2013 Position Review & Preview: Shortstop

AP

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Review of 2012:

When Milwaukee found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline in 2012, the Brewers faithful knew they had seen the last of Zack Greinke. Greinke, who had never lost a game at Miller Park, was about to become a free agent at the end of the year, and one way or another was about to get a huge payday for his services, most likely from a major market team. So, to get something out of his departure, the Brewers traded him to the Angels in late July for some top quality farmhands in Double-A pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, as well as shortstop Jean Segura.

While Helwig and Pena would see minimal playtime in 2012 with Milwaukee , Segura would get the opportunity to fill in as the teams starting shortstop thanks to a hole at the position left by an early season injury to Alex Gonzalez. The gamble would pay off for Milwaukee as Segura took to the big league level of play right away.

As mentioned on the back of his 2013 Topps Spring Fever card: “Soon after the Brewers acquired Segura in a trade with the Angels last July, he was tossed into the Major League fire for the first time. By September, the 22-year-old was thriving, batting .375 in one 20-game stretch and finishing with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Those were credentials enough to make the shortstop job his to lose this spring.”

Segura finished his 2012 season with Milwaukee with a slash line of .264/.321/.331 over 163 plate appearances in 44 games. He recorded 39 hits, 14 RBI, 7 stolen bases and walked 13 times.

Projected 2013 Stat Line (according to Baseball Info Solutions):

139/477 over 147 games, 6 HR, 50 RBI, 35 BB, 69 K, .291/.340/.388

The above numbers should come as no surprise to anyone that followed Segura’s offseason. He won the Dominican Winter League batting title, hitting .325 over 35 games and ranked 2nd in stolen bases with 11. Similar numbers were shown in his 18 Spring Training appearances in which he hit 19/52 with 3 stolen bases and a slash line of .365/.377/.577.

Depth of Position:

Behind Segura at short is the man that he replaced at the position last year, Alex Gonzalez. Initially released by Milwaukee in the offseason, Gonzalez eventually re-signed with Milwaukee where he figures to start the season at 1st base filling in for the injured Corey Hart.

Behind him, there is one more shortstop, a name that sends shivers down the spines of the collective fan base. A name so polarizing, that it made those opposed to the Kyle Lohse acquisition question if Doug Melvin had finally lost his mind. That man: Yuniesky Betancourt. Luckily for all of us it sounds like the plans for Yuni is as a utility bat, not a utility infielder.

With Yuni fresh on everyone’s minds, I’ll leave you with the following:

YuniB

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Panic at First Base

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.

Carlos Lee
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.

Hunter Morris
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.

Khris Davis
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.

Taylor Green
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.

Alex Gonzalez
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.

Bobby Crosby
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.

Mike Carp
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.

Worried Yet?

By: Ryan Smith

It appears that I haven’t written a post in quite some time.  While I may be lacking in the extra time that it takes to write consistent, quality posts, I certainly have not been lacking ideas for new columns.

After an opening weekend that saw Gallardo look like a batting practice pitcher one day, followed by Greinke absolutely shutting down that same St. Louis team the next day, I decided that I wanted to write an article reminding everyone that I said Greinke would be the team’s “ace” for this season.  Then Greinke had his start in Chicago with a chance for the sweep, and he proceeded to stink up the joint (which is not an easy thing to do considering Wrigley already reeks).  Too late for that column.

Two weeks into the season, I decided that I wanted to write an article about early season overreactions, pointing out some statements and thoughts that had been running through Brewer Nation.  I was going to write about how everyone needs to calm down and not promote George Kottaras ahead of Jonathon Lucroy based on a few long balls.  I was going to write about how we need to wait a bit for Aramis Ramirez to get his feet under him before all of Milwaukee called that signing a mistake.

But then, two weeks into the season became three weeks into the season which then became a month into the season.  Too late for that column.

If the Brewers don’t start improving soon, Bernie might be looking for the bottom of a mug more often in 2012.

After today’s extra-innings loss to the Twins, the Brewers find themselves at 16-24.  A 16-24 record means they’ve now played 40 games, which is roughly a quarter of the way through the season.  As I looked at the standings and pondered what I could write about, I realized something:

Much like my column ideas, it’s starting to appear like it may be too late for this Milwaukee Brewers team.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still 122 games left in the season, so they have plenty of time to turn things around.  But as I watch them play (which has been downright painful this past week), I have growing concerns about certain areas of this team.

And the fact that there are 122 games left doesn’t make me say that we have time to fix those concerns.  In actuality, it makes me fear that those concerns could only grow to more frightening levels as we make our way through summer.

So let’s take a look at some of my concerns at this early but not-so-early juncture of the 2012 season, shall we?

First, allow me to give you a hypothetical situation:

When Roenicke looks to the bullpen, it often appears like there aren’t many options.

You are Ron Roenicke and the Brewers are up 3-2 going into the 8th inning.  The starter has thrown 107 pitches, so he’s done for the night.  For some reason or another, Axford and Loe are not available for this particular game.  You need to select two guys to send to the mound to get the next six outs, and your options are Rodriguez, Veras, Dillard, Parra, and Chulk.  Who do you choose?

If you’re like me, you just got that disgusting vomit taste in your mouth.  With a few exceptions, Axford has been typical Axford, giving the fans close calls but usually coming through in the end.  Loe looks like a different guy than the one who was only appearing in low-leverage situations late last year.  But everyone else?  Let’s just say that if Roenicke goes through the entire season without having a late-inning heart attack, I’ll consider that a victory.

Luckily, bullpen improvements happen every year for contenders, either with organizational call-ups – Tyler Thornburg would fill this role nicely – or through trade deadline moves, like when we acquired K-Rod last season.  The only problem is if we keep losing like we have been, we won’t be contenders when July rolls around.

Like many Milwaukee hitters, Weeks can’t seem to find any answers at the plate.

Another issue I have with this team is at the plate.  More specifically, it pains me that a good portion of our hitters have the plate approach of a Little League team.  Braun has been Braun, leading the team in most statistical categories and providing a consistent, dangerous bat, and he hasn’t been alone.  I mean, who could have seen the type of season Lucroy is producing thus far?  Oh, that’s right – I said he could do this, as did Cream City Cables founder Nate Petrashek.  But beyond Braun and Lucroy and the occasional power surge from Hart, the early portion of this season has not seen a lot of consistency at the plate for this team.  Ramirez has started to look better in recent weeks, though that’s not saying much considering how terrible he was in April.  Perhaps my biggest concern with our hitters is Rickie Weeks.  It’s one thing to start slowly, but he’s not really showing any signs of improvement.  Needless to say, my confidence in Mr. Weeks is being challenged.

Finally, I can’t help but worry about all of the injuries that have hit Milwaukee in the first six weeks of the season.  Last year, the Brewers only had to use six starters throughout the course of the entire season.  Now, we’ve lost Narveson for the season, putting more pressure on the rest of our very talented rotation.  We lost new infield regulars Gamel and Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s defense was as advertised, so that isn’t something the team can just replace overnight.  And Gamel’s injury was heartbreaking.  The guy finally gets his everyday shot and, quite frankly, does well in that spot.  So of course he goes out for the season.  Travis Ishikawa has been a pleasant surprise, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to bring him off the bench on most nights as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.  In 2011, the Brewers had limited injuries that impacted the everyday roster.  This year, it seems like that run of good luck may have come to an end.

As I said earlier, I’m not giving up on this season.  It’s still too early to just start looking to next year (unless you’re a Cubs fan).  But if they don’t start turning things around soon, it might be too late for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers.

Position Review & Preview: Alex Gonzalez, Shortstop

Welcome to Milwaukee, Alex Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was almost instantly a fan favorite after he was signed to a $4.25MM deal this offseason, not so much because of what he’s done in the past, but because he is replacing the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt.  Betancourt was not an unmitigated disaster least season; his early-August hot streak helped the Brewers go 10-2 through that stretch, and defensively he was not as bad as he had been in years past.  Still, he lived up to his reputation as one of the worst players in baseball.  Defensively, Betancourt amassed a career-low .965 fielding percentage, a -7.5 UZR/150 (standardized ultimate zone rating), and a -7 DRS (defensive runs saved).  It didn’t get much better with the bat; although Betancourt’s .252 average and 13 dingers were passable, he rarely walked and swung at an obscene number-nearly 60%-of pitches thrown outside the zone.  It’s amazing that he struck out only 63 times.

At the plate, Gonzalez doesn’t offer much more than Betancourt did.  He’s slashed just .247/.291/.398 for his career.  No one will be mistaking the guy for Troy Tulowitzki.  With Atlanta last year, Gonzalez became more aggressive than at any other time in his 13-year career, chasing pitches outside the zone and striking out 126 times (although, in Gonzalez’s defense, he did make contact with what would be balls at a 70% rate).  Unfortunately, he also reached base less than at any time in the last five years.  It would be wonderful to see that OBP edge up past .300 again, but I’m not holding my breach.

Where Gonzalez shines, though, is on defense.  He rarely commits errors and has great range at the position.  Braves fans raved about his defense last year, rating him a “great” or “Gold-Glove caliber” shortstop.  Jim Powell had nothing but good things to say about Gonzalez’s glove, too.  DRS rates him slightly lower, as an “above-average” or “great” fielder.  Any way you cut it, Gonzalez should be a welcome addition to an infield that struggled mightily to convert batted balls into outs in 2011.

Gonzalez certainly started off on the right foot this spring, too.  Gonzalez scorched the ball in his 22 games, amassing a .473/.517/.836(!) line in 22 games.  Usual disclaimers regarding opposition quality and sample size apply, but still, it’s a nice way for him to begin his tenure with a new team.

2012 Projection: 145 G, 550 PA, 520 AB, 132 H, 56 R, 30 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 23 BB, 107 K, 1 SB, .254/.271/.401

Abnormalities and Aberrations: The 2012 Brewers Spring Stats Thus Far

by Kevin Kimmes

The early weeks of spring training are a time of aberration and statistical abnormalities. Think about it, position players are trying to work the winter rust out of their strokes, while pitchers try to stretch out and oil up their arms in hopes that they will be limber enough to not only avoid injury this season, but also to still have something left should they find themselves pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. Combine those two approaches together and you get some statistics that defy explanation.

Today, we’ll look at what the Brewers have been doing from an offensive prospective, and I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the pitching so far. So, without further ado…

Jonathan Lucroy

I want you to take a second and mull over the following sentence: Jonathan Lucroy is the most feared hitter in the Brewers lineup.

Now that you’ve reread it, digested it, and yet still seem to be having trouble making sense of it, let me verify that the above is not a typo. Jonathan Lucroy, so far, possesses the most devastating bat in the entire Brewers camp.

Lucroy, who finished last season with a batting average of .265/.313/.391 has more than doubled his offensive output so far this spring. In 16 at bats in 6 games, Lucroy is currently hitting .563/.563/.938 which sets the bar for all Brewers batters who have more than 1 or 2 at bats. Additionally, it should be noted that 4 of his 9 hits so far have gone for extra bases (3 doubles and a homerun), proving that Lucroy has a little extra pop in his bat to go his keen eye at the plate.

Logan Schafer

Some guys just seem to thrive in the most adverse of situations. For your consideration, Logan Schafer.

Schafer, ranked #7 in the Brewers 2012 Prospects Watch, finds himself in an unenviable position, fighting for a spot at a position that is running over with veteran talent. So far this spring, Schafer is hitting .556/.579/.944 in 18 at bats in 10 games. Meanwhile, projected opening day starter Carlos Gomez is hitting an embarrassing .160/.222/.160 in 25 at bats over 9 games. Despite his untested status, you have to believe that if Schafer is able to maintain even a respectable pace for the rest of the spring, that Roenicke will need to stand up and potentially give Schafer some consideration, at the very least until Corey Hart comes back from injury and Nyjer Morgan slots back into center.

Alex Gonzalez

Prior to the start of spring training, there were many pundits who feared that the veteran Gonzalez would prove to be nothing more than another offensive weak spot at short. Well, apparently Gonzalez heard them loud and clear, and has decided to put on a hitting clinic for his critics.

So far, Gonzalez has put up a stat line of .476/.500/.762 in 21 at bats over 8 games. On an interesting side note, Gonzalez is currently the only Brewer to have collected a single, a double, a triple, a homerun, and a walk this so far this spring.

Rickie Weeks

Looking to capitalize on a 2011 in which he found himself as an All Star for the first time, Weeks has shown a quiet determination at the plate. His 7 walks leads all Brewers batters so far this spring, and his stat line of .385/.619/.769 in 13 at bats over 8 games is all about the extra base hit. Of his 5 hits thus far, all of them have been doubles.

Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa

All of the fear and trepidation coming out of the departure of Prince Fielder would seem to be just a bad case of nerves at this point, as Milwaukee appears to have two competent first basemen in camp this season.

So far, Gamel leads all Brewers in homeruns (3), runs scored (7), and RBIs (7). Additionally, he is tied with Carlos Gomez for the most stolen bases with 3 (also note he has not been caught stealing). His stat line of .318/.423/.773 in 22 at bats in 9 games is impressive for a player who many had doubts on.

Not to be out done, Travis Ishikawa is nipping at Gamels heels with a pretty equivalent stat line of his own. Ishikawa is .316/.409/.684 in 19 at bats in 9 games. His 2 homeruns this spring rank him second only to Gamel in the category.

So, there you have it, the wild, wonderful, and weird stats of spring training thus far. As the next several weeks go by, we should be able to get a better idea of which stats are actually founded in determination and focus, and which ones are simply the types of statistical anomalies that only spring training can provide.

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup: Now With More Braun

Is Gamel finally ready for an everyday assignment?

by Kevin Kimmes

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.

Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.

Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…

I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

Will Aoki be the x-factor that determines the opening day lineup?

Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the  hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.

Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?

Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.

With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:

1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher

In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.

Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.

With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.

Just how bad was the Brewers’ offseason?

by Nathan Petrashek

Doug Melvin has taken a lot of heat for some terrible past signings.  Jeff Suppan, David Riske, Braden Looper, Eric Gagne, Bill Hall; you could write a book on his bad transactions.  But you have to give the guy credit where it’s due, too.  C.C. Sabathia, Francisco Rodriguez, Nyjer Morgan, and the Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo extensions are among his greatest hits.

You might have picked up a theme for this post based on that first paragraph.  It’s judging fairly.

Over at the Sporting News, former Journal-Sentinel writer Anthony Witrado grades each MLB team’s offseason.  I honestly expected a B- for the Brewers.  Prince slipped away, but that was inevitable.  In his place, Melvin acquired one of the best free-agent sluggers, Aramis Ramirez.  Sure, his defense will drive us mad next year, but having his bat firmly cemented in the cleanup spot is worth the risk.  The addition of Alex Gonzalez at short should make Ramirez all the more palatable at third, and Melvin obtained some much-needed bullpen help in exchange for the embattled Casey McGehee.  Offering K-Rod arbitration was the right move, and his decision to accept a reduced rate contract ($8MM) means the Brewers eighth and ninth innings will once again be cost-effective.  In short, I think Melvin did what he had to do to preserve the Brewers’ chances of winning a pennant in 2012.

I skimmed, first through the As.  Then Bs.  No sign of the Brewers.  Down past the Cs.  Nothing.  Nothing until I hit number 25: The Milwaukee Brewers.  D-.

Let that sink in for a minute.  Of all the clubs, the Brewers ranked sixth from the bottom.  Witrado gave the Red Sox a B+, and they didn’t do much of anything besides fire a successful manager and trade all of their shortstops.  The Cardinals got a C, and they lost their best hitter.  And the San Francisco Giants, whose offense only got worse thanks to the loss of Carlos Beltran to the Cardinals, even managed to generate a C-.  How in the world to the Brewers garner a full letter grade below that?

Witrado notes the Brewers lost Fielder.  Fair enough.  He also notes the Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Norichika Aoki signings, which you have to believe goes a long way toward restoring the value lost with Fielder.  So if you’ve made up for the loss of an elite first baseman by improving your club in other areas, you’d think that’s a win, right?  But Witrado’s focus is on something completely out of the club’s control: Ryan Braun’s potential 50-game suspension.  And though he recognizes that this is no fault of the organization, Witrado still calls the offseason a total loss.

It’s not, though.  Even if Braun sits out the first 50 games, Melvin’s moves have made it possible for the team to tread water until his return.  And once he does come back, the team could certainly do worse than a 1-2 punch of Braun and Ramirez.  Gonzalez at short should improve the starting rotation’s collective fate, and once you get to the late innings, it’s once again lockdown mode thanks to the K-Rod deal.  This was not a D- offseason, even considering Braun’s looming suspension.  And if you remove his positive drug test from the equation – something that the front office has no control over – the organization deserves no worse than a B.

A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason always brings its fair share of speculation. Sometimes this is caused by offseason moves that  create an air of hope, potentially transforming an also ran into a contender. Then there’s the agony when a top producer packs up their locker with no hope of returning dealing a crushing blow to their former team and the fans that had cheered them on for years. And of course, there is even the ever optimistic mantra of the Cubs fan who says “Maybe next year”.

This offseason, Milwaukee’s fans have had to deal with both of the first two scenarios as the additions of Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez to the infield should reap immediate benefits, while the loss of Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup creates some issues in the run production department.

Today, I will look at each position and speculate on who will be there on opening day and consider what Bill James is predicting they will do from an offensive stand point. Additionally, I will try to project an opening day batting order for the season opener against the Cardinals on April 6th at Miller Park.

**All stats provided courtesy of Fangraphs**

The Battery

The Starting Pitchers:

This season sees the return of all 5 starters from Milwaukee’s 2011 NL  Central Champion squad (Gallardo, Marcum, Greinke, Wolf, and Narveson). Below are projections for each of the starters for 2012  :

Player W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Gallardo, Yovani 14 9 0 30 30 203 9.53 3.06 0.89 0.312 3.46 3.31
Greinke, Zack 13 9 0 31 31 202 8.33 2.27 0.8 0.319 3.52 3.23
Marcum, Shaun 13 10 0 32 32 207 7.3 2.35 1.17 0.284 3.52 4.01
Narveson, Chris 7 8 0 26 22 133 7.31 3.45 1.08 0.303 4.13 4.24
Wolf, Randy 12 12 0 32 32 217 6.43 3.03 1.08 0.289 3.94 4.36

Based on these projections, Gallardo should be the opening day starter. His projected 9.53 strikeouts per 9 innings coupled with an ERA of 3.46 give him a slight advantage over Greinke (8.33/9, 3.52) and Marcum (7.3/9, 3.52). Additionally, both stats are improvements over Gallardo’s 2011 number (8.99/9, 3.52) meaning that the best may be still to come from Milwaukee’s ace.

At Catcher:

Also returning from the 2011 squad is catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Based on the numbers (136 projected games, the same as last year) it appears that speculation is leaning on Lucroy being the everyday catcher with the exception of days when Randy Wolf is pitching. Last season, Wolf used backup catcher George Kottaras as his personal battery mate, giving Lucroy a break every few days.

In regards to offensive output, the projection leans on Lucroy having a very similar season to last year (.264/.328/.393 compared to last seasons .265/.313/.391).  Additionally, he is projected for 12 homeruns, 53 runs, and 64 RBIs which is a slight improvement over last seasons 12 homeruns, 45 runs, and 59 RBIs.

The Infield

At 1st Base:

As much as I’d like to tell you that by some divine miracle an 11th hour deal was made to keep Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, we all know by this point that this will not be the case. Instead, the Brewers will be looking to 3rd base convert Mat Gamel to fill the hole at 1st. As Adam McCalvy reported last week, Gamel is working hard this offseason to be ready for spring training and to assume a spot in the starting lineup on opening day, something that Gamel has missed out on the past three years due to Spring Training injuries.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Gamel (who has a .222 batting average in 194 plate appearances over 4 seasons) to bring in the same kind of power hitting production that Fielder had, he should improve his career stats in an everyday role.  While Bill James only has him projected for 118 games (potentially factoring in his history of injuries),  Gamel should  hit around .282/.342/.476 with 19 home runs this season.

At 2nd Base:

As a returning All-Star, Rickie Weeks will be looking to build on his injury shortened 2011 campaign by again manning the bag at 2nd. Weeks, who hit for 20 home runs last season will again be called on to hit the long ball in order to help ease the offensive depletion caused by Fielders departure.

According to James,  Weeks should have another All-Star worthy performance this year as he is projected for .262/.355/.453 with 22 homeruns, 62 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases in 136 games.

At 3rd Base:

Welcome to Milwaukee Aramis Ramirez! After an extremely disappointing 2011 by regular 3rd baseman Casey McGehee, the prospect of what Ramirez brings to the table, both as both a defender and as a batter, are exciting to say the least. In 149 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez hit .306/.361/.510 while crushing 26 hits for homeruns, numbers that the Brewers hope he repeats for them in 2012.

Ramirez represents the best chance that the Brewers have for closing the run production gap created by Fielder’s departure as he is projected to hit for .285/.350/.500 with 26 homeruns and 94 RBIs in 140 games.

At Shortstop:

As I have reported previously, the addition of Alex Gonzalez at short, while providing an upgrade defensively, leaves the Brewers in roughly the same spot offensively at short.

Gonzalez is projected to hit .237/.278/.381 with 14 homeruns and 60 RBIs in 145 games.

The Outfield:

With the official signing of Norichika Aoki, the Brewers seem to have taken the first step into the realm of possibility that they may be without reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season. The signing makes for some interesting scenarios in the outfield as Milwaukee will be able to choose amongst several righty and lefty hitters to fill out these three spots.

Left Field:

Assuming that Braun is suspended (historically the odds are not in his favor), I would not be surprised to see Aoki in his spot in left field come opening day. In Japan, Aoki is a career .329 hitter with 84 home runs, 385 RBIs and 164 stolen bases in 985 games over 8 seasons.

Center Field:

Center field will again be the home to the platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan. Having a righty/lefty platoon definitely gives Milwaukee versatility in center field allowing them to not only play to whomever has the hottest bat at the time, but to also play for advantage when it comes to pitching matchups. While Gomez is the better pure fielder at the position, Morgan brings speed and charisma.

While it is hard to say at this juncture who will win the opening day start (a lot will be determined in spring training), I’m going to go with my gut feeling and place Morgan in my line up due to the intangibles that he brings to the team and his ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy to start off the year. Morgan is projected to hit .288/.345/.362 with 2 homeruns, 36 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 130 games, while Gomez is projected to hit .242/.297/.375 with 5 homeruns, 24 RBIs and 16 stolen Bases.

Right Field:

Despite some speculation (including talk from Brewers GM Doug Melvin) about Corey Hart being used at first base, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that right field will continue to be his primary position. Hart is projected to hit .274/.338/.488 with 25 homeruns and 80 RBIs.

The Opening Day Lineup

Based on the information above, here is what I believe the Brewers may field on April 6th. Keep in mind that injuries and play during spring training could play a role in drastically changing this:

1) Corey Hart RF

2) Nyjer Morgan CF

3) Norichika Aoki LF

4) Aramis Ramirez 3B

5) Rickie Weeks 2B

6) Mat Gamel 1B

7) Alex Gonzalez SS

8) Jonathan Lucroy C

9) Yovani Gallardo P

So, there you have it the potential opening day lineup and starters by position. Go Crew!

By The Numbers: What the Acquisition of Alex Gonzalez Means for Milwaukee from a Defensive Perspective

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason acquisition of Alex Gonzalez to replace Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop may not at first seem like a very exciting move on the part of Milwaukee. Gonzalez, who turns 35 this year, is heading into the twilight of his career leaving some to wonder why The Brewers have gone and acquired another shortstop with roughly the same offensive output as Betancourt, when the departure of Prince Fielder has left a void in the run production department.  While it is true that Gonzalez has seen a decline in his offensive numbers (.241/.270/.372/.642 in 2011), the move makes perfect sense from a defensive perspective.

Consider this: according to Baseball-Reference.com, last season Milwaukee shortstops accounted for a total of 23 errors, 2 higher than the league average of 21, and tied for 10th most in the league with Boston, Cincinnati, and Washington. Of these errors, 21 were committed by everyday shortstop Betancourt.

By comparison, the Atlanta Braves (the former home of Gonzalez) committed a total of 14 errors at the shortstop position, ending the season tied for 5th least with Arizona. Of these, 12 were committed by Gonzalez.

Additionally,  according to The Bill James Handbook 2012, over the past 3 seasons (2009-2011) Gonzalez’s defensive play has led to 26 less runs being created  as well as 30 more outs created on grounders and flyballs when compared to an average shortstop. During this same period Betancourt was responsible for the creation of 46 runs due to poor defensive play, partially due to the fact that his outs created on grounders and flyballs were 56 plays below average (the worst at the shortstop position). That’s a variance of 24 runs and roughly 29 outs per season between the two.

So, will the addition of Gonzalez’s glove to the Brewers infield mean lower run totals for the teams opponents this season? Only time will tell. But, based on what the statistics show us, I would say that it is pretty safe to believe that we will be in for much higher quality defensive play this season from the infield.

Offseason 2012: Recapping a Busy Winter

It’s been a little while since we last heard from the Brewers’ front office, and this period of relative calm provides an excellent opportunity to review what the Brewers have done so far.

Prospects.  The team’s 40-man roster now stands at 38 with the recent additions of OF Caleb Gindl, 1B Brock Kjeldgaard, RHP Santo Manzanillo, and 3B Zelous Wheeler.  Of the four, Gindl might have the best shot to break with the major league team in 2012 after slashing .307/.390/.472 at Nashville last year.   Wheeler was the only other addition to spend time in Nashville, hitting .275/.383/.431 in limited time there.  Other rostered prospects to keep an eye on include RHPs Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta, and Amaury Rivas, INF Eric Farris, and OF Logan Schafer.

Free Agents.  There were a few notable additions to the Brewers this year in free agency, too.  The team signed 3B Aramis Ramirez from the Cubs to a heavily backloaded 3-year, $36MM deal.  Ramirez boasts a career 33.8 WAR and was good for 3.6 WAR last year after a down 2010 season.  Fielding metrics show that Ramirez is likely to be a liability at third, but the effect of Ramirez’s weak defense should be limited by the Brewers’ other big free agent acquisition, Alex Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s hitting numbers aren’t much to look at; for his career, he’s slashed just .247/.291/.399.  But his defense has earned him rave reviews, including from Braves (and former Brewers) announcer Jim Powell.  Gonzalez will make about $4.25MM on a one-year deal, a big raise from his 2011 salary of $2.5MM.  Both Ramirez and Gonzalez are in their mid-30′s, which raises questions about durability.

Trades and Departures.  To make room for Ramirez, something had to give with Casey McGehee, who slumped badly throughout 2011.  In early December, the Brewers made it official; McGehee was traded to the Pirates for Jose Veras, a 31-year old journeyman fireballer coming off back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons.  With relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito leaving in free agency, the Brewers got a badly needed middle relief arm and unloaded McGehee’s potentially $3MM-plus salary. Speaking of salary relief, former Brewer Prince Fielder remains unsigned and is reportedly seeking a 10-year deal, or a deal with an average annual value that exceeds Albert Pujols’ $25.4MM.

Braun Controversy.  I’ve hesitated to approach this topic until facts, not speculation, rule the day, but the matter bears attention here.  Several weeks ago, ESPN reported that Ryan Braun had tested positive for performance enhancers in October.  Those reports were later contradicted by releases that indicated Braun’s October samples had highly elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.  Either way, what we “know” right now is that Braun has tested positive for a banned substance; for a first offense, that generally nets a 50-game suspension.  However, there is an appeal process and Braun is exercising that right, the result of which may not be known until January.

International Signing.  The Brewers potentially  added a bit of international flavor to their roster by winning the right to negotiate with Japanese OF Norichika Aoki.  Aoki is a three-time Central League batting champion who has never hit below .300 in a full season, oftentimes features a .400+ OBP.  His arm has been criticized by other writers, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate he’s not serviceable in center, with a move to left likely if Braun gets suspended.  This is not a done deal, however; the Brewers do not have a legitimate Japanese scouting staff, and they will work Aoki out in the States before determining whether to offer him a contract.  Signing Aoki would make either Carlos Gomez or Nyjer Morgan expendable.  If he is not signed, the Japanese team that posted him must return the Brewers’ winning $2.5MM bid for exclusive negotiating rights.