Friday, July 8, 2011

State of the Brewers

Now is as good a time as any to give you my mid-season summary of the Milwaukee Brewers. I'm going to try to break it down an organized fashion. See Baseball Reference and Fan Graphs for all the stats. (Ed. Note: I wrote half of this a few days earlier, so some of the stats are a few days outdated.)

OVERALL: The team currently sits at 47-42, tied with the St. Louis Cardinals. The team has struggled as of late, losing 7 of 10, including blowing back-to-back five run leads. If you check out Baseball Reference's expanded standings, it is interesting to note that they are better record-wise, than they have actually played (BR has them at 45-44, 2 games behind Cincinnati and St. Louis). Based on my preseason, overly simplified expectations, I have the Crew 4 games behind the imaginary, playoff bound Brewers. I'm getting a little worried because of the way they have been losing. But, if you told me they would be tied for first 99 games in, I would take it. Baseball is just a frustrating game.

1B: Prince rates as the 9th best player in the NL based on WAR, and 2nd best 1st basemen (behind Votto). No problems here. He's been great. Defensively, he is still below replacement, but he is a beast at the plate.

2B: Weeks is the 18th best player in the NL and the best 2nd baseman. Can't argue with that. Even though it feels like he has improved his defense, he is actually WORSE than Fielder defensively based on his position, which is a little surprising.

SS: Yuni is fucking terrible. He is a -.4 WAR, which means he is WORSE than someone that you could walk onto any AAA team to get. He is fucking terrible on defense, where he is on pace to COST the Brewers 17 runs due to his defense this year (for comparison sake, Hart is predicted to SAVE 8 runs, and nobody would accuse him of being good). Batting wise, his OPS is .612 (league average is .703), and his OPS+ is 67 (100 is typically considered average, and adjusts his OPS number for ballpark factors). The bottom line is that he is fucking terrible in every aspect of the game. To top it off Roenicke has hit him FIFTH two recent games. If the Crew doesn't play someone else at SS for at least 1/2 of the rest of their games, they cannot possibly make the playoffs without being damn near perfect everywhere else. The solution is really not on the roster I don't think. Josh Wilson has been better than anyone else, but I think that is probably due to a small sample size than anything. However, as bad as Yuni has been, I can't imagine it would be too costly to get someone better. Even if that someone isn't great himself.

3B: McGehee has been worse than Yuni if that is even possible. The only reason it is hard to give up on him is because he had never been this bad before (whereas Yuni has always been bad). But this can't continue. Statistically he is arguably FAR worse than Yuni. Again, Wilson has been decent, but not decent enough to play both 3B and SS at the same time, and he probably isn't a starter. We need to get a 3B too probably. (Ed. Note: He hit a game winning, pinch hit 3 run homer two days ago. He still sucks).

LF: Braun is the 3rd best player in the NL (Behind Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutheon, again based on Wins Above Replacement). He is a stud. Interestingly, he is above replacement defensively, but I don't think WAR is a great indicator of defense especially in the outfield. I'm in love with him in a probably not sexual way.

CF: The Gomez/Plush combo is awesome to watch. Probably the two most exciting players to watch on the team, because you have no idea what is going to happen at any given moment. Gomez may overrun 3rd on the triple and break his neck falling into the dugout, or jump over the CF wall to make a catch. Plush may hit 5 triples (Plushdamentals!), or murder the home plate umpire. Offensively, there is no contest here. Plush has been nothing short of great offensively, while Gomez is nothing short of terrible. Defensively, Gomez has been spectacular. His defense is so good, that he nearly makes up for how bad he is offensively. For that reason, I don't have a huge problem with a 70/30 or so split (with Plush given the nod where there is a question). If I had to have one it would be Plush, but Gomez is a guy that can play some.

RF: Hart has been serviceable. It doesn't feel like he's been serviceable, because of how good he is when he is good, and because it looks like he's drunk and not trying when he plays bad.

C: Lucroy has struggled defensively, but he's been slightly above average offensively. For a catcher, I actually have some confidence in him when he bats, which is saying a lot. Also, banged Randy Wolf's wife.

Bench: Josh Wilson is the only bench player that adds anything to this team. Kottaras is a back-up catcher not named Wil Nieves, so he gets a pass, and occasionally runs into one, so he stays. Gamel has nothing else to do in the minors, and has gotten no legitimate shot yet, so he stays too. If you want to use a roster spot for a defensive replacement not named Carlos Gomez, Counsell has some value, but he should never face a major league pitcher again. Kotsay is simply awful in every aspect, and has obviously blackmailed Roenicke into his absurd amount of playing time (Including continuing to start in LF with Braun out and batting 5th for no reason). Brandon Boggs should be on this team in place of Kotsay. There is probably someone on the streets that is at least as good as Counsell.

Starting Pitching: I'm down with our starting pitching. There isn't one guy out of the five I would replace. Marcum has been tremendous, Yo, Wolf and Narveson have had a few hiccups, and a few gems, but overall, pretty good.

Greinke has been frustrating, but I'm here to tell you that he is pitching much better than it looks and than what his ERA (5.66) shows. I'm here to tell you that his strikeout per 9 innings of 11.72 is absurd. That his 1.84 walks per 9 innings is absurd. That he has been ridiculously unlucky. Case in point, there are two "advanced stats" that try to take the effects of fielding out of the equation when evaluating a pitcher. One stat is called BABIP, which stands for Batting Average for Balls in Play. The theory is that by taking BB/K/HR out of the equation, and measuring the results of the remaining balls hit into play over a long period of time, you can approximate if a pitcher is good/bad/or just unlucky, in a given year. Historically, the average BABIP is around .300, meaning about 30% of non-homeruns end up as hits, and most players will fall or rise towards the average in a given season. Greinke's career average is .309. This year it is .341, which is really high for him. What this means is that in the future, is that less balls should fall for hits than normal going forward. That or the the defense will completely fuck him over. But I tend to think positively (right?).

The other stat is xFIP or Expected Field Independent Pitching. Basically, xFIP takes the fielding component out of pitching entirely and only counts things a pitcher can control: walks, strikeouts, hit by pitches and home runs. Through a formula, it then calculates how good a pitcher is on an ERA scale based on what the ERA should look like if everything else (defense, timing) was average. It is widely known to be the best predictor of future performance for pitchers. In 2010, the MLB average was 4.23, which I think, if you know about ERA, is pretty average. Zack Greinke's xFIP in 2011 is 2.16, which is fucking incredible. How incredible? The second best starter in MLB is Roy Halladay, who has a 2.42. Cole Hamels is third with a 2.66. So Zack has been INCREDIBLY unlucky, and INCREDIBLY good so far. It just hasn't turned into results...yet. If these stats mean anything at all, its that Zack could be looking at a 2008 Sabathia-type second half.

Relief Pitching: I don't have any major complaints about anyone in the bully right now. The only complaint would be the manager's use, which I will get to in a minute. I think we are fine as currently constructed. Ax is a beast, rest of the bullpen is normally pretty above average.

Manager: Ron Roenicke is a mystery wrapped inside a conundrum. On one hand, I LOVE that he has a more aggressive attitude, at least insofar as he allows/encourages being aggressive on the bases. It has benefited us for the most part, and if nothing else is really fun to watch. He seems like a likable guy, and isn't a boring guy to listen to. It is possible that he feels likable, because for the most part, the team has been fairly successful. I imagine I would like him a lot less if the team was 5 games under .500.

My beef with Run-Run is the same beef I seem to have with all managers. I HATE his use of the bullpen, and his rationale behind it ("He's my 8th inning guy."). And I HATE his irrational love for certain players, when those players deserve no love (Kotsay, Yuni). The most infuriating thing to me is how he pitches Loe in every game no matter what (probably a slight exaggeration). Loe is clearly capable of getting guys out in the right situation, and has done it for long stretches at a time. But sometimes his sinker doesn't sink, or he goes up against a bunch of lefties in a row even though he clearly can't get left handers out. I'm sure bullpen management is harder than it looks, and the bullpen isn't going to win every game. But you can't give answers like: It is the 8th inning and Loe is my "8th inning guy", after you put him in against 3 straight left handers and they all hit the cover off the ball. He's gotta be flexible.

In the end, I'm on board with Ron for now. But mostly because they have won two in a row.

SUMMARY: After the research, I feel our biggest issue is the left side of the infield, McGehee and Yuni. Something has to be done there. I'm not advocating spending a ton of money/prospects on a blockbuster fix, because frankly I don't think we have either. However, I don't think we can continue to run Yuni and Casey out there for a majority of the games and survive. In Prince's last year, continuing on the "all in" movement requires us getting at least one player that doesn't suck, and plays 3B or SS, and can play every day. If we don't, I think this effort will be wasted.

No comments: