next season? Talent should dictate playing time, not salaries.

The Cardinals are the clear cut favorite to repeat next season. However, that isn't to say the Brewers have no shot. Mistakes need to be limited to close the gap. Releasing Dave Bush and starting Jeff Suppan just based on his contract would be two blows that could prove fatal for the Brewers playoff chances.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Forgotten Felipe

As the weeks pass and the offseason comes to a close, I'm left wondering why Felipe Lopez is still a free agent.

After posting an impressive second half in 2008 as a Cardinal, Lopez was signed to a one year, $3.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the first half of the season, Lopez continued his 2008 success. In 383 at bats in Arizona, Lopez posted a .301/.364/.412/.776 line, generating a 2.0 WAR in the process.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers were searching for a second baseman after an early injury to Rickie Weeks. Lopez was traded midseason to Milwaukee in exchange for minor leaguers Cole Gillespie and Roque Mercedes. As a Brewer, Lopez racked up 297 at bats and posted a ridiculous .320/.407/.448/.855 line.

While Lopez exceeded expectations in Milwaukee, he was not offered arbitration for fear he might accept. I was very quick to criticize this move considering Lopez was a type B free agent and could have landed Milwaukee a sandwich pick between the first and second round of the 2010 amateur draft. Considering Lopez would get around $4 million in arbitration, I figured that number would easily get surpassed in the free agent waters. Seriously, who would not want Lopez' services? He had an incredible 2009 with the bat and glove. Here's a quick look at 2009 numbers while playing for both teams.

At Bats: 680
Batting Average: .310
On-Base Percentage: .383
Slugging Percentage: .427
OPS: .810
OPS+: 111
UZR/150: 7.6

All that adds up to is a 4.6 WAR season. Let me repeat that; Lopez' 2009 WAR was 4.6. Despite that incredible season, Lopez still remains a free agent gathering very little buzz. In fact, one could argue the Brewers made the right decision by not offering Lopez arbitration considering the lack of interest he's generated this offseason. I would argue $4 million is a pretty good bargain for a 4.6 WAR player, but the Brewers don't have money, or a spot for Lopez to play everyday.

Nevertheless, it still shocks me what has happened thus far. Lopez could very easily regress back into his old form, but I still thought he would receive a healthy deal this winter. Second baseman who can hit and field are tough to come by. The Philadelphia Phillies confirmed this by signing Placido Polanco to a 3yr/$18 million deal earlier this offseason. Taking a look at 2009, Lopez outproduced Polanco in most offensive categories and was comparable defensively. I'm not saying Lopez is a better player than Polanco, but based off 2009 he was.

We are at a time in baseball where bargains can be found in free agency. As big names sign early, teams usually overpay for their talent. Sure lesser names like Ryan Garko can be had for cheap, but I really didn't expect this to happen to Felipe Lopez. For how good he played last season, his phone should be ringing off the hook. Whoever signs Lopez will be getting a great bargain. I don't think he will reproduce another 4.6 WAR season, but expecting a 3.0 WAR is not out of the question.