Category Archives: Milwaukee Brewers 2014

The Brewers should trade Jimmy Nelson

Posted by Steve

If you chose to be critical of the Brewers’ approach over the last 8 years or so, I don’t know if I could disagree with you. They have made big win-now trades that have propelled them to two playoff appearances, but they have also traded away a lot of future talent. It is not the recipe for sustained success in the mold of the Rays, A’s or Cardinals.

However, the Brewers’ bed is made. They don’t have a continual stream of prospects reaching the big leagues like they did 8 years ago. They had an unexpected hot streak at the beginning of the year and somewhat unexpectedly found themselves in contention. For the reasons I’ll lay out, the Brewers need to make a big trade to reach the playoffs this year.

The Brewers have been in first place most of this season, but that does not mean they are the best team in the division. Their pythagorean record indicates the Brewers have been lucky to have their current record of 59-49. Worse yet is their upcoming schedule in August. The Brewers will play the Cardinals, the Giants twice and the Dodgers twice over the next month–a brutal stretch. Without a boost to the team, I fully expect the Brewers to fall out of the division lead.

PECOTA has 7 teams in the NL with a greater than 50% chance of reaching the playoffs. Obvious, two of those teams won’t make it, and I think it’s pretty likely the Brewers will miss, given their remaining schedule and regression to their true talent level.

Dodgers: 96.1%
Nationals: 85.8 %

Those two teams should be off the Brewers’ radar, as they will likely have playoff spots locked up and won’t be competing with them for a spot. Here’s where it gets more interesting.

Cardinals: 60.8%
Giants: 60.5%
Brewers: 59.3%
Braves: 58.7%
Pirates: 53.5%

Three of those five teams will make the playoffs, barring some other team getting very hot and coming out of nowhere. The Brewers, Pirates, and Cardinals have the most to gain, as one of them will win a division and not have to play a stupid play-in game.

Basically, the Brewers are in a position in which an addition can really impact their chances. It would mean more for the Brewers to go add a big piece than the Dodgers, because the Dodgers are just about a lock for the postseason. Conversely, it could be a back breaker for the Brewers if the Pirates or Cardinals add a pitcher like Jon Lester while the Brewers stand pat. The NL Central race is that close.

Another reason it makes sense for the Brewers to make a big move is because of the “window” that Doug Melvin likes to talk about. The Brewers have all of their starting rotation under contract for next season, but after that, Lohse and Gallardo are free agents. Not that this makes it impossible for the Brewers to be good after 2015, but it’s seems somewhat likely that the Brewers will be due for a drop-off. So, why not go for broke in 2014 and 2015?

Finally, another factor to consider is that prospects very rarely reach their ceilings. In trades for CC Sabathia, Shaun Marcum, and Zack Greinke, the Brewers traded many prospects. At this point, only two look like true difference makers (Michael Brantley and Jake Odorizzi). Think of all the other highly rated guys who didn’t amount to more than average-ish players: Matt LaPorta, Jeremy Jeffress, Alcides Escobar, Brett Lawrie (Still young, but nothing impressive so far). Plus, they got three young players back for Greinke the following season.

So what is my more specific point? It’s that the Brewers should trade Jimmy Nelson.

Nelson is the highest rated prospect they’ve had in years, so why would they trade him? Looking deeper, it makes sense. The Brewers do have some intriguing prospects, potential difference-makers in their system, but none are close the the big leagues. You ideally want a wave of young guys reaching the big leagues around the same time. Nelson is not part of any wave.

I also think it’s entirely possible that Nelson’s trade value is higher now than it will ever be at any point in his career. He’s number 38 on Baseball America’s mid-season prospect list. He’s dominated in AAA all year, and he’s now broken into the big leagues, where he hasn’t yet proved he’ll fail. He projects to be a good pitcher, but not an ace-type–more like a 2-3. And he likely won’t be a good MLB pitcher this year yet.

If the Brewers could use him to acquire a substantial upgrade, either in the form of a better starting pitcher or a left-handed slugger (preferably first base), then it greatly improves the Brewers’ chances of winning the division. Someone like Jon Lester would be a great fit, or even John Lackey. Cole Hamels would be great, but he’d likely require more than the Brewers have (under contract for multiple years) and so would David Price (Rays back in the race), but neither are very likely. Other players may or may not be available (Justin Morneau would look pretty good in a Brewers uniform), but I won’t speculate much when I don’t know who.

The reason I mention Lackey and Lester is they are both clearly on the block, and they both could likely be had for Nelson. Lackey because he isn’t quite as good of a pitcher (still having a nice season), and Lester because he’s a free agent after that season. Both of those factors make their price lower than Price or Hamels, and it’s possible that if Nelson is included, the Brewers could expand the deal and add another piece from Boston (perhaps Mike Carp or Koji Uehara).

All I know is that a number of factors support that the Brewers should be aggressive in their goal of winning this season. Nelson is the biggest trade piece they have, and it makes sense to use him.

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?

Brb, rioting in the streets in celebration

Scroll to #96

Matt Garza: Not a half-measure

In my last post, I called for no more half-measures for the Brewers: no more spending of resources on players who aren’t clear upgrades. That particular post discussed potential first base targets like James Loney or Ike Davis. The Brewers have thankfully taken a smarter route that costs them nothing in players/draft picks and virtually nothing in money. Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco will likely produce similarly to what Loney or Davis would have for a fraction of the cost. Sure, it isn’t as good as acquiring a great first baseman, but it’s a lot better than spending on a mediocre one.

The half-measures theory applies to all positions, including pitchers. The reason I like the Garza signing more than almost all of the Brewers’ major acquisitions in the last three years (probably second only to the Greinke-Segura deal) is largely because he provides an actual clear upgrade to what they had.

Current Brewers pitchers, 2011-2013

Yovani Gallardo: 592 innings, 3.48 xFIP, 7.3 WAR

Kyle Lohse: 598 innings, 4.01 xFIP, 7.5 WAR

Marco Estrada: 298.2 innings, 3.57 xFIP, 5.1 WAR

Matt Garza: 457 innings, 3.46 xFIP, 8.3 WAR

Over the last three years, Garza has been more valuable than any of the Brewers’ starting pitchers. He has a higher WAR than Gallardo and Lohse despite pitching far fewer innings. This is due to his strong strikeout rate and solid walk rate (His K rate is higher than Yo’s and his walk rate is lower).

This is a strong upgrade. Lohse-Garza-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta is a much stronger rotation than Lohse-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta-Thornburg/Hellweg/Nelson/whomever. This also adds decent depth to the rotation, as the guys now slotted 6-8 in the rotation could be okay as spot starters.

Of course, that whole “far fewer innings” part played a big role in this signing. Without the injury concerns, Garza would have earned a much larger contract than $50 million guaranteed. Garza hasn’t had any crazy long DL stints, but he’s missed a handful of starts over the last few years due to elbow and shoulder concerns. It led to some pretty creative contract language, and it certainly makes this contract a risk.

It is a risk worth taking, however. Garza’s upside is a pitcher that’s as good or better as any the Brewers currently have. Look at those numbers again. If those four pitchers come close to their performance of the last three seasons, the Brewers will actually have a pretty strong pitching staff. Yes, Gallardo declined last year, and yes, Lohse is getting up there in age, but even if they come close to those numbers, the rotation should be average-ish. Average-ish much, much better than last year’s rotation.

With an offense that could also return to average-ishness with Ryan Braun’s return, we actually could be looking at a Brewers team that is… average! With an extra playoff slot, that means some luck could give the Brewers a puncher’s chance at a Wildcard spot. It’s something, at least.

The second reason I like this signing, and what really sets it apart from the Kyle Lohse signing last year, is that the Brewers did not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Garza. Lohse is a solid pitcher, but I hated the signing, because the Brewers were not in a position where it made sense for them to forfeit a pick. They were not one starter away from being a contender, so they essentially forfeited a draft pick to take fourth place in the division.

The Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The recent Baseball Prospectus Top 101 confirms that, as there are zero (0) Brewers prospects to be found on the list. They cannot afford to forfeit any high draft picks. This signing doesn’t hurt any rebuilding of a farm system, which is what has me feeling okay about it.