Tag Archives: Kameron Loe

Winter Meetings Preview

Posted by Steve

First things first. I am still alive, and I still like baseball. I thought that might need to be said, given the huge time lapse since my last post.
It’s no excuse, but I have in fact been pretty busy. I had been meaning to post after the Brewers were officially eliminated, and again when the Cardinals lost (at least we have that). I have also been meaning to post off-season stuff. This is perhaps my favorite time to write about the Brewers, and I have no one to blame but myself for missing out on it.

Still, I can get this one in before the Winter Meetings really get underway. This year they’re in Nashville, at the Grand Opryland Hotel. The last time the meetings took place there, I was in attendance. Seems like forever ago, but fun memories nonetheless. I look forward to all the tweets and articles about how massive and over-the-top that place is (edit: This one from two minutes ago from Jay Jaffe).

Anywho. Let’s get to it, shall we? There’s plenty to talk about, especially since I haven’t posted in so long. Let’s look at each area and figure out where the Brewers should be looking to improve for next season. Before we do, let’s keep something in mind: The Brewers’ payroll is going to drop this year, possibly considerably. That means no top-tier free agents.

Starting Rotation
A year ago we were discussing how the Brewers would return all five starters to the rotation from the year before, a rarity in baseball. This year is almost as rare on the opposite end of the spectrum: Most likely the only starter returning from the Opening Day 2012 rotation is Yovani Gallardo. Greinke, Marcum and Wolf will all be with other teams (or maybe retired, in Wolf’s case?). Narveson I suppose could be back, but I highly doubt the Brewers currently view him as a lock for the starting rotation in April.

After Gallardo, there are plenty of names in the mix. Narveson, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg, and maybe even Taylor Jungmann, Hiram Burgos, Johnny Hellweg, or Ariel Pena.

That’s a pretty nice collection of young arms, certainly better than the Brewers have had in a handful of years. But does that mean they should be satisfied going with Yo and then four of those guys who stick after being thrown against the wall?

Not if they want to contend. They need to add one established, 2/3 type starting pitcher. The Brewers have made big trades to acquire pitchers in the past with pretty solid luck, and they have made free agent signings with less luck (Wolf was solid enough until his last season). Still, I am taking a bit of an unusual stance here, considering I normally want to stay away from big free agent deals. I would rather the Brewers sign a free agent than trade for one, mainly because I don’t want them to keep dipping into the farm system. There are actually plenty of solid starters available this season.

Zack Greinke is the main prize, but that ship has long sailed. The Dodgers seem prepared to offer him eleventy billion dollars. Anibal Sanchez is probably number two, but I imagine he’ll be priced out of the Brewers’ range as well. The Brewers have been mentioned as potential suitors for Kyle Lohse (STAY AWAY) and Ryan Dempster. Given Dempster’s age, I’d only be open to it if it’s a two-year deal at most, and even then, I wouldn’t be thrilled. Here are some other starters I’d like to see them pursue:

Dan Haren
He’s long been one of my favorite pitchers. While his strikeout rate has declined each of the last four seasons, one thing has kept him as an above average starter: His crazy low walk totals. Last year was his worst season in years, but he still had an xFIP of 4.00 because of his great command.

The question with Haren is health. His velocity has come down, he’s into his 30s, and both the Angels and Cubs have balked at bringing him in for what is essentially a one-year, $12 million deal. He seems like a good bounceback target, but I also sort of expect him to stay near the West Coast.

Brandon McCarthy
Here’s another one of my favorites, half for his solid pitching/low walk totals, half for his awesome sense of humor, twitter account and taste in television shows. He sounds like he’s a full go to return from the scary line drive he took off his head. I would have no qualms about giving him a two-year deal. He was good last season and phenomenal in 2011. Given Haren’s health question marks, I actually think I’d rank McCarthy at the top of my wishlist for starting pitchers attainable for the Brewers.

Edwin Jackson
A very different pitcher than Haren or McCarthy, Jackson doesn’t have the tiny walk rate (although it’s much better than earlier in his career). What makes him a solid option is his solid K and home run rates along with his durability: He’s thrown over 183 innings each of the last five years. He’s never gotten a multi-year deal, but he’s an above average starting pitcher who I would be fine giving a two-year deal.

Joe Blanton
A very unexciting option, but he would provide stability. He is a durable pitcher with a nice low walk rate, although he doesn’t get many whiffs at all. He likely shouldn’t be too expensive, and might only warrant a one-year deal.

Joe Saunders
We’re getting progressively less exciting, as Saunders is more or less a left-handed Blanton, maybe a bit worse. But again, he’s a durable pitcher who won’t break the bank.

And finally, two familiar faces.

Shaun Marcum
Yes, his health is a question mark, but there’s little doubt that when he’s healthy, he’s a good pitcher. Last year his walks were up, which brought him back to around league average, but he would be a good option that could possibly be had on just a one-year deal.

Carlos Villanueva
The numbers weren’t great last year, but xFIP liked him. He’d be a decent bet to give league average numbers. Certainly not exciting, but also not expensive in the least.

Other Options: Kevin Correia, Kevin Millwood, Erick Bedard.

I’d be surprised if the Brewers didn’t land one of those starting pitchers listed above. In terms of likelihood, I’d rank them: Dempster, Marcum, Blanton, Lohse (ugh), McCarthy, Saunders.

BullpenThis is obviously a glaring need after last season. The transformation is already underway. Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Kameron Loe are already gone. The only guys who should feel safe at this point are John Axford and probably Jim Henderson. The Brewers just picked up groundballing specialist Burke Badenhop in a trade a couple days ago, who is a decent option at an affordable price.

They need to get at least one solid LOOGY, and they’ve been rumored to be in contact with Randy Choate, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny. Any of those would fit.
My preference on relievers is the same: short-term deals, absolutely no more than two years unless it’s someone who’s very good. Other names who interest me: Mike Adams, Jason Grilli, Koji Uehara, Kyle Farnsworth, Chad Durbin, and LaTroy Hawkins. Most of these guys could be had for one-year deals. They can fill in the rest of the spots with the Brandon Kintzlers and Mike McClendons of the world, along with a couple of the young pitchers who don’t make the rotation.

Outfield
Honestly, the Brewers are set here. Nyjer Morgan is gone, but with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart, Nori Aoki, Logan Schaefer and depending on what they do with him, Mat Gamel, the Brewers are just fine. They had a very productive outfield last year, and it’s the one area they don’t need to spend much time on this off-season.

So then why do we keep hearing about Josh Hamilton?
It makes zero sense. The Brewers have talked about wanting to keep their payroll down, and about not wanting long-term free agent contracts. They also don’t have a need anywhere in the outfield. How does Josh Hamilton fit anywhere into that? Yet, we keep hearing that the Brewers are interested. Even today there’s rumblings about it from Ken Rosenthal.

Signing Josh Hamilton to a large deal does not even accomplish much. They have a much bigger need in the rotation, and then they’d have to trade Corey Hart more than likely. So then you’ve pretty much just gone in circles.

I just want Hamilton to sign somewhere so I don’t have to keep hearing rumors about him with the Brewers.

Infield
The starting positions are set, assuming Corey Hart stays at first base. If they don’t, I suppose Mat Gamel would be the other option (if he doesn’t get traded). The one need they have right now is a backup at middle infield. I refuse to be forced to watch several hundred Cody Ransom/Cesar Izturis/Edwin Maysonet plate appearances this season. With Jean Segura being so young, and with Rickie Weeks’ durability issues the last few seasons, a backup SS/2B is a big need.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much there. Unless someone like Alex Gonzalez or Marco Scutaro is willing to sign as a backup, the best MI options would be Ronny Cedeno, Jason Bartlett, or… ? This might have to come through a trade. It could be a difficult spot to fill.

Final WishlistSo, this off-season, my wishlist for the Brewers includes: One starting pitcher, two more relievers, and a solid middle infielder. That’s doable, right?

Judgment Day

Posted by Steve

Dominoes are starting to fall around Major League Baseball. Two or three trades went down today, depending on whether Ryan Dempster accepts his trade to Atlanta. Two of those deals involved big-name pitchers who are impending free agents. Dempster went to Atlanta (assuming he accepts) for starting pitcher Randall Delgado, ranked the #46 prospect by Baseball America entering this season. Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante were traded from Florida to Detroit for a package that included starting pitcher Jacob Turner, ranked #22 on the same list.

The package Florida received for Sanchez and Infante would have really excited me had the Brewers got that for Greinke. These deals are encouraging for the Brewers, because (a healthy) Greinke should bring back more than either Sanchez/Infante or Dempster.

The “healthy” part is the key. Tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers and any team interested in Greinke. You can bet that after the bizarre “battery recharging,” teams will want to see him have an effective start in which he at least convinces people he’s healthy. If he does, I anticipate tomorrow being Greinke’s last start in a Brewer uniform.

Detroit and Atlanta are presumably out of the starting pitching market after their deals today, although you never know. More likely now would be Washington, Baltimore, and Anaheim.

Two other things might be working in the Brewers’ favor.

1. The Phillies are really trying to re-sign Cole Hamels, and there seems to be a real chance he signs. If he does, that leaves Greinke as the clear top starter available.

2. The Rangers just lost starting pitcher Colby Lewis, who will need Tommy John surgery. Their need for a starting pitcher is even greater now than it was. The Angels are within striking distance, and the hard-charging A’s are close behind them (Darkhorse Greinke candidate?)

Assuming Greinke looks okay tomorrow, my guess is that he goes to Texas for Mike Olt. Philly seems to be demanding Jurickson Profar for Hamels, but I still have to believe he’s untouchable. If Greinke looks good tomorrow, the Brewers should offer him to Texas for Olt. I now believe, given the deals made today (which would seem to raise Greinke’s price) and Texas’ increasing desperation, they would be willing to trade him.

There could be more parts involved, maybe someone like K-Rod, Nyjer Morgan, Kameron Loe, the Brewers’ competitive balance draft pick going with Greinke, or some other lower-rated players coming back to Milwaukee along with Olt.

Anyway. Just a guess; we’ll see what really happens. Only thing for sure is tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers and the trade value of Greinke. Here’s to a strong start from him. It will be bittersweet, knowing he’ll be leaving, but it’s the best thing for the franchise at this point.

The forgotten pitchers

Posted by Steve

Despite the return of Francisco Rodriguez, I have my doubts that the Brewers’ bullpen will be as good as it was last year. Takashi Saito will certainly be missed, and so will LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, the Brewers are entering Spring Training with only four short relievers who had big league success last season (Axford, K-Rod, Loe, Veras).

This of course means they will need a lot of contribution from guys who didn’t play a role last year. Notice I didn’t necessarily say new pitchers, though. That’s because it’s quite likely that most of that production will be filled by old faces–the likes of Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and Brandon Kintzler. Parra, Rogers, and Kintzler are all coming off surgeries that cost them much or all of 2011, and Braddock is attempting to bounce back from some sleep/personal issues. The (very) early report on all of them is pretty good.

The fact that Rogers, a guy plagued with one injury after another over his career, is even throwing and feeling okay is good news. The former high first round pick is out of options, which means he’ll need to make the team this season. It seems the surgery he had last season for carpal tunnel syndrome was somewhat responsible for his sometimes high walk total, if you believe what Rogers says. If that’s the case, I feel pretty good about Rogers’ chances of becoming a good reliever. He still has great stuff, even after all this time, and I hope the Brewers give him a real shot in the pen. He will miss the first eight games of the season, however, as he finishes a 25-game suspension for a banned supplement. Seems the Brewers can’t get away from that stuff.

Another former starter who will need to be turned reliever is Manny Parra. Parra missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, but it sounds like he’s 100% this Spring. Parra and Rogers are very similar: missed last year due to surgery, former starter, and out of options. For this reason, I consider Parra all but a lock to make the team. If you remember, his last couple years he was being yanked around between starting and relieving, which yielded mixed results. Perhaps finally entering the year with a clear role will be beneficial for him.

Then there’s Zach Braddock, who not very long ago was my favorite Brewers prospect. Braddock had electric stuff, especially for a lefty, coming up through the system and into his rookie year. Then came 2011, which was a mess. Braddock battled off-field issues (which are fruitless to speculate on, in my opinion) that pretty much threw out his entire season. Reading his quotes yesterday, he sounds to me like he’s feeling great and throwing the ball well too. The Brewers basically went all of last season without a lefty reliever. Now it seems like they could have two power lefties out of the bullpen if things go well with Braddock and Parra.

Lastly, there’s Brandon Kintzler. He threw 14 strong innings before falling to injury himself last season. In 2010, he had a phenomenal year between AA and AAA. I expect him to play a role in the bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make the big league team immediately.

Obviously, the Brewers can’t bank on all four of these pitchers have successful seasons, but if they got strong performances from even two of them, it would go a long way toward matching the production of last year’s bullpen, a huge strength of the team. You figure the locks for the pen are Axford, K-Rod, Veras, Loe, and Marco Estrada (although I’m not personally convinced Estrada should be a lock). That leaves two spots for the four I’ve mentioned, with Rogers being eliminated because of his suspension to start the season. Due to the fact that Parra has no options, I expect him to make the team. That means Kintzler, Braddock, or others such as Frankie de la Cruz, Mike McClendon or Tim Dillard will likely battle it out for one spot. Due to the nature of the long season/inevitable injuries, though, I expect to see most, if not all of these players in Milwaukee at some point in the season.

 

Aoki, K-Rod, and others

Posted by Steve

It’s been quite a while since the last post, but that’s really because there has been virtually no Brewers news to discuss. Then all of a sudden, today we were hit with rapid-fire Brewers news.

How about an off-season Cornucopia of Thoughts?

K-Rod
I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to a base salary of $8 million. I was expecting at least 11. At 8 mil, the Brewers no longer need to trade him. Or if they want to he’ll be easier to trade. My guess is they end up keeping him, because their bullpen is fairly weak without him. I can’t say I’m excited to watch him pitch, though.

Aoki
A possible fallout of the K-Rod deal might very well have been that the Brewers could now afford to sign Norichika Aoki, although I’m guessing this would have happened anyway. Since I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that Braun will be out 50 games, I’m happy about this signing (with the caveat that the yet-to-be-revealed salary isn’t insane). Hopefully he will be a competent fill-in for Braun for those 50 games. If nothing else, he will be a nice improvement on defense. In fact, when Hart is playing first on occasion (as Melvin recent admitted he’s planning for), an outfield of Aoki-Gomez-Morgan will be fantastic defensively. Even though two of those guys can’t throw, that outfield will rival Arizona’s or any other as one of the best in baseball because of all the ground they’ll cover. When you consider the Brewers have Alex Gonzalez over Yuni and Aoki over Kotsay, you might come to the conclusion that the defense this year could be much improved.

Mainly though, I’m just hoping Aoki can get on base at a pretty nice clip. The Brewers sorely need some OBP guys with Gomez/Morgan, Gonzalez, and Jonathan Lucroy in the everyday lineup.

Other signings
The Brewers have agreed to terms with Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, Carlos Gomez, and Nyjer Morgan on one year deals to avoid arbitration in recent days. When I was projecting the budget, I thought guys like Parra and Loe might be non-tendered. It sure seems like the Brewers will have a larger payroll than I expected; they’ll be pushing $100 million. Pretty crazy considering they were around $40 mil when Mark Attanasio took over the team.

Ryan Braun
This thing is sure dragging out. As I said earlier, I am fully expecting Braun to be out for the first 50 games. I have no idea whether he’s innocent (nobody really does), but my guess is he might be able to save some face in the public eye, but will fall short of overturning his suspension. MLB doesn’t care about intent, so whether there was intent to use a drug as a performance enhancer or not doesn’t really matter.

Craig Counsell
Craig Counsell is joining the Brewers’ front office as a special assistant to the GM. Most everyone seems excited that Counsell is staying in the organization. That’s fine, I guess, but wow is this one of those things that justifies my decision to abandon my pursuit of a job in baseball. Some of my friends have been in Baseball Ops for over five years, are really good at what they do, and are still going year-to-year on low-paying internships. Meanwhile, Craiggers waltzes into a nice cushy job with no front office experience. I’d be much more annoyed if I was still trying to make it, I suppose.

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.

Ron and his bullpen

Posted by Steve

One thing Ron Roenicke has continued to do throughout the playoffs is manage his bullpen like it’s still the regular season. In the games that the Brewers’ starter has been knocked out early, he’s brought in people like Marco Estrada or Kameron Loe. Twice he’s done this with a day off the next day. In fact, the Brewers lost Game 5 without pitching any of their three best relievers.

This cannot happen. The only way I’d be okay with seeing Estrada pitch today is if the Brewers are winning by six runs or more.

If Marcum gets knocked out early tonight, and the Brewers find themselves down by three or four runs, it needs to be Hawkins/Saito/KROD coming in to keep the deficit where it is, not Estrada to let the Cardinals tack on to their lead.

There is some debate over whether the Brewers should be pitching Marcum tonight. Other options could be to pitch Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest, or to start Chris Narveson.

I like the decision to stick with Marcum. He hasn’t been sharp lately, but I didn’t think he was horrendous his last time out. Plus, we know Marcum is a good pitcher–better than Narveson. He’s proven that over the course of the season and his career. I also don’t like bringing Yo back on three days’ rest. He’s never done it in his career, so doing it in the most important Brewer game in almost 30 years seems pretty crazy. Plus, then they’d be in a mess for Game 7.

I know I generally say you need to worry about winning the next game before managing for Game 7, but when the decision isn’t clear-cut (bringing back Yo on three days’ rest isn’t an obvious move), you might as well play to give yourself a better chance in Game 7.

I can’t say why, but I’m definitely expecting a win tonight. The crowd will be crazy, the team will be happy to be back home, and I expect them to score a lot of runs.

Most importantly, I’m just not ready for baseball season to be over yet. This team has been so fun to watch, and it wouldn’t be right for this to end before Game 7.

… And continue to roll

Posted by Steve

The Brewers seemingly cannot lose.

It’s easy to think back to the terrible teams, or even the teams under Ned Yost, and remember how they used to seem to find ways to lose. This team is finding ways to win.

The only aspect of the team that has been great over this incredible run is the pitching. The defense has been just as bad as it has all year, and the offense is up and down. Over their last two games and 19 innings, they’ve scored three runs… And still managed to win both!

They are 19 games over .500 and have a 5-game lead. They have won 16 of 18 games. This is so surreal that I cannot express my many thoughts in one standard post. We’re going to need a cornucopia of thoughts.

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This has gotten me in trouble before, but I’m addicted to Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report. As of Sunday morning, the Brewers had an 87.6% chance to make the playoffs, and it will be even higher after they won Sunday. That’s a big number. We’re approaching the point where if they don’t win the division, it would have to be considered a choke. Maybe it’s not quite there yet, but anything over 90% and then missing is a choke in my book.

It’s worth noting that this streak has pulled them even with the Braves, who lead the wildcard. They’re now tied for the second-best record in the NL. Soon the secondary goal of finishing ahead of the NL West team (and avoiding the Phillies in the first round) will come into play. 

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The starting pitching has been the story all year, and it has been very good lately. However, it’s not like any one starter has been completely dominant–it’s more like they’ve been consistently good, something to the tune of 6-7 innings, 1-3 runs allowed on most nights.

The area that has been dominant, however, is the bullpen. The bullpen has been number 1 in xFIP in the NL in August, and in the last 30 days, it’s 3.28.

John Axford is simply overpowering–he is the best Brewer reliever I can remember. The most important part of the K-Rod trade wasn’t adding K-Rod himself (more on this in a moment); it was bumping down guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe. When you have those guys pitching the sixth and seventh instead of the eighth, your bullpen is going to be in better shape. It’s the deepest pen they’ve had in years, and the haven’t even acquired a lefty reliever yet (fingers crossed). I think the bullpen is the biggest reason for their incredible run the last three weeks.

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K-Rod is a pretty good reliever. That said, I hate watching him pitch. He’s like Claudio Vargas–guys are always on base. You always feel like he’s teetering on the edge of blowing the game. His walk rate is too high, and his strikeout rate isn’t enough to make up for it. 

This isn’t to say he sucks. He’s just not what he was in his early/mid-twenties, and I would love it if Ron Roenicke would stop automatically using him in the eighth inning. In fact, K-Rod is third or fourth on my list of relievers I’d like to see in a high-leverage situation. Takashi Saito has been great lately, and he’s been a superior pitcher to K-Rod the last few seasons–he just doesn’t have the big name. LaTroy Hawkins has done a very good job as well, and when Kameron Loe is used correctly, he’s an asset.

So basically, I just want to see K-Rod utilized for what he is instead of what he was. He was a dominant closer; he is a solid but not great reliever.

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It’s time for the Felipe Lopez experiment to end. It was worth a shot when Rickie Weeks went down, but Flip just doesn’t have the 2009 magic in him. His bat speed is gone, so his laziness on the field isn’t worth it anymore. It’s time to get Taylor Green up. For the love of God, it is time to get Taylor Green up. To be eligible for the playoff roster, he needs to be called up before September. DFA Lopez and call up Green.

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Speaking of Weeks, that studmuffin is already taking ground balls, not even three weeks after that hideous ankle injury. It sound like he may be back ahead of the six-week timetable, which would obviously be a huge lift. It’s incredible that the Brewers have been able to win so much without him, so getting him back ahead of time just seems like a cherry on top of the sundae.

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If I had a nickel for every time someone has said something along the lines of , “Hey Steve, how about your boy Yuni now! You have to eat some crow!” I’d have, like, six nickels. Still, there is sentiment that Yuni is somewhat making up for his abysmal first half.

He isn’t. Hitting for a few weeks won’t make up for the fact that he was one of the five worst regulars in baseball for three months. Secondly, while I’ve never been a fan of his offensive game, that’s always been my secondary concern. To anyone who gives me a little crap about Betancourt, I just point to his defense. It’s still terrible and hurting the team.

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I want more Jerry Hairston! Okay, it’s not like he’s a world-beater, but he’s being used like he’s a right-handed Craig Counsell. He’s currently a better option than what the Brewers have at second base, shortstop, and third when you factor in both offense and defense. Yet, he really only starts against lefties. He also hasn’t played an inning at shortstop, which is incidentally where he should be spending most of his time.

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Tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers, and it has nothing to do with starting a series against the Dodgers. It is the deadline to sign draft picks. Both of their first round picks, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, remain unsigned. All indications are that they will be signed, but it’s still a little unsettling–particularly when you think back to just last year, when they were all set to sign Dylan Covey.

Jed Bradley is the one who is particularly concerning, because the Brewers used the comp pick from Covey to select him. If they don’t sign Bradley, they don’t get another comp pick next year–that pick is lost. No doubt Bradley is using that as leverage, and it’s likely the Brewers will have to pay him more than they’d like because of it.

Still, it will be inexcusable if they don’t sign both of these pitchers. They realize the need to get impact arms in the organization, though, and I’d be very surprised if both do not sign tomorrow.

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Back to the big league team. There is no reason to expect the hot streak to end. Their next four series are against teams under .500, so they should keep rolling. They’ll need to, because the Cardinals also have their next four series against losing teams too.

Cornucopia of Vents

Posted by Steve

There is so much to say about the Brewers right now, and none of it is good.

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Braun’s calf strain really has Roenicke in a bind, so I won’t complain too much about the lineups the last couple games. But the ineptitude of the bench has been highlighted, and that is certainly something open to fair criticism. Craig Counsell, Josh Wilson, and Mark Kotsay each have no business on an MLB roster–Counsell and Kotsay because age has caught up with them, and Wilson because he just isn’t good. Kotsay in particular needs to hit the road, as there are multiple options in AAA who would be an improvement.

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Casey McGehee is absolutely killing the team. He followed up a very bad May (.593 OPS) with a woeful June (.422(!) OPS). According to WAR, he’s been the seventh-most damaging player in baseball to this point. At the very least, he needs to be platooned for a while with Taylor Green (or I guess Mat Gamel, but Green’s the better defender). Preferably, though, I’d like to see McGehee sent to AAA for a few weeks to see if he can figure anything out. He can’t be allowed to hurt the team like this any longer.

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Zack Greinke is having the most baffling, bizarre, frustrating season of any pitcher in baseball. That isn’t hyperbole. He’s inspired three fangraphs articles already this season, and the most recent one is fascinating.

To summarize, his xFIP is 3.51 runs lower than his ERA! Since 2002, The biggest gap between xFIP and ERA since 2002 is 1.88! Greinke has been about twice as unlucky as the most unlucky pitcher in the last nine years! Just unbelievable.

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Want to hear an infuriating stat?

This season, Kameron Loe has faced 87 right-handers and 86 left-handers.

For someone whose splits clearly prove he’s a right-handed specialist, Loe is being used terribly.

Roenicke is just as inept as Ned Yost when it comes to bullpen management. The “eight inning guy” thing is moronic. He has four solid pitchers who can effectively bridge the gap to Axford when used correctly, but Runnin’ Ron has shown no ability to do that. Braddock, Saito, and Hawkins can all be high-leverage guys, as can Loe when it’s against right-handers. RRR needs to look at Loe’s splits and chuck out his eighth inning guy theory.

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Yuniesky Betancourt has been on a bit of a run here the last handful of games. He has raised his OBP to .261, which is sort of like saying you upgraded from Roundy’s brand toilet paper to Scott’s single-ply.

What hasn’t upgraded is his defense. Fangraphs has Betancourt as the worst qualified shortstop defensively.

Q: What do you get when you combine the second-worst OBP at shortstop with the worst defense at shortstop?

A: The worst full time player in Brewers history!

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Really, the only good thing to discuss is that the Brewers have three All-Star starters, but there is even some frustration there. John Axford was a pretty bad snub from the All-Star Game. Bruce Bochy chose Brian Wilson over Axford. While awesome, Wilson has been pretty bad this season. And you know Bochy will use him as a closer. Can’t wait to see him walk a couple guys and blow a save in the game.

And then there’s Rickie Weeks. I’m thrilled to finally see him get the recognition he’s deserved for a couple years now. It’s cool that he’ll get the exposure of the home run derby. It’s just unfortunate that it’s coinciding with a terrible (yet under-the-radar) slump. Weeks is really struggling, and his numbers have plummeted over the last 3-4 weeks.

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It seems the All-Star Break can’t come soon enough for the Crew. Hopefully at that point, Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke will realize both the bench and bullpen management need a major overhaul.

Is that Ron Roenicke or Ned Yost?

Posted by Steve

Telling moment yesterday. My brother missed the Brewer game. This is how our conversation went.

“How’d it go?”

“They got Roenicked.”

“Let me guess… Kameron Loe against Carlos Pena?”

When a manager is already that bad, that predictably bad, it’s pretty incredible.

Roenicke is absolutely clueless when it comes to bullpen management. He’s already approaching Yostian levels.

Last night he used Kameron Loe for the third day in a row, which is dumb enough in itself. But when you consider that LaTroy Hawkins hadn’t pitched in days, Hawkins is better than Loe anyway, and that Loe can’t get lefties out to save his life, it’s moronic.

Letting Loe face Carlos Pena, a classic “crushes righties, sucks against lefties” hitter, when Zack Braddock is available, screams of Yost having Brian Shouse walk Ryan Howard to face Pat Burrell. Here was Runnin’ Ron’s defense:

“It’s not a tough call,” said Roenicke. “Not if (Loe) can go, it’s not a tough call. He’s our eighth-inning guy and in tie ball games he goes (in) the eighth and ‘Ax’ (John Axford) will follow him.”

OH MY GOD. If there was such a thing as a List of Sentences That Send Steve Into an Unmitigated Rage, I’m pretty sure “He’s our eighth-inning guy” would top the list. The concept of an eighth-inning guy is even dumber than the concept of a closer, especially when your eighth-inning guy is a mediocre reliever who has never been able to get lefties out.

Here are some bullpen management idiocies that need to stop:

  • The Kameron Loe fascination. Can you believe he’s been in to face Joey Votto and Carlos Pena with the game on the line already this season?
    He shouldn’t face lefties unless it’s one sandwiched between righties. If it’s one of their best hitters, he should absolutely not be in.
  • Braddock as a lefty. While Loe is a ROOGY, Zack Braddock is not a LOOGY. He should have been in to start the eighth tonight, and he did not need to come out after facing one lefty. This is not Mitch Stetter; he is a power pitcher with great strikeout numbers all throughout the minors as both a starter and reliever.
  • Marco Estrada as a high-leverage reliever. Using Estrada over Hawkins is almost as bad as Loe against a lefty. Estrada is a minor league soldier who has done a nice job as a fill-in starter. He has not been good as a reliever. The other day I called for him to be sent to AAA to return to a starting role, and that will probably happen now–but waiting this long has already cost the Brewers a game.
  • Not using Axford in a tie game on the road. I won’t hold my breath on this one, as most managers don’t do this, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid. Tonight it seemed particularly dumb since Axford was already warmed up. Why not use him in the ninth instead of Tim Dillard, another pitcher who fares poorly against lefties?
I’m only addressing bullpen in depth in this particular post, because I don’t want to go on forever, but bullpen management is not Roenicke’s only weakness–just his most glaring. Other horrible decisions include continuing to bat Casey McGehee ahead of Corey Hart, the Wil Nieves Experiment, overkilling the suicide squeeze, and using Kotsay in center field/second spot in the lineup. 
The Brewers having a talented team is such a double-edged sword for me. Obviously, it’s a good thing, but the only good teams they’ve had have been managed by terrible in-game managers. It makes for some very frustrating games.

 

That’s a lot of classy losing

Posted by Steve

There is nothing better than beating up on the Cardinals. There is no team I’d rather beat, including the Cubs.

The pitching was dominant. The Cardinals came in as the best offense in the National League, and the Brewers shut them down.

  • 27 innings
  • 6 runs
  • 27 strikeouts
  • 3 walks
  • 1 home run
Just phenomenal, especially when it includes your fourth or fifth best starter. They neutralized Albert Pujols and contained Lance Berkman. Narveson, Greinke, and Marcum were on top of their games. John Axford and Kameron Loe were great out of the bullpen. And Prince Fielder is the hottest hitter going right now.

Let the good times roll. This is really starting to get fun.