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.

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.

PECOTA Hitting

Posted by Steve

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

Rickie Weeks

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

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

Carlos Gomez

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

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

Ryan Braun

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

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

Prince Fielder

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

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

Casey McGehee

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

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

Corey Hart

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

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

Yuniesky Betancourt

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

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

Jonathan Lucroy

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

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

Nyjer Morgan

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

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

Mark Kotsay

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

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

George Kottaras

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

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

Jeremy Reed

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

Erick Almonte

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

Other notables

Alcides Escobar

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

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

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

Chris Dickerson

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

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

Lorenzo Cain

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

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

————

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

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


Doug Melvin for GM of Everything Forever

Posted by Steve

“Mizuno gave me a samurai sword for winning the Cy Young. It’s awesome. … I’m going to hang it up and maybe start a collection. Not a gun collection, but a samurai sword collection. If you can do it. I don’t know if you’re allowed.”

-Zack Greinke, on letting his parents keep his Cy Young Award while he keeps the sword.

Wow. What a day.

I heard about the Greinke trade this morning, yet I’m just getting around to posting now because I was checking for updates and reading about it for much of the day. My immediate reaction was that of over-the-top excitement that bordered on embarrassing. After a day to let everything settle, I can say that I’m at least as excited about this deal as I was for the CC Sabathia trade. To be honest, this is likely to have a bigger impact baseball-wise than that deal.

Before I really get into this, I just want to say that I will once again be wearing my “Melvin: The Man, the Myth, the Mustache” t-shirt with pride once again. After the past couple seasons, I said that I at least wanted to see some creativity from Doug. No more free agent signings of over-the-hill pitchers as their main off-season move.

I think it’s fair to say he obliged.

“I feel like I’ve acquired a CC Sabathia except for two years and maybe longer. It feels good. It was a costly trade. We gave up a lot of good, young players. This is a credit to our scouting and player development people to have the kind of young players it takes to make a trade like this.”

Kudos to you, Doug. This was an incredible move.

I’ll see how much I cover here, because there’s A LOT to get through. First, I might as well talk about what the Brewers gave up.

SI’s Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite baseball journalists, called the players the Brewers gave up “interesting.” I think that’s a great way to describe them. Interesting, not great or sure things. No prospect in this group was elite. If I had to rank them in order of my disappointment in losing them, it would look like this:

1. Lorenzo Cain

Cain is number one for me because he is the most developed and therefore most ready to contribute right away. If there’s one thing I’ve concluded since I became a baseball nut, it’s that prospects are not worth nearly as much as proven big leaguers. Cain has proven himself in the minors, and he’s ready to get his shot as a starting center fielder. Losing Cain hurts the Brewers more in 2011 than any of the other three players they lost.

2. Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi probably had the highest ceiling of any Brewers pitching prospect. He has a good chance to be their best drafted starting pitcher since Yovani Gallardo. Yet, he is only 20 years old and hasn’t touched AA yet. There is still plenty left to do before he can become a good big league starter. The saying “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” comes to mind here, as it will take at least two seasons in all likelihood until he really contributes at the major league level.

3. Alcides Escobar

How his star has fallen in a year or two. If you visited this blog at all last season, you know I was not very high on Escobar. He was never a good hitter at any level of the minors, which is why I didn’t understand the rush to get him to the majors. All we heard about was his incredible defense, yet I was mostly underwhelmed by his glove last season–especially when compared to the steady glove of J.J. Hardy. It certainly wasn’t enough to make up for his terrible offense and poor plate discipline.

He’s still young, and he could certainly develop into a capable offensive shortstop. Still, the Brewers aren’t likely to get worse production in 2011 from the shortstop position than last season, no matter who they throw out there. It’s why I don’t mind losing him.

4. Jeremy Jeffress

I loved following Jeffress in the minors. Love his high k rates and his high velocity. I also felt he was the most ready to contribute to the Brewers next season out of all their prospects. Yet, most scouting reports I read on him have him eventually ending up in the bullpen because of the lack of a third effective pitch. No matter how much I like a pitcher, his value is severely lessened if he ends up in the bullpen.

I don’t mean to make it seem like I don’t think the Brewers paid very much. They gave up a lot. All four players are highly regarded, and three of them are likely to be big leaguers next season. Thing is, while all four of these players could end up as good major leaguers, none project to have anywhere near the value that Greinke has right now. In fact, none are even close to the level of prospect that Greinke was as a minor leaguer. This is very much a quantity for quality deal, and a general rule of thumb is that quality trumps quantity.

Going beyond a simple rule of thumb, this deal makes a ton of sense for the Brewers. Their hand for 2011 was forced by the lack of a decent trade market for Prince Fielder. Once they realized they weren’t likely to get a good return for Prince, they went into win-now mode. This was definitely reflected in the Marcum deal. You can argue that the farm system is gutted, that they may have given up good players, and that their defense is a mess. One thing you can’t argue, though, is that they suddenly have a great rotation to go along with a good offense.

I could look closely at the numbers to explain why Greinke is a huge addition, but I’m not really sure that’s necessary. It’s widely accepted that Greinke is on the very short list of the best starting pitchers in baseball, is only 27, and is under contract for two more years (with a possible extension looming?). Plus, I’m not really going to say much here that you can’t find in 20 other articles/posts that analyze Greinke’s impact. Instead, I’ll just add some of my own observations.

  • Greinke reminds me so much of my favorite Brewer ever, one Ben Sheets, that it’s crazy. They are/were awesome right handed starting pitchers with great stuff and command, but more specifically, they’re both funny people who are extremely quotable. Not to mention, I did a comparison of them a while back. Finally, Greinke’s most similar player through age 26 according to Baseball Reference is… You guessed it: Ben Sheets.
  • What is Ken Macha thinking right now? He must feel like he’s taken a swift kick to the groin. He was fired largely because the Brewers’ pitching was terrible, but that wasn’t his fault. Now as soon as he gets canned, this happens. On the other hand, congrats Ron Roenicke on turning the Brewers around! You know people will be saying it next year; you just know it.
  • The Brewers really gave up five pieces in this deal: the four players to get Greinke, and then having to take back Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt is gawdawful. Not only is his defense bad, but he has absolutely miserable plate discipline. He has a career on-base percentage of .288 and a career walk rate of… Brace yourself… 3.4 percent! The Brewers cannot allow Betancourt to be their main shortstop. I’d rather sign someone like Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera. I’d even prefer Craig Counsell over Betancourt, except Counsell can’t handle a full season at this point. They need to find another option at shortstop somewhow.
  • What about center field now that Cain is gone? It sure looks like a Dickerson/Gomez platoon. One idea: check in with Boston on Mike Cameron. They just signed Crawford and now have an outfield of Ellsbury, Crawford and Bay. Might as well check on shortstop Marco Scutaro, too.
  • Even though they’re downgrading at center field and shortstop, their production next season really can’t be much worse than what it was last season. Cain is a better option than Gomez for sure, but remember that Cain wasn’t up until the season had pretty much gotten away from the Brewers. In other words, most of their center field production came from Gomez. And even though Betancourt is a bad player, he and Escobar had an identical WAR of 0.6 last season.
  • Fun fact: the leader in WAR over the last two years is Zack Greinke with 14.7. The player with the worst WAR over the last two years? That’d be Yuniesky Betancourt with -1.2. In other words, you could say the Brewers acquired the best player and the worst player in baseball.
  • I’m still very concerned about the Brewers’ defense, in fact, probably even more than I was before this trade. Their infield defense in particular looks very bad. While its impact may be lessoned with more strikeout pitchers than last season, it’s still ugly. Doug’s signature move of the off-season is complete, but I’d still like to see him explore options to improve the club defensively. Maybe try dangling either McGehee or Gamel along with Betancourt (or heck, just DFA Betancourt) to see about a shortstop/bullpen/center field upgrade.
  • Even though it hurts to give up Jefress and Odorizzi, the Brewers suddenly don’t have as big of an immediate need for pitching. Their top four in their rotation is set for the next two seasons. Plus, they still have some young, cheap impact arms in the form of Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and John Axford.
  • The Brewers’ farm system may now be the worst in baseball, but they’ll have some chances to restock it soon. They have two first rounders next season due to the Dylan Covey fiasco, and they’ll have some comp picks when Fielder walks in a year (hopefully they won’t have additional comp picks from Rickie Weeks).

All things considered, this was a great day to be a Brewer fan. They went from a mediocre team to probably the division favorite in the span of a couple short weeks. The only downside to this is that we still have to wait more than three months for Opening Day.