Will Stars and Scrubs Approach Derail Brewers?

The Milwaukee Brewers’ acquisition of Zack Greinke shocked the baseball world this off-season. Although the Brewers gave up two of their projected starters, many pundits thought the move made the Brewers the class of the NL Central. While it was easy to overlook the players the Brewers dealt, they’ve left themselves awfully thin at some key positions. As a result of the trade, both Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez vault into starting roles. Combine that with the fact that Jonathan Lucroy is still adjusting to major league pitching, and you have potential for replacement-level performances at three positions. Even with all the off-season acquisitions, are the Brewers strong enough to overcome their weakest players?

At the conclusion of the 2010 season, the Brewers were one of the best offensive clubs in the National League. Led by breakout performances by Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, and the usual production of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, the Brewers ranked fourth in the NL in runs, fourth in OBP, and third in SLG. Weeks and Hart, however, are expected to experience some regression in 2011. Combine that with the weak expected contributions from Gomez, Betancourt and Lucroy, and the Brewers offense should decline this season.

The offense still appears to be in good shape, however, when you consider the players Gomez, Betancourt and Lucroy are replacing. While he split time with Jim Edmonds and Lorenzo Cain, Gomez actually received the most plate appearances of any center fielder on the Brewers last season. Due to his playing time, it’s easy to say that Gomez is essentially replacing himself this season, even though he lost his job to Cain as the season progressed. As a full-time starter, Gomez will not replicate the offense of Edmonds or Cain, but should provide exceptional defense at a key position. Neither Edmonds nor Cain were slouches defensively, but Gomez has a chance to be one of the strongest defensive center fielders in the league this season. The defensive gain from this switch should make the offensive loss a lot easier to stomach.

Jonathan Lucroy also essentially replaces himself, but it’s harder to predict how he will perform in the full-time role. Pressed into action last season after only 83 plate appearances at AAA, Lucroy predictably struggled with major league pitching. Last season, Lucroy essentially lost a year of development in the minors and will now have to adjust at the major league level. Although George Kottaras would provide more patience and power, Lucroy is the superior defensive player. Lucroy is still young (24), and had decent walk rates in the minors, so perhaps there is still some room for improvement. Still, Lucroy was just as good, if not better, than Kottaras last season and may actually provide an upgrade at the position this season.

Replacing Alcides Escobar with Yuniesky Betancourt will certainly hurt the Brewers in the future, but both players posted an identical WAR last season. They did it in very different ways, however. Escobar relied on slick fielding to carry his poor offensive showing, and Betancourt relied on a power surge to cover up his poor fielding and patience at the plate. Betancourt has long been one of the worst regulars in all of baseball, but he should be able to replicate Escobar’s 2010 offensive performance. Defensively, however, the Brewers could be in big trouble. Even though many scouts felt Escobar didn’t live up to his full potential on defense last season, he was miles better than Betancourt. At such a crucial defensive position, the Brewers are taking a big risk by installing Betancourt full-time. There might not be a big drop-off offensively, but the Brewers just went from one of the most promising defensive shortstops to arguably the worst defensive shortstop in the league.

Outside of Yuniesky, none of the Brewers’ lineup changes will hurt the team as much as people perceive. Gomez should provide stronger defense than the previous center fielders, making up for a poor offensive showing. Lucroy also presents a defensive upgrade, with the potential for some offensive growth. Betancourt should at least match the offensive contribution the Brewers received at shortstop last season, and that’s about it. Still, the Brewers were able to employ a strong offense last season with somewhat similar performances at the positions in question last season. Even though they are taking a risk by employing Gomez, Betancourt and Lucroy full-time; it doesn’t appear the Brewers are going to allow those players to hold them back in 2011.

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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.

34 Responses to “Will Stars and Scrubs Approach Derail Brewers?”

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  1. Daniel says:

    I’m still flabbergasted that Dayton was able to fleece the Brewers into taking the Yuni-bomber.

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  2. jirish says:

    I think the stars and scrubs approach certainly can derail the Brewers. That approach hasn’t gotten the Cardinals as far as everyone thought they’d go.

    I think the Cubs and Reds are being overlooked as legitimate contenders in the NL Central. Both of those teams have better balanced teams.

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    • Ender says:

      Stars and Scrubs?

      The have 2 holes on the team, that is hardly stars and scrubs.

      The Brewers are a more balanced team than the Cubs are.

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      • BurleighGrimes says:

        Yeah, but no one is picking the Cubs to win the central. Tho it seems to me that the Brewers are also more balanced than the Cards.

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      • Daniel O'Brien says:

        I think you’ll find the Cubs are a remarkably balanced team. It’s just a very ordinary balance.

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      • Alex says:

        Carlos Silva is doing a very good job of keeping hitters balanced at the plate. Does that count towards a teams “balance?”

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  3. Puffy says:

    Didn’t Corey Hart already have a breakout season in 2007?

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    • llogan says:

      Yes and so did Weeks. Weeks could probably match last years performance. The only question is if he can stay healthy.

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  4. ha says:

    the cubs have a chance? so do the orioles! i love how people are going to trash the brewers alllllll season long. then when they go to the playoffs it will be excuse after excuse why they’re there. people can’t accept small market teams doing well without an excuse.

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    • Jason B says:

      “people can’t accept small market teams doing well without an excuse.”

      Yeah that’s what it is. Exactly. Lots of Yankees and BoSox homers around here. Do you (a) read articles around here much, and (b) think before typing, ever?

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      • fredsbank says:

        he didnt say people here at fangraphs who, while often haughty and self-righteous are usually much more knowledgeable about baseball than most people, he meant people in general, people whose baseball knowledge comes from WFAN or USA today, and the point is certainly true in that regard

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  5. Shauntell says:

    I don’t think you can say Braun and Fielder delivered “usual production”. If they do deliver usual production this year, they could at least partially make up for the projected regressions of Weeks and Hart.

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    • Alex says:

      Completely agree. I was going to say the same thing until I saw someone else posted it. If you are going to look at which players will regress…you also have to look at which players will play better. Both Braun and Fielder had below average/below average years last year.

      Replacing Doug Davis/Dave Bush/Manny Parra starts with Greinke/Marcum starts is also a huge swing. Even if their offense regresses slightly as a team (which I’m not convinced it will), their pitching will more than make up for that.

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    • Dealer A says:

      Fielder for one dropped .040 points in wOBA from 2009 to 2010. Now he’s in a contract year and could very well put up a monster season. And as Fielder goes, so goes Braun.

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  6. tonysoprano says:

    I like the Brewers to win that division. Although I’m not sure how their bullpen will hold up. That is my concern with them.

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  7. doug K says:

    There is another angle to this that is very apparent when watching the Brewers in Arizona to me. And that is that the trades have left them even weaker in depth to be able to deal with injuries and bad performances. When you are counting on Betancourt and Gomez, the opportunity for negative WAR play is clearly a possibility and the Brewers dont have a lot of guys capable of a positive WAR in reserve.

    This is especially a problem in the OF. They could move Dickerson into a job (he’s likely a better player if given 500 AB than Gomez to my eyes but what do I know?). But that would leave them with who Boggs I guess as a 4th OF. They are really thin on the bench everywhere especially if you dont believe Counsell has found the fountain of youth.

    I think it is too superficial to look at these trades as just downgrading the starting lineup. I dont worry about the Brewers 1-8 hitters as much as their 9-16 hitters.

    Just my opinion.

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    • Rob says:

      You’re forgetting about Gamel.

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      • doug K says:

        I didnt forget about Gamel, I just dont think he is the answer to this problem although clearly he will have an opportunity if Mc Gehee or Fielder are out.

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    • BrewsControl says:

      there are a couple of decent options here… keeping in mind that Corey Hart is still nursing that rib cage strain and may not be ready for opening day. Jeremy Reed is also a solid defender, has plenty major league experience, and is having a pretty hot spring as well. on the bench, we’ll have counsell, who can back up most infield spots, decent at bats but definitely doesn’t have the range he used to, Kotsay will back up the corner outfield spots and first, he’s a solid vet. nieves/rivera/kottaras will back up lucroy, rivera and kottaras are solid at the plate, and i wouldn’t be surprised to see luis cruz make the final bench spot as a defensive back up at shortstop… reed could possibly fit in as the fifth spot given that he’s a righty at bat, cruz also righty and kotsay/counsell are lefty, may balance that bench…

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  8. Jon says:

    The Brewers will be a contender this year with their pitching as long as Greinke stops playing basketball. Braun and Fielder can carry the offense as long as there are some role players around them.

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  9. Flharfh says:

    One could make an interesting offensive comparison between Yuni/Lucroy/Gomez and Y. Molina/Theriot/Schumaker.

    I’m not worried about the lineup at all. Braun and Fielder are stars coming off down years, even if Weeks regresses he will still be good offensively, and Mcghee and Hart both provide good offense.

    Hopefully Chris Dickerson wins the starting CF job and Lucroy hits somewhere around league average for a catcher. If stars and scrubs means the Brewers have 5 stars, 1-2 avg. players and 1-2 scrubs, I”ll take that any day.

    My major concerns with the Brewers are starting pitching depth and middle infield depth. In the minor leagues, the Brewers have Mark Rogers, and that’s it. If there is more than one injury in the rotation, Doug Melvin will be scrambling to find a replacement.
    In the middle infield, one would hope that Counsell plays as much as possible over Betancourt at SS. However, Counsell is also the backup 3B and 2B. This is why the Kotsay signing is so baffling – the Brewers need someone that can play 2B and 3B and Kotsay doesn’t offer that.

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    • BrewsControl says:

      marco estrada is also a nice option for spot starts, but i agree, past that there’s not much… i suppose parra can start, mike mcclendon, who is vying for a bullpen spot was a starter in the minors, tim dillard has shown flashes of brilliance in spring, but has been proven useless in the majors

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  10. Ender says:

    The biggest concern with the Brewers is they got shafted in interleague schedule and play by far the hardest schedule of any team in the Central. While the other teams get cream puffs like the Royals and Indians the weakest team the Brewers play is either the Rays or Twins.

    15 games starting June 17th — at Boston, home to Tampa Bay, home to Minnesota, at the Yankees, at Minnesota. Teams that averaged 94 wins last season.

    The second concern is obviously team defense and depth but every team has some sort of concern, those aren’t any bigger than any other teams.

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  11. curtis says:

    Awesome post, really enjoyed this. I feel the same way, people were quick to jump on that train and think the brew crew were indeed kings of the division. However, the statement “you’re only as good as your weakest player” is the issue here for sure.

    Take a look at – http://canadiancorn.blogspot.com/ – a good canadian baseball blog that I write for.
    Thanks so much

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  12. tommy says:

    Who’s overlooking the Reds?? Seems to me that most publications have them projected to win the division. The Brewers are getting all the attention simply because they appear to be much improved over last season.

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  13. mkd says:

    I don’t follow the Brewers closely enough to know the answer to this, but as a Mariners fan I have to wonder: is there really nobody out there that can hold down SS better than Yuni? Is there nobody who can be traded for? No one who can be signed? No one who can be promoted? It has to be Yuni? Really?

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    • Flharfh says:

      I’m sure taking Betancourt was necessary to get the trade for Greinke done, and Brewer management has never been quick to release players making significant money until a breaking point is reached. (see Suppan, Jeff)

      Besides, his traditional numbers (BA, RBI, HR) are good, especially for a shortstop.

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      • Jason B says:

        “his traditional numbers (BA, RBI, HR) are good”

        His meaningful numbers are woeful. But your comment does lead to a useful underlying notion – that if you can find some other GM that looks more at, and values, the traditional stats than more useful measures like OBA and OPS, then maybe you can fleece them into taking Yuni off their hands.

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  14. llogan says:

    Doesn’t almost every team have a couple replacement level or worse players starting for them? Gomes, Cabrera

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    • Ender says:

      Every team in the NL Central certainly does. The Brewers have 5 solid every day players in their lineup. They have a soft platoon at CF and SS that will be below average offensively most likely. For CF it will be a plus defensively so it is fine but SS is going to be ugly.

      Their C is a good prospect so shouldn’t be considered a negative at all.

      They have 4 good established starters and one prospect coming off an up and down year. They have a mixture of experience and upside in the bullpen.

      Really the only stars and scrubs approach being taken here is they have a crappy SS and a questionable CF, the rest of the team is pretty much balanced.

      Calling their roster stars and scrubs is a misnomer.

      The Cardinals are much more of a stars and scrubs roster since they rely on Pujols, Carpenter and Holliday way more than the Brewers rely on their big names.

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  15. DaveinEG says:

    It’s possible Weeks and Hart could regress (though I doubt it in the case of Weeks who’s always had the talent to put up big numbers), but it’s also extremely doubtful that Fielder will be held to 83 RBI as he was last year. Braun is also coming off what is for him a less than stellar 2010 performance.

    Gomez won’t be great but he’ll hit enough.

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  16. Matty Brown says:

    I really like the Brewers team they constructed. I would love to see them pick up Willy Aybar to play short though. (I think he is still on the market).

    Not sure of his defense at short, but it certainly must surpass Uni and Aybar would hit better.

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  17. Kevin Waisfeld says:

    That approach is working well for the Miami Heat.

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  18. nate says:

    You would assume the brewers can acquire at SS via trade or waiver wire pick up during spring training.

    Looks like most posters like Weeks as much as me. I am hoping for 7+ WAR season.

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