The Numbers Game: Lucky Number 7?

Don Moneyby Kevin Kimmes

Welcome back loyal readers to another volume of The Numbers Game, the series in which I look at past Pilots/Brewers players based on their jersey numbers and hopefully impart a little baseball knowledge or trivia in the process. Today, we look at one of the most transient numbers thus far, the number 7. With the exception of 3 players (Don Money, Dale Sveum and J.J. Hardy), no Brewer has worn the number for more than 2 seasons, and in the case of Danny Perez, he took his “cup of coffee” and promptly spilled it in his lap. So, let’s get started shall we?

Seattle Pilots:

No player was assigned the number 7 in the Pilots organization in 1969.

Milwaukee Brewers:

Russ Snyder – 1970: Snyder played the final year of his 12 year major league career with the fledgeling Brewers in 1970 as an outfielder. He batted .232/.270/.315 across 124 games with 64 hits and 16 walks.

Danny Walton – 1971: Walton, who had worn number 12 for the Pilots in 1969 and the Brewers in 1970, would change his number to 7 for the 1971 campaign. With his season just underway for Milwaukee, Walton would be traded to the Yankees on June 7th, 1971 for Bobby Mitchell and…

Frank Tepedino – 1971: Received in the trade for Walton from the Yankees, Tepedino would take Waltons former number for the 1971 season. He would play in 53 games for the Brewers recording a sub-Mendoza batting average of .198 with 21 hits and 4 walks in 106 at bats. On March 31, 1972 his services were purchased back from Milwaukee by the Yankees.

Ron Clark – 1972: Ron Clark is one of  the shorter tenured player to put on a Brewers uniform. Acquired on June 20th, 1972 from Oakland for Bill Voss, he would bat a paltry .185 across 22 appearances before being traded on July 28th, 1972 to the Angels for Joe Azcue and…

Syd O’Brien – 1972: O’Brien’s 4 year major league career made it’s final stop in Milwaukee where he would bat .207/.230/.293 recording 12 hits and 2 walks across 31 appearances.

Don Money – 1973-83: The transient nature of the number 7 would finally halt as it would stay on the back of Don Money for 11 seasons. A 4 time All-Star selection (1974, 1976-78), Money arrived in Milwaukee due to the Phillies needing to make room for future Hall of Famer, Mike Schmidt.

In his first All-Star campaign in 1974, Money would set career marks in hits (178), doubles (32), and at bats (629). His third All-Star campaign highlighted his ability to hit for power as he set career marks in homeruns (25), RBI (83), slugging (.470), and total bases (268). Finally, his fourth All-Star campaign was about consistency as he set career marks in batting average (.293), OBP (.361), and sacrifice hits (14).

After retiring from active play, Money went on to manage for the Brewers in the minor leagues, first for the Single-A Beloit Snappers from 1998-2004, then for Double-A Huntsville from 2005-08, and finally with Triple-A Nashville from 2009-11. After the 2011 season, Money became Milwaukee’s special instructor of player development.

No player was assigned the number 7 in the Brewers organization in 1984.

Paul Householder – 1985-86: In 2 seasons with Milwaukee, Householder batted .249/.313/.398 with 94 hits and 34 walks in 121 games.

Dale Sveum – 1987-91: Best known to younger Brewers fans as the current coach of the Cubs, and for being accidentally shot in the ear last year by Robin Yount, Sveum wore number 27 in 1986 before switching to number 7 for his five remaining seasons in Milwaukee. He would bat .243/.299/.382 with 413 hits and 137 walks for the Brewers in his 5 seasons on the team.

It should also be noted that he took over as interim skipper after Ned Yost was fired by the Brewers en-route to their 2008 NLDS appearance against the Phillies. As a manager he has a post season record of 1-3, a record which may not change anytime soon as the manager of the Cubs.

No player was assigned the number 7 in the Brewers organization from 1992 to 1995.

Danny Perez – 1996: Perez appeared in 4 games in 1996. In 4 plate appearances he did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a strikeout. Just a statline with a lot of zeroes. Moving on.

Brian Banks – 1996-97: The last player to wear number 7 in the AL for Milwaukee (he would wear 25 in 1998 and 23 in 1999), Banks played in 161 games for the Brewers over the course of his 4 seasons. He would bat .248 with 78 hits and 36 walks before being granted free agency on March 28th 2000.

Dave Nilsson – 1998: One of 4 different number that Nilsson would wear in his 8 years with Milwaukee (he would also wear 11, 13 and 14), Nilsson would don the number 7 en route to batting .269/.339/.437 with 83 hits and 33 walks in 1998.

Sean Berry – 1999-2000: Signed by Milwaukee prior to the 1999 season, Berry would play in 106 games and bat .228/.281/.301 with 59 hits and 17 walks. He would struggle mightily in 2000, batting only .152, leading to his release on June 21st, 2000.

Tony Fernandez – 2001: If Fernandez’s Brewers’ tenure was a headstone, it would read: “Signed 02-08-2001, Released 05-29-2001″. Tony, we hardly knew ya!

Alex Sanchez – 2001:  Claimed off of waivers by Milwaukee in 2001, Sanchez played in his first game on June 15th, 2001. Despite a disappointing year offensively in 2001 (he batted .206), Sanchez found himself in the role of starting center fielder, wearing number 22 for the Brewers, in 2002 and 2003.  His erratic defensive play and bad attitude would get him traded to Detroit during the 2003 season.

On April 3rd, 2005 Sanchez would acquire the dubious distinction of being the first person suspended under the MLB’s newly adopted drug policy.

Eric Young – 2002-03: In 247 games as a Brewer, Young batted .271/.340/.392 with 244 hits and 87 walks. His 15 homeruns in 2003 were a career best which nearly doubled his previous high of 8.

No player was assigned the number 7 in the Brewers organization in 2004.

J.J. Hardy – 2005-09: A 2007 National League All-Star, Hardy’s career with Milwaukee was marred by injury. In 2004, while still in the minors, Hardy suffered a dislocated shoulder and a torn labrum which cost him his season. Then on May 16th, 2006, Hardy would severely sprain his ankle sliding into Phillies’ catcher Sal Fasano at home, resulting in his placement on the 15 day DL. Upon returning to play, Hardy realized that the tendon kept popping in and out of place resulting in the team shutting him down for the season on July 18th, 2006.

In 2007, Hardy would begin to develop some power in his bat hitting 26 homers in 2007 and 24 in 2008. After signing a 1 year extension prior to the 2009 season, Hardy would suffer a power outage that would see him be sent down to the minors on August 12th, 2009. He would be recalled on September 1st and would finish his 2009 campaign batting .229 with 11 homers.

Chris Dickerson – 2010: Acquired on August 9th, 2010 in a trade with the Reds for Jim Edmonds, Dickerson would bat an unimpressive .208 with 5 RBIs in 25 games. To nobody’s surprise, Dickerson was traded to the Yankees prior to the 2011 season for pitcher Sergio Mitre.

Felipe Lopez – 2011: Lopez’s second stint with Milwaukee, he wore number 3 in 2009, was to be short lived. Acquired on July 28, 2011, for cash considerations from the Tampa Bay Rays, he would be designated for assignment on August 21st, 2011 after hitting .182 in 51 plate appearances for Milwaukee.

Jeremy Reed – 2011: Reed appeared in 7 games for Milwaukee in 2011 recording no hits in 7 at bats while striking out twice.

Norichika Aoki – 2012: In his first of hopefully many MLB seasons, Aoki proved why he was a batting champion in his native Japan. Being able to seemingly deliver clutch hits at will, Aoki batted .288/.355/.433 with 10 home runs, 50 RBIs, 81 runs scored and 30 stolen bases. Not too shabby for a 30 year old rookie!

So there you have it, all of the players who had the fortune (or misfortune) to wear the number 7 for Milwaukee. Come on back tomorrow for part 8.

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

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.

青木 宣親は、仕事に行く

By Nathan Petrashek

Norichika Aoki is a Japanese professional baseball player.  I know that because it says so on this here Wikipedia page.  But Aoki isn’t content to let a website tell you that; oh no.  He’ll show you in person if you give him the chance.

Aoki has done nothing but hit since joining the MLB during the offseason.  Some questioned how his bat would translate after his ho-hum 2011 season in Japan, but Aoki has answered in every way possible.  His .304/.357/.487 slash line is a welcome addition to a club beset by injuries, and has really opened up the long-term possibility of moving Corey Hart to first base.  Roenicke, to his credit, is finding ways to get Aoki in the lineup; after starting only two games in April, Aoki has started twenty in May/June, mostly in right field.

Through two months, Aoki looks like one of Doug Melvin’s finest offseason signings.  Aoki is guaranteed only $2.5 million over his two years with the Brewers, and the club holds an option for a third year at $1.5 million that will almost certainly be exercised if Aoki continues to hit like he has.  The contract is heavily incentive-laden, though, and that could push its total three-year value to just over $8.6 million.

Even if he hits all the incentives, the total contract value still looks pretty appetizing if he can win games like he did yesterday.  Aoki slugged his first two outside-the-park home runs in the Brewers 4-3 win over the Cubs, one of which walked the Brewers off in the bottom of the tenth inning.  He’s not going to showcase that kind of power all the time; in fact, his current ISO of .185 is probably as high as it will get all year.  But as Alec Dopp breaks down, what Aoki brings to the table a better-than-average all-field contact profile.   Given his hitting style, his current BABIP of .330 is probably sustainable.  He doesn’t have the speed of a prototypical leadoff hitter, but on a team without one, Aoki is probably the closest we’re going to get.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Bunting

By Nathan Petrashek

“I reflexively hate bunting….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.  See no. 2.

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

Trouble Brewing: What A “Broken” Hart Means For Milwaukee

by Kevin Kimmes

Well, the injury bug wasted no time in buying its ticket to Arizona this year as Brewers right fielder, Corey Hart, can attest to. For the 2nd straight year, Hart looks to start regular season play on the disabled list, this time due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The injury, which will require surgery later this week, will leave Hart sidelined for 3-4 weeks, making the timetable tight for a potential opening day start, and potentially throwing the Brewers opening day lineup (which skipper Ron Roenicke said earlier this week was set) into turmoil.

The announcement came about an hour into the Brewers first Cactus League appearance of the year, a 1-1 tie with the San Francisco Giants, which also found Rickie Weeks as a late scratch from the lineup. Weeks, who has been nursing a sore throwing shoulder, participated in throwing drills, but was scratched about 15 minutes before the first pitch along with Hart. According to Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, the Weeks injury is not considered to be serious.

The Hart injury does bring to light several questions which the Brewers will now need to answer in the next several weeks. For one, who will start in right field on opening day? As I have mentioned in previous articles, I fully anticipate that Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki will be able to transition and will be ready in time to take a starting role if needed. If this indeed proves to be true, I see this as the better option over starting center fielder Carlos Gomez in the vacant spot. Why, you ask? The simple answer is, his bat.

Last season, Gomez hit an unimpressive .225 in 231 at bats with an on base percentage of .276. Compare this to Hart’s 2011 line of .285 in 492 at bats and an on base percentage of .356, and its obvious that this is a dip in offense that the club can not afford to make. Hart, along with new third baseman Aramis Ramirez, will be relied upon to close the offensive gap left in the wake of Prince Fielder’s departure. As such, Hart’s replacement will need to produce better than what Gomez did last season, even if it is only for a short period of time.

As a two-time batting champion in Japan, Aoki has proven himself to be a threat at the plate as a contact hitter with an ability to aim the ball to all fields. With many claiming that he is the best pure hitter to come out of Japan since Ichiro, the door has now opened wide for Aoki to prove it. Also, should Aoki find his way into the starting lineup, expect Rickie Weeks to move from the number one slot in the batting order to the number 5 spot, thus beefing up the heart of the order. This could also see Nyjer Morgan slot in at number one, with Aoki in the two hole.

The other problem that Hart’s injury has exposed is Milwaukee’s lack of depth at first base. The initial plan was to have Hart back up first base hopeful Mat Gamel, but now with the injury the Brewers may need to rely on Travis Ishikawa for the time being. Ishikawa, who saw no playing time in the majors in 2011, was acquired from the San Francisco Giants where he batted .265 over 4 seasons. While this may be doable for the short-term, it again highlights the problem mentioned earlier: the offensive drop off created by not having Hart in the lineup.

Finally, for those that believe that Roenicke will rush Hart back early like he did in 2011 after the Nyjer Morgan injury, I will warn you to not be overly optimistic. Hart has a history of meniscus issues, meaning that the team will be overly cautious as this most recent injury is the most severe that he has sustained to this point.

If there is a silver lining to the injury, it is this: A huge opportunity to prove themselves has now been issued to Aoki, Gomez, Gamel, and Ishikawa. The question is, who will stand up and take the call?

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup: Now With More Braun

Is Gamel finally ready for an everyday assignment?

by Kevin Kimmes

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.

Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.

Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…

I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

Will Aoki be the x-factor that determines the opening day lineup?

Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the  hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.

Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?

Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.

With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:

1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher

In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.

Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.

With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.

A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason always brings its fair share of speculation. Sometimes this is caused by offseason moves that  create an air of hope, potentially transforming an also ran into a contender. Then there’s the agony when a top producer packs up their locker with no hope of returning dealing a crushing blow to their former team and the fans that had cheered them on for years. And of course, there is even the ever optimistic mantra of the Cubs fan who says “Maybe next year”.

This offseason, Milwaukee’s fans have had to deal with both of the first two scenarios as the additions of Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez to the infield should reap immediate benefits, while the loss of Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup creates some issues in the run production department.

Today, I will look at each position and speculate on who will be there on opening day and consider what Bill James is predicting they will do from an offensive stand point. Additionally, I will try to project an opening day batting order for the season opener against the Cardinals on April 6th at Miller Park.

**All stats provided courtesy of Fangraphs**

The Battery

The Starting Pitchers:

This season sees the return of all 5 starters from Milwaukee’s 2011 NL  Central Champion squad (Gallardo, Marcum, Greinke, Wolf, and Narveson). Below are projections for each of the starters for 2012  :

Player W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Gallardo, Yovani 14 9 0 30 30 203 9.53 3.06 0.89 0.312 3.46 3.31
Greinke, Zack 13 9 0 31 31 202 8.33 2.27 0.8 0.319 3.52 3.23
Marcum, Shaun 13 10 0 32 32 207 7.3 2.35 1.17 0.284 3.52 4.01
Narveson, Chris 7 8 0 26 22 133 7.31 3.45 1.08 0.303 4.13 4.24
Wolf, Randy 12 12 0 32 32 217 6.43 3.03 1.08 0.289 3.94 4.36

Based on these projections, Gallardo should be the opening day starter. His projected 9.53 strikeouts per 9 innings coupled with an ERA of 3.46 give him a slight advantage over Greinke (8.33/9, 3.52) and Marcum (7.3/9, 3.52). Additionally, both stats are improvements over Gallardo’s 2011 number (8.99/9, 3.52) meaning that the best may be still to come from Milwaukee’s ace.

At Catcher:

Also returning from the 2011 squad is catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Based on the numbers (136 projected games, the same as last year) it appears that speculation is leaning on Lucroy being the everyday catcher with the exception of days when Randy Wolf is pitching. Last season, Wolf used backup catcher George Kottaras as his personal battery mate, giving Lucroy a break every few days.

In regards to offensive output, the projection leans on Lucroy having a very similar season to last year (.264/.328/.393 compared to last seasons .265/.313/.391).  Additionally, he is projected for 12 homeruns, 53 runs, and 64 RBIs which is a slight improvement over last seasons 12 homeruns, 45 runs, and 59 RBIs.

The Infield

At 1st Base:

As much as I’d like to tell you that by some divine miracle an 11th hour deal was made to keep Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, we all know by this point that this will not be the case. Instead, the Brewers will be looking to 3rd base convert Mat Gamel to fill the hole at 1st. As Adam McCalvy reported last week, Gamel is working hard this offseason to be ready for spring training and to assume a spot in the starting lineup on opening day, something that Gamel has missed out on the past three years due to Spring Training injuries.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Gamel (who has a .222 batting average in 194 plate appearances over 4 seasons) to bring in the same kind of power hitting production that Fielder had, he should improve his career stats in an everyday role.  While Bill James only has him projected for 118 games (potentially factoring in his history of injuries),  Gamel should  hit around .282/.342/.476 with 19 home runs this season.

At 2nd Base:

As a returning All-Star, Rickie Weeks will be looking to build on his injury shortened 2011 campaign by again manning the bag at 2nd. Weeks, who hit for 20 home runs last season will again be called on to hit the long ball in order to help ease the offensive depletion caused by Fielders departure.

According to James,  Weeks should have another All-Star worthy performance this year as he is projected for .262/.355/.453 with 22 homeruns, 62 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases in 136 games.

At 3rd Base:

Welcome to Milwaukee Aramis Ramirez! After an extremely disappointing 2011 by regular 3rd baseman Casey McGehee, the prospect of what Ramirez brings to the table, both as both a defender and as a batter, are exciting to say the least. In 149 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez hit .306/.361/.510 while crushing 26 hits for homeruns, numbers that the Brewers hope he repeats for them in 2012.

Ramirez represents the best chance that the Brewers have for closing the run production gap created by Fielder’s departure as he is projected to hit for .285/.350/.500 with 26 homeruns and 94 RBIs in 140 games.

At Shortstop:

As I have reported previously, the addition of Alex Gonzalez at short, while providing an upgrade defensively, leaves the Brewers in roughly the same spot offensively at short.

Gonzalez is projected to hit .237/.278/.381 with 14 homeruns and 60 RBIs in 145 games.

The Outfield:

With the official signing of Norichika Aoki, the Brewers seem to have taken the first step into the realm of possibility that they may be without reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season. The signing makes for some interesting scenarios in the outfield as Milwaukee will be able to choose amongst several righty and lefty hitters to fill out these three spots.

Left Field:

Assuming that Braun is suspended (historically the odds are not in his favor), I would not be surprised to see Aoki in his spot in left field come opening day. In Japan, Aoki is a career .329 hitter with 84 home runs, 385 RBIs and 164 stolen bases in 985 games over 8 seasons.

Center Field:

Center field will again be the home to the platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan. Having a righty/lefty platoon definitely gives Milwaukee versatility in center field allowing them to not only play to whomever has the hottest bat at the time, but to also play for advantage when it comes to pitching matchups. While Gomez is the better pure fielder at the position, Morgan brings speed and charisma.

While it is hard to say at this juncture who will win the opening day start (a lot will be determined in spring training), I’m going to go with my gut feeling and place Morgan in my line up due to the intangibles that he brings to the team and his ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy to start off the year. Morgan is projected to hit .288/.345/.362 with 2 homeruns, 36 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 130 games, while Gomez is projected to hit .242/.297/.375 with 5 homeruns, 24 RBIs and 16 stolen Bases.

Right Field:

Despite some speculation (including talk from Brewers GM Doug Melvin) about Corey Hart being used at first base, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that right field will continue to be his primary position. Hart is projected to hit .274/.338/.488 with 25 homeruns and 80 RBIs.

The Opening Day Lineup

Based on the information above, here is what I believe the Brewers may field on April 6th. Keep in mind that injuries and play during spring training could play a role in drastically changing this:

1) Corey Hart RF

2) Nyjer Morgan CF

3) Norichika Aoki LF

4) Aramis Ramirez 3B

5) Rickie Weeks 2B

6) Mat Gamel 1B

7) Alex Gonzalez SS

8) Jonathan Lucroy C

9) Yovani Gallardo P

So, there you have it the potential opening day lineup and starters by position. Go Crew!