Tag Archives: Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder signs with Detroit

Posted by Steve

So much for the growing theory that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder overplayed their hand in free agency somehow. Prince got a 9 year/$214 million contract from the Tigers, yet another “mystery team.” That’s one heck of a contract for Prince, and it shows that his gamble to forgo extensions from the Brewers paid off in a big way.

From a Brewer fan perspective, this isn’t a bad thing at all. Obviously him signing with the Cubs or Cardinals would have been worst case scenario, and now he isn’t even in the National League. I don’t really mind the Tigers either way, so I can’t complain.

As far as compensation, it could have been better, but it could have been worse too. The Brewers will receive the 27th pick in the first round. This means they will have the 27th and 28th picks in the first round, along with a pick a few spots later in the supplemental round. This will be the second year in a row the Brewers will have a chance to restock the farm system with some early-ish picks.

This off-season has turned out to be okay, pending the Braun outcome. I still don’t like the Aramis Ramirez deal, but the defense will be improved. Aoki signed (and very cheaply, too). The Brewers probably aren’t the favorite in the division the way I saw it last year, but they should be in the mix. And their farm system, which was just about depleted a year ago, is back on the rise.

To prove I’m not a robot, I will say that it was awesome having Prince on the team, and that there should be no hard feelings from any Brewer fans. I still remember when Prince and Rickie Weeks each hit their first home run in the same game against Minnesota. After hearing about those two as the saviors of the franchise for a few years, that was an awesome moment. Some of his homers down the stretch this past year and in 2009 were pretty memorable, too.

 

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.

Who’s ready for a positive post?

Posted by Steve

I realize my last few posts have been negative, which seems goofy for where the Brewers are right now. I would like to just explain myself a bit. Friday I was at Game 5, which was beyond amazing. Thing is, I didn’t get a chance to post until after the weekend, which is also the last time the Brewers won until tonight. So basically, my availability prevented me from any of the excited, this is amazing-type posts.

What a game tonight! Randy Wolf, as he said, threw the game of his life. I wasn’t even concerned when he gave up those to flukey homers, because he had pinpoint control all night. Great, great job.

Jerry Hairston Jr. has been a godsend. Who knew when they acquired him in July how good he’d be. His offense has been a pleasant surprise, and his defense at third is silky smooth.

I’ve been on Francisco Rodriguez at times this year, but he’s been very solid in two outings this series. Great job tonight against the heart of the order in the eighth.

Prince Fielder: Gold Glover? If someone had only seen him play defense in this series, they might think so. From a diving stop to a series of great scoops at first, his defense has been tremendous. His scoop of Hairston’s throw tonight may have saved the game.

Jonathan Lucroy has been a defensive whiz. He is blocking everything in the dirt, and it’s resulting in some big strikeouts.

Tonight’s game was absolutely massive. Had they lost, their season was essentially over. Now, they have the edge. The pressure is back on St. Louis. The Brewers only need two out of three, and it just so happens that two out of the three remaining games would be at Miller Park.

I’m hoping they only need one of those games, however. I have a great feeling about Zack Greinke tomorrow. I feel like he’s been on the brink of a great outing for a while. He’s been a bit unlucky with some bloop hits before a home run, but tomorrow is the day he puts it all together.

By the way, I love reading his quotes.Like this one:

On his home/road splits: “The big thing is I’ve had some really bad games on the road — the Chicago Cubs game and the Yankees game were really bad. I guess the Pittsburgh game, I was cruising the whole game and all of a sudden, I think it’s the seventh inning and I gave up 4-5 hits in a row. Besides those two games, I felt like I’ve pitched just as good everywhere. Those two games…it wasn’t because of being on the road. It’s just because of bad games.”

I also love this one:

Did you get much feedback regarding what you said about Chris Carpenter: “I guess I didn’t get a whle lot. My wife likes to read stuff, and then she gets mad, and she’s mad that I said it. But it just happened, and I don’t need to talk about it anymore.”

Awesome.

Two more wins. I can’t believe the Brewers make the World Series with just two more wins. I never thought I’d see this day.

I leave you tonight with some entertainment. These are highlights from a Cardinals message board from tonight’s game.

- Playing in Milwaukee doesn’t even remind me of baseball…Like, I dunno. It’s just not baseball.
– It just bothers me even watching a game in Milwaukee. I hate to buy into the sign stealing thing, but no team is just that good at home and the fans just suck ass. It physically makes me angry watching them play at home. I don’t know why, it just does.
– That is really going to hurt tonight and tomorrow.
And next week. And it’s kind of chilly in STL tonight. It’s gotta be throbbin
– And now Hairston. I’m so tired of these scrubs. Holy [bad word]. Hairston, Weeks, Betancourt, Wolf. They’re beating us. Not Fielder, not Braun, not Gallardo.
– Seriously, braun looks terrible away from Milwaukee. Probably nothing.
– This whole team looks punchless outside of Milwaukee. Probably nothing.
– I just [bad word] hate Milwaukee. Not the team or the city, just the people that live there

The Perfect Game!

Posted by Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals 2, Ron Roenicke 1

Posted by Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Let the good times roll

Posted by Steve

Things are looking pretty darn good these days for the Brewers. They’re on a serious roll, having won 11 of 12 games, including six over the hapless AAA team from Houston. On one hand, you could argue that it’s not as impressive coming against teams like the Cubs and Astros. On the other hand, you could say the Brewers’ brutal first half schedule is finally evening out, and they’re taking full advantage of it.  That’s the hand I’m going with.

The starting pitching has been solid, and the top 3 starters have been great. The bullpen has been great. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are carrying the team, although Yuniesky Betancourt, of all people, has been the one to replace Rickie Weeks offensively. All Yuni’s doing is starting to make up for the horrible impact he had on the team the first few months of the year, but at least he’s doing something now.

Baseball Prospectus has the Brewers at 75.8% to make the playoffs (that’s as of Sunday morning, so it’ll be a bit higher after yesterday’s win). They’re really in great position. The only frustrating thing about this past week is the Cardinals haven’t lost either. Pretty incredible that neither team has lost since that wacky series in Miller Park ended.

Even though they haven’t gained ground on the Cards, they’ve still improved their playoff positioning. They’re now only a game behind wildcard-leading Atlanta, so if the Cardinals somehow caught fire, the Brewers would still have a chance to get in. Likely more important, though, is that the Brewers are now ahead of every team in the N.L. West. Obviously the main concern is to just get in the playoffs, but after that, you’d certainly like to avoid playing the Phillies in the first round. If the playoffs started today, the Brewers would play Atlanta instead of Philadelphia.

First things first though. There is still a lot of baseball to go, and a three game lead can disappear quickly. This Cardinals series is huge, but the pressure is on St. Louis. All the Brewers need to do is not get swept. The Cards probably need to win 2 of 3. Anything more than one in in this series is gravy in my eyes. The Brewers will leave St. Louis either tied, two games ahead, four games ahead, or six games ahead. I’ll be fine with a two game lead, and like I said, anything more is icing on the cake.

That’s the rational way of thinking. The fan in me wants to stomp on the Cards a la 2008 when Braun pimped his go-ahead homer that gave the Brewers a 4-game sweep in St. Louis–still the most satisfying mid-season series in my lifetime. I’m so sick of the Tony La Russa, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, and Albert Pujols (in that order, probably) that I want to put the division out of reach for them.

One thing I am happy to praise Ron Roenicke for is he hasn’t fallen for any of La Russa’s head games–the same ones that chewed up Ned Yost and spit him out. Here’s hoping that continues in another pivotal Cardinals series.

WAR (Huh! Yeah!) What is it good for?

Posted by Steve

Absolutely… Somethin!

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

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

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

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

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

Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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