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.

 

Injury Update

By Nathan Petrashek

There are about to be a whole lot of roster moves, a reflection of just how crippled the Brewers have been for the first month of the season.  Some of them have happened already, some of them will happen tomorrow, some of them will happen during the month of May.  Here’s the latest on the Brewers fallen:

Jeff Bianchi activated; Khris Davis optioned:  IF Jeff Bianchi was placed on the DL this spring with left hip bursitis, which sounds pretty epic but is really just inflammation that can cause joint stiffness.  His unavailability led in part to the Brewers to pick up Yuniesky Betancourt, who’s knocking the stuffing out of the ball, so I guess we should all be thankful for that.  In any case, Bianchi is back now, which means the Brewers currently have four – count ‘em, four! – shortstop types on the active roster.  OF Khris Davis, who has received just a handful of plate attempts, was sent down to AAA Nashville.  Bianchi hit .188/.230/.348 with the Brewers last season, although he sports a minor league career triple slash of .286/.340/.411.

Aramis Ramirez activated; Josh Prince optioned: Ramirez was down for a month after sliding awkwardly into second base.  Despite missing nearly all of April, the team will bring him right back into the fold, though he will probably see plenty of time off early on.  Josh Prince is being sent down to Nashville in a corresponding move.

Chris Narveson:  Narveson has been playing catch as he rehabs a sprained finger on his pitching hand.  He’s slated to return in Mid-May.

Mark Rogers:   Rogers, officially placed on the DL with “right shoulder instability,” but unofficially with loss of velocity, command, and everything else that makes a pitcher go, started a rehab assignment on April 23.  The Brewers will need to decide whether to activate him to the major league club or cut ties with him by May 23; he’s not likely to clear waivers.  For what it’s worth, Rogers has not pitched well since beginning his rehab stint; he’s walked 6 over 3.2 innings against just 1 strikeout, and has allowed at least 1 run in 2 of his 3 appearances.

Corey Hart:  Hart had right knee surgery in January. He just rejoined the team and is currently throwing, doing water aerobics, and exercising to strengthen his quads.  Hart, on the 60-day DL, is eligible for reinstatement on May 30, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll make that goal.

Taylor Green:  Green started the season on the DL with a hip injury.  He elected to have season-ending surgery in late April.

Mat Gamel:  Gamel had season-ending knee surgery on March 8.

Some Good and Bad News

By Nathan Petrashek

ramirezThe Brewers finally ended a three-game skid on Sunday, but not before recording a franchise-worst 32 scoreless innings.  That’s right; before Ryan Braun’s 8th inning dinger, the Brewers hadn’t scored a run since the 2nd inning in Chicago on Tuesday.  The Brewers (specifically, the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt) managed to tie the game in the 9th, and might have taken the lead if not for some (attempted) bunting foolishness.  Still, Jonathan Lucroy hit his first home run of the season to put the Brewers ahead for good at the top of the 10th.  The Brewers have their third win, and all is right with the world.

Well, not so much.  For fans who like to see runs scored (basically, if you’re not Old Hoss Radbourn), there was plenty of bad news to accompany the victory.  Aramis Ramirez, who jammed his knee sliding into second base early in the season, isn’t likely to come off the DL when he’s eligible for reinstatement.  I know, it’s a little cringeworthy when Ron Roenicke uses a phrase like “play it safe.” After all, this is the manager who just days ago-down a run in extras, with men on, and no other position players due to Roenicke’s own poor roster construction-declared Ryan Braun unfit to appear as a pinch hitter, and batted Kyle Lohse(!) in his stead; Braun would go 3-for-4 the next day and play nearly the entire game.  But given Ramirez’s age and the lack of any other suitable options defensively at third base, it’s probably a good thing that Ramirez take whatever time he needs to get right.

The good news is that, offensively, the team has been fairly productive, even with Braun, Ramirez, and 1B Corey Hart missing time.  To date, the 2013 Brewers have scored 36 runs.  That’s just 3 shy of the number they scored as of this time last year, when the Brewers showcased the National League’s best offense.  That those runs have come with some of the team’s best hitters (Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez) enduring mini-slumps is a testament to the team’s offensive potential.  With those players returning to form, and Ryan Braun healthy again, it’s not unreasonable to expect this team’s offensive output to increase significantly in the coming days, even with prolonged DL stints for Ramirez and Hart.

I don’t,  of course, mean to suggest that this team couldn’t use Ramirez or Hart in the lineup. Even at 36 runs scored, the Brewers’ offense ranks as one of the worst in the National League, down there with the lowly Pirates and Marlins.  Although I’m certain that having Ramirez and Hart in the lineup would make the Brewers more dangerous, it’s hard to quantify how much.  I love Ramirez’s bat, but (even if not entirely true) the notion that he’s a slow starter persists, and last season provided ample evidence to support that theory.  That same concern doesn’t exist for Hart, but some of his lost production has been offset by Jean Segura’s and Norichika Aoki’s stellar runs, and Hart can be prone to prolonged slumps.

Bottom line: we all know that when this offense is finally healthy, it will be great.  But it is fully capable of treading water for the next month or so until that happens.

An Outlier in the 2012 Brewers Blogosphere Awards

By Nathan Petrashek

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

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

TEAM MVP

1. Ryan Braun

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

2. Yovani Gallardo

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

3. Aramis Ramirez

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

BEST PITCHER

1. Zack Greinke

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

2. Marco Estrada

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

3. Yovani Gallardo

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

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Aramis Ramirez

An easy choice given his strong season.

2. Norichika Aoki

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

3. Wily Peralta

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

UNSUNG HERO

1. Marco Estrada

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

2. Shaun Marcum

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

3. Carlos Gomez

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

GOOD GUY

1. Rick Weeks

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

2. Nyjer Morgan

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

3. Anyone but John Axford

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

Brewers Rumor Roundup

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

A lot of Brewers seem likely to find new digs over the next few days, and we’ll be recapping any credible trade rumors here.  Check back often for the latest updates.

Randy Wolf.  The Brewers rotation is going to look a lot different next year.  Many  speculated that Wolf could be moved at the deadline; the only question is, “for what?”  ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Brewers will trade him for nothing, “if you take the money.”  Wolf is earning $9.5M this year and has a club option for next year at $10M with a $1.5M buyout.

Shaun Marcum.  Marcum is still recovering from an injury that has sidelined him since June 14.  While Marcum isn’t going to be traded before Tuesday’s non-waiver deadline, he may be a waiver trade candidate after he returns to action.

***UPDATE***: Adam McCalvey reports (on Twitter) that Marcum’s second bullpen did not go well.

Zack Grienke.  Opposing GM’s have seemingly done a 180 on Greinke in the last week.  After he was skipped in the rotation, execs were quoted as saying they were “concerned,” even going so far as to call him “scary.”  Other big-market execs said they wouldn’t touch Greinke because of his known anxiety issue.  But after Grienke’s heavily scouted seven-inning masterpiece in Philly, he has become the prize of the trade deadline, especially since Cole Hamels is no longer available.  Teams known to be fawning over the righty include the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, and White Sox.  The White Sox are pushing hard, but they don’t appear to have the pieces necessary to land Greinke; several league sources have reported that Doug Melvin’s asking price is astronomical and includes a top shortstop prospect.  The Braves dropped out after refusing to part with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, as did the Orioles after Melvin suggested Manny Machado.  At this point, it looks to be a two-way battle between the Rangers and the Angels, though Texas appears to be the frontronner and is presumably very motivated after losing the last two world series.  Still, their top prospect, shorstop Jurickson Profar, is reportedly off the table, even though the Brewers (and other teams) are no doubt asking about him. The Angels don’t seem too confident in their chances to land Greinke.

***UPDATE***: Greinke was traded to the Angels late Friday for a package that includes three of the Angels’ top-10 prospects: SS Jean Segura (#2), RHP Ariel Pena (#9), and RHP Johnny Hellweg (#4).  The Rangers apparently didn’t come close to that offer, refusing to trade Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, or even Martin Perez.  In fact, the Rangers’ best offer appears to have been IF Leurys Garcia, LHP Chad Bell, and RHP Justin Grimm; a pittance compared to what the Brewers ultimately wound up with, if I may offer my editorial opinion.  The Angels’ decision to include Pena led Doug Melvin to pull the trigger, and the Angels now have perhaps the best rotation in baseball.  You can read our own Ryan Smith’s analysis of the trade here.

Francisco Rodriguez.  K-Rod was looking like a sure candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline, but then he became the closer.  Over the last week, he’s allowed 7 earned runs over 3.1 innings of work, with 7 walks against just 4 strikeouts.  The Giants were reportedly in on him until they watched him pitch.  K-Rod apparently alienated the Brewers, too, as Ron Roenicke announced the team would deploy a closer-by-committee.

George Kottaras.  Kottaras was designated for assignment yesterday, a formality designed to open up a roster spot for returning catcher Jonathan Lucroy.  Doug Melvin is reportedly attempting to find a new big-league home for the backup catcher; Kottaras was told to stay in Milwaukee while Melvin shopped him around.

***UPDATE***: The Brewers have dealt the lefty catcher to the Oakland A’s, according to Tom Haudricourt.  The A’s apparently have to make a corresponding roster move, and the deal will not be announced, nor will we know who the Brewers are receiving, until Sunday.  You can read Ryan Smith’s take on George Kottaras’s move here.

Nyjer Morgan.  Morgan was a great pickup last year, but this year has been a struggle for the lefthanded hitter; he’s batting just .228/.299/.274.  The Brewers would love to move his $2.35M salary, especially with Carlos Gomez playing so well, but there don’t appear to be many suitors right now.

Kameron Loe.  Loe may be the only Brewers reliever to be moved before the trade deadline.  After a two-inning, three-strikeout scoreless showing on Thursday, Loe should draw some interest from teams looking for bullpen help (i.e. Cincinatti Reds, Rangers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, etc.).  Loe has allowed just two runs over his last nine outings.

Manny Parra.  Manny Parra, like Rodriguez, was a great trade candidate until this week.  With plenty of scouts in attendance in Philly, Parra walked three on Tuesday and gave up four earned runs.  That came on the heels of another three-walk performance the day earlier.  It’s a shame, because Parra had pitched well through July up until that point (7.1 ip, 2 bb, 10 k, 1.23 era).  Nothing simmering on the trade front here.

***UPDATE***: According to CBS’s Danny Knobler (via Twitter), the Brewers have received some inquiries about Parra, but may keep him and re-convert him into a starter again.  That didn’t end well the first time.  Parra as a starter is 23-26 with a 5.44 era, 1.692 whip, and 1.71 k/bb ratio.  As a reliever, he has a 3.82 era, 1.406 whip, and 2.62 k/bb.

Corey Hart.  The Brewers are listening on Hart, but would have to be “bowled over” by the offer to move him, reports Tom Haudricourt.  Still, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hart included in the Greinke deal if it nets the Brewers a top shortstop and pitching prospect.

Aramis Ramirez.  Like Hart, the Brewers are listening, but the price is high.  The team is not motivated to sell simply to rid their books of the $16M Ramirez is due in 2014 (he’ll earn $10M next season, too).  Early reports linked the Dodgers to Ramirez, but they appear to have satisfied their desire for a bat with Hanley Ramirez.

Jose Veras.  No doubt the Brewers would love to unload Veras and his 1.72 WHIP, but I can’t imagine a contender that would want to play with that kind of fire.  By the same token, I couldn’t figure out why the Brewers would want to play with that kind of fire back in December.  Veras has the third-most walks among MLB relievers and I can’t see him going anywhere.  K-Rod is tied for fourth, incidentally.

Trades that Could Impact the Brewers (Updated)

By Nathan Petrashek

The last few days have been filled with trade activity, and there’s no sign of that stopping.  This will be a running list of trades that potentially impact the market for pieces the Brewers may wish to move (should they ever decide to make that selling decision).  Keep checking back throughout the day for updates.

Cole HamelsWord early today is that Cole Hamels has accepted a 6-year, $144M contract offer from the Phillies, making him the second-highest paid pitcher behind C.C. Sabathia.  That would make Zack Greinke the best starting pitcher available at the trade deadline, and in free agency after the season.  Greinke was already petty highly sought after, but expect this to bring a modest bump in the Brewers’ asking price.  As I said a few days ago, this eliminates whatever slim hope the Brewers have that Greinke will sign an extension.

Hanley Ramirez.  The Dodgers were interested in Aramis Ramirez, and moving that backloaded contract would be a nice little prize at the trade deadline.  But early this morning, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate for Nathan Eovaldi and a minor leaguer.  That will more than likely fill their need for an impact bat at 3B, though it is worth noting that Ramirez can play short and the Dodgers are not high on their current SS Dee Gordon.  UPDATE: According to True Blue L.A., Ramirez is in the starting lineup at shortstop.

Ryan Dempster.  It was kind of a crazy day for Ryan Dempster on Monday, as he learned he was being traded to the Braves through media reports.  As a player with 10-and-5 rights, though, Dempster did not sign off on the trade, and is now pushing for a trade to the Dodgers.  If a deal gets done with either team, the market for Greinke only improves.

Ichiro Suzuki.  In the event that the Brewers decide to trade Corey Hart, who is apparently a highly sought after commodity, there will be one less suitor for a corner OF now that the Yankees have acquired the longtime Mariner.  Plenty of interest in Hart remains, though.

Wandy Rodriguez.  Rodriguez was sent to the Pirates last night, further slimming the list of starting pitchers available by trade.  Greinke is a different caliber of pitcher, but it certainly is encouraging to see starting pitchers flying off the board.

Hunter Pence.  The Phillies may have locked up another ace pitcher, but they’re still considering selling other pieces, including OF Hunter Pence.  Pence and Hart are remarkably similar players, but I think most teams would prefer Pence (.290/.342/.481 career) over Hart (.275/.332/.488 career), all else being equal.  Indeed, most everything else is equal; both are set to become free agents after the 2013 season, and both are set to make around $10M next season (Pence will be arbitration eligible for the final time, whereas Hart will be in the final year of his contract).

Cliff Lee.  Lee is not yet formally available, although there is a steadily growing opinion among GMs that the Phillies will entertain offers for the elite lefty in advance of the trade deadline.  Lee is still owed about $87M over the next 3 years, so this would be a long-term trade for any interested team and would likely net the Phils top prospects and the salary relief they desperately need after signing Hamels.  If he does go on the block, Lee immediately becomes the top pitcher available despite his rather lackluster year (118 ip, 3.95 era, 4.87 k/bb).  Lee’s addition to the trade market will suppress interest in Greinke, as Lee’s additional years of control should be very appealing to teams like the Rangers (who tried to get Lee in free agency, but failed).

“A double for Aramis Ramirez … maybe …. no.”

by Nathan Petrashek

Brian Anderson uttered those words in the fifth inning of yesterday’s game.  They were immediately followed by something like “Ramirez does not run well.”  That would be an understatement.

That the third baseman hasn’t come close to filling departed slugger Prince Fielder’s shoes is a big problem, but the bigger problem may be his attitude.  In 2011, like the previous five years, Brewers fans had the pleasure of watching Fielder leg out every ball in play, regardless of whether it was a ground ball or popup.  He may have let the bat do most of his talking, but Fielder always looked like hewanted to play, and loved every minute of it.

The shift from Fielder to Ramirez has not been as smooth as most Brewers fans had hoped.  His quiet bat (.256/.329/.452) has only amplified his failure to hustle.  I can’t count how many times I have watched Ramirez jog to first.

To be sure, this isn’t a new problem with Ramirez.  Cubs fans often complained of Ramirez’s lack of effort everywhere but at the plate.  But it isn’t any more acceptable simply because the Brewers knew what they were getting.  It is incumbent on Ramirez, particularly 2012′s light-hitting version, to at least act as though he gives a damn.  If he really wants to impress his new club, that would be the way to do it.  A lack of effort is something not even a .356 average could mask.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Bunting

By Nathan Petrashek

“I reflexively hate bunting….

“The reflexive anti-bunt stuff is getting to be a bit much for me, honestly.

I guess the Governor’s race isn’t the only thing the state is deeply divided on.  You’ll find many defenders of the sacrifice bunt.  I used to be on of them.

Back then, it seemed to me that any opportunity you had to advance runners was unequivocally good.  Isn’t that the point of the game?  Except now, I’ve realized that is not the point.  The point is to score runs.  Scoring runs = good.  Not scoring runs = bad.

Where a bunt falls between these two poles is defined by the circumstances.  We can pull plenty of examples from Wednesday night’s buntfest:

  1. Gallardo sacrifice bunt in the 3rd with no outs to advance Maldonado to 2nd.

I understand that, as a category of offensive talent, pitchers don’t have much to offer.  Still, Gallardo has a silver slugger to his name and some decent pop, so this isn’t a totally obvious move.  Nontheless, the end result is a runner in scoring position with just one out, and you’ve eliminated the double play possibility.  With two of the team’s best hitters coming behind Gallardo (Corey Hart and Nori Aoki), I am okay with this choice.

2. Aoki sacrifice bunt in the 5th with no outs to advance Hart to 2nd.

These are the bunts that I just completely fail to understand.  Aoki is slashing .319/.380/.473.  He was a batting champion in Japan, and we didn’t bring him over here to act like he doesn’t know how to swing a bat.  But the more alarming issue is what ordering Aoki to sacrifice does to the guy behind him.  Ron Roenicke basically wrapped up the inning in a nice, neat bow for Don Mattingly.  Not only did Roenicke give away a free out, but he virtually guaranteed that the team’s best hitter would not have the opportunity to swing the bat.

Ryan Topp valiantly attempts to define this move as a strategic Roenicke effort to put another runner on base in front of Aramis Ramirez.  I suppose that logic works, if you think having your best hitter intentionally walked  in front of a guy hitting .239 is really worth the price of an out. But even if that was the idea, Aoki still has a .380 on base percent.  There’s a pretty decent chance the guy is going to find his way on somehow, so why not let him swing the bat and keep your out?  To be clear, I don’t think Topp is defending Roenicke here; but his attempt to root out Roenicke’s strategy comes up short, I think.

3. Gomez attempts a bunt single in the 6th with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs.

Let’s start from this premise:  Gomez is not a good hitter.  I think it’s wonderful that Gomez is batting .324/.342/.459 off of left-handed pitching this year, but for his career that line is .247/.291/.396.  What Gomez does have, though, is blazing speed.  And I have absolutely no problem with using that to our advantage by having him take a shot at reaching first via the bunt.  As Ryan points out, Gomez has successfully bunted for a hit in about 38% of his attempts.

Now, Ryan is also correct that Gomez is visibly not 100% – but he’s still playing.  If he’s really that hobbled, put him back on the DL.  Otherwise, let the dude do what he does.  It didn’t exactly work out as intended – Weeks advanced to third, while Ransom advancing to second was forced out – but these things happen.  As Ryan points out, there was always the possibility of a misplay.

4. Maldonado sacrifice bunt in the 6th with runners at the corners and 1 out.

This goes back to my original point:  scoring runs = good.  A squeeze play is very hard to defend and the Brewers have successfully done it five times this year.  With Gallardo coming up behind the untested Maldonado (versus the reigning Cy Young winner, no less), I have no problem with this bunt play either.  After you’ve made the choice to bunt with Gomez – which I think was a reasonable one – and have the results, this is a pretty easy call.

5. Aoki sacrifice bunt in the 8th with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs.

Ugh.  See no. 2.

The bottom line is that both Paul and Ryan are right.  Roenicke does bunt too much, and some of the bunt calls in this game were flat out terrible.  But, since I do like bunting more than Paul, I also see a larger role for the tactic than he does, particularly in the post-steroid era.  This is where I’m inclined to agree with Ryan: if you want to highlight how Roenicke’s bunt-happy philosophy has harmed the team, Wednesday’s 6th inning is a pretty weak place to hang your hat.

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.

Perception Becomes Reality

By Nathan Petrashek

Back when Brewer Nation posted its Brewers by the (Jersey) Numbers on Aramis Ramirez, I raised a small issue about the post.  The problem related to the perception that Ramirez is a “notoriously slow starter.”  While this may have been true early in his career, I pointed out that, aside from his disastrous 2010 season, Ramirez had not had a slow month of April since 2006. The Nation responded that Ramirez himself had addressed the topic, which is fair.  Ramirez believed the cold Chicago air negatively affected his early performance, and said he was looking forward to playing at Miller Park.  While that didn’t quite seem like a realistic explanation for the peaks and valleys in Ramirez’s early season performance, the fact that Ramirez perceived himself as a slow starter-whatever the cause-was significant.

The reality early on in 2012 hasn’t been pretty.  Ramirez is slashing just .158/.222/.263 in the first 16 games.  It’s far too early to talk about replacing him in the lineup, but privately the Brewers brass have to be hoping they didn’t make a mistake signing Ramirez to a 3-year, $36M deal this offseason.  For a player signed to protect Braun in the lineup and replace some of Fielder’s production, the results in the early going have been woefully inadequate.

So far, Ramirez’s slump hasn’t done a ton of harm in the team context, though. As Ryan Topp points out today at Disciples of Uecker, the Brewers are actually averaging more runs scored per game than most other National League teams.  In general, Ramirez’s bad start has been covered by some excellent production further down in the order from players like Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel, and Jonathan Lucroy.

Ramirez is clearly frustrated though.  He wanted to come in and impress his new team, and you can tell that he is quickly losing his patience.  He can take comfort, though, in the fact that he has not fundamentally altered his approach. Ramirez’s swing and contact rates rates are generally not too far off from his career norms, though he appears to be swinging at slightly fewer strikes (and making slightly less contact when he does swing).  His batted ball percentages look solid too, although his HR/FB currently sits at a paltry 4.8 percent.  We can expect that to regress closer to his career rate of 13.2 percent as the season goes forward, though.

The primary culprit for Ramirez’s slump looks to be luck, not his attitude.  Early on, Ramirez is sporting a .182 BABIP, well below his career average of .288.  That’s far worse even than his 2010 average of .245, when Ramirez posted nearly the worst slash line of his career.  In short, if Ramirez hasn’t altered anything – and the statistics suggest he has become only a hair more conservative, if anything – we can expect a greater percentage of balls to fall for hits, and some will even leave the park.  With Ramirez playing the same brand of baseball, it would be prudent to let him work it out in the four-spot for the time being.

Ramirez in March/April (games in parenthesis)  

2000-.167/.219/.250 (18)

2001-.256/.310/.526 (21)

2002-.348/.407/.500 (14)

2003-.247/.321/.371 (26)

2004-.308/.333/.626 (22)

2005-.241/.344/.458 (22)

2006-.197/.321/.394 (21)

2007-.309/.367/.556 (20)

2008-.287/.411/.554 (27)

2009-.358/.393/.585 (13)

2010-.152/.216/.283 (23)

2011-.295/.358/.400 (25)

2012-.158/.222/.263 (15)