Monday, May 31, 2010

Enough is Enough

With the Brewers tied at two with the New York Mets after five innings Sunday, Brewers fans had reason to be excited. The Brewers had won five of six and were hoping to sweep and finish the homestand 5-1.

And then, with one phone call, those hopes diminished.

Jeff Suppan was called on to pitch the sixth inning. I've wrote about my disappointment on how Jeff Suppan was still on the roster, but then using him in a tie game? There was no justification for this. Sure the bullpen was used heavily after Saturday, but there were still options.

Nevertheless, maybe Suppan could salvage a scoreless frame. He wasn't exactly facing murderers row. The Mets were scheduled to send Angel Pagan, Jeff Francouer and Henry Blanco. Maybe there was some hope. Well, maybe not.

Here's how the inning went.

Angel Pagan bunted to Casey McGehee for the first out
Jeff Francouer singled
Henry Blanco singled
RA Dickey sacraficed Blanco to second
Jose Reyes was intentionally walked
Luis Castillo singled (Francouer and Blanco scored)
Jason Bay struck out

The Brewers found themselves down 4-2, but they were still in striking range. After a scoreless bottom of the sixth, my jaw literally dropped watching Jeff Suppan run out to the mound again to start the 7th. So how did that go?

Ike Davis struck out
David Wright hit a ground rule double
Angel Pagan homered (Wright scored)
Henry Blanco walked
RA Dickey sacraficed Blanco to second

Jeff Suppan was then pulled. His final line: 1.2 IP, six hits, four runs (all earned), two walks, two strikeouts. Three of Suppan's five outs were via bunt outs. The Brewers found themselves down 6-2 and missing an opportunity to inch closer to the .500 mark.

After his awful outing Sunday, Suppan's numbers are as follows:

13 Games (2 starts)
28.2 IP
44 Hits
24 Runs (23 ER)
4 Home Runs Allowed
11 Walks
17 Strikeouts

And they say $13.5 million can't buy you anything anymore.

I ask Doug Melvin this... Why is his still on the team? What does he provide that can't be found elsewhere?

Sure Melvin will say what the do with Suppan is not financially motivated, but how can't it be? The only thing keeping him on the team is his salary. Isn't it bad enough he is making that kind of money? Why compound matters by allowing to pitch (and pitch in meaningful situations at that)? My hope is just that when the Brewers decide to drop this 14 man pitching staff down, Suppan's is the head that rolls.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Moving Websites

I purchased the domain the other day. I will be moving the blog over there. The website will still be able to be used, but it will forward you to the new site. Should be working soon. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Should He Stay, or Should He Go?

That seems to be the question on everyone's mind right now. What are the Brewers going to do with Ken Macha?

The Brewers currently stand at 15-24. They stand alone in 5th place in the National League Central Division and are free falling towards the cellar. As is usually the case, someone needs to have blame placed on them. The resounding voice of Brewers nation thinks that man is Ken Macha.

He's boring. He's stupid. He doesn't know how to win.

Those are some of the ways fans describe Ken Macha. While I don't disagree Macha has poorly managed games this season, I think too much blame is being placed on him.

In sports, too much stock is put into managers and coaches. In baseball, that is taken to a whole new level. For the most part, the game is decided by the players. There is little a manager can do to change the fate of his team. He can change lineups, change pitchers and sit players, but at the end of the day, it's the responsibility of the players to perform.

However, while the players need to perform, the manager's job is to give his team the best chance to win. Has Ken Macha done that so far... no.

Adam Stern has gotten three important at bats. That's three too many.

Chris Narveson threw 130 pitches in his last start. Words cannot describe how incredibly unnecessary and dumb that is. Do you want to know what can happen when pitchers throw too many pitches, look at any Dusty Baker managed team. He destroyed Mark Prior's career and has is off to a similar start in Cincinnati (Edinson Volquez).

The bullpen is completely spent. Sure the starters deserve some blame, but pitching pitchers for multiple innings and on consecutive days doesn't help matters.

Jim Edmonds has started 15 games in centerfield. Despite an average UZR this season, Edmonds doesn't belong in center at this point in his career. Numerous times, Jody Gerut played a corner outfield spot even though he covers way, and I mean way, more ground than Edmonds.

Those are just some of the examples off the top of my head that would justify a pink slip in Macha's office. Personally, I don't really have a problem with his relaxed attitude. If he was winning games, fans would not grumble about it either. Just because a manager has a personality, doesn't mean he's a good manager (sorry to pick on you Dusty Baker). Jerry Royster got in a fight on the mound with Mike DeJean, he was fired. Davey Lopes was just about as fired up as they come, but couldn't dog a 3-12 start to the 2002 season andlost his job. Phil Garner is another example. The list goes on and on. Having an intense personality doesn't coincide with winning games.

Saying that Macha doesn't know how to win doesn't really speak to his tenure in Oakland. While managing the Athletics, Macha won an average of 92 games a year. Something tells me Brewers' fans would take a 92-70 record this season.

So why was Macha successful in Oakland? It all goes back to talent. Talent dictates the amount of games a team wins, not a manager. Those Oakland teams had much better pitching than the Brewers. It's tough to run a bullpen into a ground when the manager has multiple quality starters who consistently pitch deep into games. At the most, a manager can influence a couple of games a season, but the players have far more control than that.

With that being said, I think it is time for a change. Will Willie Randolph do anything better than Ken Macha? Probably not. Just ask New York Met fans their opinion of Randolph. I bet they wouldn't be the best reference on Randolph's behalf. Even so, I have to say, this team looks pretty defeated. Sometimes a shakeup is in order. What can it really hurt? The Brewers are playing some of the worst baseball I've seen since 2002. While it's not entirely in their control, that's how managers are evaluated. The Brewers are 70-92 in their last 162 games and have won 15 of 39 games so far this season. That is not a good way to keep your job in a city that is looking to win now.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gregg Zaun: The Victim of Irrationality

As is normally par for course, sports fans are very quick to judge.

If a basketball player knocks down his first three pointer in the league, he's an assassin. If a field goal kicker shanks his first kick, he is terrible. There is an example for every sport, so I'll just stop there.

In my 21 years in this great city, I have realized this is taken to the next level. I was there when Prince Fielder was booed after starting the 2006 season 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts. Sure Lyle Overbay was a big fan favorite, but there was no sense in that. Then of course, there was Brad Nelson. Nelson went 0 for 21 in 2009. He hit the ball relatively hard, but never really caught any breaks. I heard so many fans say Brad Nelson was the worst player ever. Sure not getting a hit in his tenure didn't help, but that statement is completely false. He had a tough run and it cost him his job. He was DFA'd by the Brewers and currently in is the Seattle Mariners organization.

That 0-21 streak stood until this season when Gregg Zaun had a similar start. In fact, they were way too similar. Zaun went 0 for his first 21 also. He hit the ball hard like Nelson. He, also, became the whipping boy of Brewers' nation.

If I had a $1 for every time I heard how bad Gregg Zaun was in the first two weeks, I might be able to help the Brewers resign Prince Fielder. It was an absolute joke. Of course, to make things worse, Jason Kendall recorded a hit in his first 14 games as a Royal. This brought in the "why did we get rid of Kendall for this bum" comments. The Brewers got rid of Jason Kendall because he wanted too much money and frankly, wasn't any good. The last time I checked, team success wasn't measured in terms of "grittiness," if that makes sense.

So what has Zaun done since that 0-21 start? Absolutely rake.

Entering Sunday, Zaun's was hitting .272/.346/.402/.748. That's in just 92 at bats for the season. It's so hard to raise your batting average in that short of a span following a prolonged slump. In those 71 post slump AB's, Zaun had 25 hits. He also had seven extra base hits (2 HRs) and drove in 13 runs. He walked eight times. Those are incredible numbers for any player, but even more impressive from a catcher.

Kendall has done nothing, but resort back to his old form. Since his 14 game hitting streak, he is 17-72 (.236). He has just four extra base hits (all doubles). He is nowhere near the offensive threat Gregg Zaun is and is not a better defender.

The upgrade from Kendall to Zaun is huge. Zaun is showing his original doubters he still can play baseball. It's nice to know the Brewers have a backstop who has some offensive production. The combination of Zaun and George Kottaras has some potential to be one of the better catching duos in baseball in terms of offensive production. Good backstops in baseball are few and far between. Fans need to realize that before calling for someone's head 21 at bats into a season. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Fans should realize that the next time they are caught in the heat of the moment.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Solving the Problem that is the 'Pen

Milwaukee Brewers Bullpen Statistics through Saturday morning:

117.1 IP, 4-7 5.68 ERA, 79 Runs, 74 ER, 50 BB, 105 K, .292 BAA

To put it lightly, that's not very good.

Here are the Brewers ranks in each category in MLB out of 30 teams:

IP: (7th most)
ERA: (29th)
Runs Allowed: (28th)
ER Allowed: (28th)
Walks Allowed: (20th)
Strikeouts: (8th)
Batting Average Against: (30th)

It's been well documented; the bullpen is really struggling right now.

So what can be done to fix this?

Obviously, moves need to be made. Currently the Milwaukee Brewers are wasting very valuable spots on their roster. Players like Adam Stern and Jeff Suppan serve no purpose. Why waste roster space with players that don’t benefit your team? Jeff Suppan is in the last year of his deal. The Brewers are not fooling anybody. He is not going to garner any trade value, so why not release him?

Obviously Stern will be sent out of Milwaukee went Carlos Gomez returns, so where else can the Brewers find other space?

Look not further than Claudio Vargas.

Vargas is now exclusively a reliever. FSN has given him the nickname "Magic Man" due to the large amount of jams he gets into and somehow has escaped thus far. Even with the fortunate luck, Vargas is still allowing too many walks and has shown a propensity to the gopher ball. He could serve some use as a long reliever, but not at the back end of the bullpen.

My solution is to release Suppan and Vargas (possibly could land a low level prospect in a trade). By doing this, the Brewers would free up two roster spots to help out the drained bullpen.

Two players who would fill in perfectly are Zach Braddock and Chris Smith.

Braddock has been incredible in the Brewers system the past couple of years. Combined between A and AA ball last season, Braddock was lights out. In 40.1 innings, he struck out 62 batters. That's good enough for a 13.83 K/9. Even more impressive was his control. He walked only seven batters in that same span for a BB/9 rate of 1.56. He has only continued his amazing work at AAA Nashville this season. He has pitched 15 innings and struck out 27 with eight walks. He could be the lockdown lefty the Brewers are lacking in their bullpen. He would also give Ken Macha another lefty option other than Mitch Stetter.

Chris Smith pitched alright in Milwaukee last season. He has been able to avoid bats and shown very good control. He is by no means the best reliever in baseball, but has done the best he can with his lack of velocity. In AAA Nashville this season, Smith has been the closer. He has saved 12 games and thrown 13.2 innings. He has fanned 19 batters and walked only four batters.

With Smith and Braddock, the Brewers have to capable pitchers. The Brewers need any arm they can find to help the current crop of relievers. They need to stop wasting spots on players who won't help anything and use them on useful options. There is no reason not to give both pitchers and Ken Macha that chance to get back to some sense of assurance. It's tough to feel safe with any lead right now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

eHow: To Run a Bullpen into the Ground

If there is one thing you can expect from a Ken Macha managed team, it's a depleted bullpen.

To be fair, Macha hasn't been blessed with a huge arsenal of starting pitching, but he hasn't helped either. Pulling pitchers from games early for no reason, pitching relievers on consecutive days for multiple innings are the perfect way to end up in the current situation they're in.

Wednesday April 14th at Chicago Cubs

Dave Bush was cruising at Wrigley. In six innings of work, Bush surrendered just two runs on seven hits. He had struck out two batters, while not walking anyone. Bush allowed an infield single off the end of the bat in the bottom of the sixth, but otherwise had a very easy inning. After six, the Brewers lead 3-2. I remember being at the game, looking in complete shock as Jody Gerut grabbed a bat to pinch hit for Bush. Dave had thrown just 77 pitches and was commanding all of his pitches. Gerut flew out for Bush and the bullpen allowed four runs in the eighth to lose 7-6. With 77 pitches, it was easy to think Bush could've finished one, if not two more innings.

Carlos Villanueva

Villanueva might be the biggest example of a pitcher who is overworked. He started the season on fire, but has fizzled out lately. In his last two appearances, Villanueva has given up six earned runs in 1.2 innings. He has been up in the zone and has seen a drop in velocity. So what's causing this?

It could easily be early season misuse.

Villanueva and Todd Coffey are tied for 11th in the National League in appearances. They both have pitched in 17 games this season. Worse yet, Villanueva has thrown multiple innings numerous four times this year (2.0 IP in each). Sure Villanueva used to be a starter, but multiple innings in consecutive outings really takes a toll on the arm.

Times Pitched in Consecutive Games

Coffey- 4
Hawkins- 3
Parra- 3
Hoffman- 2 (Blew Saves both times)
Vargas- 1
Narveson- 1

In the first 34 games this season, the Brewers relievers have had to appear in way to many consequetive games. I'm not faulting Ken Macha entirely. Short starts have lead to a lot of innings the bullpen has had to log. My biggest problem is what games the relievers were used in. Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva have worked in back to back games unneccessarily a couple of times. What is the point of pitching one of those pitchers in a blowout game if they pitched the night before? The only thing that can do is where down an arm.

I'm not really concerned about how they fare in that game, but the road that lies ahead. Todd Coffey was overused last year and has started to see it catch up with him. His velocity is down and his pitches aren't moving as much. Mitch Stetter saw a similar decline at the end of last season when he lost all ability to throw a strike.

On paper, the Brewers should have one of the best bullpens in the National League. The starting pitching is a big reason for the large amount of innings, but Ken Macha is also to blame. If he is unable to show any ability to manage a bullpen, it will cost the Brewers mightily. Possibly, also his job.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adam Stern: The Confusing Promotion

When Carlos Gomez was placed on the 15 day DL Monday, I was interested in seeing who would come up. The Brewers had a lot of options. Would Adam Heether get his first chance in the bigs? What about Zach Braddock? Chris Smith has been very impressive this season. Maybe he would get the nod.

Like I said, a lot of options.

That excitement immediately turned to confusion when the Brewers announced the callup of Adam Stern.

Stern, 30, is nothing more than a well traveled minor leaguer. Milwaukee is his fourth organization. He has only logged 35 at bats in the major leagues. In those at bats, Stern has just five hits and hasn't drawn a walk. That equates to a .143/.143/.257/.400 line. Granted 35 at bats in an extremely small sample size, but those numbers are not very good.

The main problem I have with the promotion is it made no sense. Calling Stern up did nothing to address the Brewers current concerns.

The Brewers are in need of a right handed bat off the bench. Adam Stern bats left handed.

The Brewers could use some help in a bullpen that has been overworked thus far. Adam Stern is a position player.

The Brewers could use a power lefty in the bullpen. Again, Adam Stern is a position player.

What makes matters worse is the three players mentioned at the beginning of this article are capable of helping the Brewers in at least one of those three categories.

Adam Heether could be a viable, right handed hitting option off the bench.

Chris Smith could help ease the workload of the bullpen.

Zach Braddock could also help eat some innings and has shown the ability to be a dominant lefty out of the 'pen.

To be fair, Ryan Braun was hit with a pitch Monday night and his status going forward is undetermined (he is sitting out Tuesday). However, the Brewers already had a surplus of outfielders to begin with. Even with Braun and Gomez out, the Brewers already have four outfielders on the roster (Inglett, Hart, Edmonds and Gerut).

Adam Heether spent time at every infield position in 2009 and even played in left field. While playing full time last season, Heether posted a .901 OPS. Even more encouraging, Heether drew 59 walks for a .400 OBP. Heether's 2009 was more of the same from him. He's put up very good numbers in the minors, but has never been given a chance.

Stern was hitting .349 in his time in Nashville. Sure that sounds good, but that was in just 43 at bats. Stern reminds me of Corey Patterson (Brewers edition). Patterson somehow put up a .963 OPS in Nashville last season. Because of his play, Corey was promoted to Milwaukee where he promptly had a single in 14 at bats and didn't draw a walk. The fact of the matter is Stern has failed to post an OPS over .800 after 2005 as a corner outfielder.

Sure I could be over thinking this, but moves like this frustrate me. I don't want Ken Macha to even have the opportunity of starting Stern for a game. Of course after posting this article, Stern will rake in his brief time in the majors. In baseball, the object of the game is to give yourself the best chance to win. Regardless of how he plays, Adam Stern is not the best option for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The State of the Brewers (May 4th Edition)

Record: 10-15 (T-4th NL Central, 7.5 games back)

Runs Scored: 128 (5.1 per game)

Runs Against: 138 (5.5 per game)

Run Differential: -10

Pythagorean Record: 12-13

One of the biggest worries I had about this team in 2010 was the offense that was lost. After not resigning Mike Cameron and trading J.J. Hardy, it was tough to think this team could match it's offensive prowess. However, through 25 games, the Brewers are averaging better than five runs per game. They have a team OBP of .353 (4th in MLB). They OPS stands at a very solid .795.

So why is this team not better? Well, there's two easy answers to that. They can't play the Pittsburgh Pirates every game and they can't keep the other team off the scoreboard.

One thing I have noticed about baseball over the past couple of seasons is how quick fans can jump to conclusions. If you team goes into a slump, they suck. If a player goes 4-5 on opening day, he has superstar potential. Right now, the Brewers' pythagorean (run adjusted) record is 12-13. Usually, that is a decent way of determining how good a baseball team is. Problem is, it doesn't always work. You can fool the pythagorean record by having a great back end of the bullpen and winning close game. Or, you can fool it 2010 Milwauakee Brewers style.

This season, despite going only 4-2 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Milwaukee Brewers have outscored the Pirates 61-17. That means that nearly half of the Brewers 128 runs this season have come at the expense of Pirates' pitching. That also means that just 17 runs have scored in those games against the Brewers.

Let's have some fun and take away the Brewers games against the Pirates this season.

Record: 6-13

Runs Scored: 67

Runs Against: 121

Differential: -54

In the 19 games the Brewers have played this season versus opponent other than the Pittsburgh Pirates, they have been absolutely dominated. They are scoring just 3.5 runs per game, while allowing 6.4. Those numbers are not only alarming, they are unheard of. If it wasn't for back to back blown saves by Trevor Hoffman, half of the Brewers 2010 wins would have come against the Pirates.

After 2009, the main focus of the Brewers front office became pitching. Immediately they did whatever they could to address a glaring hole. Randy Wolf was signed to a healthy contract. Doug Davis was added for stability. LaTroy Hawkins was signed to lessen the blow dealt after the Mark DeFilice injury.

About a month into the season, it seems the Brewers didn't do enough to address the problem. The team ERA stands at 5.09, which is 26th out of 30 major league teams. The Brewers setup man and closer have combined to give up more runs than innings they've pitched. Trevor Hoffman currently leads the majors in blown saves with four (in those games, the Brewers have lost three). Oh yeah, and Jeff Suppan still wears a Brewers uniform.

Either way you look at it, it hasn't been pretty.

Believe it or not, pitching is not a huge concern for me about this team. As a staff, the Brewers have struck out 194 batters, while walking 90 in 223 innings. Brewers pitching has had awful luck this season. Opponents have a BABIP of .366 against Milwaukee pitching. No matter how you look at it, this is not one of the worst staffs in all of baseball.

Where the Brewers go from here is the important question.

I think it is very apparent the Brewers cannot compete with the St. Louis Cardinals this season. The are giving up only 3.0 runs per game, while scoring 4.7. They have the most wins in the National League with 18. They already have a 7.5 games lead over this Milwaukee team.

Does that mean this team can't make a run at the wildcard? Absolutely not. The wildcard is pretty much up for grabs this season in the National League, but common sense has to take over in Milwaukee. While a run at the wildcard is possible, it's not probable. Anytime you are already looking at the wildcard standings less than a month into the season, it's time to reevaluate your goals.

First things first, release Jeff Suppan and Claudio Vargas. Obviously the Jeff Suppan decision seems obvious, but with Vargas it's not so straight forward.

After watching this team, it's became very obvious they are in need to two things: a right handed bat off the bench and a lefty in the bullpen. There has been so many instances this season where the Brewers have been forced to stay with a player when they shouldn't have had to because no righties were on the bench. Adam Heether, who is in AAA, remains the best internal option for this need. Sure he's hitting just above .200, but still has shown high walk and power totals this season. He also has shown the ability to play multiple positions. He might not play them all well, but that has never stopped Ken Macha before (i.e. Jim Edmonds in CF).

For the much needed lefty out of the 'pen, there is no reason Mitch Stetter, or Zach Braddock shouldn't be in Milwaukee right now. Through his first seven appearances, Braddock has logged 11.1 innings. In that span, Braddock has struck out 22 batters and walked just four. That means he has struck out 55% of the batters who have stepped to the dish. Not surprisingly, he is yet to allow and run and has only given up three hits. Incredible. Mitch Stetter has gone down and thrown 7.2 innings and struck out eight, while walking two. He has allowed two runs. Also impressive, but Braddock is on another level.