Tag Archives: Jason Kendall

Have the Brewers improved?

Posted by Steve

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted, but that’s partially because it’s been quite awhile since there’s been any Brewer-related news to discuss.  Since the Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins signings, the Brewers haven’t done too much.  Look for things to pick up in the next few weeks, as they’ll likely add another pitcher.  I’m hoping for John Smoltz but am expecting Jarrod Washburn or Doug Davis, which frankly doesn’t excite me–especially if it’s a two year deal.

Until something happens though, we need something to talk about, right?  I thought I’d take a look at whether the Brewers have actually improved this off-season.  It’s clear Randy Wolf is an upgrade over Braden Looper and therefore improves the pitching, but does that necessarily mean the team will be better?  If you recall, I thought entering last season the Brewers might stay afloat despite their loss of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia because of a likely improvement of their offense.  That offense did improve quite a bit, but the pitching was simply too bad.

In 2010, the pitching will most likely be better, but I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome a likely decline in offensive production.

Using an admittedly simplistic method of comparing 2009 win shares of the key players leaving this season to the win shares of the players joining the team can give us a general idea of where the team currently stands in comparison to 2009.  I’m choosing to leave off bit players like Mike Rivera (deptarting) or Trent Oeltjen (arriving) because it’s unclear what role these players will play, or in some cases, who will fill the vacant position.  It’s unclear whether the backup catcher will be George Kottaras, Jonathan Lucroy or Angel Salome, for example.

WAR stands for win shares above replacement.  If a player has a WAR of 1.0, it means the formula finds his performance worth one more win than if a replacement level player filled the exact same role.  At the risk of going off on a tangent, replacement level is defined as the expected level of performance the average team can obtain if it needs to replace a starting player at minimal cost.  In other words, a replacement level player is a scrub–generally a player who spends his career bouncing from the majors to the minors.  Players have generally gone for about $4.25-$4.5 million per win on the open market, which is how Fangraphs calculates their dollar value amounts.  For example, Randy Wolf had a WAR of 3.0, which means (according to Fangraphs) he was “worth” $13.5 million in 2009.

Here’s the 2009 WAR of the players in question.

Departing Players

Mike Cameron: 4.3

J.J. Hardy: 1.4

Braden Looper: -0.9

Mark DiFelice: 0.4

Jason Kendall: 1.2

Total: 6.4 Wins


Arriving Players

Randy Wolf: 3.0 WAR

Carlos Gomez: 0.7 WAR

LaTroy Hawkins: 0.3

Gregg Zaun: 1.8

Total: 5.8 Wins


Now, before you go panicking that the Brewers aren’t any better, there are several things to consider here.  Simply taking all these players’ 2009 performances and translating them to 2010 doesn’t work.  Obviously, some will improve and some will decline.

The Brewers pick up a huge gain in going from Braden Looper, who was actually below replacement, to Randy Wolf (not-so-fun fact: The Brewers actually had two pitchers in their rotation who were below replacement level last year in Looper and Jeff Suppan).  Most, if not all of that gain is lost, however, in downgrading from Mike Cameron to Carlos Gomez.  The Brewers are banking seriously on improvement from Carlos Gomez if they’re willing to hand him the centerfield job, which seems to be the case.  Expecting some improvement from Gomez isn’t unreasonable, as he just turned 24.  Still, he’ll almost certainly be a far cry from Mike Cameron in terms of overall value.

There are other things to consider.  Alcides Escobar’s WAR needs to be considered, but it’s difficult to calculate with just his 2009 numbers.  Simply taking his 2009 WAR and extrapolating it over a full season wouldn’t be too accurate because his 134 plate appearances is such a small sample size with which to work.

I was also unsure what to do with the second base situation.  Felipe Lopez and Rickie Weeks combined for great production from that position.  Lopez is gone, and Weeks is returning from injury, so I wasn’t sure how to use that.

Fangraphs does allow its users to project seasons, so I thought I’d throw this out here for kicks.  These are how Fangraphs’ users (likely just a bunch of baseball geeks like myself, or even geekier) project those players’ performance in 2010.  I’ll add Lopez and Weeks in this version.  This is probably the result we should be more concerned with as far as whether the Crew has improved.

Departing Players

Mike Cameron: 3.6 Slight decline projected for Cameron; not unreasonable at his age

J.J. Hardy: 3.4 Pretty large rebound projected for Hardy, which doesn’t surprise me.

Braden Looper: 0.5 Nobody even bothered to project for poor Braden, but I figured it was reasonable to assume he’d be slightly better than the gawdawfulness of -0.9 he displayed last season, since he’d never been that bad before. I decided on 0.5.

Mark DiFelice: 0.4 DiFelice is unfortunately out for the year, so we’ll stick with his 2009 production, since it still needs to be replaced somehow.

Jason Kendall: 0.9 Fangraphs expects him to be even worse.  Oh Royals, what were you thinking?

Felipe Lopez: 2.6 Lopez’s WAR between Arizon and Milwaukee was an outstanding 4.6 last year, so they’re expecting a decline.

Total: 11.4 Wins


Arriving Players

Alcides Escobar: 2.4 I have to think the Brewers would be pleased with this production in Escobar’s rookie season.

Randy Wolf: 3.0 They expect a very similar year for Wolf.

LaTroy Hawkins: 0.3 Nobody bothered to project Hawkins either.  He’s been between 0.3 and 0.8 each of the last four seasons.  I’ll go with 0.3 to be safe.

Gregg Zaun: 1.4 Slight decline expected from Zaun, but still a pretty safe bet to out-produce Jason Kendall.

Carlos Gomez: 1.1 Another one without a WAR projection, but I’ll base this on Bill James’ projection.  James has Gomez improving a bit offensively, so I bumped him from .7 in 2009 to 1.1 in 2010.  As we know, Gomez’s value, if he’s going to have any, will come from his defense.

Rickie Weeks: 3.9 A pretty optimistic projection for Weeks, one that would require him to finally stay healthy all season in order to reach.

Total Wins: 12.1

At least that looks a little better.  Again, I’m not calling this anything close to foolproof.  It’s still thrown off by the fact that Lopez and Weeks split second base last season, and obviously these are simply projections.  Still, it seems like the changes they’ve made made don’t amount to much more than a wash.  It certainly changes if they add another starter and bump Jeff Suppan out of the rotation, but until then, the Brewers look like a .500-ish team again to me.  I’ll get into this more in the future, but while I figured the offense would improve from 2008 to 2009, it’s almost certain to decline this year.  Not just going from Mike Cameron to Carlos Gomez, but elsewhere too.  Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are likely to decline some–both had fantastic years that out-produced their projections.  Casey McGehee is likely to decline.  Rickie Weeks is likely not going to put up the numbers that the Weeks/Lopez platoon did last season.  Really, the only regular player with reasonable expectation for improvement is Corey Hart, and even he has become nearly impossible to figure out.

If the Brewers do add a starter, it’s probable that they’ll be an 80-85 win team at that point, which is talented enough to get into the playoffs if some luck goes your way.  Still, they’re very unlikely to unseat the Cardinals as the favorites entering the season.

Return of the Sha-wuuhhh?

Posted by Steve

My dad pulled off an incredibly cruel prank on me today.  Here’s how the phone conversation went:

D: So, did you hear the news about Ned Yost?

S: Did Houston actually hire him!?

D: Yep!

S: Oh my God!  That’s fantastic!  I don’t believe it!

D: A five-year contract!

S: WHAT!?!? (about ready to pass out)

D:  Nah, I’m just kiddin’.  He did have his interview today, though.

Boy, that will sure let the wind out of your sails.  Still, the fact that he’s actually being considered has me in a great mood.  Can you imagine having Ned Yost in the Brewers’ division?  I need to stop thinking about this to avoid getting my hopes up.

——–

If you watch any of the playoff games on TBS, pay attention to the strike zone they’ve been showing.  I guarantee there will be a minimum of ten missed ball/strike calls that were more than three inches off–in other words, not even borderline calls.  More likely, it will be 15-20 or more in a game.  In this technological age, how can this still be considered acceptable?  These people are the very best umpires in the world, and their ineptitude is front and center for the world to see.  When Phil Cuzzi can’t tell a fair ball from a foul one while standing 15 feet away, isn’t that proof that an improvement is needed?

The two main arguments against replay, or even an electronic strike zone, hold no water with me.

Adding replay would take more time and add to the length of the game.  Dan told me the other day that he watched someone argue this on ESPN as highlights of Jim Leyland arguing a call played in the background.  Hilarious.  Managers coming out to argue doesn’t slow down the game?  There’s a decent chance that adding this could actually cut down on game time when you consider that we wouldn’t need to watch mangers arguing for minutes at a time.  Put an official in the press box who’s assigned to replays and can immediately look at them, and it wouldn’t even be as much of an ordeal as home run calls currently are.

Umpires and human error are part of the game. Really?  Part of the game?  Ask any team who gets screwed by a bad call if they think it should be part of the game.  It’s been part of the game because, until recently, it was the best option available.  Now, an option exists that is more efficient than human umpires, but baseball refuses to use it.  As usual, the sport is behind the times.  Football has had an effective replay system for years, and it’s definitely improved the game.  Basketball uses instant replay.  Even tennis has a challenge replay system.  Yet here sit the old timers in control of baseball, resisting any sort of change from “back in the day.”

Are we really saying that having umpires and the element of human error is more important than getting calls right?  Because I’ll never be convinced of that.

——–

The Brewers writers at the Journal-Sentinel once again did their “player grades” at the end of the season, and once again I take exception to many of them.  Here are the ones I disagree with the most.

Jacon Kendall: C

C?  As in average?  Because Jason Kendall wasn’t even close to average, particularly on offense.  Comically, the writers admit that Kendall’s effectiveness at throwing out runners dropped dramatically, and that he has no power.  Yet his grade is held up by things that are completely intangible, such as his “toughness, leadership, the way he calls games and the way he handles himself behind the plate.”  Commence nausea.  I can’t believe how much people are willing to put up with a crappy player because of this garbage.

Braden Looper: C+

Oh goodness.  That’s above average.  Looper was decidedly below average.  He was actually bad.  His FIP was the worst in the Majors among qualified starters.  His strikeout rate was poor, and his home run rate was abysmal–also worst in the Majors (by far).  Literally the only good thing you can say about Braden Looper is that he stayed healthy all year.  Yet, even though they site his insane run support average of 8.97 runs per game, they still give him some credit for garnering 14 wins.

Rickie Weeks earns an INCOMPLETE, which I guess I understand, but then how can they give Alcides Escobar a B+?  Escobar had 134 plate appearances this year, while Weeks had 162.  Weeks was obviously far more productive… So how can Escobar receive a grade when Weeks did not?  What did Escobar do to deserve a B+?  Hit for a .701 OPS?  Weeks’ .857 OPS wasn’t worth grading, though.  Naturally.

Better yet, they concluded that Mat Gamel’s 148 plate appearances of .760 OPS was worth a C-.  Escobar got to play regularly, while Gamel would go days at a time without an appearance.  How does this add up?

Trevor Time and Macha… Malaise?

Posted by Steve

News!  One day after the season, and we already have 2010 news to talk about.

First things first.  The Crew put a nice cap on a disappointing season by sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis.  If that in any way has a negative effect on St. Louis as they head into the playoffs, I’m all for it.  In fact, I will say right now that if the Cardinals do not win the World Series, it will be because they ended the season on a low note–thanks to the Brewers.

An 80-82 record for 2009 stinks, but since I’ve been all about 2010 for the last two months, we can easily make it a good thing!  That record is in the bottom 15 of MLB teams, which means the Brewers can sign a Type A free agent and still keep their first round pick.  I don’t necessarily expect them to do so, but at least it’s an option.

Slipping through the cracks on this crazy Monday afternoon (apparently there’s some football game tonight?) may be the news that Trevor Hoffman has quickly re-signed with the Brewers for next season.  The deal is for $8 million, and Buster Olney reports that there is a mutual option for 2011.

Spending $8 million on someone who will soon be 42 years old is generally a good way to build a bad team, but Hoffman is definitely an exception.  Hoffman was fantastic this season: 1.83 ERA, 0.907 WHIP, 3.43 strikeout to walk ratio.  At worst, he was one of the top 20 relief pitchers in the majors.

Hoffman is getting a raise from the $6 mil he made in 2009, and $8 mil for a closer is about the most I’m comfortable with.  He has a great track record, though, and has showed no sign of slowing down.  The Brewers have every reason to expect him to be a good closer again next season.

The other move I’d like to see get done quickly is the re-signing of Mike Cameron for another year.  Cameron made a comment a few weeks ago along the lines of being “willing to make sacrifices” to come back next season.  That certainly seems to mean a pay cut, or at least no pay raise.

There’s a sentiment that bringing back Hoffman and Cameron eats up money that should be spent on starting pitching, but I don’t agree with it.  These are productive players who are worth their salary.  There are other ways to trim the fat off the payroll and free up space to acquire pitching.  The Brewers should make the following moves:

  • Non-tender Seth McClung.  He was awful this year and will be set to make a couple million bucks next season.  No need to spend that on his 1.03 k/bb ratio.
  • Decline Braden Looper’s $6 million option.  Looper was bad this year–below replacement level, in fact.  His “production” should be replaced and improved upon by a newcomer.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT RE-SIGN JASON KENDALL.  He was quite possibly the worst everyday player in baseball.  Seeing his $4.25 million salary come off the books is a beautiful sight to behold.  I’d much rather let Jonathan Lucroy, Angel Salome and Mike Rivera battle it out and split time.  It probably still won’t be very productive, but it can’t be any worse than what they had this season–and it will be cheap.  Plus, the Brewers are likely to have one black hole in their everyday lineup next year (Escobar), so they can’t afford to play both Escobar and Kendall.
  • Decline David Weathers’ $3.7 million option.  Weathers is no longer good.  His overall numbers this season are poor.  There’s no reason not to give some youngers guys a shot next year.  Someone like John Axford is likely to put up at least the 1.5-ish whip that Weathers brings, only he’ll do it for the league minimum.  I will miss his new nickname used in the BIS office, though:  Jeff Karstens’ dad.

I’m also pretty much resigned to the fact that the Brewers will probably be trading J.J. Hardy, which means at least $4.5 million more off the books (before the salaries of the player(s) they receive in return).

That’s roughly $20 million right there that can be trimmed without losing very much production.  I’d much rather save money there than save it by letting actual productive players (Hoffman and Cameron) walk.

Finally, we’re on to Ken Macha.  He is being brought back next season, and I can’t say I’m surprised.  Doug Melvin was not the driving force behind the firing of Ned Yost, and it’s not surprising that he wouldn’t want to fire a manager that he hand-picked one year ago.

I’m not crazy about the move, but I guess it’s not the worst thing in the world.  He’s certainly not as bad as Ned Yost.  What’s funny is Macha and Yost seem to be polar opposites in a lot of ways.  For the first two months of the season, I thought Macha did an outstanding job with bullpen management.  Meanwhile, “Ned Yost” and “outstanding bullpen management” have never been used in the same sentence until this one was created.

Yost’s strength was with a young team with no pressure to win.  He wasn’t bad when Fielder, Hart, Hardy, Weeks, etc. were all breaking into the big leagues and nobody expected the Brewers to win games.  He was protective of his players to the point of absurdity.  But when the team’s talent grew, Yost was in way over his head.

On the other hand, Macha has only managed winning teams until this season.  He isn’t afraid to criticize a player in the media, which is fine.  He never did anything over the top, and to be honest it was refreshing after listening to Yost say “Soup pitched great!” so many times in 2008.  Because he’s only had winning teams, I didn’t realize that he apparently hates playing young players.  His mishandling of Mat Gamel all season is embarrassing and completely inexcusable.  He abused Yovani Gallardo.  He wasn’t even crazy about playing Alcides Escobar full time when J.J. Hardy was in AAA.  He said Josh Butler would get a start.  Not only did he not give Butler a start; but Butler was sent home before the season even ended with only four major league innings under his belt.  That Craig Counsell continued to get starts in September was also an embarrassment.  Counsell had a good season, but you know what you have in him.  September is the time for non-contenders to get a better look at their young players, and Macha just refused to do that.

Here’s hoping the Brewers field a more talented team next year, because I’m guessing (okay, hoping) that Macha is more equipped for that type of team.

Say, this was fun.  I really enjoyed getting to use the Sha-wuuhhh?? tag again for nostalgia’s sake.

Riding it out

Posted by Steve

No, I haven’t bailed on the blog just because the Brewers aren’t any good.  I was out of town the past week and haven’t been able to post–though it was a bit refreshing to get away from the games for a few days.  That Pittsburgh series eliminated just about any desire I had to watch Brewers-Nationals for four days.

This is a rough time to be a Brewer fan.  There isn’t much of anything left to play for.  That wouldn’t be a huge deal if the team was expected to be bad, but the Brewers hoped to be a good team.  This has been an extremely disappointing season, and the dog days of summer will be particularly rough because of it.

Not only are the Brewers not good enough to be in the playoff race, but they are also not bad enough to be in another intriguing race.  In the office, there are fans of the Orioles, Nationals, Royals and Padres.  Many of these guys are openly rooting for their team to lose in order to win the race for Bryce Harper in next year’s draft.  Incidentally, they were all pleased with the Brewers for getting swept by the Pirates… Glad to help :/ . Observing this anti-race has been very amusing, and I find myself jealous that my team isn’t in either race.

With all that being said, the Brewers still need to make the best of a bad situation.  Here are things I would like to see over the last five weeks of the season.

Shut down Gallardo

I realize I’ve beaten this to death, so I won’t rehash everything again, but the point is there’s absolutely no reason for Gallardo to be pitching in September.  Yo is at 164.1 innings after throwing just 24 last year.  Sure, the pitching will be gawdawful without him, but who cares?  Wins don’t mean much of anything at this point.  Unfortunately, I’d be shocked to actually see the Brewers do this.

Hand 3B to Gamel

The Brewers botched the handling of Gamel this season, but it’s not too late to amend that somewhat.  He’s started hitting again in AAA the last few weeks.  It’s time to call him up and play him everyday at third base the rest of the season.  The Brewers should be preparing to make Gamel their starting third baseman from the outset of 2010, and giving him peace of mind in the form of regular playing time should help make that happen.

Making this move even more obvious is the clear pain that Casey McGehee is playing through.  McGehee will need surgery in the off-season but has gutted it out in the meantime.  Whether it’s related to his injury is debatable, but McGehee’s numbers have really fallen off.  Play Gamel at third and let McGehee come off the bench the rest of the season.  Unlike the Gallardo one, I’m optimistic that the Brewers will actually make this move.

Make Rivera the starting catcher

Perhaps laser eye surgery isn’t so wonderful after all, as both Bill Hall and Jason Kendall have had abysmal years.  Everyone’s favorite old, gritty, beardy, crazy-eyed catcher appears to be done.  Mike Rivera has gotten more playing time the last couple weeks, but the Brewers should take the next step and make him the “starter” the rest of the season.  They know what they have in Kendall (not much), and I have no interest in him returning to the Brewers unless it’s in a backup role–and even then I wouldn’t be excited.

The Brewers have a couple of catchers close to MLB ready in Jonathan Lucroy and Angel Salome.  I expect to see Salome called up and given some starts, which means there shouldn’t really be any need to play Kendall more than once a week.  The Brewers will need to decide if Mike Rivera is in their plans beyond this season, and playing him more down the stretch will help them make that decision.

You down with OBP? Yeah, you know me.

Posted by Steve

I know I continue to harp on the Brewers’ excellent patience so far this year, but that’s only because it was so bad last season.  I said before the season that I felt the loss of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets would be offset more by the offense than the pitching.  We’re only about five weeks in, but so far that’s definitely been the case.  The improved discipline has made a huge difference so far, and is seen in just about every player.

Rickie Weeks

Current OBP: .343

OBP at this time last year: .320

2008 OBP: .342

Pretty much everyone seems to prefer 2009′s Rickie Weeks to the Weeks of years past.  I’m not sure I do, although I’ll save my reasons for a different post.

Corey Hart

Current OBP: .345

OBP at this time last year: .358

2008 OBP: .300

What’s encouraging about Hart is that he isn’t even really hitting well.  His average is only .262, but because he’s walking at a career-best rate, his OBP is still alright.  If he gets his average up, the OBP will only improve (assuming he continues to be patient).

Ryan Braun

Current OBP: .463

OBP at this time last year: .311

2008 OBP: .335

Braun has been an absolute beast this season.  Like Hart, Braun is another player who struggled with plate discipline last year.  He’s been vastly improved so far in 2009 in that area.  My brother pointed out the other day that his numbers this season are basically what Albert Pujols has put up the last few years.  Again, I realize it’s only been a little over one month, but if he keeps within shouting distance of this pace he’ll be a top three MVP candidate (and actually deserve it this time).

Prince Fielder

Current OBP: .410

OBP at this time last year: .348

2008 OBP: .372

Prince has already taken 27 walks and is on pace to destroy the team record.  His batting average is only .255!  Just wait until he gets that up to the regular .270-.280 range.

Mike Cameron

Current OBP: .395

OBP at this time last year: .269 (had only played in 11 games at this point)

2008 OBP: .331

Up until a couple days ago, the Brewers had three starters with OBPs above .400, which is impressive even if it’s only May.  It’s unreasonable to expect this to continue with Cameron, whose career OBP is .341, but a .341 OBP combined with his slugging and defense adds up to an extremely valuable player.  Right now that valuable player is playing out of his mind.

J.J. Hardy

Current OBP: .289

OBP at this time last year: .338

2008 OBP: .343

Well, they couldn’t all be hitting at the same time, could they?  Hardy is definitely off to a rough start. He’s had slow starts before though, so I’m not very worried.  The good news is he’s really the only one who has been disappointing to this point.

Bill Hall

Current OBP: .364

OBP at this time last year: .276

2008 OBP: .293

By this time last season, Hall was already careening towards a terrible offensive year.  He still isn’t hitting righties (.678 OPS) but he is absolutely mashing lefties (1.269 OPS).  Hall has been very good defensively this year as well (save for the occasional holding onto the ball too long to show off his arm).  If he plays at this rate all year he’ll justify or possibly outperform his contract, which is something he certainly did not do last season.

Jason Kendall

Current OBP: .315

OBP at this time last year: .369

2008 OBP: .327

Kendall can’t hit, but it’s not a disappointment because we weren’t expecting him to.  I continue to not understand why the team refuses to pinch hit for him late in the game in big spots.  I hoped this would change with Macha replacing Yost, but we’ve yet to see it.  I went on a pretty good rant on Sunday when he let Kendall hit with two outs and the bases loaded against Carlos Marmol with Craig Counsell and Brad Nelson both available.

Craig Counsell

Current OBP: .429

OBP at this time last year: .308

2008 OBP: .355

He’s not a starter, but I included Craiggers in here because he’s been hitting out of his mind.  He’s always been a good on-base guy, but recently he’s done it despite a low batting average (hit just .226 last season).  What gives me a little hope is his new, non-ridiculous batting stance he’s using this season.  Not that I expect him to hit .333 all season like he is right now, but .275 or even .285 might be within reason.