Tag Archives: LaTroy Hawkins

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.

————

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.

————

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.

————

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.

St. Louis Classies

Posted by Steve

So much to talk about. Before I get going, I might as well paste this. I wrote this last night after the game, but I lost internet, so I couldn’t post it.

——–

Brutal loss last night, particularly because I was there. It was a crazy, long game that both teams were desperately trying to win.

I have to say I was reminded of this game when La Russa did what La Russa does and retaliated on Ryan Braun. How dumb was it of him to put the leadoff runner on in the eighth inning of a tie game? Never mind that the Brewers blew a bases loaded, nobody out opportunity–that was an incredibly dumb move that just happened to work out this time. Definitely a Yostian move.

Still, how do the Cardinals continue to get away with this garbage? Saito hits Pujols in a situation where hitting him was not what he wanted to do, so there’s no way it was intentional. The next inning, a pitch way inside misses Braun. The next one hits him… And there was no ejection! How obvious can it get! Ugh, I hate the Cardinals.

Anyway. What a crappy way to lose. From the bases loaded, nobody out opportunity blown, to the guy I wanted the Brewers to acquire (Furcal) making a nice play to save the game, to La Russa and Molina’s crap, to Berkman’s dinky game-winner–it doesn’t get much worse.

This was a very tough game to lose, especially since I fully expect the Brewers to lose tomorrow. Randy Wolf is getting by on smoke and mirrors lately, and I’m just waiting for something like a combined 5-8 with two homers from Pujols and Holliday. Games against the Cards now are huge. They went from being 4.5 up to 2.5 up, all because Furcal made a good play and Berkman hit a duck snort.

——–

Well, first of all, it’s nice to be wrong about today’s game, though I was right about one thing: Wolf was unimpressive. I suppose my mistake was in not forecasting 3 home runs from Casey McGehee after he had five in 428 plate appearances.

But anyway, on to the main point.  Tony La Russa continues to be a jag of epic proportions. Nothing he does should surprise us anymore, except what’s interesting is that his antics are finally starting to tire people other than his opponents. Have a look at this article from Yahoo Sports.

He sounds like he’s legitimately paranoid. If you care to, read through the transcript of his post-game interview. To sum it up, he first admits the pitch that hit Pujols wasn’t intentional–just inside, and “dangerous.” Then he called the fans idiots and immediately retracted it. Then he doesn’t literally admit (but pretty much does admit) that they intentionally threw at Braun.

So now, not only can you not hit Pujols, but you cannot even throw inside to him. Got it. Man, he contradicts himself in that article more than once.

Even his own team is questioning him! How about this quote from Lance Berkman? I couldn’t believe this.

It’s not like that was the first ball that had been thrown up and in,” Berkman said. “That one just happened to hit Albert. It’s certainly a situation that you don’t want to escalate any further than it needs to. Those things have a way of working out on the field.

Wow.

So in case you missed in, in the past 72 hours, La Russa has:

  • Complained about lighting around home plate at Miller Park (in the past he’s complained about slippery balls in Cincinnati and bullpen mounds in Colorad0)
  • Complained about the Brewers stealing signs
  • Retaliated for something he himself admitted was not intentional
  • Called Brewer fans idiots (some are, especially the ones in our section last night, but you still don’t say that as a manager)
  • Picked a fight with Bill Schroeder, of all people, and actually called him (!)
  • Argued a quick pitch today by LaTroy Hawkins that is legal when nobody is on base (Hawkins jumped way, way up in my book by quick pitching the next few pitches after TLR complained)

A guy could do all of that over the course of a season and be seen as whiny.

——–

Despite the tough loss last night, this was a good series and a great homestand. They’ve got a bit of a cushion with a 3.5 game lead, and hopefully they can extend that in Houston. It’s hard to believe that all this nonsense gets dialed up again next week in St. Louis.

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EDIT:

Just came across an entertaining summary of La Russa’s complaints during his managerial career. Pretty entertaining.

How to Misread Numbers 101

Posted by Steve

The Brewers almost got burned by Joey Votto/Jay Bruce again, and it was because Ron Roenicke is still clueless when it comes to bullpen management.

Sure, I’d be shredding Roenicke if the Brewers had lost. It doesn’t mean that just because it (barely) worked out, it wasn’t the wrong decision. So, I shred anyway. I’m nothing if not consistent.

In the eighth inning, the Reds were sending Votto, Brandon Phillips and Bruce to the plate. To any manager, that would call for a left-handed pitcher. To a manager who had been burned by Votto launching a mammoth home run off a righty reliever late in a game already this season, it would scream at the top of his lungs for a left-handed pitcher.

Old Runnin’ Ron isn’t any old manager, though. Here was the reasoning from last night’s JS article on using Hawkins that inning instead of Zach Braddock.

“It was a matchup for ‘Hawk,’ ” manager Ron Roenicke said. “If we would have done it a little different, it probably would have been (lefty Zach) Braddock.”

Hawkins entered the game as something of an anomaly, limiting lefties to a .162 average.

Oh my Yost, this is incredible. Hawkins this season, for whatever reason, is holding lefties to a .382 OPS. Alarmingly impressive, right? Sure, until you realize lefties have had exactly 38 plate appearances against him. That sample size is virtually meaningless. Let’s look at the career numbers, which span 17 seasons and 2,591 PAs: .809 OPS against. That clearly indicates that this season is an anomaly.

Meanwhile, lefties have a .489 OPS against Braddock (!) over his career. Yes, his career spans just parts of two seasons and 95 plate appearances against lefties, but his minor league numbers show the same thing. Plus, he’s actually lefty, and lefties are generally, you know, better against left-handed hitters.

I’m actually unsure whether to be encouraged or discouraged by this. On one hand, we know Roenicke actually is using splits. For a while, it was difficult to even tell whether he was. On the other hand, he’s using the numbers so incorrectly that it isn’t even helping. That’s now twice late in close games against the team expected to battle the Brewers for the division that Roenicke has misread splits and sent the wrong pitcher to face the best left-handed hitter in the game.

PECOTA Pitching

Posted by Steve

Opening day is just a few days off, and I am just plain giddy. Between high expectations for the Brewers and two awesome fantasy leagues, I’m not sure I’ve ever been this excited for a season. Of course, that means I’m running out of time to analyze PECOTA projections. Here’s what BP came up with for Brewers pitchers.

Before I get into the pitchers, though, I want to tough on a pretty fascinating chart they’ve had on the Brewers. They took a closer look at the wide gap between the Brewers’ offensive and pitching output the last two seasons, and found it was historic.

During the 2009-2010 seasons, Brewer hitters accumulated a 497.1 VORP, third in baseball behind the Yankees and Red Sox. During the same span, Brewer pitchers accumulated a 73.2 VORP, second worst in baseball behind the Pirates. This means their hitters have contributed 423.9 VORP more than their pitchers, which is the third most offensive-dominated team over a two-year span since 1954.

So, we knew they were wasting a good offense. But if you truly wanted to see how ugly it was, there’s as good (or bad) of an illustration as any.

One last point about PECOTA’s pitching projections: they don’t seem to project anyone for 200 innings. For example, even though Zack Greinke has thrown for 220, 229.1, and 2o2.1 innings the last three seasons, PECOTA projects him for 179 innings this season (and that was before his cracked rib). I’m guessing this is because pitchers who throw 200 innings are becoming increasingly rare, and they’re taking some account for injury to each pitcher, because just about every pitcher who threw a full season last year is projected for lower innings totals.

Edit: Looked into this more, and apparently the innings projections are low because they’re giving the average expected innings, not the most likely. Russ on brewerfan broke it down nicely for me:

“A typical workhorse might look something like this (actual numbers for illustration only):

200-220 IP: 40% chance
180-200 IP 25%
140-180 IP: 25%
100 – 140 IP: 20%
Below 100: 5%

While it’s most likely that that player will end up with between 200-220 IP, the average is brought down by the small chance of missing significant time.”

Gosh, I love brewerfan.net. On to the projections.

Zack Greinke

179 innings, 3.52 ERA, 181 ks, 55 BBs, 17 HRs

To be honest, this is a pretty conservative projection in my mind. You certainly couldn’t be upset with this line, but he had an FIP of 3.34 last season. Moving to the NL, you’d expect that to drop a bit. I personally expect something like 3.0 to 3.2.

There’s one excerpt that makes me shake my head: “Moving to Milwaukee–one of the few teams with even poorer defensive numbers than the Royals–won’t help Greinke…” Ugh.

One last thing about Greinke. One guess as to who his #1 comparable on baseball reference is through age 26.

Yep. Of course it’s Ben Sheets.

Yovani Gallardo

150.1 innings, 3.79 ERA, 159 ks, 65 BBs, 12 HRs

They called Gallardo “baseball’s most overlooked ace.” Again, his walks are higher than I’d like, but he makes up for it some by strikeout out more than a batter per inning. Yo’s still only 25, and he’s an extremely valuable piece signed to a great contract.

They also commented on Gallardo’s bat. I found this very entertaining: “Gallardo out-slugged Ryan Braun, had a higher TAv than Casey McGehee, and owns a career .677 OPS that surpasses that of Carlos Gomez.”

Shawn Marcum

134.2 innings, 3.88 ERA, 113 ks, 39 BBs, 19 HRs

I love me some good k/bb ratio guys, and Marcum was sixth in all of baseball last season–in the AL East. For whatever reason, they don’t think Marcum can keep up the phenomenal walk rate of last season. That does seem tough to do, but Marcum seems to benefit a ton by escaping the AL East. This is still a nice walk rate, and if this line is extrapolated out to a full season, he’ll have given the Brewers great production.

Randy Wolf

161 innings, 4.46 ERA, 116 ks, 61 BBs, 22 HRs

“His walk and strikeout rates reached their worst levels in years, he struggled against lefties… He’s not about to pull a complete Suppan, but there’s trouble ahead.”

Yikes. To be honest, though, it seems like BP thinks his real collapse came last year, not this season. They have his improve chance at 42%, while his collapse percentage is “only” 26.

Chris Narveson

115 innings, 4.74 ERA, 94 ks, 47 BBs, 17 HRs

Those would be perfectly acceptable numbers for a fifth starter. In fact, that would be one of the best fifth starters the Brewers have had in years. a 2:1 kk/bb ratio is pretty dece as well. Better yet, they have his Improve at 41% and his Collapse at just 14%.

John Axford

73.1 innings, 1.6 WHIP, 77 ks, 51 BBs, 7 HRs

This is probably the most pessimistic projection for a Brewer pitcher, and it has to do with Axford’s career walk rate. It’s always been pretty high, and they seem to think it will catch up with him big time this season. “Although it’s possible that Axford has developed a newfound ability to find the strike zone and will spend the next half-decade closing games at Miller Park, Brewers fans will just as likely wake up one morning to discover that yesterday’s Rollie Fingers has morphed into today’s Derrick Turnbow. You’ve been warned.” Dun dun dunnnn.

Zach Braddock

47 innings, 1.43 WHIP, 57 ks, 28 BBs, 5 HRs

Second verse, same as the first? Like Axford, Braddock showed great stuff last season. Like Axford, Braddock walked too many batters. Both pitchers made up for it somewhat last season with a very good strikeout rate, but unless control improves, the walks will catch up with Braddock. He’s still a young pitcher, so I’m more excited about Braddock’s long-term future in Milwaukee than Axford’s.

Takashi Saito

58 innings, 1.19 WHIP, 65 ks, 21 BBs, 5 HRs

That’s more like it. Saito historically has a great k/bb ratio, and PECOTA has that resulting in very solid production once again this season. Saito might end up as the most underrated acquisition of the off-season. He’s a very good relief pitcher despite his advanced age, and if he doesn’t fall off a cliff, he’ll be an important piece of the bullpen.

LaTroy Hawkins

52 innings, 1.37 WHIP, 37 ks, 17 BBs, 6 HRs

The Brewers got virtually nothing from Hawkins in a season lost to injury, and Hawkins would need to have a pretty great season for his signing not to go down as another pitching free agent blunder. This projection actually seems pretty optimistic to me, which is pretty sad when you know you’d be pleased with a 1.37 WHIP for a relief pitcher.

Kameron Loe

116.1 innings, 1.48 WHIP, 70 ks, 42 BBs, 15 HRs

Another projection, another mediocre line. BP points out that Loe’s swinging strike rate jumped to almost 10%, by far a career high. For that reason, they aren’t sure his 2010 wasn’t a fluke. Interestingly, his innings projection is so high because they project him for 7 starts, which I can’t say I understand. Put it this way: If Kameron Loe has to make 7 starts, the Brewers will probably be in trouble. He’s much more suited as a right-handed specialist, as lefties historically crush him.

Manny Parra

134 innings, 1.59 WHIP, 118 ks, 67 BBs, 17 HRs

Ugly line here too, but a little curious, since they project him as a starting pitcher. No doubt this is a reasonable expectation if the Brewers once again kept Parra in their rotation, but I wish they’d have projected him as a reliever. Last season, Parra had terrible numbers as a starter (1.74 WHIP, 1.83 k/bb) but was much better as a reliever (1.35 WHIP, 2.73 k/bb). I have at least some hope that Parra can be an effective relief pitcher.

Sean Green

65 innings, 1.50 WHIP, 51 ks, 33 BBs, 6 HRs

Green is a groundball specialist, which is often a nice way of saying he doesn’t strike out many hitters. He throws a ton of sinkers that either get ground balls or move out of the strike zone. He’ll probably be a fringe bullpen guy, one of the last on the team. Shouldn’t be terrible, though.

Sergio Mitre

93 innings, 1.39 WHIP, 56 ks, 27 BBs, 13 HRs

Like Loe, they project Mitre for a handful of starts that he hopefully won’t get. Mitre had a .226 BABIP last season, which suggests he’s in for a rude wakeup call. Even though the Brewers turned around and replaced Chris Dickerson, I don’t see the reason for adding Mitre. I’d much rather have their fourth and fifth outfielders be Morgan and Dickerson than have Mitre at all.

Other notables

Mark Rogers

85 innings, 4.66 ERA, 76 ks, 57 BBs, 9 HRs

Walks have been Rogers’ problem, and if PECOTA is correct, they’ll be a huge problem this year if he’s in the majors. He’s got great stuff, but he has to improve his control if he ever wants to be an effective major league starter. It’s good that he’s getting more time in AAA.

Amaury Rivas

88 innings, 5.43 ERA, 56 ks, 44 BBs, 13 HRs

Rivas will be another candidate to eat up some spot starts during inevitable injuries. Problem is, he’s already 25, and his strikeout rates are too low to expect him to be a successful starting pitcher. PECOTA calls him middle-reliever material at best.

Mark DiFelice

No projection

Prepare for the return. It’s coming.

Final Thoughts

I think I just put more stock into hitting projections, which are probably easier to project because of the innings projection difficulty and the increased likelihood of injury for pitchers as opposed to hitters. That’s why I’m not too troubled by their overall underwhelming projections for Brewer pitching. They do like The Big Three, but probably not as much as what we’re hoping we get. The bullpen is more of a concern, as really the only guy they think will be above average is Saito. I am worried somewhat that Axford could turn into Turnbow, but I also think we’ll see Mark DiFelice back in the bullpen before too long, which would be a boost if he’s anywhere close to his pre-injury form. Regardless, with three frontline starters, it seems likely that their bullpen will be much more rested than the last few years.

I am worried about the defense, but the staff itself is the best in a long time outside of 2008–and even stacking it up against that staff would make for an interesting debate.

Return of Yost?

Posted by Steve

Shades of Ned Yost at Wrigley Field today, as Ken Macha channeled his inner-Yost in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two out, nobody on and the Brewers leading by three, Latroy Hawkins fell apart. Once the Cubs cut the lead to 6-5, Kosuke Fukudome, a left-handed hitter came up with no viable pinch hitting options. Both Mitch Stetter and Manny Parra were available, but somehow neither had even been warming up. In fact, nobody had warmed up. Hawkins was around 30 pitches (finished the inning with 39!), and the result was the least surprising base hit of the day.

What an inexcusable move. Are there any intelligent game managers available? We haven’t seen one in Milwaukee. If we hear something in the post-game interview from Macha along the lines of “We didn’t take out Hawkins because the eighth is his inning,” I’ll really know Ned Yost has returned.

I will say that I’m surprised at my complete lack of anger at a loss like this. Could it be due to my low expectations for this team?

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.

Randy Wolf/LaTroy Hawkins

Posted by Steve

Greetings from Indianapolis!  I’ve wanted to comment on the news of the last few days, but things have been fairly hectic.  Since nothing was official until today, I guess I haven’t missed too much.

The Brewers certainly have been one of the busier teams.  In fact, they’ve been the biggest spenders at the Winter Meetings to this point.  Let’s start with what will be the biggest signing of their off-season: Randy Wolf.

The Brewers identified Wolf as their number one target once they realized they had no shot to afford John Lackey.  On a much smaller scale, Doug Melvin pulled a Yankees-C.C. Sabathia move:  Make a top offer very early on in attempt to avoid a bidding war.  I don’t think anyone figured Wolf would get $30 million, but then again, I don’t think people figured the Yankees would immediately outbid the only CC Sabathia offer by $50 million.  Both instances worked; Wolf’s agent briefly shopped the offer around but quickly realized nobody was going to top $30 million over three years.

To be honest, nobody really should have topped it.  There’s probably no team as desperate as the Brewers for pitching, and this move has a deperation-y feel to it.  Wolf is a solid pitcher–a 4.00 to 4.25 ERA type guy when healthy.  He’s got solid k, bb and home run rates–nothing special, but all are average to slightly above.  He’s 33 years old, and I feel confident he’ll be worth his contract for at least next season.  The third year is the part that concerns me, and obviously everyone else, as the Brewers were really the only ones willing to offer a third year.  Two years/$16 million seems more right for Wolf, not three years/$30 mil.

I can’t say I’m overly excited about it–I definitely groaned when I first heard the amount–but I don’t hate it or anything.  They needed a dependable starter to slot behind Yovani Gallardo, and Wolf fits that bill.  It’s definitely not a repeat of the Suppan signing, as some are trying to claim.  Suppan was clearly worse than Wolf at the time of his contract, as numbers show.  Wolf is a better pitcher for less years and less money.

Only an hour or two after news of the Wolf signing broke, the Brewers finalized a deal with reliever LaTroy Hawkins for $7.5 million over two years.  My reaction to this is pretty similar to the Wolf signing.  He’s a solid player, but he got one more year than I’d have liked.

Hawkins’ ERA of 2.1 with Houston last year is pretty eye-popping, but a closer look reveals he’s not really a “2.1 ERA pitcher.”  In fact, he wasn’t really much different than most of his other years.  He was aided by a crazy high strand rate of 90.9% (career rate of 70.9%) and a BABIP of .284 (career rate of .314).  He’ll still be one of their better relievers and in the setup mix with Todd Coffey, but he’s probably more of a “4.00 ERA, 1.2 WHIP” type pitcher.  I would have rather given him a one year/$4 million deal than a two year/7.5 mil deal, but I suppose that’s nitpicking.  The Brewers needed another dependable reliever with the horrible news of Mark DiFelice’s torn labrum (must every mancrush I have suffer crippling, career-threatening injuries?), so they wanted to make sure they got him.  That’s understandable.

This is likely the last of the activity we’ll see from the Brewers for awhile, possibly more than a month.  Doug Melvin’s strategy was to quickly sign a big free agent (Wolf) and a reliever (Hawkins) and then wait and see what kind of bargain deals might be available come January or February.  They’re likely hoping for a one-year deal with some other free agents, and they’ll likely explore trade options as well.

My preference would be to sign one more boom or bust type to a one-year deal.  Someone like Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, John Smoltz or possibly Erik Bedard, though Bedard’s chances of pitching at all in 2010 are coming into question.  It sounds like they’re going to make a small, incentive-laden offer to Mark Mulder, but Mulder can’t be penciled into the rotation at this point until they see what they’ve got.  They’ll need to add one more pitcher even if they sign Mulder.

Since my first choice, Carl Pavano, surprised and disappointed me by accepting the Twins’ offer of arbitration, my top choice is now John Smoltz for a one year deal.  You may be surprised I’m not pushing for Sheets, but the more you hear, the more it sounds like there isn’t much interest in a reunion from either side.  Plus, Sheets is a huge question mark for 2010 while Smoltz is more dependable at this point.  Much was made of Smoltz’s failure in Boston, but that was a fluke.  First of all, it was 40 innings, which is really too small of a sample size to declare a Hall of Fame pitcher washed up.  Second, the only thing that hurt him was a huge home run rate.  His k/bb ratio was still a great 3.67 mark in Boston, and once he went to St. Louis, his home run rate fell way down.  His overall 2009 numbers were still close to ace-like: 4.06 k/bb, 3.87 FIP.  I’m not sure how much the Brewers have left to spend, but I’d be willing to go as high as the one-year, $7.5 million deal the Cardinals just gave to Brad Penny.

For now, I’m just glad the Brewers brought back the pitching version of Geoff Jenkins.