Khris Davis, man of (too) high expectations

By Nathan Petrashek

davisLet’s get this out of the way: Khris Davis had a crappy homestand.  I get that going 0-12 while only reaching base twice isn’t going to woo many fans.  It’s not like anyone else was knocking the cover off the ball during that homestand either, though.

Let’s not close out the book on Davis quite so fast.  While Davis is now only slashing .250/.278/.346 on the year, he was key during the Brewers’ nine-game win streak, batting .343/.343/.486 with 8 runs.

Davis hasn’t yet hit a home run.  I understand that’s mildly concerning since power seems to be his one plus tool, and Davis certainly showed it last year with 11 home runs over 153 plate attempts.  Extrapolating that out over a full season would have Davis hitting over 35 bombs, which I think we all know is pretty unreasonable.

Part of the problem is Davis’s aggressiveness; last year, he was one of the ten-worst left fielders in swinging strike percentage among those with at least 150 plate attempts.  He’s going to be a strikeout-prone batter.  It isn’t that he’s swinging at bad pitches, necessarily, but he’s seeing many more breaking balls so far, as pitchers have figured out that Davis feasts on fastballs.  Davis’s contact rates across the board this year are pretty abysmal; it’s clear there’s going to be a period of adjustment.

Even if that’s a slow process, the home runs will come. Davis has hit just eight fly balls this year, so its way too soon to start worrying about the power.  To some extent, I think the concerns about Davis stem in part from his performance in front of home fans, as he doesn’t have a hit at Miller Park but is slashing .406/.406/.563 on the road.

So no, I’m not worried about Khris Davis yet.  .250 is probably about right for his average, he’s never going to have a huge walk total, and the power will likely come, particularly in hitter-friendly Miller Park.

2014 Position Preview: Khris Davis, Left Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the third of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: catcher; center field.

Khris DavisAs Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio are fond of pointing out, you wouldn’t have found Khris Davis on many top prospect lists before the start of the 2012 season.  His defensive abilities are totally questionable; the team didn’t even have enough confidence in him to stick him at first base after the position became a black hole last year.  Beyond that, Davis had some trouble offensively when he was elevated to AA for the first time in 2011, hitting a light .210/.272/.331, albeit in a small sample.

The offensive question marks were largely erased in 2012, as Davis crushed to a .350/.451/.604 triple slash between three levels (including AAA Nashville in the PCL).  While his lack of a glove and poor arm relegated him to left field, his hitting credentials earned him a shot in Milwaukee in 2013.  He started as primarily a bench bat and struggled mightily (.188/.278/.313) before being sent down May 1.

Davis got a second chance when Ryan Braun was suspended in July and absolutely mashed.  Taking over left fiend with regular playing time, Davis hit .292/.363/.633 with an amazing 11 home runs in 135 plate attempts.  That was good for a .316 ISO, second only to Baltimore Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis in the major leagues.  That average isn’t going to stick given Davis’s free-swinging ways.  Expect some regression, but also note that his BABIP wasn’t unreasonably high at .293.  Davis feasted on fastballs last year, but struggled mightily against sliders, so expect him to see a heavy dose of breaking balls in 2014.  The power is there; it’s just a question of whether Davis will make enough contact to utilize it.

Defensively, Davis remains a bit of a liability, although his glaring range deficiencies are largely hidden in left field.  His arm is nowhere near as strong as you’d like, although Ron Roenicke maintains he’s improved this spring.  If Davis can make steady contact and scale back on the strikeouts slightly, his bat should more than make up for his poor glove and arm.

2013 recap

153 pa, 27 r, 11 hr, 27 rbi, 3 sb, 7.2 bb%, 22.2 k%, .279/.353/.596, 160 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 480 pa, 56 r, 19 hr, 60 rbi, 9 sb, 8.6 bb%, 21.4 k%, .252/.326/.444, 112 wRC+

ZiPS:  457 pa, 57 r, 19 hr, 65 rbi, 7 sb, 9.2 bb%, 26 k%, .249/.330/.450, 115 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a one-year deal near league minimum; service time .104

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

Welcome to the new Cream City Cables – First Podcast!

By Nathan Petrashek

You might have noticed by now we’ve given the website a facelift.  We used to be tied to the MLBlogs.com movement, but they stuck ads all over our blog and the format was far too restrictive for what we wanted to do.

What did we want to do, you ask?

Well, today we’re introducing our first ever podcast, something that will perhaps become a regular feature here.  Writer Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2) and I talked first base, Matt Garza’s contract, the rotation, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis.  We’re still getting a feel for this thing, so it’d be much appreciated if you’d let me know on Twitter (@npetrashek) or in the comments below what you liked or didn’t like.

You can listen to it or download the file using the link’s below.  We anticipate having it and subsequent podcasts available in the iTunes store soon.

Podcast Season 1 Episode 1

*Note: the podcast was recorded late last week

Stay tuned to CCC, as position previews start this week, and we’ll be introducing some fantasy content this month!  You can find all this and more using the navigation menu below the header.

Chronicling the Brewers On Deck Experience

By Nathan Petrashek

A while back, Disciples of Uecker writer Steve Garczynski and I had a healthy debate about attending the Brewers annual fanfest, On Deck.  His position was that the event is (or should be) primarily for kids, where they can meet players and the like, and Steve lamented the fact that many adults have seemingly co-opted the event as a blatant autograph grab.

Steve and I are largely on the same page there (although, as you’ll see, I do get autographs), and that’s not a unique criticism I hear.  So I thought it might be interesting to run a sort of journal of my experiences this year (which I didn’t find to be really uncommon from past years I’ve attended), and perhaps that will help others decide if this is an event for them in the future.  This will also preserve some of Mark Attanasio’s and Doug Melvin’s comments about the organization, which I’ve shared on Twitter, in a more permanent form.

Departure – 9:00 AM

We leave for On Deck, which starts officially at 10.  In the past, we’ve left much earlier, but the Brewers have done a good job of staggering events throughout the day instead of trying to pack everything in the morning.  So we didn’t really feel any time pressure.

Arrival – 10:00 AM

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

If you’ve been at On Deck before, you know all the standing around is thirst-inducing.  This year, the new policy is not to allow any outside beverages, which snags a couple of my friend’s Coke Zeros and what was apparently a really expensive bottle of green tea that he doesn’t want to give up.  I persuade him to hand over the beverages and we’re on our way upstairs.

Everyone entering is given a coupon to enter the lottery for a “premiere” signatory.  This year, there are six: Ryan Braun, Bob Uecker, Yovani Gallardo, Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, and Jonathan Lucroy.  My friend enters the lottery for Lucroy and doesn’t win, while my girlfriend wins a Braun autograph.  More on that later.

Yovani Gallardo – 10:30 AM

I entered the lottery for Gallardo, which basically turned out to be “show up and you get one.”  Not enough people even requested an autograph, which is pretty unusual … maybe a combination of the drunk driving offense and a down year.  I had him sign one of his bobbleheads from 2012.  Gallardo didn’t seem really interested in being there, which I’ve found is pretty consistent with his general demeanor.

The event is sparsely attended right now, which is a bit of a surprise.  I pretty much expected the free admission this year to draw out masses of humanity, but it’s very pleasant and there’s plenty of room to move around.  Lines are not packed and there’s space aplenty for sitting.  Incidentally, the team looks to have dramatically expanded seating areas this year.

Merch booths – 11:00 AM

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

One of my favorite activities at On Deck is browsing the merchandise booths, with vendors bringing in all kinds of memorabilia and autographs.  Lately, I haven’t bought much, but a few years ago I found Willie Mays and Willie McCovey signed balls for an absolute steal.  Anyway, these stands will basically have anything you can imagine, from a game-used Stan Musial jersey to Milwaukee Braves scorecards from the ’50s.  The cool, old school stuff usually carries a pretty hefty price tag; for example, this year I saw a 1959 Milwaukee Braves pennant for $225, and a bat signed by the entire ’57 Braves team for $700.  But there are some absolute steals, too; my friend Jason bought a Nolan Ryan ball for $50.  Usually there are stands selling autographed balls by current Brewers for between $10 and $20; by the time you factor in cost of a baseball ($32! at the Brewers team store … always bring your own) and time standing in line, you’re way better off picking up one of these if you don’t much value the (sometimes nonexistent) fan interaction.

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Khrush, Stormin’ Gorman, and breaking news – 12:00 PM

While my girlfriend offers to grab a Khris Davis autograph, Jason and I try to snag Jim Gantner.  Gantner is scheduled at noon, but he’s late to the event and Gorman Thomas (who I also wanted) starts signing in his stead.    The guy immediately in front of me is carrying a portfolio of poster-sized photos, and he pulls out three with other signatures from the ’82 team already on them for Thomas to sign.  After Thomas signs them all, he gets back in line and racks Thomas for autographs a second time.  Unfortunately, that isn’t all that unusual; you see lots of obvious dealer-types milking autograph system.  I get one of Thomas’s old bobbleheads signed, then head over by Khris Davis.

After Davis wraps up his signing, we split up again; I head over to snag Jim Gantner, now arrived, and the others get in line early for Segura, who doesn’t start until 2:30.  There are already 30 or so people in line for Segura when they get there at 12:45.

 The Brewers annually do a large interview session at the main stage, with Bob Uecker emceeing a dialogue among Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Craig Counsell, and a handful of others.  This event begins as I wait in line for Gantner.  Soon after the front office folks take the stage, news ripples through the crowd that they’ve made the long-delayed Garza signing official.  It will be 4 years and $50-some million.  This gets folks excited.  Including, as I look in front of me about 30 people, Portfolio Man, who is now at the front of the line for Gantner.

Q & A with the front office staff – 1:00 PM

20140126_110756

Jerry Augustine led instructionals for kids throughout the day

After I finish up with Gantner (another bobblehead), I head over to watch the Attanasio/Melvin/Counsell session.  They’re joined by Gord Ash and two new Brewers, 1B Mark Reynolds and LHP Will Smith.  The first audience question I catch is about payroll, in response to which Attanasio quips, “I haven’t counted.”  Attanasio declines to say whether they’d be willing to push the payroll further after Garza, but does say they’ll be opportunistic, citing Garza and last year’s Lohse deal.  Earlier, Roenicke indicated he plans to factor Rickie Weeks into the plans at second base, and the next question asks what they’ll do for flexibility since most position players are one-trick ponies (i.e. Khrush, Scooter/Weeks/Ramirez/Segura).  Counsell gives a PR-ish response, but does cite Logan Schafer and Reynolds as examples of versatility (Reynolds can also play 3B, albeit poorly) and suggests that positional flexibility will be key in competition for final roster spots.

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Then come a flurry of questions about the generally poor state of the farm system.  Attanasio says the Brewers don’t lobby for their players like other teams do (he prefers his front office guys be focusing on their jobs, he says).  According to Attanasio, there’s a large marketing component to prospect rankings and the Brewers don’t hype their guys.  Attanasio cites Scooter and Khrush as guys that had success but didn’t appear on most prospect lists.

Doug Melvin picks up on this theme, indicating that organizations that publish prospect rankings can become echo chambers for other lists, overlooking good players that don’t have the a hype machine or premiere pedigree.  Melvin doesn’t seem to put much stock in outside assessments of the farm system, noting that some teams with what others consider remarkable farm systems still spend hundreds of millions on their big-league clubs.  He’s basically saying that if your system is supposedly so good, you shouldn’t need to spend all that money.

Final questions revolve around the newly signed Matt Garza and the delays.  Attanasio mentions there are multiple layers of approval, including MLB and MLBPA.  Both Attanasio and Melvin dismiss the timing of the announcement as coincidence, with Melvin even remarking that if it had been planned, Garza would have been at On Deck.

The prodigal son returns – 2:45 PM

After the Q & A session ends, I chat with some folks and then head back to the Segura line to reunite with my party.  We soon learn that my girlfriend was selected for the Braun autograph sessions, so we head over to the other end of the convention center.

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

Remember when I mentioned attendance was pretty sparse?  Not anymore.  The center has been steadily filling throughout the day, what will turn out to be a record-setting attendance of more than 14,000 people.  The line for Braun is already forming when we arrive shortly after the announcement, and as the time gets closer it becomes an absolute circus.  The media has nearly encircled the area where Braun will eventually be signing, adding to the huge crowd that has come to see him make one of his only public appearances since the suspension.  The entire area is jam-packed, and will remain that way for 45 minutes until Braun appears.

Braun is delayed even more as he signs autographs and stops to talk to fans on his way to the stage.  As he appears, there is a huge chorus of cheers and it’s pretty apparent he’s going to have a friendly crowd.  Nonetheless, the numbers have prompted plenty of additional security, who surround the stage and keep everyone without an autograph ticket at least seven or eight feet away.

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

To their credit, neither the Brewers nor Braun’s folks ask fans with tickets to refrain from discussing his suspension.  If a fan does broach the subject with Braun, I don’t see him visibly react, and in general he’s what you’d expect: smiling, gracious, polite.  He’s shaking hands and getting names, talking things up with the fans he meets.  Whereas most players simply sign the autograph, Braun seems to take a minute or so with every fan, prompting an event staff member behind me to say his session will go twice as long as it’s supposed to.  “It’s okay,” another responds.  “He needs this.”

As the session wears on, the media lose interest and begin to wander off.  We finish up at about 4:15, when Braun was supposed to end his session, with a huge line still behind us, and make a break for the exit.

The Kids Are All Right: Finding The Positives In The Brewers’ Lost Season

20130817-193406.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.

On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.

The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:

1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo

The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.

Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?

It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.

By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.

For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.

Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.

Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.

Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.

As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.

Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?

Khris Davis – #18 LF

Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.

Scooter Gennett – #2 2B

Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.

Tyler Thornburg – #63 P

Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.

It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.

So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.

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 and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

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.