Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chris Narveson is Dealing

As the Milwaukee Brewers struggled their way through the middle of the summer, they started losing their followers. Let's face it, there's not a ton to get excited about a team just 'playing out the games.' However, one very big reason to get giddy is the close to Chris Narveson's season.

On Thursday, Narveson held the Mets to one run over 6.2 innings. It was just another impressive start for Narveson, something that has become normal over the past two months. He fanned nine Mets and walked just three. Even more encouraging was Narveson's ability to keep the infield busy. Of the 11 in-play outs, eight were on the ground. It was a great way to cap a good season for Narveson.

Entering August, Narveson was 8-7 with an uninspiring ERA of 5.68. While advanced statistics suggested he deserved a better fate, there's not too much to write home about with an ERA in the high fives. His main problem seemed to come from his fly ball tendencies. While his HR/FB ratio wasn't out of the ordinary, Narveson was only able to keep the ball on the ground 35% of the time. Needles to say, with hitters consistently elevating the ball, home runs were going to be surrendered.

Then August came.

Narveson immediately seemed like a new pitcher. It started at Wrigley Field on August 3rd and ended tonight at Citi Field. Here are Nerveson's numbers over his final 11 starts.

64.0 IP, 53 Hits, 26 Runs (25 ER), 4-2, 3.52 ERA, 57 K's, 22 BB's

Although Narveson was never blessed with a triple digit fastball, he has shown a pretty good ability to locate the ball. That has been even more apparent of late.
Narveson was tagged in two of those 11 starts. In both outings, his control was missing (seven walks to just one strikeout). Even with those poor outings, Narveson was able to post a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio in the final two months of 2010. Very encouraging stuff to see from the young southpaw.

So just exactly where does Narveson's value stand for the Brewers? Despite his success of late, I'd say everyone can pretty much agree Narveson isn't an ace, but more a very good back end of the rotation type. He can strikeout batters regularly and doesn't walk too many. Just how good he will come down to how well he can get ground balls. In a stadium like Miller Park, flyball pitchers don't last too long. In 2010, Narveson's groundball rate was just over 40%. While that's not terrible, it's not that good. For him to succeed that will need to come down.

Despite his high flying frequency, Narveson was still able to post a FIP of 4.21 this season. That's exactly what the Brewers are going to need out of him next season. He wont be able to file for free agency until 2015 and isn't arbitration eligible until 2012. His value to this organization is immense. It's not too often good young pitchers can be had for next to nothing. A thanks has to be given to the St. Louis Cardinals for parting ways too soon with him. It's just a great find by Doug Melvin. How about instead of worrying about developing our own pitching talent, we just take other teams? I guess that's easier said than done.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Farewell Dave Bush

Despite meaning little to either organization, Wednesday's game between the Mets and Brewers held some meaning. After holding the Mets scoreless for six innings, Dave Bush was pulled in what will likely be his final start in a Brewers uniform.

This is a tough post to write for me considering Dave Bush is one of my favorite Brewers. I've always seen him as a reliable pitcher who, although not spectacular, was a good value to the organization. Could he throw in the upper 90's? No. Could he be considered an ace? No, but Bush always seemed to somehow contribute something to the team. His fastball topped out in the mid to upper 80's and he gave up his fare share of gopher balls, but at the end of the year, his numbers suggested just how underrated he was.

Bush was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2005 offseason as part of the trade that sent Lyle Overbay out of town. At the time, I considered Bush and Zach Jackson a relatively minor return for Overbay, but Bush came into Milwaukee firing strike after strike. His 2006 season was very impressive. Bush went 12-11 that year and posted a 4.41 ERA. Although those numbers might not blow you away, his advanced numbers suggested a much different outcome.

In 2006, Bush registered as a near four WAR player. His strikeout to walk ratio was a mere 4:1. Speaking of walks, Bush just didn't issue them. His 1.63 BB/9 ranked next to the top in the NL. His FIP was a much more respectable 3.98. Easy to say, the future looked bright for Bush.

Although Bush was useful in his next four seasons, he just wasn't the same pitcher. After his 3.8 WAR season in 2006, Bush combined for just 3.1 WAR from '07 to '10. His strikeouts and walks were still decent, although not as impressive. So, what lead to Bush's average seasons? Simply, Bush wasn't able to keep the ball on the ground.

In 2006, Bush induced grounders 46.6% of the time. He saw that number consistently drop over the next three seasons ('07: 43.4%, '08: 41.1%, '09: 34.4%). This season, Bush was able to up that total to a still disappointing 39.7% of the time. Combine those numbers with Bush's tendency to allow the bleacher bums to take home a souvenir. He was very consistent over that time frame by average a HR every 12% of the time a ball was hit in the air in just about every season. While that is just above average for a pitcher, Bush allowed many more flyballs than the average hurler. More flyballs led to many more home runs.

As Bush's command and ability to avoid bleachers left, so did they majority of his success. It all culminated this season when Bush was only able to produce a 0.1 WAR season. A season that will likely be his final in Milwaukee.

I really like Dave Bush, but he's just not that good of a pitcher anymore. After this season, Bush will be a free agent. I just don't see the Brewers spending free agent money on him. Sure he's a relatively decent (way too close to replacement level) option at the back end of a rotation, but the Brewers really have no need for that. After the emergence of Chris Capuano and Chris Narveson, Bush's days were numbered. He will be missed in Milwaukee, but if Bush makes another start in a Brewers uniform, Doug Melvin will have done something wrong.

I was there in Game 3 of the 2008 NLDS, when Bush was able to pitch the Brewers to their first playoff win in a quarter of a century. He was a big reason the Brewers even made the playoffs that season. Thanks for the memories Dave. Your contributions to this organization didn't go unnoticed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Resurgence of Randy Wolf

After signing this offseason, Randy Wolf did little to earn his large paycheck throughout the first half of 2010.

In his first 21 starts in Milwaukee, Wolf was bad. Actually, Wolf was beyond bad. After those starts, Wolf was 7-9 with an ERA of 5.12. Even more alarming was Wolf's peripherals. His walks were up (63 in 128 IP) and strikeouts had drastically dropped below his career average (82 in 128 IP).

With those struggles, Wolf managed an incredible WAR of -1.1 in that span. Needless to say, the Brewers weren't receiving much of a return on their $29.75 million investment.

When the Brewers signed Wolf, I wasn't entirely blown away. He was a good pitcher who had shown the ability to possess good control, while striking batters out. He was surely an upgrade over the 2009 staff, but the cost wasn't cheap. Shelling out $30 million is always risky, but Wolf seemed like an alright gamble. But after his first half struggles, that contract began to look Suppan-esk. For his first half performance, I gave Wolf an F and deservedly so.

Then, Randy Wolf started pitching more like Randy Wolf.

Start after start Wolf started showing some of his old form. It started on July 26th against the Cincinnati Reds where Wolf went seven very strong innings, striking out five, while walking one. He surrendered just two runs in that game and the Brewers went onto beat the Reds 3-2.

After that, it was like Wolf was again ready to pitch. Between that start and Wednesday's win over those same Reds, it's been an entirely different Wolf on the mound.

In his past 11 starts, Wolf is 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA. What's been even more impressive to me has been his control throughout that stretch. He has walked just 22 batters in 73.2 innings and fanned 53. That also includes one terrible start where Wolf walked five batters without recording a strikeout, which heavily detracts from just how good he has been of late. In those 11 starts, Wolf has managed a 1.6 WAR. For the season,

Wolf's WAR for the season now stands at 0.5. Surely that's not what the Brewers were expecting when they signed him, but Wolf has managed to salvage what would have been one of the most disappointing years for a Brewers pitcher in recent memory.

Going forward, I have a lot more confidence in Randy Wolf. That's something I couldn't have said with a straight face just two months ago.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brandon Kintzler Interview Rerun

Brandon Kintzler was kind enough to talk to me this summer while playing for the Nashville Sounds. He dominated the minor leagues and has been called up for September. Here is a rerun of his interview from back in June.

As Brandon Kintzler delivered his 12th pitch of the at bat to Memphis Redbirds shortstop Tyler Greene Tuesday, he had to be frustrated. He's noticed quite a difference in his 4.1 innings since being promoted to AAA Nashville.

"They don't want to strikeout up here for some reason," Kintzler said.

It has been quite a difference from his time as closer in AA Huntsville where hitters could do little but swing and miss. In 22.1 innings there, Kintzler struck out 23, while walking just one batter. He converted every one of his 10 save opportunities there and has started to show up on the Brewers radar. I'm sure his 0.40 ERA in 22.1 AA innings doesn't hurt either.

However, the road to a possible big league promotion for Kintzler hasn't always been so smooth.

Kintzler was drafted in the 40th round of the 2004 amateur draft by the San Diego Padres. He went onto pitch in two seasons for the Padres minor league affiliates before being released because of health concerns.

"They said they were getting impatient with me and basically cut me loose," Kintzler said. "I tried rehabbing it for six months and ended up having to have surgery."

From there, Kintzler was open to just about anything that could keep his career going. That including a trip to the Northern League in a place Kintzler wasn't too familiar with.

"I didn't even know Winnipeg even existed, let alone where they were," Kintzler said. "They said it was kind of near North Dakota, so I said alright. They told me I needed a passport, so I hopped on a plane. I ended up getting rookie of the year and had a so so year the next. I saw a lot of guy weren't getting picked up there, so I asked for a trade."

Kintzler noticed the majority of players who were signed by teams were playing in the United States, so he requested a trade and found himself in St. Paul, MN.

"I knew the Saints were essentially the Yankees of Independent ball, so I asked to be traded there," Kintzler said. "It worked out well for me."

After the Independent League all-star game, Kintzler caught his break when the Brewers came knocking.

"They sent me straight to Double-A, which was kind of a shocker," Kintzler said. "I had never even pitched above Low-A, so I was pretty excited about that chance they gave me."

During his brief tenure under Brewers control, he has impressed. Kintzler finished the 2009 season with Huntsville, striking out 32, while only walking nine in 35.1 innings. His success only continued to impress while closing games this year, but he felt his only walk was questionable.

"That was one walk was a strike by the way, it shouldn't have been a walk," Kintzler said.

He's also combined that solid K:BB ratio with an ability to keep the ball on the ground. Last season, his GO/AO (ground outs/air outs) ratio was a very solid 1.4:1. This year, those numbers have only gotten better. In 26.2 innings between Huntsville and Nashville, Kintzler has upped that ratio to 1.67:1. That probably helped lead to opponents batting just .149 off him.

"I was kind of nibbling when I got to Double-A last year," Kintzler said. "My mentality is just to attack hitters. If I can keep the ball down, they are just going to hit groundballs anyway."

With his solid numbers so far this season, if Kintzler is able to stay healthy, he could be yet another option to look at from the Nashville Sounds bullpen. John Axford, Kameron Loe and Zach Braddock have all made positive appearances after their callups. It's quite a story for a pitcher who found his career all but over a couple of years ago.