Category Archives: Bullpen

Raining on a non-existent parade

Posted by Steve

I was very busy during the first couple weeks of the season. Then I was on vacation. Then things were going SO well that I figured I wouldn’t do anything to jinx it. But today, a topic has come up that has caught my attention, and I couldn’t stay away any longer.

The Brewers are playing incredibly well and far above expectations. The starting rotation has been excellent, but the more surprising area has been the bullpen.

Rightfully so, the pen has started to garner some national attention. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has a post today that does a great job of illustrating just how incredibly good the bullpen has been. You can choose your own favorite amazing way of illustrating how good the Brewers’ bullpen has been after reading that article. I think my favorite is that it has essentially been twice as good as the fourth-best bullpen in the majors.

Cameron does draw a conclusion, however, that I sort of take issue with. His conclusion, that the Brewers and their bullpen will inevitably regress, is not wrong; I happen to agree with it. My problem is that his conclusion isn’t really even newsworthy.

Cameron is great, so I don’t want to single him out, but he’s arguing something that really has no opposition. So are other national writers/talking heads. In the few minutes at a time that I can stomach non-Brian Kenny portions of MLB Network, announcers routinely make claims like, “Well they’re not going to run away with the division,” or “They aren’t going to keep up this pace!”

The Brewers’ current pace for the entire season would land them at 118 wins. They aren’t going to do that, you say? No kidding. But who has argued that they will? I’ve yet to see that argument anywhere. They’re raining on a parade that isn’t even taking place.

Cameron, to his credit, does mention that the Brewers don’t need to be a great team from this point on with the cushion they’ve built for themselves. That’s true, although we have been in this situation fairly recently with the Brewers, and it didn’t end well at all.

Still, they’ve put themselves in great position, and I don’t understand everyone’s need to point out that they probably won’t win 100+ games. I wouldn’t bet on them being an elite team at this point, but they’re now in a situation in which they could be buyers at the deadline, making themselves even stronger (Kendry Morales after draft day, anyone?).

Can we simply be excited about a great start without having to damper expectations that aren’t even there?

The nine-game playoff series, and messing with Tyler Thornburg

Posted by Steve

I’ve made it quite clear that I want the Brewers to be sellers. I don’t feel their ever-dwindling playoff chances are worth holding on to several assets that will expire after this season.

It seems like the Brewers are inching closer to this thinking, but not quite yet. Seems it’s put up or shut up time, according to Doug Melvin.

The Brewers next nine games are against the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds–the three teams ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central. There’s no real problem in waiting nine more days, except I am very worried that after something like a 5-4 stretch, Melvin/Attanasio will conclude the Brewers are “still in this thing” and hold on to Greinke and everyone else.

The only way I could be talked out of selling is if the Brewers went 8-1 or 9-0. Those are the only two records that would put them above .500, and I just can’t support buying/not selling when the team isn’t even above .500.

It seems the Brewers have decided to go all in in these nine games, however. They’ve sent down Taylor Green to make room for shortstop Jeff Bianchi (fifth player this year on the roster whose primary position is shortstop!), and they designated Tim Dillard for assignment to bring Tyler Thornburg back to the big leagues.

I don’t have a problem sending Green down, only because they weren’t using him anyway. He still hasn’t gotten a real chance in the majors in Milwaukee, and it’s no sure thing he ever will. That bugs me, but given the roster makeup, they have no other real option.

The Thornburg thing is trickier. Obviously, they want to make the bullpen as good as they can. I can’t blame them for that. Jose Veras has been brutal and shouldn’t be in high-leverage situations at all, really. I had no real problem with Tim Dillard, although his numbers weren’t great, they weren’t terrible. I can’t say I understand keeping Livan Hernandez over him, but again, this is the last guy in the bullpen. It’s not a huge deal.

The much more important factor in this is Thornburg. Are the Brewers really doing the right thing by taking him out of a starting rotation and putting him in the bullpen? It smacks of desperation, and it bugs me that they are seemingly putting the team’s very small playoff chances ahead of the development of their top prospect.

Not to say moving a young pitcher to the bullpen for a time hasn’t worked before. Chris Sale is taking that route right now with great success. Still, the White Sox are monitoring his innings very closely because of his huge jump in innings. Last year he threw only 71 innings out of the Sox bullpen. He’s already at 101, and they’re in the middle of a playoff race. That’s a pretty dangerous jump. All sorts of studies show that pitchers 25 and under who increase their innings load by 30 or more from the previous season are at risk.

Thornburg is at 85.1 innings this year when you add up his starts in AA, AAA and his one MLB start. If he stayed in the rotation, that puts him around 160 innings–a near perfect jump from his 136 innings last year. Finally, 160 puts him in position to throw a full season next year–hopefully, in Milwaukee.

So instead of keeping their top prospect on a perfect course, they’re potentially screwing with his workload to chase a pipe dream playoff chance.

If they put him in the rotation soon, whether to replace Wolf, Estrada, or Greinke after a trade, I’m fine with this, but I’m not sure that happens. As of right now, I’m not loving what I’m seeing from the Brewers’ front office.

 

Opening Weekend Observations

Posted by Steve

At the risk of over-analyzing something that I saw in the first three games of a 162-game season, here are some thoughts I have after watching the Brewers and Cardinals.

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The Cardinals still have a great offense, most likely the best in the National League if they stay healthy. Of course, that’s a big if with the age and health history of many of their core players, but still.

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That fact makes Zack Greinke’s performance on Saturday all the more impressive. I’m not going to say that Greinke is now going to have a monster season because he had a good start in his first game, but then again, I thought he’d have a monster season before that game anyway. From the bad luck to reports of his new cut fastball to Ryan Braun saying he looks like a man on a mission, it just seems like he’s poised to make a run at the Cy Young. Obviously, you have to hope the Brewers can get him signed as quickly as possible.

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Ryan Braun is still good. This is in no way surprising, and normally, it isn’t even important that he looks good after three games. But in his strange case, the better he does early, the less of a story his suspension saga becomes.

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Corey Hart was obviously the story for the Brewers. Hard to believe up until 10 days ago or so they didn’t even know if he’d be ready to play in the first few series. He’s locked in. He reminds me of Geoff Jenkins in that he tends to get white hot for stretches and carry the offense. That was actually a conversation I had this weekend: Would you take Corey Hart or Geoff Jenkins? Based on my gut feeling, I thought that they probably had very similar numbers. Sure enough, their career numbers are almost identical, and sure enough, Jenkins is on Hart’s to 10 list of similar batters through age 29 at Baseball Reference.

Anyway, it would be swell if he kept up this hitting for a while.

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If Hart is the positive story from this weekend, the bullpen has to be the negative one. I still ask why Marco Estrada was considered a lock for the bullpen entering spring, but other than that, I am not reading into anything at all. I will wait to see how they look against a non-Cardinals offense before I get worried.

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George Kottaras is handsome and hits deep home runs. He also needs to hit higher than 8th when he starts.

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Now for my favorite part of the weekend: the Brewers’ defense. This is one where I’m not trying to get too excited after three games, but it’s clear that Alex Gonzalez is a big upgrade over Yun-E. He needs to be hitting eighth, though. Also, I was encouraged by what I saw from Mat Gamel, although a lot of that is just comparing it to how bad Prince Fielder is.

The forgotten pitchers

Posted by Steve

Despite the return of Francisco Rodriguez, I have my doubts that the Brewers’ bullpen will be as good as it was last year. Takashi Saito will certainly be missed, and so will LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, the Brewers are entering Spring Training with only four short relievers who had big league success last season (Axford, K-Rod, Loe, Veras).

This of course means they will need a lot of contribution from guys who didn’t play a role last year. Notice I didn’t necessarily say new pitchers, though. That’s because it’s quite likely that most of that production will be filled by old faces–the likes of Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and Brandon Kintzler. Parra, Rogers, and Kintzler are all coming off surgeries that cost them much or all of 2011, and Braddock is attempting to bounce back from some sleep/personal issues. The (very) early report on all of them is pretty good.

The fact that Rogers, a guy plagued with one injury after another over his career, is even throwing and feeling okay is good news. The former high first round pick is out of options, which means he’ll need to make the team this season. It seems the surgery he had last season for carpal tunnel syndrome was somewhat responsible for his sometimes high walk total, if you believe what Rogers says. If that’s the case, I feel pretty good about Rogers’ chances of becoming a good reliever. He still has great stuff, even after all this time, and I hope the Brewers give him a real shot in the pen. He will miss the first eight games of the season, however, as he finishes a 25-game suspension for a banned supplement. Seems the Brewers can’t get away from that stuff.

Another former starter who will need to be turned reliever is Manny Parra. Parra missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, but it sounds like he’s 100% this Spring. Parra and Rogers are very similar: missed last year due to surgery, former starter, and out of options. For this reason, I consider Parra all but a lock to make the team. If you remember, his last couple years he was being yanked around between starting and relieving, which yielded mixed results. Perhaps finally entering the year with a clear role will be beneficial for him.

Then there’s Zach Braddock, who not very long ago was my favorite Brewers prospect. Braddock had electric stuff, especially for a lefty, coming up through the system and into his rookie year. Then came 2011, which was a mess. Braddock battled off-field issues (which are fruitless to speculate on, in my opinion) that pretty much threw out his entire season. Reading his quotes yesterday, he sounds to me like he’s feeling great and throwing the ball well too. The Brewers basically went all of last season without a lefty reliever. Now it seems like they could have two power lefties out of the bullpen if things go well with Braddock and Parra.

Lastly, there’s Brandon Kintzler. He threw 14 strong innings before falling to injury himself last season. In 2010, he had a phenomenal year between AA and AAA. I expect him to play a role in the bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make the big league team immediately.

Obviously, the Brewers can’t bank on all four of these pitchers have successful seasons, but if they got strong performances from even two of them, it would go a long way toward matching the production of last year’s bullpen, a huge strength of the team. You figure the locks for the pen are Axford, K-Rod, Veras, Loe, and Marco Estrada (although I’m not personally convinced Estrada should be a lock). That leaves two spots for the four I’ve mentioned, with Rogers being eliminated because of his suspension to start the season. Due to the fact that Parra has no options, I expect him to make the team. That means Kintzler, Braddock, or others such as Frankie de la Cruz, Mike McClendon or Tim Dillard will likely battle it out for one spot. Due to the nature of the long season/inevitable injuries, though, I expect to see most, if not all of these players in Milwaukee at some point in the season.