State of the Brewers: Longing for 2005

Posted by Steve

It is only appropriate that I am about to experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime (even worse than the Subway Series), since this was my least enjoyable baseball season in at least ten years. And by “experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime,” I mean I’ll turn it on for the last few outs if the Cardinals are facing elimination. Maybe. That didn’t work so well the last time.

This year, and really, the current state of the Brewers, is depressing not so much because of the below .500 record. We’ve lived through much, much, much worse Brewers years as far as baseball performance is concerned. It’s that it was so predictable, and yet the Brewers’ brass was unable to foresee it, or at least to admit it.

The problem with the Brewers is exemplified by one move: signing Kyle Lohse. The fact that they saw themselves as one number 2/3 starting pitcher away from the playoffs is very concerning. They clearly were not, and that is not just hindsight talking. I saw it beforehand, but so did many others.

But not the Brewers. They kept looking short-term, and once they ran out of minor league pieces to trade, they ran out of options.

I was able to stomach the 90-100 loss seasons of the early 2000s, because there was at least hope on the horizon. Many terrible seasons had amassed an impressive array of draft picks. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo would all join the big league club within a few years’ time. There was finally excitement, a light at the end of a long, miserable tunnel.

Now? The Brewers are about to enter their fourth consecutive year without one prospect on the same level as any of those mid-2000s players. Sure, they’ve added some much-needed quantity over the last two seasons, but they are sorely lacking in quality prospects.

Ready for something truly depressing? Read this next paragraph, and then tell me if there is one team in the NL Central you wouldn’t trade places with.

A couple months ago, Baseball America released its mid-season top 50 prospects. Included on that list were four Cardinals, three Pirates, three Cubs, two Reds, and, of course, zero Brewers. Even if we go back to the start of the season, when BA ranked their top 100 prospects, Wily Peralta was the only Brewer to crack the list.

What this should tell you is that the Cardinals and Pirates, already good teams, will just continue to reload (or improve, from the standpoint of the Pirates). They aren’t going anywhere. The Reds are on their way out, but even they have a better system than Milwaukee. The Cubs are going to be bad for the next year or two yet, but they look the way the Brewers did in the mid-2000s; they have a lot of exciting players in their system.

So… What can be done? Well, what they should not do is hold on to their veterans, sign a free agent starting pitcher or two, and try to patch together another .500ish season. Basically, don’t do what they’ve tried the past few years.

It’s time for Mark Attanasio to read the writing on the wall: it’s time to blow this up and rebuild. They’ve proven the patchwork strategy isn’t working, so it’s time to change philosophies.

That also means something larger: it’s time for Doug Melvin to go.

Melvin has done some very good things in Milwaukee. He oversaw the reconstruction of a truly terrible franchise, fielded two playoff teams and won one division title. He was two games from his first World Series. Sure, you could argue he could have done more with that core they had, but he also could have done much worse.

It’s been a few years since Melvin was able to work some magic. Most importantly, he still hasn’t been able to adequately replace Jack Zduriencik. The Brewers haven’t had one impact draft pick since Brett Lawrie, and that has been what’s killed them more than anything.

Doug Melvin departing isn’t the most important key to turning this around–all that truly matters is that the Brewers stop their short-term thinking. The best way to do that, however, is to bring in a younger GM who is willing to oversee a rebuilding process.

There are players to build around. Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy, and Wily Peralta is a decent starting point. Many fans would hate this move, but Carlos Gomez’s value will never be higher. He’s still young (and affordable) enough to bring back a huge haul, yet, he’s old enough that by the time the team around him is good again, he’ll be leaving or out of his prime. The adage of trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late (i.e. Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, and hopefully not Kyle Lohse) rings true with Gomez.

Other players should go as well–many should have already, of course, but I don’t need to harp on that any further. They have no choice but to hold on to Braun at this point, so that will at least be in a holding pattern for a while. But even that could be short-term.

They key for a mid-market team like the Brewers is to find young talent and bring up waves of it. The Brewers haven’t had a wave since Gallardo ended their big one about four years ago. They have some players who could be impact prospects, but they’re still in the lower levels of the minors. What they need to do is collect players who are within two years or so of the big leagues and bring them up together, à la Fielder, Weeks, Hart and Hardy.

The concern, from Attanasio’s perspective, is clearly attendance. They’ve drawn extraordinarily well the last five years, and it would be understandable to be hesitant to jeopardize that. I’d argue that Brewer fans are patient; look how bad the teams were for so long, yet fans came back. They’ll do the same in support of an exciting, young team. It beats the alternative of gradually losing attendance year-to-year with no future in sight.

There are a large number of fans who feel jaded after the Ryan Braun saga. I don’t worry about it, personally, but many do. It could actually be a great time to explain to the fans that the strategies of the past few years haven’t worked, and now the team is changing course. I really think many would be open to that.

Hope isn’t lost for Brewers fans. It’s just on hold. Take me back to 2004, 2005 (and not just for this reason). I’d much rather root for a young, rebuilding team with a bright future than for one without much present or future. Unfortunately, if they don’t rebuild, that’s all we’ll have.

Bracing for Disappointment at the Trade Deadline

Posted by Steve

We’re about 24 hours from MLB’s trade deadline, and save for a nice flip of KROD for 3B Nicky Delmonico, things have been silent for the Brewers. Despite having several trade candidates, it’s looking more and more like the Brewers will have an inexplicably quiet trade deadline.

Let’s take a look at a few of those candidates, in the order of how necessary it is to trade them.

Nori Aoki

Aoki is a solid lead-off hitter and right fielder, which equates to a fairly valuable player. Problem is, he is 31 years old, which means he’s not a piece for the Brewers to keep around long-term. Making this even more of a no-brainer is the recent clarification that Aoki is actually a free agent after next season.

There is absolutely no excuse not to trade Aoki, which is why this quote from Doug Melvin makes me want to scream:

“We’re not going to move him,” said Melvin. “We have a need for him, too. He only has about $500,000 left on his contract for this year.”

What need, exactly, do you have for him on a last-place team, Doug?

1. If you’re looking toward next year, well, you won’t be a playoff team then, either.

2. We’ve seen enough from Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer, along with others like Khris Davis and Victor Roach to feel confident in filling right field next year–another rebuilding year.

Not trading Aoki–right now–is simply stupid.

 

Kyle Lohse

The Brewers have an opportunity to erase the stupidity of forfeiting a first round pick for a player when they weren’t going anywhere. Lohse has been great, but of course, that was never the issue. The issue was that it was obvious the Brewers wouldn’t be good, so his presence makes no difference. Lohse is pitching better than any starter available right now, and he’s got a fairly reasonable contract. There’s no reason to keep him around past this year. They can’t make the same mistake they made last year when they failed to trade Aramis Ramirez when they had the chance (how’s that one looking now?).

The reason I’ve heard for not trading Lohse is, “Well, they need someone to pitch next year!” Yes, but those people are forgetting that for next year, the Brewers will have Gallardo, Peralta, Estrada, Hellweg, Thornburg, Jungmann and Whocarestheyllsuckanyway.

Trade Lohse, get out from under a sizable contract, and recoup the talent you lost by forfeiting a draft pick.

 

The entire freaking bullpen, save for maybe Jim Henderson

Remember how bad the Brewers’ bullpen was last year? It was terrible, right? Who would have thought it would have been this easy to turn around a bullpen? It was, and there’s no reason Melvin couldn’t make similar moves to acquire bullpen arms this off-season.

Gorzelanny, Gonzalez, Axford, and Badenhop should all go. The Brewers got a nice prospect for Francisco Rodriguez, for God’s sake. Axford should yield more, and he’ll be expensive from here on out anyway. I like him as a player, and he seems pretty cool, but I’ll like him more if he can bring back a nice prospect or two.

Jim Henderson is still cheap, so I can understand keeping him, although he’d also bring back the highest return. Whatever.

 

Aramis Ramirez

Obviously this can’t happen now, but my fingers are crossed for a waiver deal before the end of August. This again just goes to show that it was stupid to not trade A-Ram last year when he was raking. The Brewers were well aware of his age and durability concerns, yet still chose not to cash in during a lost year. Now, if he doesn’t show he’s healthy soon, they may be stuck with him for the duration of the contract.

 

Yovani Gallardo/Rickie Weeks

I have these two together because they’re in a similar situation: Both have underperformed to the point that the Brewers would be selling very low. With both players, it makes more sense to let them play out the year and hope they improve their performance. In particular, let’s hope that Gallardo’s velocity dip is more of a temporary thing; otherwise his days as a top-of-the-rotation guy are done. That would be a real shame at just 27 years old.

 

Corey Hart

Excuse me while I become ill.

 

Again, the Brewers absolutely need to get out of the short-term line of thinking. Stop playing for just next year, because then the year after will always be bad. We aren’t talking a four-year plan like what the Astros are currently going through; the Brewers can target guys who are within a year or two from the big leagues.

Unfortunately, I’ll be shocked if they trade more than a reliever or two. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

This is all very annoying

Posted by Steve

You know things were bad when by 8:30 last night I was wishing #RoyalBaby was still dominating my Twitter feed. I don’t have much to say at this point about Ryan Braun, other than it’s disappointing and the timing works out very well from a Brewers’ perspective. Other than that, my feelings are summed up very well by a great post over at Ron Roenicke Stole My Baseball: 9 Annoying Braun Things From Yesterday. It’s a quick read and definitely worth it.

A different way of evaluating this Brewers season

Posted by Steve

The All-Star Break is always a time of evaluation for MLB teams. They evaluate where they are in the playoff race and decide what direction they want to go at the trading deadline. I certainly have my opinions on what the Brewers should do at the trading deadline, but first, I want to take a look back at this season.

There’s no doubt that the Brewers have had a disaster of a season. They are in last place in the N.L. Central and have the second-worst record in the league. There’s no way to put beer goggles over that one.

But instead, I want to look at how the Brewers’ season has gone compared to expectations. There were obviously varying opinions on how this season would go, but there were also many people who assumed the Brewers would not have a good year. I was one of them, although I can’t say I thought the record would be quite this bad.

So yes, it could be easy to say this is a lost season. But when you compare the events of the season to what was expected, I actually come up with more positives than negatives.

Quickly, let’s look at what we did expect: We knew the starting rotation wouldn’t be good, and it turns out it’s terrible. It is disappointing that guys like Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg and Mark Rogers haven’t done a thing in Milwaukee this year, but it’s also not shocking.

That’s about it.

Almost nothing else about this season has gone as expected, and a number of those things are positive. But let’s look at the negatives first.

Negatives

Ryan Braun continues to face controversy

There is so much that could be said here, but there is still no revealed evidence, so any analysis at this point would simply be conjecture. It is not a surprise that Braun is tied up in this, since we knew about it before the season. I am listing it here, though, because it seems that MLB is even more determined to “get” Braun that I even assumed. Rumblings quickly escalated from 50 to 100 games and then to the ridiculous possibility of a lifetime ban. So this is certainly not good news, even though it’s only slightly surprising.

Corey Hart is out for the year

This is in the same category as the Braun one. Is it surprising Corey Hart has missed time this year due to injury? Of course not; that’s been going on for each of the last few seasons. What is surprising is that he’s now lost for the season. That’s a huge loss–some for what he would have brought to the offense this year, but much more for what the Brewers could have gotten back for him in a trade if he’d been healthy.

Aramis Ramirez can’t stay healthy

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have listed this one under unexpected at all, because Aramis Ramirez being banged up is anything but surprising. It’s why I hated the signing two years ago–not because he can’t hit, but because he can’t stay healthy. Like Hart, this one really hurts because they can’t trade him right now. It seems like best case scenario is he proves himself enough to be included in a waiver deal in August.

Yovani Gallardo kind of sucks

This is definitely the worst negative of the season, and it’s a big reason why the Brewers are currently awful instead of the anticipated mediocre. I plan to break this down at much greater length soon, but in short: Yo has been bad. His velocity is down, his starts are short, and he’s killed his trade value. He could have been a huge chip for the Brewers, but his value may now be so low that they are forced to keep him.

And that’s all I’ve got. Those are the four things that are currently killing the Brewers, and only three are actually on the field. These are the only things I can come up with that went wrong that were not totally expected. Not good, for sure, but I’d have expected more in a season that’s gone this poorly.

Now, to the positives.

Positives

Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez

I put these two together, because A) both performances are incredibly impacting and B) both were pretty unexpected. Yes, I had high hopes for both players, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Gomez and Segura would be 2nd and 12th respectively in WAR for the NL and both make the All-Star team.

Gomez is already making his contract extension look like an absolute steal. His center field defense is elite, and his bat has become a plus. He’s managed to finally meet his potential that scouts raved about years ago. He’s still only 27, meaning he can still be seen as somewhat of a long-term piece in Milwaukee.

Segura’s performance is perhaps even more encouraging. He’s dirt cheap yet for three years (unless the Brewers sign him long-term, which would be great), and he’s already playing at a very high level. Yes, he needs to be more patient offensively, but it’s clear that he’ll be the type of guy the Brewers can just pencil in at shortstop for the next 5+ years and not have to worry about anything. Even if Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena flame out completely, which I’d say is pretty unlikely, Segura makes that Greinke trade last year look like highway robbery.

The performance and increased value of these players has been the most surprising development of the season, good or bad, for the Brewers.

The Bullpen is very good

Last year the bullpen was just about the entire reason the Brewers missed the playoffs. This year, Doug Melvin made some shrewd trades and signings, and it’s been almost as good this year as it was bad last year.

Now obviously, a good bullpen is useless on a team as bad as the 2013 Brewers. So why is this a positive? Because it gives them a bunch of trade chips!

To varying degrees, every pitcher in the bullpen should be available this coming deadline. My hope is at least two get traded, and ideally, even more. The Brewers should take every chance they can get to improve the young talent in the organization.

Wily Peralta looks like a promising young pitcher again

Peralta looked so good at the end of last year that his uneven first half was extremely frustrating. He has incredible stuff: elite fastball velocity, a nice slider and a two-seamer that I swear defies physics. That’s why it’s great that he’s looked so good his last few times out. If he can keep this up, he’ll soon be the top-of-the-rotation type guy that we envisioned and hoped for.

Norichia Aoki is no fluke

Aoki has been another bright spot on the team, proving to be a legitimate lead-off hitter. The Brewers need to trade him, which is too bad, because I enjoy watching him play. However, 30-year-old corner outfielders with 1.5 seasons left on their contracts don’t serve much of a purpose on a last place team.

The Brewers have a worse record than expected

Yes, this is a good thing. Here’s why: last year, when they were mediocre, they very nearly held on to Zack Greinke, which would have been a cripplingly stupid move. This year, there’s no way they could be tempted into making a “buyer’s” move; they’re just way too far out.

Guys like Gallardo, Hart, and Ramirez have all taken hits to their trade value, which hurts, but there are still players to trade. Kyle Lohse should be dealt, which would erase some of the sting of forfeiting a first round pick for him. Aoki should be dealt. Relievers should be dealt. There will likely be no grand prize like last year’s Greinke trade, but the Brewers have a real chance to once again bolster the 2014 and 2015 teams. And if Gallardo can put a few good starts together in the next couple weeks, it’s possible they could nab something very good for him.

I’ll have more to come on the trade deadline shortly, but I thought this would be an interesting way of illustrating how I felt the season has gone so far.

Weeks, Gomez, Segura, and yes, more Yuni

Posted by Steve

I have continued to be a putz and not post nearly as much as I’d have liked to in recent weeks. I still insist that will change shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a post that more or less addresses the hot-button issues of the young 2013 season.

There are really four players that are standing out so far this season, for one reason or another: Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Rickie Weeks, and, of course, Yunieski Betancourt.

——–

Let’s start with Segura. This has been the best-case scenario for the Brewers. He has exceeded even the loftiest expectations to this point. He is tied for Troy Tulowitzki for the best WAR among shortstops. Defensively, he’s been excellent, to the point that you have to wonder what led some scouts to predict he’d eventually need to move to second base. He clearly won’t finish the season with the .914 OPS that he currently sports, especially considering his .368 BABIP, but even finishing at, say, .814 would make him an incredibly valuable player. Even more encouraging is the power he’s shown. He’s slugging .530 with 4 home runs already, showing that he has 10-15 HR potential, if not even higher.

To me, Segura has been the best/most encouraging part of the season to this point. I’ve been critical of some of Melvin’s moves as of late, but the Greinke trade, both to acquire him and then to deal him, seems to have been handled flawlessly. The Angels have to already be kicking themselves (They hit the trifecta: gave up Segura+, didn’t make the playoffs, then didn’t retain Greinke in the off-season), and the potential is there for this to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. And, not to seem like I’m patting myself on the back, but the Brewers seem to have made the correct move in calling him up for the end of last season–a move I endorsed last year.

——–

Now, to the most surprising player of the season–not just with the Brewers but likely in all of baseball: Carlos Gomez. I loved the Gomez signing (not going to link to two of my old posts in one post, but I did) and I took him in fantasy baseball, yet I’ve still obviously been thrilled and surprised by his production this year. Much like Segura, this is beyond any reasonable expectation. Gomez has been, according to WAR, easily the best player in all of baseball this year.

Gomez made a huge leap forward last season, and so far, has made an even bigger leap this year–obviously, as he’s been an MVP-type player through the first five weeks. Like with Segura, we need to be guarded with our excitement: he has an insane .420 BABIP, compared with a .309 number for his career. Such a huge gap could lead anyone to ask whether this is entirely a fluke.

I contend that it’s not–not entirely, at least. Gomez hasn’t been walking very much still, but he never has. What he has been, though, is more selective at the plate. Unlike Yuni, who has shown no improvement in plate discipline, Gomez has. He’s seeing 3.97 pitches per plate appearance this year, compared to 3.39 last year. It’s obviously a small sample still, but it’s still very encouraging. It’s easy to see why Gomez was once considered a great prospect. He had five tool potential, and he’s shown that so far. At age 27, it’s possible he is just hitting his stride. That’s a very, very exciting thought.

——–

And now, to the player everyone seems to want to talk about: Rickie Weeks. He makes this list for the exact opposite reason Gomez and Segura do: He’s been very bad. Weeks is hitting .193/.308/.298. People are calling for his head and for Scooter Gennett to get a chance. Fortunately, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

Weeks has been a streaky hitter over his career, and it’s easy to forget how good he can be when he’s going this poorly. But it is interesting to note that this is not the worst slump of his career–not by a long shot, in fact. Last year, for a 58-game stretch, he hit .150/.296/.261.

The cries were there for Weeks to be benched last season at this point as well. If the Brewers had listened, they’d have missed out on some very solid production the rest of the year.

His next 84 games, he hit .280/.358/.495, an elite line for a second baseman.

Look, it isn’t ideal that Weeks goes through stretches like this. But the Brewers gave him a significant contract; they cannot just bench him. That would mean simply eating his contract, and that won’t happen. And they would be foolish to trade him now, when his value is quite low. They have no choice but to let him find his way out of this slump. That will happen eventually. He’s been having bad luck, too–his BABIP is well below his career average.

——–

Let’s compare this to Yuniesky Betancourt, who simply won’t let me stop talking about him. Yuni improbably leads the Brewers in home runs, and people won’t stop proclaiming what a savior he’s been. Yes, he’s been on a power surge. But aside from a few more home runs than expected, he hasn’t been any different than over his entire career.

I mentioned this recently, but I still keep hearing about how Yuni has “changed his approach” and is “more selective.” Today alone I heard it twice: Tom Haudricourt said on the radio that Yuni is being more patient, and Brian Anderson mentioned the same thing tonight on the TV broadcast.

The numbers simply do not back that up. Betancourt is seeing the fewest pitches per plate appearance in all of baseball! He’s on a hot streak in which he’s just making a bit more contact. The same is basically said in today’s Fangraph’s article on Yuni, titled, Yuniesky Betancourt Hasn’t Changed a Bit.

Here’s my biggest beef with the Yuni love, coupled with the Weeks hate. Now, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I love Weeks and can’t stand Betancourt. But it goes beyond that. The two main narratives seem to be 1) RICKIE WEEKS SUCKS!@!#! and 2) YUNI B IS AWESOME!!#@!!

How about this for a true fact: Rickie Weeks has a higher on-base percentage than Yuniesky Betancourt!

We have Yuni, who’s as hot as he’s ever been, and we have Weeks, who’s close to as cold he’s ever been, and Yuni is still so awful at getting on base that he’s still below Weeks’ OBP. That just shows the inherent difference in value between the two. Weeks has great plate discipline that allows him to get on base even during slumps. Betancourt has awful discipline that prevents him from getting on base even when he’s hot.

I will give Betancourt this: he’s much more difficult to hate when he isn’t playing shortstop. At least half of my hate for him as a player was for his awful, no-range defense at shortstop. He’s much, much more palatable–even valuable–as a utility infielder who never plays shortstop.

So, that just about brings to an end my long-winded post about the Brewers. My goal from now on: Post more often so as to prevent rambling posts in the future.

All Yuni, All the Time

Posted by Steve

I can’t get away from Yuniesky Betancourt.

First, the Brewers signed him, sending me reeling into a .GIF-laden post that had me questioning my fandom. Of course, that post was in jest, but I really hated the idea of having to watch him again. Since then, Aramis Ramirez has gotten injured, sliding Alex Gonzalez to third and Yuni into the starting lineup at first base.

It is possible to find positives out of this: First, he’s not playing shortstop. Approximately 65.7% of my hatred toward Yuni (Yuni the player, not the person–but more on this in a moment) was directed toward his “defense” at shortstop. He is no longer killing the Brewers defensively, playing a much easier position in first base. Second, and most obvious, he’s really been hitting so far.

Naturally, this has led to a lot of people needling me. Even Ron Roenicke is buying into the hype. “He’s more patient than he was before,” Roenicke said. “He sees the off-speed stuff better. Really, he looks like a good offensive player.”

So, has Yuni truly turned a corner? Has he reinvented himself at age 31?

Of course not. In fact, a little research reveals how hilariously off Roenicke’s comments actually were. The “more patient than he was before” Betancourt is actually swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone than he has over his career, according to my old employer Baseball Info Solutions. Same with his overall swing percentage. He is seeing a measly 3.23 pitches per plate appearance in this young season. Among qualified players, Betancourt is seeing the second-fewest pitches in all of the National League!

Now, obviously this is a very small sample size. But it’s the same sample size that Roenicke used to say Yuni looks like a more patient hitter.

So, of course, it’s same old Yuni. He’s still an impatient hitter with decent power and horrible on-base skills. He isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen from him before. He’s gone on hot streaks before; he even had one or two with the Brewers, like in the 2011 playoffs. Eventually, with this same approach, he’ll cool off. Then, it will be back to the same old hacking player.

I do have one other story about Yuni. I went to the game on Wednesday with my girlfriend, her parents, and many of her parents’ friends. When Betancourt hit his home run, my girlfriend’s dad reacted in this way.

“Heyyyy! Who was that? Yuni? YUNI! HEY STEVE, HOW ABOUT YUNI!!!” Then turns to all his friends, who I’ve just met. “Steve HATES Yuni!”

At least I had about five innings left to dig out of that one.

The Brewers are just trolling us now.

Posted by Steve

I got out of work today and checked my phone for the first time in several hours. ‘Hmm, that’s an alarming number of text messages and emails… I wonder whatsohmygod no. Ooohh, no way…. OHMYGOD OOHHHH GOD NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’

Yuniesky Betancourt. I can’t even type it without getting flashbacks. Yuni  is back. On a Major League contract, when he was just released from a minor league contract. Why. Whyyy.

I honestly don’t think I can stomach another year of watching him. He’s a backup, sure. But what if Segura gets out to a slow start? You think Runnin’ Ron won’t start playing Yuni more?

Was it really just two days ago that I was fully at peace with the Brewers likely missing the playoffs? Now I just spent my ride home alternating between bouts of nausea and actual, out-loud-by-myself laughter. Two days ago that I was, more than anything, just looking forward to Brewers baseball again? What the hell happened to Doug Melvin? Can any of this actually be happening?

Honestly, Doug Melvin has to just be trolling us at this point. There is no other explanation.

melvintroll1