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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Braun's Incredible April

There was little question coming into this season that Ryan Braun was a very good hitter. He has always shown an ability to hit for high average, high slugging seasons. However what Braun has been able to do so far in 2011 is only expanding his reputation as one of the game's elite.

The biggest knock on Braun throughout his career at the plate has always been his inability to so elite patience. Sure, no one is saying Braun never walked, but to be on the level of baseball's best, Braun had some work to do. In his first four pro seasons, Braun posted walk percentages of 5.9, 6.3, 8.1 and 8.2 in order. While trending up in the base on ball category is always a good sign, Braun has taken it to a new level this season. Through his first 24 games, Braun is walking 14.8% of the time. What makes this even more impressive is the way Ryan has accomplished this.

In 2011, Braun is seeing first pitch strike at a higher rate than any other point in his career (67.6%). What Braun has been able to do to combat that is go deeper into counts and foul more pitches off. Only 59.9% of pitches that Braun has seen have gone for strikes. In 447 pitches this season, Braun has swung at just 42.2% of them. That again is a career low.

Even better, Braun has done incredible damage in the limited number of times he has swung the bat. His line drive percentage sits at a staggering 25.7%, which is more than 6% higher than any other point in his career. Of the 26 fly balls Braun has hit, nine have left the yard for an unbelievable 34.4% HR/FB ratio. Can he maintain those numbers, obviously not, but Braun has some things going for him.

His BABIP in 2011 currently sits at .353. While that is surely high, it's not that far off his career average of .336. His pitches per at bat currently sits at 4.14, which again is a career high. These are numbers that Braun could maintain and would continue to mean incredible success at the dish.

All said, in the month of April, Ryan Braun, along with Prince Fielder have carried the Brewers offense. In just 90 at bats, Braun has already produced a 1.4 WAR. While that is pretty unheard of, think of how tough that is with the defense Braun plays. According to UZR, Braun's defense is already four runs under league average this season. If he was just producing at a league average rate, the Braun's WAR would be right near two. Wow. If Braun is even a shell of what he produced this month, Brewers fans are in for quite a show.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brewers Extend Braun

The Milwaukee Brewers announced Thursday, they have agreed to a five-year extension with left fielder Ryan Braun. The contract, which locks up Braun through 2020, is for $105 million.

I think every Brewer fan would be lying if they said they saw this coming. The biggest flaw in this deal is Braun was already locked up cheaply through 2015 (age 32). Essentially, the risk just is too steep. Extending Braun an additional five years was just not that necessary.

Contrary to what you may think after reading this article, Ryan Braun is one of my favorite players. The point of this article is not to say Braun is a bad player, he isn't. The point is not to say this contract is a terrible waste of money, it isn't. However, the point of this article is to analyse the strategy the Brewers used in locking up their young superstar.

To start, let's look at where the Brewers and Ryan Braun stood prior to Thursday's extension. Braun had $40.5 million and five years remaining on his old contract, which Braun signed in 2008. Now of course, Braun would be worth more money when that contract would've ran out assuming he stayed healthy and kept a similar performance up.

The breakdown of this article is not saying the value isn't there. Again, if he stays healthy and keeps a similar performance level up, this is a bargain. Where my problem is with this deal is was it really necessary? Braun was already locked up through his prime at a very reasonable price. I question the reasoning in rushing to sign Braun for his age 33-37 seasons for $21 million annually.

The biggest problem with the signing is the things the Brewers just don't know. Sure, Braun's doesn't have a history riddled with injuries, but what's to say he's going to stay healthy throughout the entire contract. In addition, there has to be some concern about Braun's ability near the end of his career. Sure, we aren't talking the same risk of an Alfonso Soriano type contract, but that's not to say some uncertainty isn't there.

Could Braun remain an incredible hitter throughout the rest of his time with the Brewers, yes. Could Braun also fall off and have a large contract with average production near the end of his career? Yes. That's the problem with this deal. There is some reward if everything works out until the end. However, that reward doesn't outweigh the potential problems that could arise.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cause for Concern: John Axford

There are many out there who immediately diagnosed John Axford as trouble after the first game of the season against the Cincinnati Reds. Axford blew a three run lead and the Brewers lost their opening game 7-6. The scrutiny didn't really seem all that warranted considering just how effective Axford was last season. After all, it was one inning. That's pretty simple to shake off.

What transpired over the next couple of outings is where concern really starts to set in for Brewers fans. The problem seems rather easy to diagnose: he's not throwing strikes. However, that really isn't the problem at all, which leads to even more confusion.

At the moment, Axford has thrown a total of 136 pitches this season. Of those 136, 82 have gone for strikes, or 60.3%. While that isn't the highest strike percentage, it's not that bad. Take Axford's 2010 for comparaison. Last season, Axford threw strikes on 607 of his 989 pitches. That translates into 61.4% pitches thrown for strikes. Sure that is better than this season, but really doesn't seem to be the problem.

Axford seemed to have a tendency to get batters to swing at pitches out of the zone last season. To the naked eye, that ability has eluded him this year. However, again, this doesn't seem to be the problem. In fact, Axford has actually gotten hitters to swing at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone this year (33.9%), than last year (32.1%). It's not like the hitters aren't chasing pitches, they are. Where Axford's problem lies is what happens when the chase those pitches.

This season, despite getting hitters to chase balls, they are making contact with them. This surely has a direct correlation to where Axford's pitches have been. Axford has seemed to lose control of the slider that was so deadly last season. Time and time again, Axford has left his slider up this season. When it's up and possibly missing the strike zone, it's much easier to make contact than when it's sharp and diving out of it. So far this year, batters are making contact at a 89.5% rate of pitches thrown out of the strike zone. Last season, those same pitches were only hit 57.3% of the time when the batter swung.

Are Axford's six walks in 6.1 innings a concern? Sure. Were Axford's control troubles in Philadelphia Monday apparent? Yes. Outings like Monday are going to happen for pitchers like Axford. Where my concern lies in is where Axford is throwing pitches. A floating slider is easy to hit, even if it is a ball. Pitches are going to walk batters if they are unable to get batters to swing and miss at pitches out of the strike zone. Until Axford is able to regain the biting slider from last season, the ninth inning will be a concern for Brewers fans.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Production Without Main Pieces

When the Milwaukee Brewers broke camp just two weeks ago, they were without some very big members of their club. Starting the year on the disabled list were newly acquired ace Zack Greinke, the power hitting right fielder Corey Hart and starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The goal for many was to simply keep the boat afloat until those clogs returned. That proved pretty tough in the beginning.

The Brewers started their season in Cincinnati, getting swept in the process by the Reds. After an opening day loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Brewers then found themselves 0-4 and having many questions to answer. Was this team really capable of making a run at the division? Was the bullpen really improved? Could they be okay for the time being until their weapons returned?

What this team has over the past eight games in answer all those questions with a resounding yes.

In an offensive where Carlos Gomez, Yuniesky Bentancourt, Erick Almonte and Mark Kotsay receive regular playing time, a lot of responsibility falls squarely on the backs of the pitching staff. That pitching staff has taken that responsibility and ran with it. Over the past eight games, Brewers pitchers have thrown a combined 72 innings. Of those 72, 52.2 innings have come from Brewers staring pitching. That's an average start of just under 6.2 innings per start.

If there is one thing that has troubled the Brewers over the past couple of seasons, it has been inconsistent pitching that has led to the bullpen picking up too many innings. Sure the Brewers starters struggled last season, but them wearing out the bullpen had just as much to do with the 26th ranked 'pen in baseball as those relievers did. The formula for success is simple. Good starting pitching leads to good relief pitching. If the Brewers are able to pitch deep into games, they have plenty of arms down in the bullpen who are talented enough to get batters out. Over the past eight games, that is why the Brewers are winning. Here are their numbers respectively.

Brewers Starters: 6-1, 52.2 IP, 2.22 ERA, 40 K, 14 BB

Brewers Bullpen: 1-0, 19.1 IP, 1.39 ERA, 14 K, 9 BB

That's equates to a very impressive team ERA of 2.00 over that eight game stretch. With no coincidence, the Brewers are 7-1 in that same span and have climbed two games above .500.

What's even more encouraging is where this team could go. Keep in mind, this is all without the Brewers best starting pitcher, starting right fielder and best catcher (played just last two games). When Greinke returns, the Brewers, in my opinion, will have the second best rotation in baseball. When Hart returns, he takes the place of a platoon, Kotsay and Almonte, currently hitting .152/.222/.273/.495.

These are all very good signs to see out of a ballclub who was just looking to tread water until their big guns came back. If there pitching staff is able to pitch anywhere near there until then, treading water should be no problem. In fact, playing winning baseball should be the new goal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Randy Wolf's Rough Start

It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking Randy Wolf is back to his old antics after two very rough starts to begin 2011. He's back surrendering home run after home run and looks to be dealing with some of the problems that caused him a rough start to 2010. Well, looks can be deceiving.

Let's start with the obvious statement. The defense played behind Wolf this season has been pretty bad. In his last start against the Northsiders, Wolf allowed six runs, but only two were earned. It started in the fourth inning when Rickie Weeks dropped a pop up off the bat of Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez then scored on a home run from Geovany Soto. Later in the inning, Wolf surrendered a three run HR off the bat of Jeff Baker, which broke the game open. A case could be made that those runs would have never scored had Weeks caught the ball.

I don't really subscribe to that style of reasoning, but the argument could be made.

For me, Wolf's start has had some encouraging signs, but has been marred with unfortunate numbers with little chance of continuing. The first start that jumped off the page to me was the amount of fly balls that are leaving the park against Wolf. Wolf has allowed 11 fly balls this season, four of which have gone for long balls. That equates to a ridiculous HR/FB% of 36.4%.

What I take from that is something completely different and positive. When Wolf has gotten into trouble, he has allowed too many balls in the air. This season, Wolf is currently sporting a very nice 1.55 GB:FB ratio. If Wolf is able to stay anywhere near there, he will have a very good 2011.

Another good indication for future success is Wolf's continued control. After a miserable first half in 2010, Wolf was able to significantly improve his strikeout and walk numbers in the second half. He has managed to maintain those numbers after a very shaky spring training. Through his first 10 innings this season, Wolf has struck out ten batters, while walking just three.

Take Wolf's start for what is it. Any pitcher can have two bad outings. What makes a pitcher successful is prolonged success. If Wolf is able to keep up what he is doing currently, things will turn around. However, if he reverts back to his first half of 2010 form, the Brewers could be in trouble. During his time in Milwaukee, you really don't know what Randy Wolf is going to show up. One thing is for sure, facing the Pirates is a lot easier than the Reds and Cubs lineups which can thrive against left handed pitching.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Conundrum in Center

Just 10 games into 2011 and there seems to be an interesting storyline developing. Who should start in center field this season for the Milwaukee Brewers?

The job was handed this offseason to Carlos Gomez early. The Brewers made it known that center field was not up for grabs and Gomez was going to start everyday. While I still feel this is the thought with many of the Brewers officials, fans don't seem so convinced. In the first two weeks of the season, they have seemed to side with Nyjer Morgan and his hot bat and good defensive plays. While the play of Morgan has been exciting, I'd argue the excitement surrounding Morgan has just as much to do with the early struggles of Gomez.

It seems like the same story year after year for Gomez. An inability to get on base, with far too many strikeouts and good defensive ability. While I'm not arguing that his defense isn't valuable to the team, I don't think it should solidify him into the everyday lineup batting second. Gomez has proved time and time again he should be nowhere near the top of the order and his value lies pretty much entirely in his glove.

In theory, that would mean Nyjer Morgan would be a lock for that job, but a closer look would suggest Morgan also has some issues. He also excels with the glove and is a better hitter than Gomez in my opinion. However, his ability to take over in center full time is hampered by his inability to hit left handed pitching. Morgan's numbers against lefties over the past three seasons are as follows.


Morgan vs LHP:

2008: .240/.321/.320/.641, 25 AB's
2009: .175/.283/.223/.507, 103 AB's
2010: .200/.280/.252/.532, 135 AB's

Simply put, Morgan should never be allowed to face left handed pitching. Easy solution, right? Gomez is a righty and would make an ideal platoon option with Morgan. Well, it's not that simple. Here are Gomez' numbers against lefties during that same time frame.

Gomez vs LHP:

2008: .270/.310/.403/.713, 159 AB's
2009: .204/.275/.333/.608, 108 AB's
2010: .196/.271/.309/.580, 97 AB's

Obviously, those numbers are better than Morgan's but still not something a team would want in their everyday lineup. However, one thing that is impossible to overlook is Morgan's numbers against right handers.

Morgan vs RHP:

2008: .304/.349/.385/.734, 135 AB's
2009: .344/.395/.434/.829, 366 AB's
2010: .273/.333/.337/.670, 374 AB's

While those 2010 numbers aren't impressive, that was his worst season during his career. Despite that, it seems rather obvious that against righties, Nyjer Morgan should be starting over Carlos Gomez in center field. I understand the Brewers still want Gomez to succeed and still want to give him a chance, but starting him over Morgan against righties is not justifiable. Sure Gomez may struggle mightily against lefties, but that is where he should get his playing time. If he reverts back to his 2008 form against them, it would be a huge lift to the Brewers. In the meantime, the recipe for success seems pretty obvious: Morgan vs RHP and Gomez vs LHP.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Wil Nieves Experiment

When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Wil Nieves this offseason, I thought little of it. The Brewers had two catchers who were clearly better than Nieves and he would likely play in the minor leagues, if at all for the Brewers organization.

That was until Jonathan Lucroy fractured his pinkie and had to start the season on the disabled list.

That injury left the Brewers with just one healthy catcher on the roster (George Kottaras) and hoisted Nieves into relevance. Just how relevant he would be was up for debate though. Based on his prior ability to perform in the major leagues, Nieves couldn't have expected much playing time. At age 33, playing Nieves has hardly any upside. So why is he getting at bats over George Kottaras?

Last season, Nieves had an absolutely terrible .244 OBP in 158 at bats for the Washington Nationals. While that may be a small sample size, Nieves has never really been known to have anything other than a strong defensive presence. His wOBA over the past three seasons are .285, .277 and .241. Those kind of numbers don't belong in the major leagues regardless of how good that player is defensively.

What also should come into question is just how good of a defensive catcher Nieves is. Over the past three seasons, base runners have stolen successfully on Nieves 75.9% (104 SB, 33 CS) of the time. Nieves' throw out percentage of 25.1% is right around the league average.

It's understood the Brewers have a problem at catcher until Lucroy returns. The problem with it is how they are handling that problem. Playing Will Nieves over George Kottaras everyday is the wrong decision. Kottaras is a superior hitter over Nieves and should be getting regular playing time. Sure, Kottaras struggles behind the plate defensively, but with Corey Hart and Lucroy out, the Brewers need every offensive option in the lineup. Starting Wil Nieves against right handed pitching just confuses me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Thursday March 31st

Brewers- Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Reds- Edinson Volquez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Gallardo looked very strong this spring. In just 18.1 innings, he struck out 23, while only issuing five walks. While I rarely looked to deeply into spring training, those are encouraging numbers from Yo.

I officially have no idea what to expect out of Volquez. Could he return to his 2008 (pre-injury) form, or will he be relegated to his injury plagued seasons of 2009 and 2010? Based on his velocity and location, I'd say the latter. If he keep the current pace he was on each of the past two seasons, it could be a huge red flag for the Reds.

Edge: Brewers

Saturday April 2nd

Brewers- Shaun Marcum (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Reds- Travis Wood (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Since the Brewers acquired Marcum this past offseason, fans were looking forward to the third game in Cincinnati. While an injury to Zach Greinke may have bumped Marcum's debut up a start, it did little to temper my excitement. It's funny how the Brewers can go from having a horrendous pitching staff last season to having the luxury of Shaun Marcum as your third best starter. I look for a big season out of Shaun.

The Reds have to be utterly thrilled over the progression of Travis Wood. After a very average 2009 season in the minors, Wood excelled in 2010. It first started at AAA Louisville and only continued after joining the Reds mid-season. I do expect his numbers this season to regress, but that doesn't mean he won't be a clog in the Reds rotation for years to come. Regardless, I'll take my chances with Marcum over him any day of the week.

Edge: Brewers


Brewers- Randy Wolf (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Reds- Bronson Arroyo (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Wolf's 2010 was about as jekyll and hyde as they come. After statistically ranking as one of the worst pitchers in the first half of the season, many, including myself, immediately regretted the large contract he received after 2009. However, Wolf was able to rebound and salvage 2010 with an impressive second half. He began pitching deeper into games, something the Brewers signed him for. If Wolf pitching like he did in the second half this season, it could go a long way in a Brewers run at the division.

Arroyo is another interesting case for the Reds. He saw his K/9 drop last season to nearly five. Sure Bronson doesn't issue many free passes, but that's getting pretty close to danger-zone. While Arroyo may be regressing a little, he is still proven himself every year as a solid pitcher. He's combined for a WAR near 14 over the past five seasons. While the majority of that may be front loaded, he still seems like he has plenty left in his take.

Edge: Reds

Series Prediction: Brewers take two out of three.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brewers Acquire Morgan from Nats

After the trade of Chris Dickerson, it became pretty apparent the Brewers were in a pretty desperate state for an outfielder. With just Carlos Gomez as an option in center field, the Brewers quickly acted. On Sunday, they nabbed Nyjer Morgan from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Cutter Dykstra and cash.

It was pretty obvious that Morgan and the Nats wanted a split. This week, Morgan was quoted as saying, "Maybe I'm not a fit here anymore. It's time to move on." His personal battle with Jim Riggleman became news pretty much everyday. It got to the point where Morgan simply wasn't going to be a part of the plans in Washington.

Morgan, 30, is always a player I have seemed to like. He's a very good defense centerfielder and shows serviceable patience at the plate. While his career walk rate of just over 7% isn't exactly amazing, when you're backing up Carlos Gomez (career BB% of 5.1%), it looks decent. Plus, he's got a pretty nasty left hook.

Morgan does have some problems with his game. Most notably, Morgan seems to be prone to making outs on the bases. Last season, he had just a 67% success rate while stealing bases, getting caught 17 times. He is coming off a very disappointing 2010 where he hit just .253/.319/.314 in 509 at bats for Washington. Also, Nyjer isn't exactly what you would consider a power hitter. His isolated power (ISO) numbers over the past couple of seasons have been really bad (.081, .081, .061). That rarely translates into a very good slugging percentage, of which Morgan's career high is just .430, which was only in 118 AB's.

In return for Morgan, the Nationals received pretty decent compensation for someone they were likely going to release. Cutter Dykstra isn't exactly a top prospect, but did show some promise last season in A-ball. In 353 at bats last season, Dykstra posted a rather impressive .312/.416/.411 line. I wouldn't look too much into that seeing as that was the first impressive season for the 21-year old third baseman.

Take this move for what it is: insurance. The Brewers had absolutely zero options if Carlos Gomez struggled out of the gate. In getting Morgan, the Brewers now have that insurance. I'd be very surprised if Gomez was given a long leash considering a capable backup is waiting behind him. Morgan is just two years removed from a very impressive season where he posted a 4.9 WAR. Is that a realistic goal for Morgan? No, but it's not too unlikely he will outproduce Carlos Gomez this season.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Brewers Deal Dickerson, Acquire Mitre

The Brewers made a surprising move today, sending Chris Dickerson to the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Sergio Mitre.

I have to say, this trade really shocks me. If there was one position the Brewers were overwhelmingly questionable at, it was center field. In Dickerson, the Brewers had a perfect option to replace Carlos Gomez if he struggled out of the gate again.

While the trade may shock me, I do understand what the Brewers were trying to accomplish in this deal. With Zack Greinke banged up for a couple of regular season starts, the Brewers were scrambling for some depth at starting pitching. In Mitre, the Brewers are getting another option who has starting pitching experience in the major leagues. However, experience doesn't necessarily translate to success.

While Mitre, 30, hasn't been completely useless in his career, he hasn't exactly been tearing it up either. Over the last three seasons, he is striking out just five batters per nine innings. He has been able to keep his walks down (2.51 BB/9), but still isn't blowing anyone away. During that same stretch, Mitre has a FIP near five. The one thing Mitre has been solid at is his ability to keep the ball on the ground (50.9% last season). If he is able to keep those walks down and the ball on the ground, he should be somewhat useful in Miller Park.

While weighing the positives and negatives in this deal, it's pretty clear the Brewers got the worse of this trade. By trying to salvage a couple of starts out of Mitre, the Brewers have really put themselves in trouble in the outfield. With Corey Hart likely headed to the DL, the Brewers outfield other than Braun and Gomez will consist of Brandon Boggs, Jeremy Reed and Mark Kotsay. That's troublesome to say the least. If anything, I was excited to see Dickerson get regular playing time while Hart was out.

The Brewers had internal options who were just as good, if not better than Mitre. Marco Estrada has looked very good this spring and likely loses his chance with this trade. Even if he were to come out and struggle, it would've likely been for only a couple of starts. Why deal a need for something that isn't as necessary.

In the grand scheme of things, this trade may not make or break the Brewers 2011 season. However, downgrading at positions that are very frail to begin with is never a good decision. The Brewers have been linked to Nyjer Morgan and I'm really hoping something gets done on that end. Call me crazy, but I'm just not that confident in the center field with what the Brewers currently have.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Weeks Extension

The Milwaukee Brewers announced Wednesday they have agreed to a four year extension with second baseman Rickie Weeks. The deal, in its entirety, would pay Weeks $38.5 million through the 2014 season, with an $11.5 million option for 2015.

This news could not have come at a more opportune time. Weeks had taken an Albert Pujols like stance on negotiating his contract with the Brewers. With Weeks' deadline fast approaching, give both sides credit in getting this deal done.

When analyzing this deal, it seems to be a simple case of risk reward. While Rickie was entirely healthy in the 2010 season, his past has been something that raises flags. When looking at Weeks, you can't overlook the injuries that have plagued him in his career. However, you also can't dismiss the incredible talent he has showed when staying healthy. This season, Weeks was able to put everything together in a very impressive 6.1 WAR, which ranked highest among all Brewers.

When looking at contracts in baseball, it generally is broken down by who got a better deal; the player, or the team. Then, based on that assumption, the deal is either looked at positively, or negatively. In this case, it seems pretty clear that both sides won. Weeks, 28, succeeded in securing his future financial responsibilities and the Brewers got a top of the line talent for cheap.

Weeks was going to become a free agent after this season. For arguments sake, let's say Weeks stayed healthy and replicated his 2010 production. On the free agent market, Weeks could have easily fetched $15 million per season. Elite, power hitting second basemen are tough to come by, especially ones who are prone to draw walks. Worst case scenario, if Weeks' injury problems resurface, the Brewers are only on the hook for four seasons. Having that $11.5 as a safety zone makes this deal look even better for the Brewers. Based on fair market value, Weeks would have to accrue 10 WAR during the length of his contract. With his talent, Weeks should easily surpass that number.

This contract will take Weeks through his age 32 season. Getting a player of Rickie's caliber, in his prime, for this price is an absolute steal. Sure he has a tendency to strike out, but Weeks is able to combat that with power and patience. Getting him locked up will go along way to securing the success of this franchise for years to come. The future after 2012 may have looked dark before today, but that just got much brighter. Congratulations to Gord Ash, Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers on a fantastic offseason.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ranking the Staff

Since the acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, there has been a lot of talk of just how good the Brewers starting staff is. With the value that is put on starting pitching in today's game, it shouldn't be surprising that there are numerous teams with strong pitching staffs. Let's take a look at how the Brewers staff ranks amongst the best. For a general reference point, we will be using their 2010 WAR.

Milwaukee Brewers

Zack Greinke (5.2 WAR)
Yovani Gallardo (4.6 WAR)
Shaun Marcum (3.5 WAR)
Randy Wolf (0.7 WAR)
Chris Narveson (1.7 WAR)

Brewers Staff- 14.7 WAR

Philadelphia Phillies

Roy Halladay (6.6 WAR)
Cliff Lee (7.1 WAR)
Roy Oswalt (4.7 WAR)
Cole Hamels (3.8 WAR)
Joe Blanton (1.9 WAR)

Phillies Staff- 24.1 WAR

San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum (5.1 WAR)
Matt Cain (4.0 WAR)
Jonathan Sanchez (2.6 WAR)
Madison Bumgarner (2.0 WAR)
Barry Zito (2.1 WAR)

Giants Staff- 15.8 WAR

St. Louis Cardinals

Adam Wainwright (6.1 WAR)
Chris Carpenter (3.7 WAR)
Jaime Garcia (3.2 WAR)
Jake Westbrook (2.3 WAR)
Kyle Lohse (0.7 WAR)

Cardinals Staff- 16 WAR

Oakland Athletics

Dallas Braden (3.0 WAR)
Brett Anderson (2.6 WAR)
Trevor Cahill (2.2 WAR)
Gio Gonzalez (3.2 WAR)
Brandon McCarthy (DNP 1.3 WAR in 2009)

Athletics Staff- 12.3 WAR

Minnesota Twins

Francisco Liriano (6.0 WAR)
Carl Pavano (3.2 WAR)
Scott Baker (2.5 WAR)
Brian Duensing (1.7 WAR)
Nick Blackburn (0.4 WAR)

Twins Staff- 13.8 WAR

Based on this result, the rankings would go as follows for the best team staffs in baseball:

Philadelphia Phillies
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
Milwaukee Brewers
Minnesota Twins
Oakland Athletics

That's a pretty impressive jump for the Brewers, who finished 26th in team ERA last season. One thing to keep in mind is the way Randy Wolf's year went. Just after the all-star break, Wolf had pitched his way to a WAR of -1.0. He was able to find his stuff down the stretch and salvage 2010. If he is able to pitch that way in 2011, the Brewers could easily have the second best starting staff in baseball. Very encouraging news for Brewers fans accustomed to seeing large numbers posted on Miller Park's scoreboard for visiting teams.