Monday, July 30, 2012

News and notes: Rogers awesome, Thornburg demoted, Kyles fired

Rogers shines in debut
Starting pitcher/Zack Greinke replacement Mark Rogers pitched very well on Sunday, keeping the Nationals offense at bay to the tune of two runs in 5 2/3 impressive innings. Rogers was effectively wild, issuing only one walk and getting Nationals batters to chase outside pitches consistently (all seven strikeouts were of the swinging variety). He threw primarily fastball-slider, with a handful of changeups and curveballs mixed in, and  his fastball was still touching 98 mph in the 6th inning. He showed the ability to throw the slider for strikes as well as the willingness to throw it against lefties and when he was behind in the count.

Predictably, the bullpen blew the game in spectacular fashion, as they were unable to hold down leads of 7-3 and 9-7 on the way to losing the game 11-10 in extra innings. Nonetheless, Rogers' performance was encouraging and he'll be an interesting watch for the rest of the season.

Stan Kyles fired
The team announced today that bullpen coach Stan Kyles was jettisoned an what is likely a glorified PR move. It's hard to comment on this story without having any clue how much the bullpen coach actually does, but the bullpen has been horrific in just about every way, with every single reliever having regressed from previous norms (exception being Manny Parra, who is in his first year as a RP). Lee Tunnell, who was the Minor League pitching coordinator, has been announced as the new bullpen coach. Closing quotes from Kyles here. Classy way to go out, but doesn't strike me as the words of a man convinced he did a good job.

Thornburg demoted 
Tyler Thornburg was optioned back to AAA Nashville following Sunday's loss, for the sole purpose of getting back into a rhythm as a starter. Thornburg hadn't made a smooth transition to the bullpen, and suffered some dead arm last week after pitching in back-to-back days. A corresponding move has yet to be announced, though manager Ron Roenicke said a relief pitcher would be called up in Thornburg's place.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brewers trade Kottaras for to Oakland for reliever

The Brewers have traded catcher George Kottaras to the Oakland A's for RHP Fautino De Los Santos, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. This seems like a classic move for Oakland GM Billy Beane, as Kottaras maintains a high OBP and is a useful lefty bat, rare for a backup catcher. Kottaras will also likely be a backup in Oakland, replacing either scuffling Kurt Suzuki or promising rookie Derek Norris on the A's roster.

De Los Santos is an intriguing relief option, and a pretty good get for the Brewers. He showed the potential to be a late-inning option in 2011 and was in the mix to be the A's closer in Spring Training, but lost out to Grant Balfour and early control problems earned him a demotion to AAA. De Los Santos is a high-strikeout, high-walk pitcher (not unlike Jose Veras), featuring a high-90's fastball, wipeout slider, and a changeup when the mood strikes him. His AAA numbers this season look rough, but a .423 BABIP allowed has helped inflate his ERA and make him look worse than he really is. It's unclear at this point whether the Brewers will bring him to the big-league club immediately, but he's a nice pickup for the organization regardless and should be a decent, affordable reliever for years to come.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zack Greinke traded, Mark Rogers joins the neighborhood

I believe it was a philosopher that once said, "give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it". Zack Greinke would not give the Brewers his heart, so to speak, by signing off on a proposed $112 million contract extension, and GM Doug Melvin was left with no choice but to trade him.

And trade him he did, to The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a name which literally translates to "The The Angels Angels of Anaheim") for SS Jean Segura and RHP's John Hellweg and Ariel Pena. The Brewers did well in this trade (better analysis than mine here and here), and hope still remains that Greinke could return in the offseason if the free agent market plays out that way.

Former first-round pick Mark Rogers will start in Greinke's place on Sunday, as fellow rotation candidate Tyler Thornburg is experiencing a sore arm. Rogers had a cup of coffee with the Brewers during the 2010 season and has overcome a slew of arm troubles to make it back to the majors. Rogers' seasonal number in AAA Nashville don't look all that impressive (6.99 K/9, 4.63 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9, 4.72 ERA), but he's pitched very well as of late, giving up just nine hits and two runs over his last 19 innings with 20 strikeouts.

As an aside, I have the vision in my head of Aaron Rodgers and Mark Rogers in a western-style showdown, with Aaron Rodgers drawling "this town ain't big enough for the two of us". Mark Rogers would almost certainly lose the duel, seeing as he would likely suffer a shoulder injury trying to draw the gun from it's holster.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lucroy is back, Kottaras DFA'd, Jim Henderson blah, blah, blah

The Brewers reinstated catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the disabled list, designating backup catcher George Kottaras for assignment. The team has 10 days to decide to trade him, release him, or hope he accepts a minor league assignment. A trade is the most likely outcome, as a proven backup catcher is something many playoff contenders could use.

                                                  Welcome back, Luc. May the force be with you.

The team also sent IF Jeff Bianchi back to AAA after an uninspiring debut, replacing him with RHP Jim Henderson. The 29 year old Henderson is making his major league debut after putting up some impressive number for AAA Nashville (35 appearances, 48 IP, 56 K, 1.21 WHIP, 1.69 ERA). Despite Henderson's numbers, it's hard to get too excited considering his unsightly 4.13 BB/9 and his flyball profile. The team is currently carrying 13 pitchers, which is pretty ludicrous. Hopefully a trade or two will reduce that number.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Offensive numbers vs. opposing bullpens

It's no secret that the Brewers' bullpen is scary-beyond-all-reason bad. But while the team's relievers were blowing big leads the last two nights to the Phillies, something else was happening. Or more accurately, NOT happening. The Phillies own a bullpen that's almost as bad as the Brewers', yet Milwaukee's offense did not even register a hit against them in either game while striking out eight times. Scoring six runs each against Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay is impressive; looking like little leaguers against one of the worst bullpens in baseball is not. Although it was just two games, suffering against opposing relievers in late-game situations seems to be a reoccurring theme this season. Is there any truth to this?

There is, sort of. Since I'm focusing on the later innings, I'll ignore how the Brewers have fared against relievers that have gone through the lineup more than once in a game (long-reliever/swingman types). The offense sports a .235/.327/.385 line against relievers, compared to the league average of .243/.318/.381. So in general, the team shows a little more patience and power than league average, but isn't getting as many hits.

But just looking at the 8th and 9th innings, a larger discrepancy emerges. In the 8th inning, the offense's line moves to .222/.313/.361, compared to a .241/.313/.383 league average. The 9th inning is a disaster for the Brewers' bats; .198/.299/.341, well behind the league's .234/.306/.370. Their OPS+ is 94 and 90 for the 8th and 9th innings, respectively.

These findings would not be surprising if the Brewers were a below-average offense. But they're not. They're OPS+ is currently at 101 (100 being league avg.), and they are 13th in runs scored (out of 30 teams). The offense as a whole is ever-so-slightly above average.

What can we glean from this? Probably nothing other than bad luck. Although it's entirely possible that the batting order contains a lot of hitters that are bad at situational hitting (I refuse to consider "clutch" a thing), a lot of it is likely BABIP-related, as a .240 BABIP in the 9th inning is not sustainable. And while poor luck in the later innings isn't the reason the Brewers has underachieved, considering the team's performance in close games overall, it certainly hasn't helped.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lay off of Ron Roenicke

With the Brewers' playoff hopes dashed and the likelihood of selling on the horizon, conversation among Brewers fans yesterday on Twitter turned toward manager Ron Roenicke, who is in his second year with the team. Some fans don't mind him, others hate him, and some were even wistfully dreaming of Ken Macha, who napped in the Brewers dugout during the '09 and '10 seasons. But as someone who watches a lot of baseball, and sees so much bad managing across the MLB landscape,  I will now try to convince you that Roenicke is the best the Brewers are going to get, and why that's not a bad thing.

Because if you think Roenicke is the center of the Brewers' problems and/or must go, you are an idiot.

If I've already offended you, you should probably stop reading.

Tossing aside the obvious notions of "the grass is always greener on the other side" and "you don't know what you have until it's gone", fans in general put too many expectations on managers while demanding for their heads when things go downhill. It's only natural. Fans focus only on the bad things the manager does and ignore the good they've done until years later when they see how bad their new current manager is. It's part of being a fan, to think irrationally. And since most of the fans only watch the Brewers, they have little concept as to what else is out there. They hear writers saying "Dusty Baker is great!" and " And as far as Roenicke is concerned, fans are constantly ignoring positives while instead frothing at the mouth about bunting or that one time Mark Kotsay played center field in a playoff game. But before I go further, I will say this; I don't think Roenicke is a good manager (in a vacuum, anyways), merely an average one. In today's MLB (or any day's MLB), that's pretty good.

I've made a handy breakdown of every MLB manager, sorted by how good they are at their jobs. How do we measure how good they are? Acceptance of sabermetric ideals, competent lineups, bullpen management, use of bench, handling of players as well as dealing with adverse situations, etc. Things we can reasonably measure. And if you plan on arguing that win-loss record should factor in, instead find your dog and light him on fire. It will heat your house as well as being more productive than the argument you are about to make. A monkey can manage a World Series team if they have enough talent. And a team overachieving does not mean their manager is good, either. It means they are getting lucky. If you have trouble remembering this list, you can always print it and put it on your fridge or maybe tape it to the windshield of your car, right above the steering wheel.

Good managers    Average managers        Bad, but not killing team       DERP
J. Maddon (Rays)   B. Showalter (Orioles)       B. Valentine (Red Sox)             N. Yost (Royals)
M. Acta (Indians)    R. Ventura (White Sox)     J. Leyland (Tigers)                    C. Hurdle (Pirates)
                             M. Scioscia (Angels)        R. Gardenhire (Twins)               J. Tracy (Rockies)
                             J. Girardi (Yankees)         B. Melvin (A's)                          Frediot (Braves)
                             R. Roenicke (Brewers)    E. Wedge (Mariners)                 B. Mills (Astros)
                             J. Farrell (Jays)                R. Washington (Rangers)          B. Bochy (Giants)  
                             M. Matheny (Cardinals)    K. Gibson (D-Backs)  
                             B. Black (Padres)            D. Baker (Reds)
                             D. Johnson (Nationals)     D. Mattingly (Dodgers)
                             D. Sveum (Cubs)             O. Guillen (Marlins)
                             T. Collins (Mets)              C. Manuel (Phillies)

You'll notice most managers fit into the bad/worse categories, and this is because they are constantly making bad decisions as well as ignoring progressive thinking or change. Winning can cover up their faults (Manuel is a shining example of this), but when things go poorly they look like bumbling fools. Things have gone badly for the Brewers this season, but Roenicke's only major contribution to this is believing in the sacrifice bunt.

Sacrifice bunts

This is the most common criticism of Roenicke - too much bunting. This criticism is well-founded. The Brewers are tied for the major league lead for bunting with the Dodgers after finishing second in the category last year. The Brewers have sacrifice bunted successfully 48 times (hits and unsuccessful sac bunts not included) this season. 35 have come from position players, and it's impossible to sort how many of those players were actually trying to push bunt (bunt for a hit, in other words). The team bunts too much, and while some players bunt under there own volition (Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart have both claimed to have done so), Roenicke deserves blame for this.

But while bunting annoys fans, it doesn't kill  run expectancy and certainly doesn't hurt it the way it used to in the current environment where strikeouts are way up (16.8 K% a decade ago, up to 19.6% now) . While a decreased run environment increases the value of an out, increased strikeouts slightly increase the value of a "productive" out. This doesn't excuse Roencike, but I can at least see where he's coming from. So we've got one mark against him, but to me this does not make him a bad manager, merely a flawed one. Oh, and by the way, every team (save maybe the Indians) bunts stupidly. The Brewers are towards to top of the list, but they're not miles ahead of the competition.

Lineup construction

Most of the whining about the lineup centers around Weeks batting at the top of the order the first couple months of the season along with whichever center fielder is in the lineup. Lineup construction doesn't matter all that much in the long run, but since we're here we might as well discuss it. Weeks has had a disaster season, but still has an OBP north of .300. He's a career .350 OBP hitter. Until there was a large enough sample to prove that Weeks wasn't snapping out of his slump, there was no reason to remove him from the leadoff spot. He'd never been this bad during his career, so there was no way for Roenicke to know that Weeks wasn't simply just experiencing bad luck. Corey Hart has also spent some time in the leadoff role the past two seasons, which is also fine seeing as he also owns a decent career OBP. Morgan's story is similar to that of Weeks. He has also had a terrible season but owns a career .342 on-base (.355 against RHP). Morgan's problem has been a BABIP that's almost 60 points below his career average. That's not Roenicke's fault. Gomez's occasional inclusion in one of the top two spots is a little puzzling, other than the fact that whenever he does get on base he usually blazes his way into scoring position.

To his credit, Ron has shown the willingness to tinker with the lineup to try to maximize production where he can. He moved Aoki to the leadoff role as well as moving Lucroy up in the order when he started hitting. He is neither reactionary (Aramis Ramirez is struggling to start the season? Drop him to the 8th spot!) nor completely static (I don't care if Weeks is hitting .160 after two months, he's my leadoff hitter forever).

Playing time

This ties into the lineup a little bit. Fans wanted Weeks benched during his slump, ignoring that the team had no one to replace him (Taylor Green should not play second base, and there's little evidence he's not a PCL creation). Even in a slump, Weeks has higher upside than anyone who could replace him. Nyjer Morgan is also a popular "bench him!" candidate, but there's a multitude of problems with that. Not only is he a popular clubhouse guy and generally good defender, he's a possible trade piece that's not going to get more valuable sitting on the bench. And opening up more playing time to Gomez sounds good until your realize he has the baseball IQ of your now-incinerated dog.

As for 2011, Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee had to play. Betancourt may be the worst full-time player in the majors, but the Brewers didn't have anyone better. McGehee had a season and a half of good production prior to struggling in '11, so Roenicke gave him as long a leash as he could to give Casey the chance to snap out of it. And don't tell me Roenicke doesn't keep guys accountable. Betancourt was benched for two games against the Rockies last year when he lost focus at the plate and on the field, and Yuni responded with better play. Roenicke hung with McGehee (another clubhouse favorite) until the playoffs, then turned to Jerry Hairston when production was needed. And for all the gnashing of teeth surrounding Morgan's brain cramps this year, he's cleaned up his act since the series against the White Sox. He wasn't benched, but who knows what was said behind closed doors. They players trust Roenicke, and although it's not a requirement for a team to have a rosy clubhouse to win (nor is it quantifiable), it shouldn't be ignored that Roenicke has had a favorable working relationship with his players. I can tell you from my own experience that having a likable boss can improve performance at work.

And the Mark Kotsay stuff was blown way out of proportion. Hart, Morgan, and Gomez all spent time hurt at the beginning of the year, he had to play. And the playoff game where he started in CF? Roenicke took a risk to get his bat into the lineup (Kotsay has mashed Carpenter throughout his career), and defensively it didn't work. Kotsay couldn't get to a fly ball. He also hit a home run. Shut the fuck up about it. Kotsay wasn't a disaster in his spotty playing time CF during the season, it was bad luck it happened during a playoff game. The Brewers didn't lose the playoff series because of that play, they lost it because Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum pitched like absolute garbage and the Cardinals had an amazing offense. And let's also conveniently ignore that the opponent, the Cardinals, got away with playing Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot in the playoffs. Or that other managers have played Aubrey Huff and Vlad Guerrero in the outfield during actual World Series games. And Roenicke did learn from his mistake. Have you seen Hart or Ishikawa playing CF this year?

It's also easy to overlook the use of the CF platoon (and the sort-of SS platoon). There are plenty of managers out there that don't recognize or won't admit when a player shouldn't face LH or RH pitchers. We're lucky enough to have one that does.

Bullpen management

Honestly, if you have a problem with Roenicke's bullpen usage, drive to your mother's house, punch her in the face and yell "WHY DIDN'T YOU PROVIDE ME A BETTER EDUCATION?!" Fans had a problem with Kameron Loe being dubbed the "8th inning guy" last year, but those same fans must not have realized there was no better solution. Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins were both hurt at the time, and when Hawkins came back the team had to ease him in. There weren't any better options in the minors and there was no lefty on the team (or in the system, for that matter) who could have platooned with Loe. And as for this year, when every reliever sucks, replacing one crappy reliever with another doesn't help you. Axford is the team's best reliever, and Roenicke had to use him that way.

Ron's not been afraid to use his best reliever outside of a save situation, either. Axford has twice pitched in the 8th inning of a tight game while the team was close, and did it once last year. Ax gave up a home run in one of those games and lost another, but Roenicke was using his best reliever against the heart of the opposing team's order. It didn't work, but it was still the right thing to do. Your best reliever should face the best hitters late in a game, regardless of whether it's tht 8th or 9th inning. And he's also started using Manny Parra in high-leverage situations, likely realizing he's pitched better than his surface numbers suggest and challenging him to succeed while also making him a more valuable asset.

The Zack Greinke situation

Greinke's bizarre three-starts-in-a-row fling followed by his brief shut-down period has also been blamed on the manager. This is pure insanity. Roenicke is the field manager, not a power-crazy dictator. He has authority over him. It's true that he sets his pitching rotation, but a decision such as this is made by multiple people. How do I know? BECAUSE THEY SAID SO. The decision to start him two consecutive days was made be Roenicke, pitching coach Rick Kranitz, and Greinke himself, who asked to start the second day in the first place. It bears to reason that Melvin had a say as well. And a pitcher experiencing fatigue and subsequently having a start skipped is something that happens more often than you think. The decision to rest him was also a joint decision.

Defensive shifts

This is a category most often ignored by Roenicke detractors because, frankly, it's the hardest to see unless you're actually attending the games (TV cameras focus primarily on the pitcher and batter). Using defensive shifts is smart baseball. If a batter has tendencies, take advantage of it. Moving the defense and forcing the batter to adjust is a good move, and no one does it more in the NL than the Brewers (they're the only NL team in the top ten). This was vastly important during the 2011 season when the infield defense was horrible and it played a big part in the team's excellent run prevention. By Bill James' measures, the Brewers infielders improved by a combined 56 runs in 2011. If you're going to rip on Roenicke for giving away outs on offense, then give him credit for taking them away on defense.


So what do we have here? Sounds like a pretty average manager. There are positives (sticking up for struggling players, shifting, strict platoons, bullpen management) and negatives (bunting, batting Gomez 2nd, the Kotsay thing since you probably won't drop it). But to act like the negatives are glaring evidence that a change must be made or that that Ron is killing the franchise makes you either an idiot or someone with an affinity for lazy analysis. Good managers are hard to come by and I don't think making a change to someone like Davy Lopes will improve matters any. This team is not bad because of Roenicke but because they've sustained injuries and the bullpen has been really, really bad. They've simply become a bad team. So remember, if you use the hashtag #fireRonRoenicke and you're not being ironic, you are actually an idiot. Congrats. You should probably apologize to your mom when she regains consciousness.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thoughts on selling/trade value

With a disastrous performance in the first two games of a  entire three game series against the NL Central-leading Cincinatti Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers are just about out of the playoff race. Although crazier things have happened, teams with playoff aspirations do not get shut down by Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey, two of the most hittable (read: worst) starting pitchers in baseball. As well as allowing nine runs in two games to an offense that's pretty horrific without Joey Votto. So, assuming the team goes into the blessed and hallowed "sell mode", what can the Brewers reasonably expect for some of these players?

Zack Greinke 
Greinke is the biggest piece the Brewers have. With the news that the Brewers will only receive one compensation pick if he leaves in free agency (instead of two like the old days), the value of keeping him all season and then letting him leave in free agency lessens greatly. There are a lot of issues tied into dealing him, however.

The first (and biggest) one is that the Brewers offered him a contract extension in the $112 million range. Frankly, he would be a lunatic not to take it. He was offered near-Matt Cain money, and although his upside is higher than Cain's (Cain hasn't come close to Greinke's Cy Young season in '09, which was done in the tougher league and in a tougher run environment), he's nowhere near as safe or consistent year-to-year. He's also unlikely to find a deal like it in free agency; Cole Hamels will command the biggest money, and while Greinke is a clear second there are many solid young-ish arms that will cost a fraction of what Greinke will likely ask for (McCarthy, Liriano, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, etc.). Tied in with that is the fact that many high-payroll teams are either disinterested in Greinke or looking to cut costs. The only team that can reasonably be forecasted to offer Greinke a big deal is the Dodgers, and it's no secret the covet Hamels more than anyone.

Another issue is there's plenty of pitching available on the trade market. Why give up a king's ransom for Greinke when you could have Ryan Dempster or Franciso Liraino for less? And if you are willing to go all in, Cole Hamels is the better option and you could argue James Shields is a worthwhile investment as well.

Oh, and about the king's ransom; it's not going to happen. Seeing as the team that trades for Greinke will not receive draft picks when he leaves in FA, the Brewers have much less leverage. They'd either receive a C-level prospect that's close to the bigs but has low upside, or someone with tools who's light years away from contributing. Or a collection of below-average major leaguers. Ick.

Shaun Marcum
Marcum is also a free agent at the end of the year, but he's currently hurt and the only chance the Brewers have of moving him is a post-deadline waiver deal. Not likely to get much for him.

Randy Wolf
Also a free agent. He has a team option for next year but only an imbecile would not buy him out. He's just about worthless as a trade asset. 

Jose Veras
See Wolf, Randy.

Francisco Rodriguez
He's a "closer", and he's a big name, so there's a non-zero chance that a GM become nostalgic and gives up a 4th outfielder or relief prospect for him. The team could move him for nothing just to cut costs.

John Axford
Axford is cheap and under team control for awhile yet, and that's what would make him tempting to a team desperate for relief help despite his struggles. Seeing as relievers a volatile and Axford is sexy when he's right, he could bring back an interesting return. A progressive-thinking GM would think about moving him, but progressive isn't exactly how I would describe Doug Melvin. Not going anywhere.

Corey Hart
Hart could bring back a nice return seeing as the first base position has weakened this year and he's signed through next year on a very reasonable deal. He has a great relationship with the organization and is a good extension candidate, so it's highly unlikely he's dealt. 

Rickie Weeks
Not happening

Aramis Ramirez
It's odd to think that Ramirez could bring back the biggest return, but it's probably true. Bats are hard to come by on the trade market, and he's about as reliable as they come. He's also not a rental, but the next two years of his contract are unsightly. The Dodgers are reportedly interested in him and might part with Nate Eovaldi or (hopefully) Zach Lee to get a competent bat. If they don't get Chase Headley, it could happen. Let's hope it does.

Nyer Morgan
He's the offensive version of K-Rod. Having a bad year, but brings value as a part-time player and was tremendous last year. We can only hope teams trade for the 2011 version of Morgan. Would bring little-to-nothing in return, but would open up playing time for prospect Logan Schafer. 

George Kottaras
George is a great backup catcher and would be an extremely useful piece for a playoff team. It's hard to gauge what return he could bring because his value might greatly exceed how good he actually is. There just aren't many catchers on the market. He's also a decent pinch-hitter but that might be his only role on the Brewers once Jonathan Lucroy returns. Maybe they could package him with Randy Wolf in a trade (GET IT? IT'S A BREWERS JOKE).

Travis Ishikawa
Seems like a classic post-waiver deal. Decent pinch-hitter, can play a couple positions.

Anyone else
There's not much else of worth that the Brewers could move, and certainly not for any real value. I suppose Manny Parra and Kam Loe could go, but whether they like it or not the Brewers have to field a bullpen of some kind. No one wants the shortstops. Braun, Aoki, Gallardo, Lucroy, and anyone else young/cheap are safe, as they should be. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Manny Parra, high leverage reliever?

Count me among those surprised to see Manny Parra exiting the bullpen door to protect a 3-2 Brewers lead in the 8th inning last night. With John Axford banished to the "get your shit together" role, set-up man Francisco Rodriguez was deemed closer. That left a void in the 8th inning, and although manager Ron Roenicke said there would be no defined roles outside of K-Rod pitching the 9th, the smart money was on some combination of Jose Veras and Kameron Loe holding down the set-up role. Both have had experience pitching in such situations during their careers, so it only made sense. Last night, however, Veras got the last out in the 7th inning, was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 7th, and in trotted Manny Parra.

Parra has mostly been a man without a role this year. He was kind of a long-reliever to start the year, but Tim Dillard and Loe were both used in that role as well, making him redundant. He's lately been used in something of a LOOGY role, but that seemed like a waste of his abilities seeing as he's always been effective against right-handed hitters in his career. But his propensity for putting butts on bases has always curbed his potential for better things, and Brewers play-by-play guy Brain Anderson put it well when he said that it seems no one in baseball is more affected by being ahead or behind in the count than Manny Parra.

He's been good so far in July, but still looked like his old self during a 7th-inning outing against the Pirates last Friday. He put the first two hitters he faced on base and seemed incapable of throwing a strike, then got two strikeouts and a ground ball to get out of it. Last night though, he looked like a completely different pitcher. Facing the Cardinals' daunting trio of Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran, he went right after them, attacking with an assortment of pitches and not bailing when he did get behind in the count.

Parra punched out Craig on a nasty splitter, then used another splitter to get Jay to ground out weakly to first before whiffing Beltran on (surprise) a splitter (PITCH f/x calls it a changeup, I call PITCH f/x a liar). What was most impressive was his ability to throw his curveball for strikes. Generally it's just a show-me pitch to give the batter something to think about, but he used it to baffle Jay and surprise Craig for strike two. He dominated three good hitters and looked confident doing it.

Whether Parra will continue to see high-leverage situations like this is anyone's guess. It might have just been based on matchups, as Jay and Beltran were bad matchups for Loe and burning him on Craig only would have been a waste. And for all we know, Veras may have come back out for the 8th if he hadn't been lifted for a pinch-hitter. But last night may have been a clear indication that Parra is ready for a bigger role, and if so, could be a big key for the Brewers during the stretch run.

Monday, July 16, 2012

John Axford blows another save, Brewers fans blow gasket.

There's only so many ways to say it; John Axford has been terrible this year. In what has been a banner year for closer terribleness, Ax has certainly done his share to deface the closer "position". Tonight was no different. Entering with a 2-0 lead, Axford walked utility guy Matt Carpenter and after two loud outs to Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman, gave up an unfortunate infield hit to Rafael Furcal and walked utility guy Skip Shumaker. Unacceptable. Matt Holliday drove a pitch up the middle to score two and tie the game and Allen Craig drove in one that would be the game-winner.

Ax's control was horrific tonight, as it has been all season. Can't locate the fastball, can't get the curveball over for strikes, doesn't throw the slider near as much as he should considering how bad the other two pitches have been. The only part of the zone he can even remotely touch is the upper half, which is bad news considering his fastball is as straight as a string. His home run rate has skyrocketed and it's made much worse  with all the free passes he's handed out.

                                               John Axford, probably not throwing a strike.

In a season that's hanging by a thread, the Brewers can't afford to give away so many games late. Axford has blown six saves as well as owning six losses, and while he's certainly been terrible, there's no real solution. Francisco Rodriguez is the next obvious choice to close, and he's been walk- and tater-prone this year as well. But even with him (hopefully) pitching better than Ax in the 9th, who's going to pitch the 8th? Jose Veras has been just as bad as Ax, Manny Parra is unreliable, Kameron Loe is not fit to face lefties or pitch in many consecutive games, Tyler Thornburg is now starting and don't even bring the thought of Livan Hernandez into your head. The best solution is probably a Parra/Loe platoon, but that's not exactly a situation any manager should look forward to.

I don't know if Ax will still be the closer after tonight, but in all honesty, I don't know if tossing him from the role is going to help the team all that much. Fans may taunt Ax on Twitter or call Roenicke an imbecile for leaving him in the closer role, but face the facts, the entire bullpen is a huge problem and switching one role is not going to make it better.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Brewers take two of three from Pirates, who are still striking out

Gosh frick, do the Pittsburgh Pirates have a terrible offense. After striking out a remarkable 15 times in a win against the Brewers on Saturday, the Pirates upped the ante on themselves by whiffing 17 times in a loss to Milwaukee on Sunday. Brewers starting pitchers Marco Estrada and Yovani Gallardo punched out 11 and 14 Pirates respectively, and if it weren't for some shoddy defense on Saturday the Brewers might have had their second sweep of the season.

Speaking of defense, the Pirates aren't good at that either. For reasons that no one can understand, manager Clint Hurdle plays butcher Pedro Alvarez at third base while playing slow-but-reliable fielder Casey McGehee at first. McGehee has been a career third baseman, while Alvarez should be a career DH. Oh yeah, and Sunday's corner outfielders were Drew Sutton and Garrett Jones, two of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball (Jones should be playing first base, Sutton has been a utility infielder for most of his career). 

                                   Every time a ball is hit to Pedro Alvarez, a demon gets it's horns.

In a sequence of events that should have surprised no one, the Brewers scored all four of their runs in one inning, helped out by a horrific throwing error by Jones and an fielding error by Alvarez that the official scorer later changed to a double for some reason. Brewers slug/third baseman Aramis Ramirez even stole a base in the inning, which happened because the Pirates are the worst team in baseball at throwing out basestealers. And Pirates catcher Rod Barajas' throw was so bad it injured second baseman Neil Walker.

And going back to the Pirates' offense for a second, Andrew McCutchen is amazing. He hit a home run in every game of the series (four in a row overall), and was on base three times today. Everyone else on the team reached base twice. In 28 attempts. And struck out 17 times. Gallardo's 14 K's were a career high. You'd think that the Pirates offense wasn't all that terrible considering they scored 13 runs on the first two games of the series, but for the season they are 22nd in runs scored. McCutchen is by himself. Get him some help, Pirates. 

Maybe Justin Upton?

But probably not. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Pirates regression train hits Miller Park

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a hot story halfway through the 2012 baseball season, and their sparkiling 48-37 record coming into Friday night's game was expected by precisely no one. Their run prevention is outstanding, as they treat opposing offenses the same way Walter Sobchak treats German nihilists. Their offense is another story, as it's basically a pile of hot garbage outside of the solid Neil Walker and fan-freakin'-tastic Andrew McCutchen. I suppose Pedro Alvarez isn't terrible, but he's kind of like a poor man's Adam Dunn at this point, if Dunn were shorter and had a better tan.

                                          Pirates players celebrating someone getting on base.

There are many regression candidates on the Pirates, and by many I mean almost the entire pitching staff. James McDonald is a fine young pitcher, but his batting average allowed is just .194 and that's not something that just happens. And for an extreme fly ball pitcher, his home runs allowed is stupidly low (Ryan Braun spanked one out against him tonight). Jeff Karstens reeks of Dave Bush to me, and AJ Burnett hasn't come even close to meeting his blow-up quota. Kevin Correia and Erik Bedard kind of suck. And then there's the bullpen, featuring gimmicky guys (Tony Watson and Jared Hughes), and veterans who are greatly out-pitching their peripherals as well as their career norms (Resop, Slaten, Grilli, Cruz, even Hanrahan).

So no, I don't believe in the First Place Pirates. And the conductor of the regression train is manager Clint Hurdle, who did one of the dumbest things I've ever seen tonight. Which is really something considering how many stupid things are done by managers daily. It was the defining moment in one of the most entertaining baseball games this season.

                                        Pictured: Clint Hurdle chewing styrofoam because DERP.

The situation; tie game, 8th inning, runners on second and third, two out. Rickie Weeks at the plate. Tony Watson pitching. Weeks has been better over the last month or so, but still sports a .200 batting average along with a titanic 100 strikeouts. What should Hurdle do? NOTHING. Have Watson (I'll get to him in a second) pitch to Weeks. What does Hurdle do? He has Watson intentionally walk him. I'll repeat rephrase that. HE INTENTIONALLY WALKS A .200 HITTER. Predictably, the tiring Watson threw a beach ball to Cody Ransom five pitches later, and predictably Ransom sent it to Argentina. Grand Slam, Pirates go one to lose by 3. I can fathom walking Joey Votto to get to a bad hitter (which Ransom is). But not a hitter with worse numbers than Ransom himself.

                                             Cody Ransom, thanking Clint Hurdle for giving him the opportunity.

There's so many things that went wrong here. The first is the fact that Watson was even in the game. Lefty Nyjer Morgan was supposed to lead off the inning for the Brewers, but was pinch-hit for by righty Carlos Gomez with the left-handed pitcher Watson entering the game. Hurdle then left Watson in to face seven consecutive righties. Now, Watson isn't a LOOGY, and actually has reverse platoon splits. But the Brewers crush lefties as a team, and Watson isn't even very good to begin with. Despite having better pitchers in the bullpen, Hurdle stuck with Watson for a whopping 35 pitches and was rewarded with a four-run deficit. Why not Jason Grilli? Or Juan Cruz? Or heaven forbid, Joel Hanrahan in a high-pressure situation? And finally, why intentionally walk anyone? There's two outs. You don't need a double play. Low-contact hitter at the plate. PITCH TO HIM. Hurdle did what a stupid manager does.

Now, the Pirates may still finish ahead of the Brewers. They may even make the playoffs. But holy cow, will their playoff opponent be excited to face them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Legend of Tim Dillard gets a Thorn in it's side

The Brewers continue to tweak the roster during the All-Star break, sending down Tim Dillard and replacing him with top prospect Tyler Thornburg. Used as a starter in the minors, Thornburg profiles as a reliever long-term although the team is not against using him as a starter again should the need arise. Thornburg's promotion as well as the arrival of Jeff Bianchi should at least make the Brewers a little more interesting to watch over the next couple weeks.

As for Dillard, I would imagine we'll see him again at some point, assuming he accepts his minor league assignment. I leave you with this video of the Legend doing what he does best. Hopefully Tyler has worked on his impersonations....

First-half grades - pitchers

The Brewers pitching staff has had an odd season. The starting rotation got off to a rough start while the bullpen was passable, and as the season went on the rotation improved while the bullpen fell off of a cliff. The team has basically lived and died by the performance of the pitching staff and I'll be honest, a lot of these guys are tough to grade. Irredisregardless, I'll give it a shot.


Zack Greinke - 19 starts, 9-3 (W-L), 111 IP, 9.00 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 3.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.6 WAR
Greinke has really had a great half-season for the Brewers. I don't really know what else to add to that. He had a couple poor starts against the Cubs and Diamondbacks where he was basically singled to death, but has otherwise pitched like an ace and is really fun to watch on top of that. He's got a decent shot at the Cy Young award if he keeps this up. Grade: A-

Yovani Gallardo - 18 starts, 7-6, 108.1 IP, 8.89 K/9, 4.15 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
There were a lot of high hopes for Gallardo coming into the season, and some had him pegged as a dark-horse Cy Young candidate. Fast-forward to halfway through the season, and Yovani is, well....still Yovani.  And frankly, that's fine. He's still inefficient, still gives up too many home runs, and still gets pounded by the Cardinals, but he's a solid #2 starter and realistically that's what we should expect from him. Many thought he had turned a corner last year by drastically lowering his walk rate, but at this point that seems to have been a mirage. Grade: B-

Shaun Marcum - 13 starts, 5-3, 82.1 IP, 8.42 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
Marcum was the Brewers' most consistent starter last season, and was well on his way to another solid year when elbow soreness landed him on the DL. Initially slated to return after the All-Star break, Marcum's elbow is still giving him trouble, which is a major concern for a guy who's already had Tommy John surgery once in his career. Grade: B-

Chris Narveson - 2 starts, 1-1, 9 IP, 5.00 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 7.00 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, -0.1 WAR
Made only two starts (one good, one bad) before a torn rotator cuff injury ended his season. When healthy, he's one of the best #5 starters in baseball. Grade: Incomplete

Randy Wolf - 19 games (18 starts), 2-6, 99.1 IP, 5.89 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, 5.80 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 0.4 WAR
Wolf has been something of a FIP buster during his time with the Brewers, a guy who puts up a better ERA than his peripheral numbers suggest. But it's all come crashing down this season, and Wolf has been an unmitigated disaster. He's done just about everything poorly, and watching him pitch feels kind of like shoving pencils into my eye sockets. He has an affinity for throwing up and in to righties, but he can't hit that spot for strikes, so he falls behind and then has to throw meatballs just to get into the count. Glancing at his game log, he's had four good starts; three combined against the awful Cubs and Astros, and one against the mediocre Royals. While there's some evidence he's been unlucky (.332 BABIP), he's simply not throwing the quality strikes that he had been the previous two seasons. His starting job is probably safe no matter what, but the Marcum injury assures that he will have no choice but to figure it out in the rotation. Grade: D

Marco Estrada - 14 games (8 starts), 0-3, 51 IP, 9.71 K/9, 1.76 BB/9, 4.06 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 0.3 WAR
Estrada has had tremendous value to the Brewers the last two years, bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and pitching reasonably well in both roles. He took over for the injured Narveson early in the season, and has been a pleasant surprise. He's done a great job getting ahead of hitters and mixing his pitches, though he sometimes pays for his zone-pounding ways in the form of home runs. His most memorable performance was his 12 strikeout performance against the Reds, and aside from a brief DL stint has been pretty reliable all season. A nice second half should cement a starting role for him in 2013.
Grade: C+

Michael Fiers - 8 games (7 starts), 3-3, 46.2 IP, 9.64 K/9, 1.74 BB/9, 2.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 1.7 WAR
Something of an afterthought coming into the season, Fiers came up and seized a rotation spot by pitching like madman through his first seven starts. His numbers are eerily similar to Estrada's, the difference being Fiers has kept the ball in the park. Like Estrada, he has kind of a "meh" fastball, but his off-speed stuff is pretty great and he's worked the corners of the strike zone better than anyone could have hoped. He's also similar to Estrada in that he's an extreme flyball pitcher who'll spend a lot of time in Miller Park, so some regression is likely coming, but seeing as he doesn't walk anybody I don't foresee him being firebombed often. Fiers is probably a #4 starter long-term, but his performance thus far is impressive and has really saved the Brewers' bacon. Grade: B+

Tyler Thornburg - 1 start, 0-0, 5.1 IP, 3.38 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 8.44 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, -0.3 WAR
Called up for a spot start against Toronto, Thornburg cruised through his big-league debut until the 6th inning, when he served up three consecutive home runs, chasing him from the game. In fairness, the homers were hit by the powerful trio of Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, so it's a bit harsh to judge him from just this start (though he's likely a reliever long-term). We'll probably see Tyler again in September after the All-Star break. Grade: Incomplete


Wily Peralta - 1 game, 0-0, 1 IP, 9.00 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 9.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
The consensus top prospect in the Brewers system to start the year, Peralta has struggled with his control in the minors, keeping him from seizing a rotation spot for the big league club. Made one relief appearance during a brief call-up in April, and was immediately sent back down. Peralta seems to have turned his season around in AAA, and will almost certainly be the first guy up if an injury/trade occurs. Grade: Incomplete

Mike McClendon - 4 games, 0-0, 8 IP, 4.50 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 6.75 ERA, 2.13 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
McClendon has bounced back and forth between the Brewers and the AAA club the last few years, and until this year had pitched reasonably well. But there's a reason why he's never stuck around long, and that reason is that he's not very good. A pure deception guy with a goofy delivery that he changes from pitch to pitch, it can get ugly when a team figures him out. His four appearances this year a largely forgettable. 
Grade: F

Livan Hernandez - 6 games, 1-0, 8.1 IP, 9.72 K/9, 1.08 BB/9, 6.48 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, -0.2 WAR
Claimed off of waivers from Atlanta, Livan is fat, old, kinda fun to watch, and just about done as a major leaguer. He's passable as a long reliever (or Jabba the Hut doppelgänger), which is hopefully where he'll stay until someone better is found (Seth McClung?). Grade: D+

Vinnie Chulk - 7 games, 1-0, 9 IP, 10.00 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 10.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
In and out of the majors since 2003, Chulk was an absolute apocalypse during his brief tenure with the Brewers. Words cannot describe how truly awful he was. Basically a mop-up guy, he was scorched (a remarkable 36.4 line drive % allowed) in all but three appearances, one of them being an important scoreless two-inning outing in an extra-inning win over the Cubs where he was the last man available to pitch. Sadly, that outing was a red herring. Grade: F

Juan Perez - 10 games, 0-1, 7 IP, 12.86 K/9, 10.29 BB/9, 5.14 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, -0.3 WAR
Was up for about a month and did typical crappy LOOGY things. Lots of strikeouts and walks, not really good enough to stick. Grade: D-

Tim Dillard - 34 games, 0-2, 37 IP, 7.05 K/9, 3.41 BB/9, 4.38 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 0.1 WAR
Dillard has gained something of a cult following due to his funky sidearm delivery, hat tilt, sideburns, killer Tim Kurkjian impersonation, and that one time he wiggled out of a bases-loaded, one out jam. But the Legend of Tim Dillard is fading; he should only be facing right handed batters due to his ROOGY ways, but as the season's worn on righties have been hitting the ball harder and harder off of him. His numbers aren't awful and he has some uses but with Kameron Loe around, he's kind of redundant. Grade: D

John Axford - 36 games, 2-5 (15 saves), 34.1 IP, 12.84 K/9, 4.98 BB/9, 4.72 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
The struggles of John Axford have been well-documented. The walks and home runs allowed have skyrocketed this season, and that's a deadly combination. There are some signs that he may have been a bit unlucky, but it's still pretty embarrassing that guys like Clint Barmes and Gaby Sanchez are hitting bombs off of him. There's still plenty of time to turn it around, but the first half of 2012 was a largely forgettable one for the Ax-man. Grade: C-

Manny Parra - 36 games, 1-3, 39 IP, 9.92 K/9, 3.46 BB/9, 4.38 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 0.8 WAR
At the beginning of the season, I was excited at the thought of Parra as a reliever. His control issues coupled with an inability to get through a batting order multiple times prevented him from reaching his potential as a starter, but those problems would be minimized in the bullpen. He could just crank it up for an inning or two and not have to worry about batters figuring him out. Unfortunately, Parra's struggles followed him to his relief role. His walks and home runs allowed have gone down along with his ground ball % going up (all good things), but he still falls behind hitters far too often, leading him to groove hittable pitches that batters are smoking for line drives. He has improved against left-handed hitters (he was a reverse platoon split guy coming into this season) and he strung together some nice outings coming into the break, so there's still hope he can be a valuable member of the bullpen in the second half. Grade: C-

Kameron Loe - 37 games, 4-2, 38.2 IP, 6.52 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
Kam does two things well; get ground balls and slay right-handed batters. He hasn't done those things quite as well this season as he has in the past, but he's still a really nice guy to have around. Used heavily the first couple months of the season, he has trouble locating his bowling ball of a sinker when he's tired, which turns those ground balls into line drives. The usage pattern combined with his skill set and his willingness to do the dirty work can lead to wild ERA fluctuations during a season, but when he's right, he's one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen. Grade: C

Jose Veras - 40 games, 3-3, 37 IP, 9.97 K/9, 6.08 BB/9, 4.62 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 0.0 WAR

Francisco Rodriguez - 42 games, 1-4, 38.2 IP, 7.91 K/9, 3.96 BB/9, 3.96 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, -0.1 WAR
Like Axford, K-Rod hasn't been able to follow up his stellar 2011 campaign. Home runs have been a huge problem, and his ability to generate swings-and-misses has faded. He's also giving up more walks and line drives, and he's not even been all that unlucky; a .318 BABIP allowed, which is above league average but not outrageous. All these things put together reveal a pitcher with eroding skills, and it's been costing the Brewers in close games. Grade: C-

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taylor Green demoted for Jeff Bianchi

Infielder Taylor Green was demoted to AAA Nashville over the weekend, and yesterday the Brewers replaced him with shortstop Jeff Bianchi. Formerly a decent prospect in the Royals system and claimed off waivers by the Brewers from the Mets, the team will try to see if Bianchi can take playing time away from Cesar Iztruris and Cody Ransom. Bianchi is a decent glove, low-power guy who should hit for average and not much else.

                                           Jeff Bianchi holding a baseball bat, something Cesar Izturis does not posses. 

As for Green, this demotion should not be viewed as a negative. Green was never going to wrestle away playing time from Corey Hart or Aramis Ramirez, and with Rickie Weeks' slump seemingly over, there was no path for playing time barring an injury. This move allows Green to get consistent playing time while hopefully improving the shortstop position for the Brewers.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

First half grades - hitters

After a disappointing first half, the Brewers enter the All-Star break with a 40-45 record, 8 games behind first place Pittsburgh. Injuries and poor relief pitching have taken their toll, shadowing an above-average offense and solid starting pitching. As the article's title suggests, I will delve more into the individual performances of everyone who has donned a Brewer uniform this season. Today I focused on the offense, sometime later this week I'll look at the pitchers. wRC+ and WAR stats are accurate through Saturday's games, while the other numbers are accurate through Sunday (Fangraphs doesn't update during the day, ESPN does).


Jonathan Lucroy - .345/.387/.583 (AVG/OBP/SLG), 5 HR, 17 R, 30 RBI, 2 SB, 163 wRC+, 1.8 WAR
After a solid sophomore campaign in 2011, Lucroy came roaring out of the gates in 2012, establishing himself as one of the best catchers in the National League before breaking his hand in a freak hotel room accident. A few aspects of Lucroy's start are unsustainable (including a .519 average with RISP and a .381 BABIP), but his HR/FB and LD rates are consistent with last year's and he's cut down on his strikeouts considerably. As far as defense goes, he's good at blocking pitches in the dirt as well as pitch-framing, but his throwing arm comes and goes. He should be back shortly after the All-Star break. Grade: A

George Kottaras - .228/.430/392, 3 HR, 10 R, 12 RBI, 0 SB, 138 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
At this point, most Brewer fans know what Kottaras is; good backup catcher. He walks a lot, has some power, is a decent pinch-hitter, and has a questionable glove. He has improved defensively since joining the Brewers in 2010, but other than blocking pitches, is below average in every other defensive category (his arm sucks). But as far as backups go, he's an extremely valuable asset. He was very hot at the plate to start the season, but has pretty much done George Kottaras things ever since. Grade: C+

Martin Maldonado - .245/.303/.391, 5 HR, 11 R, 17 RBI, 0 SB, 97 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
Maldonado was called up when Lucroy went down, and has not disappointed. He's an elite defensive catcher with a little pop, and despite uninspiring minor league numbers, hasn't appeared overmatched at the plate. It doesn't hurt that he's come up with some big hits late in games. He's made a good case for keeping three catchers when Lucroy returns. Grade: B-

First Base

Matt Gamel - .246/.293/.348, 1 HR, 10 R, 6 RBI, 3 SB, 80 wRC+, 0.0 WAR
Gamel was the starting first baseman to begin the season, but only made 21 starts before succumbing to a torn ACL. His numbers look unimpressive, but are a little deceiving and reek of small sample size. He looked comfortable at the plate, showed good baserunning skills and handled the move to first base reasonably well. It'll be interesting to see what the team does with him next year. Grade: Incomplete

Corey Hart - .254/.316/.498, 16 HR, 50 R, 38 RBI, 2 SB, 120 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
Corey Hart is constantly underrated by everybody. He has flaws, such as striking out a lot and possessing a walk rate that comes and goes with the wind, but he's an extra-base machine that has been a steady force in the lineup and a surprisingly good defender at first base. Hart started the year in his usual position at right field, but moved to first to replace the injured Gamel and Ishikawa as well as open up an outfield spot for Nori Aoki. The move helps his grade, as his defense in RF left something to be desired and the willingness to change positions reflects a selfless team-first approach. Grade: B-

Travis Ishikawa - .243/.313/.473, 4 HR, 9 R, 17 RBI, 0 SB, 102 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
Ishikawa was a surprise inclusion on the opening-day roster, but he's proved that he's worth a roster spot. He's an acceptable pinch-hitter and can field and play the outfield a little. He was briefly a starter after Gamel's injury but he belongs on the bench. Grade: C-

Brooks Conrad - .075/.136/.225, 2 HR, 2 R, 6 RBI, 0 SB, -8 wRC+, -0.4 WAR
No player with an at-bat had a worst WAR than Brooks Conrad amongst Brewers players (including pitchers). He was horrible in every sense, and was released after 44 mind-blowingly bad plate appearances. Typing out his numbers may have made me bleed internally. At least his two home runs happened. Grade: F

Second Base

Rickie Weeks - .199/.314/.343, 8 HR, 34 R, 29 RBI, 6 SB, 82 wRC+, -0.2 WAR
One of the Brewers' best players when healthy, Weeks has strangely been pretty terrible all season. He's been one of the worst defenders in all of baseball (after being decent the last two years), strikes out at an epic clip (29% of plate appearances), and has experienced a downturn in power (.137 ISO compared to .175 career). Weeks has looked more like himself over the last month or so, and how he performs in the second half plays a big part in what the Brewers do from here on out. Grade: D-


Alex Gonzalez - .259/.326/.457, 4 HR, 8 R, 15 RBI, 1 SB, 112 wRC+, 0.3 WAR
Like Gamel, Gonzalez was lost for the season thanks to a torn ACL. He was a solid addition both offensively and defensively before going down. The injury was devastating for the Brewers, as they had no one in the system worthy of starting. Grade: Incomplete

Cesar Izturis - .212/.231/.271, 1 HR, 4 R, 8 RBI, 1 SB, 30 wRC+, -0.4 WAR
There's no mincing words here, Izturis is a terrible baseball player. His one calling card, defense, hasn't even been that impressive. His range has faded and his arm is weak, and considering his offensive contributions the Brewers are almost better off batting another pitcher 8th. Grade: F

Cody Ransom - .188/.299/.317, 3 HR, 12 R, 18 RBI, 0 SB, 70 wRC+, 0.6 WAR
Claimed on waivers from Arizona (only his Brewers numbers are displayed above), Ransom plays good defense, has a little power, walks a lot, and strikes out a TON (40.7% as a Brewer). But, he's better than Izturis, so there's that. Grade: D

Edwin Maysonet - .250/.297/.317, 1 HR, 7 R, 4 RBI, 1 SB, 79 wRC+, 0.0 WAR
Maysonet made a name for himself with a Grand Slam against the Cubs on May 12th, but hasn't done much since (that home run represents all four of his RBI's). He provided a decent glove and some contact with the bat, but it wasn't enough to keep him in the majors over Izturis. Currently in AAA. Grade: D

Third Base

Aramis Ramirez - .272/.345/.475, 10 HR, 47 R, 52 RBI, 2 SB, 123 wRC+, 2.3 WAR
Ramirez has done Aramis Ramirez things with the bat. He started slow and still swings at pitches he shouldn't, but enjoyed his annual June revival and is still the good hitter he's always been. His glove has been a pleasant surprise. Once nicknamed "E5" (Edwin Encarnacion has since assumed that mantle), Ramirez has shown some nice playmaking ability and an accurate arm as well as turning in some tremendous barehand plays. His range is pretty awful, that's something that hasn't changed. Grade: B

Taylor Green - .198/.287/.358, 2 HR, 7 R, 10 RBI, 0 SB, 73 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
A fan favorite since last year, Green has seen fairly sparse playing time since his May call-up. He's played some third, second, and first, and shown better fielding ability than expected. He hasn't really gotten it going with the bat, and his only path to consistent playing time is at second base, where Weeks seems to be turning it around. Both of his home runs came as a pinch-hitter, which might be his primary role barring an injury. Grade: D+


Ryan Braun (LF) - .306/.391/.599, 24 HR, 56 R, 61 RBI, 15 SB, 164 wRC+, 4.1 WAR
Ryan Braun rocks balls. I said everything I need to say here. Grade: A

Norichika Aoki (RF) - .301/.369/.450, 5 HR, 36 R, 20 RBI, 11 SB, 126 wRC+, 1.4 WAR
No one really knew what the Brewers had when they signed Aoki from Japan in the offseason. Most saw him as a platoon player, but he's been sooooo much more. He's been equally effective from both sides of the plate, shown surprising pull-side power, and his speed on the bases has been a tremendous boost for the offense. Defensively, he has solid range and instincts, but has a weak arm, which is why he had trouble squeezing into the center field rotation. Gamel's injury gave him an opportunity, and he's taken advantage of it. Grade: B+

Carlos Gomez (CF) - .233/.280/.423, 5 HR, 26 R, 18 RBI, 11 SB, 94 wRC+, 0.4 WAR
I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that Gomez is probably the most polarizing Brewer. His defense is outstanding, but he tends to take too many risks, leading to extra bases for opponents. He has a bit of power in his bat, and unfortunately he knows it, swinging for the fences far too often and exacerbating his contact issues. And while he's used as the right-handed version of a center field platoon, he's actually worse against left-handed pitchers for his career, and only better against them this season by the slightest of margins. But there's no denying the excitement that ensues when he gets on base, and he goes through stretches where he shows the patience that makes you think he might have some OBP skills someday.  His baserunning and defense are game changers, and if he ever cleans it up at the plate, he'll be a great player. We're still waiting. Grade: C-

Nyjer Morgan (CF) - .230/.298/.281, 2 HR, 30 R, 5 RBI, 8 SB, 64 wRC+, 0.0 WAR
A huge fan favorite last year, Morgan brought terrific outfield defense and a contact-oriented approach to a team that desperately needed it. He kept the clubhouse loose and entertained both his teammates and Brewers fans alike with his gregarious personality, and he was a huge part of a Brewers team that won a playoff series for the first time since 1982. This year could not be more different. He's constantly made bonehead plays in the outfield and on the bases, bunts too much, and has been pretty much useless while trying to hit the baseball with the baseball bat. The only reason he continues to play is the fact that his platoon partner Carlos Gomez isn't exactly dripping with baseball IQ either. On the plus side, he still seems to be a favorite in the clubhouse and he hasn't tried to fight an opposing player yet. And frankly, he's had some rotten luck this year, as his BABIP is about 50 points lower than his career average. He should play better in the second half, but so far, he's been dreadful. Grade: D-

Thoughts on Zack Greinke's ejection

Umpires have a pretty thankless job. Fans rarely acknowledge them for making a good call, berate them for making poor ones, and constantly petition to replace them with robots. As great as it would be to wear all-black uniforms outdoors in the summertime and participate in a baseball game almost 200 times a year for a living, I do not envy them. So while I sympathize with their plight, occasionally one of them does something so stupid and childish that it cannot be forgiven or forgotten. Saturday's Brewers/Astors game provided one of those moments. Observe.

On first blush, it does appear that Greinke goes ballistic about the "safe" call. Whether Altuve was safe or not is irrelevant; Greinke struck down upon the baseball with furious anger, and paid dearly for it. However, it quickly became clear that Greinke was frustrated with himself, not the safe call made by first base umpire Sam Holbrook. Nevertheless, Holbrook ejected him, and appeared to have no shits left to give while Greinke tried to explain why he was upset.

Zack initially overreacted, that much is clear. He was quoted after the game as having said, "I put him in a bad position and he had to make a decision". But that does not excuse the actions of the douchecopter that is Holbrook. While pitchers don't often show emotion the way Greinke did, how often are batters allowed to throw helmets, gloves, and bats after striking out? Or how about this bizarre play, where Rays pitcher J.P. Howell has to throw his glove once and a baseball twice before home plate umpire Vic Carapazza finally wakes up and ejects him. Generally, umpires will wait to eject a player until they know for sure what said player is upset at. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who was also needlessly tossed after arguing Greinke's ejection, echoed as much to reporters. "He (Holbrook) overreacted. He didn't even see what happened. Zack was behind him and he didn't even see him. You need to know; you need to know 100% what happens when you kick out a starting pitcher."

Although the Brewers lost the game 6-3, it's impossible to blame it entirely on the ejection (the Astros had just scored a run to take a 1-0 lead on the play). After all, since Greinke threw only four pitches before his early departure, he could easily start Sunday's series finale. But Holbrook's ejection of Greinke shows tremendous narcissism, where any negative emotion shown by a player must be directed at an umpire. It's ironic, considering that people defend umpires by bandying about the "human element" excuse, while umps like Holbrook demand that players be robotic and devoid of emotion. The saddest part of all of this is that Holbrook will likely see no punishment. He may be fined (which we have no way of knowing), and at worst will receive no more than a one-game suspension, which is what Balkin' Bob Davidson got for ejecting and hurling F-bombs at Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. And the best part? If Greinke does indeed start Sunday, the scheduled home plate umpire is.....Sam Holbrook. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ryan Braun is having an MVP season....and no one cares.

Earlier today while I was listening to the ESPN Baseball Today podcast, host Eric Karabell and part-time sidekick Mark Simon briefly discussed NL MVP candidates. They touched on four big names; Joey Votto, David Wright, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Beltran. All are deserving players, and all play on current contenders. One player they didn't mention, and frankly the elephant in the room of any MVP conversation, is Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

                                           Ryan Braun, preparing to give a baseball a new home.

I'm not faulting Karabell or Simon for their omission of Braun (they didn't mention the outstanding Michael Bourn or Carlos Ruiz either), but it brought to light an interesting question; why is no one talking about Ryan Braun?

The first answer is easy. No one quite knows what to do with the steroid PED allegations. Even if the 50-game suspension was overturned, it was done so on something of a technicality. No one knows what he did or didn't do, and despite his continued production, there are still plenty of doubts out there (sportswriters and MVP voters aren't exactly a forgiving bunch).

The second answer is simply that the Brewers aren't currently contenders. Seven games behind first place in the NL Central standings (six behind in the Wild Card) is hardly insurmountable with half a season to play, but they'd have to leapfrog a load of teams and don't really have the ammunition to make any major moves at the trade deadline. While it's beyond silly that an outstanding player on a middling team doesn't get many MVP votes (Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista should have won the awards last year), it's simply a reality that people want to vote for the best players on the best teams. It's a shame because, well.....Braun is better than most (if not all) of the current MVP candidates.

I'll be clear; Braun really shouldn't have won the award last year. As I alluded to earlier, Kemp should have taken home the hardware, but was basically punished for playing on a mediocre team. Braun was great in 2011; Kemp was just a little bit better. And at the beginning of 2012, it looked like Kemp would be vindicated. A huge start (.355/.444/.719 AVG/OBP/SLG, 12 HR in just 36 games) made Kemp an early favorite, but two DL stints have made him something of an afterthought. Braun, meanwhile, has been a steady force on a very unsteady team (he'll get no sympathy from Kemp), and is having an even better season than he did in 2011.

Currently sporting stellar .304/.388/.602 triple-slash line and fantastic counting numbers (24 HR, 60 RBI, 13 SB), Braun also looks like he's finally becoming a complete player. He'll never be a great defender, and his arm's still pretty iffy, but he's cleaned up his routes to fly balls and has done a better job hitting cutoff men. Per Fangraphs, he's saved the Brewers 1.6 runs with his glove, and while defensive metrics aren't perfect, coupled with the eye test you're seeing an improved defender no matter how you slice it. Braun's also played through three different nagging injuries (Achilles, groin, elbow), avoiding a costly DL stint while still providing excellent overall production.

Then there's the three multi-homer games, including a mind-blowing 3-homer/15-total-base game in San Diego's monstrous Petco Park. While his batting average and OBP are down a little compared to 2011, his power numbers are way up (.292 ISO compared to .265 last year and .255 for his career) along with an improved walk rate. All told, he's been worth 4.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), on pace for an even better figure than the 7.8 WAR he posted last year. 

Will it be enough? Probably not. Aside from the all the residual PED noise and playing on a sub-.500 team, he's 6th on the WAR leaderboard behind Wright, Votto, Bourn, Ruiz (also playing on a bad club), and McCutchen. For what it's worth, my money's on Votto, who's a previous winner as well as being awesome and on a contending club. There's plenty of baseball to be played, and injuries or a decline in play could knock any of the aforementioned candidates (including Braun) out of the race. But at this point, I have a hard time seeing Braun getting any more than a handful of runner-up votes,even at his current rate of production. Which is a shame, because he's deserving. For real, this time.