Are the Brewers the Favorite in the Central?

If the Brewers’ upcoming season were a game of poker, Doug Melvin just pushed all his chips to the center of the table. The acquisition of Zack Greinke shows that the Brewers want to contend in what is likely Prince Fielder‘s last season with the team. After finishing near the bottom of the NL in almost every major pitching category, the Brewers made starting pitching a priority this off-season. With their core offensive players returning, will their off-season acquisitions be enough to push the Brewers to the top of the NL Central standings?

The Brewers might be trying to win now, but as Marc Hulet explained in an earlier post; the Brewers traded away three major league-ready players. Both Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar were penciled in as starters, and Jeremy Jeffress was a likely candidate for the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Brewers don’t have solid replacements for any of those players.

Carlos Gomez is expected to start in center field following Cain’s departure. While Gomez dazzles in the field and on the base paths, his career .293 OBP leaves much to be desired. Despite his struggles at the plate, Gomez’s defense should make him a useful contributor during the upcoming season. In his first press conference with the Brewers, Ron Roenicke emphasized being aggressive on the bases, which should play into Gomez’s strengths.

The scariest aspect of the Yuniesky Betancourt acquisition is that (gulp) Melvin has already penciled him in as a starter. Betancourt carries a rather infamous reputation among the stat-community, and it’s safe to say he isn’t the answer for the Brewers. There is a chance that Craig Counsell returns to the team, but likely as Betancourt’s backup. Offensively, the Brewers will need to succeed despite employing both Betancourt and Gomez as starters.

Their pitching rotation, however, has drastically improved this off-season. The acquisitions of Greinke and Shaun Marcum give the Brewers one of the best rotations in the National League. Though many considered Greinke’s 2010 a let-down, he was still worth 5.2 WAR, better than any pitcher on the Brewers’ roster. Yovani Gallardo might be named the opening-day starter, but Greinke will be the best pitcher on the team next season.

Shaun Marcum carries incredible value as a third starter. Despite missing the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marcum turned in the best season of his career in 2010. Though most pitchers typically struggle with control following the surgery, Marcum posted one of the best BB/9 rates of any starting pitcher last season. Brewers’ starters posted the worst BB/9 rate in the league last season, so Marcum’s ability to limit walks will be a welcome addition to this rotation.

The Brewers’ biggest threats in the Central are the Reds and the Cardinals. While neither team has been particularly active during the off-season, both are expected to contend in 2011. The Reds are the reigning NL Central champs, and will continue to rely on the development of their young talent next season. A healthy Edinson Volquez will strengthen the rotation, but the Reds remain relatively unchanged heading into 2011.

The Cardinals have made a few moves this off-season, but none of them are considered major acquisitions. Lance Berkman may still have some value left in his bat, but his poor defense could offset those gains. Ryan Theriot and Jake Westbrook are useful players, but neither are game-changing talents. Once again, the Cardinals’ success will depend on Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and the strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation.

Of all the teams in the Central, the Brewers have made the largest strides this off-season. While the Reds and Cardinals focused on marginal improvements, the Brewers completely overhauled their rotation. The Reds and Cardinals should compete for the division, but the Brewers’ off-season acquisitions will be tough to beat.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana

The Reds haven’t improved much, but continued development from:

CF Drew Stubbs
RF Jay Bruce

and all their young, cost-controlled pitching should make them better than the Brewers.

The Reds are also deeper and can stand up to injuries (other than Votto), while if the Brewers lose any of Fielder, Gallarado, Braun, and Grienke I don’t see it.

I sure like the Reds in 2012 and onward better than the Cardinals or Brewers.

Scout Finch
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Scout Finch

What does Scott Rolen have left in the tank?

His slugging dropped from .548 to .420 from 1st to 2nd half. Wasn’t that related to chronic back issues that aren’t likely to get much better?

If he’s the guy backing up Votto, that could spell trouble.

Do any of these 3 NL Central contenders have a bullpen worth a salt? That should be the aspect that really separates the three. Consider the effect the strength of the Padres pen had on their success. The Giants pen certainly did their job down the stretch.

Rob
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Rob

The Brewers bullpen is loaded. It has Axford, Braddock, Loe, Parra and Hawkins (if healthy).

blackout
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blackout

“Do any of these 3 NL Central contenders have a bullpen worth a salt?”

Despite our closerbeing Francisco Cordero, the Reds had, and have, a very solid ‘pen. I don’t think anyone knows if Arthur Rhodes can come close to replicating last year’s All-Star (yes, I know) season, but he, Nick Masset, Bill Bray and Logan Ondrusek were extremely solid by year’s end. I’d expect Aroldis Chapman to remain in the ‘pen this year, and if all the starters come out of ST ready to pitch (big if), then either Homer Bailey or Travis Wood will end up in relief.

STL has a solid ‘pen too from my viewings. Franklin, Boggs, Motte and McLellan pitched well and they’ve got promising young arms to bring in this year in Adam Riefer and Eduardo Sanchez. I think P.J. Walters probably plays better in relief as well.

MIL is weaker for losing Jeffress, but still has Axford and Braddock, Stetter was up and down in my viewings, and LaTroy Hawkins was LaTroy Hawkins. I’m wondering if some of their starting prospects don’t get pressed into relief service; guys like Scarpetta, Peralta and Rivas could all be useful out of the ‘pen though it could cost them needed development time. Rivas seems like the best candidate as he’s the most polished and would miss the time the least. Scarpetta and Peralta could both use at least another year of minor league innings as starters.

Jason461
Member

This is the point where someone notes that bullpens fluctuate wildly one year to the next and it’s pretty impossible to say who’s will be really good from one year to the next.

blackout
Guest
blackout

“bullpens fluctuate wildly one year to the next”

I’ll agree to fluctuate, but wildly? As a rule? Surely some bullpens are relatively stable from one year to the next.

Mr. wOBAto
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Mr. wOBAto

I think he means BP performance fluctuates wildly

GiantHusker
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GiantHusker

I haven’t looked it up lately, but I believe that the bullpen is about 10% of the value of a team. That doesn’t mean a team can contend with a pen as bad as the Diamondbacks, but it is unlikely to be the deciding factor among 3 contenders, as long as they have at least average-minus relievers.

blackout
Guest
blackout

“I think he means BP performance fluctuates wildly”

That’s how I took it, and the question still stands. “Fluctuates wildly” sounds great, until you have to define fluctuate and wildly.

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