On exercising Aramis Ramirez’s 2015 contract option

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee BrewersAramis Ramirez may be an All-Star in 2014, and it’s pretty easy to see why.  The slugging righty is currently hitting .292/.340/.492 with 10 home runs, has the second-highest wRC+ (a measure of a player’s total offensive value above league average) among NL third-basemen at 129, and he’s shown quite a capable glove at the hot corner.  There are definitely other worthy candidates (Todd Frazier and Matt Carpenter, for example) but there’s no doubt Ramirez is having a great year.

It seems a prudent move for the Brewers to pick up their portion of Ramirez’s 2015 mutual option.  Ramirez is being paid $16M this year, but his 2015 option is for $14M, and the Brewers are already on the hook for a $4M buyout if they decline.  That means the option’s net cost is $10M.  If we assume the cost of a win in 2015 remains around $6M, Ramirez would only have to contribute about 1.6 WAR to be worth the money.  Ramirez accumulated 5.7 fWAR during a healthy 2012 season, 1.4 during an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, and currently has 1.6 in 2014, despite missing most of May.

The Brewers don’t have a lot of other third base candidates.  Internally, the closest the team has to a major-league 3B is Taylor Green, who was drafted in 2005 and is already 27.  Green has had an up-and-down career in the minors, but lost all of last season to a hip injury that required surgery.  Green currently sports an OBP below .300 at AAA Nashville, and hasn’t hit will in limited time with the big-league club.  He’ll also be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015.

The Brewers best 3B prospect is probably Nick Delmonico, who was acquired from the Orioles in 2013.  Delmonico, who currently plays for A Brevard County, will need more development in the advanced minors before he’s ready for the prime time, though.

Externally, the Brewers could do a few things, but none as good-or realistic-as bringing back Ramirez.  They could attempt to resign Mark Reynolds in 2015 and play him exclusively at third; this has the advantage of being relatively cheap.  Despite Reynolds very good year with the glove, I’m not sure it’s the wisest choice giving Reynolds’ reputation for defensive lapses.  Pablo Sandoval-the only full-time 3B free agent under the age of 30-is reportedly looking for a deal upwards of $100M and comes with health and performance concerns.  If the 31-year-old Hanley Ramirez doesn’t work out an extension with the Dodgers, he too would look for a big-money deal in likely his last long-term contract.  There’s Chase Headley, also 31, who may in the midst of a severe decline, raising questions about his fielding and plate discipline.  Beyond those four, it’s really just a bunch of guys, the most appetizing of which may be former Brewer Casey McGehee, currently hitting .309/.375/.392 with the Florida Marlins.

Of course, the option isn’t completely in the Brewers hands.  Ramirez, who turns 36 tomorrow, may think he can get a better deal on the free agent market and decline his half of the mutual option (though that wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Brewers from bringing him back).  Ramirez has also had lots of nagging injuries over the last few seasons.  In 2013, he missed time during both spring training and the regular season with knee issues, and a hamstring strain this year cost Ramirez almost all of May.  He left the game last Saturday with back tightness.  The injuries cut both in favor and against the Brewers:  they might scare off a few teams from a long-term deal and lower Ramirez’s market value, encouraging him to exercise his half of the option (resulting in the $4M buyout if the Brewers elect not to do the same).

On the whole, it seems that barring some catastrophic injury, the Brewers best plan for competing in 2015 might be to pick up Ramirez’s option and hope he reciprocates.  His big bat won’t be matched by any internal candidates, and the external candidates who could perhaps contribute equally will cost much, much more.  Even if Ramirez is true to his history and suffers some minor injury during the 2015 season, his expected contributions during healthy periods make it a worthwhile gamble.

Roenicke botches the 7th, causes loss

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

I’ve watched a lot of baseball, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like what happened in the 7th inning of yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

The wheels started to fall off a quality start for Matt Garza when, with the Brewers up 4-2, he allowed a pair of singles to start the bottom of the inning.  Garza departed with one out, and Brandon Kintzler was summoned to face righty Gerald Laird, who hit a ground ball to third that deflected off Mark Reynolds’ glove and trickled into left to score Chris Johnson. MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Arizona Diamondbacks

That’s when things took a decidedly damning turn for Ron Roenicke.  With Ryan Doumit batting, Roenicke summoned a lefty … only none had been getting loose.  When Roenicke walked out to the mound, the bullpen was visibly panicked.  Zach Duke wound up emerging from the gates, but Roenicke had already made the substitution for Will Smith.  So Duke returned to the bullpen and the cold-armed Smith took the mound.  Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez insisted on adherence to the eight-pitch rule, and that’s all the warming Smith was able to do.

Home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth was so concerned about the potential for injury that he tried to bend the rules and get Smith more warm-up pitches.  He even initiated a psudo-replay review to see if there was any way to help Smith, but nothing could be done.  And that falls squarely on Ron Roenicke.

The results were predictable, and as Rock said on the broadcast, Smith showed all the signs of coming in cold.  Smith allowed back-to-back singles and walked the third batter before being lifted.  Roenicke compounded his bullpen mismanagement by bringing the infield in with only one out and the go-ahead run on second, and the Braves took a 5-4 lead on the first single.

Roenicke’s post-game explanation made virtually no sense.  The Brewers were down pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell, both of whom were attending family graduations.  But there were fill-ins in minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin and bullpen coach Marcus Hanel, respectively.  Roenicke said Kranitz usually takes care of calling the bullpen, and he simply assumed-wrongly-that Tomlin would, too.  But then, for some reason, he also sent Martin Maldonado to the bullpen:

“You do things the same way every day and when it changes, it just changes what goes on. I had to make the change. I sent Maldy (backup catcher Martin Maldonado) to run down to the bullpen because we needed two guys up. Maldy went down there and said, ‘I think it’s (Zach) Duke,’ but he never got the call on who it was. So, we didn’t call.”

While the situation provides an interesting glimpse into the daily work of the pitching coach and the importance of his relationship with the manager, the failure to get it right in this case is utterly inexplicable.  There are monitors showing a feed of the bullpen in the Atlanta dugouts.  There’s a phone in the dugout with a direct line to the bullpen.  And it’s apparently pretty easy to send someone to personally check on the bullpen during a game.

How, then, it was possible for Roenicke to mess this up is beyond me.  But rarely do you see a loss traceable so directly and tangibly to mismanagement.  After the game, Roenicke said the loss was “going to be hard on me.”  It should be.

Braun hits the DL

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

BraunAs expected, Ryan Braun is headed to the disabled list.  The stint is retroactive to April 27, a day after Braun last appeared against the Cubs and strained his oblique.  He’ll be eligible to return on May 12, which means he will miss the entirety of the series against the Yankees.  Not exactly ideal timing.

The team has been playing shorthanded while they evaluate Braun’s health, but oblique injuries are tricky.  It became pretty apparent Braun would require a DL stint earlier this week, and it’s better to let the muscle fully heal now than have the problem linger through July or longer.  Logan Schafer was activated from the DL in a corresponding move.

This says nothing of the nerve issue in Braun’s thumb, which prevents him from feeling how hard he’s gripping a bat.  That remains concerning and will likely impact Braun for the remainder of the season.  It sounds like there’s no guarantee surgery will fix the nerve, and could take Braun out of the lineup for a very long time.  So for now, he’ll continue to manage the injury.

Reviewing a crazy week for the outfield and bullpen

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

It’s been a interesting few days for the Brewers. Injuries to Ryan Braun (oblique), Aramis Ramirez (elbow), and Jean Segura (bat to the face) have left the team shorthanded on the bench, and heavy bullpen use has left it short on relievers, too.

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Mercifully, Martin Maldonado returned from a 5-game suspension on Monday, only to find himself pitching on Wednesday in the final inning of a blowout loss to the Cardinals.  After an abbreviated start from Matt Garza and another three-inning disaster for the seldom-used Wei-Chung Wang, there really weren’t many better options. Most of the high-leverage players had been used the previous two days, and it made no sense to toss them in for mop-up duty. The Wang story has been fun, but instinct tells me it won’t last the year.

Yesterday, the Brewers somewhat addressed their reliever crunch by adding Rob Wooten to the mix, but at the outfield’s expense. Utility man Elian Herrera was optioned to Nashville, leaving Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis as the Brewers’ only true outfielders. Mark Reynolds started in right field in the first game against Cincinnati. If you saw Herrera play right during the Cardinals series, you’ll probably agree he wasn’t missed much.

Wooten, for his part, was a mess yesterday. He inherited a bases-loaded jam from Jim Henderson, who also gave up a go-ahead two-run Great American shot before departing.  Wooten walked the first batter, allowed a two-run single, and hit a batter before recording the final out of the inning.  After the smoke cleared, the Reds had scored five in the frame.

Fortunately, Segura and Ramirez both returned to the lineup yesterday. Ramirez went 0-4, picking up right where he left off, but Segura had a pair of hits and a RBI.  Braun remains out indefinitely, and my strong suspicion is that he will wind up on the DL tomorrow, when Logan Schafer is likely to be activated.

That doesn’t help much for tonight, though, so this afternoon the Brewers placed Henderson on the DL with shoulder inflammation and called up OF Caleb Gindl, who is starting in right tonight. If that seems a little too convenient for you, Disciples of Uecker does note that Henderson was again struggling with his fastball velocity yesterday.

The outfield crunch won’t be entirely solved when Schafer returns, as Gomez’s appeal of his three-game suspension for the Pittsburgh brouhaha remains pending.  Word is that will be heard on or around next Monday (UPDATE: The Brewers say it’s Friday), so don’t expect lineup consistency any time soon.

Thinking of better days (Yovani Gallardo edition)

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

yoYovani Gallardo is slated to toe the rubber today in St. Louis.  Gallardo has been nothing short of dazzling so far in 2014 and currently sports a 1.42 ERA over 31.2 innings.  He’s getting a groundball rate of over 50% and has done a spectacular job of keeping the ball in the park.  But the Cardinals, as any Brewers fan knows, present a different kind of challenge.

It’s not worth it to rehash how historically awful Gallardo has pitched against the Cardinals.  Don’t look, it’ll just depress you.  Especially the 2011 NLCS start where he gave up four runs in the first inning.  The Cardinals have pretty much destroyed him.  Let’s just leave it at that.

But we’re not going to dwell on those many, many, many terrible games.  Nope, today we’re thinking only positive thoughts, which brings me to Yovani’s start on May 25, 2009.

At Miller Park, before a crowd of 43,000, Gallardo spun eight shutout innings.  It took 126 pitches, the most Gallado threw in any single game that year, as he walked four batters.  Still, he allowed just two hits and fanned six, amazing considering Gallardo benefited from just nine swinging strikes the entire game.  It’s easy to look at the lineup and note the absence of Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick, but Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina were in there, so it wasn’t exactly a AAA squad.

Despite Yo’s brilliant start, the Brewers couldn’t muster even a single run in regulation.  They finally broke it open in the 10th on an RBI single from, of all people, Bill Hall.

It’s Brewers vs. Cardinals in St. Louis tonight at 7:15.  If you’re a Brewers fan, here’s hoping that made you slightly more optimistic.

Nothing happened yesterday

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Well, yesterday was pretty ho-hum around Milwaukee.  I mean, pretty much nothing of any significance at all happened, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

It’s not like suspensions from the Easter massacre were announced.  Martin Maldonado didn’t receive a five-game suspension and begin serving it immediately.  Carlos Gomez wasn’t slapped with three games pending his appeal.  On the Pirates side, it wasn’t two games for Travis Snider and one game for Russell Martin.  And Gerritt Cole, who instigated the fracas, didn’t get anything.  Wait a minute …

As for Johnny Hellweg, he’s going to be fine.  Sure, the Brewers’ number four prospect (Baseball America) has a torn ulnar collateral ligament, but who doesn’t now days?  I’m sure the second opinion he’s getting from noted Tommy John doc James Andrews will show he’ll be good as new with rest and Advil.

And the Brewers certainly didn’t play an extra-innings affair which they lost to the Padres, 2-1, in the 12th.  Hopefully tonight a stymied Brewers offense will be among other stuff that doesn’t happen.  It’s Kyle Lohse versus Tyson Ross at 7:10.

 

Podcast: Season 1, Episode 2

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Jason KendallEpisode 2 of the Cream City Cables podcast is now available! You can listen to it on this page or download using the links below.  It’s the only podcast I know of in which you’re likely to hear the names Angel Salome, Gregg Zaun, and Jason Kendall!  But we’re not just talking catchers of ages past, we’re also covering the Brewers hot start, the shutdown bullpen, and we’re previewing the remaining April schedule.  That and much, much more!

As always, we’re interested in any feedback you have, so find Ryan and I on Twitter at @ryanhenrysmith2 and @npetrashek, respectively.

NOTE: This podcast was recorded late last week.

S01E02 Podcast

Khris Davis, man of (too) high expectations

By Nathan Petrashek

davisLet’s get this out of the way: Khris Davis had a crappy homestand.  I get that going 0-12 while only reaching base twice isn’t going to woo many fans.  It’s not like anyone else was knocking the cover off the ball during that homestand either, though.

Let’s not close out the book on Davis quite so fast.  While Davis is now only slashing .250/.278/.346 on the year, he was key during the Brewers’ nine-game win streak, batting .343/.343/.486 with 8 runs.

Davis hasn’t yet hit a home run.  I understand that’s mildly concerning since power seems to be his one plus tool, and Davis certainly showed it last year with 11 home runs over 153 plate attempts.  Extrapolating that out over a full season would have Davis hitting over 35 bombs, which I think we all know is pretty unreasonable.

Part of the problem is Davis’s aggressiveness; last year, he was one of the ten-worst left fielders in swinging strike percentage among those with at least 150 plate attempts.  He’s going to be a strikeout-prone batter.  It isn’t that he’s swinging at bad pitches, necessarily, but he’s seeing many more breaking balls so far, as pitchers have figured out that Davis feasts on fastballs.  Davis’s contact rates across the board this year are pretty abysmal; it’s clear there’s going to be a period of adjustment.

Even if that’s a slow process, the home runs will come. Davis has hit just eight fly balls this year, so its way too soon to start worrying about the power.  To some extent, I think the concerns about Davis stem in part from his performance in front of home fans, as he doesn’t have a hit at Miller Park but is slashing .406/.406/.563 on the road.

So no, I’m not worried about Khris Davis yet.  .250 is probably about right for his average, he’s never going to have a huge walk total, and the power will likely come, particularly in hitter-friendly Miller Park.

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.