By Nathan Petrashek
Position review and previews start this week, and coming into spring training I thought first base would be pretty easy to write. Not so fast.
Right knee surgery will cost Corey Hart a month plus, and yesterday the Brewers announced that Hart’s likely replacement, Mat Gamel, would miss all of 2013.
Someone’s going to have to man first base, though. So without further ado, here are a few potential replacements.
A career .285/.339/.483 hitter, Lee has plenty of first base experience and is currently a free agent. Lee’s age (36) has really started to catch up to him the last few years; at this point, he’s probably ideally suited for a bench spot, which is where he would find himself when Corey Hart returns. According to Doug Melvin, though, Lee is still looking for a full-time gig, even if that will be hard to come by as spring training games begin. If Lee was a little more realistic about where he is in his career, he would be my preference. Lee’s power would play pretty well on what projects to be a fairly weak-hitting bench.
Morris tore it up in the Brewers’ AA system last year, belting out a .303/.357/.563 triple slash line. That earned him a Minor League Player of the Year award, but it will probably take more than that to earn him a berth as the team’s starting first baseman. There are plenty of defensive concerns, and Morris didn’t showcase nearly as much offensive talent in 2010 and 2011. Doug Melvin was careful to note that Morris would cost someone a 40-man roster spot, and he would surely like to delay the start of Morris’s service time. Toss in the uncertainty surrounding Morris’s capabilities, and the fact that he hasn’t played a single game above AA, and he’s unlikely to win the job unless his case is undeniable.
The Brewers’ 7th-round pick in 2009 has really come into his own. An outfielder by trade, fellow BrewCrewBall.com writer Noah Jarosh suggested Davis might be a good fit at first base. The numbers certainly play, as Davis has carved up the minors with a triple slash line of .294/.400/.513. Davis has a keen eye at the plate (career 10.2% walk rate that could climb) and plus power (.211 career ISO). He might be an unconventional choice, but he may be the best in-house option the Brewers have right now.
3B/IF Taylor Green has had a few opportunities in the major leagues, but hasn’t done much (read: anything) with them. We have to be careful there, though, because he’s garnered only about 150 plate attempts in his 2 years coming off the bench. Green has several solid minor league seasons under his belt, and perhaps all he needs is consistent playing time to show his solid hit tools.
This is apparently Ron Roenicke’s brainchild. A shortstop for his entire 14-year career, Gonzalez has precisely zero experience at first base. Gonzalez is such a good defensive shortstop that it’s easy to overlook his offensive shortcomings, but those will be glaring at a corner infield spot: very little pop, and on-base skills that leave a lot to be desired. There are better options.
A former first-round pick and AL Rookie of the Year, Crosby hasn’t played baseball since 2010. His triple slash line over 8 seasons wasn’t pretty (.236/.304./.372), and neither were the injury bug and mental struggles that dogged him throughout his career. But Crosby’s pedigree has garnered him another shot at the bigs, and it’s anyone’s guess where that will go. Crosby is on a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Carp, a recent DFA by the Seattle Mariners, is the longest of long shots to even find his way on the Brewers, let alone wind up the team’s Opening Day first baseman. There are quite a few suitors looking to swing a trade for the 26-year-old, including several AL teams that would have waiver priority over the Brewers, as Kyle Lobner notes. Carp would be a decent fill-in, but according to Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers aren’t all that interested right now.
Let’s keep in perspective that Gamel’s replacement will be filling in for just a month or two before Corey Hart returns, so despite the post title, this isn’t a crash and burn scenario for the Brewers. The best case scenario for the team is to find someone who will have value coming off the bench for the remainder of the season.
By Nathan Petrashek
As many (perhaps all) of you know, Cream City Cables writer Kevin Kimmes (@kevinkimmes) is a finalist for this year’s MLB Fan Cave. If chosen, he’ll watch every single game of the 2013 season from Fam Cave headquarters in New York.
But he needs your help to get there.
Out of 52 finalists, 30 will be invited to Spring Training. To make it there, Kevin needs your vote!
VOTE HERE as often as possible between between now and 4 p.m., when the Fan Cave will make its announcement.
Kevin’s campaign has shown quite a bit of creativity. He’s released several videos (embedded below) showing his love for baseball and the Brewers. Whatever the final outcome, I want to congratulate Kevin for stepping up to the plate and taking a shot at living his dream! But for now, let’s just vote and hope he’ll be blogging on Cream City Cables from New York come April.
By Nathan Petrashek
Let me put this out there immediately: I have no idea whether Ryan Braun used performance-enhancing drugs. It’s entirely possible that he did. As much as we think we do, we (fans) don’t know who professional athletes really are. While everything in Braun’s public persona suggests to me he didn’t, I simply don’t know. And neither does anyone else except Ryan Braun.
That didn’t stop a ton of national reporters from generating clicks with misleading headlines.
Here’s one from SI’s Tom Verducci: “As Braun’s name surfaces in PED scandal, another sad day for sports”
The Miami Herald writes: “Braun releases statement on PED link to Miami-based clinic”
Even the Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt gets in on the fun: “Ryan Braun attributes PED link to Research for 2011 drug appeal”
The problem: Recently discovered documents don’t link Ryan Braun to PEDs.
Let’s recap what we know. Less than a week ago, the Miami New Times published a report linking some of baseball’s biggest names, including Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, and Melky Cabrera, with a Miami anti-aging clinic that also supposedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs. The New Times obtained the records from an employee who worked at the clinic, Biogenesis, before it closed in December 2012. The records contained numerous references to the University of Miami baseball team, including conditioning coach Jimmy Goins, which I said at the time spelled bad news for Braun after his successful appeal of a positive drug test in 2011.
It got much worse for Braun yesterday. Yahoo’s Tim Brown and Jeff Passan found Braun’s name in the Biogensis records. In some people’s minds, this meant an immediate link to PEDs and guilt. Yet Brown and Passan specifically stated:
Three of the Biogenesis clinic records obtained by Yahoo! Sports show Braun’s name. Unlike the players named by the Miami New Times in its report that blew open the Biogenesis case, Braun’s name is not listed next to any specific PEDs.
Which is why the New Times didn’t report his name in the first place, incidentally. In a blog post, the Mami New Times’ Chuck Strouse clarified:
Yahoo!’s story raises an obvious question. If Braun and Cervelli’s name appear in the Bosch records at the heart of New Times‘ investigation — and indeed, Yahoo!’s report does appear to match New Times records — why didn’t we report them in our first story?
Simple: An abundance of caution.
As Yahoo! notes, the records do not clearly associate either Braun, Cervelli or a third player who this morning denied all ties with Bosch (Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia) with use of supplements. Yahoo! apparently obtained copies of just these page of Bosch’s notebooks independently of New Times.
So what did the Biogenesis records reveal? The Yahoo! story identifies three documents with Braun’s name:
1) A list that includes some players linked to PEDs (Rodriguez, Cabrera, and Cesar Carrillo) and some not (Francisco Cervelli and Danny Valencia).
2) A document which lists Braun’s name along with “RB 20-30k.” A picture of this document was not included in the Yahoo! report.
3) A letter to an associate apparently congratulating Melky Cabrera on his MVP and referencing something called the “‘Braun’ advantage.”
Braun issued a plausible explanation after the story broke, claiming his attorneys consulted with Tony Bosch, a Biogenesis employee, while preparing for his successful appeal. Braun stated Bosch answered questions “about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.” According to Braun, there was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which was why Braun and his lawyer were listed under “moneys owed” and not on any other list.
This is at least consistent with the “RB 20-30k” notation and multiple references to one of Braun’s lawyers, Chris Lyons, later in the documents. David Cornwell, another Braun attorney, released a statement saying he was introduced to Bosch early in Braun’s case and “found Bosch’s value to be negligible.”
While the reference to a “‘Braun’ advantage” is somewhat troubling, it amounts to nothing more than an obscure and ambiguous reference in a letter that could mean almost anything. Nothing in the newest documents directly links Braun to PEDs or gives any more clarity to the circumstances surrounding Braun’s positive test in 2011 (for which I found Braun’s explanation last year wanting).
In short, we don’t know much more now than we did in 2011. As with his statement last year, Braun’s most recent pronouncement almost raises more questions than answers.
So if you read anything proclaiming Braun definitively guilty or innocent, don’t believe it. We just don’t know.
By Nathan Petrashek
Esteemed ESPN analyst Keith Law created quite a stir among Brewers fans when he released his updated organization rankings today. The Brewers clocked in at number 29, trailed only by the Angels. If not for the midseason Zack Greinke trade that sent pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg to Milwaukee, its entirely possible the Brewers would have wound up at the bottom of the pile.
Not that last place is a foreign position for the Brewers. In 2011, Law ranked the Brewers dead last. That was the year they pried Grienke from the Royals for a package that included top prospects Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Jeffress, and Lorenzo Cain, as well as MLB shortstop Alcides Escobar. The Brewers also lost Brett Lawrie to Toronto, but gained an NL Central Division crown in the process.
Law ranked the Brewers number 23 in 2012, but seemed to give the team a healthy bounce based on anticipated restocking as free agents departed at the end of the year. In other words, Law’s rank from last February already had the team’s expected gains in the 2013 draft baked in. The problem with that approach is pretty obvious. With no draft pick compensation from Greinke, Marcum, or Francisco Rodriguez forthcoming, those gains won’t be as plentiful as Law perhaps expected.
Still, Brewers fans no doubt expected the team’s farm position to improve a bit after the 2012 draft. Picking at the back end of the first round, it seemed the Brewers did well enough; they snagged C Clint Coulter and OF Victor Roache with back-to-back picks, and then added OF Mitch Haniger in the first compensation round. But it seems the second-round pick was the only one that really impressed Law, who projects Tyrone Taylor to be an above-average regular.
There are reasons to be skeptical of Law’s ranking. Farm system comparisons are highly subjective exercises; not only is there room for error when determining how the farm systems stack up against one another, but there is potential for errors in judgment when evaluating the individual talent that comprises the whole.
That being said, the Brewers probably don’t have the 29th-worst system, but also probably don’t deserve to be ranked much higher. The 2012 pickups help; indeed, Law’s biggest criticism seems to be that the Milwaukee didn’t manipulate its money pool better. However, the Brewers simply don’t have enough elite prospects compared to its rivals.
In other words, don’t get hung up on the number 29. Law’s broader point-largely beyond reproach-is that most teams have a better farm system than the Brewers. Don’t blame Law for that; blame a scouting department that hasn’t really hit the jackpot since Jack Zduriencik left Milwaukee.
By Nathan Petrashek
The Rule 5 draft, in which players with the requisite experience who aren’t on a team’s 40-man roster are subject to being plucked by other teams, cost the Brewers a player this year.
Although the Brewers did not select anyone in the draft, they did lose second-base prospect Eric Farris to the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are now headed by Jack Zduriencik, the Brewers’ former scouting director.
Farris appeared briefly with the major league club last year, accumulating only nine plate attempts. At AAA Nashville, Farris hit .286/.329/.377. He played mostly second, but also appeared in double-digit games at short and in the outfield.
We interviewed Farris last February, which you can read here. Draft rules require Seattle to keep Farris on the 25-man roster or offer him back to the Brewers, so the draft provides him with an excellent opportunity. All the best to him.
By Nathan Petrashek
I get the sense that Doug Melvin is one of those newfangled GMs that love advanced baseball statistics but also reserves a place for old-school baseball judgment. Given that, and his past history with veterans like Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf, it doesn’t exactly surprise me that he’s interested in Ryan Dempster. Dempster has always dominated the Brewers at Miller Park, throwing over 100 innings of 2.66 ERA ball while holding opposing batters to a .221 average and striking out 8.6 per nine. MLB Trade Rumors reported today that the sides had mutual interest, although the Suppan and Wolf experiments no doubt convinced Melvin that three or more years on aging pitchers is too great a risk.
Dempster, age 35, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2012. Everything about that should scream “red flag.” His other really good seasons came in 2000 and 2008, but sandwiched between them, he pitched just 790 innings over 7 years (an average of about 113 innings per season). His fastball has been slowly but steadily losing velocity. Dempster compensated by throwing fewer of them (which seems to have increased the effectiveness of those he does throw); he’s also developed a pretty good split-finger and, just this past year, a cutter (which was pretty awful). There’s no sense in diminishing how well he pitched for the Cubs in 2012 (2.25 ERA over 104 IP and a career-low 2.3 BB/9), but Dempster fans also have to acknowledge how poorly he pitched after being traded to the Texas Rangers (69 IP, 5.09 ERA, 1.44 WHIP). This looks for all the world like a guy at the end of his career who is going to cash in on one more big contract.
And make no mistake, someone is going to give him three years. Once you get past Zack Grienke, the free agent market is stocked with risky plays like Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, and Carl Pavano. Dempster, particularly after his strong year, looks like a pretty good candidate when stacked up against the field. Someone will overpay. Someone always does.
This is not to say that Dempster is a bad pitcher; he’s really not. But he’s not nearly as good as his 2012 season would suggest, and anyone signing him should expect more modest returns. The Brewers are wise to limit their risk with him at two years. I haven’t seen specifics regarding Dempster’s desired contract, but you can be sure that given the way the pitching market has developed the past few years, he’ll be looking at an average annual value exceeding what he earned with the Cubs in 2012 ($14M). Given the Brewers stated desire to return to an $80M payroll in 2013, that would likely place him outside the Brewers’ price range.
If so, the team might well dodge a bullet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
By Nathan Petrashek
Back in February, fellow CCC writer Ryan Smith and I wrote dueling articles examining Milwaukee’s pair of aces, Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke. My choice, if you’re twisting my arm, was Gallardo, in part based on his historical performance in clutch games – for example, his first home start of 2011, a complete game shutout, and three outstanding postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011 (we’ll give him a pass on his first-inning blowup in the NLCS).
Gallardo lived up to that reputation in Milwaukee’s improbable run in August and September. Over 65 innings and 10 starts before last night, Gallardo pitched to a 2.91 era with 66 strikeouts, going 7-0. Gallardo tossed at least 7 innings in all of his August starts, dropping his era to a season-best 3.52 at the end of the month. After faltering in his first September start, Gallardo pitched quality starts in his next three games, and narrowly missed his fourth by an inning. The Brewers won all 10 of Gallardo’s August and September starts, so Gallardo was crucial to their 33-20 record in those months.
Unfortunately, the Brewers’ backs were to the wall last night. After dropping games in Washington and Cincinnati and pushing themselves four games back of the final wild card slot, the team was no doubt looking forward to coming home for a three-game set against cellar-dwelling Houston. For Gallardo, there was no bigger stage in 2012 than last night’s romp under the Miller Park lights.
And Gallardo finally faltered in the clutch.
Things started off shaky, with Gallardo working around a walk and needing 22 pitches to get out of the first inning. Another walk would come around to score in the second. Gallardo’s defense – specifically shortstop Jean Segura – failed him in the fourth, but Gallardo had no one to blame for the back-to-back dingers he served up in the fifth. Gallardo’s final line: 6 ip, 8 h, 3 bb, 5 r (4 er), and perhaps the most significant “L” of the season.
By Nathan Petrashek
We don’t often cross over into the world of football here at Cream City Cables, but the controversy over the final play of Monday Night Football has some pretty significant lessons for baseball, too.
In case you’ve been stranded out in the desert with no telecommunications equipment for the past 48 hours, let me explain. Or, well, we’ll just the NFL do it:
In Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.
Naturally, you’re going to have a lot of defensive backs in the end zone on a hail mary play. Golden Tate was surrounded by gold helmets, including corner Sam Shields in front of him. The NFL’s statement continues:
While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.
The NFL concedes there should have been a penalty on the play. Had there been a penalty, the play would have been negated and, as time was expired, the game would have been over. But what’s next is really shocking, and relevant for baseball purposes. As the players came down, the side judge signaled touchdown. The back judge signaled timeout. The referee did not bother to ask them what they saw; the call on the field was apparently a touchdown by simultaneous possession (though no one has been able to point to me where that call was actually made on the field).
But that’s okay! We have replay. Here’s what happened next:
Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.
Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.
The result of the game is final.
And that’s that.
The NFL’s statement even, quite helpfully, gives us the rule on simultaneous possession:
If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.
Remember, a valid catch requires a player to secure and maintain control of the ball, even while going to the ground. You might recall the Calvin Johnson rule from a few years ago:
The NFL concluded that was not a catch.
Now, back to Monday night. We’re going to conduct our own little replay review. Here are some photos of the play on Monday night as it progressed:
There you have it. If Calvin Johnson’s catch was not a touchdown, there is no possible way that Golden Tate can be found to have caught the ball and maintained possession. There was no simultaneous catch.
One thing to keep in mind is that the replacement referee is not the only one who blew this call. The NFL has officials – real NFL employees, not replacement referees – assisting with the administration of rules. According to the NFL, one such official, Howard Slavin, was assisting with the review. He got it wrong. And apparently the entire NFL Officiating Department blew the call, too, because there is no way – simply no way! – you can review that game footage and determine that Golden Tate had possession of the ball at any point, let alone that he maintained control through the fall to the ground.
The obvious implication for baseball is that the blown call undermines much of the case for expanded review or automation. The Commissioner has taken a very careful approach to replay in baseball, first permitting it for borderline home runs calls in 2008. It will be expanded to fair-or-foul calls and trapped balls, but the system has so far resisted calls for further expansion (for example, on baserunning calls).
What is plain from Monday night’s fiasco is that replay review is not an infallible system. Review officials will still get calls wrong. Teams and players will still get screwed. Error is inherent in any system in which human judgment comes into play (a scary thought when you consider that there are approximately 154,000 U.S. jury trials per year).
What’s more, a replay system is not a system without costs. There are monetary costs, though one can argue these are not unacceptably high; the Bengals purchased equipment last year for $300,000, plus, of course, the additional cost of review officials and operations staff. In baseball, the more troubling cost is time. Every game requires one team to produce at least 27 outs, and baseball is the only major team sport in the United States without a clock. As of 2010, the average length of a nine-inning game was just under three hours, and that because of dedicated efforts by the Commissioner to speed up the game. Compare that to 1970s, where the average regulation game lasted under two and one-half hours.
Any expansive replay system is going to impose time costs. NFL games, after expanding replay review to all scoring plays last season, and all turnovers this season, are lasting longer and longer in 2012, and it isn’t all due to replacement refs. Expanded replay slows the game down. It also takes the emotion out of a game when you’re not really sure if your guy just scored a touchdown or hit a home run until five minutes after it happened.
I am not opposed to replay, but I must be persuaded that the benefits outweigh the significant costs. When the NFL Officiating Department can reach such absurd conclusions even after careful video study, it undermines the case for replay in every sport.
In today’s Ask Vic segement on Packers.com, Vic Ketchman reaches much the same conclusion about replay review:
Norm from Orange Park, FL
I think you have been present to witness two of the most controversial plays in NFL history, one in Pittsburgh and the one on Monday night.
Replay review was used for one and wasn’t available to be used for the other, but Monday’s play and the Immaculate Reception have one thing in common: Replay review was meaningless for both. Forty years later, replay of the Immaculate Reception still can’t confirm whether it was Frenchy Fuqua or Jack Tatum who deflected the ball to Franco Harris. It makes me wonder why we even use replay review if it can’t render a verdict on plays such as these. Aren’t these the plays for which the creation of the system is intended to be used? These weren’t low-profile games. One was a playoff game and the other was a Monday night game, national telecasts with a horde of cameras positioned throughout the stadium, and TV couldn’t produce one angle to help make the call. The thing I don’t like about replay review is that we’ve come to rely on it to correct mistakes, and that’s created an attitude among fans that we no longer have to live with mistakes. The bottom line is mistakes still happen and we still have to live with them.