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.

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.

 

K-Rod takes over as closer “for now”

By Nathan Petrashek

K-Rod-mulls-legal-action-against-former-agents-3O1144NF-x-largeAn Opening Day win is always fun, but this one came with a twist:  the Brewers, nursing a 2-0 lead in the ninth, called upon Francisco Rodriguez, not Jim Henderson, to secure the handshake.  K-Rod managed to do so, despite an eight-pitch at bat by the first batter, Chris Johnson.

Ron Roenicke made the change official after the game, telling reporters he wasn’t pleased with Henderson’s spring:

To be fair, Henderson’s spring wasn’t anything special, as he accumulated a 6.00 ERA over 9 innings with 7 strikeouts and 5 walks (1.56 WHIP).  Still, for a front office who justified jettisoning Juan Francisco by citing the general meaninglessness of spring statistics, the move is odd.

Henderson pitched 60 innings of 2.70 ERA ball in 2013, notching 28 saves and a hefty 75 strikeouts.  He may have had a little luck on his side (3.58 FIP), and struggled against lefties (.786 OPS).  Henderson was developing a change to counter that split and help keep left-handed batters from sitting on his 95 mph fastball.

K-Rod has plenty of closing experience but is a long way removed from his 62-save season in 2008.  He’s been a favorite of the Brewers front office though, and has had three separate stints with the team in as many years. Rodriguez even briefly took over the closer’s role last season, earning 10 saves as the Brewers looked to shop him (successfully) at the deadline.

Why it’s better to be a Marlin

By Nathan Petrashek

Braun's successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

With the Brewers having had their own recent brush with banned drugs, this should be of some interest:  today, MLB and MLBPA announced enhanced testing and punishment for PEDs.  Players will be tested more frequently, and the 50/100/lifetime ban (which MLB really didn’t follow anyway) has been replaced by suspensions of 80/162/life for first, second, and third offenses, respectively.

That’s all fine, but here’s one big hangup in the new punishment protocols:

“A Player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will be ineligible to participate in the Postseason, and will not be eligible for an automatic share of the Player’s Pool provided to players on Clubs who participate in the Postseason.”

Others have argued it’s unfair to punish the team for the acts of an individual player by making him ineligible for the playoffs.  That argument doesn’t really work, though; isn’t the team “punished” when they lose a player for 80 regular season games, too?  The far more damning critique of this new postseason ban is it treats players differently depending on their team context.  In other words, a player on a playoff team will be penalized more harshly than a player on a non-playoff team.  And that’s bogus.

Let’s posit a hypothetical.  Player A plays for the Marlins, and he’s using synthetic testosterone and gets caught.  He denies using and appeals, accusing MLB of a witch hunt and the urine collector of tampering.  Player A loses his appeal and is suspended for 80 games.  The Marlins don’t make the playoffs, so Player A is effectively lost only for those 80 games.  Player B is a Tiger.  He also uses synthetic testosterone and gets caught, but apologizes and accepts his 80-game penalty without appeal.  The Tigers make a deep postseason run all the way to the World Series, for which Player B is ineligible.  His punishment is effectively 90 games for the same offense as Player A: 80 games plus, say, another 10 in the postseason.

I’m not sure how punishing two guys differently for the same offense based on team context is appropriate or fair.  And that’s doubly the case where the lesser-punished player drags the process through the mud or engages in other despicable conduct.  These drastically disparate sanctions for the same prohibited conduct are a blow to the consistency MLB should strive for in its application of the drug policy.

The new policy isn’t all bad for players, though.  The “zero tolerance” policy has been loosened a bit; arbitrators can now hand down lesser penalties if a player proves at the hearing the use wasn’t intended to enhance performance.  It’s not entirely clear how that would apply to a claim like Ryan Braun’s, though, in which he said he used to aid his recovery from injury.

Maybe the MLBPA had to give the postseason ban to push MLB off its “no tolerance” stance; I won’t pretend to know what the negotiations looked like.  Still, it’s a bad look for both organizations when you have a system in which players are treated differently depending on which uniform they wear.

2014 Position Preview: Khris Davis, Left Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the third of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: catcher; center field.

Khris DavisAs Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio are fond of pointing out, you wouldn’t have found Khris Davis on many top prospect lists before the start of the 2012 season.  His defensive abilities are totally questionable; the team didn’t even have enough confidence in him to stick him at first base after the position became a black hole last year.  Beyond that, Davis had some trouble offensively when he was elevated to AA for the first time in 2011, hitting a light .210/.272/.331, albeit in a small sample.

The offensive question marks were largely erased in 2012, as Davis crushed to a .350/.451/.604 triple slash between three levels (including AAA Nashville in the PCL).  While his lack of a glove and poor arm relegated him to left field, his hitting credentials earned him a shot in Milwaukee in 2013.  He started as primarily a bench bat and struggled mightily (.188/.278/.313) before being sent down May 1.

Davis got a second chance when Ryan Braun was suspended in July and absolutely mashed.  Taking over left fiend with regular playing time, Davis hit .292/.363/.633 with an amazing 11 home runs in 135 plate attempts.  That was good for a .316 ISO, second only to Baltimore Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis in the major leagues.  That average isn’t going to stick given Davis’s free-swinging ways.  Expect some regression, but also note that his BABIP wasn’t unreasonably high at .293.  Davis feasted on fastballs last year, but struggled mightily against sliders, so expect him to see a heavy dose of breaking balls in 2014.  The power is there; it’s just a question of whether Davis will make enough contact to utilize it.

Defensively, Davis remains a bit of a liability, although his glaring range deficiencies are largely hidden in left field.  His arm is nowhere near as strong as you’d like, although Ron Roenicke maintains he’s improved this spring.  If Davis can make steady contact and scale back on the strikeouts slightly, his bat should more than make up for his poor glove and arm.

2013 recap

153 pa, 27 r, 11 hr, 27 rbi, 3 sb, 7.2 bb%, 22.2 k%, .279/.353/.596, 160 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 480 pa, 56 r, 19 hr, 60 rbi, 9 sb, 8.6 bb%, 21.4 k%, .252/.326/.444, 112 wRC+

ZiPS:  457 pa, 57 r, 19 hr, 65 rbi, 7 sb, 9.2 bb%, 26 k%, .249/.330/.450, 115 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a one-year deal near league minimum; service time .104

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

2014 Position Preview: Carlos Gomez, Center Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the second of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: Catcher.

There was a time when Carlos Gomez looked like another failed high-profile prospect.  Minnesota washed their hands of him in late 2009 and shipped him to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who was himself coming off a terrible season.  Gomez was speedy, sure, but he could never manage to hit enough.  Owner of a .243/.291/.357 line between 2007 and 2011, it got so bad for Gomez that he found himself the right-handed component of a platoon with light-hitting lefty Nyjer Morgan.

gomezSomething clicked for Gomez in 2012, when he hit 14 second-half home runs with a .278/.321/.488 slash line.  Gomez attributes the turnaround to essentially ignoring the advice of his coaches, who were pressing Gomez to exercise better plate discipline and get on base more frequently to make use of his game-changing speed.  Instead, Gomez embraced his free-swinging attitude.  Even though he saw a dreadful 3.39 pitches per plate attempt in 2012, he set new career highs in virtually every offensive category.  The Brewers believed enough to sign Gomez in the offseason to a 3-year/$24M deal.

It was wise of them to do so.  With a full-time job in hand, in 2013 Gomez bested nearly every career offensive record he set in 2012.  He improved from 37 to 40 stolen bases, showcases the game-changing speed that has become his trademark.  But more than that, his final line of .284/.338/.506 shows marked improvement in his power and contact.  With a .344 BABIP, some of that may be luck, but it’s also reasonable to believe some of it was maturation.

In the field, Gomez is one of the best players in the game.  He won the Brewers’ first gold glove since 1982 last year for his exceptional play, and DRS says his defense saved 38(!) runs last season.  It’s more fun to watch them than talk about them, though, so here you have Gomez stealing a Joey Votto home run:

And that is how you put up a 7.6 WAR season.

2013 recap

590 pa, 80 r, 24 hr, 73 rbi, 40 sb, 6.3 bb%, 24.7 k%, .284/.338/.506, 130 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 623 pa, 73 r, 21 hr, 74 rbi, 32 sb, 6.1 bb%, 23.6 k%, .251/.305/.433, 101 wRC+

ZiPS:  491 pa, 69 r, 19 hr, 58 rbi, 32 sb, 5.7 bb%, 24.4 k%, .260/.313/.462, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 3-year/$24M contract in 2012; two years remaining.

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

2014 Position Preview: Catcher

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 in Cream City Cable’s position preview series.

The 2014 Brewers will once again feature a stable duo of catchers in Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.  Although Lucroy is the primary backstop, Maldonado received additional playing opportunities in 2013 as manager Ron Roenicke used Lucroy at first base for 14 games.  That probably won’t continue in 2014 as the Brewers have a couple potentially viable options at first this season.

JONATHAN LUCROY

lucroyBy far, Lucroy’s highest value lies behind the dish.  Lucroy is offensively gifted as a catcher, but his numbers look much more average transposed to first base.  With a developing pop and improved plate discipline, Lucroy has turned into one of the premier catchers in baseball.  And that’s not even to mention his elite pitch-framing abilities.  He’s only 27, too, and just entering his prime years.

For whatever reason, Lucroy remains fairly under the radar.  He has never been named to an All-Star team, although he was arguably on his way in 2012 until a freak accident sidelined him until the second half.  He certainly does not have Buster Posey’s reputation as an offensive juggernaut or the face of the franchise.  Lucroy is more the type to keep his head down and get to work, and that’s probably why his popularity is sky-high in blue-collar Wisconsin.

Once again in 2013, though, the one knock on Lucroy remains his arm.  Runners know it, as they attempted 80 steals on him in 2013; he threw out just over 20%, one of the worst percentages among qualified catchers.

2013 recap

580 pa, 59 r, 18 hr, 82 rbi, 9 sb, 7.9 bb%, 11.9 k%, .280/.340/.455, 118 wRC+

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 492 pa, 53 r, 14 hr, 57 rbi, 5 sb, 7.3 bb%, 13.5 k%, .270/.328/.425, 107 wRC+

ZiPS:  506 pa, 53 r, 15 hr, 75 rbi, 7 sb, 7.1 bb%, 14.4 k%, .276/.331/.437, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 5-year, $11MM deal through 2016.  Club option for 2017 at $5.25MM.  Will make $2MM in 2014.

MARTIN MALDONADO

Martin MaldonadoMaldonado is a fine to very good defensive catcher, which is his one saving grace in the backup position.  After batting a surprising .266/.321/.408 in 2012 and amassing 1.4 WAR, Maldonado regressed badly in 2013.  Hitting just .169/.236/.284, Maldonado shows none of the on-base skills or pop we glimpsed in 2012.  Maldonado spent 73 innings at first base last year, where he generally looked awful.  Indeed, Maldonado’s primary purpose on the 2014 roster may be to catch Wily Peralta, with whom he was paired in the minors and in parts of the last two major league season.  That’s a dubious purpose, though; it remains an open question whether the wild Peralta might not benefit more from Lucroy’s exceptional pitch-framing.

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 394 pa, 35 r, 10 hr, 38 rbi, 3 sb, 6.7 bb%, 23.3 k%, .222/.282/.352, 74 wRC+

ZiPS:  328 pa, 28 r, 8 hr, 42 rbi, 1 sb, 6.1  bb%, 26.2 k%, .224/.285/.353, 75 wRC+

Contract status

Pre-arbitration 1-year contract; arbitration eligible in 2015.

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

Welcome to the new Cream City Cables – First Podcast!

By Nathan Petrashek

You might have noticed by now we’ve given the website a facelift.  We used to be tied to the MLBlogs.com movement, but they stuck ads all over our blog and the format was far too restrictive for what we wanted to do.

What did we want to do, you ask?

Well, today we’re introducing our first ever podcast, something that will perhaps become a regular feature here.  Writer Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2) and I talked first base, Matt Garza’s contract, the rotation, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis.  We’re still getting a feel for this thing, so it’d be much appreciated if you’d let me know on Twitter (@npetrashek) or in the comments below what you liked or didn’t like.

You can listen to it or download the file using the link’s below.  We anticipate having it and subsequent podcasts available in the iTunes store soon.


Podcast Season 1 Episode 1

*Note: the podcast was recorded late last week

Stay tuned to CCC, as position previews start this week, and we’ll be introducing some fantasy content this month!  You can find all this and more using the navigation menu below the header.