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.

Rotation Roulette

By Nathan Petrashek

Wily Peralta, Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Mark Rogers have all thrown quality innings as starters for the Brewers this season, but there projects to be a need for a veteran starter in Milwaukee next year.  In August, Ron Roenicke had this to say about adding an experienced arm:

“I don’t want to say we need to,” he said. “I think you’d always like to. But who’s out there and for what number? It gets to the point where some of these salaries are getting a little ridiculous. We’ve got to be really smart in what we do, and who’s out there as far a quality veteran you really want.

“If you can have young starters, then maybe spend your money in the bullpen to make sure the bullpen is really good and you can close out games when you have leads. If a guy has a 4.50 ERA, which is up there, if he can go six innings, that’s three runs. If you have a good bullpen, you can win a lot of games. I think you can do it, if you have a really good bullpen.

“If you don’t have the money to go out and get $20-million-a-year pitchers, why not do it with a 4.50 ERA. What does that cost you? I think you can do that.”

The economics of pitching certainly have changed, especially this year.  The Brewers made overtures to resign Zack Greinke, only to be priced out of the market by Matt Cain’s monster deal.  The best arms now project to make at least $20M per year, with many expecting Greinke to push his free agent salary up to $22 or $23M annually.

With that, it’s time for a blind taste test.  Here are the 2012 stats of three players projected to be free agents in 2013:

Innings ERA WHIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9 ERA+
Player A 212 3.48 1.196 .08 8.5 2.3 115
Player B 170 4.32 1.295 1.4 7.1 2 87
Player C 118 3.74 1.246 1.1 8.2 2.8 110

If you were a general manager, and basing your decision solely 2012 stats, it’s obvious which you would choose.  Player A is Zack Greinke, the premier pitching free agent.  Despite faltering after his trade to the Los Angeles Angels, Greinke is still likely to command a mountain of money.  Expectations for the former Cy Young winner are high; just look at what the Angels were willing to pay the Brewers in terms of players for just a few months of his service.  Greinke puts up some remarkable numbers and will be compensated accordingly.  The financial risk will be a long-term one, too; any team making a serious run at Greinke will likely have to put a 6- or 7-year deal on the table.  That would lock the pitcher up through at least his age 34 season, a point at which many pitchers have begun to decline.

Player B is likely to be the second-most desired pitcher should the Angels decline their $15.5M 2013 option.  Dan Haren has had a rough go of it in 2012.  At age 32, it is entirely possible that Haren is losing his edge; this season, for example, Haren has dealt with lingering back issues and dip in velocity on virtually all of his pitches.  Still, he has history on his side; just last year, Haren was a Cy Young candidate after pitching 238 innings of 3.17 era ball.  For that reason, Haren is likely to command at least a three-year deal, and I can’t imagine him getting less than $13M per year.  I mean, Randy Wolf got just under $10M a year for 3 years from the Brewers, and he was an All-Star just once … in 2003.

Player C is the much-maligned Shaun Marcum.  It seems all Brewers fans will remember of him is his postseason blowup in 2011.  And it was a blowup, to be sure; a 14.90 ERA in 3 clutch games isn’t exactly what you want out of a key player in your rotation.  But those three games mask Marcum’s solid 2011 and 2012 campaigns.  Other than a slight uptick in WHIP and K rate, Marcum’s 2012 looks a lot like his 2011 – at least when he was on the field.  The major knock on Marcum has always been his health. A tommy john surgery sidelined him in 2009, and his throwing mechanics have been the subject of much criticism.  Marcum managed 195 innings in 2010 and 200 in 2011, but has struggled in September and October in both years.  Thus, an entire healthy year for Marcum probably consists of 170 innings.

Of course, a GM doesn’t have just statistics to worry about.  There’s money, too.  And if I’m the Brewers shopping around for one of these guys, Marcum’s my man.

I’d love Greinke, but not his price tag.  Few teams can shoulder a $23M annual contract, and the Brewers aren’t one of them.  Dan Haren’s age and struggles worries me more when accompanied by a minimum $40M price tag.  At age 31 next year, Shaun Marcum isn’t exactly young, but he also isn’t going to cost much.  Marcum is making just under $8M this year, which is probably where the free market – once it factors in the injury risk – will price him, too.  I can easily see Marcum signing for 3/$20M.  In terms of value for dollars, that’s a no brainer.

Now, Marcum is not going to be a fit for every team.  If he’s only going to pitch 170-180 innings there are going to be some valuable innings that someone else is going to have to pick up.  But the Brewers are ideally situated to deal with that issue.

The Brewers currently have about $52M committed for next season, not counting arbitration salaries.  With a young back end to the rotation and most position players already accounted for, there projects to be some substantial money available for the bullpen.

To cover the additional innings a Marcum signing would require, the Brewers could add a very good long relief arm.  Or they could use Marcum out of the bullpen to provide 130+ innings of quality relief during the year, as suggested by @simplekindoffan  on Twitter.  Alternatively, the Brewers could keep Marcum as a starter and give him every eighth or ninth start off.  One of the nice things about this team is its starting pitching depth; with Rogers, Fiers, Peralta, Estrada, and Narveson not all going to make the rotation, there will be some arms available for a spot start.  The point is that the Brewers have ways to deal with Marcum’s innning cap in ways that many other teams may not.

Marcum isn’t the only free agent starter the Brewers should think about pursuing.  But he – and players like him – certainly offer value in a way that guys like Zack Greinke and Dan Haren will not.

On the Comeback Trail

By Nathan Petrashek

Sometimes, you have to wonder whether some form of divine intervention has occurred for the Brewers.

Shaun Marcum gets the starting nod tonight against the Nationals.  He could just as easily be starting for the Dodgers right now.  The Brewers placed him on waivers just before the trade deadline in late August.  Having pitched in only one game since returning from the disabled list on August 25 from an elbow injury, Marcum didn’t have any suitable takers.

That could be a blessing in disguise.

With the Brewers now just two games out of the wild card, the rotation looks nothing like it did in spring training.  Ace Zack Greinke has departed for Los Angeles, Randy Wolf was released for ineffectiveness, and Chris Narveson was lost for the season early on.  Anchored by Yovani Gallardo, the rotation now features rookies Wily Peralta and Michael Fiers, as well as swingman Marco Estrada.  If the team has serious playoff aspirations, Marcum will be a key part of it – maybe the key.

When healthy, Marcum is as reliable as they come.  Last year, he pitched at least six innings in twenty-five starts.  Over 200 innings, he compiled a 3.54 era, striking out over 8 batters per 9.  There is consistency here to hang your hat on.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what most are going to remember about Marcum’s dominant 2011 season.  The wheels came off in the postseason, where Marcum lost each start and gave up 16 runs over 9.2 innings.  He started the final game of the NLCS, putting the Brewers in a 4-run hole before he departed.

The Brewers will have to hope Marcum has put the puzzle pieces together.  Because of his injury, Marcum has logged just over 100 innings this year, about half the load he put on it during 2011.  That should help keep him fresh for the stretch.

Even though Marcum has caught a lot of flack for his injury history, that just might push the Brewers into the playoffs.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Win Midwest League Championship

20120917-110332.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Despite leaving Appleton on Thursday tied at a game a piece, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers were able to overcome the hostile environment of playing on the road and took games 3 and 4 in Fort Wayne in order to win their first Midwest League pennant. The win was the cherry on the sunday of what was an amazing season for Milwaukee’s Low-A affiliate. So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the highlights.

8 Timber Rattlers Take Part in the Midwest League All-Star Game

The following players took part in this years All-Star Game held at Kane County:

Greg Hopkins
Seth Harvey
Drew Gagnon
Rafael Neda
Jason Rogers
Tommy Toledo
Mark Williams
Yadiel Rivera.

7 Players Promoted to High-A Brevard County

Jason Rogers
John Dishon
Seth Harvey
Parker Berberet
Tommy Toledo
Drew Gagnon
Andy Moye

Rehab Starts A Plenty

The following Brewers each spent some time on the Appleton Roster this year:

Carlos Gomez
Jonathan Lucroy
Shaun Marcum

For the Record

Brandon Macias set a dubious team record becoming the most hit batsman in team history. Macias was hit 21 times this season, breaking the old record of 18 times held by Luis Tinoco.

Chadwin Stang’s 19 game hitting streak was the 3rd longest in team history behind Luis Tinoco (27 in 1996) and Josh Womack (22 in 2005).

Ben McMahan became only the 2nd player in team history to record double digits in doubles, triples and home runs in a season with 21/11/15. The only other player to complete this accomplishment was Chris Colton in 2004.

The following players had multi-homer games this season:

Tyler Roberts
Max Walla
Cameron Garfield
Greg Hopkins (x2)

Cream City Cables would like to not only congratulate the players, coaches, and staff for all they did to make this championship possible, but also would like to thank the organization for providing us access to the team and players throughout the season. I can’t wait to get the 2013 season started to see what the team does in defense of the title.

Could Marcum Be Dodger Bound?

by Kevin Kimmes

Shaun Marcum’s future with the Brewers seems likely to come to an end in the next 24-48 hours to the surprise of almost no one (Marcum included). Marcum, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, was officially placed on waivers this week, making this a situation of when, not if, he will be dealt.

“I’m sure I would have been traded if I was healthy prior to the [July 31 Trade] Deadline,” Marcum said. Had this indeed been the case, Milwaukee could have avoided waivers, and traded Marcum outright, however at that time he was still rehabbing from elbow stiffness which had him sidelined for two months.

One potential suitor could be the Dodgers. Despite recently completing a monster trade with the Red Sox which included the acquisition of starting pitcher Josh Beckett, LA continues to look for another starter due to the recent loss of Chad Billingsley to the disabled list and setbacks to the rehab of Ted Lilly.

The Sporting News reported Wednesday morning that potential options could include recently demoted Ranger Roy Oswalt and the Marlins’ Mark Buehrle. So, why could Marcum potentially land there instead? Well, there’s a couple of reasons.

1) Of the three, Marcum has the lowest ERA (3.19) and WHIP (1.168) this season.

While Buehrle’s stats are somewhat similar (3.62 ERA and a 1.212 WHIP), Oswalt’s numbers thus far this season are disappointing. His 5.94 ERA and WHIP of 1.560 are both career highs, not the sort of numbers you are looking for when trying to fix holes in your starting rotation.

2) He’s healthy and rested.

The biggest complaint about Marcum last season was that he fell apart down the stretch. That should not be the case this year. This season, he has only logged 87.1 innings, less than half of last seasons 200.1, and he should still have gas in the tank once the playoffs begin.

Additionally, after completing 3 minor league rehab starts and 1 major league outing, Marcum is showing no lingering signs of injury.

According to Brewers’ skipper Ron Roenicke, “If something was going to show up, I think we would have seen it by now. I understand that there’s a little bit [of concern there], but you’re not asking Shaun to do this for the next two years. You’re talking about right now. You’re looking at this small window where you have an opportunity to win.”

3) He’s the youngest of the three at just 30 years old.

While this by itself isn’t much of a reason to make the move, I’m sure it will factor into decision making. So there is that, which is nice.

Cream City Cables will be staying on top of this story and will bring you updates as they develop. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and on Twitter (@kevinkimmes, @NPetrashek, and @ryanhenrysmith2)  for news and smart ass comments as only we can bring you.

Brewers Rumor Roundup

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

A lot of Brewers seem likely to find new digs over the next few days, and we’ll be recapping any credible trade rumors here.  Check back often for the latest updates.

Randy Wolf.  The Brewers rotation is going to look a lot different next year.  Many  speculated that Wolf could be moved at the deadline; the only question is, “for what?”  ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Brewers will trade him for nothing, “if you take the money.”  Wolf is earning $9.5M this year and has a club option for next year at $10M with a $1.5M buyout.

Shaun Marcum.  Marcum is still recovering from an injury that has sidelined him since June 14.  While Marcum isn’t going to be traded before Tuesday’s non-waiver deadline, he may be a waiver trade candidate after he returns to action.

***UPDATE***: Adam McCalvey reports (on Twitter) that Marcum’s second bullpen did not go well.

Zack Grienke.  Opposing GM’s have seemingly done a 180 on Greinke in the last week.  After he was skipped in the rotation, execs were quoted as saying they were “concerned,” even going so far as to call him “scary.”  Other big-market execs said they wouldn’t touch Greinke because of his known anxiety issue.  But after Grienke’s heavily scouted seven-inning masterpiece in Philly, he has become the prize of the trade deadline, especially since Cole Hamels is no longer available.  Teams known to be fawning over the righty include the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, and White Sox.  The White Sox are pushing hard, but they don’t appear to have the pieces necessary to land Greinke; several league sources have reported that Doug Melvin’s asking price is astronomical and includes a top shortstop prospect.  The Braves dropped out after refusing to part with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, as did the Orioles after Melvin suggested Manny Machado.  At this point, it looks to be a two-way battle between the Rangers and the Angels, though Texas appears to be the frontronner and is presumably very motivated after losing the last two world series.  Still, their top prospect, shorstop Jurickson Profar, is reportedly off the table, even though the Brewers (and other teams) are no doubt asking about him. The Angels don’t seem too confident in their chances to land Greinke.

***UPDATE***: Greinke was traded to the Angels late Friday for a package that includes three of the Angels’ top-10 prospects: SS Jean Segura (#2), RHP Ariel Pena (#9), and RHP Johnny Hellweg (#4).  The Rangers apparently didn’t come close to that offer, refusing to trade Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, or even Martin Perez.  In fact, the Rangers’ best offer appears to have been IF Leurys Garcia, LHP Chad Bell, and RHP Justin Grimm; a pittance compared to what the Brewers ultimately wound up with, if I may offer my editorial opinion.  The Angels’ decision to include Pena led Doug Melvin to pull the trigger, and the Angels now have perhaps the best rotation in baseball.  You can read our own Ryan Smith’s analysis of the trade here.

Francisco Rodriguez.  K-Rod was looking like a sure candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline, but then he became the closer.  Over the last week, he’s allowed 7 earned runs over 3.1 innings of work, with 7 walks against just 4 strikeouts.  The Giants were reportedly in on him until they watched him pitch.  K-Rod apparently alienated the Brewers, too, as Ron Roenicke announced the team would deploy a closer-by-committee.

George Kottaras.  Kottaras was designated for assignment yesterday, a formality designed to open up a roster spot for returning catcher Jonathan Lucroy.  Doug Melvin is reportedly attempting to find a new big-league home for the backup catcher; Kottaras was told to stay in Milwaukee while Melvin shopped him around.

***UPDATE***: The Brewers have dealt the lefty catcher to the Oakland A’s, according to Tom Haudricourt.  The A’s apparently have to make a corresponding roster move, and the deal will not be announced, nor will we know who the Brewers are receiving, until Sunday.  You can read Ryan Smith’s take on George Kottaras’s move here.

Nyjer Morgan.  Morgan was a great pickup last year, but this year has been a struggle for the lefthanded hitter; he’s batting just .228/.299/.274.  The Brewers would love to move his $2.35M salary, especially with Carlos Gomez playing so well, but there don’t appear to be many suitors right now.

Kameron Loe.  Loe may be the only Brewers reliever to be moved before the trade deadline.  After a two-inning, three-strikeout scoreless showing on Thursday, Loe should draw some interest from teams looking for bullpen help (i.e. Cincinatti Reds, Rangers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, etc.).  Loe has allowed just two runs over his last nine outings.

Manny Parra.  Manny Parra, like Rodriguez, was a great trade candidate until this week.  With plenty of scouts in attendance in Philly, Parra walked three on Tuesday and gave up four earned runs.  That came on the heels of another three-walk performance the day earlier.  It’s a shame, because Parra had pitched well through July up until that point (7.1 ip, 2 bb, 10 k, 1.23 era).  Nothing simmering on the trade front here.

***UPDATE***: According to CBS’s Danny Knobler (via Twitter), the Brewers have received some inquiries about Parra, but may keep him and re-convert him into a starter again.  That didn’t end well the first time.  Parra as a starter is 23-26 with a 5.44 era, 1.692 whip, and 1.71 k/bb ratio.  As a reliever, he has a 3.82 era, 1.406 whip, and 2.62 k/bb.

Corey Hart.  The Brewers are listening on Hart, but would have to be “bowled over” by the offer to move him, reports Tom Haudricourt.  Still, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hart included in the Greinke deal if it nets the Brewers a top shortstop and pitching prospect.

Aramis Ramirez.  Like Hart, the Brewers are listening, but the price is high.  The team is not motivated to sell simply to rid their books of the $16M Ramirez is due in 2014 (he’ll earn $10M next season, too).  Early reports linked the Dodgers to Ramirez, but they appear to have satisfied their desire for a bat with Hanley Ramirez.

Jose Veras.  No doubt the Brewers would love to unload Veras and his 1.72 WHIP, but I can’t imagine a contender that would want to play with that kind of fire.  By the same token, I couldn’t figure out why the Brewers would want to play with that kind of fire back in December.  Veras has the third-most walks among MLB relievers and I can’t see him going anywhere.  K-Rod is tied for fourth, incidentally.

Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

The term “bandwagon fan” is one that carries a negative connotation. The bandwagon fan only starts to support a team when that team is having some level of success. If the team is a historically bad team or is a team that is experiencing tough times, the bandwagon fan is nowhere to be found. To be labeled a bandwagon fan is often meant as an insult. The “true fans” have a sort of animosity towards the bandwagon fans because, well, they’re bandwagon fans.

I grew up a fan of two teams: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox. I was a fan of the Brewers because I grew up in Wisconsin and was lucky enough to attend a game or two every year at County Stadium. I was a Red Sox fan because I actually got to see them play of television occasionally. I also wanted to be a pitcher when I was young, and Roger Clemens became my favorite pitcher for quite some time. When he bolted to Toronto, I stayed with Boston. To this day, I cheer for Milwaukee and Boston. It’s what I’ve always done, and while I may be more of a die-hard for Milwaukee as I attend more and more games each year, I assume I’ll always root for both teams.

Boston and Milwaukee. I’m not sure if there could be two more opposite markets outside of New York than those two. Red Sox Nation spreads far across the globe, with many lifers and bandwagon fans sporting Boston gear on a daily basis. Even when Boston struggles from time to time, they still sell out every game and do very well when it comes to merchandise sales. Frankly, Boston is such a large market naturally that the bandwagon fan does not make much of an impact to the day-to-day and season-to-season operations of the Red Sox front office.

I’m pointing all of this out because the Milwaukee Brewers are getting very close to the point where the bandwagon fans are going to disappear. And I have one message for Brewer Nation:

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

Without bandwagon fans, Miller Park might start looking like it did back in 2003.

It’s no secret that Milwaukee is the smallest of the small-market teams in Major League Baseball. From 2002-2006, the Brewers ranked no higher than 17th in total attendance in any of those seasons. In 2007, when Milwaukee finished above .500 for the first time since the ’92 season, Milwaukee’s attendance jumped to 12th in all of baseball. After that, the Crew finished 9th (2008), 9th (2009), 11th (2010), and 7th (2011). In 2012, the Brewers are currently sitting in 11th place once again.

It should be no surprise that as the Brewers started to find more success on the field, they also found more success at the ticket office. That’s how this whole system works. If the team is winning, the bandwagon fans will find their way to the ballpark. And when the team starts to struggle, the bandwagon fans will scatter.

Without the bandwagon fans, the front office might not spend the way they have in recent years.

But as those attendance numbers so clearly point out, those bandwagon fans are immensely important when it comes to stimulating the Milwaukee Brewers economy. And when the Brewers are selling more tickets, more jerseys, more concessions, more everything, the front office is going to be more inclined to spend some of that money they are making. When those attendance numbers drop, so will the payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here’s my point: the self-proclaimed “true fans” of the Milwaukee Brewers should not be so quick to vilify the bandwagoners when they jump ship because, unlike Boston, we need them.

The cold, hard truth is that the next few years could be very lean ones in Miller Park. Zack Greinke could (and should) be traded in the next few weeks. Shaun Marcum’s recent trip to the DL should be seen as a blessing to Doug Melvin, because Marcum was quickly pitching himself out of Milwaukee’s comfort zone as far as his next contract is concerned. Rickie Weeks hasn’t been Rickie Weeks ever since he legged out an infield single last July against the Cubs, spraining his ankle in the process. The farm system has some decent pieces, but there’s not a lot that’s ready to be harvested for a while yet. Outside of Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and The Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee doesn’t have a lot of long-term promise on the current roster.

And if the bandwagon fans don’t find their way to Miller Park every now and then, things might not get much better any time soon.

So, to the bandwagon fans out there, I would just like to remind you about the fun times we’ve had these last few years. Remember the Sabathia craze? Prince’s monster shots? Braun’s MVP? T-Plush and Beast Mode? The NLCS? The tailgating? Even though times are rough right now, that can’t erase all of those memories, can it?

And to the “true fans” out there, I just want to remind you to invite those bandwagon fans out when you go to catch the game at a local sports bar. And when you are planning a weekend trip to Miller Park, remember to include those same bandwagon fans in your evite or your Facebook event. Above all else, do whatever you can to keep those bandwagon fans from straying too far.

Bandwagon fans, don’t be strangers to Miller Park. On behalf of Brew Crew Nation, this die-hard member wants to let you know that you are always welcome here.

Melvin’s Gamble

by Nathan Petrashek

Shaun Marcum makes his sixth start of the season this afternoon against the Giants.  Though he has only one win, Marcum has been, for the second season, among the Brewers’ most consistent starters.  Marcum hasn’t given up more than three runs in any outing, and four of his five starts have been quality.  On the season, he’s sporting a nifty 3.19 ERA (best among team starters) over 31 innings.  Marcum is walking slightly more batters than you’d expect, but he’s also striking out more.  Small Sample Size rules certainly apply, but it doesn’t appear Marcum is experiencing a postseason hangover.

This is pretty much what I expected when I wrote this piece in late March.  My position then, as it is now, is that Marcum can help the Brewers win and deserves a contract extension.  At the time, Marcum made his desire to remain a Brewer beyond his final arbitration year well-known.  He was disappointed that Doug Melvin hadn’t approached him, and since then it has become clear that Melvin has no desire to negotiate deals with both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. While I understand the urgency to sign Greinke, this was the wrong approach to take.  In essence, Melvin gambled.  He gambled that Grienke would be amenable to a long-term agreement and that the team could come up with an adequate financial package.  He gambled that Marcum’s injury history-which is pretty light, save for a past Tommy John surgery that potential extension candidate John Axford has also had-and mechanics represent a real injury risk.  He gambled that Marcum would not take personally the lack of effort put forth by the front office to retain him.

So far, it looks like Melvin’s gamble has failed on every one of those fronts.  Todd Rosiak understated the matter when he said “the chances of the Brewers signing Zack Greinke to a long-term deal aren’t very high.”  After the Matt Cain contract fiasco, there is virtually no chance the team signs Greinke, who has put the brakes on further negotiations.  So far, Marcum hasn’t shown any side effects from the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him during spring training.  And though that says nothing about future injuries, the post-Tommy John Marcum has proven to be pretty durable, logging nearly 200 innings in each of the two years since his return.  Finally, there’s a good chance any discount that could have come from Marcum’s playoff failures or shoulder fatigue has evaporated.  After all, let’s be clear: the message from Marcum’s boss in spring training was that the team was better off letting him walk.  Would that make you more or less inclined to sign a team-friendly deal?

While I think the team can still find value in a Marcum deal, his quality start to the season is both a boon and a curse.  The team needs its quality pitching more than ever, but the price tag for a future extension keeps rising.  And if Marcum does for the whole season what he has done in the first month-plus, the Brewers will have missed out on a steal.

The Marcum Problem

by Nathan Petrashek

It might seem like an odd time to revisit Shaun Marcum’s contract situation; after all, he has been sidelined all spring by shoulder inflammation.  Who would want a piece of that, especially after his epic blowup at the end of last year?  If you need a refresher, Marcum went 2-2 in September with a 5.17 ERA in 5 starts.  But it was his poor pitching in the postseason that really torpedoed an otherwise spectacular year for the 30-year-old righty: in just 9.2 innings, Marcum allowed 16 earned runs on 17 hits with 5 walks.  He didn’t win a single postseason game for the Crew, and in fact put the team in some pretty substantial holes.  That was most apparent in Game 6 of the NLCS, where the scoreboard read 0-4 after Marcum’s sole inning of work.

It seems silly, perhaps, to want to see him signed to an extension after all that.  But that’s exactly why I see value.

Now, there’s a big caveat.  We know Marcum would like to continue to pitch for the Brewers, and he has made clear he’s open to an extension.  He has not, however, disclosed his desired length of the contract or salary (they usually don’t).  However, because Marcum was arbitration-eligible for the final time this year, we do have some idea of how Marcum values himself.  In arbitration, Marcum sought $8.7MM, slightly less than the Brewers paid for their #4 starter last year, Randy Wolf ($9.5MM).  If his salary demands for an extension are similar, the Brewers might do well to approach him and see if anything can be worked out.

The shoulder issues, which Marcum has suffered from in both preaseasons as a Brewer, seems to be resolving.  Marcum pitched in a AAA match Wednesday, throwing 26 pain-free pitches.  He’s expected to make his first Cactus league start tomorrow, and is scheduled to start the season as the Brewers’ #4.

He was also one of the team’s most consistent starters last year.  Much ado was made about his home/road split; in 2011, Marcum fared much better away from Miller Park than he did at home.  But I don’t read too much into this; in 2010, it was the exact opposite.  Marcum’s September swoon is certainly more alarming, but it’s worth noting that in 2010, his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Marcum threw 195 innings and yet still ended September 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA.  In fact, 2011 was the first time Marcum struggled badly in September since 2007.  And I don’t regard 2007 as a warning sign, either, because Marcum threw twice as many innings that year than he did in 2006.  He ended 2006 just fine, going 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, three against the dominant AL East powerhouses, the Yankees and the Red Sox.  In short, I don’t think Marcum is any more likely to replicate his fluky September than, say, David Freese is to replicate his playoff tear.

Right now, I’d be comfortable giving Marcum something like 3/$26MM.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable for the floor, and ceiling, that Marcum offers.  That kind of deal wouldn’t financially handicap the club; in fact, the first year almost pays for itself, as the Brewers would not feel pressured to pick up Randy Wolf’s $10MM option.  The team could also trade Chris Narveson in his first arbitration year if two of their young rotation arms are major-league ready.  I’m not wed to an extension by any means, but it seems to make sense to me for a proven pitching commodity like Marcum.

My Cardboard Habit: Looking at What’s Brewing in Topps 2012 Series I Baseball

by Kevin Kimmes

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always viewed the launch of the Topps Baseball set as one of the earliest signs of spring. Prior to spring training, or even the groundhog seeing (or not seeing) his shadow, the set marks the first sign of hope that another season is on its way despite it’s release in the middle of winter’s icy cold grip.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve made collecting the entire 660 card set a yearly tradition. This year, I thought I would use the blog to share my love for these cardboard keepsakes and to specifically focus on what Brewers fans can expect to find in the first half (Series I is composed of cards 1-330) of this years set .

We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1!

For the second consecutive year, Brewers slugger and 2011 NL MVP, Ryan Braun finds himself on the first card of the set. While this honor is a great one (former Brewers 1st baseman Prince Fielder had graced this spot in 2010 with a photo of his infamous September 2009 walkoff celebration), this year is “doubly” special for Braun.

Why you ask? Well, this year Topps decided to change up their “chase” variants (short printed versions of some cards with alternate photos and lower print runs) which for the last several years had been reserved for the retired greats of seasons past. This year, the focus is on celebrations and off field hijinks, leading to Braun’s card having 2 separate versions. Shown above, is the standard version of Braun’s card depicting him doing what he does best, knocking the crap out of the ball. His alternate card (pictured to the left), features Braun doing his signature “boxing” home run celebration with Fielder.

For those looking for the short print, your best chance is to check with your local hobby shop or eBay as the estimated average of finding a short printed card (of which there are 22) is only 2 per hobby case.

So, Who Else Made The Cut?

Below is a list of the other players who can be found in the main set donning a Brewers uniform. For convenience sake, I’ve broken this down into 2 groups: those currently with the team and those no longer with the team.

Currently With The Team:

# 29 Active NL Wins Leaders (Wolf)
# 66 Nyjer Morgan
#143 George Kottaras
#146 Carlos Gomez
#181 2011 NL Batting Average Leaders (Braun)
#210 Zack Greinke
#262 Shaun Marcum
#272 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 (Morgan)
#294 John Axford

No Longer With The Team:

# 57 Yuniesky Betancourt
# 77 2011 NL Home Run Leaders (Fielder)
#136 Casey McGehee
#224 2011 NL Runs Batted In Leaders (Fielder)
#327 Mark Kotsay

Of all of the cards listed above, the two that I love the most are the Nyjer Morgan cards. First, his standard card (#66) is the same photo of him, Braun, and Fielder that graced the cover of the August 29, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated (shown on the left). Due to the national exposure that this photo got, this has become one of those instant classics and was a real surprise to me when I pulled it out of a pack.

The other card to feature Morgan is the 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 card (#272). Here we find Morgan in full “Beast Mode” as he celebrates his walk off single that sent the Crew to the NLCS for the first time in franchise history. I love this photo choice so much simply due to the fact that it just sums up the energy and the enthusiasm of the 2011 campaign so perfectly. It’s Brewers baseball, in the post season, and “T-Plush” is supplying the charge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Digging for Gold: The Inserts

Topps decided to go with a gold motif for this years inserts. This means everything from gold ring toppers, pins, coins and just plain old gold foil can be found in abundance in these subsets. Let’s look at which Brewers, and Brewers alum can be found here.

**Note – I have not included former Brewers below if the card they appear on shows them in another team’s uniform (sorry Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor), with the exception of cards featuring players on the Milwaukee Braves.**

Golden Moments

Golden moments is a 50 card set composed of cards celebrating historic moments in MLB history which were accomplished by not only those that have come before, but from today’s stars as well. Here we find two cards of interest: GM-10 which celebrates Prince Fielders “Wake Up, Walk Off” from this past season, as well as GM-15 which celebrates Ryan Braun’s passing of Robin Yount for the longest consecutive game on base streak in franchise history. An autographed version, relic version, an auto/relic variant, as well as a “24k gold infused” version numbered out of 5 pieces are also available for the Braun card.

Additionally, the following players each have relic cards in this subset:

GMR-CH Corey Hart
GMR-CM Casey McGehee
GMR-JA John Axford
GMR-JLU Jonathan Lucroy
GMR-PF Prince Fielder
GMR-PM Paul Molitor
GMR-SM Shaun Marcum
GMR-YG Yovani Gallardo

Golden Greats

This 75 card set celebrates the career highlights of 15 legends of the game (5 cards each). Brewers fans, or more specifically Milwaukee baseball fans, may be interested in checking out cards GG51-55 which feature none other than “Hammerin” Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave. As with the Braun card found in Golden Moments, the Hank Aaron cards found in this set also have autographed (numbered out of 10), relic (numbered out of 10), and auto/relic parallels (numbered out of just 5). Additionally, there is a Gold Coin variation which has a production number based on the player’s jersey number (in this case 44) and contains an actual gold coin with the players likeness on it.

Timeless Talents

These 25 dual-player cards statistically compare a hero of yesteryear to a modern day player. As with the main set, this subset again finds Ryan Braun in the lead-off spot teamed up with none other than “The Ignitor”, Paul Molitor. A dual autographed parallel of this card also exists.

1987 Topps Minis

Topps classic wood grain design from their 1987 set gets the mini treatment in celebration of the sets 25th anniversary. Braun (TM-1) again leads off this 50 card subset and is joined by Brewers ace Zack Greinke (TM-35).

In The Name Relics

You want something no one else has? How about the actual letters off of this past years All-Star warmup jerseys? That is what Topps is offering in this subset where each piece is numbered 1/1. Fielder (shown at left), Weeks, and Braun all appear here meaning that Brewers Nation will need to figure out how to sort out the 17 total pieces available between these three players.

Topps Silk Collection

100 of the base sets cards were  also printed as mini version on gold silk and numbered out of only 50 pieces each. Included in this subset are Ryan Braun (SC-1), Zack Greinke (SC-47), Shaun Marcum (SC-62), and John Axford (SC-81).

Base Set Paralells

Each of the 330 card in the base set features two different parallels: Platinum and Wood. The platinum cards are numbered out of 61 pieces in honor of this being Topps 61st set. These are identical to the base cards with the exception that they sport a platinum colored border. Like the platinum parallels, the wood parallels are also identical to their base cards except that these cards are a tribute to the 1962 set and are all numbered 1/1.

So there you have it, a thorough look at the Brewers cards in this years set so far. I’ll be back with a look at Series II after it is released in June. In the mean time, if you have any questions regarding this set, or card collecting in general feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @kevinkimmes. Happy collecting!