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Brewers Outfield: Do You Believe In Khrush Davis?

As with the vast majority of the Brewers’ roster, their outfield presents few question marks in terms of roster construction. Ryan Braun will transition to right field after the organization shipped Norichika Aoki to Kansas City to clear room for 26-year-old Khris Davis, who took the NL Central by storm with a .406 wOBA in his brief major-league debut last season.

Braun and Davis will anchor the corners, while Carlos Gomez projects to roam center field once again — a year after his breakout +7.6 WAR season in which he hit .284/.338/.506 with 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases. Such a tremendous season helped catapult Gomez into elite fantasy-status. He was the sixth-best fantasy outfielder in 2013, according to Zach Sanders’ end-of-season rankings.

The Brewers should have Logan Schafer on the bench once again, providing a left-handed bat off the bench and above-average defense at any of the three outfield positions. He hit .211/.279/.322 last season, and while he’s certainly a better hitter than those numbers suggest, he doesn’t project to be relevant in any leagues, due to both a lack of playing time and a lack of impact tools with the bat.

The fifth outfielder role isn’t set in stone, but Caleb Gindl will stroll into camp this month with the inside track. His overall .242 batting average won’t impress anyone. However, his 12.9% walk rate and .197 ISO helped compensate for the low batting average, likely impacted by his low BABIP in such a small sample size, and suggest he could be a solid bench bat. And if Khris Davis proves to be nothing more than a platoon guy in left field, Gindl could become a useful platoon partner at the league minimum.

But before we dig our teeth into Khris Davis and Carlos Gomez, the elephant in the room must be addressed. What should fantasy owners expect from Ryan Braun next season?

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Brewers Rotation: Dishing Out Love To Estrada, Again

The Brewers’ starting rotation got much more interesting last week, as they inked right-hander Matt Garza to a four-year deal with a vesting option. He and Kyle Lohse should headline a rotation that could surprise some people who wrote them off after posting a 4.13 ERA and 4.23 FIP in the first half last year.

In the second half, the Brewers’ rotation collectively turned a corner. Their 3.42 ERA was better than the Cardinals and Athletics in the latter half of the season, and it hints at what could be brewing in Milwaukee if the majority of breaks go the Brewers’ way. Marco Estrada was a beast down the stretch, Wily Peralta displayed signs of putting it together, and Yovani Gallardo finally tightened the tourniquet and stopped the bleeding.

Adding Matt Garza to the mix gives the Brewers five solid starters with a pair of intriguing arms waiting in the wings with Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson. It’s not a top-heavy rotation that will awe opposing teams, but it’s a rotation that could pair a couple number-two starters with three mid-rotation guys. Of course, that’s banking on no severe regression from anyone, but the organization has quietly assembled a starting rotation that projects to be at least league average.

But let’s look at the fantasy value because the name brands may not be where the value truly lies.

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Ruminations on Masahiro Tanaka & Draft Day

In terms of evaluating starting pitchers for the fantasy baseball season, owners have patiently waited for Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a major-league team. Ballpark and competition matter when evaluating players, so now that Tanaka inked a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees, we can proceed to the more important stage of determining probable performance and probable value.

Of course, the most obvious obstacle hindering most fantasy analysis regarding Tanaka is the switch from the Nippon Professional Baseball league to the major leagues. The right-hander twirled a sparkling 1.27 ERA in his final season in Japan, but it’s unclear how that will translate to the American League. Furthermore, how do we know where to draft him and what kind of peripheral statistics can we expect? He’s bound to get glossed up by the hype machine in the coming months, especially since he will be wearing pinstripes, but fantasy owners realize they must trim away the fat to get at some core truth.

I’m not going to pretend I can project Tanaka’s overall performance in 2014. No matter what, he’ll remain kind of an enigma heading into the season. However, I do feel we can glean some important relational information by comparing him to how owners treated Yu Darvish when he stormed the league a couple seasons ago.

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The Diamondbacks Outfield: The Gerardo Parra Shuffle

The Arizona Diamondbacks shocked much of the baseball community when they parted with a pair of promising young players — Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton — to acquire a legitimate home run threat in Mark Trumbo. Thus, the remaining trio of Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross will now jockey for regular playing time in center and right fields instead of splitting major time in all three positions.

Home run power doesn’t solely define an outfielder’s overall value. On-base skills, contact skills, speed and defense are vitally important, but when it comes to the Trumbo addition, it’s not difficult to understand why Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks felt they needed to upgrade their power at the outfield position. Last season, their collective outfield finished dead last in home runs and ISO.
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Being Bullish On Brandon Kintzler

In the summer of 2009, Brandon Kintzler wasn’t a highly-touted prospect cruising through the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system. He was just another former 40th-round pick, toiling through his third-consecutive season in the independent leagues and trying to catch the eye of any professional organization.

The Brewers fortuitously had a scout at the American Association’s All-Star Game in Grand Prairie, Texas, where they saw Kintzler pitch two scoreless innings for the North Division in which he struck out three and walked no one. The two sides quickly agreed on a contract, and just one season later at age-25, the right-hander made his major-league debut against the Chicago Cubs.

Although he began to turn heads in Milwaukee during the 2011 season, a season-ending arm injury set him back once again. Rehab proved difficult. He continued to feel discomfort in his elbow in spring training the following year, but all nerve tests and MRIs repeatedly came back clean showing no issues. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with a strained forearm. It took the majority of the season for him to regain his arm strength, but when he did, he worked his way back to the majors and appeared in 14 games in September and October.

The 2013 season found Kintzler completely healthy for the first time in almost two years, and he took full advantage. He posted a 2.54 FIP in 77.0 innings and eventually wiggled his way into the primary set-up role by the end of the campaign. The strikeout numbers are not what fantasy owners would prefer, as he only managed a 6.78 K/9 strikeout rate, but he induced a myriad of ground balls, kept the baseball in the ballpark and issued very few free passes. That resulted in a supremely effective, if unspectacular, season.

While fellow right-hander Jim Henderson possesses a firm grip on the closer’s role in Milwaukee, Kintzler is primed for a full season of high-leverage usage. He should handle the eighth inning for manager Ron Roenicke, and I’m expecting another season of significant success. It may even be fantasy-relevant success, too.

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The Edinson Volquez Project Does Not Impress

Edinson Volquez epitomizes the “you can’t teach stuff” sentiment that’s long existed in professional baseball. Pure and simple, his stuff has kept him in the league. After all, he’s started 154 games and thrown 850.0 big-league innings, yet he’s enjoyed just one good season.

That banner season came in 2008, when he went 17-6 and compiled a 3.21 ERA (3.60 FIP). He was a legitimate four-win player and appeared to be on the cusp of a successful career with the Reds. Some even thought he was going to be an ace. After all, he was only 24 years old and was receiving a plethora of media hype for being the guy traded for Josh Hamilton.

Unfortunately for Cincinnati and for fantasy owners, the development into an ace never happened. His career was subsequently derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2009, a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test in 2010, and general ineffectiveness. To put it in perspective, the right-hander has thrown 574.0 innings since his tremendous breakout campaign in 2008 with an unimpressive 4.94 ERA.

Two things regarding that last point, both of which will be addressed in turn: (1) it’s incredible Volquez has continued to find regular work despite a near 5.00 ERA the past five years, and (2) everything was supposed to change coming into the 2012 season when he signed a contract with the San Diego Padres.

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Thinking About Martin Perez

Martin Perez has only thrown 162.1 innings in the majors, but he’s well-known within most baseball communities. He’s been one of the most-hyped prospects in the Rangers’ farm system in recent years, being named the number-three prospect and top pitching prospect by Baseball America in 2013.

Thus, when the Rangers promoted him to the big-league rotation for good in late June, many fantasy owners quickly jumped on the bandwagon and plucked him off waivers (if he was even available). Perez didn’t set the league ablaze like Jose Fernandez or display the makings of a potential ace like Gerrit Cole. He instead provided solid-average production and was a top-100 starter despite spending almost half the season in Triple-A.

As such, the 3.62 ERA won’t give anyone whiplash, but he won ten games and was nearly a two-win player in the majors at age 22. That’s nothing at which to scoff. The question, however, is how that level of production may look over the course of an entire season.

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Madison Bumgarner & Less Being More

Madison Bumgarner is only 24 years old, but he’s already established himself as a stud starter in fantasy circles. For the second-consecutive year, he was a top-15 starter in standard rotisserie formats and even catapulted himself into the top-10 in 2013 with a stellar 2.77 ERA in 201.1 innings. Owners appear to be valuing him properly, too, as his ADP had him the 13th-highest starter drafted coming into the 2013 season.

When turning our attention to future performance, very little stands out in a negative sense. We can perhaps be concerned about the .251 BABIP from last season, but Bumgarner still compiled a 3.05 FIP, which would still be better than average. Aside from the BABIP caveat, fantasy owners have to covet his consistency. His fastball velocity is firmly planted at 91 mph, his innings totals hover around the 200 mark, his ERA roughly dances between 2.75 and 3.25, his ground-ball percentage is either 46 or 47 percent, and his OSwing% has remained above 30% (and increasing).

Most of the time, pitchers in their early-to-mid 20s are projected to improve in key areas. Perhaps they’re supposed to add velocity or improve their command/control, but the overarching assumption is that young pitchers will take steps forward until their prime, where their performance will then stabilize. While all such generalizations will never be 100-percent factual, Bumgarner appears to buck the trend. He is what he is, and he’s largely been the same pitcher for the past three seasons with some fluctuations in BABIP and HR/FB.

For fantasy owners, such consistency for a starting pitcher is attractive. We’ll never be able to perfectly project year-to-year production, but with guys like Madison Bumgarner, we can at least feel confident in what we’re getting on draft day. His teammate, Matt Cain, was much the same from 2009 to 2012, which is why the right-hander’s abysmal performance in early 2013 was so alarming for many owners.

Bumgarner has been consistent, but it’s notable that his strikeout rate increased from 8.25 K/9 in 2012 to 8.90 K/9 last year. That’s the highest mark of his career, if we don’t include the 10 innings he threw for the Giants in 2009. If the southpaw is going to take the next step forward and become a bona fide ace, I believe it will happen because he begins to miss more bats. It happened last year, and a specific trend makes me wonder if it could continue.

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Yovani Gallardo & The Waiting Game

Prior to the 2013 season, right-hander Yovani Gallardo had been a number-two starter for the Milwaukee Brewers and roughly a third-tier starter for fantasy owners. He’s been a good source of strikeouts and an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75 on an annual basis. But owners have largely spent the last five seasons waiting for Gallardo to take the next step forward.

This can be seen by the fact that he was the 24th-drafted starter on draft day, selected in the same breath as James Shields, Max Scherzer and Mat Latos. All three of those starters finished the season as a top-25 starter. Gallardo, on the other hand, suffered through the worst season of his career. He compiled a 4.18 ERA, saw his strikeout numbers drop significantly, and was ranked outside the top-75 fantasy starters.

To be fair, it wasn’t a complete trainwreck of a season for the 27-year-old hurler. He barely kept his ERA under 5.00 in the first half, but he wrestled the train back on the tracks in the second half, posting a very solid 3.09 ERA in 67 innings. The turnaround has led some to believe Gallardo’s first half was mere aberration and he’ll return to his career norms in 2014.

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Yu Darvish & Historic Strikeout Levels

Yu Darvish may have compiled the least-heralded sub-3.00 ERA season in recent memory. Unfortunately, most of that stems from a lackluster 13-9 record, as his run support was putrid through certain stretches. To illustrate that point, in 17 of his starts, the Rangers scored three or fewer runs, which will certainly make it difficult to become a 20-game winner. Only logging 13 wins caused most of America to forget about Darvish’s stellar season, and it even got to the point that area sportswriters questioned his ability to hold leads late in games.

Regardless of the lack of attention lavished on the right-hander, fantasy owners certainly took notice. Zach Sanders had him ranked as the fourth-best starter in the league, while ESPN tabbed him as the five-best starter. In short, he anchored fantasy rotations and was a bona fide stud in every style of league.

Darvish took a significant step forward in 2013 due to BABIP and his strand rate. They combined to see his ERA drop from 3.90 in 2012 to 2.83 this past season, but the core components of his performance suggest his overall effectiveness was similar. His FIP remained almost identical, while he traded a few more home runs for fewer walks and more strikeouts.

His home run rate jumped from 0.66 HR/9 in 2012 to 1.12 HR/9 this past season. His HR/FB certainly changed for the worse, but it appears the larger discussion point should surround his decreased ground-ball rate. It decreased roughly five percent, and while that’s not a significant downturn, it seems at least interesting to note his home run rate increased in tandem with more fly balls.

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