An Outlier in the 2012 Brewers Blogosphere Awards

By Nathan Petrashek

This will be the first year I’m participating in the Brewers Blogosphere awards, run by Jaymes Langrehr at Disciples of Uecker.  This sort of works like the team awards every year, with each writer allowed to make three selections in each category—team MVP, best pitcher, and the like.  The first selection is worth 5 points, the second 3, and the third 1.  The winner in each category is the player with the most points when the votes are tallied.

The results are tallied, and it seems I’m an outlier in a few categories.  You can find the results here.  My explanation for my votes is below.

TEAM MVP

1. Ryan Braun

There’s no real debate here.  Braun should be the National League’s MVP this year, so he’s an obvious choice for the top spot in team voting.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This one was a really difficult choice.  The WAR folks are going to hate this pick, as Yo was a 2.8 bWAR pitcher while Rami knocked the ball around to the tune of 5.4 wins above replacement.  Nonetheless, Gallardo was the only starter on the team to eclipse 150 IP.  He anchored a rotation that made a real run at the postseason even after its best pitcher was traded away, going 11-1 to finish the year while accumulating 76 K’s over 79 innings.  Most of all, Gallardo proved that his outstanding 2011 campaign was no fluke and gave the team confidence that Gallardo can hold serve as a viable ace in the future.

3. Aramis Ramirez

No way could Ramirez fall any lower than number three in MVP voting.  A .300/.360/.540 season was just what Doug Melvin ordered for the heart of the Brewers’ order after Prince Fielder departed last offseason.  Ramirez clubbed 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles, the latter challenging the franchise record of 53. Ramirez, never known for his defense, also flashed some serious leather at third base and even chipped in a career-best nine(!) steals.  Ramirez even bested our pretty optimistic projection for him in spring, though we nailed his HR and RBI totals.

BEST PITCHER

1. Zack Greinke

Grienke was flat-out ridiculous as a Brewer in 2012.  His home run rate plunged from 2011, as did his walks per nine, and somehow Greinke managed to maintain an outstanding 8.9 strikeouts per nine.  So pretty much the Zack Greinke we all know and love.

2. Marco Estrada

Quick: who was the only Brewers pitcher to top Greinke in K/BB ratio in 2012?  Yep, it was Marco Estrada, with 4.93.  It might seem strange to peg Estrada as a better pitcher than Gallardo given the MVP honor for Gallardo above, but let me explain.  Gallardo was a workhorse for the Brewers this year, tossing over 200 innings.  Estrada was a reliever for part of the season and missed a month, but, when pitching in the rotation, actually performed better than Gallardo. Though Estrada ended the season with a 5-7 record, his 3.54 ERA, 1.14 WHP, and 113 ERA+ all topped Gallardo (albeit narrowly in ERA and ERA+).  In essence, Estrada gets the nod at best pitcher for much better command, while for Gallardo gets credit at MVP for actually being on the field and in the rotation.

3. Yovani Gallardo

I don’t intend to take anything away from Gallardo’s excellent 2012 campaign, but let’s face it, walks will haunt.  Gallardo was an ace in every sense except one: his unacceptably high 3.6 BB/9, a significant regression from 2.6 BB/9 a year ago and a return to his erratic ways.  The frequent free passes elevated his pitch counts, a big reason Gallardo never made it out of the eighth inning this season.

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Aramis Ramirez

An easy choice given his strong season.

2. Norichika Aoki

Doug Melvin’s 2-year, $2.5M Ryan Braun insurance policy paid off even though Braun wasn’t suspended.  Aoki produced a .288/.355/.433 line mostly in right field, as Corey Hart shifted to first base.  Aoki was good for a 3.3 bWAR and was only paid $1M.  Though Aoki is a rookie of the year candidate, at age 30 his ceiling might be limited.  Still, I think there’s room for improvement, as Aoki played sparingly initially, and expecting anyone to fully adjust to MLB pitching in only a partial season is a tall order.

3. Wily Peralta

I’m probably Peralta’s biggest critic, but he piqued my interest in the majors after a pretty crappy year at AAA.  While Peralta had a good year in 2011, I was skeptical that he had put his command issues behind him.  They again reared their ugly head in 2012; over 146 AAA innings, Peralta walked 4.8 batters per nine and amassed a 1.58 WHIP.  Somehow – I’ve heard a minor mechanical tweak – Peralta again managed to contain his wild ways over 29 innings for the big league club at the end of the season.  We’ll see if it sticks.

UNSUNG HERO

1. Marco Estrada

Even though he’s been mentioned a lot, I think he would get more attention for his stellar 2012 if he weren’t Marco Estrada.  I get the sense that people feel Estrada is a known quantity, and they don’t get excited.

2. Shaun Marcum

This may be a bit of a homer pick, because I feel like I’m constantly on the defense about Marcum.  I know he came up short in the 2011 postseason, but you have to let it go.  124 innings of 3.70 ball this year, and the only time I’ve heard Marcum mentioned is when (1) he gets an injury timeout; or (2) people talk about dead arm.  Fact is, we paid a lot to get  him and he did reasonably well for us.  We shouldn’t be so quick to shove him out the door.

3. Carlos Gomez

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this pick, too.  Much has been made of his last-season surge in 2012, but he’s quietly put up consecutive 2+ bWAR seasons.

GOOD GUY

1. Rick Weeks

Worked through a severe slump to start the season with poise, never shifting responsibility or taking to Twitter to bash anyone (see #3 in this category).  By the end of the season, was pretty well back to the old Rickie.

2. Nyjer Morgan

We all kind of wanted to see him start trouble, but he managed to avoid it despite being benched.  Team player gets a vote.

3. Anyone but John Axford

New rule: No Twitter at least 48 hours after a blown save.

Rotation Roulette

By Nathan Petrashek

Wily Peralta, Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Mark Rogers have all thrown quality innings as starters for the Brewers this season, but there projects to be a need for a veteran starter in Milwaukee next year.  In August, Ron Roenicke had this to say about adding an experienced arm:

“I don’t want to say we need to,” he said. “I think you’d always like to. But who’s out there and for what number? It gets to the point where some of these salaries are getting a little ridiculous. We’ve got to be really smart in what we do, and who’s out there as far a quality veteran you really want.

“If you can have young starters, then maybe spend your money in the bullpen to make sure the bullpen is really good and you can close out games when you have leads. If a guy has a 4.50 ERA, which is up there, if he can go six innings, that’s three runs. If you have a good bullpen, you can win a lot of games. I think you can do it, if you have a really good bullpen.

“If you don’t have the money to go out and get $20-million-a-year pitchers, why not do it with a 4.50 ERA. What does that cost you? I think you can do that.”

The economics of pitching certainly have changed, especially this year.  The Brewers made overtures to resign Zack Greinke, only to be priced out of the market by Matt Cain’s monster deal.  The best arms now project to make at least $20M per year, with many expecting Greinke to push his free agent salary up to $22 or $23M annually.

With that, it’s time for a blind taste test.  Here are the 2012 stats of three players projected to be free agents in 2013:

Innings ERA WHIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9 ERA+
Player A 212 3.48 1.196 .08 8.5 2.3 115
Player B 170 4.32 1.295 1.4 7.1 2 87
Player C 118 3.74 1.246 1.1 8.2 2.8 110

If you were a general manager, and basing your decision solely 2012 stats, it’s obvious which you would choose.  Player A is Zack Greinke, the premier pitching free agent.  Despite faltering after his trade to the Los Angeles Angels, Greinke is still likely to command a mountain of money.  Expectations for the former Cy Young winner are high; just look at what the Angels were willing to pay the Brewers in terms of players for just a few months of his service.  Greinke puts up some remarkable numbers and will be compensated accordingly.  The financial risk will be a long-term one, too; any team making a serious run at Greinke will likely have to put a 6- or 7-year deal on the table.  That would lock the pitcher up through at least his age 34 season, a point at which many pitchers have begun to decline.

Player B is likely to be the second-most desired pitcher should the Angels decline their $15.5M 2013 option.  Dan Haren has had a rough go of it in 2012.  At age 32, it is entirely possible that Haren is losing his edge; this season, for example, Haren has dealt with lingering back issues and dip in velocity on virtually all of his pitches.  Still, he has history on his side; just last year, Haren was a Cy Young candidate after pitching 238 innings of 3.17 era ball.  For that reason, Haren is likely to command at least a three-year deal, and I can’t imagine him getting less than $13M per year.  I mean, Randy Wolf got just under $10M a year for 3 years from the Brewers, and he was an All-Star just once … in 2003.

Player C is the much-maligned Shaun Marcum.  It seems all Brewers fans will remember of him is his postseason blowup in 2011.  And it was a blowup, to be sure; a 14.90 ERA in 3 clutch games isn’t exactly what you want out of a key player in your rotation.  But those three games mask Marcum’s solid 2011 and 2012 campaigns.  Other than a slight uptick in WHIP and K rate, Marcum’s 2012 looks a lot like his 2011 – at least when he was on the field.  The major knock on Marcum has always been his health. A tommy john surgery sidelined him in 2009, and his throwing mechanics have been the subject of much criticism.  Marcum managed 195 innings in 2010 and 200 in 2011, but has struggled in September and October in both years.  Thus, an entire healthy year for Marcum probably consists of 170 innings.

Of course, a GM doesn’t have just statistics to worry about.  There’s money, too.  And if I’m the Brewers shopping around for one of these guys, Marcum’s my man.

I’d love Greinke, but not his price tag.  Few teams can shoulder a $23M annual contract, and the Brewers aren’t one of them.  Dan Haren’s age and struggles worries me more when accompanied by a minimum $40M price tag.  At age 31 next year, Shaun Marcum isn’t exactly young, but he also isn’t going to cost much.  Marcum is making just under $8M this year, which is probably where the free market – once it factors in the injury risk – will price him, too.  I can easily see Marcum signing for 3/$20M.  In terms of value for dollars, that’s a no brainer.

Now, Marcum is not going to be a fit for every team.  If he’s only going to pitch 170-180 innings there are going to be some valuable innings that someone else is going to have to pick up.  But the Brewers are ideally situated to deal with that issue.

The Brewers currently have about $52M committed for next season, not counting arbitration salaries.  With a young back end to the rotation and most position players already accounted for, there projects to be some substantial money available for the bullpen.

To cover the additional innings a Marcum signing would require, the Brewers could add a very good long relief arm.  Or they could use Marcum out of the bullpen to provide 130+ innings of quality relief during the year, as suggested by @simplekindoffan  on Twitter.  Alternatively, the Brewers could keep Marcum as a starter and give him every eighth or ninth start off.  One of the nice things about this team is its starting pitching depth; with Rogers, Fiers, Peralta, Estrada, and Narveson not all going to make the rotation, there will be some arms available for a spot start.  The point is that the Brewers have ways to deal with Marcum’s innning cap in ways that many other teams may not.

Marcum isn’t the only free agent starter the Brewers should think about pursuing.  But he – and players like him – certainly offer value in a way that guys like Zack Greinke and Dan Haren will not.