Tag Archives: Shaun Marcum

So, now what?

Posted by Steve

For the last few weeks, all the focus was on Zack Greinke: first his health, then on what return he’d bring back in an impending trade. Now that the Greinke trade is complete, it feels a little confusing. What are we supposed to focus on now?

One thing’s for sure; this is still the same awful bullpen. Yesterday’s game showed that, and the bullpen isn’t going to change. Not that that matters much though; wins and losses are irrelevant now.

That’s one thing that’s kind of nice. I no longer feel like I need to hope the Brewers lose games in order to ensure they trade Greinke. I still really don’t care whether they win, but at least I don’t have to be annoyed when they do. I really didn’t enjoy that.

So anyway, the question is, what am I looking for the rest of the season?

I don’t expect the Brewers to contend next year without Zack Greinke. The starting rotation is going to look much different next year, and they have many young pitchers who will be getting their feet wet. Thing is, I want that to happen. I don’t want Doug Melvin to feel like he needs to go and sign two more Randy Wolfs because he needs to patch together another okay team. Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Tayjor Jungmann… The Brewers need to turn several of those players into major league pitchers, particularly starters, if they are going to have success within the next 4-5 years. I don’t want to see the development stunted by aging #4 starters.

For that reason, I would love to see Aramis Ramirez and/or Corey Hart traded before the deadline. If Melvin targeted players at the AA level or so, the way he did with Greinke, there shouldn’t be too long of a turnaround. In fact, I bet they’d have a solid team by as early as 2014.

Trading Hart and Ramirez makes a lot of sense. Both players have good value right now. Ramirez in particular should be traded because of the money that he’s owed. He has performed so well that right now, you could get a team to take most (or even all?) of his contract and send you a legitimate prospect or two. That opportunity may not be there by next season.

Same situation with Hart. He is under contract through 2013. If the Brewers trade Hart before the start of next season, the team who acquires him will have the right to a compensation pick. If they wait until next season to do it, it will be the same situation as Greinke–no pick for that team. A lack of comp picks won’t dampen the return on elite players like Greinke, but it could on a merely solid player like Hart.

Of course, I’d be truly shocked if either of these players were dealt this year. Doug Melvin’s MO isn’t to trade players when their value is highest; it’s to hold on to them, use the value for the Brewers, and then take a lesser return/let them walk in free agency. In this case, I strongly feel holding on to them is the wrong move. Doesn’t matter what I think, though.

So then, what do I want to see the rest of the year? Let’s make a list, shall we?

Tyler Thornburg’s return to normalcy

The Brewers sent Thornburg back to the minors today, capping the end to a short yet stupid experiment. His schedule has been completely erratic over the last month or so, and it capped off with a “tired arm” after pitching multiple innings in consecutive outings. What a foolish way to handle your top pitching prospect. I want to see Thornburg back starting games, and I don’t even want to see him in Milwaukee unless he is in the rotation. No more coming out of the bullpen for Thornburg the rest of the year.

Trade/DFA Wolf, K-Rod

I expect the Brewers to DFA Francisco Rodriguez soon. It’s been a train wreck in slow motion over the last couple weeks for Franky. He went from burying his trade value six feet under to clearly not even warranting a spot on the team. He’s a sunk cost; the Brewers have too many young pitchers they should take a look at to keep wasting innings on a broken K-Rod.

Wolf should be let go, too. There’s a chance someone will take him off the Brewers’ hands for nothing, but if not, there is no need to keep giving him starts. Same thing with wanting to see younger pitchers.

In a similar vein, if Shaun Marcum is able to come back this year, he’d be a good candidate for an August waiver trade. Something to think about.

Give the young pitchers a long look–in the starting rotation

All those pitchers I mentioned earlier should get some consideration for rotation spots in Milwaukee. Mark Rogers had an encouraging outing yesterday. He is out of minor league options, which means the Brewers have to have him on the MLB team next year or lose him. He should stay in the rotation the rest of the year.

Wily Peralta has turned his season around. He should take Randy Wolf’s spot in the rotation as soon as possible.

Thornburg, Hellweg, and Pena should all be given consideration based on how they pitch going forward as well.

Within a few weeks, call up Jean Segura and hand him the keys to shortstop

I understand giving Segura some time yet in AA, but I don’t think he should need more than a couple weeks. Unless he falls flat on his face in Huntsville, I want to give him time in MLB in a low pressure situation in which he knows he’ll play every day. From a marketing standpoint, the team should want to show off the prize of the Zack Greinke trade as well. It’s a win-win.

Think about it. Not only do these moves make baseball sense, but it’s a much more watchable team. How much more enjoyable would the team be with a rotation of Gallardo, Fiers, Rogers, Peralta, Estrada/Thornburg/other young pitcher and Segura at shortstop every day the rest of the way? Right now, when Wolf or Estrada pitch, I don’t even feel obligated to watch. I’d want to watch this “new” team every day the rest of the season, though.

One final remark

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the departure of George Kottaras. First, let me say it was a questionable move. Travis Ishikawa serves no purpose on this team and does nothing that Kottaras can’t. They should have gotten rid of Ishikawa and left Kottaras as the backup first baseman/third catcher/top pinch hitter off the bench. But, they didn’t, and it sounds like Kottaras finds himself in a larger role on a playoff contender, so good for him. Plus, no matter what happens to him in his baseball career, he’ll still be devilishly handsome.

 

 

My mind is tellin’ me no…

Posted by Steve

I remember in 2005, 2006, before the Brewers were expected to contend, how badly I wanted the team to win. “Maybe Carlos Lee and Dave Bush will be enough to get them over the top?” Because they weren’t totally awful like teams I grew up with, I sort of got attached. I enjoyed watching a team that won more than 40% of its games, so when July rolled around, I wasn’t excited for the trading deadline. Fans liked the team, but rationality eventually won out. They weren’t going anywhere that year, so selling made perfect sense–even though I liked watching. That’s how most teams are that aren’t quite good enough, really. At some point, you have to admit that they just aren’t going anywhere and cut your losses.

I feel the exact opposite about this Brewers’ team.

Swept by the Royals. Out-managed by Ned Yost. There have been about six “This has got to be rock bottom” games so far. We just saw three in a row.

Emotionally, I want to blow this up. I’ve been reading the Brewerfan “Shopping Greinke” thread for weeks now. ‘He’s not going to sign during the season anymore… Wonder what they’d get for him?’ ‘Marcum, Wolf, Morgan, KROD, even Aoki, Axford and Hart have trade value. What if they just blew it all up? They could get a haul.’

It’s sad when that’s where I’m going emotionally. Not saying, “Well, they’re only 5 1/2 out. Baseball Prospectus is still (somehow) giving them an 18% chance at making the playoffs,” but instead saying, “I wonder what they could get if they just blew up the whole damn thing?”

And then, the rational part of me says it’s still too early to do that. If they have another two-week stretch like this in them, then fine. But really, it’s still only mid-June. Only the worst of the worst are selling at this point, if any.

Still, the worst case scenario isn’t blowing up the entire team. It’s continuing to lose and then not selling. I’m pretty terrified that the Brewers will be, oh, 9 games out of the playoffs at the deadline, and Melvin/Attanasio will say “We’re still in this. Look at the Cardinals and Rays last year!” Then Greinke leaves, Marcum leaves/signs a too-expensive deal, and the Brewers toil around 70-75 wins next year as well.

It’s not time to sell yet, but it’s getting closer. The Brewers have two or three weeks to seriously turn it around. If they don’t, I will actually be rooting for the Cardinals and Reds in hope that the Brewers will do the smart thing and start selling.

 

Priority Number 1: Zack Greinke

Posted by Steve

By this time, you are able to tell for the most part which teams are entering the season as contenders and which ones are in rebuilding mode. The place you don’t want to be, generally, is somewhere in between (Hello Milwaukee Bucks ever since Ray Allen was traded. Wrong sport, but still).

The Brewers, clearly, are a contender this year, especially if Ryan Braun manages to get a full season.

(Allow me a brief sidebar to quickly discuss the Braun saga. I didn’t make this its own post, because there really isn’t anything new to say. My main thought is what I’m sure everyone else has right now: What the hell is taking so long? First we hear that there’s some 25-day time frame in which the arbitrator, Shyam Das (Is that a Batman villain?), has to deliver a verdict. Now yesterday TH reported that he isn’t “technically” bound by that time frame. Again, why the hell is this taking so long? This is a failed test that occurred five months ago! What on Earth could be the reason for this delay?)

Next year may not be so clear. 60% of their starting rotation is set to hit free agency. A full rebuild isn’t likely, with Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and now Aramis Ramirez (ugh) signed for multiple seasons. But if they lose Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum from their rotation, it’s going to be awfully difficult to field a good team.

The Brewers need to make extending Greinke their first priority. Of course, even if they do–and I get the impression they pretty much have–that doesn’t mean a deal gets done. Playing for a winning team seems important to Greinke; it’s why he wanted out of Kansas City, and it could be why he hasn’t signed an extension yet. We’ve already had the obligatory “Zack likes it here” story. It seems like he’d be open to staying in Milwaukee, but who knows.

My guess is he’s going to see how the first half of the season plays out. If the Brewers struggle badly enough that they’re selling off K-Rod, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum, or anyone else, I’m sure you can kiss an extension goodbye. If things are going well, though, and they’re over .500 and contending for the division by All-Star Break/trade deadline, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an extension around this time.

A good comparison could be the extension given to Jared Weaver midway through last season. Weaver was set to hit free agency after this year just like Greinke (and Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, for what it’s worth). Instead, he signed a 5 year/$85 million deal, which was widely considered good value for the Angels. I’d be thrilled if the Brewers signed Greinke to that deal. Since he’s now closer to free agency than Weaver was, I doubt they could get him that cheap, but I’d gladly take a 5 year/$90 million deal. And since winning seems to be so important, maybe Greinke only would want to sign a two or three year extension so he can leave if the team doesn’t stay competitive. That type of contract is doubtful, but who knows.

For selfish reasons, I’d love to see him stay. Obviously, I enjoy watching him pitch, but I also love his quotes. He doesn’t use stupid cliches, and he’s usually brutally honest. Take this quote from an article about how the Brewers would move on after Prince Fielder’s departure:

“Last year there were 5-7 offenses in the National League that were better than ours. Our pitching staff is what kind of carried us. It was the bigger part of our year.”

Translation: It’s not like our offense was outstanding last year with Prince. We won 96 games mostly because our pitching was very good.

Ron and his bullpen

Posted by Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff Cornucopia

Posted by Steve

I had hoped to post an extensive series preview, but I just haven’t had the time. I figure a few random thoughts are better than nothing.

————

The Brewers are considering starting Zack Greinke for Game 2. This would be the second time in a row he’d start on three days’ rest. I can’t say I’m crazy about that idea. It would be different if they hadn’t thrown him for six innings on Wednesday. Carlos Gomez’s three-run homer came in the bottom of the fourth. I wanted them to take out Greinke as soon as that happened; a 5-1 lead on the Pirates should have been plenty at that point. Instead, they kept him in for two more innings. If they had taken him out after the fourth, I’d feel much better about throwing him on Sunday. As it is, I’d just hold Greinke back until Game 3. It’s frustrating to wait until the third game to start your best pitcher, but it’s better than starting him when he’s less that 100% rested. Gallardo-Marcum-Greinke-Wolf is just fine for the first four games.

————

Yovani Gallardo vs. Ian Kennedy is a great matchup. Kennedy is getting some play for Cy Young, which is mainly because of his win-loss record and not because he’s been one of the three or four best pitchers in the league. Still, he’s been one of the ten or 12 best in the NL, much like Gallardo.

————

Overall, these teams are quite similar in their makeup.

They are both above-average offensive teams with no clear edge to one over the other. They are within ten runs scored of each other on the entire season, and within six points of wOBA.

Judging by defensive metrics and staff ERAs compared to xFIPs, Arizona has the stronger team defense (the eye test also tells us it shouldn’t be surprising that someone is better defensively than the Brewers).

The Brewers have a slight edge in the starting rotation, although once again, both teams are above average. Both teams’ 1 and 2 starters are just about a wash, but the DBacks don’t have a third starter on the level of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen is where the Brewers pull away a bit. Brewers relievers had an ERA of 3.32 and an xFIP of 3.43. Diamondbacks relievers have an ERA of 3.71 and an xFIP of 3.92. That’s a fairly large difference. The DBacks have a good closer who is comparable to John Axford (J.J. Putz), but the Brewers have better depth after the closer. The bullpen has been such an asset all year, and I expect them to continue that against Arizona.

————

The Brewers are a very slightly better team than Arizona overall, and they have homefield advantage, so they should win the series. Of course, anything can happen in the playoffs, especially in five-game series, so I’d only favor the Brewers at maybe a 55-60% chance to win. Seven of ESPN’s eight “experts” pick the Brewers to win, and Sportsnation says 73% of American expects the Brewers to win, for whatever any of that is worth. Again, the Brewers are a little better, so that makes sense, but the better team often loses a playoff series.

————

As far as from my personal perspective, I think it’s similar to most Brewer fans. In 2008 I was just overjoyed to have made the playoffs. The Brewers were expected to lose to Philly, so I wasn’t overly crushed when they did. This year, though, the Brewers have a much better team than in ’08. They’re one of the two best teams in the NL, so if they don’t win their first series, I will be extremely disappointed.

***DISCLAIMER***
I’ll say one thing about the playoffs. I HATE hearing things like, “You have to play small ball in the playoffs” or “Teams manufacture runs in the playoffs.” It’s baloney. Why would you play any differently than the way that won you games throughout the course of the season? The Brewers have a dynamic offense. I’m going to be very upset if I see an excessive amount of bunting, hit-and-running, or steal attempts from players other than Ryan Braun or Carlos Gomez. Don’t give up outs; play for the big inning. You have an offense that certainly can get you one. I will say this: From what I’ve seen of Arizona this year, we’re going to love facing a team managed by Kirk Gibson. He sure seems to love the small ball. He’s made a few questionable bunting calls already just this week. Here’s hoping that works in the Brewers favor.

————

I’m going to the game on Saturday. Let’s just say I have better hopes for this one than for the last playoff game I attended. It was started by Jeff Suppan and capped off by a mammoth Pat Burrell homer. With the way Yo has been pitching, I like their chances to grab Game 1 and give themselves a big advantage in the series.

B!B!K.T.U.T.H!

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.

I love this rotation

Posted by Steve

The Brewers are on a serious roll here, and that seven-game losing streak is a distant memory. They’re the hottest team in the league, and they’re right back in the division race (if they were ever even out of it in early May… Which they weren’t).

They’re playing well in spite of a struggling offense that really only has three or four good hitters in it right now. That’s because the pitching–particularly the starting pitching–has been outstanding.

The Brewers are third in starting pitchers’ xFIP in all of baseball, and second in the NL. xFIP corrects FIP based on a normalized home run rate (further explanation here). Basically, it says what their ERA should be at this point with normal luck, defense, and home run rates… and the Brewers’ is 3.39.

When I’m evaluating a pitcher, the first thing I look at is k/bb ratio. Anything 3 or above is excellent. The Brewers’ rotation is 2.83–again, good for third in baseball and second in the NL. That’s a good number for a starter–about what you’d hope for from an average number two starter. For an entire rotation to combine for that number is very impressive.

The Phillies’ rotation, by the way, is as crazy good as advertised. Their k/bb ratio is 4.59! The second closest is Seattle at 2.99. It’s insanity, and they’re on a historic pace.

Regardless, the Brewers are in great shape with this starting rotation. It’s the best they’ve had in years, even better than 2008 to this point. 2008′s rotation had a 2.31 k/bb ratio and a 4.14 xFIP. That rotation was really CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, a little bit of Yovani Gallardo, and then a bunch of average guys. To this point, each starter in this rotation has been above average according to xFIP except Randy Wolf, who’s still been average.

Interestingly, Gallardo has been one of their worst starters to this point. He’s having the same issues with walks that he’s always had, but his strikeout numbers are also down. It’s to the point now where I’m almost disappointed when I realize Yo’s pitching. He should still be above average by the end of the year, but it drives me crazy watching him nibble and constantly fall behind hitters.

Gallardo should be forced to sit and watch footage of Shaun Marcum. Man alive, do I love watching Marcum pitch. I was at the game Saturday, and he had the Rockies, one of the best offenses in the league, completely off balance. After throwing 64 pitches the first four innings, he threw 40 over the last four. He works in the strike zone and has incredible command, and is putting up outstanding numbers with a fastball that’s averaging 86.4 mph. Yo has much better stuff than Marcum, but at this point, Marcum is the better pitcher overall.

A few other points about the rotation:

  • Chris Narveson has been a revelation. He’s a number four starter who’s pitched like a 2/3 so far. Dan had a good post a while back on how he thinks Narveson is for real, and I tend to agree. I feel good about games he’s pitching.
  • Anyone who’s worried about Zack Greinke’s 6.43 ERA at this point need not be. All his ERA shows is that small samples can yield some screwy results. He has an amazing 29 ks to just 2 walks so far. He’s giving up an inordinate amount of hits, largely due to bad luck and poor defense. His BABIP is .370, compared to a career .308 number. His home run/fly ball rate is 21.1%, compared to a 8.7% career number. His strand rate is just 49%, compared to 72.2% for his career. His ERA is 6.43, but his xFIP is 1.47! I could keep going… But you get the idea. Additionally, it’s pretty clear Greinke has still been building up his endurance into his first four starts. He’s frequently dominated the first 3 or 4 innings before unraveling a bit. He’ll be in mid-season form soon enough, and I’m expecting great things.
  • Not only have the starting five done a great job, but the Brewers may have the best sixth starter in baseball. Marco Estrada did a great job filling in for Greinke, and he’s continued to pitch well out of the bullpen. Surely injury will strike in some form, but the Brewers appear to have a solid fill-in in Estrada.

PECOTA Pitching

Posted by Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zack Greinke

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

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

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

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

Yep. Of course it’s Ben Sheets.

Yovani Gallardo

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

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

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

Shawn Marcum

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

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

Randy Wolf

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

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

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

Chris Narveson

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

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

John Axford

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

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

Zach Braddock

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

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

Takashi Saito

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

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

LaTroy Hawkins

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

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

Kameron Loe

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

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

Manny Parra

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

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

Sean Green

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

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

Sergio Mitre

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

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

Other notables

Mark Rogers

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

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

Amaury Rivas

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

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

Mark DiFelice

No projection

Prepare for the return. It’s coming.

Final Thoughts

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

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

Off to a good start

Posted by Steve

I was very pleasantly surprised to hear about the Brett Lawrie-Shaun Marcum deal the other night, but only because his name hadn’t come up in any rumors–not because I didn’t expect something like this from the Brewers. This was the type of trade the Brewers needed to make. They needed a front end starter to slot behind Yovani Gallardo, and that’s what they got in Marcum.

Marcum is definitely my type of pitcher: one who very much limits his walks while still getting enough strikeouts. Some people at brewerfan were unhappy that his fastball doesn’t light up the radar gun, but that doesn’t matter when a pitcher has the command and secondary pitches of Marcum. He’s somewhat of a junkballer anyway, as he only threw his fastball 45% of the time last season. His best pitch is a nasty changeup with a lot of movement; he threw that pitch 26% of the time last year.

The bottom line is he gets results. It shouldn’t matter if a guy is throwing underhand as long as he’s getting outs, and Marcum definitely gets outs. He was a solid pitcher before getting injured, and he bounced back from missing 2009 to Tommy John surgery with his best season yet: 195 innings (pretty crazy coming off Tommy John), 3.64 ERA, 165 strikeouts, and 43 walks for a sparkling 3.84 k/bb ratio.

It’s very exciting to consider that he put up those numbers in the AL East, so it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see a slight boost in his move to the NL. It’s quite possible that he could be just as good as Yo next season. In fact, Baseball Reference’s #1 most similar player to Marcum is none other than Gallardo.

Of course, it does hurt to lose Brett Lawrie, but it’s not often a team is willing to trade its best starting pitcher. There are a few reasons why it doesn’t really kill the Brewers to lose Lawrie in this trade.

1. He’s a great bat for second base, but it’s still not clear whether he’d be able to stick at second. This is what Doug Melvin had to say: “Brett is a very talented player. He wasn’t really penciled in at second. He can play second but he’s athletic enough that we had the ability to move him to other positions, too. He can move to fit your ball club fairly quickly.” Reading through the GMSpeak, that probably means, “We’re not sure he’d be able to handle second base, and we already have plenty of options at the corners.” Lawrie should be an All-Star type player if he sticks at second, but if he has to move, he won’t be an elite player. I’ve even seen scouting reports that say he’ll need to be moved to a corner outfield spot, and if that’s the case, this deal is well worth it for the Brewers. In the past, the Brewers have cornered the market on good hitters who don’t really have a defensive position. They are probably willing to let someone else deal with those growing pains.

2. He wasn’t going to be in the majors for a year at the very least. The Brewers aren’t losing anything off their major league roster to get Marcum.

3. The Brewers are fully intent on signing Rickie Weeks long-term. Now that Lawrie is gone, getting this done is crucial. With second base shored up by Weeks, Lawrie becomes more expendable.

4. Marcum sounds open to an extension. He’s got two years left before free agency, but he was in talks with Toronto on an extension. He seems welcome to the trade, and the Brewers have also mentioned an extension. If the season starts well for him, I would not be at all surprised to see the Brewers give him a four-year deal or so.

The best part about this is since it was just a one-for-one deal, the Brewers still have ammo to trade for another pitcher if they find a favorable deal. As the team stands right now, they probably jump to a low 80s-win team. It’s encouraging to read that Doug Melvin considers this simply a first step. If they can find another pitcher at least as good as Randy Wolf, they will have as good of a shot as any team in the wide open NL Central.

This probably puts a Greinke deal to rest, but I don’t blame Doug Melvin for jumping on this. I think the Royals are poised to get a king’s ransom for Greinke, and I’m sure Melvin didn’t want to put all his eggs in that basket only to come up empty.

This is the type of creative move I wanted desperately to see from Melvin. No more free agent signings of pitchers past their prime as the main off-season acquisition. I’m also encouraged to hear the report that the Brewers would consider dealing Lorenzo Cain. Cain combined with someone like Mark Rogers, Jeremy Jeffress or even number one pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi could bring back someone comparable to Marcum. If I’m Doug Melvin, I’m looking for another trade like that over signing any other free agent. If he can pull off a comparable move, the Brewers may become favorites to win the division.