Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Brewers/Pirates: Is this real life?

Friday, 5/24 Brewers 2, Pirates 1
Saturday, 5/25 Brewers 2, Pirates 5
Sunday, 5/26 Brewers 4, Pirates 5

Win Probability Stars:
5/26  Ryan Braun doubled to left. Weeks, Aoki, and Segura score (WPA .237)
5/24  Alex Gonzlez doubled to center.  Ramirez and Gomez score. (WPA .113)
5/26  Jeff Bianchi tripled. (WPA .101)

Another series against the Pirates another near sweep, in bizarro land.  The Brewers are supposed to dominate the Pirates.   They have for years, but for the second series in a row against the Pirates they nearly got swept.  And again, the Brewers only win resulted from another stellar performance from Estrada.

I’m not typically an alarmist, but a few things have got me worried about this team.  Namely, the Brewers’ starting pitching.  Estrada was the only guy to go past the 4th inning.  Fiers went 4 and gave up 3 earned runs.  He was making a spot start for Lohse who is dealing with “elbow tightness.”  But since Burgos is on the DL and Narveson is still throwing simulated games, unless the Brewers decide to make a move, Fiers is going to remain in the rotation for at least a little while.  We can always hope he’ll find a bit of what he had the first half of last year, but so far we haven’t seen that.

Gallardo continued his struggles with command and therefore his efficiency which has been compounded by his downward trending velocity.  He lasted only 4 innings, giving up 4 runs, while throwing 94 pitches.  He never was a true major league ace, but now he might not even be a number 2 type pitcher.   I still like Gallardo and I do think he can be an above average pitcher again, but he’s going to have to learn to pitch with his lower velocity and tighten his command, something he’s always struggled with. 

It’s not all on the starting rotation however.  The Brewers averaged 3 runs per game, but just scored 2 runs in the first two of the series.  Only Aoki, Segura, Braun, Gomez, and Ramirez when he’s playing, are hitting.  Everyone else has been miserable.  Corey Hart still hasn’t begun a rehab assignment so there is no date for his return which means we’re going to have to sit through the first base platoon of Betancourt and Gonzalez for the foreseeable future.  That does not bode well.  Lucroy and Weeks have yet to find their stride and have both seen their playing time reduced because of it.  As a result Bianchi has seen some starts at second base and has performed well enough, but he’s not a long-term solution.  As for Lucroy’s back-up, Maldonado, he’s been about as “good” as Luc. 

There is room for optimism.  Lohse is supposed to start Thursday or Friday so hopefully his elbow problems aren’t serious and overall he’s been good.  Gallardo has history on his side and hopefully he can turn his season around.  Peralta’s velocity is just so good, if he can improve his command there is no reason to believe he can’t be as good or close to, as he was in his starts last year.  Chris Narveson is on the mend and should be joining the haggard rotation sometime in the next few weeks barring a setback.  That’s…something.  Corey Hart too should be returning…this year anyway.  I also believe Lucroy and Weeks will start hitting again.  In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that Weeks is back to his old self in by mid-June!  Still, it’s deep hole they got themselves in.  If they win 60% of the rest of their games (using their record after Monday’s game) they’ll end the season with 86-87 wins.  That’ll probably place them just shy of the second wild card.  But hey, Segura stole first base this year so stranger things have happened.

MVP: Marco Estrada

I promise one of these times I’ll give the MVP to someone other than Estrada, but to me he was again the clear choice.  He gave the Brewers 7 splendid innings and only gave up 1 run which was essential since the team only scored twice.  Estrada wasn’t just good he was perfect through the first 4 innings.  Neil Walker broke up the perfect game and no hitter with a single in the 5th inning with 2 outs.  Before that Estrada had retired the first 14 batters of the game.  He struck out 8 batters, allowed four hits, and zero walks. 

LVP: Yovani Gallaro

It hurts me to do it, but I had to give it to Gallardo.  He’s supposed to be the ace of the staff and the Brewers really needed him to pitch like it after a short start from Fiers the day before.  Instead he only pitched 4 innings and gave up 4 runs.  The bullpen came in an only gave up 1 run in the last 5 innings, but if the Brewers continue to ask them for 4 or 5 innings then they’re going to get worn out pretty fast.

Play of the SeriesSegura's home run to center

There were actually a few plays I could have gone with.  Gonzalez’s game winning double, Gomez’s two home runs, and Braun’s 3-RBI double were the chief competition.  In the end I gave it to Segura’s home run to center because it was gone by a lot.  Most of Segura’s home runs have gone down the line and one could argue that put into question his true power: Is he just getting lucky.  But this home run was hit to the deepest part of the park and it was a no-doubter.  I have no real idea what his home run potential for a season is, but I’m a lot more optimistic after watching that one.

What’s Next:

Let’s pretend this isn’t late and Monday’s game has been played already, okay?  So, ahem: Next up is the Twins.  They’re awful this year so yay for the Brewers!  Peralta should have an easy task ahead of him on Monday.  Then on Tuesday we’ll see a spot start from Alfredo Figaro.  It’s going to be a tough day for the bullpen, but I’m sure Peralta will go deep enough in the game on Monday to help them rest up in preparation.

Probable Pitchers
Monday, 5/26 Peralta vs Correia

Tuesday, 5/27 Figaro vs Diamond

Friday, May 17, 2013

BREWERS/PIRATES SERIES REVIEW: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

Monday, 5/13: Brewers 5, Pirates 1
Tuesday, 5/14: Brewers 3, Pirates 4
Wednesday, 5/15: Brewers 1, Pirates 3
Thursday 5/16: Brewers 1, Pirates 7

Win Probability Stars
5/14 Carlos Gomez doubled to right.  Ryan Braun scored. (+.139 WPA)

5/15 Jonathan Lucroy tripled to center. (+.127 WPA)

5/14 Jean Segura homered. (+.116 WPA)

Brewers sweep the Pirates! Brewers sweep the Pirates!  Well, not exactly.  But that’s what we were all thinking coming into the series because, you know, it’s the Pirates.  Monday’s game certainly did nothing to make us think otherwise.   Estrada pitched a 7 inning, 1-run gem and the Brewers backed him up with 5 runs and a hilarious number of stolen bases (6), 3 of which came from Jean Segura who also had 3 hits.  That’s more or less where the fun stopped. 

Things seemed to get off on the right foot in the second game as Segura hit a solo home run in the first inning.  Lohse was a bit shaky, but overall it wasn't a terrible start.  He went 5 2/3 innings and while he gave up just 2 runs, he also allowed 5 walks which was exactly the number of walks he allowed in all his previous starts this season.  The Brewers had a 1 run lead going into the 8th until John Axford gave up a single to Neil Walker and then a double to Russell Martin, tying it up.  The game would go into extra innings, until Andrew
McCutchen ended things with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th off of Michael Fiers.

Gallardo pitched on Wednesday and, well, was Gallardo.  He only allowed 2 runs but couldn’t get past the 6th inning.  The offense was pretty quiet except for a RICKIE WEEKS HOME RUN!!!  Unfortunately he followed that effort up with a botched play, which was not entirely his fault.  With McCutchen on third, Weeks was able to make an impressive play to stab a grounder from Neil Walker, but the throw was a bit short and Alex Gonzalez, the other (main?) culprit here, wasn’t able to pick it. Walker reached and McCutchen scored.  It didn’t really matter though, as Weeks’ home run was the only run of the game for the Brewers.

Hiram Burgos, and his righteous eyebrows, took the mound for the series finale.  Coming off what could very well end up being the worst start of his major league career, Burgos pitched relatively well going 5 innings and giving up 3 runs.  In the fifth inning Alex Gonzalez wasn’t able to pick a throw from Betancourt allowing Starling Marte to reach base.  Burgos then allowed a home run to Travis Snider.  He would get through the inning, but unfortunately that’s as far into the game as he would go.  Ramirez pinch hit for him in the 6th to no avail.  The Pirates would then put the game away in the bottom of that inning tagging Figaro for 4 runs (3 earned). 

That’s it.  Nothing else of import happened.  Okay fine.  Francisco Rodriguez made his Brewers season debut, pitching a 1-2-3 8th inning including a strikeout.  In order to make room for him on the roster the Brewers moved Taylor Green to the 60-Day DL and optioned Blake Lalli to AAA.  So yeah, 8 man bullpen again.  Huzzah…

MVP: Marco Estrada

Estrada had his worst outing against the Cardinals, sorry the evil, baby eating, puppy kicking Cardinals, last week.  Afterwards he admitted feeling lost out there so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when his start against the Reds on Sunday was pushed back to Monday against the Pirates.  It was a good decision too, because Marco had easily his best start of the year.  He went 7 innings for just the second time this year giving up just 1 run on 3 hits and 1 BB while striking out 5.  Make no mistake, PNC Park gets an assist here because there were more than a few long loud outs, a couple of which might have been home runs at Miller Park, but who cares?  Can’t we just let him have this one?  It was a good outing when Estrada (and the Brewers who had been on a 4 game slide) needed it most.  It was also the only win of the series...

LVP: Afredo Figaro

I struggled with this decision.  I like Figaro, I really do.  I was all set to give the “honors” to Yuni B.  I wanted to.  It would have been cathartic.  I mean, the guy did nothing in the series until game 4 when he singled and drew a walk.  But I felt Alex Gonzalez just edged him out.  His inability to pick the throw from Weeks lead to a run and only added fuel to the fire for people that inexplicably want Weeks cut.  His inability to pick the throw from Betancourt resulted in Burgos giving up a 2 run home run instead of a solo shot.  Unfortunately Figaro’s outing on Thursday beat them both.  When he came in the game the Brewers were down by 2 and still had a chance to win the game.  The Pirates were up by 6 when he was pulled after recording only 1 out.  That pretty much says it all.

Yeah, I know. It’s technically 3 different plays, but it’s what stuck out to me as the most enjoyable thing from this sad series.  Rickie Weeks’ solo shot was a close second.

What’s Next

I really didn’t think I’d be writing this, but the Brewers have to be thrilled to leave PNC Park.  They’ll finish their brutal road trip in Mordor for a weekend series against the Cardinals, who by the way have lost 3 games in May.  One of them was Thursday against the Mets so I guess anything is possibly, right?  Thankfully, as it stands now, the Brewers will miss Wainwright and Miller.

Probable Pitchers:

Friday, 5/17: Peralta vs. Garcia
Saturday, 5/18: Estrada vs. Lynn
Sunday, 5/16: Lohse vs. (John) Gast

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Best of Doug Melvin: Part 1

Doug Melvin has gotten a lot of flack over the years for some of the moves he's made. Suppan? Gagne? Those names will constantly make Brewers fans cringe. And no, not every move he has made for the Brewers has been a good one. But compared to the ones that did? Let's just say it definitely appears as though he's done more good than bad.

It’s the job of a general manager to find talent to fill his club from anywhere and everywhere, so it should come as no surprise that they make good moves now and again. But Melvin has seemingly been able to find real value in the most unlikely of spots at times, whether through trades, under-the-radar free agent signings, or simple waiver claims. Considering how the Brewers have been virtually absent in the international market for a long time, this is a special gift.

Read to take a stroll down memory lane? Some of these names just may make you nostalgic for some Yost-isms...

Scott Podsednik

Perhaps one of Doug Melvin’s first truly bright moves was snagging OF Scott Podsednik off of waivers from Seattle. Pods was originally a member of the Texas Rangers after being selected in the 3rd round of the 1994 draft. From there, he bounced around in the minors from club to club until landing with the Mariners, with whom he made his major league debut in 2001. When the Mariners cut Podsednik after the following year, he fell right into the lap of the Brewers, who at the time were looking for anybody with a pulse on the heels of a 100-loss season.

Given the opportunity to play everyday, Podsednik responded with arguably his best years in the majors. In his two seasons with Milwaukee, he stole 113 bases while averaging just a .330 wOBA. With just a .313 OBP in 2004, he stole 70 bases. That’s right: he got on base in less than 1/3 of his total plate appearances and still managed to steal that many. In comparison, Rickey Henderson never stole more than 70 bases with an OBP lower than .358.

Without a doubt, Podsednik was a real value to the Brewers during his short tenure, and was used as a key piece in acquiring Carlos Lee the following year, who I guess was okay for the Crew.

But really, this was just Melvin getting warmed with his ability to find diamonds in the rough.

Casey McGehee

Before he became a Japanese superstar, Casey McGehee was a very productive 3B for the Brewers.

As a waiver claim from the Cubs, McGehee had a total of 25 big league plate appearances before making Milwaukee’s roster out of spring training in 2009. With no sure playing time anywhere around the infield, he made the most of his limited opportunities before finally getting the nod over Bill Hall to play third base full-time. Although a bit rough with the glove, McGehee more than made up for it with his bat, averaging a 103 wRC+ over his 3 seasons with the club (120, if you take away his poor 2011), hit 52 home runs and accumulated 4.6 WAR, which is just .1 above his career 4.5 WAR.

Whatever McGehee had to give, he left it all on the field for the Brewers, providing a solid bat behind Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder where he would pick up any scraps they left behind. Those are the kind of returns you may hope for out of some top draft picks, not some guy who originally was just hoping for a bench job.

CC Sabathia

Sabathia isn’t here because the production wasn’t expected (although that 1.65 ERA was awful good), but because the returns were worth more than the price.

Michael Brantley has had a fine career to date. Not spectacular, but better than decent. Matt LaPorta though? Zach Jackson? Rob Bryson? All toiling away in the minors. LaPorta has pretty much bombed as any sort of hopeful prospect, with little hope he’ll ever exceed “useful regular” status (although he is off to a pretty nice start following hip surgery). So pretty much all the value the Indians have gotten in return has come from Brantley, and if you asked me to trade Brantley for a half season of Sabathia in his prime, it's a no brainer. Sabathia gave the Brewers 130.2 innings, 7 complete games (3 of which were shutouts), a 5 to 1 K:BB ratio and posted a ridiculous 255 ERA+.

Now, are you ready for the big one? To this day, meaning up to this point in the 2013 season, the combined WAR of Brantley, Jackson and LaPorta’s major league CAREERS has not eclipsed what Sabathia recorded with the Brewers in 2008. That's using scores by both Baseball-Reference (4.9 vs. 3.1) and Fangraphs (4.3 vs. 2.5). Yeah, it was a pretty darn good move in retrospect.

That's all for today though, folks. Stay tuned for part 2, with 50% more content and 100% more bipolar relievers...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Brewers/Cardinals Series review - "I Win the Game if You Beg Me to Cut Off Your Finger"

Thursday, 5/2 Cardinals 6, Brewers 5
Friday, 5/3 Cardinals 6, Brewers 1
Saturday, 5/4 Cardinals 7, Brewers 6
Sunday, 5/5 Cardinals 10, Brewers 1

Win Probability Stars
5/4 Jonathan Lucroy singled to center. Martin Maldonado and Alex Gonzalez scored. (+.179 WPA)

5/4 Norichika Aoki sacrifice fielder's choice to catcher (Bunt Grounder). Jeff Bianchi scored. Logan Schafer advanced to 2B. (+.172 WPA)

5/4 Logan Schafer singled to center. Jeff Bianchi advanced to 3B. (+.172 WPA)

I know, that's a long title. "Game of Thrones" fans likely recognized that quote and cringed a little bit at the thought of it. For those unfamiliar, this was said from one character to his tied-up captive in the midst of a vicious guessing game, and I thought it was fitting here. The Cardinals toyed with the Brewers this series the same way the "Game of Thrones" prisoner was being played with by his torturer. For games 1 and 3, the Cardinals gave the Brewers just enough of a window to possibly win the game, only to slam it in their face right when they were on the cusp of doing so. Then in games 2 and 4, they just blew them out like it was nothing, scoring runs at will in the process via bloops, bleeders and long balls.

Fun fact: no Brewers starter made it past 5 innings this series, and neither of them allowed less than 4 earned runs. Pretty neat, hey?

I hate the Cardinals. Hate 'em. And there's multiple reasons for it.

Part of it is jealousy. They're a well run organization from the top down with a long tradition of winning. To even deny that's a factor would be kidding myself. But many like me are fortunate enough to follow a football team who also carries these same traits, who also help ease the pain during the Brewers down seasons (apologies to fans raised on Minnesota, Illinois or any other state's football. My condolences.)

Another long handed-down tradition of the Cardinals is bitching and moaning, bred by the Tony LaRussa school of professionalism. This is where a larger part of the hatred comes from. It's their shit-don't-stink attitudes, the way they just seem to suck fun out of the game, and the extremely large ego of their fan base – the self-proclaimed "Best Fans in Baseball."

And that's not to mention the gobs of luck of they always seem to be swimming in. I've made a stink in the past over the Giants last couple World Series-winning clubs overachieving. But the Cardinals previous two winners? They make each of San Francisco's teams look like the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees.


Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. There really wasn't a lot to say about this series outside of that, other than Braun appears to be out of his funk. Rickie Weeks, on the other hand, continues to keep us guessing on whether he's broken out of slump or not.

MVP: Warm Weather

If you spent your time outdoors instead of watching every minute of these games, you are the real winner here.

LVP: Marco Estrada

Sorry, John Axford won it last week. A starting pitcher had to take the cake this time, and Estrada turned in the worst of the group, which also happened to be his second straight poor outing.

The Brewers were in a tough spot from the word "go" this season with their starting pitching, originally having to rely on Estrada to be their #2 starter. Even as a #3 in the rotation, they're asking a lot out of a pitcher who really is more of a back-end guy. Stepping up against some of the more talented starters in the league is always going to have mixed results for him, but especially against the Cardinals multitude of talented starters. He's simply overmatched more often than not.

That's not to say Estrada can't hold his own from time to time, but the early results tell us that gambling on a guy like Estrada to overachieve from what he is might be just asking TOO much of him.

Play of the Series: Ryan Braun's diving grab

Now that I'm done being a snarky sourpuss, I'll acknowledge that Braun actually had himself a pretty good series, and was probably the real MVP.

Watching some of the Brewers reserve outfielder out in left has helped further my appreciation for the progress Braun has made on his defense these past few years, and it's comforting to know that he can  save his own skin when he takes a not-so-good route on a tough fly ball, as was the case here.

Just another reminder that Ryan Braun is good at baseball.

What's Next

The Brewers host a two-game series against the Texas Rangers in their first interleague series of the year. The Rangers are coming in tied for the best record in baseball at 20-11 after sweeping the Boston Red Sox. The Brewers and Rangers are meeting for the first time in 3 years, and this will actually be the first of two meetings between the two teams this season, with a second two-game series set for the second weekend in August in Arlington.

Probable starters
5/7 Peralta vs. Grimm
5/8 Lohse vs. Holland

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brewers/Pirates series review - moar runz

Monday, 4/29 Brewers 10, Pirates 4
Tuesday, 4/30 Brewers 12, Pirates 8
Wednesday, 5/1 Pirates 6, Brewers 4

Win Probability Stars
4/30 Yuniesky Betancourt homered to right (+.189 WPA)
4/30 Martin Maldonado doubled to left, Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez scored (+.175 WPA)
4/30 Jean Segura homered to right center (+.169 WPA)

The Pittsburgh Pirates played baseball games in Milwaukee, which means the Pittsburgh Pirates lost baseball games. Even with Wednesday's loss, the Brewers are a stunning 46-8 against the Pirates at Miller Park. Someday, the Pirates will be better than the Brewers. Someday, the Pirates will be able to win games at Miller Park. But that day isn't here yet; the Pirates still look like a AAA team whenever they set foot into the Dairy State. Their normally solid pitching was awful, as a (sort of) watered-down Brewers offense hung 24 runs (with 10 dingers) on them in three games

Pittsburgh actually scored a fair amount of runs in this series, and left fielder Starling Marte proved to be a significant thorn in the Brewers' side. He hit big home runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, including one off a 1-1 pitch from John Axford that wasn't even in the strike zone. It's hard to take much of the rest of their offense seriously, seeing as it's composed of a bunch of defense-first guys or platoon players, but the Pirates might have something in Marte and that McCutchen guy.

The Brewers might also have something in Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, who went a combined 11-22 with four walks and four homers in the series. It's hard to put into words how great those two have been, providing tremendous offensive production and elite defensive positions. The fact that the Brewers are over .500 without Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart is pretty incredible, and both Gomez and Segura are huge reasons for that. Both will regress at some point, but they've both been pretty fun to watch at the plate while providing excellent defense.

I suppose this is the part of the review where I should mention Yuniesky Betancourt (who had a big series of his own), but I feel like his production is some elaborate hoax. He has not changed one bit at the plate, yet somehow is on pace for 44 home runs and 137 RBI's. He's also played remarkably not-awful defense, which probably has something to do with playing at positions that are not shortstop. There's really no analysis to be given, because there's no explanation. Smoke 'em while you got 'em, I guess.

MVP: Carlos Gomez

I've already mentioned how good Gomez, Segura, and Betancourt were in this series, but Gomez takes the cake. Despite Carlos' career OBP south of .300, it's gotten to the point where it seems like some sort of witchcraft on the opposing pitcher's part when Gomez makes an out. I expected his power surge from last year to continue, but he's been a much better hitter overall at the plate, spraying the ball all over the field.

There's enough of a track record to suggest that Carlos Gomez will turn back into Carlos Gomez at some point, but either way that contract extension was a steal.

LVP: John Axford

This was a tough pick seeing as his meltdown on Wednesday wasn't all his fault (an infield hit and an error contributed to two of the runs), but it's the only negative in the series that sticks out. His homer problem doesn't appear to be going away. Honorable mention to Marco Estrada, who pitched poorly on Tuesday night but opposing starter James McDonald was hilariously worse.

Play of the Series: Rickie Weeks' three-run homer

It was a big moment in a close and exciting game, and it felt especially significant for the slumping Weeks. Whether it turns out to be a "slump-buster" or not, it's hard not to be happy for Weeks for producing in a big spot after failing in similar situations for most of the season.

What's Next

The Brewers host a four-game series against the evil baby-eating Cardinals, who come into town after winning two of three against the Cincinnati Reds. Considering the Cardinals are really good, splitting the series would be something of a small victory. The Brewers will have to face Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller, which sucks, but they will also get Aramis Ramirez back, which is awesome. Brewers fans can only hope that Mitchell Boggs will figure prominently into this series.

Probable starters
5/2 Westbrook vs. Peralta
5/3 Miller vs. Lohse
5/4 Wainwright vs. Gallardo
5/5 Garcia vs. Estrada