A closer look at the 2008 offense

Posted by Steve

We’re in a bit of a lull before the hot stove season really gets underway.  Things are slow right now, and will probably stay that way until the Winter Meetings kick off in a couple weeks.  That’s fine by me, as this is a good time to reflect a bit on the 2008 season.

I’ll start with the offense, because in my eyes it was the most frustrating and disappointing part of 2008.  Therefore, it is what needs to improve the most in 2009–especially when you consider the pitching overall could be substantially worse (assuming they lose Sabathia and/or Sheets).  During the season I alluded more than once to the fact that no Brewer was exceeding his individual expectations for the season, and most failed to even meet them.  This information certainly supports that claim.

This is just a simple process of looking at PECOTA projections for 2008 and comparing them to actual player performance.  For each player, all I’m looking at is batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage.  PECOTA projects many more stats than those three, but this post will probably end up being long enough.

Ryan Braun

PECOTA: .300/.367/.575

Actual Line: .285/.335/.553

Braun proved that it’s possible to have both a good and disappointing year at the same time.  He was one of the best hitters in the NL, but that was expected.  He didn’t really hit full stride until mid-season, and down the stretch his production was slowed by his ribcage injury.  I’ll give him something of a pass for that, but I still am hoping for more from Braun next season.  In the first half his plate discipline was horrible, which led to my (shredded) Anti-All Star post.  At times I would get extremely frustrated watching someone with so much talent flail away at terrible pitches.  His discipline improved over the course of the season (20 walks in 401 first-half plate appearances; 22 walks in just 262 post-All Star Break plate appearances), which gives me hope that next year could be a monster season for Braun.

Craig Counsell

PECOTA: .237/.323/.323

Actual Line: .226/.355/.302

Counsell remained a good bench player in ’08, but the problem was he was used as a starter far too often.  Counsell is great at working a count, and his walk rate is astounding considering his complete lack of power.  He was still very sure-handed defensively, but his arms strength and range have diminished to the point where he’s no longer a strong defensive shortstop, and his weak arm was apparent at third sometimes as well.

The Brewers wisely declined Counsell’s pricey option for 2009, but I’d be open to bringing him back at a lower price for another year.  This is, of course, assuming he’d actually be used as a reserve instead of a regular platoon player.

Joe Dillon

PECOTA: .286/.376/.501

Actual Line: .213/.337/.293

Dillon only had 75 at bats in 2008, which seems like an under-utilization.  As you can see, PECOTA really, really had high hopes for him in a semi-regular role–they actually projected over 400 plate appearances.  The Brewers released Dillon this off-season, and considering he’s right-handed and limited defensively, it’s not a huge loss.  That doesn’t mean I think they used his bat enough last season, though.

Prince Fielder

PECOTA: .287/.384/.560

Actual Line: .276/.372/.507

Like every Brewer slugger not named Hardy, Prince Fielder also failed to meet his projection.  His on-base percentage was strong and he had a nice eye at the plate, but the power numbers just weren’t where they should be.  My master plan for this off-season involved trading Prince for pitching and handing first base to Matt LaPorta, but that went out the window when the Crew landed CC Sabathia.  It’s no longer an obvious move without LaPorta, but I would still entertain offers for Fielder.  If Doug Melvin is able to get good value for him, now may be the time to do it.  He should still have high value with multiple seasons before free agency, particularly to an American League team.

The Brewers should be able to acquire a decent first baseman without paying a whole lot (Nick Swisher, Nick Johnson, Sean Casey, even Lyle Overbay).  Otherwise I could get on board with finding a right-handed hitter to platoon at first with Brad Nelson for a season.  Mat Gamel would also be a long-shot option, but he hasn’t played first base yet.

I should make it clear that I would only trade Fielder if the Brewers were getting serious major league talent back in return, as in a 1-2 type starting pitcher or a 2/3 type pitcher and good position player.

Gabe Gross

PECOTA: .267/.366/.467

Actual Line: .238/.336/.414

Gross certainly wasn’t a world-beater, and he also fell short of his projection last season, but this trade still puzzles me.  Gross still had a .789 OPS against right-handed pitchers last season.  Think about how valuable he’d have been against righties in September when Corey Hart looked like a blind 10-year-old at the plate.  I don’t even want to think about how furious I’d be over this if the Brewers had missed the playoffs.

Tony Gwynn Jr.

PECOTA: .251/.321/.344

Actual Line: .190/.271/.214

Thankfully Tony Gwynn only had 42 at-bats, so his line doesn’t mean anything.  His .659 OPS as a 25 year-old in AAA does though.  He fell short of his major league PECOTA projection while in AAA.  Ouch.

Bill Hall

PECOTA: .267/.335/.482

Actual Line: .225/.293/.396

Bill Hall is just about dead to me.  A .293 OBP for your opening day third baseman is truly abysmal.  Add in the fact that he’s still owed over $15 million the next two years, and you’ve found yourself a near-unmovable contract.  Hall may still have value as a shortstop to some team, or the Brewers might be able to trade him in a bad-contract-for-bad-contract trade, but either one is a far cry from the .899 OPS season in 2006.  Because of this, I pretty much expect Hall to be an overpaid supersub next season.  He still crushed lefties, so at least he has some use.

J.J. Hardy

PECOTA: .273/.329/.441

Actual Line: .283/.343/.478

Hardy was really the only Brewer regular to outperform his projection, and he did so by a pretty wide margin.  Taking defense into account, he may have been the Brewers’ best position player last season.  He had the fourth-highest OPS among shortstops and would have very good value should the Brewers decide to make him available this season (something I would probably not do yet, but that’s for another post).

Corey Hart

PECOTA: .288/.358/.528

Actual Line: .268/.300/.459

Hart’s total collapse in the second half was the most puzzling and troubling part of the season in 2008.  Hart seemed poised to become a star, and PECOTA seemed to think so as well.  It includes something called Breakout and Collapse rates.  A quick and simple definition: A breakout rate is the percent chance that a hitter’s production will improve by at least 20 percent relative to his average performance over the last three seasons.  A collapse rate is the percent chance that a hitter’s production will decline by at least 25 percent from his last three seasons.

Where am I going with this?  Basically, that PECOTA didn’t see Hart’s horrible year coming at all.  Out of every Brewer hitter on the 2008 opening day roster, Hart had the highest breakout rate (32%) and lowest collapse rate (8%) of any position player on the team.

It poses a huge dilemma.  At the start of the season, Hart looked to be a building block fixed in the Brewers’ long-term plans, but he’s now a huge question mark.  If he refuses to take walks again next year he might find himself on his way out of Milwaukee.

Rickie Weeks

PECOTA: .265/.368/.454

Actual Line: .234/.342/.398

Sigh.  This one really made me look dumb this year.  I was telling anyone who would listen that Rickie Weeks was primed for a breakout season, and instead he pretty much laid an egg.  He still had a fantastic eye at the plate, and he did have some bad luck (.280 BABIP), but he just didn’t make enough contact.  It blows my mind to see someone jack a 450 foot bomb a handful of times throughout the season with such a good eye, yet he just couldn’t put it all together.

Yet, here I am, still campaigning for Rickie Weeks as the Brewers’ second baseman in 2009.  I’m expecting at least an .800 OPS from Weeks next year, and I’m hoping for even higher.  Bill James projects a .799 OPS, so hopefully I’m not too far off.

I was at the Cardinals game in which Weeks hit the walk-off double against Jason Isringhausen, and I was also at the Friday game of the last series against the Cubs for his huge homer late in the game.  Safe to say I went nuts; sorry to say for everyone sick of my Weeks man crush that attending those games didn’t help the matter.

Mike Cameron

PECOTA: .269/.356/.493

Actual Line: .243/.331/.477

Cameron was another victim of an awful September, and also fell short of his projection by more than a narrow margin.  Still, he was among the top six or seven center fielders in baseball and was a tremendous bargain in 2008 for six million dollars.  I realize this post is only looking at offense, but Cameron’s defense helped the Brewers immensely.  It’s the main reason why picking up his ten million dollar option was a no brainer, and he’ll still have good trade value if the Brewers decide he’s expendable.  The Yankees have shown interest already this off-season.  They already acquired Nick Swisher, but I’d see if they would be open to a deal centered around Swisher and Cameron.

Jason Kendall

PECOTA: .255/.324/.321

Actual Line: .246/.327/.324

PECOTA was pretty much dead on with their projection of Kendall.  It’s important to realize you should significantly lower your standards when looking at catchers, because most of them are bad hitters.  Kendall isn’t a good offensive catcher, but he least he isn’t terrible.  His .327 OBP was 14th out of 29 catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.  Factor in his unexpected great contribution on defense, and Kendall was a very good player last season.  Now if they just rest him a bit more in 2009…

Gabe Kapler

PECOTA: No projection, came out of retirement

Actual Line: .301/.340/.498

Nobody could have projected this line from Kapler, who finished with the highest OPS in his career in 2008.  That type of thing isn’t supposed to happen at age 33, which should prompt you to think something fishy is up.  Sure enough, a glance at Kapler’s batting average on balls in play reveals the secret.  His BABIP was .335, which is well above league average and also the highest of Kapler’s career.  His career BABIP is .301, which is more in line with what should be expected in 2009.  This tells us that Kapler is very unlikely to duplicate his 2008 OPS of .838 again next season.

Mike Rivera

PECOTA: .244/.293/.424

Actual Line: .306/.377/.435

Rivera’s huge overperformance wasn’t as crazy as it seems because he was only given 69 plate appearances.  Considering the success he had in very limited playing time, it’s quite strange he didn’t play a little more.  Kendall had a great year defensively, but he was the Brewers’ worst hitter in the lineup.  PECOTA projected Rivera for 191 plate appearances, a much more typical amount for a backup catcher.  Regardless, Rivera had some big hits for the Brewers, particularly his bases-clearing double against Washington that capped off a day in which he reached five times in six plate appearances.

———————————

So there you have it.  Considering the hopes many had for the Brewers’ offense, the numbers aren’t pretty.  While it was a bit depressing going through and seeing all of these, just imagine how brutal this would have been had the Brewers not reached the playoffs?

I am pretty encouraged by what I’m hearing so far this off-season.  It seems like every Ken Macha quote mentions improving team OBP, which is music to my ears.  Doug Melvin has discussed getting more left-handed hitters in the lineup.  It also seems the team may move Rickie Weeks down in the lineup, which is something I really think could help him.  I don’t expect the pitching to be as good as it was last season, but I do expect the offense to be better.  It will have to be if the Brewers want to contend again next season.

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