Beware the Brew Crew

The Milwaukee Brewers have had a really quiet off season. Just how quiet? They only signed two players to major league contracts. For a team that needed a lot of help, two major league signings doesn’t seem like a lot. However, they did get a lot of help this off season. The other teams in the NL Central have failed to make a splash big enough to make the central a three team race again, and this is a potential opening for the Brewers to move in.

The Brewers were, and are, not expected to make a playoffs appearance during the 2014 season, but is that really true? They could. They very well could, and here’s how:

First, the three other teams who made the playoffs last season have regressed. The Cincinnati Reds have not done anything to improve. They lost their, arguably, two most important players to free agency in Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo. The two players combined for an even six wins above replacement. Their replacements (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani) have a combined WAR of 2.9, a 3.1 difference! Albeit, the two players have not been major players in 2013 having spent most of the season in the minors, but that is more reason to be concerned. Who knows how two second year major leaguers with little experience under their belt will do to replace two All-Star caliber players. Will the loss of Choo and Arroyo hurt the Reds? Of course! And Hamilton and Cingrani may not be the best replacements for a team who won one of the NL Wild Card spots in 2013.

The other team who didn’t make moves AND who won the NL Wild Card series, the Pittsburgh Pirates, is in a tougher boat. They lost several key players in Marlon ByrdJustin Morneau, and A.J. Burnett and they replaced them with, well, nothing really. The only major league signing that the Buccos pulled off was for Edinson Volquez who had an absolutely atrocious season in 2013 and is the least likely replacement for an ace. Plus, first base and right field are still questions with no viable replacements at those positions. So does this mean that the Pirates will be out of the playoffs? I don’t think that the front office will go down without a fight. They want to appease their fan base and they still have many pieces in place to win over 80 games again, but unless they upgrade the rotation, first base, and left field, they are not going anywhere.

The final team and NL Central winners are perhaps in the best shape to make the playoffs again. The St. Louis Cardinals have done enough to maintain their dominance in the central. With Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos in the fold including dominant young players such as Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha, the Cards are looking like they will win another central title. But the Brewers might have something to say.

Other than the Cardinals, the Brewers have made the most important moves to improve their ballclub for 2014. They addressed all of their issues: The rotation, first base, and a left handed relief pitcher (according to ESPN). The rotation was fixed momentously with the addition of Matt Garza. Garza, one of the most sought after starters during free agency, will help to form a powerful front three rotation. With Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo leading the way and Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg rounding things out, the Brew Crew’s rotation is looking like it can compete with the best of them. Plus, the addition of Garza helps to address another issue. Will Smith, a lefty who was acquired in the Norichika Aoki trade, will move to the bullpen. Here, the Brewers are able to add to an already strong bullpen that features a strong back-end and now a stable and reliable left handed pitcher.

Although the Brewers never signed a first basemen to a major league deal, the ones that they were able to acquire will impact the ball club in many ways. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay will help what was a weakness for the Crew last season. Their combination of power, defense, ability to platoon, and familiarity to the NL Central and other leagues will impact the Brewers as if they had signed a major league contract. Plus, the Brewers have many great players in place at other positions. Jean SeguraCarlos GomezJonathan Lucroy, and even Ryan Braun will make a formidable lineup while young players like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett have shown that they can play at the major league level.

Overall, the Brewers are a much better team and are starting to look much better than the 2013 season. They have addressed all of their pieces while other teams in the NL Central have regressed. Although the Brew Crew may not make the playoffs, as many predict, they will cause havoc and surely improve from the 74-88 record they posted last season.

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10 Responses to “Beware the Brew Crew”

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  1. Jason says:

    “two All-Star caliber players”

    Choo, I’ll give you. But to describe Arroyo as an all-star quality player is pretty ridiculous. They lost depth and an innings-eater, so I’m not entirely discounting the loss, but c’mon.

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    • ncarrington says:

      Agreed. Cingrani could actually be an upgrade. The loss of Choo certainly hurts, but the Reds pitching depth probably keeps them from falling off a cliff.

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  2. Jake says:

    How could you possibly say the cardinals got worse? Statistically and logically that makes absolutely zero sense. Upgraded at SS and CF all while keeping a top farm system completely intact.

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  3. semperty says:

    You’re overlooking two MAJOR factors, here.

    First of all, the Cardinals project to stay the same (I know this came out before Sullivan’s piece, but you could’ve done some research on your own). With regression expected from Carp, they should improve by a ton with Peralta over Kozma, and Wong + Ellis (if Wong falters) are easily capable of replacing Freese’s production from 2013.

    Second, you don’t seem to know the Pirates team at all. They’re not replacing Burnett with Volquez. They’re replacing Burnett with Cole, and then (most likely) replacing Locke with Volquez (though it’s possible Locke stays in and Volquez doesn’t make the rotation at all). Second, the Pirates don’t have elite production at 1B or RF (not left, minor nitpick there), but they have the same thing they did in 2013 (if not better). The fangraphs depth charts project the Pirates for 1.3 wins at 1B (nearly a full win better than 2013) and 1.7 wins in RF (also nearly a full win better than 2013). I also like how you reference the Cardinals minor league depth with Taveras and Wacha, while the Pirates have a similar tandem in Taillon and Polanco.

    I’m not saying the Pirates will win 90 games again, but they’re not nearly as bad of as you make them sound like they are. In 2013 they produced 39.4 WAR, and project for 36.9 WAR in 2014.

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    • ncarrington says:

      Agree with semperty. The Cardinals are clearly the class of the division heading into the season. They have the least question marks and have upgraded key positions (CF and SS).

      The Pirates and Reds both have a good enough core to contend barring injuries and major regression from key players.

      Garza is a nice upgrade but Gallardo’s strikeouts per 9 dropped to a career low in 2013, and his hits per 9 reached a career high. Lohse will be 35. Davis and Gennett have upside, but they have 153 and 230 plate appearances respectively in the big leagues, so I’m not sure you can say they have proven anything.

      If the point is that the Brewers have improved, I think you can make a case for that. That would make for an interesting article.

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  4. sstrand says:

    Maybe I missed a recent report, but Wily Peralta will be in the rotation, not Tyler Thornburg.

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  5. Jim Price says:

    OK I can buy that Pirates and Reds will regress. But the Cardinals were a very good team and I don’t see how they got worse, they upgraded at two positions and have a lot of young players with potential upside. The Cardinals are going to be really hard to catch and also look to be strong contenders for years to come. I don’t even like them, just stating they are the clear front-runners in this division. Brewers in 2nd place with 80 or so wins is possible but I don’t see how they do much better than that.

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  6. Jozef K says:

    Even though the article is a bit sloppy (see sstrand’s comment on Thornburg/Peralta), I think the commenters here are being (typically) over-critical. Does the article say anywhere that the Cardinals have regressed? Sheesh!

    PIT and CIN are due for regression and MKE is due for progression. That much is easy to predict. I think the people are too optimistic about the Reds– there are A LOT of question marks in their lineup: Hamilton? Ludwick? Frazier? Mesoraco?… I’ll take Gomez, K. Davis, A. Ramirez, and Lucroy over those guys every day.

    I think PITs pitching way over-performed last year, and I don’t see why MKE can’t match up with them in every spot as well.

    The Cards are undoubtedly the leader, but this division has enough talent that all 4 teams can beat each other up.

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  7. Encino Man says:

    I don’t mean to pile on here, but there has to be some baseline standard an article has to meet before publication, even as a community post. The peralta/thornburg thing is an issue, but that’s a minor one compared to several more glaring ones. For example, the statement of “Here, the Brewers are able to add to an already strong bullpen” is also problematic. There’s no metric that would suggest this to be the case (they were 25th in WAR last year). There is no factual basis from which that statement could be made. Indeed, most projections peg it among the worst in baseball (0.0 WAR projection from ZIPs).

    Furthermore, this kid has to learn how to write. “The Brewers were, and are, not expected to make a playoffs appearance during the 2014 season, but is that really true?” What does that even mean?! There is no flow. Commas are used incorrectly. He writes: “They lost their, arguably, two most important players to free agency” Oh my god, no. First, there shouldn’t be commas there and ‘arguably’ should precede ‘their.’ But even so, this ignores the importance of Joey Votto. He’s led that team in WAR every year since 2008. It is not arguable that anyone other than he is the Reds’ most important player.

    I don’t know how community posts work. I rarely read them, but I’m a Brewers’ fan, so I checked this one out. I’ve read some in the past. Certainly the quality is varied, but I’ve never seen anything this week in terms of both style and substance. I would respectfully submit there has to be some very modest baseline which an article has to meet before it can be published. This belongs on someone’s personal blog; not on a website where it runs anywhere in the vicinity of strong writing on cutting edge topics.

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