Tag Archives: Jeremy Jeffress

Doug Melvin for GM of Everything Forever

Posted by Steve

“Mizuno gave me a samurai sword for winning the Cy Young. It’s awesome. … I’m going to hang it up and maybe start a collection. Not a gun collection, but a samurai sword collection. If you can do it. I don’t know if you’re allowed.”

-Zack Greinke, on letting his parents keep his Cy Young Award while he keeps the sword.

Wow. What a day.

I heard about the Greinke trade this morning, yet I’m just getting around to posting now because I was checking for updates and reading about it for much of the day. My immediate reaction was that of over-the-top excitement that bordered on embarrassing. After a day to let everything settle, I can say that I’m at least as excited about this deal as I was for the CC Sabathia trade. To be honest, this is likely to have a bigger impact baseball-wise than that deal.

Before I really get into this, I just want to say that I will once again be wearing my “Melvin: The Man, the Myth, the Mustache” t-shirt with pride once again. After the past couple seasons, I said that I at least wanted to see some creativity from Doug. No more free agent signings of over-the-hill pitchers as their main off-season move.

I think it’s fair to say he obliged.

“I feel like I’ve acquired a CC Sabathia except for two years and maybe longer. It feels good. It was a costly trade. We gave up a lot of good, young players. This is a credit to our scouting and player development people to have the kind of young players it takes to make a trade like this.”

Kudos to you, Doug. This was an incredible move.

I’ll see how much I cover here, because there’s A LOT to get through. First, I might as well talk about what the Brewers gave up.

SI’s Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite baseball journalists, called the players the Brewers gave up “interesting.” I think that’s a great way to describe them. Interesting, not great or sure things. No prospect in this group was elite. If I had to rank them in order of my disappointment in losing them, it would look like this:

1. Lorenzo Cain

Cain is number one for me because he is the most developed and therefore most ready to contribute right away. If there’s one thing I’ve concluded since I became a baseball nut, it’s that prospects are not worth nearly as much as proven big leaguers. Cain has proven himself in the minors, and he’s ready to get his shot as a starting center fielder. Losing Cain hurts the Brewers more in 2011 than any of the other three players they lost.

2. Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi probably had the highest ceiling of any Brewers pitching prospect. He has a good chance to be their best drafted starting pitcher since Yovani Gallardo. Yet, he is only 20 years old and hasn’t touched AA yet. There is still plenty left to do before he can become a good big league starter. The saying “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” comes to mind here, as it will take at least two seasons in all likelihood until he really contributes at the major league level.

3. Alcides Escobar

How his star has fallen in a year or two. If you visited this blog at all last season, you know I was not very high on Escobar. He was never a good hitter at any level of the minors, which is why I didn’t understand the rush to get him to the majors. All we heard about was his incredible defense, yet I was mostly underwhelmed by his glove last season–especially when compared to the steady glove of J.J. Hardy. It certainly wasn’t enough to make up for his terrible offense and poor plate discipline.

He’s still young, and he could certainly develop into a capable offensive shortstop. Still, the Brewers aren’t likely to get worse production in 2011 from the shortstop position than last season, no matter who they throw out there. It’s why I don’t mind losing him.

4. Jeremy Jeffress

I loved following Jeffress in the minors. Love his high k rates and his high velocity. I also felt he was the most ready to contribute to the Brewers next season out of all their prospects. Yet, most scouting reports I read on him have him eventually ending up in the bullpen because of the lack of a third effective pitch. No matter how much I like a pitcher, his value is severely lessened if he ends up in the bullpen.

I don’t mean to make it seem like I don’t think the Brewers paid very much. They gave up a lot. All four players are highly regarded, and three of them are likely to be big leaguers next season. Thing is, while all four of these players could end up as good major leaguers, none project to have anywhere near the value that Greinke has right now. In fact, none are even close to the level of prospect that Greinke was as a minor leaguer. This is very much a quantity for quality deal, and a general rule of thumb is that quality trumps quantity.

Going beyond a simple rule of thumb, this deal makes a ton of sense for the Brewers. Their hand for 2011 was forced by the lack of a decent trade market for Prince Fielder. Once they realized they weren’t likely to get a good return for Prince, they went into win-now mode. This was definitely reflected in the Marcum deal. You can argue that the farm system is gutted, that they may have given up good players, and that their defense is a mess. One thing you can’t argue, though, is that they suddenly have a great rotation to go along with a good offense.

I could look closely at the numbers to explain why Greinke is a huge addition, but I’m not really sure that’s necessary. It’s widely accepted that Greinke is on the very short list of the best starting pitchers in baseball, is only 27, and is under contract for two more years (with a possible extension looming?). Plus, I’m not really going to say much here that you can’t find in 20 other articles/posts that analyze Greinke’s impact. Instead, I’ll just add some of my own observations.

  • Greinke reminds me so much of my favorite Brewer ever, one Ben Sheets, that it’s crazy. They are/were awesome right handed starting pitchers with great stuff and command, but more specifically, they’re both funny people who are extremely quotable. Not to mention, I did a comparison of them a while back. Finally, Greinke’s most similar player through age 26 according to Baseball Reference is… You guessed it: Ben Sheets.
  • What is Ken Macha thinking right now? He must feel like he’s taken a swift kick to the groin. He was fired largely because the Brewers’ pitching was terrible, but that wasn’t his fault. Now as soon as he gets canned, this happens. On the other hand, congrats Ron Roenicke on turning the Brewers around! You know people will be saying it next year; you just know it.
  • The Brewers really gave up five pieces in this deal: the four players to get Greinke, and then having to take back Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt is gawdawful. Not only is his defense bad, but he has absolutely miserable plate discipline. He has a career on-base percentage of .288 and a career walk rate of… Brace yourself… 3.4 percent! The Brewers cannot allow Betancourt to be their main shortstop. I’d rather sign someone like Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera. I’d even prefer Craig Counsell over Betancourt, except Counsell can’t handle a full season at this point. They need to find another option at shortstop somewhow.
  • What about center field now that Cain is gone? It sure looks like a Dickerson/Gomez platoon. One idea: check in with Boston on Mike Cameron. They just signed Crawford and now have an outfield of Ellsbury, Crawford and Bay. Might as well check on shortstop Marco Scutaro, too.
  • Even though they’re downgrading at center field and shortstop, their production next season really can’t be much worse than what it was last season. Cain is a better option than Gomez for sure, but remember that Cain wasn’t up until the season had pretty much gotten away from the Brewers. In other words, most of their center field production came from Gomez. And even though Betancourt is a bad player, he and Escobar had an identical WAR of 0.6 last season.
  • Fun fact: the leader in WAR over the last two years is Zack Greinke with 14.7. The player with the worst WAR over the last two years? That’d be Yuniesky Betancourt with -1.2. In other words, you could say the Brewers acquired the best player and the worst player in baseball.
  • I’m still very concerned about the Brewers’ defense, in fact, probably even more than I was before this trade. Their infield defense in particular looks very bad. While its impact may be lessoned with more strikeout pitchers than last season, it’s still ugly. Doug’s signature move of the off-season is complete, but I’d still like to see him explore options to improve the club defensively. Maybe try dangling either McGehee or Gamel along with Betancourt (or heck, just DFA Betancourt) to see about a shortstop/bullpen/center field upgrade.
  • Even though it hurts to give up Jefress and Odorizzi, the Brewers suddenly don’t have as big of an immediate need for pitching. Their top four in their rotation is set for the next two seasons. Plus, they still have some young, cheap impact arms in the form of Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and John Axford.
  • The Brewers’ farm system may now be the worst in baseball, but they’ll have some chances to restock it soon. They have two first rounders next season due to the Dylan Covey fiasco, and they’ll have some comp picks when Fielder walks in a year (hopefully they won’t have additional comp picks from Rickie Weeks).

All things considered, this was a great day to be a Brewer fan. They went from a mediocre team to probably the division favorite in the span of a couple short weeks. The only downside to this is that we still have to wait more than three months for Opening Day.

Pitching overhaul

Posted by Steve

After Doug Melvin’s first few years as Brewers’ GM, it appeared that the new regime may have rebuilt the team into a regular contender. It culminated in 2008 with that thrilling wildcard run. At that point, it seemed that Melvin would be known as the man who revived the franchise.

Fast forward just two years later, and it seems Melvin’s legacy may be completely changed. In a couple short years, the Brewers have gone from hopeful contenders to seeing their window nearly closed. Melvin has seen perceptions of him go from savior to one who has been unable to build a competitive pitching staff. And it’s not just at the Major League level; for whatever reason, the Brewers have had a terrible time drafting and advancing pitching through their minor league system. Some examples of blunders/bad luck:

  • In 2004 the Brewers had a very high pick–fifth, to be exact. They took hard-throwing high school pitcher Mark Rogers. He suffered a torn labrum and has missed two seasons due to shoulder issues. He has somehow managed to continue pitching, and is currently in AA, but without those injuries he’d probably be in Milwaukee by now.
  • Jeremy Jeffress was the Brewers’ first round pick in 2008. Another high school pitcher, Jeffress went 16th overall. He has twice been suspended for non-performance-enhancing drugs (revealed to be marijuana) and has essentially missed a full season. Jeffress is also pitching this year, but like Rogers, would have been further along had he not missed that playing time.
  • Last year, the team took college right-hander Eric Arnett in the first round. Arnett was expected to move quickly through the minors. Instead, he’s endured a nightmare season in which he was actually demoted from low-A Wisconsin for a short period. It’s certainly too early to call Arnett a bust, but this has more or less been a lost season as far as his development is concerned. The Brewers are surely disappointed with his performance so far.
  • Obviously, the Dylan Covey situation from this past draft has been a topic of conversation over the last week, and it’s one of the weirdest yet.

Only one of those four have been due to actual poor performance. Injury, a failed drug test, and an ill-timed Diabetes diagnosis have done the team in. Add that with Ben Sheets’ vestibular neuritis and Yovani Gallardo’s freak ACL tear, and the Brewers have sure had some bizarre luck with pitching over the last six or seven years.

Additionally, as much as the Brewers were praised for rebuilding through the draft, they have not had a great success rate with first rounders in the last seven years or so. In fact, aside from Ryan Braun, the last first rounder to reach the big leagues with the Brewers was 2003 draftee Rickie Weeks!

Now, things aren’t all bad. Jeffress has pitched well in relief, and I actually wouldn’t be shocked to see him in Milwaukee come September. Additionally, the Brewers do have some impact pitchers in their system currently–Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Heckathorn are two of the most exciting ones–but these pitchers are mostly in the lower levels of the minors.

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This article is a couple weeks old now, but I wanted to get to it anyway. It’s no less timely now, and I find it very interesting. It concerns the Brewers’ new approach to developing and acquiring pitching. I highly suggest reading the entire article.

The “checklist” they came up with is interesting. Notably, their last two big free agent pitching signings (Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf) both wouldn’t have passed. Their study on homegrown pitching staffs proved interesting as well. I think many fans just assume many teams have multiple homegrown starters, but the reality is that not many have more than a couple.

If you grow frustrated as you read that article, you aren’t alone. That was my reaction as I read all the ways the deck is stacked against teams like the Brewers. Doug Melvin is exactly right about the draft process being broken. The draft is meant to give the worst teams the best players in the draft, but “signability” has kept that from happening in many cases.

Finally, on to the part of the article that truly angered me: no trade clauses.

It’s bad enough that the Brewers are at a disadvantage on the free agent market in payroll, but the fact that Milwaukee is on many players’ list of places not to play makes things even tougher. This fact in particular just about floored me:

Melvin had his staff compile a list of what he considered the “good, quality pitchers” in baseball and found that 24 of them have no-trade clauses that include Milwaukee.

Now, admittedly “good, quality pitchers” is pretty vague, but that’s still pretty incredible. You also have to love another tasty nugget that came out of this article: the Brewers made a huge offer for Roy Halladay before this season, but he vetoed it. Roy Freaking Halladay. Ugh.

Finally, Melvin mentioned something that I wouldn’t have even realized: many free agents feign interest in signing with the Brewers, only to sign elsewhere and then include Milwaukee in a no-trade clause! Talk about two-timing!

As Melvin said, these challenges don’t excuse the poor pitching, but you can’t help but sympathize with what he’s up against. He’s operating in an uneven financial playing field, and trying to rebuild through a broken draft system and free agent compensation system (remember the CC compensation debacle?).

If anything can be drawn from this, it’s that Melvin and company feel secure enough in their jobs. That must mean he’s not in danger of being fired this off-season. I will be very interested in how they address the starting rotation for next season. It’s bound to look very different. Really, the only ones with spots secured are Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf (mainly due to his contract). Dave Bush is unlikely to be back. Manny Parra hasn’t done anything to guarantee himself a spot, and Chris Narveson has been alright but still upgradeable.

Surely at least one pitcher will come from a Prince Fielder trade. It’s likely to be a young pitcher with limited or no MLB experience, but you can bet he’ll meet that checklist of at least a plus fastball and a quality breaking pitch. If nothing else, this has to mean we’ve finally seen the end of overpaying for aging veterans like Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf, right? Please?

Wrapping up June with a Thought Cornucopia

Posted by Steve

JSOnline.com

Heckuva game tonight!  That picture just about says it all.  When Mike Burns defeats Johan Santana, it’s safe to describe that as stealing a win.  After a rough stretch, the Brewers have rattled off four wins in five games and are back atop the NL Central.  There are plenty of things to talk about lately, and it’s been awhile since we’ve had a Cornucopia of Thoughts, so let’s get this party started quickly.

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We’ll start with the bad news.  Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers’ top pitching prospect entering the year and a first round pick from a few years ago, has been suspended 100 games for testing positive for a “substance of abuse.”  If you’re wondering why it’s such a harsh punishment, it’s because this is actually the third time Jeffress has tested positive.  He actually served a 50-game suspension two years ago for the same problem, and if he manages to test positive one more time, he faces a lifetime ban from minor league baseball.

Jeffress has admitted to testing positive for marijuana in the past, and it’s being assumed that this latest positive test is also from marijuana.  A lifetime ban might seem harsh, but regardless of your views on the the legalization issue, it’s pretty much impossible to defend Jeffress at this point.  His value is just about nil now, and he’s dangerously close to throwing away his baseball career.  This is a tough blow for an organization that’s already short on impact pitching.

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I’ve become pretty annoyed by the Brewers’ treatment of Mat Gamel.  There’s no reason he should be sitting on the bench as much as he has.  I understand that Casey McGehee is playing great, but there’s no reason Craig Counsell should be playing over Gamel as much as he has.  Ken Macha is obviously not crazy about having Gamel’s defense in the lineup, but how is Gamel supposed to improve his defense if he isn’t playing?

The bottom line is that if Gamel isn’t going to get regular playing time in Milwaukee, he needs to be back in AAA so he can continue to work on his defense.  The argument may be that the Brewers are in “win now” mode, and that Gamel should be up because he makes the big league club better, but that’s not even necessarily the case.  The Brewers have an infielder in the minors, Adam Heether, who is lighting up AAA to the tune of a .991 OPS.  They could easily swap out Gamel for Heether and not miss a beat from what they’ve had since Gamel’s been up.  Heether is 27, so there’s not the same need to get him playing time that there is with Gamel.

I hate to see Gamel burning up service time if he’s not even going to get semi-regular playing time.

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For whatever reason, Mark DiFelice hasn’t been placed in the high leverage role that he was before having the sore arm.  He’s pitched in non-close situations frequently since returning to the team, and I can’t figure out why.  What’s troubling to me is that Macha has deferred to Todd Coffey over DiFelice is close situations lately.  Any way you slice it, DiFelice is the superior pitcher.

We saw an example of this in tonight’s game.  With David Wright set to hit, DiFelice was pulled from the game in favor of Coffey.  Can someone please give Macha a copy of DiFelice’s splits?  Right handed hitters are OPSing .390(!) against DiFelice.  That doesn’t scream ‘Take him out of the game’ when the opposing team’s best right-handed hitter is at the plate.

With Stetter against lefites and DiFelice against righties, Macha has some great weapons to bridge the gap to Trevor Hoffman.  He needs to start using DiFelice the way he should be used, which is as a righty neutralizer.

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Alright, I have to make one positive point, right?  Prince Fielder is having an absolute monster year.

Twenty home runs is great, as is the .306 batting average, but what’s really made the difference for Prince is his patience.  Fielder has always been a fairly patient hitter, but his eye this year has been outstanding.  His OBP before last night’s game was .424, which is uncharted territory for him (career high of .395).  Barring something very bad, Fielder will shatter the team record for walks in a season.

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Time for some tidbits.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this job, it’s that nobody enjoys being a Major League baseball player more than Cincinnati Reds infielder Adam Rosales.  This guy is literally always happy when on the baseball field.  At first I couldn’t tell if it bugged me, but now I love when I get a Reds game and he’s in the lineup so I can see what he’ll do next.  Check out his sprint around the bases for his first career home run.  Other great clips that I wasn’t able to find: Rosales leaping into the air with a jumpkick after a Reds walkoff win, and a post-game interview in which he yells, “It’s like a dream come true!” through maniacal laughter.

Check him out the next time you see a Reds game, but do it soon.  Rosales has plummeted to a .561 OPS, so he might not be in the big leagues much longer.

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I’m starting to feel like a GM at work, but not because of the job itself.  We’re allowed to switch games, and there are at least four Yankee fans in the office.  This means that whenever I get a Yankee game, I’ll have at least two people ask me to switch.

As the only Brewer fan in the office, this works heavily in my favor.  Yankee fans regularly try to trade me Brewer games for Yankee games.  I even talk like a GM to up the trade value.  “I’m not motivated to move my Yankee game at this time, but I’m willing to listen to offers.”

I had a Yankee game today, and it had more value than normal because Joba Chamberlain was starting (Yankee fans love them some Joba).  I actually had a guy say to me today, “I have some Brewer games next month that I could offer for that game today, but I’d rather acquire Tim’s Brewer game tonight to use and keep those games as bargaining chips down the line.”  Awesome.