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.