Everyone panic about bullpen use! and a bit of news

By Nathan Petrashek

bullpenThe Brewers are currently on an 8-game win streak, and everyone has rightfully mentioned what a critical part the bullpen has played in that streak.  Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jim Henderson are unscored upon, and Tyler Thornburg, who leads the ‘pen with 7.2 inning pitched, has allowed just one earned run (1.17 ERA).  Opposing hitters are batting just .155 and have struck out 42 times against the Brewers’ relief corps, with just 8 walks.  The bullpen bears a sparkling 0.83 ERA, easily the best in baseball.*

But have they been overused, as some seem to think?  Probably not.  The Brewers ‘pen has tallied 32.2 innings, the 10th most-used bullpen in the National League and 18th in all of baseball.  Relievers for five teams have pitched over 40 innings, and another five are pretty close.  The Brewers seem to be pretty middle-of-the-pack as far as bullpen usage goes, and they’ve certainly been much more effective than even many less-used bullpens.

What about individual players?  Not much to worry about here either.  Tyler Thornburg is on pace to throw 100 innings; Thornburg tossed 130 last year between Nashville and Milwaukee (and was great in his final starts for the Brewers).  Will Smith (6 IP) is on pace for 88 innings.  Smith pitched 89 minor-league innings and 89 major-league innings in as a starter 2012, and a total of 122 innings between levels last year.  Henderson (4.1 IP)  is on pace for 60 innings and pitched 60 in 2013.  The one guy who is even remotely worrisome is the closer, K-Rod (6 IP), and he’s simply had more work lately because, well, the Brewers are winning lots of games.  That’ll even out over time.  In essence, this is a bullpen that can handle a bigger workload.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of arms, either.  The Brewers haven’t even used Wei-Chung Wang, a lefthanded Rule 5 pick from the Pirates.  And *here’s the news* Brandon Kinzler has landed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, and Rob Wooten has taken his place.  It sounds like Kintzler’s injury is relatively minor but lingering since spring training.  At least we won’t have to worry about him racking up more innings, I guess.

Although people complain about the starting rotation’s failure to pitch deep into games, it seems to me they’re doing exactly what they need to be at this stage of the season.  Here’s the number of innings each starter has pitched in every game during the win steak: 5.2, 5, 6.2, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6.   I can’t see much wrong with that in early April.

What’s the deal with the red card?

If you’ve attended any or several Brewers game this year, you may have noticed an individual frequently popping up near the vistor’s dugout at Miller Park, holding up cards of various colors.  I don’t recall having seen anyone doing that before.  I started looking into it, and sure enough, it’s a new position: the “Field Timing Coordinator.”

replayThe new replay system can potentially wreak havoc with broadcasts, which typically break between half-innings.  What if a batter is called out on a close play at first?  Should the broadcast cut to commercial or remain on the field in case there’s a challenge?  And what happens if the television crew cuts to a commercial only to later find out that the third out has been reversed on review?

Basically, it’s the FTC’s job to deal with this uncertainty by specifically instructing the broadcasters, verbally and visually, what’s going on down on the field.  When, for example, the FTC sees a possibility of a replay (the manager runs on the field, or the crew chief convenes a conference), it’s the FTC’s job to delay the inning break until its decided whether there will be a review.

According to the official rules, the cards are color-coded to so that broadcasters, umpires, and players can easily tell what’s happening:

  • A RED card signals the beginning of an inning break or pitching change
  • A BLUE card signals when the pitcher should throw his last warm-up pitch (45 seconds remain in the break)
  • A YELLOW card signals when the batter should approach the batter’s box (25 seconds remain in the break)
  • A GREEN card indicates the break has concluded and play can resume; the umpires can’t resume play until they see this card

And what about the umpire’s inherent ability to manage the game, including all inning breaks as has been done historically?  Although the rules pay lip service to umpire authority, they pretty much cast it aside, requiring that the umpires “shall coordinate with the Field Timing Coordinators to ensure that the broadcasters shall be afforded the applicable allotted time for inning breaks (2:05 or 2:30) following close plays involving third outs (whether or not replay review is initiated).”

If you’re like me, and want continuous, uninterrupted baseball, I guess the key is to lift that red card out of the stack before the game.

2014 Position Preview: Aramis Ramirez, Third Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, shortstopcenter fieldleft field, and right field.

aramisWhen the Brewers first signed Aramis Ramirez, no one was really sure whether or how he would hold up through the duration of his three-year contract.  Things didn’t start too well; in 2012, Ramirez’s first year, he hit just .214/.264/.381 in April, leading many to comment on Ramirez being a notoriously”slow starter” and all that kind of nonsense.  We thoroughly debunked it in 2012 and so far in 2014 Ramirez hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down, hitting a torrid .478 in 21 plate attempts.

Red flags abound with Ramirez, though.  To say he’s not young is being charitable; he’ll turn 36 in June, well beyond most ballplayers’ primes.  His age is showing, too, as he missed a substantial portion of the 2013 season with knee issues: first, a sprained left knee, and later, tendinitis.  Even when Ramirez was active, he was clearly hobbled and had just a .773 OPS upon hitting the DL.  Ramirez returned in August, and his .301/.387/.528 triple slash in the final months (and without Ryan Braun in the lineup) probably erased whatever doubt the team had about their starting third baseman coming into 2014.

Ramirez looks to have rebounded nicely defensively from numerous horrid seasons with the Cubs, and has made a few outstanding plays at the hot corner already this season.  He’s not a rangy third baseman by any means, but still has a pretty good throwing arm and doesn’t commit many errors.

The Brewers aren’t paying Ramirez for his defense, though; they’re paying for his bat.  Ramirez has been remarkably consist throughout his career, hitting close to .300 with 25-30 home runs.  That power is clearly diminishing, but Ramirez still makes decent enough contact to hit for average.  Ramirez is aggressive at the plate though, which could result in higher strikeout totals, something he has has typically avoided.

As is true of most aging players, the big question will be Ramirez’s health.  Ron Roenicke has suggested he’ll give Ramirez regular rest, so don’t expect a repeat of the 630 plate attempts Ramirez made in 2012.

2013 Recap

351 PA, 43 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB, 10.3 BB%, 15.7 K%, .283/.370/.461, 132 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 533 PA, 62 R, 19 HR, 74 RBI, 2 SB, 7.4 BB%, 14.3 K%, .282/.343/.464, 125 wRC+

ZiPs: 469 PA, 56 R, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 2 SB, 7.0 BB%, 14.3 K%, .183/.343/.475, 128 wRC+

Contact Status

Will make $16M ($6M deferred) in the final year of his three-year deal with the Brewers; mutual option for 2015 with $4M buyout.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

 

Splitsville: Rattlers and Chiefs Split Double Header To Even Series At Two Games A Piece

by Kevin Kimmes
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Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you do both in the same day. Welcome to the joys of the double header.

After Friday’s game was cancelled due to the never ending icy grip of Mother Nature, the Rattlers announced that the game would be made up on Sunday afternoon as part of pair of 7 inning contests. After the Rattlers evened the series at a game a piece on Saturday, the stage was set for a showdown that was anything but Minor League.

You see, Sundays in Appleton are “Brewer Sundays”, a celebration of the team’s Major League affiliation, and what better way to kick off the first one of the season than with a visit from Hall of Famer, Rollie Fingers. Yes, the man, the myth, the mustache was in the house to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and didn’t disappoint, throwing a strike right across the plate.

The Chiefs, still stinging from Saturday’s loss, wasted no time going after Rattler starter Anthony Banda. After a throwing error by shortstop Angel Ortega allowed Chiefs’ leadoff hitter C.J. McElroy, Jr. to reach base, second baseman Mason Katz crushed a ball over the wall and gave the Chiefs an early 2-0 lead. They would never look back.

Adding an additional run in the 5th, 3 runs would be all it would take to maintain control of Game 1. The Rattlers would not go down without a fight though tallying 2 runs in the 6th as both Ortega and Johnny Davis scored off of a Francisco Castillo single. Your final in Game 1: 3-2 Peoria Chiefs.

After a brief intermission, the Rattlers were ready for Game 2 and this time they would strike first blood. The bottom of the 2nd opened up with Rattlers’ 3rd baseman Taylor Brennan working the count full before unleashing a solo homer that gave Wisconsin an early 1-0 lead.

Peoria would answer back with a solo homer of their own from Katz in the top of the 6th, knotting the score at 1 run a piece. Realizing that time was of the essense, the Rattlers fired back in the bottom half of the inning with both Davis and Chris McFarland crossing the plate to regain the lead for Wisconsin. Rattlers’ reliever Harvey Martin’s spotless 1-2-3 7th would seal the deal in Game 2.

Rattlers win Game 2 3-1.

Today’s outcomes bring the 4 game opening series to an end, resulting in a 2-2 record for both teams. The Rattlers now hit the road for a 6 game road trip beginning with 3 games against the West Michigan Whitecaps and concluding with 3 games against the South Bend Silver Hawks. The Rattlers return home on Monday, April 14th as they kick off a 3 game series against the Lansing Lugnuts.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Pre-Game Notes 4/6/14

by Kevin Kimmes
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It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Hey Bernie, let’s play two!

Brewer Sunday, double-header, Rollie Fingers…if you’re not on your way to Fox Cities Stadium, WHY NOT? Here’s some quick news and notes leading into today’s contest:

- Streak Complete: The Rattlers broke a 7 game losing streak which dated back to the end of the 2013 season yesterday with their 8-4 win over Peoria.

- Rattle On: Taylor Brennan found himself on base 4 times yesterday with 2 singles (in the 1st and 3rd) and 2 walks (in the 4th and 7th).

- Deja Vu: Speaking of Taylor Brennan; he, along with Michael Ratterree and Clint Coulter each scored runs in back to back innings (the 4th and 5th). That’s 6 runs, 3 players, 2 innings. Impressive!

- Saving the Day: Tristan Archer picked up the 1st Rattler save of the season completing 4 innings of work on Saturday. His tandem partner, Barrett Astin, picked up the Rattlers’ 1st win.

Can’t make it out to the games today? You can still catch all the action on 1280 WNAM.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Matt Erickson: Post Game Interview 4/5/14

by Kevin Kimmes
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Cream City Cables: Well, it took tries, buy you guys picked your first win of the season. How does it feel?

Matt Erickson: It feels great. Anytime you can get a win it feels good. We did a nice job in those middle innings; 4th, 5th and 6th; of putting back crooked numbers in the 4th and the 5th and adding one in the 6th after they added one in the 5th. It was nice.

CCC: Speaking of the 4th and 5th inning; Ratterree, Brennan and Coulter each picked up a run in those innings. The 4, 5 and 6 hitters really came together today.

ME: The whole middle of the lineup and (Jose) Pena, you know he’s 2-3 with 2 RBIs, he had a big hit in one of those innings whether it was the 4th or the 5th, I can’t exactly remember, but there’s 7 hits from the middle of the lineup today and we needed it because we didn’t do much at the top where yesterday we set the table pretty good and were able to get some big hits. But, you’re right; 4, 5, 6, 7 collectively today did some damage.

CCC: Chris McFarland tacked on the 2nd Timber Rattlers home run of the season driving one out to deep center field. What were your thoughts on that?

ME: You know, Mac is a guy who had some really good offensive success two years ago in short season. Last year he came here and struggled a little bit at times but did show flashes of offensive production and an ability to drive the ball. If he’s a guy that can win some counts, he’s got some foot speed and he’s also able to drive the baseball into the gaps with a little bit of power and if he can solidify that 2 hole where he can be an on base guy and drive some runs in, that will be huge for us.

CCC: Today, the tandem of Astin and Archer got you through the full 9 (innings). What did you like about what you saw out there?

ME: I think we got away with some stuff early. Astin came out the first few innings and his fastball was elevated. They were getting a lot of good swings on his fastball. I think he did a nice job, especially in the 2nd inning, I believe it was 2nd and 3rd no outs, he used his breaking ball to get out of that situation and executed some really good pitches when he wasn’t having command of the bottom of the zone with his fastball. But, later in his appearance, the 4th and 5th inning, I think he did a better job of getting tilt and getting better control of the bottom of the zone, getting more ground balls and not as good of swings on his fastball, so that’s a good adjustment there.

Archer did a nice job of coming in and pounding the zone early. It got away from him a little bit in the 8th, our overall team defense was a little bit sloppy in the 8th, we had an error, a couple of wild pitches, a walk and another kicked ball, but we wound up making a play at second base to minimize that damage, but we were just able to finish.

CCC: With tomorrow being a double-header, any changes in preparation going into tomorrow’s games?

ME: No, I mean, similar schedule to today but it’s supposed to be a little bit nicer, a little bit warmer. We haven’t been on the field in the last 3 days, so we’re going to try and hit out on the field and take a BP, get our ground balls there and hopefully win a few games.

CCC: Thanks, Matt.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Rattlers Pick Up Win In Game 2 Of Season Opening Series

by Kevin Kimmes
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Mother Nature isn’t always a baseball fan. After a “wintery mix” lead to the cancellation of Friday night’s game, the Rattlers and Chiefs picked up Saturday afternoon where they left off on Opening Day.

The Chiefs struck first as Michael Schulze scored on an RBI triple from Carson Kelly. Any thoughts of celebration, however, were short lived.

The Rattlers would send up 8 batters in the 4th resulting in runs scored by Michael Ratterree, Taylor Brennan and Clint Coulter giving the Rattlers a 3-1 lead. The Chiefs would add another run in the 5th, only to again be shown up in the bottom of the inning by Ratterree, Brennan and Coulter who each scored their second runs of the game. Rattlers now lead 6-2.

“The whole middle of the lineup and (Jose) Pena, you know he’s 2-3 with 2 RBIs, he had a big hit…there’s 7 hits from the middle of the lineup today and we needed it because we didn’t do much at the top where yesterday we set the table pretty good,” Rattlers’ skipper Matt Erickson said in his post game interview.

In the 6th Chris McFarland would show off his power crushing a shot to deep center for his 1st homerun of the season. Gnaf T Rattler had the following to say about the hit:

@TratsGnaf: Home run by @TimberRattlers Chris McFarland to dead center, 402 feet #WISvPEO #tratnation #gnaffacts

The Chiefs would fight back adding 2 more runs in the 8th, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Rattlers would add a run of their own in the bottom of the inning to bring the final score to 8-4 and evening the 4 games series at 1-1. Rattlers’ starter Barrett Astin (1-0) would pick up his first win of the season with his tandem partner, Tristan Archer picking up the save.

“I think we got away with some stuff early. Astin came out the first few innings and his fastball was elevated. They were getting a lot of good swings on his fastball. I think he did a nice job, especially in the 2nd inning, I believe it was 2nd and 3rd no outs, he used his breaking ball to get out of that situation and executed some really good pitches when he wasn’t having command of the bottom of the zone with his fastball. But, later in his appearance, the 4th and 5th inning, I think he did a better job of getting tilt and getting better control of the bottom of the zone, getting more ground balls and not as good of swings on his fastball, so that’s a good adjustment there.”

“Archer did a nice job of coming in and pounding the zone early. It got away from him a little bit in the 8th, our overall team defense was a little bit sloppy in the 8th, we had an error, a couple of wild pitches, a walk and another kicked ball, but we wound up making a play at second base to minimize that damage, but we were just able to finish.”

The series wraps up tomorrow with a double-header set to begin at 1:05 pm. Former Brewer (and current Hall of Famer) Rollie Fingers will be on hand to throw out the ceremonial 1st pitch.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.