Tag Archives: Wil Nieves

WAR (Huh! Yeah!) What is it good for?

Posted by Steve

Absolutely… Somethin!

There are so many strange, interesting moving parts to this Brewers team. It’s a good team overall that is off to a solid start–two things that combine to make them a slight favorite to win the division according to Baseball Prospectus at this point.

To just sum up the Brewers as a good team overall doesn’t tell nearly the whole story, though. The makeup of this team is one of the weirdest I can remember.

I made reference at the start of the season to the “Stars and Scrubs” theory from fangraphs: that the Brewers have more  stars and more scrubs than the average team. To this point, that claim has moved toward even greater extremes.

The Brewers have a lot of very good players this year–more than I anticipated. They also have a lot of very, very bad players–again, more than I anticipated.

Let’s take a quick look using mainly wins above replacement (WAR).

Stars

In all of baseball, the Brewers have three of the top 13 most valuable hitters according to WAR (Prince 7th, Weeks 12th, Braun 13th). No other NL team is even close to that mark–incredibly, no NL team has more than one offensive player in the top 35 in WAR. Switching to just an NL lens, the Brewers have the fourth, sixth, and seventh most valuable hitters in the league to this point. That’s some craziness right there.

It doesn’t end with the hitters, either. Many individual pitchers have been fantastic.

Shaun Marcum is 17th in WAR among NL starting pitchers. Not fantastic, but when you consider his last two starts which were affected to some degree by his injury, he’d likely be a few spots higher. That’s not the interesting one though, because that’s about where you’d expect Marcum to be.

The interesting one is Zack Greinke, who continues one of the statistically oddest seasons in recent memory. His ERA of 4.77 is ugly, which is why it’s a good thing that ERA is a pretty poor stat. A much better stat is FIP, which means his projected ERA with defense taken out of the equation. Better yet is xFIP, which normalizes home run rates for all pitchers, since different-sized ballparks provide advantages and disadvantages to pitchers. Anywho, Greinke’s xFIP is… (drumroll please)… 1.84.

He’s only at 60 innings, so it doesn’t qualify as the leader yet, but he unofficially leads NL starting pitchers in xFIP by far. That’s due to his insane strikeout rate–he’s at 11.93 ks/9. His previous career high for a season is 9.5. Now, surely that is likely to come down some, as that type of jump just can’t be expected, but some of that is likely due to the switch to the NL.

In 60.1 innings, Greinke has a mind-blowing 80 ks to just 9 walks. His incredible k and bb ratios result in some incredible rankings. Most starting pitchers have somewhere between 80 and 110 innings to this point. WAR just takes into account the amount of wins to which a player has contributed to this point in the season, though. So yes, Greinke has just 60.1 innings, but he’s still managed to be the 15th-most valuable starting pitcher in the league!

His 60.1 innings have been as valuable as Shaun Marcum’s 94.2 and Tommy Hanson’s 83.1. They’ve been more valuable than Chris Carpenter’s 105.2, Ricky Nolasco’s 101.1, Tim Hudson’s 94, Carlos Zambrano’s 104, or Ubaldo Jimenez’s 84.

Basically, Greinke’s been mostly very, very good. His great start against Tampa the other day wasn’t some breakout for him–he’s been at about that level the entire season, save for a few bad innings where he was knocked around. Still, if he can keep his k and bb rates even close to where they are now, he’s a top 4 NL pitcher no question.

One more player on the Brewers has emerged as a star, and it is probably the most surprising. That would be John Axford, who has become a dominant closer this season. According to WAR, Axford is the fifth-most valuable reliever in baseball! He certainly had a good second half last year, but his walk rate has fallen to a passable 4.19 after he started the year walking too many.

(Time for an entire paragraph in parentheses. Just came across this. In 2010, Axford’s BB/9 was 4.19. This year, it’s 4.19. Last year, his k/9 was 11.79. This year, it’s 11.8. Does it mean anything? Who knows? Is it interesting? Well I sure think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have entered the record books as author of the first entirely parenthesized paragraph in blog form.)

The strikeout is such a huge weapon for Axford that getting a guy or two on base isn’t as damning for him as it is for other pitchers. His velocity is up to 97-98, and he’s been locating his breaking ball much better the last several weeks. He’s quite plainly in the zone right now–an obvious All-Star closer.

For what it’s worth, the Brewers deserve to have three All-Star starters in Fielder, Weeks, and Braun. Axford should also make the team, and you could argue Marcum is worthy, but I’d probably keep him off at this point.

Scrubs

So, that was the good part. Now for the ugly, ugly part that is turning a great team into a good one.

I’ve said all I can about how atrocious of a baseball player Yuniesky Betancourt is, so I’ll just point out a couple things that I hope you laugh at, because otherwise you’ll probably be crying.

Swing percentage is an interesting stat. Conventional wisdom might be that when you’re up to bat, the goal is to hit the ball, so you should get your hacks in. The opposite tends to be true. If you look at players who swing least often, you see great players like Carlos Santana, Brett Gardner, Kevin Youkilis, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Bautista, and Mark Teixeira near the top of the list. On the flip side, if you look at players who swing the most often, you might confuse it for a list of players who shouldn’t be in the Majors: A.J. Pierzynski, Jeff Francoeur, Corey Patterson, and Alex Gonzalez. Number two on that list? Why, our own Yuni B, of course.

Betancourt currently has an on-base percentage of .251. .251!!! To put that in perspective, the lowest OBP among qualified players in 2010 was .270. Going back even further in the past, the lowest OBPs were .274 (by none other than Yuni), .288 (Yuni again!), .288, .279, and .290.

So in other words, Betancourt is so bad this year that he’s rewriting the Record Books of Suck–records that he already held himself! He’s been so bad, he was the inspiration for a Fangraphs article chronicling teams to make the playoffs while giving a prominent role to a negative WAR player.

To top it off, his fielding is just as terrible as ever. This is good enough for a WAR of -0.4. Good God.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with Betancourt. I never bought in to Casey McGehee as a good player, especially over Mat Gamel, but I certainly didn’t expect him to crash and burn as much as he has. There has been a bit of a movement along the lines of, “McGehee looks like he’s coming out of his slump.’ Except of course, he’s not. He had like three games where he hit the ball pretty hard, and since then, he’s looked just as bad as before.

Because he plays an easier position, McGehee has been as harmful as Betancourt–both have WARs of -0.4.

In fact, the Brewers have had a slew of below-replacement level players. Would you believe they have had six players hold negative value this season? Because it’s true: Betancourt, McGehee, Mark Kotsay, Jeremy Reed, Erick Almonte, and Wil Nieves all have negative WARs.

Some quick facts of hilarity on Wil Nieves before moving on: he had been on the MLB team for the entire season when he was sent down a couple weeks ago. In that time, he accumulated 0 RBIs, two unintentional walks, and slugged .162.

This is why I can get so easily frustrated with the Brewers despite them likely having the best team in the division. They could very easily be a better team! All their bad players aside from Betancourt could easily be replaced by simply calling someone up from AAA. Look at some of their numbers in Nashville.

OF Brandon Boggs: .939 OPS
OF Brett Carroll: .871 OPS
1B/3B/OF Mat Gamel: .942 OPS
3B Taylor Green: .917 OPS
OF Brendan Katin: .938 OPS

Look at that. The Brewers have three outfielders in Nashville who are better than Mark Kotsay! Green needs to be the starting third baseman in Milwaukee tomorrow. Like I said, the only one who isn’t easily replaceable from within the system is Betancourt (I’d even take 37 year-old Luis Figueroa and his .382 OBP over Betancourt).

If the Brewers can replace three all-around poor players in Kotsay, McGehee, and Betancourt, they will greatly increase their chance at the division. Two moves are easy, and should have been made a while ago.

Let’s go down to Nashville

Posted by Steve

As well as the Brewers are playing, they have some areas that could certainly be shored up. The bench is terrible. Wil Nieves might be the worst player in the majors. They could use another dependable relief pitcher. Conveniently, pretty much all of that can be improved upon from within the organization.

The Brewers have some players performing very well in AAA. Let’s look at who could, and probably should, be up in Milwaukee.

Mark DiFelice

I’ve been driving the DiFelice Bus for weeks now, and he continues to impress: 19.2 innings, 22 strikeouts, 4 walks (one intentional), two home runs, and a 0.9 WHIP. He sure seems to be the same guy he was before his injury/surgery.

The tough part there is deciding who he’d replace. Nobody’s pitching particularly poorly. My choice is a bit unconventional, but I’d send down Marco Estrada. Not because he’s been bad or anything, but because I think he has more value to the Brewers as a sixth starter than as a fourth or fifth reliever. Call up DiFelice, let him do his thing, and let Estrada get stretched back out for when he’s inevitably needed to make some starts in Milwaukee again.

Taylor Green or Mat Gamel

There’s may only be room for one of them, but for both of these guys to be in Milwaukee while the likes of Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Casey McGehee and Josh Wilson (although I guess he’s wait-and-see with the strangely good start he’s had) sop up at-bats in Milwaukee is ludicrous.

Green is 24 years old without much left to prove in the minor leagues. He’s ready to be an MLB bench player right now. Green is hitting .277/.361/.484 in AAA. Not world-beating, but nice numbers. He plays third and second, and he’d be a clear upgrade defensively from McGehee. McGehee is beyond struggling right now; he’s completely useless. Platooning him with a left-handed hitting Green is too obvious. Plus, McGehee’s big-time struggles are resulting in more Craig Counsell ABs, which is just no longer a good thing–he’s cooked.

If Green doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors, Gamel has proven all there is to prove and more. He’s hitting .306/.383/.517 so far in AAA. His career OPS in AAA is .873, which covers four seasons and 937 plate appearances.

I realize the Brewers are playing him at first to replace Fielder, but he can’t possibly be any worse than McGehee at third even with defense factored in. I’d even be willing to bet Gamel would be a defensive upgrade at this point–McGehee has been that bad defensively. Plus, with interleague games coming up, the Brewers need another solid bat available.

The Brewers need to realize they’re in a pennant race, and make sacrifices accordingly. It makes no sense to go all in on this season by trading a boatload of prospects for Greinke and Marcum, and then not field the best bench possible. Gamel is no longer some young prospect who needs to play every day and develop. He’s 25, and more than likely a finished product. He can manage part-time duty in MLB. Same with Green, who’s 24.

Caleb Gindl

If they aren’t going to call up Gamel, at least call up Caleb Gindl and ship out Mark Kotsay. Gindl is a better defensive outfielder at this point (definitely could handle CF in a pinch better than Kotsay), and is sure to be an upgrade over Kotsay and his .306 slugging percentage. Gindl isn’t setting the world on fire, but his .280/.368/.420 line in AAA translates into a solid enough fifth outfielder–something Kotsay is not.

George Kottaras

It was a baffling move when they sent Kottaras down in favor of Wil Nieves, and it looks even worse today. Nieves is the proud owner of a sparkling .400 (!!!) OPS (Here’s a fun fact: Ten MLB players have on-base percentages higher than Wil Nieves’ OPS).

Meanwhile, George Kottaras is blistering AAA pitching to the tune of a .930 OPS. Their reasoning for Nieves over Kottaras was defense, but Nieves has not looked anything close to impressive defensively. Why not just take the vastly superior offensive player? It makes no sense.

So if you’re counting at home, here are the moves I’d like to see:

  • DFA Nieves, call up Kottaras
  • Send down Estrada, return him to a starting role, and call up DiFelice
  • DFA Kotsay, call up Gamel (Or Gindl, if you’re so insistent on keeping Gamel at 1B in Nashville all year)
  • Call up Green. Corresponding move I could go either way on: either send Wilson down to AAA, or DFA Counsell. I love CC, but he’s pretty clearly done.
These moves would make the Brewers a better team than they are today–perhaps by a significant margin.

 

Have we seen enough?

Posted by Steve

Have we seen enough of Yuniesky Betancourt?

Everyone knew he was terrible. In three games, all he’s done is reinforce that. He’s made one error and is 0-11 so far. Today in four plate appearances, he saw ten pitches. He’s lazy defensively. He has horrible plate discipline. Why is he the starting shortstop?

Have we seen enough of Mark Kotsay?

Kotsay can’t run anymore, doesn’t have any power anymore, and doesn’t play good defense anymore. It’s an absolute joke that Kotsay/Eric Almonte are starting over Nyjer Morgan. Morgan should be playing every day against right handers. Eventually Kotsay will play his way out of the lineup, but he shouldn’t have needed to do that for the Brewers to know he’s not a starting caliber player anymore–and hasn’t been for a few years.

Have we seen enough of Wil Nieves?

Okay, so with Lucroy out, it’s fine that he’s on the team for now. But why has he started two of the three games? Are they really going to keep him over George Kottaras? There isn’t one projection system that forecasts even a .300 OBP for Neives.

Have we seen enough of the Reds?

The Brewers have now lost 14 of their last 17 against Cincinnati. Sure, it’s only three games, but these three games illustrated the difference between the two teams. The Brewers have a few great players, and then too many bad ones. The 6-7-8 of Kotsay-Bentancourt-Nieves has to be the worst in the majors right now. The Reds don’t really have any bad players in their lineup. They don’t have the star power to match Braun, Fielder, Weeks, Greinke, etc., but they have a much deeper team. They don’t have one pitcher as good as Gallardo or Greinke, but they have five starters who are league average or better. And the Reds certainly don’t have four or five replacement level players on their team like the Brewers currently do.

There’s no need to panic after just three games, but the Brewers need to improve on the likes of Kotsay, Betancourt, and Nieves soon, or it’s really going to start costing them.