The Number 34: Is There More To Axford’s Number Than Meets The Eye?

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by Kevin Kimmes

“The circle is now complete.” – Darth Vader

In December of 1980, a deal was made between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals, a deal that would see future Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers join the Cardinals’ organization. Wait you say, “Rollie never played for the Cards.” Well, right you are, so let me explain what happened.

On December 8th 1980, the San Diego Padres worked out an eleven player trade with the Cardinals. This deal would see Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenace and a player to be named later (Bob Geren) traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Terry Kennedy, John Littlefield, Al Olmsted, Mike Phillips, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher and John Urrea. Fingers’ time in St. Louis would be brief, four days to be exact. You see, the very next day (December 9th) the Cards would acquire future Hall-of-Fame closer, Bruce Sutter from the Cubs.

On December 12th 1980, Fingers was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Milwaukee Brewers for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen. Milwaukee now held the contract for “Number 34″, a number that would be retired by Milwaukee in 1992, the same year he was inducted into the Professional Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

Flash forward to 2010 when a young reliever would join the Brewers ranks and immediately began drawing comparisons to Fingers. Some would say it was because of the way he pitched, others would say it was his domination in the closers role, but most would say it was his mustache. That man was John Axford.

“The Ax-Man” would set the Brewers bullpen on fire in 2010, setting a new franchise rookie saves mark of 24 saves which shattered the previous mark of 15 set by Doug Henry in 1991. 2011 would see more franchise records fall as he converted 46 of 48 possible save opportunities, including 43 in a row to end the season. His 2011 accomplishments included the following:

– Named Brewers Most Valuable Player by members of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America
– Named National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year (an accolade Fingers won as a Brewer in 1981 while playing in the AL)
– Co-winner (with the Reds’ Joey Votto) of the Tip O’Neill Award presented by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
– Tied for the National League saves lead with the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel
– Set a new single season franchise record with 46 saves (previous record was 44 set by Francisco Cordero in 2007)
– Set a new single season franchise record by converting 43 consecutive saves (previous record was 25 set by Doug Jones in 1997)

Despite these momentous accomplishments, struggles in 2012 (a season in which he led the MLB in blown saves with 9) and a 2013 campaign in which his closers role would be handed over to Jim Henderson would leave Axford exposed at the trade deadline. On August 30th 2013, the Brewers would say goodbye to “Number 59″ as Axford would say goodbye to the number as well.

In a deal with the division rival Cardinals, Axford’s services would be acquired for a player to be named later (that player would be revealed as Michael Blazek on September 1st). With his number 59 already on the back of new teammate Fernando Salas, Axford was in line to make a change whose significance seems to have been overlooked by most.

His new number? 34, Rollie’s number at the time of the 1980 deals that saw him traded from the Padres to the Cards and then the Cards to the Brewers in the course of 4 days.

Was this intentional or just a convenient coincidence? That is yet to be clear. What is clear, however, is that the Cards now has a mustachioed “Number 34″ on the roster 33 years after they dealt Fingers and Axford has seen a renaissance in St. Louis.

Since joining the Cards, Axford has posted a 1.93 ERA over 9.1 innings across 12 games. While he has yet to record a save, he does have a 1-0 win/loss record since the move.

Cream City Cables reached out to John Axford who could not be reached for comment regarding the origin of his new number at the time of publication.

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.

Axford departs

By Nathan Petrashek

play_g_axford1_sy_576John Axford is the only Brewers player I’ve booed.  I don’t remember when exactly it was, but I suspect it was some time in June or July of 2012, when his every other outing seemed to end in a (BS).  I’ve felt kind of guilty about that for a while now, because I’m usually a guy that likes to back up good players during their struggles.  Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Axford was traded to the Cardinals today, so his time as a Brewer appears about over.  The trade for a player to be named later was really more about finances than anything else.  Axford was pretty good trending to okay, but he was making $5M this year and has three years of arbitration eligibility left.

The money would have been easy to swallow if Axford was still pitching like it was 2011.  In the year that brought the Brewers to the brink of another World Series, Axford delivered a microscopic 1.95 ERA over 73 innings, all while striking out better than a batter per inning.  He placed 17th in the MVP vote, a showing that I didn’t (and still don’t) think truly represented just how absolutely crucial he was to winning the division that year.  It was one of the most memorable season-long pitching performances I’ve seen.  To say Axford was a lockdown closer that year doesn’t give him half the credit he deserves.

But Axford has his share of fleas too, and that’s why I’m fully on board with jettisoning him.  We kind of suspected it at the time, but 2011 looks increasingly like a well-timed aberration.  Where Axford once had three brilliant pitches, only his slider ranks as above average this year (and just barely).  And though he hasn’t really lost much velocity on his fastball, Axford’s biggest bugaboo is the same today as it was when he took over for Trevor Hoffman in 2010: command.  2011 aside, Axford has always allowed too many batters to reach via the walk, which is a real problem when you have a propensity for giving up the long ball.

And then there were the character issues.  Much of the time, Axford was fun, easygoing, and entertaining, and he usually owned it after he blew a save.  But man, when that guy took to Twitter, he could troll with the best of them, often responding in kind to neanderthal tweets.  To his credit, he’s scaled back on that a lot this year.

For me, John Axford does not leave a complicated legacy.  I’m going to carry those memories of 2011 fondly, one of the greatest relief seasons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person.  But today, Axford is just a guy who makes too much money.   That (and the lack of a long-term contract) makes him expendable.  Though I wish Axford well with the evil empire, the Brewers made the right move.

John Axford: Time Traveler?

by Kevin Kimmes

Closers are a strange breed, and frankly, I can’t say I blame them. It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to enter a game at it’s most pivitol moment, knowing that the outcome is squarely on your shoulders. You have only one goal, to shut the door on the opposition, and in most cases there is no margin for error. It’s a tight-rope act being played out in front of a captive audience.

As Brewers fans, we can count ourselves lucky as we have had the opportunity to see some of the best at the position come through our club. From Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in the 80’s to one-time career saves leader Trevor Hoffman in the late ’00s, and most recently Brewers’ Rookie Saves Leader John Axford, Brewers fans have been treated to some truly memorable innings. Today though, it is Axford that I would like to talk about.

You see, a few days ago, I was made aware of an article regarding a baseball card from 1865 which was recently discovered in Maine. Unless you are a collector like myself, this article would most likely be classified in the “That’s neat, I wonder what’s for lunch? ” category of news, as quickly forgotten as it was read. But for someone with an acute eye for detail, the card contains something interesting.

Here is a picture of the card itself:

1865 Brooklyn Atlantics

I can hear most people saying, “Yeah, so what?” Well, take a look at the man seated on the far left.

John Axford

Look Familiar? Possibly like a certain current Brewers closer? Possibly like John Axford?

Is it possible that Milwaukee’s current closer is also a time traveler? Has Axford, an admitted film buff, discovered the secret to time travel that Dr. Emmett Brown used to get Back to the Future? Did Axford go back to the game’s source in order to hone his skills as a pitcher, and if so, can he finally answer once and for all who actually created the game, Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday? My curiosity was piqued.

I asked myself, “What do we really know about John Axford?” As a fair and reasonable journalist, I put together a list of facts:

1) Axford is Canadian: According to episodes I’ve seen of “How I Met Your Mother”, Canadians are a polite and jovial people who will apologize to you and give you a doughnut if you bump into them. They may also be afraid of the dark, though this has yet to be scientifically proven.

2) Axford was born on April 1, 1983: April 1st is also known as April Fools Day. Is it possible that the above photo is part of some elaborate joke carried out by a major league reliever with the ability to move through time on a whim, and if so are there other historical “photo bombs” out there which have yet to be discovered?

3) Axford has been known to sport a handlebar mustache: The handlebar mustache was a popular facial accessory in the late 1800’s. The photo was from 1865. I was surely on to something.

4) Axford worked as a bartender in the offseason: A bartender is a mixologist, a barroom alchemist if you will. Is it possible that this is where the secret to time travel was discovered? Could the secret lie in some accidental combination of seemingly benign ingredients such as seltzer, aromatic bitters, and linseed oil? I felt like I was on the verge of something big here, so without hesitation, I mixed up the above ingredients, slammed them back, and headed straight to the bathroom where I spent the remainder of my afternoon making nice with the major porcelain deities. Once the room stopped spinning and I could focus my vision again, I pressed on.

5) Closers normally pitch 1 inning per game: What do they do the rest of the time? While waiting for his call to action, could Axford have discovered a wormhole of some sort which allows him to travel through time unencumbered? Could there be a tear in the time/space continuum inside Miller Park, and if so, why hasn’t it been exploited to win a championship yet? No, seriously, I want to know. I turn 34 on Sunday and would really like to see Milwaukee win a championship in my lifetime. I don’t think this is a lot to ask for.

Cream City Cables made no attempts to reach John Axford for comment, since we assume that time travel is the kind of thing that one keeps close to the vest and doesn’t admit to just anyone.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com, a huge fan of John Axford and an applicant for the 2013 MLB Fan Cave. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Restocking The Pen: Brewers Acquire Tamba Bay Reliever Badenhop

Badenhopby Kevin Kimmes

With the non-tender deadline now past and the Winter Meetings set to begin on Monday in Nashville, Milwaukee has wasted no time in beginning its quest to rebuild a bullpen that at times was more of a liability than an asset in 2012. Their first acquisition comes in the form of former Tampa Bay Rays’ and Florida Marlins’ reliever Burke Badenhop.

Badenhop, a righty, was acquired by The Brewers in exchange for minor league outfielder Raul Mondesi, Jr. Mondesi, who spent 2012 in the Helena Brewers organization, is probably best known for not touching home plate and costing his team an extra-innings comeback victory earlier this year.

Badenhop is coming off of a 2012 which saw him set new career marks in ERA (3.03), WHIP (1.203) and BB/9 (1.7). He holds a career stat line of  16-17 with a 4.08 ERA over 313 innings pitched over 5 major league seasons. Additionally, Badenhop is a ground ball pitcher, a skill which should come in extremely handy in the friendly confines of Miller Park.

Badenhop joins Brewers’ closer John Axford in a bullpen that Milwaukee seems determined to overhaul for the 2013 season. No surprise as the Brewers bullpen ranked last in the Majors last season with a 4.66 ERA and 29 blown saves.

Today’s news comes hot on the heels of the teams decision to non-tender lefty Manny Parra on Friday making him the fifth reliever to be cut loose by the organization this off-season. The team previously cut loose Kameron Loe, Livan Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Veras.

Stay tuned to Cream City Cables for all of the latest Milwaukee Brewers news as the “hot stove” heats up in anticipation of the 2013 campaign. And, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @kevinkimmes, @NPetrashek, and @ryanhenrysmith2.

Milwaukee, Moustaches…It Must Be Movember!

by Kevin Kimmes

Rollie Fingers, George “Boomer” Scott, Robin Yount, John Axford, the list goes on and on. Since it’s inception in the ’70’s, Milwaukee’s baseball culture has had an obsession with the “hippie lip”, the “nose neighbor”, the facial accessory best known as the moustache. From the players on the field, the fans in the stands, even to our beloved mascot Bernie Brewer, the moustache has been as common at Brewer’s games as tailgating, bratwurst, and ice cold beer.

So, it should come as no surprise that Milwaukee and Movember are a perfect fit. What is Movember you ask? Well, let me fill you in.

According to movember.com:

“During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of m0ustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.”

“…men start Movember 1st clean shaven. For the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts.”

This year I have decided to become a Mo Bro by joining none other than Brewers reliever John Axford and his Movember team “John Axford & Axfacekillas” in support of this great cause. You can find a link to my official Movember page here.

Please feel free to donate to this great cause and help us raise awareness for men’s health around the world. Now to get back to plotting my course to MLB Fan Cave glory (more on this soon).

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.

History in the Making?

By: Ryan Smith

I remember watching Monday’s game against the Phillies fearing that a win would once again convince GM Doug Melvin that this year’s Milwaukee Brewers could be contenders. It didn’t matter that the Phillies currently reside in the cellar of the National League East; a win against Roy Halladay could have been just the type of win that Melvin and Manager Ron Roenicke would have used to say that the team was still in it, even though the Brewers just got swept in their “do-or-die” series over the weekend.

Then Roenicke went to the bullpen.

Roenicke has had to make too many trips to the mound this year because the relievers have not done their jobs.

You know the rest. One lead blown. Then another. Then another. With the bullpen for this year’s Milwaukee Brewers, no lead is safe.

After Tuesday’s debacle of a bullpen appearance, many Brewers fans started flooding Twitter and Facebook with claims that this had to be the worst bullpen ever.

This got me to thinking: where exactly does this bullpen rank among other historically bad bullpens?

There’s not really one stat that you can look at to figure this out. Some people would argue that Blown Saves would be the place to start, but that isn’t fair to the terrible bullpens on terrible teams. It also doesn’t take a look at the entire picture because the Save didn’t even become an official stat until 1969. You could look at ERA, but that is oftentimes quite dependent on team defense as well as pitcher performance. I’m sure most Brewer fans would make a case for BB/9 because that seems to be the Achilles heel for this year’s squad.

So since there’s no single stat to tell the story, I decided to look at all of them.

Let’s start by looking at Blown Saves. The Major League record for Blown Saves in an entire season is 34 by the 2004 Colorado Rockies, followed by the 2002 Texas Rangers with 33. As of right now, the Brewers have 18 official Blown Saves on the season, three behind this year’s Rockies. The Crew is on pace for 30 Blown Saves over the span of 162 games, which would be tied for seventh all-time. So in the Blown Saves category, the Brewers are up there, but they are not the worst bullpen ever.

Next, I had to take a look at walks and BB/9 because it seems like Milwaukee relievers can’t take the mound without issuing a free pass or three. On the year, Milwaukee relievers have issued 145 walks, which is the third-highest total in baseball. All-time, the most walks ever issued by a bullpen in a season was 347 by the 1996 Detroit Tigers, with the 2000 Pittsburgh Pirates coming in second with 343. in case you were wondering, the 2012 Brewers are on pace for roughly 242 walks, which wouldn’t even be in the top-30 for most walks ever in a season.

If I look at BB/9, I have to adjust what I’m looking at a bit. If you go all the way back to 1871, the 1908 Brooklyn Superbas (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) had a 108.00 BB/9. Of course, if you look closer, you’ll see that the Brooklyn Superbas only had one pitcher make a relief appearance. That pitcher was Pembroke Finlayson, and he walked four batters in one-third of an inning.

Manny Parra is just one of the guys who issues far too many walks.

If you don’t go back any further than 1970, you would find the 1971 Chicago White Sox with a 6.89 BB/9 and the 2000 Pirates with a 5.92 BB/9. Right now, the Brewers have a 4.39 BB/9, which is the second-highest mark in the league behind the Cubs at 5.00 BB/9. So you can see that, while they are one of the worst bullpens this season when it comes to issuing walks, they are nowhere near the worst bullpen ever in this area.

Finally, I had to look at ERA and True Runs Allowed (tERA) to gauge where this Brewers bullpen ranks among the most ineffective units in the history of the game. This year, the Brewers have the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 4.76. Once again, I had to limit my research to no later than 1970 because the highest 100 ERAs of all-time all occurred before 1970. Using a more modern-day comparison, the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a 6.16 bullpen ERA, which easily beat out the ’96 Tigers (5.97). Once again, this year’s Brewers bullpen is bad, but they are not historically bad when it comes to ERA.

The sample-size for tERA is even smaller because this stat wasn’t even calculated until 2002. Even with this smaller window, you can see that Milwaukee’s tERA of 4.79 is only the fourth-worst mark in baseball in 2012. Historically, the ’12 Crew is no match for the Rockies of 2003 (6.37) and ’02 (6.32).

I do want to point out that at no point during this article was I defending the performance of the Brewers bullpen this year. I spent a good chunk of the early months of the season coming to the defense of John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, telling fans to give them time, to have faith.

All too often, Roenicke finds himself without the answers during postgame press conferences.

And now, here I am, feeling like a damn fool.

The harsh truth is that we’re more than likely stuck with these guys for the rest of the season. Whatever trade value Rodriguez had going into this last series was pretty much left for dead in Philadelphia. John Axford has looked better as of late, but I’ll believe he’s figured it out when I see it. Manny Parra can’t find a strike zone big enough to hit consistently. Hell, I’m actually happy when Roenicke calls Livan Hernandez on in relief. Frankly, it’s not pretty out there.

The entire purpose of this article was to point out that, while 2012 has been a frustrating year for the Brewers bullpen, it has not been the worst season ever. Maybe Brewers fans were just spoiled by the 2011 ‘pen that always seemed to come through. LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito, and Rodriguez locked down innings six through eight, and we all know how dominant Axford was last season. This year has just been one of those years where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it seems that much worse after a year of complete domination.

But let’s slow down the talk of the 2012 Milwaukee bullpen being the worst bullpen ever. Those other squads have quite a lead on our guys.

Then again, if there’s one thing these guys can consistently do, it’s make a lead disappear.