Tag Archives: Casey McGehee

Cool off-season, Brewers. Not.

Posted by Steve

When the Alex Gonzalez signing broke Friday, I figured I could wait til Monday to post about it. What was going to happen over the weekend, anyway?

So basically, we have the good (Alex Gonzalez signing), the bad (Aramis Ramirez signing), and the ugly (Braun).

It seems silly to talk in depth about Alex Gonzalez, which is what I would have done a few days ago. So for now, I’ll just say that the fact I’m excited about his signing goes to show how truly awful Betancourt was. Gonzalez isn’t a great shortstop by any means. He’s an awful hitter with just as poor OBP skills as Betancourt, or at least almost as poor. The reason I’m excited is because no matter what metric you consult, the consensus is that he’s a good fielding shortstop. That means he’s a fairly significant upgrade, and he was cheap and only for one year. Not bad, all things considered.

Really, this has to be about Braun…. But what is there to even say at this point? Other than this seems like a bizarre case, not too much. At the risk of sounding like a Giants fan defending Barry Bonds, the few details we do have seem so fishy that it sounds like he could be innocent, so I’m fully willing to reserve judgment until more information comes out. Even if he does end up looking to be clean, I am fully expecting him to be suspended. MLB is trying to look tough with their new PED program, and what better way to do that than by making an example of a superstar? Short of proof that some guy spiked Braun’s sample for banging his girlfriend or something, I don’t think MLB will accept his appeal.

One thing that seems hopeful are the reports that it was not a PED, but simply a “banned substance,” whatever that means. That could mean his suspension would be only 25 games, and might save Braun’s public image a bit.

I know I haven’t really said much, but I don’t know that there is much to say about it at this point.

So, let’s talk about Aramis Ramirez. You know, the guy who threw his helmet at my favorite player of all time. The guy who hit a crippling walk-off homer against the Brewers years ago. The guy who has been criticized for laziness, can’t field anymore, and is 34 years old.

The guy who now plays third base for the Brewers. Ugh.

Even putting aside the fact that I don’t like him at all, I hate this signing. I detailed why a couple posts ago, and Ramirez ended up getting even more money that I would have figured. I hate the fact that there’s a third year. Who was Doug Melvin bidding against? Nobody else was even reported to be interested in him. Why a third year? He can’t even play third base right now; I cringe to think of three years from now.

Really, the Brewers acquired yet another first baseman. Their overall disregard for defense is really getting old, as Ramirez is  worse than McGehee at third.

If the Brewers had $36 million or whatever burning a hole in their pocket, I wish they’d have spent it in a place where they didn’t have a viable replacement already. Edwin Jackson to replace Chris Narveson would have been a better use of that money, for example.

So now Taylor Green remains a backup for the next three years. To be honest, they might as well just trade him now. They’d get more value out of him that way.

For what it’s worth, and I’m just rambling now, if Braun is out I’d like to see Ramirez at first, Green at third and Gamel in left during that time.

But anyway. Some good news: as I was typing this, the Brewers traded Casey McGehee to the Pirates for reliever Jose Veras. I’m shocked they got something in return, but I’m glad they won’t be paying 3 million bucks or whatever for McGehee.

So I guess we’re looking at an infield of Ramirez, Gonzalez, Weeks, and Gamel. Probably about average offensively, while still below average defensively. I’d love the infield if it was only going to look like that for a year, but like I said, I don’t want Ramirez for three years.

So, I guess there isn’t too much left for the Brewers. They need to sign a utility infielder–I wouldn’t mind Nick Punto as a good defensive utility player, since Green is an offensive player. They also probably need to trade K-Rod, as their payroll is now over $100 million.

The Brewers, depending on Braun’s status, should still be good next year. My problem is that they could have still been good without overpaying for an aging Aramis Ramirez.

 

The off-season plan: Replacing the value of Prince Fielder

Posted by Steve

The requisite amount of time has passed; I am now ready to discuss the off-season and next year. In fact,  I actually sat down to write this post a few different times, but it’s lengthy, and I’m just finally getting around to it.

When I first started to write this post, the Brewers were being linked to Jose Reyes pretty heavily, so I had this titled, “The Case Against Jose Reyes.” Thankfully, that chatter has died down in recent days.

In short, Reyes would be a bad idea for the Brewers. Before we even get into salary, locking up Reyes long term is a huge risk. He has had fairly serious durability issues: his games played in each of the last three years are 126, 133, and 36. The Brewers’ biggest problem by far this season was infield defense, yet for all the money Reyes is going to command, Fangraphs has him below average defensively each of the last three seasons.

That’s before you even get into salary. Even if having Reyes long term was a good idea, the Brewers can’t afford him. It would also close the book on a Zack Greinke extension, which I think should be priority number 1 this off-season if at all possible.

I keep reading/hearing that the Brewers have all this money to spend–even national writers are mentioning it. People seem to be assuming the $15.5 million that Fielder got last year will be free to be spent on new players, but that simply isn’t the case.

A number of players, like Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Yovani Gallardo are due raises, and others are entering arbitration for the first time. The Brewers’ payroll last season was $85 million. MLB Trade Rumors has a good breakdown of the Brewers’ salary situation. In short, it says the Brewers have $58.58 million locked in for players next year; all that money is guaranteed. After that, a handful of players are arbitration eligible. The following are arbitration-eligible players with MLBTR’s arbitration guess in parentheses:

Casey McGehee ($3.1 mil, first year arby)
Nyjer Morgan ($1.9 mil, first year arby)
Carlos Gomez ($1.8 mil, third year arby)
Shaun Marcum ($6.8 mil, third year arby)
Kameron Loe ($2.8 mil, second year arby)

Arbitration Total: $16.4 mil

Other arbitration-eligible players: George Kottaras, Manny Parra, Josh Wilson, and Mitch Stetter.

Of course those are just estimates, but they at least give us something to work with. Total, that puts the Brewers at about $75 million, meaning they have only $10 million until they reach last year’s payroll. When you consider that they will need to add at least two relievers (KROD, Saito, Hawkins are all gone), two backup middle infielders, and a starting shortstop, first baseman, and third baseman, you realize it’s pretty dire.

So much for Prince Fielder’s money.

Getting Creative

So, what can be done?

In honor of the Moneyball movie, we can look at this the exact way the A’s looked at replacing Jason Giambi. The Brewers don’t need to replace Prince Fielder at first base. They need to replace his value over the entire team. This can be done with three or four players.

According to Fangraphs, Prince Fielder was worth 5.5 wins above replacement last season. That means that to adequately replace Fielder’s production, they need to find 5.5 wins–and they need to do it fairly cheaply.

My Plan

Not that I expect people to fully care what my plan would be, but this is my blog, so I might as well create one anyway.

First of all, I need to clear some of that non-guaranteed salary. That means the non-tender hammer is coming down. Kottaras, Parra, Wilson, and Stetter will probably need to be non-tendered. I like Kottaras, but business is business, and he’s no longer a cheap commodity. If he’s open to coming back and a lower price, great–otherwise the Brewers have a fine defensive catcher Martin Maldonado who could get his shot as the backup.

Even after this, that still doesn’t cut into that $16.4 million. Going to have to shed some more.

There’s no better place to start than with Casey McGehee and that appalling projected salary of $3.1 million. There’s no way he should be brought back after last season, especially now that his cheap years are over with. Turning third base over to Taylor Green will not only save money, but it will improve production from 2011.

Kameron Loe is effective if he’s used correctly, but $2.8 mil is a bit high. I’d non-tender him while leaving open the possibility of bringing him back at a lower rate.

There. That cuts off an additional $5.9 million in salary, dropping the payroll to about $69 million. That leaves us $16 million shy of last year’s payroll. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that with the additional revenue from the playoff run and raised ticket prices next year, payroll will jump to about $90 million next season. If that’s the case, that means we have $21 million to fill shortstop, third base, first base, backup catcher, two backup infielders, and about four relievers. Yikes.

When you need to fill that many spots on a limited budget, you’re going to need a lot of league minimum players. That means Mat Gamel is your first baseman pretty much by default. If there’s one thing I want to know after the 2012 season, it is what the Brewers have in Mat Gamel and Taylor Green. Give these guys a full season to show what they’ve got. They’re cheap, and if they produce it will bring real value for years.

So how many wins will Gamel bring? That’s obviously tough to say. Bill James projects Gamel for an .818 OPS and a wOBA of .357. Looking at first basemen in 2011, that wOBA would put Gamel in the territory of Carlos Pena/Ryan Howard/Michael Cuddyer. It would certainly be hard to be disappointed with that. Those players checked in around 1.6 to 3.1 wins. Howard was 1.6, because his defense is so bad (how’s that contract looking, Philly?). It’s probably fair to assume Gamel will be a bit below average defensively, so I’ll give him 2 wins above replacement next season.

2 down, 3.5 wins to go to reach that magic number of 5.5.

Let’s look at third base. Like Gamel at first, the solution here needs to be Green out of necessity. He’s shown promise in the minors, and he’s cheap. That’s plenty for me. Green is even more difficult to project, because for whatever reason, James has no projection for him. He shredded AAA to the tune of .336/.413/.583 last season, albeit in a hitter friendly PCL. There’s a stat called Major League Equivalency, which attempts to project a minor league performance across a Major League level. Green’s last year was .291/.357/.476. Considering I’d be thrilled with a full season at that level, I’d be happy to drop that projection to .275/.345/.450. Players with similar offensive production tended to have WARs around 2, depending on their defense. I’ll give Green a WAR of 2 as well, with the grain of salt that this is nothing more than an attempt at an educated guess.

While we could just add Gamel’s WAR to the 0 left by a vacant first base position, we have to subtract last year’s third base WAR. Luckily, Casey McGehee was so bad that anyone else will result in an upgrade, and that’s no exception with Green. McGehee mustered only a 0.3 WAR last year, giving Green an edge by 1.7 wins.

Adding Gamel and Green, we’re now already up to 3.7 wins of the magic number of 5.5. And we wouldn’t even need to spend a million bucks between the two players to get those 3.7 wins. You can see the immense value of pre-arbitration players.

So where are we going to make up that final 1.8? At shortstop, mostly.

This is where it gets trickier. There is no cheap option in the minors that is Major League ready like at first and third. You’ll have to spend some money here. Yuni Betancourt managed just a 0.5 WAR, so fortunately, there is plenty of room for improvement.

My first choice for shortstop is already off the market: Clint Barmes. I love Barmes’ defense, and watching him at short would have been infinitely more enjoyable than watching Betancourt “defend.” I was bummed when I heard about him going to Pittsburgh.

Free agents who would provide the biggest upgrade, like Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes, are too expensive and too risky. The only other free agent that could be a fit is Rafael Furcal, but even he will be risky and more expensive than Barmes, who got 2 years/$10.5 million.

It’s entirely possible the next shortstop could come via trade; in fact, I’d argue that a trade is starting to look like the best route. Trade candidates include Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie, Jason Bartlett, Brendan Ryan or Ian Desmond. All those players will cost a few million except Desmond, and none would take a blue chip package to acquire. Fallback options could include free agents Alex Gonzalez, Edgar Renteria or Ronny Cedeno. All three will be cheap and were more valuable than Betancourt last year by about one win.

I’m going to say that Jed Lowrie will be the easiest to acquire, though I’d be even happier with Marco Scutaro. Boston will probably trade one of the two, especially with hotshot prospect Jose Iglesia nearing the big leagues. Lowrie is projected to hit .271/.348/.437 next year by Bill James, which is miles ahead of Yuni. He’s also a better defender. He was hurt last season, and that is definitely a question mark with him, but he should be a safe bet to put up at least a 1.5-2 WAR, and possibly higher.

If that doesn’t make up the final 1.8 needed to effectively replace Prince Fielder, it comes pretty darn close. This plan also leaves over $15 million to fill out the team. Jerry Hairston Jr. should be brought back for a few million, and his value as the top utility infielder over Craig Counsell last year would provide a significant upgrade as well. I’d like to bring back Takashi Saito at a salary similar to last year (around $2 mil after incentives). You’ll likely see someone like Michael Fiers, Brandon Kintzler or Mike McClendon in the bullpen, as they’re cheap as well. I’d like to add a right-handed hitter who for a bench or platoon spot, and a left-handed reliever would be nice next year as well.

So, there you have it. It certainly isn’t flashy, but it’s cost-effective, and it greatly improves team defense from 2011. If the Brewers managed to pull of these moves (easier said that done, of course), I’d feel good again about their chances in 2012.

The Perfect Game!

Posted by Steve

It was an incredible atmosphere Saturday at Miller Park, and the Brewers rose to the occasion. Other than the solo home run allowed by Yovani Gallardo in the eighth inning, the Brewers played virtually a perfect game.

The defense was just fine. Nyjer Morgan and Jerry Hairston had some impressive plays, and Braun’s outfield assist to gun down Willie Bloomquist in the first inning may have been the play of the game.

The offense, I thought, did a great job. Ian Kennedy pitched well today; the Brewers simply made him work too hard. They saw a lot of pitches, fouled balls off, and jacked up his pitch count a bit. There’s a school of thought that pitch count doesn’t matter as much as the amount of high-leverage pitches, and Kennedy threw a lot of high-leverage pitches. Obviously, Prince’s home run was the big blow, but Kennedy was under pressure almost every inning.

The story of the day, though, was obviously Yo’s performance. Gallardo is locked in right now in what may be the best stretch of his career. In his last four starts, spanning 28.1 innings, Yo has 45 strikeouts (!) and just four walks.

A wildcard in this series is the managers. I’ve criticized RRR at times this season, but I think he has the edge in this series. He started Hairston over McGehee (and batted him ahead if Betancourt), so he’s 1-1 in big decisions. We’ll see if he’s 2-2 after tomorrow with his decision to start Greinke on short rest. Kirk Gibson, on the other hand, seems to be a poor in-game manager. I was following the Diamondbacks pretty closely for the last couple weeks when the Brewers were battling them for homefield. Their games were chock-full of head-scratching bunting decisions and stupid small ball. Today, he had Ryan Roberts, likely their fourth-best hitter, hitting seventh behind Lyle Overbay (who’s just a scrub at this point) and Aaron Hill.

His worst decision, though, was letting Kennedy pitch to Fielder in the seventh. With a runner on second and two outs, they could have intentionally walked Prince. If Casey McGehee was still hitting fifth, that would have probably been the right move. With Weeks hitting fifth, though, I don’t blame Gibson for not walking Fielder. I do, however, think it was a mistake to let Kennedy face Prince. He had thrown 106 pitches, many of the high-leverage variety I was just discussing, and they had a lefty ready in the bullpen.

I suspect we’ll see more bad managerial moves from Gibson before this series is over, and the Brewers will be better off for it.

Looking ahead to Game 2… The big question will of course be: How will Zack Greinke respond to pitching on short rest again? Kevin made a good point in the comments of the last post. Roenicke would have been second-guessed on the Greinke decision either way if they end up losing this game. I’m okay with the decision, for the record–I just wish they’d have taken him out earlier in Game 162.

The team that wins the first game of the NLDS is 29-3 all-time in taking the series. That’s why Game 1 is so crucial in a short 5-game series, and it’s why it was so encouraging to see the team play so well. The hitters seem locked in, and Greinke is a better pitcher than Daniel Hudson. I’m expecting a 2-0 series lead.

I won’t stop

Posted by Steve

The Brewers look great. I don’t want my negative-toned posts to take away from that. The pitching is still awesome, and the offense is back on track. They’re cruising to the playoffs, and they’re looking hopeful for that important number 2 seed. So why all my negativity?

Every post now has the playoffs in mind.

Over the last 26 games, Casey McGehee has a .593 OPS. He’s been even worse than he’s been over the course of his entire terrible 2011 season.

Meanwhile, here’s what Ron Roenicke has to say about McGehee. “It’s frustrating to (McGehee) because he feels good and his swing is good. I agree that his swing looks good. That’s why it’s surprising.”

Ron, what games have you been watching? I cannot fathom how anyone in his right mind could watch Casey McGehee at the plate and come away with the impression that he is having good at-bats.

McGehee has consistently been swinging at pitches out of the zone. At the same time, he’s taking pitches right over the plate, which shows he’s lost and is simply guessing rather than seeing and reacting. When he does swing at a strike, he doesn’t hit it square–either a foul or a weak grounder/flyout. He has hardly hit a ball solidly in the last month!

Also, on a different note, McGehee is not good defensively. He’s sure-handed enough, but his lack of athleticism limits his range. Green clearly has more range at third; anyone could see that. Yet, RRR has taken Taylor Green out of games late. He thinks McGehee is a defensive upgrade! I think he’s been listening to BA and Bill’s broadcasts too much. His affinity for McGehee is baffling.

With Weeks back, the makings of a great lineup are there. Hart-Morgan-Braun-Fielder-Weeks-Green is a great 1-6–likely the best in the NL playoffs. These last handful of games would be a great time to try this lineup and get everyone comfortable heading into the postseason.

McGehee must be removed from this lineup.

Enough is enough

Posted by Steve

The Brewers are tied in the tenth inning as I write this. I wanted to make that clear so it doesn’t seem like I’m reacting based on the outcome of tonight’s game. The reality is I can’t stand watching this anymore, and even though I’ve harped on it all year, I can’t help this:

It is maddening that Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt are still playing regularly. Absolutely appalling.

Any way you look at it, those two have been awful. They are two of the nine worst qualified players in the NL according to WAR. McGehee’s OBP has been below .300 all season. Betancourt has coupled bad defense with an astonishing .271 on-base percentage.

Even if you hate statistics, it’s not as though they’re passing the eye test. Betancourt looks lazy and slow on defense. He swings lazily and is probably the least disciplined hitter in the league. McGehee looks tentative, and at times, lost on offense. He also has no range at third defensively.

I simply do not understand why they are allowed to hurt this team any longer. It makes no sense. Don Money can publicly chastise prospects who have actually produced, yet Betancourt and McGehee are allowed to play despite contributing nothing. It’s an organizational double standard.

Taylor Green needs to play third against all right-handed pitchers. Hairston needs to play short against all right-handed pitchers. There is absolutely no justification for doing otherwise.

The Brewers are going into the playoffs knowingly fielding less than their best team. It is mind-boggling, and if they don’t change it immediately, they don’t deserve to win anything.

 

The Ol’ Boys Club

Posted by Steve

Created by DougJones43 at Brewerfan.net

I can’t say I’m surprised that Taylor Green has had exactly one at-bat and zero innings played in the field to this point, even though it’s ludicrous. I was a bit surprised, though, to read that Roenicke said the players preferred “their guys” to play.

Where do I even start with a quote like that? The players preferred? So what? The players are not responsible for deciding who plays. We are seeing a “players’ manager” taken to the extreme. RRR needs to stop worrying about what the players want and play the best lineup.

Yuniesky Betancourt has not had a day off since July 17. July 17! Corey Hart has had three days off in that time. What on Earth does Roenicke see in Betancourt? And I realize Casey McGehee has been a bit better, but how can you not give Taylor Green a start or two a week? McGehee’s right-handed; Green’s left-handed. It’s a perfect platoon situation.

Despite all this, there is no reason to freak out after the sweep by the Cardinals. Yes, the Brewers could have put them away, but they’re still in great position. They are 7.5 games up and BP gives them a 97.8% chance to make the playoffs. They have Zack Greinke starting tonight against the worst team in baseball.

The regular season will be fine. I’m just worried about Roenicke in the playoffs. His inefficiencies have been masked by stellar starting pitching for five weeks. Now that the pitching has come back to Earth recently, he’s getting exposed again.

 

Cardinals 2, Ron Roenicke 1

Posted by Steve

It’s funny how, despite a massive division lead, poorly managed games can get me fired up as though this was still a tight race. I should be going to bed, but I just got home from the game and I have to get this off my chest.

That ninth inning was as mismanaged as it can get. After Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee each had great at-bats to draw walks, Runnin’ Ron took matters into his own hands.

This is a run expectancy matrix. It shows that bunting is the wrong move; the average runs scored is higher with runners on first and second and nobody out than it is with second and third with one out.

Even though it’s the wrong move, I suppose in a vacuum I can give him a pass, because most managers make that move (which is why it drives me nuts that managers are allowed to widely make the wrong strategical moves, but I digress). This was not in a vacuum, however, because the runner at second base was Prince Fielder. The guy bunting at the plate was Yuniesky Betancourt, who apparently has never tried to bunt in his entire life. When you combine a slow runner with a clueless bunter, it makes that decision a colossally stupid one.

I’m not just saying this in hindsight, either. I was in disbelief that Roenicke was even allowing Betancourt to hit with both Mark Kotsay and Taylor Green available (my brother wisely pointed out that I shouldn’t be surprised, because Roenicke hasn’t benched Yuni yet, so why would he now?).

The right move would have been to let one of the lefties hit for Betancourt and let them swing away. Salas had just walked a batter and looked very shaky… And he has Betancourt bunt right away? How stupid. And how poorly executed by the worst starting player in baseball, who apparently cannot play badly enough to get benched no matter how hard he tries. And if RRR was so intent on bunting, why not use Counsell instead? It’s all baffling.

Really the only possible good thing to come out of this game is if Betancourt has to go on the DL. Seriously, how can a major league baseball player not know to not wrap his hand around the bat when bunting!? That is literally the first thing you’re taught as a kid when you’re learning to bunt. Hoping for injury sounds harsh, but the baffling Brewer braintrust (alliteration!) has shown us that injury is the only way to get this poor player out of the lineup.

This game was virtually meaningless in the grand scheme, as the Brewers are 99.9% for the playoffs according to BP. But it illustrates a great concern about their manager’s poor in-game strategy that could really hurt them in the playoffs.

 

 

Trade deadline flop

Posted by Steve

I’ve taken a little heat for being so negative considering the Brewers are winning, but it’s only because of the situation. They made some bold moves to win this season, which means they should absolutely be doing all that they can to make the team as good as possible. They have not–hence my criticism.

It’s great that they’ve won six in a row. Even though they were against terrible teams, you still can’t expect two sweeps in a row. So, yes, it’s great. Problem is, they aren’t going to be playing the Cubs or Astros tomorrow anymore.

I’ve been over and over the deficiencies of third base and shortstop all year, so there’s no need to harp on that anymore except to say this team had huge holes to fill there. And Doug Melvin’s answer was… Jerry Hairston Jr. And nobody else.

You can’t count Felipe Lopez, because he’s not an upgrade. He’s an emergency fill-in for Rickie Weeks, so he very likely wouldn’t have even been acquired had Weeks not gone down. So they only thing they’ve added to the team from a week ago has ben… Jerry Hairston Jr.

Don’t get me wrong. Hairston is a nice upgrade to their bench. He can play several positions at a level ranging from somewhat above to somewhat below average, which means he’s an upgrade from most of the defenders on this team. But what he is not is a full-time shortstop, something the Brewers need desperately.

The entire Yuniesky Betancourt debacle, which includes the decisions to A. Not cut him immediately after the Greinke trade in December, B. Enter the season with him as the starter with no other real option, and C. Still do nothing about it after he’s killed the team for four months, is the worst decision of the Doug Melvin Era in Milwaukee.

It’s even worse when you compare it to what the Cardinals, their chief competition for the division, pulled off. Trading Colby Rasmus was a dumb move for their franchise, but it did make them a better team right now. Edwin Jackson is a big improvement to what they previously had in their rotation. Then, the salt in the wound came today when they acquired Rafael Furcal, a name associated with the Brewers for a few weeks.

Looking at shortstop WAR, Betancourt is the worst in the Majors at -0.4. Second-worst on that list? Ryan Theriot of the Cardinals, at 0.1. The Cardinals realized they had a bad shortstop and upgraded the position. The Brewers did not. Right now, that’s the main difference.

A week ago, I’d have picked the Brewers to win the division. Now, I’m not so sure. Amazingly, they’re a weaker team after the trade deadline than they were a week before it. It’s likely to be close the rest of the way, and the Cards still look pretty shaky in their bullpen, but the fact is the Brewers didn’t do as much as they could have to improve. It’s very frustrating.

At this point, if the Brewers miss the playoffs, Melvin has nowhere to look but himself. He mortgaged the future (a move I agreed with), and he’s the one who left Betancourt and McGehee alone to suck all season. I doubt he survives if those decisions end up costing them a playoff spot.

Make it stop (Casey McGehee)

Posted by Steve

Josh Wilson played third and batted second for the Brewers today, and it wasn’t due to injury. That’s all you need to know.

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. The same problems the team had two months ago still exist. It’s depressing to watch Casey McGehee, because he looks so depressed himself. It’s time to put him out of his misery and send him to AAA to see if he can get anything back.

It’s even more maddening when you realize how well Taylor Green is doing in AAA. His slash line is .316/.400/.542, and by all accounts is a solid defender.

Despite how obvious this move should be, there is no sign that the Brewers will be making it. In fact, they have started playing Green at second base in order to give Mat Gamel time at third. I’m a fan of Gamel, but his defense as a third baseman is awful compared to Taylor Green (or just about anyone).

Another damning sign is Ron Roenicke’s quote from a few days ago in the Journal-Sentinel blog.

I told Roenicke about all the clamoring to bring up third baseman Taylor Green, who is hitting well at Class AAA Nashville. Green is hitting.314 with 13 homers and 54 RBI in 86 games but Roenicke noted that doesn’t mean he’d do the same in the majors.

“It’s completely different,” said Roenicke. “Look at what Gamel did in the minors, and is still doing in the minors, and what he did here (.115 in 10 games). I know people get impatient but it’s not the same.”

Brilliant. So because one player out of thousands who have done well in AAA struggled in the majors, that means Green should be expected to.

This has become a mockery. McGehee has a .588 OPS! Isn’t that more concerning that Green potentially struggling? Hell, if Green struggled, he’ll still put up an OPS over .600! His worst case scenario is better than McGehee at this point.

The defense and the bottom of the lineup must improve, and this is a way to help both in one in-house transaction. The refusal to make this move is perhaps the most baffling decision Doug Melvin has made in his Brewers tenure.

WAR (Huh! Yeah!) What is it good for?

Posted by Steve

Absolutely… Somethin!

There are so many strange, interesting moving parts to this Brewers team. It’s a good team overall that is off to a solid start–two things that combine to make them a slight favorite to win the division according to Baseball Prospectus at this point.

To just sum up the Brewers as a good team overall doesn’t tell nearly the whole story, though. The makeup of this team is one of the weirdest I can remember.

I made reference at the start of the season to the “Stars and Scrubs” theory from fangraphs: that the Brewers have more  stars and more scrubs than the average team. To this point, that claim has moved toward even greater extremes.

The Brewers have a lot of very good players this year–more than I anticipated. They also have a lot of very, very bad players–again, more than I anticipated.

Let’s take a quick look using mainly wins above replacement (WAR).

Stars

In all of baseball, the Brewers have three of the top 13 most valuable hitters according to WAR (Prince 7th, Weeks 12th, Braun 13th). No other NL team is even close to that mark–incredibly, no NL team has more than one offensive player in the top 35 in WAR. Switching to just an NL lens, the Brewers have the fourth, sixth, and seventh most valuable hitters in the league to this point. That’s some craziness right there.

It doesn’t end with the hitters, either. Many individual pitchers have been fantastic.

Shaun Marcum is 17th in WAR among NL starting pitchers. Not fantastic, but when you consider his last two starts which were affected to some degree by his injury, he’d likely be a few spots higher. That’s not the interesting one though, because that’s about where you’d expect Marcum to be.

The interesting one is Zack Greinke, who continues one of the statistically oddest seasons in recent memory. His ERA of 4.77 is ugly, which is why it’s a good thing that ERA is a pretty poor stat. A much better stat is FIP, which means his projected ERA with defense taken out of the equation. Better yet is xFIP, which normalizes home run rates for all pitchers, since different-sized ballparks provide advantages and disadvantages to pitchers. Anywho, Greinke’s xFIP is… (drumroll please)… 1.84.

He’s only at 60 innings, so it doesn’t qualify as the leader yet, but he unofficially leads NL starting pitchers in xFIP by far. That’s due to his insane strikeout rate–he’s at 11.93 ks/9. His previous career high for a season is 9.5. Now, surely that is likely to come down some, as that type of jump just can’t be expected, but some of that is likely due to the switch to the NL.

In 60.1 innings, Greinke has a mind-blowing 80 ks to just 9 walks. His incredible k and bb ratios result in some incredible rankings. Most starting pitchers have somewhere between 80 and 110 innings to this point. WAR just takes into account the amount of wins to which a player has contributed to this point in the season, though. So yes, Greinke has just 60.1 innings, but he’s still managed to be the 15th-most valuable starting pitcher in the league!

His 60.1 innings have been as valuable as Shaun Marcum’s 94.2 and Tommy Hanson’s 83.1. They’ve been more valuable than Chris Carpenter’s 105.2, Ricky Nolasco’s 101.1, Tim Hudson’s 94, Carlos Zambrano’s 104, or Ubaldo Jimenez’s 84.

Basically, Greinke’s been mostly very, very good. His great start against Tampa the other day wasn’t some breakout for him–he’s been at about that level the entire season, save for a few bad innings where he was knocked around. Still, if he can keep his k and bb rates even close to where they are now, he’s a top 4 NL pitcher no question.

One more player on the Brewers has emerged as a star, and it is probably the most surprising. That would be John Axford, who has become a dominant closer this season. According to WAR, Axford is the fifth-most valuable reliever in baseball! He certainly had a good second half last year, but his walk rate has fallen to a passable 4.19 after he started the year walking too many.

(Time for an entire paragraph in parentheses. Just came across this. In 2010, Axford’s BB/9 was 4.19. This year, it’s 4.19. Last year, his k/9 was 11.79. This year, it’s 11.8. Does it mean anything? Who knows? Is it interesting? Well I sure think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have entered the record books as author of the first entirely parenthesized paragraph in blog form.)

The strikeout is such a huge weapon for Axford that getting a guy or two on base isn’t as damning for him as it is for other pitchers. His velocity is up to 97-98, and he’s been locating his breaking ball much better the last several weeks. He’s quite plainly in the zone right now–an obvious All-Star closer.

For what it’s worth, the Brewers deserve to have three All-Star starters in Fielder, Weeks, and Braun. Axford should also make the team, and you could argue Marcum is worthy, but I’d probably keep him off at this point.

Scrubs

So, that was the good part. Now for the ugly, ugly part that is turning a great team into a good one.

I’ve said all I can about how atrocious of a baseball player Yuniesky Betancourt is, so I’ll just point out a couple things that I hope you laugh at, because otherwise you’ll probably be crying.

Swing percentage is an interesting stat. Conventional wisdom might be that when you’re up to bat, the goal is to hit the ball, so you should get your hacks in. The opposite tends to be true. If you look at players who swing least often, you see great players like Carlos Santana, Brett Gardner, Kevin Youkilis, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Bautista, and Mark Teixeira near the top of the list. On the flip side, if you look at players who swing the most often, you might confuse it for a list of players who shouldn’t be in the Majors: A.J. Pierzynski, Jeff Francoeur, Corey Patterson, and Alex Gonzalez. Number two on that list? Why, our own Yuni B, of course.

Betancourt currently has an on-base percentage of .251. .251!!! To put that in perspective, the lowest OBP among qualified players in 2010 was .270. Going back even further in the past, the lowest OBPs were .274 (by none other than Yuni), .288 (Yuni again!), .288, .279, and .290.

So in other words, Betancourt is so bad this year that he’s rewriting the Record Books of Suck–records that he already held himself! He’s been so bad, he was the inspiration for a Fangraphs article chronicling teams to make the playoffs while giving a prominent role to a negative WAR player.

To top it off, his fielding is just as terrible as ever. This is good enough for a WAR of -0.4. Good God.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with Betancourt. I never bought in to Casey McGehee as a good player, especially over Mat Gamel, but I certainly didn’t expect him to crash and burn as much as he has. There has been a bit of a movement along the lines of, “McGehee looks like he’s coming out of his slump.’ Except of course, he’s not. He had like three games where he hit the ball pretty hard, and since then, he’s looked just as bad as before.

Because he plays an easier position, McGehee has been as harmful as Betancourt–both have WARs of -0.4.

In fact, the Brewers have had a slew of below-replacement level players. Would you believe they have had six players hold negative value this season? Because it’s true: Betancourt, McGehee, Mark Kotsay, Jeremy Reed, Erick Almonte, and Wil Nieves all have negative WARs.

Some quick facts of hilarity on Wil Nieves before moving on: he had been on the MLB team for the entire season when he was sent down a couple weeks ago. In that time, he accumulated 0 RBIs, two unintentional walks, and slugged .162.

This is why I can get so easily frustrated with the Brewers despite them likely having the best team in the division. They could very easily be a better team! All their bad players aside from Betancourt could easily be replaced by simply calling someone up from AAA. Look at some of their numbers in Nashville.

OF Brandon Boggs: .939 OPS
OF Brett Carroll: .871 OPS
1B/3B/OF Mat Gamel: .942 OPS
3B Taylor Green: .917 OPS
OF Brendan Katin: .938 OPS

Look at that. The Brewers have three outfielders in Nashville who are better than Mark Kotsay! Green needs to be the starting third baseman in Milwaukee tomorrow. Like I said, the only one who isn’t easily replaceable from within the system is Betancourt (I’d even take 37 year-old Luis Figueroa and his .382 OBP over Betancourt).

If the Brewers can replace three all-around poor players in Kotsay, McGehee, and Betancourt, they will greatly increase their chance at the division. Two moves are easy, and should have been made a while ago.