2013 Position Review & Preview: Second Base

Rickie Weeksby Kevin Kimmes

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

Since 2006, Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup has had one constant: Rickie Weeks at second base.

Review of 2012:

Projected by Baseball Info Solutions to carry a slash line of .262/.355/.453 in 2012, Weeks slow start to the season led to a career worst .230/.328/.400 over 157 games, but his season was really a tale of two halves. Coming into the All Star break, the 2011 NL All Star was batting just .199/.314/.343. With few options available for replacement, due to an already decimated infield, Ron Roenicke stuck with Weeks and was rewarded for his patience. Weeks batted .261/.343/.457 during the second half of the season (almost identical to his projected line).

If there is a silver lining to his dismal 2012 campaign, it has to be in regards to his plate discipline. Never know for being particularly patient at the plate, Weeks showed signs of improvement in this area walking 74 times in 677 plate appearances or roughly 1 in every 10 appearances.

Weeks two biggest shortcomings are his defense and his free swinging nature. This is where the unfortunate joke of “You can’t spell Weeks without 2 Es and a K” springs from.

Defensively, Weeks is detrimental to Milwaukee’s middle infield. Errors have plagued Weeks career in the majors, a downfall evident in the fact that Weeks has led the majors in errors by a second baseman 5 times in the past 8 seasons (’05, ’06, ’08, ’11, ’12), and taken 3rd twice (’07 and ’10). In 2009, an injury saw Weeks only appear in 37 games, thus not giving him enough “opportunities” for this dubious distinction.

Additionally, despite his newfound patience shown in the statistics above, Weeks still struck out 169 times in 2012. Based on 677 plate appearances, that’s 1 strikeout in every 4 appearances. Ouch!

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

147/592 over 152 games, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 74 BB, 164 K, .248/.345/.429

Depth of Position:

So, what happens if Weeks struggles again this year, or goes down with an injury? Now that back up Eric Farris was acquired by the Seattle Mariners in this years Rule Five Draft, it appears that the next in line for the spot would be Scooter Gennett. Ranked 7th in the list of Milwaukee’s top 20 prospects, the undersized Gennett isn’t known for his power, but makes up for it in consistency. A career .300+ hitter in the minors, Gennett makes up for his lack of power with speed on the base paths and should be an adequate replacement should his services be required.

Come on back tomorrow for a review of the shortstop position and the return of a former Brewer to the fold.

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

The Cream City Cables 2013 NL Central Division Preview: Taking a Look at Milwaukee’s Competition

By: Ryan Smith

pitchers and catchersLet’s be honest: if you’re reading this article, you’re either a close friend of mine or you get slightly turned on by these four words: Pitchers and catchers report.

Perhaps baseball, more than any other sport, allows fan bases all over North America to look forward to the next season and think that this could be our year.

Think about it for a second.

In the NBA, it’s basically LeBron and everybody else. If you don’t have a stable of genuine stars, you’re basically playing for a second-round exit from the playoffs.

In the NFL, there are typically a few “surprise” teams. But in the end, the Super Bowl often comes down to teams that have already been there or teams that were previously on the cusp of greatness. Even this year, the Super Bowl pitted the two teams who lost in their conference championship games the year before.

In the NHL…who knows? I hate hockey.

But baseball? Baseball has teams that stay consistently dominant, teams that slowly build through the minors and eventually reach their greatness, and teams that seem to turn it all around in a few short months. Going into a new season, everyone has a shot.

Well, everyone except Houston.

This brings me to the topic of this article: the National League Central Division.

AL-West-gets-a-present-from-the-NL-Central2013 will be the first season with Houston-less NL Central. With their move to the American League, Houston has opened up a spot in the cellar of the division. To figure out who will claim their rightful position in the division’s basement, I thought I’d take a look at the four remaining non-Milwaukee teams in the NL Central.

I’ll take a look at the teams in the order I believe they will finish in the division standings, going from worst to first. My Brewers preview will be coming in the next few weeks. After all, I want to wait until I have an idea of who might be playing first on Opening Day.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

(All stats courtesy of Fangraphs)

Chicago Cubs
2012 Record: 61-101
2012 Division Finish: 5th

Before I start, let me make one thing clear: I think Theo Epstein is doing a pretty impressive job in turning around the Cubbies. Perhaps the most intelligent thing he is doing is avoiding knee-jerk reactions, passing up opportunities to make pointless signings simply to make a splash. Instead, he seems to be focusing on slowly building up the organization’s farm system while also waiting for those albatross contracts to finally come off the books.

Epstein's is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

Epstein’s is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

That’s the good news for Cubs fans. The bad news? They still have to play the 2013 season, and this time they don’t have Houston as a cellar-buffer.

At this point, I think the Cubs have gotten used to bad news during the season. They didn’t even have to wait for Spring Training games to start for their first bit of bad news this year, with reports of Matt Garza’s strained lat coming in recent days. Garza’s health may be the most important item to focus on in Chicago this season. It’s not that Garza could help Chicago contend; they might not truly contend until 2015. With Garza, the Cubs own one of the most intriguing trade chips in all of baseball. If Garza is healthy, Epstein could use him to drive a mid-season trade that could bring more young talent to Wrigley, much like how the Brewers were able to get Jean Segura in exchange for Zack Greinke, a player who seemed to already have his bags packed. If Garza is not healthy, the Cubs simply have a player of little-to-no value.

The rest of the Chicago rotation lacks the punch needed to survive an NL Central that features three rather dangerous lineups. Jeff Samardzija was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Cubs last season, proving to be a more-than-capable starter. While I don’t think he will duplicate his 2012 numbers (9.27 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 3.38 xFIP), I do think he’ll continue to be a reliable starter who gives Cub fans a reason to hope.

The lineup for the Cubs looks pretty similar to the 2012 version that finished with 101 losses. Anthony Rizzo had a nice debut with the Cubs last season, producing a .285/.342/.463 line in 87 games with the big-league club. As far as additions go, Ian Stewart will be a new face at third, Nate Schierholtz will line up in the outfield, and Wilington Castillo looks to be in line to replace Geovany Soto behind the plate. While none of those names are going to sell any tickets outside of their immediate families, they do prove my earlier point that Epstein is taking the slow and steady approach, which should help Chicago in the long run.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle mightily this year. It looks to be another brutal year for the Cubbies.

Predicted 2013 Record: 65-97
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 5th

Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Record: 79-83
2012 Division Finish: 4th

For two years now, the Pirates have taunted their fans with flashes of improvement, even hinting at genuine contention, only to crush their fan base with massive second-half collapses. I do have some good news for any Pirates fans reading this article:

There will be no second-half collapse.

However, I only say this because I don’t see the Pirates having the hot start they had in each of the last two seasons.

The Pirates’ rotation appears to be one of the few non-Andrew McCutchen bright spots for Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett appears to have found a comfort zone in Pittsburgh, providing the Pirates with a very respectable arm at the top of their rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is a recognizable name in the #2 slot, but last year was a substantial step back for the former Astro. He saw his K/9 dip to 6.08 while producing a 4.09 xFIP. James McDonald surprised some people last year by proving to be a capable and relatively consistent starter. After that, the Pirates have Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, and Francisco Liriano fighting for two rotation spots. I personally think Liriano is a name-only pitcher at this point, a guy who can provide a gem for five innings and then disappear for two months. Too much inconsistency for my taste.

mccutchenThe lineup? Well, there’s superstar Andrew McCutchen, one of the four or five best players in baseball today. After that? Starling Marte has potential to be an above-average regular in their lineup. Russell Martin provides an offensive upgrade from Rod Barajas at catcher, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The addition of Travis Snider could prove to be a pleasant surprise for the Pirates; I’ve always thought he could be a good player if he was given a real shot, which he should get in Pittsburgh.

In the end, Pirates fans will be in for yet another losing season in 2013. There is some help on the way in the farm system, but bringing up any of their really valuable prospects this season would only be rushing them. For now, enjoy that beautiful stadium and the joy that is watching Andrew McCutchen on a nightly basis.

Predicted 2013 Record: 75-87
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 4th

Cincinnati Reds
2012 Record: 97-65
2012 Division Finish: 1st

Chapman's conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

Chapman’s conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

I’ll be honest. Picking the bottom teams in the division was a relatively easy task for me. I just don’t see Chicago and Pittsburgh being in the same conversation as the other three teams in the NL Central. And frankly, I think the Brewers are firmly entrenched in the middle of this top-heavy division. The real debate for me was deciding who would come out on top between the Reds and the Cardinals. Last year, I correctly picked the Reds to win the division. This year, as much as it pains me to say it, I have a feeling St. Louis finishes in first, with the Reds following in a very close second-place.

The aspect of the Reds that makes them a really dangerous team is that they really don’t have a glaring weakness in their lineup. By adding Shin-Soo Choo in their trade with Cleveland, the Reds added a legitimate top-of-the-order bat. Choo is followed by Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, and Jay Bruce. By the time you are to #6-hitter Todd Frazier, you may already be making a visit to the mound. A team is rarely going to stop the Reds from scoring; instead, teams are going to need to spray hits to the outfield, where Cincinnati does appear to have a less-than-stellar defensive outfield, lacking a true centerfielder with the departure of Drew Stubbs.

As far as pitching goes, the Reds have a couple of strong arms at the top of their rotation. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos give the Reds one of the more imposing 1-2 punches in baseball. Bronson Arroyo is what he is at this point; an innings eater who will sport a mid-4.00 ERA. Homer Bailey doesn’t do much for me, but he’s proven to be reliable over the last few seasons. The arrival of Aroldis Chapman in the rotation is the real wild card here. If he can successfully convert to full-time starter, the Reds could end up walking away with the division. If he struggles, which I think he will, the Reds will not only have a question mark in the rotation; they will also have to fill the gap that Chapman created in their bullpen. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I’ve seen too many examples of lights-out bullpen arms struggle in their transition to a larger workload in the regular rotation.

As I stated at the beginning of this section, I am torn between picking the Reds and the Cardinals. Cincinnati has such a dangerous lineup and some starting pitching to back it up, and I’m not even looking at their potential mid-season call-ups, such as speedster Billy Hamilton. Still, I just feel like St. Louis will figure out a way to steal the division from the Reds. However, I still see the Reds getting into the playoffs and making some noise in October.

Predicted 2013 Record: 94-68
Predicted Division Finish: 2nd

St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Record: 88-74
2012 Division Finish: 2nd

This is painful for me to write. If you know me, you know that I hate the Cardinals. I hated Tony LaRussa. I hate Chris Carpenter. I really hate Yadier Molina.

But even with all of that hatred, I can’t help but think that the Cardinals are the best team in the NL Central, and they will win the division in 2013.

First, let’s look at reasons why the Cardinals could finish behind the Reds at the end of the season. Chris Carpenter’s season-ending (and possibly career-ending) injury has to be at the top of the list. I can’t say I was saddened upon hearing this news. I don’t care if that makes me a bad person. I already stated that I hate Carpenter. This injury is definitely a blow to the Cardinals this season and beyond. But keep in mind, Carpenter missed almost all of last season as well. Quite frankly, the Cardinals have gotten used to not having a pitching staff at full-strength over the last few seasons. The Cardinals rotation also got a bit weaker after losing Kyle Lohse to free agency in the offseason. At least, it appears that they got weaker on the surface. The fact of the matter is that Lohse is still a free agent. I’ve never been a big fan of him, and apparently all of the teams in Major League Baseball share that feeling, at least at whatever his asking price is.

Now on to the good news. Last time I checked, Adam Wainwright is still at the top of the rotation, and he remains one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. His curveball still makes hitters look foolish quite frequently. Jaime Garcia has elite stuff but durability issues. When those issues arose last season, Joe Kelly stepped in proved to be a very useful arm. Lance Lynn’s transition to the starting rotation worked out quite well. And 2-13 will mark the first full-season look at top-prospect Shelby Miller. Even without Carpenter and Lohse, that is still a very strong rotation.

As much as I hate him, I can't deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball's best catcher in Yadier Molina.

As much as I hate him, I can’t deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball’s best catcher in Yadier Molina.

I believe the Cardinals also improved their lineup in the offseason, if only by moving on from Lance Berkman, who came back down to earth in 2012 (.259/.381/.444) after a very impressive 2011 (.301/.412/.547). Rafael Furcal enters the final year of his contract, which is good for two reasons for St. Louis. First, we all know how players seem to step up their game in contract years. Second, it means they can move on from the aging Furcal after 2013. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and the previously mentioned Molina provide a dangerous middle of the order for the Cardinals. Allen Craig had an abbreviated coming-out party last year, putting up impressive numbers in 119 games, including 22 homeruns and 35 doubles. If he can stay healthy all season, that makes a dangerous 2-6 in the lineup, and then David Freese comes to the plate. Much like the Reds, this St. Louis lineup just doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

In the end, I think St. Louis’s deeper rotation, superior farm system, and better game management will lead them to the division title in 2013. In a race this close, a mid-season trade or call-up could prove to be the difference, but as it stands now, I think St. Louis will be finishing on top.

Predicted 2013 Record: 96-66
Predicted Division Finish: 1st

Overhauling the Midsummer Classic

By: Ryan Smith

Most sports fans would agree that, when it comes to all-star games and the festivities associated with them, Major League Baseball puts the other professional sports leagues to shame.

But that’s not saying much.

When you break it down, the other leagues aren’t doing a whole lot to overtake MLB in this category.

The NFL’s Pro Bowl is a joke. If it’s before the Super Bowl, you are missing the best players from the league’s two best teams. If it’s after the Super Bowl, no one cares because, well, it’s after the Super Bowl. Hell, they almost cancelled the damn game in the last few months!

The NBA used to have an impressive All-Star Weekend. Used to. I remember when the Slam Dunk Contest had the league’s best players competing year-in and year-out. These guys wanted to win. Back before Vince Carter was a salary-cap albatross, he absolutely tore the place down. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan also found the time to compete – and win – this once-wonderful competition. Now, the contest is filled with a bunch of bench players who can jump but can’t actually play a lick of basketball. And, believe it or not, the All-Star Game itself features less defense than a typical regular season NBA game.

The NHL’s All-Star Game is…well, to be honest, I can’t stand hockey. When they went on strike, I realized I didn’t miss the NHL. Maybe the NHL has an amazing All-Star Weekend. Who cares? It’s hockey.

That brings us to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. As I said before, this is the best All-Star Game in professional sports. But it could be better.

With that being said, here are a few suggestions that, in my opinion, would make MLB’s Midsummer Classic even better:

1) Make the Futures Game a bigger part of the festivities.

This little four-day break from the grind of the regular season is supposed to be an exhibition – a time to celebrate the season thus far and a chance to showcase the best of the best…and Pablo Sandoval. Well, if it’s an exhibition and a showcase, then why not shine a little more light on this game, which selects the best players from all minor league levels? First of all, this game draws the short straw by being broadcast on the Sunday before the ASG, when there are still major league games being played. If you were lucky enough to tune in to the dominating performance by Team USA on Sunday night, you were able to see some of the pitchers and hitters that will soon become household names. I know this will never replace the Homerun Derby as the biggest event before the game itself, but it is by far the best display of actual baseball talent before the game.

2) Fix the Homerun Derby.

Hamilton didn’t win the Homerun Derby in 2008, but he should have.

First of all, no captains. That’s just stupid. Especially when one of the captains has been on the DL for a good chunk of the season and cannot even participate in the ASG itself. Instead, why not just take the top four homerun hitters from each league’s roster? Taking the guys who have hit the most homeruns in that given year seems to make sense, right? Right. So let’s move on. Next, the winner should be the guy who hits the most homeruns over the course of the entire contest. A few years ago, Justin Morneau “won” the Derby, but no one remembers that. Everyone remembers Josh Hamilton hitting 28 homers in the first round. Maybe Hamilton tired himself out with that first round. Should he have stopped at 15 and saved something for the final round? No! The Homerun Derby is supposed to be entertaining, so let’s do whatever we can to keep it that way. Finally, why not add a little twist to the Derby? College baseball’s homerun derby features a bonus ball (similar to the last ball in each rack of the NBA’s Three-Point Shootout), so why not add that? Or maybe they could have special “zones” that are worth two homeruns? When Sammy Sosa was wowing the crowd at Miller Park in 2002 with his shots off of Bernie’s slide or when Prince was knocking them into the fountain in K.C., why not give them a bonus? I’m sure I could think of more changes for the Derby, but I’ll move on for now.

3) Change the roster selection process.

I think this year’s roster fiasco proved that fans just don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes, the managers struggle with this, too. I know the fan vote will never be taken away, but it should be. Derek Jeter wouldn’t have been good enough to start in the Futures Game, let alone the ASG. And don’t even get me started on Kung Fu Sandoval. Anyway, since the fan vote has no chance of changing, let’s look at the other elements of the roster selection process. Personally, I think the players might do the best job in selecting the most-deserving participants for the ASG. So why do they need to vote by the end of May? When the players selected Lance Lynn as an all-star this year, he was still pitching really well. In that pesky month after the players voted, the wheels fell off for Lynn, yet he still made it ahead of Zack Greinke. So let’s push back the deadline for the players to vote so their selections accurately reflect as much of the season as possible. Also, instead of just having the manager of each All-Star Team select players, why not have all of the managers in each league vote? It just makes sense to include as many voices as possible in this process.

4) Bring in some fun announcers.

Uke would make the All-Star game infinitely more entertaining.

I’m stealing this one from Manny Parra (@MannyParra26), who tweeted that the ASG should have All-Star announcers. I completely agree. Now, I must admit that I may be a bit biased for two reasons. One: I hate Joe Buck. Always have. Always will. Two: If we’re talking about All-Star announcers, don’t you think our very own Bob Uecker would be in the running? As Parra tweeted, “Anyone else think that the All-Star game should be announced by Uecker, and Skully? Would make sense…All-Star Announcers.” Bob Uecker and Vin Scully announcing the ASG together? Sign me up, please.

5) The Managers should be from this season’s best team in each league.

If the game is supposed to matter, then why do we have the managers from last year’s World Series? This makes absolutely no sense to me. And this year, it has gone to new levels with the retired Tony LaRussa taking the reigns for the NL. (Ed. Note: I know the National League won 8-0, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that a retired guy is managing in a game that is supposed to matter.) Why in the world is a guy who is no longer managing having an impact on home-field advantage for the World Series? This doesn’t seem like a tough change, so make it happen, Bud.

6) Quit having the game determine home-field advantage for the World Series.

This is the biggest change that needs to be made. There is no way that a game being played in July should have a direct impact on the World Series. Remember, this rule was put into place because the 2002 ASG ended in a tie. Because we couldn’t live in a world where the ASG ended in a tie, Bud Selig decided that he would take this exhibition game and have it play a pivotal role in the freaking World Series! In that very game that ended in a tie, I remember Torii Hunter making a leaping catch at the wall to rob Barry Bonds of a homerun. For the most part, the players were always trying, so why change it? Seriously, this needs to stop. Let’s just let this exhibition game remain an exhibition.

These are only a few changes that I think would help the overall All-Star experience for Major League Baseball. As is, the MLB All-Star Game is the best of the best in professional sports. But that doesn’t mean that they should stand pat.

With a few simple changes, Major League Baseball could make the Midsummer Classic a true classic.

A Disturbing Trend

By: Ryan Smith

With 3,932,100 votes, Ryan Braun was the leading vote-getter for 2011’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Once again, the fans were throwing their support behind Braun, who had become a regular among the leading vote-getters for the midsummer classic. The All-Star game is meant to showcase the best players in the league, and the fans clearly understood that Ryan Braun was a unique talent that should be put on display.

Then he became Public Enemy #1.

When news of a failed drug test “leaked” to the public, the haters came out to play. All of a sudden, everything that he had accomplished up to this point in his career came into question. Pundits and fans alike didn’t seem to care that he had passed numerous drug tests throughout the regular season; one failed test meant that Braun had been juicing for his entire career.

Braun then went through the appeal process that Major League Baseball had put in place and was exonerated of these charges. He went through the process and was found innocent.

None of this should be news to you. This is the real news:

Despite his impressive numbers, Braun finds himself on the outside looking in for a starting spot in the All-Star Game.

Ryan Braun is currently 4th in All-Star voting among National League outfielders.

I don’t mean for this article to be an attack on the achievements of the three guys ahead of Braun. Matt Kemp is the top vote-getter, and even though he has only played in 36 games, his numbers over the course of those games (.355/.444/.719) were as good as anyone else’s during that same span, and Kemp wouldn’t be the first player to make it based on past success. Carlos Beltran is also putting up impressive stats (.311/.396/.591 with 19 HR and a 2.7 WAR) while taking on the unenviable task of replacing one of the all-time greats in St. Louis. Even Melky Cabrera is having an all-star caliber season (.363/.399/.532).

No, I’m not looking to break apart the seasons of those three deserving players. Instead, I just want to comment on what I fear might be unfolding before our very eyes.

This all-star game slight could be the first sign in a long line of residual backlash for Braun’s “leaked” test result.

Let’s start by looking at Braun’s stats from his MVP 2011 season: Braun produced a line of .332/.397/.597 while mashing 33 HR, driving in 111, scoring 109 runs, swiping 33 bases, and ending with a 7.8 WAR.

Now let’s take a gander at what Braun has done so far in 2012, post-leak: Braun is currently hitting .321/.400/.627, has a league-leading 20 HR, has driven in 51, has scored 47 runs, stolen 12 bases, and he currently sits at a 4.3 WAR, good enough for second-best in the NL behind Joey Votto.

By all accounts, Braun is on pace to equal if not surpass his MVP numbers from a year ago. He is doing all of this while being the only real consistent threat in an otherwise impotent Brewers offense. He no longer has the protection of Prince Fielder in the on-deck circle. Yes, Milwaukee may be struggling, but Braun is far from the reason why.

Braun’s successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

Now it comes as no surprise that fans can be fickle and hold grudges, refute legal results, and ignore compelling information that goes against what they’ve been led to believe. MLB “accidentally leaked” information that Braun test positive during the postseason last year, forcing Braun to go through the appeal process in a very public way. Fans felt betrayed by the slugger and, in turn, vilified Braun. After Braun won his appeal, MLB acted like a spoiled child who takes his ball and goes home by firing Shyam Das, baseball’s independent arbitrator since 1999 and the man who delivered the controversial decision in Braun’s appeal. So the fans who felt betrayed by Braun held on to those feelings because Major League Baseball pouted when he won his appeal.

So let the fans vote for other players instead of Braun. I personally think the All-Star Game is a joke, especially this year when the retired Tony LaRussa will manage the National League in a game that will decide home-field advantage of the World Series.

My worry is that fans aren’t the only ones who hold grudges. I’m more worried that a Hall of Fame career could very well end up not making it into Cooperstown because of the “leak”. I’m worried that the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will react the same way fans are reacting this year and choose to ignore the legal results of Braun’s appeal and the many other times that Braun has tested clean.

I’m thinking big picture. And while the all-star voting is minor in the long run, it is a very major part of the big picture.

I’m worried that this is a sign that the damage that has been done cannot be undone.