Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Did any team make a bigger splash over the winter than the Milwaukee Brewers? During a winter when the team was expected to sell on star first baseman Prince Fielder and restock for the future, the Brewers did exactly the opposite, emptying the farm to add Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to a rotation desperately needing a shot in the arm. Even as the team still has some glaring flaws, these additions have the Brewers poised to compete for a return to the postseason.

The Starting Lineup
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Corey Hart, RF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Prince Fielder*, 1B
5. Casey McGehee, 3B
6. Jonathan Lucroy, C
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
8. Carlos Gomez, CF

*Left-Handed

Although there is a noticeable drop-off in this lineup after the top five, this group should once again combine to produce one of the league’s best offenses. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are the headliners of this group, ranking seventh and eleventh in Marcel-projected wOBA. But two players does not an offense make. The explosions that we saw out of Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart probably cannot be expected at quite the same level this season, but both are solid performers. Along with Casey McGehee, the Brewers boast three above-average hitters surrounding their stars.

Alas, there’s still the rest of the lineup. Jonathan Lucroy clearly could have used more adjustment to Major League pitchers, as his walk rate fell from well over 10% in the minors to a mere 6.1% in his first 297 PAs as a Brewer. Yuniesky Betancourt, despite a moderate amount of power (.121 ISO), has a well-documented inability to reach base. Carlos Gomez has had a similar problem over the course of his career, except without the power stroke. When it comes to the bottom of the Brewers lineup, there will be outs.

Still, all three of these guys play premium positions, and in the cases of Lucroy and Gomez, they should recoup some of the value they give away with the bat through fancy glovework. Such is almost certainly not the case with Betancourt, who has consistently rated among the worst fielders in the entire league by many advanced defensive metrics. He is not alone in his defensive incompetence. Fielder is about as bad as one would expect a man with his body type to be, with a career -6.7 UZR/150. Braun, although better in left field than his first disastrous attempt at third base, still has no value with the glove, and his corner outfield counterpart Corey Hart isn’t much better. Rickie Weeks and Casey McGehee appear to be less disastrous fielders, but still fall in the red according to UZR (as well as the eye test). Team defense was an issue for the Brewers, who ranked 29th in the MLB in DER in 2010. Perhaps the invisible forces of regression and the departure of soft-tossers like Dave Bush and Doug Davis can help this team out, but chances are the Brewers will once again be a poor defensive team.

The Pitching Staff
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Shaun Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson

RHP John Axford
RHP Takashi Saito
LHP Zach Braddock
RHP LaTroy Hawkins
RHP Kameron Loe
RHP Sean Green
LHP Manny Parra

Last season, Doug Davis was the third starter entering the season. He finished the year with a 5.22 FIP and a 7.51 ERA. That’s not everything you need to know about the 2010 version of Milwaukee’s rotation, but it’s enough to get the overall point across: they were bad. The upgrades presented by the acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are obvious. Not only are both pitchers extremely talented, but they will be replacing some of the least valuable innings tossed by any regular starters in the league. Along with the 38 innings of Davis’s atrocities, the Brewers are also replacing 174 innings of Dave Bush (4.55 ERA, 5.14 FIP) and 84.1 innings of Manny Parra (6.19 ERA, 5.12 FIP, starting numbers only).

Although the group in place now doesn’t approach the greatness of the Philadelphia rotation and probably can’t touch the rotations of San Francisco or Los Angeles either (just looking at the NL), it should still be good. Greinke is obviously the gem, projected for an ERA (and a FIP) in the 3.00-3.50 range. Gallardo is projected for the 3.25-3.75 range, and Marcum in the 3.75-4.00 range, projections which includes his numbers in a difficult park and a difficult division. The 2010 idea of Randy Wolf as a #2 starter was doomed for failure, but his projected numbers (4.00-4.50 ERA/FIP) would be accepted by almost any team in the fourth slot. Chris Narveson is a bit of a question mark in the fifth slot, but he put up solid peripherals in 2010 (4.22 FIP) and could make an unexpected impact in the rotation.

The bullpen has potential to be strong, but is largely unproven. John Axford made a fantastic first impression in 2010, but 58 innings are nowhere near enough to prove that the control problems that plagued him in the minors are gone. Braddock, a hard throwing lefty, is also young but may be the more talented reliever of the pair, with a powerful mid-90s fastball and a hard low-80s slider. Kameron Loe also made an impact out of the bullpen last season, posting a 2.78 ERA and 3.71 FIP in 58 innings. His two-seam fastball has incredibly sharp movement, and should continue to generate groundballs, although he struggles against left-handed batters. The real established talent of this bullpen is Takashi Saito, who has never failed to post an ERA under 3.00 in the Major Leagues and also carries a career 2.98 FIP into action. LaTroy Hawkins is also established, but more as a merely average reliever – useful, but not in higher-leverage situations. Sean Green will compete with the likes of Mike McClendon and Brandon Kintzler for a final middle relief spot. Manny Parra’s fall from grace has landed him squarely in the long relief role – his career as a long-term starter is over, although he may make a few spot starts if necessary.

Key Player

As he has been since 2007, Prince Fielder will once again be the key to the offense. Although he was good in 2010 – any season with a .400+ OBP and a .470+ SLG will be an elite offensive season – Fielder missed out on many a chance to produce runs, finishing with only 83 RBIs. More striking, despite producing 35 runs above average with the bat (3.5 wins), Fielder only managed a 2.16 WPA and a clutch score of -1.03. A look at Fielder’s splits explains this difference swiftly.


Click to embiggen.

It is unfathomable that Fielder could post a .208 slugging percentage in high-leverage situations again this year. Fielder actually has a positive career clutch score and, sweeping aside all notions of clutch as a skill for a moment, is simply far too good of a hitter to see such terrible luck in the clutch for two seasons in a row. Not only should we expect Fielder to improve on his power numbers from last season – his lowest SLG and ISO since 2006 – but even just the rearrangement of some of Fielder’s poor plate appearances from high-leverage to medium and low-leverage situations should be enough to increase Fielder’s value substantially, perhaps on the order of one or even two wins

Summary

The Brewers are clearly good at two things – hitting and pitching – and equally clearly bad at another – defense. Fortunately for Milwaukee, hitting and pitching together comprise a larger portion of the game than defense. The team assembled in Milwaukee is certainly above average and certainly has the talent to compete in the NL Central. Behind great years from their superstars – Braun, Fielder, and Greinke – the Brewers can ride this roster into the playoffs. But these players need to be great enough to overshadow the problems in the field, at the bottom of the order, and the lack of a top-end bullpen. The Cardinals and Reds both pose tough challenges, and this year’s race has the potential to be one for the ages.




Print This Post



If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to Jack's new project, The Sports Desk on Beacon Reader. Jack also writes for Sports On Earth, The Score, The Classical, and has written for Disciples of Uecker, among others. Follow him on twitter at @jh_moore.

29 Responses to “Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Chops says:

    Hopefully Dickerson can take Gomez’s job away because the bottom of their lineup is cringe-worthy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. sgolder06 says:

    A nice, cromulent article.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. J J Hardy says:

    PLEASE TAKE ME BACK!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Expos67 says:

    If Mark Rogers arm can hold on, he could be a very useful 5th starter or late inning reliever.

    I believe in the Brew Crew

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Jim says:

    It’s not just that the starters at C, SS, and CF who also fill out the bottom of the lineup are…er…worrisome. It’s that the guys who back them up at their positions(and backup 2B and 3B as well, really) are…well..ranging from not much better to much, much worse:

    1. Dickerson is fine as a reserve OF, and may even be better than Gomez, but he’ll have to show it.

    2. Although Mat Gamel is still around and figures to backup both 1B and 3B(and maybe the OF as well?), the primary utility infielder at 2B, SS, and 3B is none other than Craig Counsell!
    Gulp!

    3. One of George Kotteras or Will Nieves to serve as the backup C?
    Double Gulp!

    They really should have pursued Felipe Lopez and asked the Nationals about trading for Pudge Rodriguez. That bench scares me, frankly.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ATown says:

      I’m actually fine with Counsell as the utility guy. He will play solid defense and at least give quality at bats. Really the Brewers are mostly looking for a solid defender to plug in every once in a while (assuming they can’t afford a quality full time SS to replace Yuni). Counsell posted a 13.6 UZR/150 last year at SS and a 7.0 UZR/150 in his career at SS.

      The problem would come if someone on the infield goes down for the long haul and we are expecting CC to play every day.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Tim E. says:

    Really good breakdown on Prince’s struggles last year. Interesting that Fielder’s RBIs total actually does tell the story of his decline

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. mister_rob says:

    The opposing pitching staff basically gets 3 free innings against this lineup. That is a truly horrible 6,7,8. and as someone else pointed out, they have no bench. Nor do they have any prospects to pull off a deadline deal of note

    If Hart and McGhee come back down to earth, this offense will blow

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jordan says:

      It’s just as likely that Braun and Fielder have good years as it is Hart/McGehee “come back to earth.” They each posted a .380 wOBA last year, 14 points below Braun’s career, and 7 below Fielder’s. We all know each is very easily capable of a .400-.420 season.
      I know the bottom of the order looks brutal, but the offense isn’t going to blow because of it. The Brewers bottom 3 last year looked like this:

      Escobar: 552 PAs of .270 wOBA (-22.5 wRAA)
      Lucroy/Zaun/Kotarras: combined 664 PAs of ~.300 wOBA (-10.6 wRAA)
      Gomez: 318 PAs of .301 wOBA (-5.2 wRAA)

      I highly doubt that Betancourt can do worse than Escobar did last year (offensively), and the Lucroy/Kotarras combo probably won’t be any worse off than a .300 wOBA (and there’s decent potential that it does much better, as Lucroy acclimates to ML pitching). Every projection on Fangraphs right now has Lucroy at .310+ and Kotarras .312+.
      Personally, I’d expect the 1-5 of the lineup to produce about the same level as last year, maybe slightly worse. Weeks and Hart are the two to watch for regression (McGehee has pretty much showed his true skills now, IMO), but as I mentioned, Braun and Fielder having normal years could offset much of that.
      Milwaukee is losing the offensive contributions of Cain and Edmonds, but that alone is not going to cause them to blow. At worst, they’re still a top 5 offense in the NL, with a top 5 pitching staff, and a bottom 5 defense.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. nate says:

    Not sure what is wrong with counsell. He projects to 80-90 ops+ with an average glove at 3 positions. I don’t think lopez would be much, if any of an upgrade.

    I understand kotteras is a poor defender, but a projected league average bat at the catcher position has value. Pudge is no longer close to that as a hitter and 12 years older than him. Given the choice, I’d take Pudge but factoring in salary, injury risk due to age, and assets to obtain him, I’d assume just keep kotteras.

    I assume Dickinson is the better overall player than gomez, hopefully he at least gets most of the starts v. RHP.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. nate says:

    Hard to believe the brewers traded jj hardy for gomez.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. nate says:

    Maybe they can re acquire hardy after the orioles are knocked out of the race, maybe late may or so.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Dustin says:

    Kottaras is a decent backup catcher. The bench isn’t that bad, Counsell is a clutch player and Matt Gamel could surprise some.

    And Rickie Weeks isn’t a bad defender. Those who have watched him play the last 3 years have seen the improvement. He isn’t a great defender, but he is average.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. STEALTH says:

    Does Orlando Cabrera have a place to play?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. miguel says:

    You really don’t think McClendon’s going to make the team? Just look at his lines in AAA and last year. FIP under 3 in 76 combined innings. His numbers before that were always good and he strikes guys out. There’s no way you put Sean Green on the team over McClendon.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Scott says:

      I think you do keep Green over McClendon, for no other reason than depth. Green will be the last man out of the pen anyway, might as well have him eat up the low leverage innings and preserve your depth by optioning McClendon.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • miguel says:

        No, dude. You put the best pitcher on the roster and just stack up one good setup man after another. That’s depth, not sticking your talent in the minors–especially at 26 yrs old.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. ATown says:

    Nice article. Only thing I would add is that I think DiFelice has a very good shot at being that last guy in the pen. Especially if he stays healthy and has a decent spring. Go Brewers!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David says:

      The way the off days setup for the crew, they should only need the #6 starter (Parra probably) to make 2 starts, and the dropoff from Greinke to the other 4 starters isn’t large enough to make a big difference over a couple weeks.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *