Tag Archives: Rickie Weeks

Weeks, Gomez, Segura, and yes, more Yuni

Posted by Steve

I have continued to be a putz and not post nearly as much as I’d have liked to in recent weeks. I still insist that will change shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a post that more or less addresses the hot-button issues of the young 2013 season.

There are really four players that are standing out so far this season, for one reason or another: Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Rickie Weeks, and, of course, Yunieski Betancourt.

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Let’s start with Segura. This has been the best-case scenario for the Brewers. He has exceeded even the loftiest expectations to this point. He is tied for Troy Tulowitzki for the best WAR among shortstops. Defensively, he’s been excellent, to the point that you have to wonder what led some scouts to predict he’d eventually need to move to second base. He clearly won’t finish the season with the .914 OPS that he currently sports, especially considering his .368 BABIP, but even finishing at, say, .814 would make him an incredibly valuable player. Even more encouraging is the power he’s shown. He’s slugging .530 with 4 home runs already, showing that he has 10-15 HR potential, if not even higher.

To me, Segura has been the best/most encouraging part of the season to this point. I’ve been critical of some of Melvin’s moves as of late, but the Greinke trade, both to acquire him and then to deal him, seems to have been handled flawlessly. The Angels have to already be kicking themselves (They hit the trifecta: gave up Segura+, didn’t make the playoffs, then didn’t retain Greinke in the off-season), and the potential is there for this to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. And, not to seem like I’m patting myself on the back, but the Brewers seem to have made the correct move in calling him up for the end of last season–a move I endorsed last year.

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Now, to the most surprising player of the season–not just with the Brewers but likely in all of baseball: Carlos Gomez. I loved the Gomez signing (not going to link to two of my old posts in one post, but I did) and I took him in fantasy baseball, yet I’ve still obviously been thrilled and surprised by his production this year. Much like Segura, this is beyond any reasonable expectation. Gomez has been, according to WAR, easily the best player in all of baseball this year.

Gomez made a huge leap forward last season, and so far, has made an even bigger leap this year–obviously, as he’s been an MVP-type player through the first five weeks. Like with Segura, we need to be guarded with our excitement: he has an insane .420 BABIP, compared with a .309 number for his career. Such a huge gap could lead anyone to ask whether this is entirely a fluke.

I contend that it’s not–not entirely, at least. Gomez hasn’t been walking very much still, but he never has. What he has been, though, is more selective at the plate. Unlike Yuni, who has shown no improvement in plate discipline, Gomez has. He’s seeing 3.97 pitches per plate appearance this year, compared to 3.39 last year. It’s obviously a small sample still, but it’s still very encouraging. It’s easy to see why Gomez was once considered a great prospect. He had five tool potential, and he’s shown that so far. At age 27, it’s possible he is just hitting his stride. That’s a very, very exciting thought.

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And now, to the player everyone seems to want to talk about: Rickie Weeks. He makes this list for the exact opposite reason Gomez and Segura do: He’s been very bad. Weeks is hitting .193/.308/.298. People are calling for his head and for Scooter Gennett to get a chance. Fortunately, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

Weeks has been a streaky hitter over his career, and it’s easy to forget how good he can be when he’s going this poorly. But it is interesting to note that this is not the worst slump of his career–not by a long shot, in fact. Last year, for a 58-game stretch, he hit .150/.296/.261.

The cries were there for Weeks to be benched last season at this point as well. If the Brewers had listened, they’d have missed out on some very solid production the rest of the year.

His next 84 games, he hit .280/.358/.495, an elite line for a second baseman.

Look, it isn’t ideal that Weeks goes through stretches like this. But the Brewers gave him a significant contract; they cannot just bench him. That would mean simply eating his contract, and that won’t happen. And they would be foolish to trade him now, when his value is quite low. They have no choice but to let him find his way out of this slump. That will happen eventually. He’s been having bad luck, too–his BABIP is well below his career average.

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Let’s compare this to Yuniesky Betancourt, who simply won’t let me stop talking about him. Yuni improbably leads the Brewers in home runs, and people won’t stop proclaiming what a savior he’s been. Yes, he’s been on a power surge. But aside from a few more home runs than expected, he hasn’t been any different than over his entire career.

I mentioned this recently, but I still keep hearing about how Yuni has “changed his approach” and is “more selective.” Today alone I heard it twice: Tom Haudricourt said on the radio that Yuni is being more patient, and Brian Anderson mentioned the same thing tonight on the TV broadcast.

The numbers simply do not back that up. Betancourt is seeing the fewest pitches per plate appearance in all of baseball! He’s on a hot streak in which he’s just making a bit more contact. The same is basically said in today’s Fangraph’s article on Yuni, titled, Yuniesky Betancourt Hasn’t Changed a Bit.

Here’s my biggest beef with the Yuni love, coupled with the Weeks hate. Now, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I love Weeks and can’t stand Betancourt. But it goes beyond that. The two main narratives seem to be 1) RICKIE WEEKS SUCKS!@!#! and 2) YUNI B IS AWESOME!!#@!!

How about this for a true fact: Rickie Weeks has a higher on-base percentage than Yuniesky Betancourt!

We have Yuni, who’s as hot as he’s ever been, and we have Weeks, who’s close to as cold he’s ever been, and Yuni is still so awful at getting on base that he’s still below Weeks’ OBP. That just shows the inherent difference in value between the two. Weeks has great plate discipline that allows him to get on base even during slumps. Betancourt has awful discipline that prevents him from getting on base even when he’s hot.

I will give Betancourt this: he’s much more difficult to hate when he isn’t playing shortstop. At least half of my hate for him as a player was for his awful, no-range defense at shortstop. He’s much, much more palatable–even valuable–as a utility infielder who never plays shortstop.

So, that just about brings to an end my long-winded post about the Brewers. My goal from now on: Post more often so as to prevent rambling posts in the future.

“It’s like the super hot girl at the bar who is flirting with you but you don’t know if she actually is or if you even want her to for fear of what might happen.”

What is happening.

The Brewers keep winning.

The Cardinals just got swept by the Padres (first time since 1995).

Rickie Weeks is a MAN.

And suddenly, the Brewers are three games out of a playoff spot.

The point of this post is not to dissect their chances, which are all of a sudden worth dissecting. That will come. No, the purpose of this post is to point out how ABSURD this all is.

Two days ago–TWO DAYS–Baseball Prospectus had the Brewers’ playoff odds at 0.0%. In reality, it was probably something like 0.04% and they rounded down, but whatever. Two days ago. Today it is 1.8, and tomorrow it should jump up a good amount.

I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to interject a bit of my personal life into this post. I just started a demanding new job. I’m moving this weekend. In other words, I have a lot going on. I had come to peace with the fact that the Brewers were not making the playoffs this season, and I had even managed to look on the bright side: Not having to watch every inning of every game the rest of the year will actually be beneficial to my mental and physical well being.

So much for that. My last post was all about how I’m not getting sucked in, but that was when they were still over six games out. They’ve cut that in half in just a few days. I don’t particularly want to be invested in this, but at just three games out, I’m afraid I have no choice.

Special thanks to reader/commenter Shawn, the genius behind this incredibly accurate title/analogy for how I currently feel about the Brewers.

 

Attempting to analyze Ricke Weeks’ struggles

Posted by Steve

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and the Brewers are comfortably ahead by a score of 7-0, so I decided to work on a Rickie Weeks post while I watch the rest of the game.

(At this point, Rickie Weeks broke an 0-21 slump with a massive home run. I’m claiming at least 40% responsibility for that one.)

It’s been a struggle for Weeks. He’s suffered from some crappy luck at times during his career, and his BABIP this year is alarmingly low (.208 before tonight’s game), but a number that low certainly can’t all be placed on luck.

I’ll use Fangraphs for some eye-opening numbers that show Weeks just isn’t making as much solid contact this year as he has throughout his career.

His line drive percentage for his career is 17.0%. This year, it’s 11.3%. That’s a huge difference; the lowest he’s ever finished a season is 15.4% in 2010. At least as alarming is his infield fly ball (pop-up) percentage. For his career, it’s 13.9%. This year, it’s 22.6!

So, he’s hitting far fewer line drives, and he’s popping up a ton. He’s also striking out at the highest clip in his career, although his walk rate is also higher than normal.

Some strange results from Weeks. Let’s try and see what’s going on.

The eye test, at least from me, tells me that Weeks is guessing more at the plate. He’s kept his great batter’s eye on balls out of the strike zone, but it seems like he’s struggling on balls inside the strike zone.

The numbers seem to back up that assessment. For his career, Weeks has swung at 21.5% of balls outside of the strike zone. This year, it’s 23.2%–nothing too crazy there. Where it gets interesting is the amount of balls he’s swinging at inside the strike zone. For his career, it’s 61.0%, but this season, Weeks is only swinging at 55.7% of balls within the strike zone. That’s pretty extreme; only 13 qualified players in baseball are swinging at strikes at a lower rate.

Numbers also show he’s struggling on the pitch on which he’s always feasted: the fastball. Fangraphs/BIS data show Weeks has not gained any offensive value off the fastball this season. To me, this is the best indicator that he’s either guessing or not seeing the ball well.

Someone on Brewerfan made a comparison to Bill Hall tonight, which I just can’t get on board with. Hall had less than two years of success when he got his contract, while Weeks has always been a highly rated prospect who’s had several years of success. There’s no reason to think Weeks is headed toward the total collapse that Hall suffered.

Still, there is some reason for a little concern. Unlike times in the past, luck isn’t the main culprit for this slump. It seems he either isn’t seeing the ball well, or that he just isn’t reacting as quickly as he used to. The home run he blasted tonight was sure encouraging, so maybe he’ll pick it up here soon, but the Brewers likely aren’t going anywhere this year if he doesn’t.

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.

Fine-tuning

Posted by Steve

The Brewers are (obviously) in outstanding position as August winds down. They have a massive 8.5-game lead and an 98.2% chance at the playoffs according to BP. It is now time to start thinking about how to best fine-tune the team for the playoffs.

Lefty Reliever?

The absence of a left-handed reliever out of the bullpen seemed glaring a month ago. Now, with this huge lead, it is much less so. I wouldn’t turn one down, but it would have to be a good one–not some guy who just happens to throw left-handed. I say this because come playoff time, Chris Narveson will be out of the rotation and in the bullpen.

Don’t be surprised if we hear Daniel Ray Herrera’s name. Yes, the same guy who had a brief and disastrous stint in Milwaukee earlier this season. He’d been terrific since going back to Nashville. I’ve been told he’s added a knuckleball, and apparently it’s working for him.

Betancourt

Remember when Yuni was hot? Yeah, that’s long over with. He’s 2 for his last 28, which probably started around the time the pronunciation of his name changed. And literally as I type this, Yuni doesn’t even come close to a weak grounder up the middle.

As soon as Weeks comes back, Hairston needs to move to shortstop. It’s that simple. Will the Brewers do this? I’d be surprised.

Taylor Green… For the love of God, Taylor Green

He’s hitting .337 in Nashville. .337! With a .997 OPS and better defense than Casey McGehee. Even if they don’t start him, right now the Brewers bench infielders are Craig Counsell and Josh Wilson. Both are contributing next to nothing. At least Counsell brings defense, but Wilson brings nothing.

You have to assume Green will at least be a September call up, but that’s not enough. To be eligible for a playoff roster, you have to be on the 25-man roster before September.

I’d like to see Green and Mat Gamel called up for Tim Dillard and Josh Wilson sometime before September. Like the Betancourt thing, though, I’m not expecting this to happen. It’s a shame, because Green may be the final piece to this season’s puzzle.

Still…

Even if these moves that should happen don’t happen, the Brewers are still looking great for an October run. Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez will both be back, which will improve their defense, offense, and depth.

… And continue to roll

Posted by Steve

The Brewers seemingly cannot lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trade deadline flop

Posted by Steve

I’ve taken a little heat for being so negative considering the Brewers are winning, but it’s only because of the situation. They made some bold moves to win this season, which means they should absolutely be doing all that they can to make the team as good as possible. They have not–hence my criticism.

It’s great that they’ve won six in a row. Even though they were against terrible teams, you still can’t expect two sweeps in a row. So, yes, it’s great. Problem is, they aren’t going to be playing the Cubs or Astros tomorrow anymore.

I’ve been over and over the deficiencies of third base and shortstop all year, so there’s no need to harp on that anymore except to say this team had huge holes to fill there. And Doug Melvin’s answer was… Jerry Hairston Jr. And nobody else.

You can’t count Felipe Lopez, because he’s not an upgrade. He’s an emergency fill-in for Rickie Weeks, so he very likely wouldn’t have even been acquired had Weeks not gone down. So they only thing they’ve added to the team from a week ago has ben… Jerry Hairston Jr.

Don’t get me wrong. Hairston is a nice upgrade to their bench. He can play several positions at a level ranging from somewhat above to somewhat below average, which means he’s an upgrade from most of the defenders on this team. But what he is not is a full-time shortstop, something the Brewers need desperately.

The entire Yuniesky Betancourt debacle, which includes the decisions to A. Not cut him immediately after the Greinke trade in December, B. Enter the season with him as the starter with no other real option, and C. Still do nothing about it after he’s killed the team for four months, is the worst decision of the Doug Melvin Era in Milwaukee.

It’s even worse when you compare it to what the Cardinals, their chief competition for the division, pulled off. Trading Colby Rasmus was a dumb move for their franchise, but it did make them a better team right now. Edwin Jackson is a big improvement to what they previously had in their rotation. Then, the salt in the wound came today when they acquired Rafael Furcal, a name associated with the Brewers for a few weeks.

Looking at shortstop WAR, Betancourt is the worst in the Majors at -0.4. Second-worst on that list? Ryan Theriot of the Cardinals, at 0.1. The Cardinals realized they had a bad shortstop and upgraded the position. The Brewers did not. Right now, that’s the main difference.

A week ago, I’d have picked the Brewers to win the division. Now, I’m not so sure. Amazingly, they’re a weaker team after the trade deadline than they were a week before it. It’s likely to be close the rest of the way, and the Cards still look pretty shaky in their bullpen, but the fact is the Brewers didn’t do as much as they could have to improve. It’s very frustrating.

At this point, if the Brewers miss the playoffs, Melvin has nowhere to look but himself. He mortgaged the future (a move I agreed with), and he’s the one who left Betancourt and McGehee alone to suck all season. I doubt he survives if those decisions end up costing them a playoff spot.

Infield Emergency

Posted by Steve

I was at the game Wednesday night, so I saw Rickie Weeks’ injury live. I couldn’t even get excited about the game or the win after seeing that. Then I went to a friend’s, where MLB Network was on in the background. They showed the injury. Then they showed it again. Then they showed in from a different, zoomed-in angle. Then, they took to their in-studio diamond where Larry Bowa was apparently showing the right way to step on a base or something. In other words, it was inescapable, and it kept reminding me how doomed the Brewers might be.

Unless something significant happens, that injury may spell the end of the Brewers’ season. The need for infield depth just became an emergency.

The Brewers quickly added Felipe Lopez today in a cash trade, who has the potential to be a decent fill-in. They still need more, though–much more. Eric Farris sure won’t be the answer. More on this after my rant.

<rant>

What on God’s Green Earth does Taylor Green have to do to get called up? At the time of Farris’ call-up, Green had an .957 OPS. Farris’ was .665. What in tarnation?!

There are a few explanations for this, and they’re all dumb. The first is a nightmare scenario: that Green is on the PTBNL list for the K-Rod trade. If that’s the case, I go from liking the deal to hating it. Bullpen help was a ways down the list of the Brewers’ biggest needs, so if they gave up someone who could have helped more than K-Rod this year (and the next six!), I’ll be furious.

Another scenario is that the Brewers dont’ see Green as a second baseman, which Ron Roenicke said today. To that I say: NOW they’re worried about infield defense? They already have the worst infield defense in baseball. Weeks is not a great defender, so even though Green’s natural position is third, it’s worth it to get his bat in the lineup. The offense is a serious concern moving forward without Weeks.

The final scenario is that Green is not on the 40-man roster, so they called up Farris, who was. Again, who cares? Green will be on the 40-man soon enough anyway. He’s their best option at third in the entire organization for the last few months, yet they’re worried about finding a spot on the 40-man. Unreal.

By the way, in case you were wondering how Green responded to once again being snubbed out of a call-up, he had two homers, two walks, a single and a double in last night’s game. It is beyond absurd that he isn’t in Milwaukee at this point.

</rant>

Anywho. Lopez is likely the best option of the ugly, four-headed monster of Craig Counsell/Josh Wilson/Felipe Lopez/Eric Farris, so I’d just as soon give him the majority of starts at second base. But he won’t be nearly enough. They absolutely need one more middle infielder, and really could use two.

They still need a full-time shortstop, and I’m still holding out hope on someone like Clint Barmes, Brendan Ryan, Rafael Furcal, etc. Then, after that, they need a utility infielder who can back up at least 2B/3B, and preferably a SS/2B/3B backup. Barmes and Carroll is ideal, though that will be tough to do and is unlikely.

All I know is the Brewers’ infield needs to look drastically different on Monday than it does right now if I’m going to feel good about their chances to make the playoffs. If I had my druthers (+1), Betancourt, Farris, and one of Wilson/Counsell would be gone by next week.

Doug Melvin will do something, but I’m expecting to be underwhelmed. He’s in a very tough position, but everything he’s said and done to this point in his acceptance of Betancourt and McGehee tells me that he doesn’t see the situation as nearly as dire as it truly is.

Cornucopia of Vents

Posted by Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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Want to hear an infuriating stat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: The worst full time player in Brewers history!

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

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

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

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.