Tag Archives: George Kottaras

So, now what?

Posted by Steve

For the last few weeks, all the focus was on Zack Greinke: first his health, then on what return he’d bring back in an impending trade. Now that the Greinke trade is complete, it feels a little confusing. What are we supposed to focus on now?

One thing’s for sure; this is still the same awful bullpen. Yesterday’s game showed that, and the bullpen isn’t going to change. Not that that matters much though; wins and losses are irrelevant now.

That’s one thing that’s kind of nice. I no longer feel like I need to hope the Brewers lose games in order to ensure they trade Greinke. I still really don’t care whether they win, but at least I don’t have to be annoyed when they do. I really didn’t enjoy that.

So anyway, the question is, what am I looking for the rest of the season?

I don’t expect the Brewers to contend next year without Zack Greinke. The starting rotation is going to look much different next year, and they have many young pitchers who will be getting their feet wet. Thing is, I want that to happen. I don’t want Doug Melvin to feel like he needs to go and sign two more Randy Wolfs because he needs to patch together another okay team. Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Tayjor Jungmann… The Brewers need to turn several of those players into major league pitchers, particularly starters, if they are going to have success within the next 4-5 years. I don’t want to see the development stunted by aging #4 starters.

For that reason, I would love to see Aramis Ramirez and/or Corey Hart traded before the deadline. If Melvin targeted players at the AA level or so, the way he did with Greinke, there shouldn’t be too long of a turnaround. In fact, I bet they’d have a solid team by as early as 2014.

Trading Hart and Ramirez makes a lot of sense. Both players have good value right now. Ramirez in particular should be traded because of the money that he’s owed. He has performed so well that right now, you could get a team to take most (or even all?) of his contract and send you a legitimate prospect or two. That opportunity may not be there by next season.

Same situation with Hart. He is under contract through 2013. If the Brewers trade Hart before the start of next season, the team who acquires him will have the right to a compensation pick. If they wait until next season to do it, it will be the same situation as Greinke–no pick for that team. A lack of comp picks won’t dampen the return on elite players like Greinke, but it could on a merely solid player like Hart.

Of course, I’d be truly shocked if either of these players were dealt this year. Doug Melvin’s MO isn’t to trade players when their value is highest; it’s to hold on to them, use the value for the Brewers, and then take a lesser return/let them walk in free agency. In this case, I strongly feel holding on to them is the wrong move. Doesn’t matter what I think, though.

So then, what do I want to see the rest of the year? Let’s make a list, shall we?

Tyler Thornburg’s return to normalcy

The Brewers sent Thornburg back to the minors today, capping the end to a short yet stupid experiment. His schedule has been completely erratic over the last month or so, and it capped off with a “tired arm” after pitching multiple innings in consecutive outings. What a foolish way to handle your top pitching prospect. I want to see Thornburg back starting games, and I don’t even want to see him in Milwaukee unless he is in the rotation. No more coming out of the bullpen for Thornburg the rest of the year.

Trade/DFA Wolf, K-Rod

I expect the Brewers to DFA Francisco Rodriguez soon. It’s been a train wreck in slow motion over the last couple weeks for Franky. He went from burying his trade value six feet under to clearly not even warranting a spot on the team. He’s a sunk cost; the Brewers have too many young pitchers they should take a look at to keep wasting innings on a broken K-Rod.

Wolf should be let go, too. There’s a chance someone will take him off the Brewers’ hands for nothing, but if not, there is no need to keep giving him starts. Same thing with wanting to see younger pitchers.

In a similar vein, if Shaun Marcum is able to come back this year, he’d be a good candidate for an August waiver trade. Something to think about.

Give the young pitchers a long look–in the starting rotation

All those pitchers I mentioned earlier should get some consideration for rotation spots in Milwaukee. Mark Rogers had an encouraging outing yesterday. He is out of minor league options, which means the Brewers have to have him on the MLB team next year or lose him. He should stay in the rotation the rest of the year.

Wily Peralta has turned his season around. He should take Randy Wolf’s spot in the rotation as soon as possible.

Thornburg, Hellweg, and Pena should all be given consideration based on how they pitch going forward as well.

Within a few weeks, call up Jean Segura and hand him the keys to shortstop

I understand giving Segura some time yet in AA, but I don’t think he should need more than a couple weeks. Unless he falls flat on his face in Huntsville, I want to give him time in MLB in a low pressure situation in which he knows he’ll play every day. From a marketing standpoint, the team should want to show off the prize of the Zack Greinke trade as well. It’s a win-win.

Think about it. Not only do these moves make baseball sense, but it’s a much more watchable team. How much more enjoyable would the team be with a rotation of Gallardo, Fiers, Rogers, Peralta, Estrada/Thornburg/other young pitcher and Segura at shortstop every day the rest of the way? Right now, when Wolf or Estrada pitch, I don’t even feel obligated to watch. I’d want to watch this “new” team every day the rest of the season, though.

One final remark

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the departure of George Kottaras. First, let me say it was a questionable move. Travis Ishikawa serves no purpose on this team and does nothing that Kottaras can’t. They should have gotten rid of Ishikawa and left Kottaras as the backup first baseman/third catcher/top pinch hitter off the bench. But, they didn’t, and it sounds like Kottaras finds himself in a larger role on a playoff contender, so good for him. Plus, no matter what happens to him in his baseball career, he’ll still be devilishly handsome.

 

 

May: The month of repeated groin punches

Posted by Steve

Wow.

It’s hard to imagine this getting much worse. The injuries have reached a comedic point, with whatever broke Jonathan Lucroy’s hand taking the cake. It’s actually fun to imagine the possibilities, assuming the story is true. What was in his suitcase? Was he using an aluminum metal case? Was it full of unmarked bills? Did it contain the nuclear football?

The injuries are just piling up. They’ve used their fourth shortstop of the year, which really doesn’t matter because all of them suck other than the one they started the year with. They’ve also lost their catcher, two first basemen, a center fielder, a starting pitcher, that starting pitcher’s replacement, and a closer’s facial hair. That’s all in one month. Oh, and they’ve also gone 9-15 over that span.

After such a terrible month, it is difficult to see this ending well. Plenty of people seem to have given up on the season. Although the Brewers have made it much tougher than they’d like, it’s too early to give up on the season. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Brewers an 18.1% chance of reaching the playoffs, believe it or not.

Even with all the injuries, I don’t think the Brewers are as bad as they’ve played. Obviously, Baseball Prospectus thinks that way too, as they give the fifth place Brewers the third-best chance in the division of reaching the playoffs.

I still have some hope. For one thing, the starting pitching has been much better lately. Their starting rotation is 13th in the NL in ERA, but 8th in FIP and xFIP. First, that’s much better than what it was three weeks ago. Secondly, this, just like last year, shows us that the Brewers starters are better than their ERA implies. Some of this can be blamed on defense (again, like last year), but they have also been fairly unlucky–their allowed batting average on balls in play is .307, which is the third-highest in the NL. Save for the random Arizona debacle, Greinke has been lights out lately. Marcum has been very good, and Gallardo and Wolf have been better too. It will be interesting to see if Mike Fiers can hold down a spot with Marco Estrada out.

I also think the loss of Jonathan Lucroy could be overstated. I recently made a post at Reviewing the Brew explaining why we should have expected Lucroy’s numbers to come way down the rest of the season. People were too caught up in how he’s done this year and expecting that all season, when in actuality, it’s entirely possible that George Kottaras outperforms what Lucroy would have done over the next 4-6 weeks. Just as big of a loss from Lucroy to Kottaras will be from Kottaras to Martin Maldonado as the backup catcher. Maldonado has a good defensive reputation, but he’ll be close to an automatic out.

I still maintain the only injury that is possibly fatal at this point is at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez is a solid player, and any of the three guys they’ve used to fill in all suck. They’re in a catch 22 right now. They need a shortstop and better fifth starter to reach the playoffs, but to get in position to make trades for those players, they need to first play better.

The next 3-4 weeks are critical. If they’re ten games out of a playoff spot by July, I’m probably ready to call it a season. At that point, it’s likely goodbye to Zack Greinke. Marcum, K-Rod and Wolf would probably all be gone, too. As much as I’d like to see Greinke sign, the Brewers could get a great haul for him if they’re out of the running.

The one thing that could be devastating for the Brewers is if they stay under .500 but still close enough that management (okay, Mark Attanasio) doesn’t want to sell. If they finish near or below .500 without trading off any players, someone deserves to be fired. With the haul they could get for Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, and K-Rod, they could contend again fairly soon.

Still, it isn’t yet time to fully have that conversation. The schedule looks favorable as soon as the team returns home, and the Brewers will have one other thing going for them: I’ve been so busy that I’ve hardly posted this month, which is clearly why they’ve struggled. I’ll be posting more going forward, which can only help, right?

Or are you telling me that you’re doubting a team that will feature a batter of Mike Fiers and Martin Maldonado, Cody Ransom at shortstop and three other players with negative WARs on the season. Is that what you’re telling me?

Replacing Mat Gamel

Posted by Steve

A few months ago the main question the Brewers faced was: How do we replace Prince Fielder? Now, unfortunately, it seems the question is how to replace the replacement. Mat Gamel injured his knee on a frustratingly unimportant play last night in San Diego. The latest news is that he needs surgery, although there has not yet been any detail as far as what the injury is/what type of surgery he’ll need. Safe to say he’ll have a lengthy DL stint; the question at this point is whether he’ll be back at all this year.

So, what should the Brewers do? They have a number of options, but I’ll say right away that playing Travis Ishikawa at first base for the rest of the season should not be an option. His career OPS is .724, which is just not cutting it at first base. Even a platoon of Ishikawa and Brooks Conrad isn’t idea; Ishikawa has a career OPS of .740 against righties–still not cutting it. I’m still not sure why he’s on the team, to be honest.

If the Brewers want to go in house, they have two pretty decent options. The first is to move Aramis Ramirez to first base and call up Taylor Green to play third. While I’d love to see this, I’m almost sure the Brewers wouldn’t do it.

Another option, which seems more likely, is to move Corey Hart to first base, at least on a semi-regular basis. This does a few things. First, it keeps solid offense at the first base position. Secondly, it opens up some playing time for the glut of outfielders on the roster. Nori Aoki or Nyjer Morgan can play right when Hart plays first. While neither has the ideal arm for right field, the outstanding outfield range in center and right would make up for it.

This option seems more likely, simply because the Brewers already worked out Hart at first in spring. Although Hart is likely to be shaky defensively at first (not that Gamel was great himself), his height is an advantage there. It’s still likely that the Brewers’ defense would improve at both first and right, possibly enough to make up for the offensive drop-off.

There are other options as well. The Brewers would probably love to get George Kotarras’ bat into the lineup more often, so I wouldn’t at all mind seeing get occasional playing time at first base.

There are some free agents available. I have no real interest in Jorge Cantu, but Derek Lee is still available. I’m not thrilled at all with Lee, but it’s possible he could still be productive in a semi-platoon role.

My personal preference would be one of the first two suggestions. Since the Brewers aren’t going to move A-Ram to first, I prefer to see Hart there–at least more than Ishikawa/Conrad. I imagine this is what we’ll see pretty regularly. I don’t think they should explore signing someone like Lee unless Gamel is out for the year, and even then, it won’t be some magic solution.

This is getting to be amazing (Kottaras)

Posted by Steve

That was about as good as a mid-April game can get.

I was at the game last night, and a few things come to mind:

1. Interesting to see that the team who used their best reliever against the heart of the order got through the inning cleanly, while the team who didn’t blew the lead. Of course I’m talking about not using John Axford in the eighth inning when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were up. K-Rod gave up the bomb to Ethier that could have cost the Brewers the game. Meanwhile, against Morgan, Braun and Ramirez, the Dodgers used Kenley Janson to carve the Brewers up in the eighth.

Now, I’m really not holding this against Ron Roenicke much at all, because there might not be a manager in baseball who would have used Axford there. That doesn’t mean it was the right choice not to, though. A team’s best relief pitcher should pitch in the highest leverage situations, and clearly that was the eighth inning with the only two great hitters in the Dodgers lineup coming up (By the way, I’m not giving Don Mattingly credit for using Jansen in the eighth, either. He’s not their closer, so they just happened to luck out that the heart of the order was coming up. You can bet that if he was the closer, he wouldn’t have come in then either).

2. What I will blame Roenicke for is ALL OF THE BUNTING. Goodness, I cannot believe how stupid it was to bunt with Jonathan Lucroy in the ninth inning with tiny Cesary Izturis on deck. He even left the bunt on with a 2-0 count! What kind of message is that sending to your catcher? More importantly, why is he so anxious to give up an out? Even if he was planning on using Kottaras the whole way (I bet anything he’d have kept Izturis in if the bunt had worked), it’s a bad move.

My brother gave me crap, because I told him this would be a game that I’d still be mad about even if they won, and then of course I was celebrating a minute later. I stand by it, though. I can still be angry that Roenicke called for that bunt, and that he is so bunt-happy in general.

3. George Kottaras is awesome.

Hyperbole aside for a minute. Honestly, I’ve always liked his bat, and I’m really glad to see that Roenicke finally seems willing to use him more. It’s good for a couple reasons. Obviously, it’s good because he is a power hitting lefty who is much better than Mark Kotsay, Travis Ishikawa, or whomever. But it’s also good because maybe now Roenicke won’t be so quick to yank Kottaras early on Lucroy’s days off. Last year, Kottaras often left games he’d started so Lucroy could come in as a defensive replacement. This left Lucroy without many full days off. It’s likely he wore down as the season went on, and his numbers last year support that claim: .844 OPS in March/April, .850 in May, and then never above .673 for any month afterwards.

Letting Kottaras play should help keep Lucroy fresh. Now, if we can only get Roenicke to break the Kottaras/Wolf pairing to avoid having to start George against lefties…

4. One thing I’m guessing may not have been noticeable on tv is the reaction of the crowd after Corey Hart’s hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth. I’m not talking about the initial cheer for the hit itself. After the cheering had died down a bit, Roenicke sent Carlos Gomez in to pinch run. As he did, a buzz spread around the stadium. You know a guy is exciting when a pinch running appearance gets a crowd buzzing.

5. This is perhaps a little cheesy, but I had sort of forgotten how enjoyable regular season baseball can be. Those playoff games are such a grind to watch mentally, especially when you’re at the game. I probably should have had an IV after Game 5 against Arizona. It’s nice to watch an exciting regular season game. You still pull hard for a victory, and it’s still great when they win, but there is a noticeable lack of a horrible feeling in your stomach that comes with tense playoff games. Of course, I’m hoping for more nerve-wracking playoff games again this year, but I enjoyed last night’s game quite a bit.

Mainly because I saw a Kottaras walk-off in person. Look at all those people trying to touch him. It’s like a Beatles concert.

Opening Weekend Observations

Posted by Steve

At the risk of over-analyzing something that I saw in the first three games of a 162-game season, here are some thoughts I have after watching the Brewers and Cardinals.

————

The Cardinals still have a great offense, most likely the best in the National League if they stay healthy. Of course, that’s a big if with the age and health history of many of their core players, but still.

————

That fact makes Zack Greinke’s performance on Saturday all the more impressive. I’m not going to say that Greinke is now going to have a monster season because he had a good start in his first game, but then again, I thought he’d have a monster season before that game anyway. From the bad luck to reports of his new cut fastball to Ryan Braun saying he looks like a man on a mission, it just seems like he’s poised to make a run at the Cy Young. Obviously, you have to hope the Brewers can get him signed as quickly as possible.

————

Ryan Braun is still good. This is in no way surprising, and normally, it isn’t even important that he looks good after three games. But in his strange case, the better he does early, the less of a story his suspension saga becomes.

————

Corey Hart was obviously the story for the Brewers. Hard to believe up until 10 days ago or so they didn’t even know if he’d be ready to play in the first few series. He’s locked in. He reminds me of Geoff Jenkins in that he tends to get white hot for stretches and carry the offense. That was actually a conversation I had this weekend: Would you take Corey Hart or Geoff Jenkins? Based on my gut feeling, I thought that they probably had very similar numbers. Sure enough, their career numbers are almost identical, and sure enough, Jenkins is on Hart’s to 10 list of similar batters through age 29 at Baseball Reference.

Anyway, it would be swell if he kept up this hitting for a while.

————

If Hart is the positive story from this weekend, the bullpen has to be the negative one. I still ask why Marco Estrada was considered a lock for the bullpen entering spring, but other than that, I am not reading into anything at all. I will wait to see how they look against a non-Cardinals offense before I get worried.

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George Kottaras is handsome and hits deep home runs. He also needs to hit higher than 8th when he starts.

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Now for my favorite part of the weekend: the Brewers’ defense. This is one where I’m not trying to get too excited after three games, but it’s clear that Alex Gonzalez is a big upgrade over Yun-E. He needs to be hitting eighth, though. Also, I was encouraged by what I saw from Mat Gamel, although a lot of that is just comparing it to how bad Prince Fielder is.

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.

Randy Wolf: Tired Act

Posted by Steve

Randy Wolf has been okay I guess as a pitcher during his Brewer tenure, but that’s not what I want to discuss. He has really come off as a whiny prima donna this season, and it’s getting old.

He constantly takes issue with home plate umpires, walks off the mound before a call, etc. Today he hit a long foul ball and emphatically called for a replay–and the replay showed it was clearly foul. I’m not one to defend baseball’s lack of technology in umpiring, but showing up an ump as a player is a bad idea.

That’s not all that bad by itself, but when you couple it with his insistence on a “personal catcher,” it’s extremely annoying. I have no idea what Wolf’s problem with Jonathan Lucroy is, but he needs to grow up and stop hurting the team. How is he hurting the team, you ask? Because the last several times Wolf has pitched, he’s been opposed by a left-handed starter. Starting George Kottaras against a lefty is hurting the team. Lucroy should get every start against left-handed pitchers.

I’m also convinced that Wolf’s insistence on not working with Lucroy at least contributed to Wil Nieves being up as long as he was, although obviously there’s no way to prove that.

I’m annoyed that the Brewers are catering to Wolf’s every need, as well. Lucroy is going to be here a lot longer than Randy Wolf. Maybe they should be doing what’s best for him (and the team).

Let’s go down to Nashville

Posted by Steve

As well as the Brewers are playing, they have some areas that could certainly be shored up. The bench is terrible. Wil Nieves might be the worst player in the majors. They could use another dependable relief pitcher. Conveniently, pretty much all of that can be improved upon from within the organization.

The Brewers have some players performing very well in AAA. Let’s look at who could, and probably should, be up in Milwaukee.

Mark DiFelice

I’ve been driving the DiFelice Bus for weeks now, and he continues to impress: 19.2 innings, 22 strikeouts, 4 walks (one intentional), two home runs, and a 0.9 WHIP. He sure seems to be the same guy he was before his injury/surgery.

The tough part there is deciding who he’d replace. Nobody’s pitching particularly poorly. My choice is a bit unconventional, but I’d send down Marco Estrada. Not because he’s been bad or anything, but because I think he has more value to the Brewers as a sixth starter than as a fourth or fifth reliever. Call up DiFelice, let him do his thing, and let Estrada get stretched back out for when he’s inevitably needed to make some starts in Milwaukee again.

Taylor Green or Mat Gamel

There’s may only be room for one of them, but for both of these guys to be in Milwaukee while the likes of Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Casey McGehee and Josh Wilson (although I guess he’s wait-and-see with the strangely good start he’s had) sop up at-bats in Milwaukee is ludicrous.

Green is 24 years old without much left to prove in the minor leagues. He’s ready to be an MLB bench player right now. Green is hitting .277/.361/.484 in AAA. Not world-beating, but nice numbers. He plays third and second, and he’d be a clear upgrade defensively from McGehee. McGehee is beyond struggling right now; he’s completely useless. Platooning him with a left-handed hitting Green is too obvious. Plus, McGehee’s big-time struggles are resulting in more Craig Counsell ABs, which is just no longer a good thing–he’s cooked.

If Green doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors, Gamel has proven all there is to prove and more. He’s hitting .306/.383/.517 so far in AAA. His career OPS in AAA is .873, which covers four seasons and 937 plate appearances.

I realize the Brewers are playing him at first to replace Fielder, but he can’t possibly be any worse than McGehee at third even with defense factored in. I’d even be willing to bet Gamel would be a defensive upgrade at this point–McGehee has been that bad defensively. Plus, with interleague games coming up, the Brewers need another solid bat available.

The Brewers need to realize they’re in a pennant race, and make sacrifices accordingly. It makes no sense to go all in on this season by trading a boatload of prospects for Greinke and Marcum, and then not field the best bench possible. Gamel is no longer some young prospect who needs to play every day and develop. He’s 25, and more than likely a finished product. He can manage part-time duty in MLB. Same with Green, who’s 24.

Caleb Gindl

If they aren’t going to call up Gamel, at least call up Caleb Gindl and ship out Mark Kotsay. Gindl is a better defensive outfielder at this point (definitely could handle CF in a pinch better than Kotsay), and is sure to be an upgrade over Kotsay and his .306 slugging percentage. Gindl isn’t setting the world on fire, but his .280/.368/.420 line in AAA translates into a solid enough fifth outfielder–something Kotsay is not.

George Kottaras

It was a baffling move when they sent Kottaras down in favor of Wil Nieves, and it looks even worse today. Nieves is the proud owner of a sparkling .400 (!!!) OPS (Here’s a fun fact: Ten MLB players have on-base percentages higher than Wil Nieves’ OPS).

Meanwhile, George Kottaras is blistering AAA pitching to the tune of a .930 OPS. Their reasoning for Nieves over Kottaras was defense, but Nieves has not looked anything close to impressive defensively. Why not just take the vastly superior offensive player? It makes no sense.

So if you’re counting at home, here are the moves I’d like to see:

  • DFA Nieves, call up Kottaras
  • Send down Estrada, return him to a starting role, and call up DiFelice
  • DFA Kotsay, call up Gamel (Or Gindl, if you’re so insistent on keeping Gamel at 1B in Nashville all year)
  • Call up Green. Corresponding move I could go either way on: either send Wilson down to AAA, or DFA Counsell. I love CC, but he’s pretty clearly done.
These moves would make the Brewers a better team than they are today–perhaps by a significant margin.

 

PECOTA Hitting

Posted by Steve

On to hitting projections. I’m doing my best to get this done before Opening Day, so here goes.

Rickie Weeks

.259/.359/.440, 16 HRs, 12 SBs, 2.0 WARP

While this is still a valuable player at second base, they have Weeks taking a big step back from his 4.6 WARP season of 2010. Most of it comes in the fact that he has an injury history, and they project him for 484 plate appearances compared to last year’s 754. Basically, what this is saying is that if Rickie’s healthy, he’ll produce–which he always has.

Carlos Gomez

.245/.293/.343, 5 HRs, 22 SBs, 0.1 WARP

Gross. Just gross. And Roenicke’s going to hit this joker second in the lineup. Gomez is what he is at age 25, and that is someone who swings at everything. His defense is very good, but his bat makes him nothing more than a backup outfielder, and that’s what he’s most likely to be for the rest of his career. A platoon with Nyjer Morgan is ideal at this point.

Ryan Braun

.303/.364/.531, 30 HRs, 16 SBs, 4.8 WARP

Finally, someone projected to improve upon last season. I think this is the first one between the pitcher and hitter projections so far. They pointed out his odd struggles against lefties last season after mashing them all of his career, and say it’s likely that it’s a small sample fluke. These projections aren’t really meant for guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder–you know those guys are going to hit.

Prince Fielder

.279/.394/.528, 36 HRs, 3 SBs, 3.9 WARP

Another player likely to improve. Fielder showed great discipline, drawing 114 walks last season, but his slugging percentage was just .471. It’s hard to believe Prince is still only 27. He’s had a great tenure in Milwaukee, and there should be no hard feelings when he takes a huge contract somewhere else. Before then, though, he’ll anchor the Brewers’ lineup for one more playoff push.

Casey McGehee

.280/.336/.437, 16 HRs, 1 SB, 1.7 WARP

McGehee continues to reward the Brewers for their waiver pickup in 2009. His defense was awful last season, but his bat still made him a solid starter. Here’s hoping being a full year removed from knee surgery has helped him get into good shape and that he’ll be able to move around better at third base. The Brewers need all the range they can get on the left side of the diamond with Yuniesky Betancourt playing shortstop.

Corey Hart

.277/.334/.473, 18 HRs, 14 SBs, 1.4 WARP

Hart is due for some regression, though hopefully not much, if he performs at a similar level. His BABIP was .324 last year, and while that isn’t astronomical, it’s much higher than his career norm. I’d love to see Hart take more walks, but at age 29, he is what he is. I should be fair and mention that Roenicke is probably only using Gomez in the second spot until Hart comes off the DL.

Yuniesky Betancourt

.263/.287/.378, 9 HRs, 5 SBs, -0.1 WARP

Ladies and gentlemen, your starting shortstop! That’s right friends, your starting shortstop is projected to be below replacement level. What a nightmare of a decision by the Brewers to hand him the job. Best case scenario is that he’s so bad early that the Brewers make a transaction to replace him as early in the season as possible.

Jonathan Lucroy

.264/.328/.384, 9 HRs, 2 SBs, 1.4 WARP

I’d certainly be pleased with this line from Lucroy in his sophomore season. Last year, he was .253/.300/.329, so that’s a big jump. BP points out that he had good on-base ability and double digit home run power in the minors, so they expect him to grow into a solid, everyday catcher. His defense has drawn rave reviews as well.

Nyjer Morgan

.274/.330/.353, 3 HRs, 34 SBs, 0.8 WARP

The vast majority of Morgan’s value comes through defense and baserunning, but he’s definitely an offensive upgrade to Carlos Gomez. I’m anxious to see how long until Gomez’s inability forces a strict platoon with Morgan. I’ll say by the end of May.

Mark Kotsay

.250/.308/.350, 4 HRs, 4 SBs, -0.9 WARP

Encouraging that we’re already on our second player on the 25 man roster that’s below replacement level. -0.9 is truly impressive. This is another terrible decision to have Kotsay over Joe Inglett, Brandon Boggs, or really, anyone else. Gotta love this excerpt from BP, which was written before he signed in Milwaukee: “Given Kotsay’s limited value at any position or at the plate, you can reasonably wonder where he’ll wash up, but places like Houston and Pittsburgh might suit him.” Ladies and gentlemen, Mark Kotsay!

George Kottaras

.233/.329/.400, 9 HRs, 1 SB, 0.8 WARP

There are good things about George Kottaras, especially when compared to most catchers. He has a great eye at the plate, and he’s got a bit of pop in his bat. Unfortunately, he hasn’t ever carried a high batting average. More unfortunately, his defense was horrific last season. Opponents stole on him at will, which led to him losing his job to Lucroy. Kottaras will get a shot at some starts while Lucroy is on the mend, and when Lucroy returns, he’s likely to be kept on as the backup catcher.

Jeremy Reed

Not even noteworthy enough to garner a projection by BP, but he is quite possibly the third man on the 25-man roster who will be below replacement level. His WARP was 0.0 last season.

Erick Almonte

Same story. A 33 year-old who has all of 100 days of major league service isn’t going to get a BP projection. Odds of Almonte, Reed, or Kotsay staying on the big league team all season are pretty low.

Other notables

Alcides Escobar

.271/.313/.370, 7 HRs, 24 SBs, 1.4 WARP

“Escobar was handed the Brewers’ shortstop job in spring training and ran with it, straight through a patch of poison ivy, off a cliff, and into a vat of liquid nitrogen.”

It’s worth noting that this projection sees a pretty substantial improvement in Escobar’s second full season, and that it’s much better than what they project for Yuni Betancourt. Escobar seems to be the biggest immediate loss of all the players they gave up.

Chris Dickerson

.256/.344/.388, 6 HRs, 1 SB, 0.5 WARP

The highest projected OBP by far out of the three of Dickerson, Gomez, and Morgan, and that’s the one the Brewers traded away for a league average at best reliever. Ugh.

Lorenzo Cain

.253/.318/.367, 6 HRs, 11 SBs, 0.4 WARP

While I think Lorenzo Cain will be a solid player, it’s nice to see the Brewers didn’t give up a projected star next season or anything. Cain had a very good debut with Milwaukee, but a lot of it was due to his unsustainable .370 BABIP.

————

Well, we’ve gone through pitching and hitting projections… So what’s the bottom line? The starting rotation should be pretty great, but you have to wonder about the defense and depth for the rest of the team. I wouldn’t call them the odds on favorite for the NL Central, but they’re one of them. As of February, BP had the Brewers projected for 85 wins. I’ll go out on a limb and say 87 wins, which will be within a game or so of Cincinnati either way. The Wildcard won’t come from the Central (should be either the Dodgers or Braves), so the Brewers will need to win the division to make the playoffs.

Should be an exciting season. Keep turnin’ up the heat.


Has anyone noticed…

Posted by Steve

There has been a lot of interesting storylines with the Brewers lately that aren’t being talked about as much as they should. For instance, has anyone noticed…

…how TERRIBLE Ryan Braun has been?

Sure, we’re hearing about Ryan Braun’s slump. He hasn’t hit many home runs. He’s struggling to see the ball, blah blah blah. But we aren’t hearing enough about just how awful it’s been. It is undoubtedly the worst stretch of his career.

Since the Arizona series that ended May 9, Braun has a line of .228/.267/.374 for a cool .641 OPS. A .267 OBP… That’s Alexei Ramirez territory.

Braun is completely lost at the plate. His discipline is shot. In a bad slump, walks are almost always down. The player swings at more bad pitches or pitchers’ pitches and gets himself out more often. Sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happened to Braun. Through that Arizona series, he had drawn 18 walks in 146 plate appearances. Since, he’s drawn six walks in 131 plate appearances.

This means that, for the second time in three seasons, Braun is likely going to get an undeserved start in the All-Star Game. Most of the voting was a result of his torrid start (and his popularity), but as of today, among qualified NL outfielders, Braun ranks 14th in on-base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 13th in OPS, and tenth in weighted on base average. It’s incredible how far he’s fallen after such an amazing start.

…how weird Corey Hart’s line is?

Corey Hart is on a serious home run binge, which has led to comments like, “Hart’s absolutely on fire!” Except… He’s really not. He’s just hitting a lot of home runs.

His home run stretch started 28 games ago against Philadelphia. Since then he has 14 homers, and amazingly, leads the NL in home runs. But in that same stretch, he has a pedestrian batting average/on-base percentage of .264/.331. Compare that to his start of the season, when he hit just three home runs in 103 plate appearances. During that stretch, his batting average/on-base percentage was a comparable .247/.340.

It’s very odd that Hart could pile up a bunch of home runs without really getting on base any more than he did at the start of the season. In fact, he has a fairly poor on-base percentage on the season.

So what does it mean? Maybe nothing, other than supply me with something to talk about. But to me, it means that Hart should be traded. As long as Hart’s name tops the NL home run leaders, his value is high. The Brewers practically tried to give Hart away in the off-season and didn’t have any takers. Doug Melvin needs to realize that the Brewers aren’t going anywhere this season and that Hart’s value is higher to a contending team than it is hitting meaningless home runs for the Brewers. The surprising Padres seem like a perfect fit. They have a good record despite awful production from their outfield. Hart would be a nice addition to that team. Meanwhile, it would give the Brewers an opportunity to add prospects, cut salary, and give them a chance to play Lorenzo Cain the rest of the season.

… that maybe, just maybe, I was right about Casey McGehee after all?

I’m a bit ashamed of myself. I’m a firm believer that you need at least 1500 MLB plate appearances before you have a good idea of a hitter’s talent. Yet, just a month or so ago I allowed myself to fall into the trap of McGehee’s hot start and declare myself wrong on him–after only about 600 plate appearances!

McGehee has been in a horrendous slump himself, and it may just be that he’s regressing to where he should be. McGehee has a .615 OPS in the last month, which drops his season numbers to a pretty average .800 OPS for the season.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m rooting against McGehee, but I’ll say that I still have higher hopes for Mat Gamel long term than I do for McGehee. Gamel’s off to a nice start in AAA since his recent return from injury, and assuming Ken Macha is fired/not retained after the season, he’ll have a chance to start fresh in the organization.

…how awesome George Kottaras is?

Alright, so his defense is pretty terrible at this point. But I am in love with his batting eye. He’s cooled off a bit recently, but his line on the season is .194/.361/.430. That’s a very solid line for a catcher, albeit a strange one. Kottaras has 18 hits on the season, but 26 walks! I liked when Macha dabbled with him in the second spot a few times, and certainly prefer that to Carlos Gomez or Alcides Escobar.

I’m excited about the Brewers catching outlook in the next few seasons. Even with Angel Salome’s bizarre decision to switch from catcher to outfielder, I think the Brewers are in good hands. Lucroy has impressed me with his defense, and Kottaras has a pretty good bat.

that Ken Macha is back to abusing Gallardo?

This is the main reason I’d be fine with letting Macha go (along with his poor handling of young players). He is managing like the Brewers are in a pennant race. There’s no reason to be handling Gallardo this way. Look at his rising pitch counts since May 1.

121
103
108
120
106
121
114
110
118

There’s no reason to be leaving Gallardo in for that many pitches on a consistent basis. The Brewers aren’t going anywhere, not to mention the fact they just committed millions to Gallardo’s arm.

I’m envisioning this scenario, which seems very realistic in my mind.

It’s September. Prince Fielder and Corey Hart have been traded. Casey McGehee is playing first base on a regular basis. Mat Gamel and Lorenzo Cain are up from the minors. The Brewers are well out of it, but I go to a game anyway to see the young players. Only I arrive to find that Craig Counsell is starting at third over Gamel, and Jim Edmonds is starting over Lorenzo Cain. Gallardo throws 122 pitches.

Does that really seem that farfetched? Even though I don’t think it really matters if Macha is fired, this scenario is my biggest reason in favor of that move.