Reviewing a crazy week for the outfield and bullpen

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing happened yesterday

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

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

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

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

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

 

Everyone panic about bullpen use! and a bit of news

By Nathan Petrashek

bullpenThe Brewers are currently on an 8-game win streak, and everyone has rightfully mentioned what a critical part the bullpen has played in that streak.  Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jim Henderson are unscored upon, and Tyler Thornburg, who leads the ‘pen with 7.2 inning pitched, has allowed just one earned run (1.17 ERA).  Opposing hitters are batting just .155 and have struck out 42 times against the Brewers’ relief corps, with just 8 walks.  The bullpen bears a sparkling 0.83 ERA, easily the best in baseball.*

But have they been overused, as some seem to think?  Probably not.  The Brewers ‘pen has tallied 32.2 innings, the 10th most-used bullpen in the National League and 18th in all of baseball.  Relievers for five teams have pitched over 40 innings, and another five are pretty close.  The Brewers seem to be pretty middle-of-the-pack as far as bullpen usage goes, and they’ve certainly been much more effective than even many less-used bullpens.

What about individual players?  Not much to worry about here either.  Tyler Thornburg is on pace to throw 100 innings; Thornburg tossed 130 last year between Nashville and Milwaukee (and was great in his final starts for the Brewers).  Will Smith (6 IP) is on pace for 88 innings.  Smith pitched 89 minor-league innings and 89 major-league innings in as a starter 2012, and a total of 122 innings between levels last year.  Henderson (4.1 IP)  is on pace for 60 innings and pitched 60 in 2013.  The one guy who is even remotely worrisome is the closer, K-Rod (6 IP), and he’s simply had more work lately because, well, the Brewers are winning lots of games.  That’ll even out over time.  In essence, this is a bullpen that can handle a bigger workload.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of arms, either.  The Brewers haven’t even used Wei-Chung Wang, a lefthanded Rule 5 pick from the Pirates.  And *here’s the news* Brandon Kinzler has landed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, and Rob Wooten has taken his place.  It sounds like Kintzler’s injury is relatively minor but lingering since spring training.  At least we won’t have to worry about him racking up more innings, I guess.

Although people complain about the starting rotation’s failure to pitch deep into games, it seems to me they’re doing exactly what they need to be at this stage of the season.  Here’s the number of innings each starter has pitched in every game during the win steak: 5.2, 5, 6.2, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6.   I can’t see much wrong with that in early April.

2014 Position Preview: Jean Segura, Shortstop

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, center field, left field, and right field.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

If Jean Segura’s 2013 season can be summed up as a Charles Dickens’ novel, it would be “A Tale of Two Halves”. A quick glance at the numbers and you’ll see what I mean:

1st Half: .325/.363/.487, 121 H, 54 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 27 SB

2nd Half: .241/.268/.315, 52 H, 20 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 SB

Now before I get accused of trying to cook the books regarding Segura’s numbers, I fully realize that injuries in the 2nd half of the season limited the number of games that he appeared in (92 in the 1st half compared to 54 in the 2nd). That said, here are how some of the above stats adjust accordingly on a per game basis:

1st Half (per game): 1.315 H, 0.587 R, 0.120 HR, 0.391 RBI, 0.293 SB

2nd Half (per game): 0.963 H, 0.370 R, 0.018 HR, 0.241 RBI, 0.315 SB

Across the board, Segura’s production is markedly depleted in the 2nd half with the exception of a slight increase in stolen base numbers. Some of this can be attributed to a young player playing in his first 162 game season. As time goes on, the body becomes fatigued and production begins to slow. This seems to be the situation with Segura.

Heading into 2014, many have wondered if Segura would be healthy enough to go when the Brewers take on the Braves in the season opener at Miller Park tomorrow. Lingering pain in his throwing shoulder has limited his spring, however that pain seems to be subsiding in recent days. As of right now, expect Segura to appear as the Opening Day shortstop.

So, which version of Segura can we expect to see this season? I’m going to go with neither. I believe what we will see is a more balanced Segura and the experts seem to agree:

2013 Recap

623 PA, 74 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB, 4.0 BB%, 13.5 K%, .294/.329/.423, 107 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 611 PA, 71 R, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 33 SB, 5.1 BB%, 12.8 K%, .278/.320/.404, 98 wRC+

ZiPs: 580 PA, 70 R, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 35 SB, 4.7 BB%, 14.1 K%, .284/.322/.422, 103 wRC+

Contact Status

2014-15: Pre-arb. Eligible, 2016-18: Arb. Eligible, 2019: Free Agent

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

Garza as the new Lackey

By Nathan Petrashek

I said yesterday that I couldn’t think of a deal structured quite like Garza’s, where the Brewers get an extremely cheap club option in the event the pitcher misses significant time.

Turns out, there are other such clauses, but they’re of relatively recent vintage.

On Twitter, Alex Poterack of Disciples of Uecker clued me in to the fact that John Lackey has a similar clause in his deal, as does Felix Hernandez in his extension.  Sure enough, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has a writeup comparing the risk management features of those deals.

The Lackey Clause, as it is apparently coming to be known, was created after Lackey’s 2009 physical turned up an elbow injury, but the Red Sox didn’t want to scrap the deal.  So, they created an insurance clause: if Lackey missed significant time with an elbow injury, a year could be tacked on the deal at the veteran minimum, at the club’s election.  That clause was triggered when Lackey missed 2012 after having Tommy John surgery, so he’ll likely pitch for the Red Sox in 2015 for $500,000.

The Mariners picked up on this and put a similar clause in their extension with King Felix.  The Brewers appear to have lifted the terms of Garza’s Lackey Clause almost directly from Felix’s deal.  Under Felix’s extension, the Mariners get a $1MM team option in 2020 if Hernandez spends 130 consecutive days on the DL.  Here’s where the clauses differ, though; the team option is only triggered if Hernandez hits the DL due to an elbow injury.  The Brewers option is apparently much broader, and activates if Garza spends the requisite number of days on the DL for any reason.

It seems Lackey Clauses are gaining in popularity, and perhaps rightly so.  While a team will likely never recoup the full value forfeited if one of their major pitchers hits the DL, the clause does allow the team to recover something.  When taken in conjunction with Garza’s vesting option, it allows the player to gain something if he stays healthy, too.

The question now is why the Brewers thought they needed such a clause.  Was it simply Garza’s injury history, or something in the physical?

The Surreal Matt Garza Deal

By Nathan Petrashek

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsIt seems the Brewers could be paying Matt Garza a mere $1MM to pitch for them in 2018.

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that.

According to various media outlets (e.g. Cots, Tom Haudricourt, Joel Sherman, and Adam McCalvey), Garza is set to earn a base salary of $12.5MM between 2014 and 2017.  $2MM of salary in each of those years is deferred without interest, payable beginning in 2018.  But 2018 is also the year in which things get kind of … odd.

Garza has a vesting option for 2018.  There is nothing particularly unusual about this contractual device.  It basically means that, under a defined set of circumstances, the Brewers are willing to guarantee Garza a fifth year at a predetermined salary.  That salary is $13.5MM, and it will be due Garza under the following circumstances:

  1. Garza starts 110 games between 2014-17
  2. He does not end the 2017 season on the disabled list
  3. He pitches at least 115 innings in 2017

If Garza meets all of those requirements, he’ll get a fifth year at a nice payday tacked on the end of his deal.

Satisfying those three requirements won’t be easy, though.  Garza essentially can’t miss more than a year’s worth of starts between 2014 and 2017.  Garza has had several maladies over the past few seasons-the most troubling being a stress reaction in his elbow-and his mechanics could lead to future shoulder problems for the 30-year-old.  Between the 2010-13 seasons, Garza only made 105 starts, so if we were to go by his last four years, the first requirement would not have been satisfied.

But that’s not all.  Not only must Garza remain healthy for at least three years, but he basically has to pitch for at least half of the 2017 season.  And even then, any missed starts (i.e. a DL stint) can’t come at the end of 2017.  Pretty brilliant contractual maneuvering by the Brewers to get out from under the option if Garza breaks down at the end of his deal.  Remember, most teams wanted to give Garza only  three guaranteed years.

But what’s really bizarre is what happens if the option doesn’t vest.  Then, according to the previously mentioned media sources, the vesting option becomes a $5MM team option.  In other words, even if Garza does break down, the Brewers can choose to bring him back anyway at a substantially reduced rate.  Even as things stand now, Garza wouldn’t have to do much to be worth $5MM, and who knows how much a win will be worth in 2018.

But if Garza misses a lot of time between 2014 and 2017, the Brewers get him in 2018 at an even bigger discount!  If Garza lands on the disabled list for 130 days in any 183-day span of time, the Brewers’ team option is reduced to a paltry $1MM.   The only scenario in which I could see the Brewers declining that option is if Garza’s arm is completely shredded and he just can’t pitch any more.  I don’t recall ever seeing a provision like this, in which a player essentially agrees to give the team a year of his time for next to nothing if he fails to take the mound due to injury.

The cheap rates on the potential team options have led some to speculate that these are actually buyout amounts for a $13.5MM team option that springs to life if the option doesn’t vest.  That’s now how they’ve been reported, though.  And if you think about it, it makes sense that the Brewers would hedge their bets against future injuries.  If the Brewers would wind up picking up the $1MM option, it would mean that Garza has spent nearly a full season or more on the DL at a $12.5MM salary; why shouldn’t they attempt to recoup some value on the back end of the deal?  Conversely, Garza has the ability to earn substantial additional salary if he remains generally healthy for the duration of the deal.

It’s always interesting to see the final result of extensive negotiation, and the Garza contract looks like the parties did a great job of balancing risk.

Is Ryan Braun Public Enemy Number 2?

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by Kevin Kimmes

Is Ryan Braun really the second biggest villain in all of baseball? If you believe the results of a recent New England Sports Network (NESN) article, he is.

A few days ago, the network posed a question online: Who are Major League Baseball’s Biggest Villians? The outcome, not surprisingly weighs heavily on the Yankees. After all, for those that don’t know, NESN is THE network for Red Sox baseball.

The names that you might expect are here: Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman (10), former Yankee slugger Robinson Cano (8), former Red Sock Carl Crawford (7), young lightning rods Bryce Harper (5) and Yasiel Puig (4), super agent Scott Boras (3) and MLB pariah Alex Rodriguez (1). Grant Balfour (9) and Brandon Phillips (6) find themselves included for recent indiscretions. Then, there’s Braun.

Coming in as the second biggest villain in the entire MLB, the fallout from Braun’s suspension is being felt across the league. NESN’s justification for the high seeding? It’s a combination of escaping his 2012 suspension on a technicality and throwing an innocent man to the wolves. That man being sample collector Dino Laurenzi, Jr.

While Milwaukee tries to move on, it seems that many around the league are not as quick to forgive. Is a number two ranking justified? That remains to be seen. If the power numbers are absent from Braun’s game this season, expect there to be more than a few pundits calling for an asterisk to be added to his 2011 MVP award.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.