Thursday, December 27, 2012

Joel Hanrahan And The Case For Trading Axford

Another year, another team trades a closer. And once again, it's the Red Sox doing the buying. The Pittsburgh Pirates dealt their closer, Joel Hanrahan, along with infielder Brock Holt to Boston for 1B/OF Jerry Sands, RP Mark Melancon, INF Ivan DeJesus Jr., and P Stolmy Pimentel.

On the surface, this isn't as bad of a trade as their last two, where Boston gave up breakout star Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey, and a promising, but oft injured asset in Jed Lowrie for Melancon. Still, Pittsburgh probably isn't going to be complaining too much about a return that could potentially provide more upside than what they already had.

Hanrahan was effectively wild this past year, still striking out better than a fourth of the batters he was facing, but gave up walks and homeruns at an alarming rate, with major spikes in his BB/9 and HR/FB% compared to his stellar 2011 campaign. The saving grace for him this past season was a career-low BABIP (.225), which lead to a career-high Left On-Base Percentage (89.7%) that allowed him to come out unscathed on many an occasion. Simply put, Hanrahan was very lucky, just as the Pirates are now to get something of value for him. That's not to say Hanrahan's numbers won't come back down a little, but pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Fenway...against a hitter-heavy division like the AL East...let's just say the forecast is awful cloudy for him this coming season.

So where does Axford fit into all this? After all, coming off of a poor season, his value is definitely lower right now. However, all hope for him is not lost.

Axford suffered from similar ailments that Hanrahan did this past season, seeing both his walk and homerun rates spike, only in his case getting no love from BABIP. To say he was unlucky wouldn't be telling the whole story, as his .307 BABIP was right in line with his .308 BABIP from 2010, and he was producing groundballs at a rate similar to what he had been doing in the past. Much of Axford's struggles came from his command of the strike zone, where he was unable to get ahead in the count as much as he was in the past, which put opposing batters into a lot of hitter's counts and allowed them to square up more easily on his big fastball, as evidenced by his 24% line drive rate this past season (a 10% increase from 2011).

Should Axford find the ability to get his walk rate back down, I think it's sensible to expect him to revert back a little more to form in 2013. Maybe not another consecutive save streak with a 1.95 ERA, but maybe somewhere in between these past two seasons, which would actually reflect his 2010 peripherals quite a bit. Were this to be the case, his value would increase once more, making him an intriguing trade target for other teams in need of bullpen help. Teams right now are not afraid to deal talent for a "proven" closer, especially with pitching becoming an increasingly more prioritized asset. Not that this should be news to anybody, as we all just watched the Giants just win two World Series in the last three years behind an a stellar pitching staff. So in this market, a pitcher who has found a lot of recent success is going to command quite a bit in return.

Talking theoretical success can be a bit transparent, though, so perhaps it's best to look at what sort of value Axford has right now. As it stands, Axford is pre-arb eligible and isn't due to become a free agent until 2017, at the earliest. That would give the team acquiring him four years of control before having to shell out any sort of big payday. That in itself is a valuable asset, especially considering what he was able to accomplish in his two seasons prior to this past one, where he posted a combined 4 WAR, which is pretty darn good for a relief pitcher. However, comparing his up and down seasons should be one of the major motivating factors in trading a high-profile reliever: unpredictability.

Baseball is a tough game to predict without even looking deeper at one specific part of it. That's why there's an entire site devoted to it, appropriately titled "You Can't Predict Baseball". A 10-game slump for an everyday outfielder is a small bump in the road; one that they can easily smooth it out over the next 40 or 50 games. For a reliever though? A 10-game slump can directly affect their use in the long run and limit their opportunities to snap out of that funk, which could really make or break their season because of how large a part of it that stretch is. This is also why it's ill advised for teams to offer long, multi-year deals to relievers, simply because the team may only be getting a couple truly good years out of them. Knowing all this though, why would any team give up something of value then?

It has been less about teams giving up something truly "valuable" as much as they've been giving up "potential". For the Twins in acquiring Matt Capps, they had to surrender a promising catching prospect in Wilson Ramos. The tricky thing about prospects is they're yet unproven at the major league level, and Ramos was in a place where he looked to be blocked for a long time by then reigning AL MVP, Joe Mauer. Ramos, of course, then had himself a good 2011 where he was worth 3.3 WAR, and despite missing most of 2012, he appears to be a solid backstop for the Nationals for years to come. Then there was that one Reddick guy the A's got for Bailey, but it's not like he turned out to be good or anything...

Teams may be wising up on what they want to to give away for a closer, though. This could be evidenced by the recent Hanrahan trade. But there's also the fact that the Red Sox are getting just one season of Hanrahan, whereas the previously mentioned relievers all had more years of control left on them when they were traded. With the returns based on a lot more promise, there's obviously a bit of a gamble involved, but it's not as though there isn't already a gamble in trusting a closer to remain consistently good year in and year out. If the right situation arises, it could be a wise move for the Brewers to strike while the iron is hot. The odds Axford gets traded this offseason seem extremely slim, but should he have himself a very solid bounceback season, this could be a storyline to keep in mind for the near future.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Analysis of an at-bat: Braun vs. Liriano, 6/15/12

It's easy for sports fans to take a star player for granted. Since they are stars, they are expected to be awesome pretty much all of the time. After awhile, some of the awesome things they do get overlooked. For example, Ryan Braun did something pretty amazing in a forgotten game mid-way through June of this year. Let's set up the scenario.

The game in question was the first of a three-game set in Minneapolis against the crappy Twins. The Twins had their "ace" on the mound, Francisco Liriano. Coming into the sixth inning, Liriano was throwing a no-hitter, albeit a fairly messy one (two walks and a hit batter allowed to that point). Liriano has done this kind of thing before, and the Brewers offense had already taken part in a lengthy no-hit bid by Luis Mendoza and would take part in another bid from Bronson Arroyo before the end of the month. It was setting up to be another frustrating offensive performance, at least until Liriano did two very silly things and Ryan Braun did one very great thing.

With a 2-0 lead, Liriano started off the sixth inning by walking #9 hitter Edwin Maysonet (rofl), getting Nori Aoki to fly out after a lengthy at-bat, then walking #2 hitter Carlos Gomez (ROFL). Up comes Braun, who had walked and struck out in his prior plate appearances. Liriano starts him off with a slider low and out of the strike zone which Braun goes after and fouls off.

Then Liriano throws a changeup, even lower out of the zone. Braun once again goes after it, and once again fouls it off.

Ahead in the count 0-2, Liriano then does what any intelligent pitcher would do, and throws another slider out of the zone.

Braun swings.

And hits a no-doubter home run to center field (highlight found here). The Brewers have a 3-2 lead, on their first hit of the ballgame no less. Now Liriano is sad. 


Here are the list of things going against Braun prior to the home run:
 - He was down 0-2 in the count. He's a career .219 hitter when down 0-2.
 - Target Field is a pitcher's park.
 - For all his faults, Liriano possesses very good off-speed and breaking pitches. Once again, he had not given up a hit to that point. 
 - Liriano did not throw a strike 0-2. Physicists theorize that balls are harder to hit than strikes.
 - Hitting home runs is really hard.
 - He was behind in the count 0-2. Liriano could have thrown a pitch into the upper deck and it would have been the right thing to do. I cannot stress enough how hard it is to hit in that situation, much less hit the ball hard.

Here are the things that were in Braun's favor.
 - He's Ryan Braun.
 - That's pretty much it.

Funny thing is, it's arguable that it wasn't even the most memorable moment in the game, much less the series. The Twins would tie the game in the bottom of the inning, and catcher Martin Maldonado would break the tie with what would be the game-winning two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. The next day, Braun clobbered two home runs to back a strong pitching performance from Mike Fiers (a game I attended). The third game of the series went 15 innings. As soon as the series was over, Braun's incredible at-bat was forgotten, just another home run among the 41 he ended up hitting. Which is a shame because it was a truly remarkable moment for a truly remarkable player. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Brewers Have Done Something!!

Ahem.  Ok, so maybe that was a little dramatic.  But, I think a lot of Brewers fans have been going a little stir-crazy over the team making only very minor moves this off-season and many are concerned about the team's pitching.  So today's reported signing of Tom Gorzelanny brought more attention that he probably deserves.  The deal is pretty widely-reported, but isn't official until he completes a physical and is officially announced by the team.  It's reported to be a 2-year deal worth approximately $6 million.  It's a deal on-par with Jason Grilli's, but far less costly than one given to Mike Adams or certainly, the truly goofy deals for Brandon League or Jeremy Affeldt.

At first blush, it's easy to conclude Gorzelanny fills that LOOGY spot in the bullpen the team was missing.  But until last season, Gorzelanny had been largely a starter.  (In 2006, 2007 and 2008, he exclusively started).  In 2012, he made only 1 start--as a spot fill-in.  In my view, if the team is set on using the "young guys" to fill out the rotation, there's nothing to indicate Gorzelanny would be a starter.  He provides a lot to the Brewers, however, because he can be the one LHP in the 'pen but will be there to step into the rotation if someone falters or is injured.  Additionally, his splits don't show any distinct advantage vs LHB, except in OBP.  (In 2012, he allowed an OBP of .343 to RHB, but .289 to LHB; the oppSLG was nearly identical, as was oppBA).  He should really be viewed as a reliever, not a LOOGY.

In 72 IP last year, he posted a 2.88 ERA and a 1.319 WHIP.  His career HR/9 of 1.0 should work well in Miller Park but I'd prefer his 2012 K/9 of 7.8 (his career K/9 is only 7.0) be higher, especially for a guy in relief.  His ERA+ of 138 showed he provided truly solid value.  Grozelanny is only 30 and last year was the first year he was used exclusively in relief, so it's difficult for me to discern if his performance last year was maturation or succeeding in the right environment or a pure anomaly.  In 2007, he threw 201 innings, had a 3.88 ERA, a 1.398 WHIP, 0.8 HR/9 and 6.0 K/9.  That correlates fairly well with his 2012 work, particularly with keeping the ball on the ground and in play.

Given the way the market moved this off-season, Gorzelanny is a solid signing.  He fills out a badly needed spot in the bullpen and provides a good back-up option for the rotation (or an actual option in the rotation if someone falters in the spring).  He comes at a reasonable cost, without having to go the 3 years many other relievers have obtained and is far from a fringe guy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Players capsules: Murphy, Webb, Jakubauskas

The Brewers actually did something today, signing utility infielder Donnie Murphy to a minor-league deal. Since players of his ilk have a tendency to end up on the Brewers major league team at some point, I figured he was worth writing about, in conjunction with a couple other mildly interesting minor deals they've consummated.

Name: Donald "Donnie" Murphy
Birthdate: March 10, 1983 (age 29)
Bats/Throws: R/R
Height/Weight: 5'10, 190
Position: 2B, SS, 3B
Looks like: 

Originally a 5th-round pick by the Royals in the 2002 MLB draft, Murphy has done a fair share of bouncing around in his career. He spent 2004-2006 with Kansas City, '07-'08 with the A's, '09 in the Orioles' organization, and most recently was a member of the Florida/Miami Marlins. Offensively, Murphy looks like the stereotypical "quad A" player, someone who hit fine in the minors (.279/.347/.461) but cannot translate it to the majors (.205/.270/.373). He has a bit of power (18 home runs in 640 career MLB at-bats) but strikes out a ton, basically making him a younger version of Cody Ransom, just without the walks.

Like Ransom, his saving grace is his glove and versatility. He can play all the infield positions (aside from 1B), and plays them pretty well. His range isn't spectacular, but he has soft hands and a good arm.

If he were to make the team, his role would be similar to the role Craig Counsell held in past seasons, a defensive replacement type who can occasionally start. If Murphy were to receive substantial playing time, it would either mean he achieved a late-career Justin Ruggiano-type offensive breakout or that something terrible has happened. Let's hope something terrible doesn't happen.

Oh yeah, and his middle name is Rex.

Name: Christopher Jakubauskas
Birthdate: December 22, 1978 (age 33)
Bats/Throws: L/R (?!)
Height/Weight: 6'2, 215
Position: SP/RP
Looks like: 
Chris Jakubauskas has a pretty incredible backstory. He's Lithuanian-American, and was a first baseman at the University of Oklahoma who didn't convert to pitching until after he graduated. Jaku (as I'll now call him to avoid carpal tunnel) pitched in independent league ball for a few years before the Seattle Mariners took notice and signed him to a minor league deal. After toiling in the minors for two years, Jaku finally made the Mariners' opening day roster in 2009. He appeared in 35 games that season split between starting and relief and even tossed a complete game, albeit in a loss. He would spend 2010 in the Pirates' organization, 2011 with the Orioles, and 2012 split between the Blue Jays' and Diamondbacks' minor league systems. Jaku sustained a scary head injury with pitching with the Pirates, taking a Lance Berkman line drive off his head during a start against the Houston Astros that left him with a concussion. Sadly, that's probably his most significant major league moment.

As far as stuff, Jaku throws four pitches; a fastball that sits 88-92, a curveball in the mid-70s, and will occasionally use a low-80s changeup and a high-80s cutter. His curve is probably his best pitch, but I use the word "best" liberally. He tends to pitch to contact, and while his groundball rate isn't shabby, he has a pretty serious homer problem (career 1.41 HR/9). His career .307/.375/.531 line against lefties is fairly problematic as well.

Considering the team's depth at starting pitching, it's hard to see Jakubauskas making any real impact on the Brewers next year. If things work out just right for him, he could carve out a role as a long man, but it's more likely he's just an arm for AAA.

Name: Travis Webb
Birthdate: August 2, 1984
Bats/Throws: L/L
Height/Weight: 6'4, 205
Position: SP/RP
Looks like:
A former 8th-round pick in the 2006 draft, Webb spent seven years in the Reds' minor league system, making 95 starts among 172 appearances. He was used primarily as a reliever the last two seasons, which is probably his role long-term.

He uses four pitches; a fastball that sits 86-90 and has a little cut to it, a slider that sits around 80, a changeup in the high 70s, and a seldom used curveball in the low 70s. His arm angle and rough walk numbers (career 4.7 BB/9) will keep him in the relief role, and his arm angle will likely limit him to a lefty-specialist role. Aside from his shaky control, he's a flyball pitcher who has experienced some home run issues in the past. Since he's transitioned to the bullpen, however, his strikeout rate has spiked (10.9 K/9 in 2011-12) and he boasts a 2.72 FIP against lefties.

Even if the Brewers add a couple more relief arms in free agency, Webb probably has a shot at making the team as a lefty specialist if he can tighten up his control a little. The team hasn't had a decent lefty since Mitch Stetter's last good year in 2009, and Webb could end that string of futility. If nothing else, he can at least provide minor league depth and give the team an option should a need arise.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bargain Hunting with the Brewers

The 2012 MLB offseason has had its fair share of fireworks so far. Not only have top free agents Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton been signed already, but there's also been some monster trades that could shift the landscape of each league for the following year.

Of course, for those who follow the Brewers, this offseason hasn't been as much fireworks as it has been watching paint dry. Aside from the Badenhop deal, there's been little mention of the Brewers involvement in anything other than some off-kilter rumors involving Josh Hamilton. Let me give a quick reaction to that now that it's over...

Do I think that the Brewers were ever really interested in Josh Hamilton? Yes. Was there ever a realistic chance they would get him? No. The situation would have had to made sense not just for the Brewers, but for Hamilton as well, and the circumstances surrounding such a situation would likely not have been isolated to Milwaukee alone. It was fun while it lasted (sort of), but the possibility of it happening had a snowman's chance in hell to begin with, and at the end of the day, it just wasn't meant to be. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

In lieu of all the madness following the Greinke and Hamilton signings, Doug Melvin told reporters that he would likely not pursue any other top free agent starting pitchers. The Brewers did make an offer of two-years to Ryan Dempster, who they had reportedly been in contact with for a while, but inevitably lost out to the Red Sox on what we can assume was a more lucrative offer. Melvin also stated that the team would likely not be pursuing recently departed starting pitcher, Shaun Marcum, whom they had acquired just two years prior for the hefty price of former top prospect, Brett Lawrie.

The lack of movement from the front office has left many Brewers fans wondering what exactly their plan is this offseason, as the team currently has holes in both the rotation as well as the bullpen. My thought all along, which appears to be the case to date, is that Melvin is simply waiting out a heavily inflated free agent market in hopes of landing some better players later on for cheap. But after all this chaos to date, including even more activity as of right now, what's left?

Here are a couple pretty decent players that could be targeted in some bargain hunting:

1. RHP Tim Stauffer: You might recognize this name, though don't blame yourself if you don't. Stauffer has has been with the Padres since 2005, bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors for performance and health-related reasons. Recently though, Stauffer had found some success both in the bullpen as well as the rotation, combining for 2.4 WAR in 2010-11. Woo. Stauffer generally sat 90-91 with his fastball, and induced groundballs at a good rate for a starter, which really helped him succeed outside the friendly confines of Petco Park.

This past year, however, Stauffer spent most of the season on the DL with an elbow injury. He had surgery on it in August (not Tommy John), and will hopefully be healthy just in time for Spring Training. This signing wouldn't exactly blow anybody away, but on the cheap, he could be a solid Marco Estrada-type guy who could turn in a better-than-expected year.

2. LHP Francisco Liriano: I can hear your reaction now, and I believe it sounds something like this.
But come on, is it really that bad? Well...maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Liriano was once a big up and comer way back in 2006. Then the following year, he had Tommy John surgery, developed some bad control issues, and he's never really been the same. Or has he? Did you know he was worth 6 WAR in 2010? He threw 191 innings that year, recorded a 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, and a 3:1 K to BB. However, the following season he was plagued by shoulder issues and his K to BB went haywire (an atrocious 1.5:1). This past season, he started striking more people out again, but the walks remained an issue. So why should the Brewers have an interest in him?

Talent. The Brewers are on this kick where they're trying to pick up every pitcher with control issues and hope to either help them figure things out, or catch lightning in a bottle. An effective idea with relievers; far tougher with starters. The medicals should be enough to scare one off, although he hasn't experienced any injury issues in over a year. He's 29, still throwing 93 mph on average with his fastball, and striking folks out. On a one-year deal, I say why the hell not. If he stinks or gets hurt, they have other options. If things suddenly click again like they did in 2010, oh baby...

3. RHP Jon Rauch: I did two starters, now for a couple relievers. The reliever market has been a little emptied out, but it's far from barren. Rauch isn't a guy who will really blow any batters away, but he's got a good slider to keep hitters off balance, as well as experience in the late-inning role. Sort of Villanueva-y, in a really poor comparison kind of way. In actuality, he's probably a little closer to K-Rod, but don't let that scare you. Rauch is what he is. He has a healthy career 7.16 K/9, but also won't walk many. Hooray for no leadoff walks in late innings!

On the whole, this isn't as much of a steal as it is a guy still hovering out there who could be a solid addition for the 7th or 8th inning. The thing that attracts me most is that he'd also likely accept a one-year offer, which are my favorite kinds of offers to relievers. Melvin should probably look into doing soon.

4. LHP Tom Gorzellany: Tom Haudricourt gets credit for mentioning this one a week or so back. I had to chuckle a little bit at it because I have some fond memories of the Brewers demolishing Gorzellany back when he was with the Pirates (Remember that "rotation of the future" Pittsburgh had in '07? Good times).

After a bit of research though, this doesn't seem like all that terrible of an idea. The thought is that he could be affective against both sides, but I think that's a bit of a stretch with RHH slugging .435 off of him in his career. As a lefty specialist though, he gets the job done, holding lefties to a career .227 opp. avg. and .291 wOBA. He might not be the LOOGY Milwaukee deserves, but he's the one they need right now.

5. 2B Kelly Johnson: Last but not least, I thought I'd toss in a position player. Surprised? Confused? I kind of am, too, but bear with me here. We're going to travel through my thought process, together.

Johnson was once a good player, then an underrated player, then a rated player, and now kind of 'eh'. That's not to say he's a BAD player now, but he just posted his lowest career wOBA (.299) and his 2nd lowest wRC+ (86). Not good. At 30-years old and seemingly without a home, you have to wonder if Johnson is still an everyday player. There isn't a great need for 2B from anyone right now, and even then, Johnson's defense has kind of tailed off. If he were willing to do so, Johnson would be a mighty fine bench player. He has experience playing OF, and he might even be able to play some 3B. His greatest assets, though, are in his offensive game. Johnson gets on base (career .338 OBP), is a lefty, and has 20-homerun power. Pretty valuable things all on their own.

I fully expect Johnson to land somewhere as a starter, and it will likely be with someone random like the Orioles or Marlins. Still, were he to settle for a reduced role, he would definitely be a pretty desirable target that could offer some solid help to the bench.

Well, that's all I have for you today, everyone. Hopefully the Brewers decide to do SOMETHING to improve these areas before the start of the season, because there is a real fear that the team will go into the season without ever doing anything again. Ever. They won't draft anyone, sign anyone, or even play. They'll just become stagnate and waste away like a retired salesman on Waikiki Beach. RIP Milwaukee Brewers, you masters of inactivity.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Book of Gorman Podcast

That's right! Jerry, Corey, and myself are coming to you using our wonderful voices in a new podcast. Naturally, it will also be dedicated to the Brewers, and discuss all sorts of fun things related to them.

Check out the first episode in which we discuss the Winter Meetings and their effect on the Brewers' offseason plans:

Chapter One - "Winter Meetings"

Monday, December 3, 2012

The bullpen problem

It's not a news flash that the Milwaukee Brewers possessed a pretty terrible bullpen in 2012, and the performance of the relief pitching was probably the biggest reason the Brewers missed the postseason. I'm not going to focus on the numbers, because they're bad. Pretty much every Brewers reliever had their worst season. Understandably, Doug Melvin has already started a massive overhaul, parting ways with Kameron Loe, Jose Veras, and Manny Parra. Set-up man Francisco Rodriguez is a free agent and is unlikely to return under any circumstance. Burke Badenhop was acquired in a trade, and Melvin has already added five other relievers on minor-league deals. Next up is lefty relievers. That all sounds reasonable, right?

Sort of. The minor league deals are all fine moves, and Melvin has a history of finding treasure among other people's trash (John Axford, Marco Estrada, Jim Henderson, and Jeff Bianchi to name a few). Pursuing a lefty makes tons of sense, the team has had to make do without a decent one for a couple of years now. Parra needed to go. But the rest of the moves are murky at best.

Veras has an annoying skill set and is often difficult to watch, but pitched much better in the second half and has been a decent reliever throughout his career. He may not have been worth what he would have been paid, but his strikeout ability is nice to have around. The Loe and Badenhop moves are far more puzzling. Loe might cause Brewers fans to roll their eyes, but he was a perfectly fine middle reliever for most of his time in Milwaukee. Injuries and a lack of better options briefly forced Loe into a setup role in 2011, a role he is not designed for and some blown saves soured fans' opinion of him. A plethora of short outings by the starting rotation led to him being overworked early in 2012, and he never seemed to recover. The team decided to try to do trading for his twin in Burke Badenhop. While Badenhop had a better 2012 (and is a little cheaper), his performance in prior seasons suggest that he's no better than Loe overall. Basically, they're buying Badenhop's career year combined with Loe's worst year over the larger sample of their respective careers.

This is where an interesting problem arises; we watched Loe and Veras fail repeatedly last year, which makes us want to be done with them even though we'd look at them as good buy-low candidates if the pitched somewhere else in 2012 (to give another example, when Dan Haren was cut loose by the Angels, every other team's fanbase looked at him as a great bounced-back option, while Angels fans viewed him as an aging starting pitcher with back problems and velocity issues). The recency effect also helps is forget how good guys like Loe and Axford (now viewed as a shaky and unreliable closer) were previously. This also shows us the volatility of relief pitchers; 60 innings is a small sample size for any pitcher, yet for a reliever that's an entire season, and a slump or random bad luck is all it takes to taint the perception of said reliever. Paying these guys lots of money is an enormous risk, and dismissing them because of one bad year is also a risk.

So with all of this in mind, what's the correct way to rebuild a bullpen? The old-school approach suggests finding seasoned veterans (including a "proven closer"), an approach that worked pretty well for teams like the Orioles, Rangers, and Yankees in 2012, but on the other hand failed horribly for the Mets, Red Sox, and Marlins. The new school approach is to go cheap, buying low-cost veterans and trusting unproven youngsters. Worked great for the Rays, A's, and Nationals, not so much for the Cubs, Rockies, and Astros. This leaves us at something of an impasse; putting faith in Brandon Kintzler and Tyler Thornburg sounds cool, but could backfire just as easily as signing Sean Burnett and Jason Grilli to hefty deals.

The best solution to this problem is simple, but not easy; depth. It's what the good teams have and the bad teams don't. Bullpen depth is something the team did not have last year, having to bring up guys like Vinnie Chulk, Juan Perez, and Mike McClendon when injuries and ineptness happened, and unsurprisingly it led to more ineptness. In a vacuum, there was nothing wrong with the relief core that broke camp this last season, and there was no way anyone could have predicted that every pitcher would have a terrible year. But that's no excuse for having someone like Chulk as next best option in AAA. Whether it's through trades, free agency, or continued development of the youngsters, Melvin's primary concern should not just be quality, but quantity as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Brand New Brewer, Burke Badenhop

The Milwaukee Brewers have made their first official trade of the offseason, and unsurprisingly, it was for a reliever. The Brewers have acquired RP Burke Badenhop from the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league OF Raul Mondesi Jr.

In 62 innings for the Rays this past season, Badenhop recorded a 3.03 ERA, striking out 42 batters against walking just 12. Though he recorded a career low in his K/9 (6.06), he also recorded a career low in BB/9 (1.73), which in addition to a very solid 76.9 LOB% would help explain the over half-run differential between his ERA and his FIP (3.65 for 2012). Badenhop's tendency to induce groundballs has definitely been a major asset to his major league success, and will likely remain so in the friendlier confines of Miller Park. In essence, he is a doppleganger of former-Brewer, Kameron Loe, but will cost less than Loe would have and is two years younger.

In exchange for Badenhop, the Brewers parted with Raul Mondesi Jr., who signed with them as an undrafted free agent back in 2010 at the tender age of 17. Mondesi Jr. wasn't exactly jumping off the page with his stats to date, sporting just a .231/.282/.374 in 273 ABs with the Rookie League Helena Brewers. However, having just recently turned 20, Mondesi Jr. could still grow and improve his game with some more seasoning. His tools won't blow anyone away, but he's a fantastic athlete with a good knack for the game.

Overall, this appears to be a fine trade for the Brewers. After a disastrous performance by their relief corps in 2012, the team simply had to address the bullpen in one form or another this Winter. This one may cost them a potentially promising player down the line, but that's the way of the game, and potential is really just potential until it becomes something more. Badenhop is Super 2 eligible, and isn't due to become a free agent until 2015, so the Brewers will be getting at least 2 years of service time from him, which is pretty nice for a fairly solid middle-reliever. I imagine this will be the first of several moves to help improve the bullpen, so think of this as the first step in a multiple step process.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bye-bye, Manny Parra

The Brewers non-tendered LHP Manny Parra today, bringing an end to a long, frustrating, and painful relationship. Parra was once a big deal as a prospect, possessing the swing-and-miss stuff that makes scouts drool (and even throwing a perfect game in AAA). Once expected to anchor the rotation along with Yovani Gallardo, Parra flamed out as a starter and didn't fare much better in 2012 as a reliever. While inconsistency isn't uncommon amongst relievers, Parra took it to new levels. This five-game sequence pretty much says it all:

Good luck Manny, wherever you end up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Best FA Starting Pitcher Options

Hi there, readers and welcome to my first Book of Gorman post.  At this time of year, news in MLB is pretty scarce, aside from yet another signing of a relief pitcher to a 3 year deal that is bound to blow up in some team's face.  The worst consequence of this scarcity of news is that bloggers and "journalists" like "Baloney Oyster" start writing pretty much the same story.

Unfortunately, for you, dear reader, this is...pretty much the same story.  But writing this post was inspired by Andrew Vrchota on Wisconsin Sports Blog, where he advocates that Kyle Lohse is the Brewers best and most realistic free agent option.  I don't agree, for many of the same reasons Jerry wrote about earlier on this blog, but it's worth repeating the most important reason is he's a...wait.  Tom did say we try to be civil here.  Ah well, let's just say I don't like Kyle Lohse very much.  Here are what I see as the best non-Lohse SP options.  

1.  Ryan Dempster  He turns 36 about a month into the 2013 season, but that's not a concern in my view, as long as he's signed to a 2 year deal (or at best, a 2 year deal with an option).  Despite his age, he's had at least 30 starts a year from 2008 to 2011.  He had 28 starts last season, but there's no historical reason to expect anything other than natural decline in stamina in starts or innings pitched.  And aside from his sub-par 2nd half after his trade to Texas, there's nothing alarming beyond it being an anomaly or adaptation to a new league.  His 2.71 BB/9 is pretty so-so, but his 7.96 K/9 was Top 30.  His 3.3 fWAR and 3.69 FIP was very solid, in my view.  He should be signable to a 2 yr/$24 million deal (with a 3rd year option with 175 IP or similar threshold if necessary).  Just to briefly touch on the Lohse issue, the positives of his favorable HR/9 is unduly influenced by a favorable home park.  Plus, his very strong season last year statistically (and being represented by Scott Boras) don't bode well for an affordable contract.

2.  Brandon McCarthy  McCarthy's season ended after a very scary injury when he was struck in the head by a line drive on September 5th.  He suffered a fractured skull and needed emergency surgery.  By all accounts, he has fully recovered and the injury should not affect his pitching.  In that shortened season, he was 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA, 3.76 FIP and a 123 ERA+.  He had a great HR/9 of 0.81, but it was probably affected by pitching at home in a huge park.  Bill James projects a 2013 of 11-9, with 182 IP, a 3.46 ERA, a 1.73 BB/9 and a 0.89 HR/9 (but it's unclear to me whether he makes that projection on the assumption he comes back to Oakland).

3.  Dallas Braden  This one is a bit of a flyer.  He's coming off 2 shoulder surgeries since 2010, but when healthy, he's proven to be effective.  Plus, he's left-handed and is only 29.  Given the history, he's a prime candidate for a low-risk, 1 year incentive-driven contract.  With incentives for GS and/or IP, the Brewers could easily tie their cost for Braden to actually getting production out of him.  That said, I don't think he should be actively pursued unless McCarthy or another reasonable low-cost option can be found.

The Brewers certainly need 1 of the available free agent options.  Doug Melvin has to avoid a Jeff Suppan mistake, but also face the fact the market is going to make him pay more than he'd probably like for what's really going to be a mid-tier starter, at best.  There's only one true top-line guy available (you know who) and he's about as likely to be part of the Brewers as Josh Hamilton.  The upside of all this is the Brewers have a good number of options available to fill out the rest of the rotation.  Could Mike Fiers be "figured out" by the league and ineffective next year?  Sure.  Could the wild Wily Peralta appear?  Sure.  But risks have to be taken and those risks are better taken with low-cost in-system guys than dead-weight debilitating contracts.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Positive Perspective on Josh Hamilton

Another day, another Josh Hamilton rumor. Seems like it will never end, right? The report itself suggests that if the bidding reached the $215 million mark, which Fielder was awarded this past season, the Brewers will bow out.

Since this blog is mostly civil, we'll refrain from using real names and just accredit that expert analysis to "Baloney Oyster".

But really, after reading that, the word "duh" comes to mind. That's not even really a rumor; it's common sense. The Brewers aren't going to spend $200 million on Hamilton. But apparently, nobody else wants to either. As stated in the link:
"Some agents think offering four years could help get a deal done. 'Nobody is giving him more than four years,' one agent told (Oyster)."
"Some speculate Hamilton could cost more than $25MM per season on a relatively short-term deal."
It's easy to see a lot of downside to signing Josh Hamilton, and most of the points are perfectly justified. But this one got me thinking a little. Would 4-years, $100 million really be the worst thing for a talent like Josh Hamilton? Consider the following...
  • From 2008-2012, Hamilton is 4th amongst OF in fWAR with 22.4, trailing only Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, and Ben Zobrist (who is totally underrated). Amongst all position players in that span, he is inside the top 20, despite all the time he missed.
  • During that same stretch, he has averaged a .386 wOBA; good for top 10 amongst position players. His lowest wOBA during that time was .321 in 2009, when he missed almost half the season. It hasn't been below .369 since.
  • A lot of elite players have been playing baseball at a high level for the past 5 years.
  • Hamilton is probably best utilized in RF, where his career 6.0 UZR/150 along with the eye test would tell you he'd likely be an above average defender there.
  • Hamilton has averaged 134 games over the past 3 years. Corey Hart has averaged just 141 games during that same time. Of course, Hamilton will also probably be making double what Hart was during that time.
  • Still, Hamilton is a better all around player than Hart.
  • 75 of Hamilton's career 161 HRs have gone out to right field. Cesar Izturis and Craig Counsell have hit homeruns at Miller Park.
  • He has a career .808 OPS against LHP.

So what have we learned? There's a lot of things to like there, and the theoretical price is not as awful as it could be. Were the Brewers to somehow land Hamilton on a 4-year deal, they would get him through his age 35 season, which would likely be one of his last truly productive years as a player.

The obvious question becomes "how many games will he actually play over that span"? 134 games a year is low by "elite player" standards. But considering how much 1B/DHs make for how limited they are outside of hitting, there are worse things in life. That, and you also have two more than capable backups in Nori Aoki and Carlos Gomez, who I hate to say, seem very unlikely to replicate their stellar 2012 campaigns (but that's for another post).

For now, I'm giving you slim optimism for a move that's already unlikely to ever occur. And by unlikely to occur, I'm thinking the odds are more around one in a million. Still, the rumors will keep coming, and until he's signed, we'll keep our collective breath held while we wait and see if Jerry Narron adopts him, or whatever the reason he keeps getting mentioned is.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

News and notes; awards awarded, players acquired, rumors, and new contributors

Happy holidays, everyone. It's that magical time of year when fake Cesar Izturis twitter accounts are created and signings like Johnny Gomes are big news. Hopefully you have something like football or basketball to keep you entertained and don't have to sit at your computer and refresh every few seconds.

New faces
It's my pleasure to announce a pair additions to the Book of Gorman staff, Tom Stadler and Corey Heim. They will be assisting me in making this site much more awesome and less like it sucks so bad. Tom is a UW alum, bacon lover, all-around cool cat, and also a master of karate and friendship for everyone. His first post  for TBOG is here (spoiler: it kicks ass) and his previous work can be found here (also kicks ass). Corey is very passionate and intelligent, and one HELL of a model American. I highly recommend his personal blog and I'm excited for his contributions in the future.

Awards happened
I truly care about the awards handed out at the end of the Major League Baseball season, which is unfortunate because it makes me a crazy person. I won't get into stuff like snubs (BRENDAN RYAN) or injustice (MIKE TROUT), but I will mention that our boy Ryan Braun finished second in NL MVP voting to Buster Posey. While the gap in voting isn't reflective on how close the two players were in actual value, it's still somewhat encouraging as far as the voting process is concerned that Braun was on every ballot and got a few first place votes (if only the AL MVP were as rational). I've been trumpeting Braun as the MVP all season, and while I still believe him to be the most valuable, Posey had a great season of his own and is very deserving (even if he didn't carpet bomb the likes of Petco Park and Target Field with homers like Braun did). Aramis Ramirez finished 9th in the voting, which is cool.

Some guys were signed
The Brewers made some minor moves, signing catcher Blake Lalli and pitchers Zach Kroenke and Frankie De La Cruz to minor league deals with invites to Spring Training. De La Cruz pitched briefly for the Brewers in 2011, and pitched reasonably well at that. Kroenke is a former Yankees and Diamondbacks farmhand that also has a smidge of major league experience and a last name that sounds like something the Crocodile Hunter would yell in a moment of excitement. Lalli is a run-of-the-mill depth guy who had 16 plate appearances with the Cubs last season and not much else. He isn't Will Nieves, so there's that.

Dumb rumors
The Josh Hamilton rumors involving the Brewers just won't die, which is unfortunate because they should die. Aside from the facts that Hamilton is expensive, doesn't fill a need, and is a huge injury/off-field risk, all of the "interest" the Brewers have supposedly shown is nothing but pure speculation on the part of bored baseball writers trying to make a connection because Hamilton and Brewers hitting coach Jerry Narron are buds. Nevermind that the team already has a top offense, is trying to ease back on the payroll, and has needs on the pitching staff. Unless Narron feels like donating a few hundred million to the cause, Josh Hamilton will not be a Brewer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 for 5: Five "Rule 5" Eligible Brewers Added to 40-Man Roster

Well, fancy seeing all you here! Welcome to my first post for "The Book of Gorman". I'll be your guide for your jaunt today into Jerry World.

The Brewers announced that five of their minor leaguers have been added to the 40-man roster. They are: RHP Nick Bucci, RHP Hiram Burgos, OF Khris Davis, 2B Scooter Gennett, and OF Josh Prince. The reason this is significant, of course, is because all of those players would have been eligible for the Rule V draft. Adding them to the 40-man now protects them from becoming part of another team, and from the ever-grubby hands of former Brewers scouting director, Jack Zduriencik.

Milwaukee certainly wasn't short on talented individuals who could be exposed to this draft, so let's break down what made this fab five special enough to warrant such protection...

Burgos is coming off a stellar season; good enough to earn him the Brewers' minor league "Pitcher of the Year" honor. He pitched 171 innings this past season across three levels, spending the majority of it at AA Huntsville, and finished the year at AAA Nashville with an accumulated 1.95 ERA. Burgos' aggressive pitching style plays well against less-refined minor league hitters, making up for what he lacks in pure stuff. That's not say he couldn't get major league hitters out with what he has in his arsenal, but it will likely limit his role at the big league level to a 5th starter/swingman role; one he could find himself in as soon as opening day.

Khris Davis bounced right back after a lackluster finish at AA Huntsville last year, hitting a ridiculous .350/.451/.604 between the previously mentioned Huntsville and AAA Nashville this season (albeit, he only accumulated 241 ABs between them due to injury). Davis is your prototypical power-hitter: double-digit HR power, takes a walk, but also swings and misses a lot. Lack of a defensive position has put his prospect status in check a bit, as his best position in left field is currently locked down at the big league level for the better part of the next decade. Still, a bat with some pop is one with value, and Davis could earn his way into a bench role at some point this coming year.

Ryan "Scooter" Gennett is more than just an awesome name; he's arguably the best player on this list. For Gennett, his 2012 stint at AA Huntsville was more of the same: hitting, and more hitting. It's his best and only tool. In many ways, Gennett is a lot like Jose Altuve in that he plays second base, squares up on the ball consistently (and with some surprising pop), and has not cracked 6 foot. However, Gennett is more "small for his position" than "oompa loompa" like Altuve. Oh, and he's also left handed, which I hear is pretty valuable in baseball. Gennett has been reportedly getting better every year defensively, and as a 22-year old at AAA, he'll be in no rush to be perfect there right now. He'll be a nice asset to have, though, should any of Rickie Week's old injuries start to crop up.

Prince would likely have been a surprise addition to this list if this happened, say, 2 months ago. "New Outfielder In Town" Josh Prince finished the 2012 regular season at AA Huntsville hitting .251/.346/.360 with 41 stolen bases. Not very good for someone not playing shortstop full time. However, "Heir to the Throne" Josh Prince went off recently in the Arizona Fall League, managing a 1.064 OPS in 89 ABs, and getting lauded for his great range at multiple positions with plus speed. The latter point I think is what sold the Brewers into adding them, as they likely see potential now for him to become a super-utility player. Whether he'll realize it is yet to be seen, but those types of players can be really valuable (See: Jerry Hairston Jr's career). And besides, his name is Prince; the Brewers collect those guys. I predict that in 2 years, they will draft a Josh Fielder, then proceed to refer to him as "Prince" for the remainder of his career, garnering many a lawsuit from "The Artist Formally Known As, But Who Now Is Known As Again".

The final add was Nick Bucci, a bit of an interesting one, actually. Bucci spent most of the 2012 campaign injured, but finished strong on the year pitching 32 innings for Adv. A Brevard County, where he struck out 37 batters against walking 15, and compiled a 1.99 ERA. Like many of the Brewers prospects not named Josh Prince or Johnny Hellweg, his stint with the Arizona Fall League didn't go so great, but still showed the ability to consistently miss bats. It's an interesting move too because former first rounder Kyle Heckathorn is also Rule 5 eligible, and now as a reliever, is probably closer to the big leagues than Bucci. Heckathorn also struggled a little in the AFL, but showed good enough peripherals as a reliever in AA that I wonder if teams would have been more willing to go after him than Bucci if they were given the option. After all, who could have predicted Lucas Luetge would go off the way he did in making the Mariners 25-man roster this past season after an alright year in AA (held lefties to.186 average in 2012)?

Considering the remaining options and their current progression points, it does appear the Brewers made the most logical choices here. It will be interesting to see if any team takes a chance on Heckathorn, although it would seem unlikely that lightning would strike twice like that (I'm looking at you, Jack Z).

That's all for now. Looking forward to contributing more here at "The Book of Gorman", and I wish you all a Happy Hot Stove Season. The Winter Meetings are just around the corner...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Call for contributors

When I started this blog, I had hoped to be able to write something every day and keep the blog as current as possible. Sadly, with a full-time job and two small humans to care for, I just don't have the time to do everything I set out to do. Which is why I'm opening up this blog to anyone who wants to write Brewers.

While any type of article is welcome, I'm specifically looking for help with:
       game/series recaps
       player profiles
       acquisitions/free agency stuff
       the occasional opinion piece
The free agency and game recaps are the areas I would most like to improve seeing as I'm often at work when news breaks and during most weeknight games. Player capsules and other stuff can be done at any time, but help with those would also be welcome.

So if any of this interests you, please contact me by email at or on twitter @jheldred.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Player Capsules - Jairo Asencio

The Brewers have made four player acquisitions so far this offseason, and three of them happen to be relievers (SHOCKER). Asencio is the only one with any Major League experience, but none of it could be quantified as a "good" experience, as his numbers are pretty awful. The Brewers signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, but due to his experience will have as decent chance to make the Major League roster. Maybe Kranitz can teach him a cutter....

Name: Jairo M. Asencio (a.k.a. Luis Valdez)
Birthdate: May 5, 1984 (age 28)
Bats/Throws: R/R
Height/Weight: 6'2, 180
Position: RP
Looks like:

A native of the Dominican Republic, Asencio was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in February of 2001 and as a starting pitcher reached Class A in 2006. Granted free agency in '07, Asencio was signed by the Braves with the false name of Luis Valdez and eventually made his major league debut in July of 2009. He spent most of 2010 on the restricted list due to visa problems (not the credit card), and in 2011 had another cup of coffee with the Braves under his rightful identity before being traded to the Cleveland Indians for legal tender. He made 18 fairly nondescript appearances for the Indians in 2012 before being DFA'd and subsequently claimed by the crappy Cubs, making 12 more nondescript appearances.

Asencio's pitching profile is not an encouraging one. While he put up some decent strikeout numbers in the minors, he hasn't been able to replicate those numbers (just 6.24 K/9) in the majors, an issue compounded by control problems (4.24 BB/9) and a penchant for giving up fly balls. While 53 Major League innings might not be a fair sample to judge, Asencio doesn't appear to have the velocity or the go-to pitch to consistently get major league hitters out.

Speaking of pitches, Jairo possesses four of them. A pair of fastballs (four-seamer and two-seamer) that hover in the low 90's, a decent changeup in the mid-80's, and a slider in the low 80's. He throws the change (his best pitch) almost as much as the fastball, but doesn't have enough velocity differential between the two to fool hitters and his slider isn't anything special.

It's hard to imagine Asencio making an impact for the Brewers in 2013, and if he somehow ends up pitching many leverage innings, the Brewers are probably in big trouble. Considering the team needs depth, this was a worthwhile pickup and if nothing else provides competition in Spring Training and a live arm for AAA Nashville. But as a flyball pitcher with control issues who can't get strikeouts, even in the best-case scenario I can't see him as anything more than the last man out of the bullpen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Player Capsules - Michael Olmsted

I've stirred from my offseason laziness/procrastination to cover the Brewers' acquisitions so far, partially out of boredom and partially out of guilt for being a lazy procrastinating blogger. All three of the team's claims are interesting, and all for different reasons. Arcenio Leon is notable for having a cool name, Jairo Asencio is notable because I've heard of him, and Michael Olmsted is notable because he is a large human and he might actually have some talent. I'll start by looking at Olmsted, as he is the most intriguing pickup. The Brewers signed him as a minor league free agent, and instantly added him to the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft and making it likely that we'll see him at some point in 2013.

Name: Michael Olmsted
Birthdate: May 2, 1987 (age 25)
Bats/Throws: R/R
Height/Weight: 6-6, 245
Position: RP
Looks like:

Drafted by the Mets in the 9th round of the 2007 draft out of Cypress College in California, Michael Olmsted began his minor league career as a starting pitcher in the Mets system before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008. Prior to the surgery, Olmsted put up some nice numbers in '07 and '08 but never pitched above Class A. The Mets cut ties with him during 2009 and he spent 2010 pitching briefly in Japan (for Kam Loe's old team, coincidentally) and in independent ball before signing with the Red Sox in 2011.

Olmsted was outstanding while pitching in the Sox's system, making a combined 68 appearances (all in relief) in 2011 and 2012 while sporting a 1.47 ERA with 140 strikeouts (!) in 91.2 innings. In addition to the ridiculous number of whiffs, he kept butts off the bases to the tune of a 0.86 WHIP with a solid 2.45 BB/9. Only 14 of Olmsted's appearances were above Class A, but his AA numbers were still impressive, allowing just 18 baserunners in 20 innings while punching out 31.

As far as his stuff, Olmsted features a fastball that varies anywhere from 90-97 with a tight slider that he controls really well. The fastball velocity is easy due to his large frame and he can get good plane due to his height, but has trouble keeping velocity from game to game and sometimes the pitch doesn't have a whole lot of life. The slider is lethal and can be used to hitters from both sides of the plate, and his lack of significant platoon splits is a testament to how well he uses both pitches.

Considering Boston's bullpen woes and that Olmsted projects as a major-league reliever, it's surprising he never got a chance above AA, or a spot on their 40-man roster to prevent him from reaching free agency. This has all the makings of another one of Doug Melvin's sneaky pickups, something he seems to have a real knack for. If Olmsted has a strong camp and/or good start to the minor league season, he could be a significant factor in the Brewers' bullpen next season and beyond.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The fielding styles of Delmon Young

Look, you just don't run on Delmon Young.

On second thought, Betty White called. She wants her arm back.

Thanks to Sara Showalter (@gidget) for the GIF.

Monday, October 22, 2012

If only everyone had a Brian Wilson

During Game Six of last night's NLCS, this is a thing that happened.

Oh, to be Matt Cain or Clay Hensley at that moment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do not sign Kyle Lohse

It's not secret that the Brewers will be in the market for a starting pitcher this offseason. There are plenty of candidates, and plenty of good ones at that. But there's plenty of time to write about who they should pursue, and right now I'd rather write about who they shouldn't. One name comes to mind immediately, in part because he's the kind of pitcher the Brewers have targeted before. A pitcher who's coming off a career year, eats innings, is fairly low-risk, and is due for a big payday. Due to the title of this article, you already know who that is. But let's look at some blind résumés  for a second.

There's a lot of noise there, but none of those pitchers have career numbers worthy of a hefty free agent deal.  At best they're #4 starters. In order, those pitchers are Kyle Lohse, Randy Wolf, Braden Looper,......and Jeff Suppan. I specifically picked mediocre pitchers the Brewers signed to drive home the point. Kyle Lohse has not been a very good pitcher in his career, and the Brewers have a tendency to overpay for mediocre starters coming off of career years (Suppan didn't have a career year per se, but was coming off of a tremendous playoff performance). And Lohse is indeed coming off a career year, achieving career bests in innings and ERA as well as putting up tremendous BB/9 numbers. 

                                                                                             Not pictured: consistency

Obviously it's not entirely fair to judge a pitcher solely on his career numbers. It's certainly possible that Lohse "turned a corner", or "reinvented himself", or "learned how to pitch", or whatever platitude you choose. But while I'm willing to say Lohse is a better pitcher than his days in Minnesota, there's a more rational explanation to his career turnaround in St. Louis. That explanation being that he pitches in St. Louis. 

Lohse has spent the last five seasons pitching in St. Louis, three of those seasons easily being the best of his career, and one of those seasons struggling with injury. Lohse is a flyball pitcher, and Busch Stadium is very accommodating to pitchers of his ilk. Busch is a moderate pitcher's park according to park factors, but is even more kind as far as suppressing home runs. It's no surprise then that Lohse has put up career low HR/9 numbers while his flyball and line drive rates have stayed fairly static. It's also no surprise that he has had noticeable home/road splits in four of his five seasons in St. Louis. 

                                                                       Not pictured: enough facial hair
It's a nice narrative to say that Lohse has been revitalized by the magic of former Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. But such reasoning falls apart under closer scrutiny, and it also doesn't explain why former Cardinals pitchers have turned into pumpkins upon leaving St. Louis. The more logical explanation is that Duncan simply encouraged his projects to throw strikes and let the ballpark and defense do the rest. It's much easier to pound the strike zone when you know flyballs are for the most part staying in the stadium, and that strategy works in parks like Busch. 

This isn't to say that Lohse is a bad pitcher, or that he doesn't do good things, or even that he won't have success elsewhere. But he does have a specific skill set that works when he's pitching at least half his games in a friendly stadium. It doesn't take a genius to note that he will not be pitching in a favorable stadium if he signs in Milwaukee. He'd be going from one of the better home run parks (from a pitcher's perspective) to the worst. There's a reason why Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum had problems pitching in Miller Park; it's a shitty park for flyball pitchers. And it's even worse for someone like Lohse who throws a lot of strikes but doesn't strike hitters out. There will be plenty of pitchers who will be available, and of the guys GM Doug Melvin is likely to pursue, Lohse might be the worst possible fit, especially if he's looking for a potential #2 starter.

So Doug, do not sign Kyle Lohse.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sam Holbrook strikes again

Does this look like an infield fly to you?

Well, it apparently did to umpire Sam Holbrook, who called the infield fly rule. Ah yes, those tricky infield flies that happen to occur 50 feet into the outfield. Not only did he make a poor judgement call, he waited to make the signal until the the last second. He didn't even raise his hand until after Cards SS Pete Kozma backed off from making the catch. And for the Braves, who wound up losing 6-3 to the Cardinals, it went from a bases loaded, one out situation to a second and third, two out situation (the hitter is automatically deemed out when the infield fly rule is declared). It's not fair to the Cardinals (who played well) to assume that the Braves would have won or even scored if the call was made correctly, but it still reflects badly on the sport that a call like this was made in a do-or-die playoff game.

Holbrook is also the doof that once ejected Zack Greinke four pitches into a game for no reason. Good work, MLB.

.gif courtesy of the dudes at Getting Blanked.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Book of Gorman Playoff Preview

Tomorrow is Friday, and the playoffs start on Friday. There are ten playoff teams (the Brewers are obviously not one of them), and I will grade their chances to win it all on a scale of 1-to-5 "Fiers 'staches". Of course this is all subjective, but I make no apologies.

AL Wild Card 2
Baltimore Orioles (93-69, second in AL East)
The Orioles are probably the most surprising playoff team, somewhat based on talent but primarily based on the level of competition in their division. The fact they won 93 games is remarkable, and considering how they won most of those games, pretty fluky. They won their last 16 extra-inning games, and had a 73-0 record when leading after seven innings. While those numbers are not sustainable nor predictive, there are some reasons why they were so good in late-and-close scenarios. They have a good bullpen full of relievers (Jim Johnson has been much better than his name suggests) that keep the ball on the ground coupled with good infield defense, and their offense is full of home-run hitters. Adam Jones and Matt Weiters are terrific all-around players, and Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and JJ Hardy have enough power to make up for their contact issues. Youngster Manny Machado is also worth watching.

Their starting rotation is somewhat of a concern, as they will face the Rangers in a one-game playoff and will send bland lefty Joe Saunders to the mound in Arlington, which doesn't sound promising. Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen are all pretty good pitchers, but aren't available to pitch in this game. If the Orioles can get through the wild-card game, they have just as good a chance as anyone due to their ability to shorten the game and hit the baseball really far. The positive for them is that the Rangers' manager is Ron Washington, who doesn't have a sparkling record in do-or-die games. They also have the best road record in the AL, so there's that. I'll be rooting for this team, mostly because I find them fun to watch but also because they're considered a pretty big underdog. 
Chances to win it all:

AL Wild Card 1
Texas Rangers (93-69, second in AL West)
The Rangers were one of the more dominant teams in all of baseball for most of the season, and once held a 13-game over the Oakland A's in the AL West. But then the A's started winning and the Rangers started winning less, and the A's beat the Rangers in the last game of the regular season to win the West and demote the Rangers to Wild Card status. The Rangers will have home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, and also have the advantage of sending rookie phenom and Japanese import Yu Darvish to the mound, but it's hard to consider them a lock to win the game considering the tactical ineptitude of Rangers manager Ron Washington. Bad in-game managing isn't that big a deal over the course of the regular season, but can be magnified in the playoffs and Washington has been decidedly out-managed in each of the last two World Series'. 

Overall, the Rangers are a great team. They have a deep and dangerous offense, led by mashers/hackers Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, a good bullpen and defense, and are hard to beat at home (tied for the second-best record at home in the majors). Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Mike Napoli have all had down years by there standards but are still good hitters. Elvis Andrus is a terrific shortstop, and they have a good group of platoon players and a solid bench. Backup catcher Geovany Soto plays a lot, which is puzzling because he's really bad at playing baseball. I suppose this is where I should mention that Michael Young is a horrible player that still manages to play everyday because Ron Washington. 

On the pitching side, the Rangers are pretty top-heavy. Darvish and Matt Harrison are both pretty terrific, but Derek Holland has not been very good and glove-flipper Ryan Dempster has been average since coming over from the Cubs in a trade. Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, and Mike Adams are great relief pitchers, but it gets ugly pretty fast once you look at the rest of their bullpen. 

Like the Orioles, I find this team fun to watch. And if they hadn't lost the AL West in the final day, the Rangers would probably be the favorites to take the AL crown. But the Wild Card game is a coin flip, and anything can happen in that ballpark. At this point, it's tough to predict their chances, but I'll try anyway. 
Chances to win it all:

AL Central "Champ" 
Detroit Tigers (88-74)
I hate watching this team. Mostly because they employ Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, and Ryan Raburn (To play baseball. TO PLAY BASEBALL.). They have horrible defense everywhere except center field and their bullpen is incredibly annoying to watch (especially closer Jose Valverde, who has the most inexplicable pitching windup ever). They only won their division because the Chicago White Sox crapped their pants in the final two weeks of the season. The Miguel Cabrera MVP thing bothers me, even though it shouldn't. On the positive side, I still like Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander kicks every ass. They have someone named Doug Fister, and he's also good. Austin Jackson is great. Max Scherzer has crazy David Bowie eyes. But I can't bring myself to really root for this team unless they play the Yankees. They're also playing the A's in the ALDS, and the A's are the team I'm rooting for the hardest. 

So I don't like them. But they're in the playoffs, and due to their talent they can easily win it all. It's worth mentioning that Verlander has never pitched on three days' rest.
Chances to win it all:

AL West Champ
The Oakland A's (94-68)
I mentioned that I will be rooting for this these guys. I love how this team was assembled (MONEYBALL 2: THE RECKONING), and as a bonus they have George Kottaras. Offensively, they have tons of power and they platoon their players to hide weaknesses. Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Johnny Gomes, and Seth Smith have all been good in platoon situations, and the Kottaras/Derek Norris catching duo is unheralded but solid. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have been two of the best offseason additions in all of baseball, and the team made two low-cost pickups with infielders Stephen Drew and Brandon Inge. While none of those guys are big names, they managed to be 4th in the AL in runs scored despite playing in a crater of a ballpark. They play enough defense to get by, and Reddick might have the best right field arm in all of MLB. 

On the pitching side, they don't really have an ace but all of their starters are pretty good (despite Tom Milone sucking on the road). Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin, Milone, Dan Straily, and/or possibly Brett Anderson (oblique injury) will probably be their playoff rotation, with Travis Blackley around as a fill-in. Parker and Anderson are the best of the bunch, and Griffin is probably the most interesting guy due to him succeeding with average stuff and also wearing glasses. Their bullpen is fantastic, with a flamethrower who was a first baseman as recently as 2009 (Sean Doolittle), a couple rookies (Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner), and a closer who's an Australian dude (Grant Balfour).
Chances to win it all:

AL East Champ
New York Yankees (95-67)
The Yankees are the Yankees. They're old with an iffy bullpen and a shallow rotation, but they're still really, really talented nonetheless. On the pitching side, C.C. Sabathia is still a workhorse, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettite were better than anyone could have imagined, and Phil Hughes, well, he gives up a ton of home runs but is a decent enough #4 playoff starter. Ivan Nova sucks but I doubt he'll be seen much, if at all. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson are really good at the back end and Clay Rapada will hopefully fill the LOOGY role over Boone Logan, who isn't very good at being a lefty specialist. No one else is really worth mentioning, which is kind of a problem.

Offensively, Alex Rodriguez is a shadow of a shell of his former self and Mark Teixeira is hilarious to watch unless you're a Yankees fan. Robinson Cano is probably the best second baseman in baseball, Ichiro has filled the Brett Gardner role nicely, Derek Jeter keeps on keeping on and Curtis Granderson hits a lot of home runs but not a whole lot else. If the offense has a weakness, it's that they're vulnerable against good lefty pitchers due to having a lot of left-handed hitters with platoon problems and supposed "lefty-masher" Andruw Jones has become almost unplayable. Catcher Russell Martin blows but he's got power. The bench isn't much to get excited about aside from Raul Ibanez.
Chances to win it all:

NL Wild Card 2
St. Louis Cardinals (88-74, second in NL Central)
Chances to win it all:

NL Wild Card 1 
Atlanta Barves Braves (94-68, second in NL East)
The Braves have been on cruise control for pretty much the entire season, quietly winning games and generally doing Braves things. Ben Sheets had a successful cameo, Kris Medlen has pitched like Greg Maddux, and Craig Kimbrel has had one of the best seasons ever for a relief pitcher. Their offense is decent and their defense is elite, but I can't really take them seriously as a title contender. 94 wins is nothing to sneeze at, but this is a team with some pretty significant flaws. Like the Yankees, they have problems facing lefty pitchers, something that won't hurt them against the Cardinals but would become a thing if they advance and face the Nationals, who have two good lefties in Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. Second baseman Dan Uggla has been terrible this season and there's something up with Brian McCann. Set-up man Johnny Venters hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2011 and starting pitchers Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson are pretty shaky. Furthermore, their manager happens to be Fredi Gonzalez, and frankly he's not very good at thinking smart thoughts. Gonzalez has already stated that he will start backup catcher David Ross over former McCann (a former All-Star, mind you) because of the Cardinals "tendency to run", which is hilarious because the Cardinals were 25th in the majors in stolen bases and McCann isn't exactly a bad defender. What sound tactics.

There are plenty of positives, however, and any discussion involving this team has to start with the outfield. Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, and Martin Prado might be the best all-around outfield in the major leagues, and Andrelton Simmons is stupidly good at playing shortstop. Chipper Jones has had a nice farewell season, and McCann and Ross are a pretty good catching tandem. Freddie Freeman exists I suppose. This team has the talent to make a little noise, but even with Medlen pitching the Cardinals are a tough draw in the Wild Card game and even if the Braves get past them I don't like their chances all that much.
Chances to win it all:

NL West Champ
San Francisco Giants (94-68)
The Giants have been flying under the radar a bit, having sewn up their division forever ago and generally playing in some pretty boring baseball games. Like the A's, they are built well for their ballpark. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are both fantastic pitchers and they possess a tremendous bullpen. The rotation after Cain and Bumgarner is a little iffy, as Tim Lincecum has not been the Lincecum we've been used to seeing, and the team has to hope that Ryan Vogelsong's late season struggles are over. Fifth starter Barry Zito is good at converting oxygen into carbon dioxide but not very good at throwing baseballs.

Offensively and defensively, the Giants are probably better than you think. While Hunter Pence is overrated and Melky Cabrera is suspended (the team will not allow him to return when his suspension is up), Pablo Sandoval and likely MVP Buster Posey are the breadwinners with hilariously named Angel Pagan and impossible-to-strike-out Marco Scutaro being the table-setters. Shortstop Brandon Crawford and center fielder Gregor Blanco supply great defense but not very much offense. Ryan Theriot supplies nothing. Manager Bruce Bochy has been a pretty laughable manager in his career (including the year they won the World Series), but has actually been a better tactician this year and his bullpen management has been great. If they can get enough from the back of the rotation, they'll be dangerous.
Chances to win it all:

NL Central Champ
Cincinnati Reds (97-65)
The Reds are perceived to be a good offensive club but that really isn't the case. They finished 21st in runs scored and have a pretty shallow and righty-heavy lineup that strikes out quite a bit. But they kick ass at preventing runs. They are second in all of baseball in run prevention despite playing in a closet of a ballpark and they do it by pitching well and catching the ball when it's put in play.

On offense, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce are all good-to-great, but that's pretty much all there is to see here. Everyone else is pretty much the same, a bunch of white guys with some power but not much else. Everyone but Ryan Ludwick is at least an above-average defender, although Jay Bruce has mysteriously turned into a block of marble both in right field and on the bases. Manager Dusty Baker has a nonsensical allegiance to the dessicated corpse of Scott Rolen, which sadly moves Frazier to the bench more often than not. In other news, Dusty Baker is not a very good tactician.

The pitching is nothing short of fantastic. Johnny Cueto is a legitimate ace, Matt Latos is a solid #2, Homer Bailey has turned into a decent #3, and that leaves Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo to fight over who will get lit up in Game 4 of the NLDS. In the bullpen, closer Aroldis Chapman is a distributor of filthy cheese and pretty much every reliever this team is a different level of good. I'm not much of a believer in set-up man Jonathan Broxton, but he's pitched very well for Cincinnati.
Chances to win it all:

NL East Champ
Washington Nationals (98-64)
I can't abide the team's stupid "Natitude" slogan or their silly, derivative "Presidents race", but what I can abide is the fact that they might be the most complete team in this year's playoffs. The starting pitching is dominant (even without phenom Steven Strasburg), the bullpen is lights-out, the defense is solid, and the offense is deep and powerful. That's not to say the Nats don't have flaws (they do) or that they can't be beaten (they can), but I think this team has the best shot to win the last game of the season.

The starting rotation is headlined by outstanding lefty Gio Gonzalez and Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmerman, with Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler being capable #3 and #4 starters. Drew Storen will likely hold down the closer role with the bespeckled Tyler Clippard setting up. Clippard seemed to wear down towards the end of the season but the team has enough options elsewhere (Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus) if he continues to struggle.

As far as the bats go there's a pretty even mix of great young players and reliable veterans. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are both budding superstars, Danny Espinosa is a good young second baseman, and the trio of Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman have all bounced back from disappointing performances in 2011. The glaring position of weakness is at catcher, where Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores do what they can to occupy space. Suzuki has played decently since coming over in a trade from Oakland, but his numbers for the entire season are awful. The Nats also swing and miss a lot as a team, but were 6th in the majors in ISO, 8th in home runs, and 9th in batting average, so pointing out that they strike out a lot seems like nitpicking at this point. If there is a complaint, it's that they're a horrible baserunning team, something that could come back to bite them in the postseason.
Chances to win it all:

Just for fun I'll toss out a World Series prediction. I say the Nationals defeat the A's in six games. Enjoy the playoffs, everyone.