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.