On Benching Rickie Weeks

By Nathan Petrashek

weeks1I did my weekly radio stint with Ollie Burrows on the Sports Den today (ESPN 100.5 in central Wisconsin), and it seems there’s a lot of concern with Rickie Weeks.

That’s not unwarranted.  Weeks is batting .189/.302/.297 on the young season, and his defensive lapses are well documented. So what gives? Why are the Brewers still starting this guy?

To help answer that, let’s take a look at a couple other guys struggling through May 7.

Player A: .208/.255/.296

Player B: .242/.293/.435

Player A is Josh Hamilton, a career .300/.359/.539 hitter.  Guess what? Hamilton’s still starting.  Player B is Adrian Beltre, who you probably saw tonight.  For his career, he’s at .279/.330/.475.  But they’re bums, right? Bench them all!

Historical performance plays a big role in determining how long a leash a struggling player gets.  Weeks isn’t Hamilton or Beltre, but he’s been a very solid offensive player during his career, slashing .249/.348/.425.  Fangraphs says he’s been worth 17.3 wins above replacement (Hamilton is at 23.5 over a slightly shorter period).  Point being: we know Weeks’ ceiling, and it’s pretty damn good, particularly at a position not ordinarily known for offensive prowess.

Of course, I doubt anyone would be complaining too forcibly if Weeks hadn’t had the worst year of his career last year.  And it got bad last year; really bad.  On May 31, 2012, Weeks was batting just .158/.292/.294.  And you know what? After that, he looked a lot like the familiar Rickie Weeks, slashing .260/.344/.445.

But even more compelling is the absence of an heir apparent at second base.  Scooter Gennett is doing just fine at AAA Nashville, but he’s a hit-first kid who doesn’t really play second well, doesn’t display much power, and doesn’t walk.  He’s also played just 24 games at AAA, and is a complete unknown at the major-league level.  Yuniesky Betancourt has done fine as an emergency fill-in at first and third bases, but he’s barely played any second base and his .306 OBP just barely tops Weeks’ .302.  Betancourt is also a career .260/.290/.395 hitter.  It’s all fun and games while he’s whacking home runs, but you’re nuts if you think he’s going to continue that kind of pace all year.

You can argue about where Weeks should be in the lineup right now, but there’s no question he should be in it for the time being.  Let’s have this conversation in June.

Some Good and Bad News

By Nathan Petrashek

ramirezThe Brewers finally ended a three-game skid on Sunday, but not before recording a franchise-worst 32 scoreless innings.  That’s right; before Ryan Braun’s 8th inning dinger, the Brewers hadn’t scored a run since the 2nd inning in Chicago on Tuesday.  The Brewers (specifically, the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt) managed to tie the game in the 9th, and might have taken the lead if not for some (attempted) bunting foolishness.  Still, Jonathan Lucroy hit his first home run of the season to put the Brewers ahead for good at the top of the 10th.  The Brewers have their third win, and all is right with the world.

Well, not so much.  For fans who like to see runs scored (basically, if you’re not Old Hoss Radbourn), there was plenty of bad news to accompany the victory.  Aramis Ramirez, who jammed his knee sliding into second base early in the season, isn’t likely to come off the DL when he’s eligible for reinstatement.  I know, it’s a little cringeworthy when Ron Roenicke uses a phrase like “play it safe.” After all, this is the manager who just days ago-down a run in extras, with men on, and no other position players due to Roenicke’s own poor roster construction-declared Ryan Braun unfit to appear as a pinch hitter, and batted Kyle Lohse(!) in his stead; Braun would go 3-for-4 the next day and play nearly the entire game.  But given Ramirez’s age and the lack of any other suitable options defensively at third base, it’s probably a good thing that Ramirez take whatever time he needs to get right.

The good news is that, offensively, the team has been fairly productive, even with Braun, Ramirez, and 1B Corey Hart missing time.  To date, the 2013 Brewers have scored 36 runs.  That’s just 3 shy of the number they scored as of this time last year, when the Brewers showcased the National League’s best offense.  That those runs have come with some of the team’s best hitters (Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez) enduring mini-slumps is a testament to the team’s offensive potential.  With those players returning to form, and Ryan Braun healthy again, it’s not unreasonable to expect this team’s offensive output to increase significantly in the coming days, even with prolonged DL stints for Ramirez and Hart.

I don’t,  of course, mean to suggest that this team couldn’t use Ramirez or Hart in the lineup. Even at 36 runs scored, the Brewers’ offense ranks as one of the worst in the National League, down there with the lowly Pirates and Marlins.  Although I’m certain that having Ramirez and Hart in the lineup would make the Brewers more dangerous, it’s hard to quantify how much.  I love Ramirez’s bat, but (even if not entirely true) the notion that he’s a slow starter persists, and last season provided ample evidence to support that theory.  That same concern doesn’t exist for Hart, but some of his lost production has been offset by Jean Segura’s and Norichika Aoki’s stellar runs, and Hart can be prone to prolonged slumps.

Bottom line: we all know that when this offense is finally healthy, it will be great.  But it is fully capable of treading water for the next month or so until that happens.

Just 3 More Days!

by Kevin Kimmes

Just a reminder fans that Opening Day is this Monday. See you all at the ballpark!

Yuni B 2

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

2013 Position Review & Preview: Shortstop

AP

by Kevin Kimmes

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

Review of 2012:

When Milwaukee found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline in 2012, the Brewers faithful knew they had seen the last of Zack Greinke. Greinke, who had never lost a game at Miller Park, was about to become a free agent at the end of the year, and one way or another was about to get a huge payday for his services, most likely from a major market team. So, to get something out of his departure, the Brewers traded him to the Angels in late July for some top quality farmhands in Double-A pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, as well as shortstop Jean Segura.

While Helwig and Pena would see minimal playtime in 2012 with Milwaukee , Segura would get the opportunity to fill in as the teams starting shortstop thanks to a hole at the position left by an early season injury to Alex Gonzalez. The gamble would pay off for Milwaukee as Segura took to the big league level of play right away.

As mentioned on the back of his 2013 Topps Spring Fever card: “Soon after the Brewers acquired Segura in a trade with the Angels last July, he was tossed into the Major League fire for the first time. By September, the 22-year-old was thriving, batting .375 in one 20-game stretch and finishing with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Those were credentials enough to make the shortstop job his to lose this spring.”

Segura finished his 2012 season with Milwaukee with a slash line of .264/.321/.331 over 163 plate appearances in 44 games. He recorded 39 hits, 14 RBI, 7 stolen bases and walked 13 times.

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

139/477 over 147 games, 6 HR, 50 RBI, 35 BB, 69 K, .291/.340/.388

The above numbers should come as no surprise to anyone that followed Segura’s offseason. He won the Dominican Winter League batting title, hitting .325 over 35 games and ranked 2nd in stolen bases with 11. Similar numbers were shown in his 18 Spring Training appearances in which he hit 19/52 with 3 stolen bases and a slash line of .365/.377/.577.

Depth of Position:

Behind Segura at short is the man that he replaced at the position last year, Alex Gonzalez. Initially released by Milwaukee in the offseason, Gonzalez eventually re-signed with Milwaukee where he figures to start the season at 1st base filling in for the injured Corey Hart.

Behind him, there is one more shortstop, a name that sends shivers down the spines of the collective fan base. A name so polarizing, that it made those opposed to the Kyle Lohse acquisition question if Doug Melvin had finally lost his mind. That man: Yuniesky Betancourt. Luckily for all of us it sounds like the plans for Yuni is as a utility bat, not a utility infielder.

With Yuni fresh on everyone’s minds, I’ll leave you with the following:

YuniB

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

The Numbers Game: 3rd Times a (Bad Luck) Charm

Gorman Thomasby Kevin Kimmes

In my third installment of The Numbers Game, I’ll be looking at those players who have worn the number 3 over the years for The Pilots/Brewers organization. Today’s entry is much shorter than previous installments, primarily due to the fact that no one wore the number 3 on their jersey  for 17 consecutive seasons. As if that didn’t bode ominous enough, we also get a look at Yuniesky Betancourt. Scared yet? Let’s get started.

Seattle Pilots:

No player was assigned the number 3 in the Pilots organization in 1969.

Milwaukee Brewers:

No player was assigned the number 3 during the 1970 and ’71 seasons.

Joe Lahoud – 1972-73: Our first entrant on today’s list, Lahoud played 2 seasons with Milwaukee in the early 1970s. As Milwaukee’s primary right fielder in 1972, Lahoud was .237/.331/.399 in 111 games. His 1972 campaign ranks as the second best statistical season of his 11 year career.

Deron Johnson – 1974: One of the shortest tenured Brewers, Johnson opened 1974 as an Oakland A before being released on waivers to Milwaukee on June 24, 1974. He would change teams one more time during the season, eventually being sold to the Red Sox on September 7th.

Gorman Thomas – 1975-76: While best known for wearing number 20, “Stormin’ Gorman” did wear number 3 for two years with Milwaukee. It should be noted that Gorman wore a different number in his first two years with Milwaukee, 44. This number was given to some busher named Aaron who the Brewers acquired in 1975 at the twilight of his career. Huh, wonder what ever became of that guy?

Ed “Spanky” Kirkpatrick – 1977: One of the only former Brewers with a shorter tenure than the above mention Deron Johnson, Kirkpatrick played in 29 games for Milwaukee in 1977. Earlier in the season he had also been a Pirate and a Ranger. 1977 would be the final year of Kirkpatrick’s 16 year career, despite hitting .273/.364/.325 in his short tenure with Milwaukee.

No player was assigned the number 3 from 1978 to 1985

Juan Castillo – 1986-89: Castillo played the entirety of his major league career with just one team, The Milwaukee Brewers. Drafted as an amateur free agent in 1979, Castillo was .215 with 3 homeruns and 38 RBI in 4 major league seasons.

No player was assigned the number 3 in 1990 and 1991

Dante Bichette – 1991: An average producer in his two seasons with Milwaukee (he switched to number 8 in 1992), Bichette was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Kevin Reimer. Bichette is best known for hitting the first homerun in Colorado Rockies history off of New York Met Brett Saberhagen on April 7th, 1993. He also holds the distinction of  being the last Brewer to wear number 3 in the American League.

No player was assigned the number 3 from 1992 through 2008.

17  seasons is a long time for a number not to be used, especially a single digit which are normally popular with players. Had the number 3 built up a stigma of suffering and woe? Did this time on the shelf cause a bitterness in the digit, like something out of a Stephen King novel? Well, if this wasn’t what actually happened, the number 3 sure was about to make a case for it.

Felipe Lopez – 2009: The first player to wear number 3 for the Brewers in the National League (where they had been since 1998) is Felipe Lopez. Lopez tied for the major league lead in errors by a second baseman in 2009, despite making a promising debut with Milwaukee in which he went 4 for 4.

Lopez would wear uniform number 7 when he made his second stint with the Brewers in 2011. It wouldn’t prove to be lucky for him either as he was designated for assignment on August 21st after hitting .182 in 51 plate appearances.

No player (mercifully) was assigned number 3 in 2010.

Yuniesky Betancourt – 2011: Next to feel the wrath of number 3 was Yuniesky Betancourt. Oh Yuni B, the things I want to say are probably just best summed up in a song. Maestro!

Cesar Izturis – 2012: It’s never a good sign when your starting shortstop goes down to a season ending injury. It’s an even worse sign when his injury is the 4th major injury of a relatively young campaign. Enter Cesar and his amazing .235 batting average. To no ones surprise, he was allowed to clear waivers on August 6, 2012 and became a Washington National.

Yorvit Torrealba – 2012: Yorvit appeared in 5 games for Milwaukee recording 5 plate appearances. The results? No hits, 1 walk, 2 strike outs and a batting average of .000.

So there you have it, the most hard luck number so far, the number 3. With any luck the 2013 squad will not see some unfortunate soul fall under it’s spell. I’ll be back tomorrow to look at our first retired number, 4.

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.

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.

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!

Your Questions, Answered: January 2012

By Nathan Petrashek

WordPress allows us to see what search terms are being used to locate articles on our blog.  Some searches have been downright hilarious, while others are serious questions we perhaps haven’t covered.  I thought it might be fun to answer a few questions each month that we run across that we might not have otherwise discussed.

In our first installment, I’m including search terms from January and December.  Read on for the answers to all your questions!

“Will Braun be suspended?”  This seems to be the $400,000 question of the Brewers’ offseason.  The short answer is that a suspension looks likely, as Brian Anderson noted today.  The silver lining, I suppose, is that if the “medical issue” rumors are true, Braun’s legacy will likely remain intact (i.e. the suspension would not have Hall of Fame implications).

“Ryan Braun doesn’t just want to be a baseball player; he wants to be good at everything.”  Not a question, but I agree.

“When will Prince Fielder make his decision on where he will play next year?”  We got this answer yesterday; Prince will have a new home by the start of spring training.  Yes, I said “new” home, as in not returning to the Brewers.  Though there was some speculation this week about a one-year deal for the slugger, the Francisco Rodriguez arbitration decision and the signing of Aramis Ramirez put the Brewers over budget.  No room for the big man.  Word is the Nationals are frontrunners in the Fielder sweepstakes, but the Rangers met with him yesterday.  That, I’m sure, led to another search term I stumbled across: “smiling Prince Fielder.”

“2011 NLDS results?”  I’m happy to report the Brewers took the series, 3-2, on a walk-off hit by Nyjer Morgan in Game 5.  Don’t ask me anything about the NLCS though.

“Was Roenicke wrong in his game six pitcher?”  I said don’t ask me anything about the NLCS.  You’re referring to Shaun Marcum, who was amazing in the regular season but fell apart in the final month and in the postseason.  As I laid out here, Roenicke did the right thing.

“Twitter bird with beer?”  No clue what you were looking for here.  But as long as we’re on the topic of Twitter, follow each Cream City Cables writer:  Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek), Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2), and Kevin Kimmes (@kevinkimmes).

“Are the Cubs going all the way this year?”  No.

“How many Ryan Braun bobbleheads were made for May 3rd, 2009?”  Ah, stadium giveaways, my favorite subject.  I think something like 44,000 bobbleheads are made for each all-fan giveaway.  Usually 5,000 of those are painted in a retro uniform.

“Who is Yuniesky Betancourt going to sign with in 2012?”  The Kansas City Royals were the unlucky winners of that rather uncompetitive race.

“Betancourt cream?”  Sorry, my friend.  I don’t know what you were searching for, but I can assure you I don’t know anything about any Betancourt cream.  Try the Miller Park Drunk.

That concludes our little adventure into the blog’s search box.  Keep those questions coming!

The Winter of Our Discontent…

One Brewer fan’s attempt to talk Brewer Nation off the ledge

Have you ever been in a relationship that, right from the start, has you constantly smiling? It seems to be clicking on all cylinders, yet you know it doesn’t have staying power? No matter what you did – weekend getaways, fancy dinners, experimental roleplay – you just always knew that a dark cloud hung over the entire relationship. Well, if you were a fan of the 2011 incarnation of the Milwaukee Brewers, you’re all too familiar with this type of volatile relationship.

Think about it. You had the exciting can’t-sleep-at-night feeling when it all started (trading for Marcum and Greinke). You had the initial rough patch (the 14-20 start). You had the moment when things couldn’t be going better (the August domination), even though that dark cloud still seemed to be waiting ominously over everything else (Prince’s impending departure). And of course, you had the moment when it all fell apart (the NLCS).

So where does that leave you now?

Well, now you are newly single. Your friends are trying to set you up with someone new, but it doesn’t have that same feeling to it. No offense to Aramis Ramirez – who, by the way, is a huge upgrade from Casey McGehee and I don’t care how much you like McGehee or how nice he is – but Ramirez’s signing in no way compares to how we felt when we traded for Marcum (a battle-tested arm from the AL East) and Greinke (I was literally checking my phone for updates as I sped from Green Bay to Madison upon hearing about this trade). Instead of looking forward to another year of watching possibly the best hitting duo in baseball, we have one of them heading for greener pastures and one looking at a 50-game suspension.

(To keep the relationship parallel going, finding out Braun tested positive for some banned substance would be like finding out your ex cheated on you and then gave you herpes – that one’s pretty clear-cut)

Oofta.

So why even bother with a new relationship when the fallout from the last one still stings?

Because this could be the one.

I know what you’re thinking. I must be nuts to have such optimistic feelings about 2012. Just bear with me for a moment. While the glaring differences between last year’s Brewers and this year’s seem to suggest a precipitous fall, I see things quite differently. Let me tell you why. (Thanks to fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com for the following stats)

    1) No more Yuniesky Betancourt. The only hole bigger than the one in Betancourt’s swing was the one that resided where a team’s shortstop should typically be playing. Alex Gonzalez provides similar value at the plate (Gonzalez OBP+ was 76 in 2011, Betancourt’s was 75) while adding defensive value on a team that so desperately needed to improve the defense of the left side of the infield. In fact, Gonzalez’s UZR/150 of -0.3 was his worst since 2005 (and only his second year with a negative UZR/150) while Betancourt’s UZR/150 of -7.4 was his best since 2007. Basically, Gonzalez at his worst is still much better than Betancourt at his best. And Gonzalez’s noticeably superior defensive metrics don’t even tell the whole story – truth is, Gonzalez makes a play on a lot of balls that easily get to the outfield with Yuni out there. Upgrade.

    2) Aramis Ramirez. For the last 8 ½ seasons, Ramirez has been a thorn in the Brewers’ side. Since 2003, Ramirez has posted an OPS+ of 105 or greater in every season other than 2010. Ramirez’s 2011 WAR (3.6) absolutely crushed McGehee’s (0.3) as did his wOBA (.373 for Ramirez, .272 for McGehee). Defensively, I was surprised to find that McGehee’s numbers are quite a bit better than Ramirez’s (UZR/150 of 7.3 for McGehee vs. UZR/150 of -10.9 for Ramirez). Still, the naked eye test suggests that Ramirez will add defensive value if only for the fact that he has greater range than McGehee – though he’s certainly lost a step or two with age, it’s not hard to beat the half-step range that McGehee provided. If the Brewers are going to stay in the NL Central race for the first 50 games without Braun, Ramirez is going to be a key factor.

    3) The bullpen. I don’t expect John Axford to have the kind of year he had last year – that just doesn’t happen often. But even if he doesn’t rack up save after save as he did in 2011, he has the type of mentality to be able to bounce back from one rough outing. And don’t forget that we still have K-Rod for the eighth inning. Now, like many of you, I was not ecstatic that we offered arbitration to him – that’s a big number to be paying a setup man. But he’s going to be auditioning to be someone’s closer. He knows that. He wants that. So if he needs to audition, let’s have him audition with us. Add to that Kameron Loe in a role that he’s comfortable in (not setup), a hopefully healthy Zach Braddock, and the additions of Seth McClung and Jose Veras, as well as the typical movement that a bullpen sees from year-to-year, and the Brewers bullpen has the potential to be as reliable as last year’s version.

    4) Jonathon Lucroy. When was the last time you remember the Brewers having a catcher that you were excited about? A young, up-and-coming catcher that wasn’t some other team’s reject? A catcher who seemed to have the snarl of a pitbull while still knowing how to control a pitching staff of varied temperaments? Seriously, pay attention to Lucroy this year. This one might just be a gut feeling, but I’m calling this his breakout year. He’s going to need to take on a leadership role this year to help fill the void of Prince and Braun, and I think he’ll thrive in that role.

    5) Rickie Weeks. In case you forgot, Weeks was having a pretty impressive season last year until he legged out an infield single, spraining his ankle in the process. We always heard about his potential, and he’s been starting to show that potential for the last few years now. Whether he’s batting leadoff (he’s become a valuable table-setter for the team in the last few seasons) or filling in at the 3/4 hole for 50 games, Weeks has the ability at the plate to put runs on the board.

    6) The rotation. Yes, I know. I watched the playoffs. I saw Gallardo embracing the moment and everyone else fading from it. But we know the potential is there. Greinke has ace material and has shown it on more than a few occasions. Marcum suffered from a dead arm more than anything else in the playoffs. He’s a good pitcher, and I’m thrilled to have him as our third starter. We know what Gallardo is – a strikeout machine who is starting to figure out that seven innings and six strikeouts is better than five innings and ten strikeouts. Wolf is a veteran who doesn’t let his previous start affect his next one. We actually have a rotation that isn’t a glaring weakness. For the second year in a row.

I’m not saying that we’ll automatically be as good as or better than last year’s 96-win team. Replacing Prince is not going to be easy. Losing Braun for 50 games is not going to be easy. As entertaining as he is, T-Plush is in his second year in Milwaukee. In sports, crazy players typically win you over in the first year and then show off their crazy side in year number two. So that could be interesting. All I’m saying is that things aren’t as bad as many Brewer fans seem to think they are. And I didn’t even mention the biggest reason to have hope for 2012.

    7) The NL Central is very winnable. No Albert Pujols. The Cubs are rebuilding. Again. The Astros might field one of the worst teams in history. The Pirates really haven’t done much to change last year’s first-half wonder team. The Cardinals are expecting Lance Berkman to have the same season as he did last year. The Reds pitching rotation got stronger, but still remains an issue.

The NL Central will be a three-team race between St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. Adam Wainwright and Mat Latos will improve each of their respective rotations, but they will not fix all of the problems that either team faces this year. St. Louis has to replace the man who has been the face of their franchise for the last decade. Cincinnati needs more consistency from their rotation and bullpen. Trust me; the NL Central is wide open.

I know that the sting of last season might still be there for some of you. You’re afraid to get back in the saddle when there’s a good chance for another relationship that has a disappointing end. But 2012 is a new year. This is a new team. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think you should give them a chance.

After all, the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers might be the one.

Next Up: 2012 NL Central Division Team-by-Team Breakdown

By The Numbers: What the Acquisition of Alex Gonzalez Means for Milwaukee from a Defensive Perspective

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason acquisition of Alex Gonzalez to replace Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop may not at first seem like a very exciting move on the part of Milwaukee. Gonzalez, who turns 35 this year, is heading into the twilight of his career leaving some to wonder why The Brewers have gone and acquired another shortstop with roughly the same offensive output as Betancourt, when the departure of Prince Fielder has left a void in the run production department.  While it is true that Gonzalez has seen a decline in his offensive numbers (.241/.270/.372/.642 in 2011), the move makes perfect sense from a defensive perspective.

Consider this: according to Baseball-Reference.com, last season Milwaukee shortstops accounted for a total of 23 errors, 2 higher than the league average of 21, and tied for 10th most in the league with Boston, Cincinnati, and Washington. Of these errors, 21 were committed by everyday shortstop Betancourt.

By comparison, the Atlanta Braves (the former home of Gonzalez) committed a total of 14 errors at the shortstop position, ending the season tied for 5th least with Arizona. Of these, 12 were committed by Gonzalez.

Additionally,  according to The Bill James Handbook 2012, over the past 3 seasons (2009-2011) Gonzalez’s defensive play has led to 26 less runs being created  as well as 30 more outs created on grounders and flyballs when compared to an average shortstop. During this same period Betancourt was responsible for the creation of 46 runs due to poor defensive play, partially due to the fact that his outs created on grounders and flyballs were 56 plays below average (the worst at the shortstop position). That’s a variance of 24 runs and roughly 29 outs per season between the two.

So, will the addition of Gonzalez’s glove to the Brewers infield mean lower run totals for the teams opponents this season? Only time will tell. But, based on what the statistics show us, I would say that it is pretty safe to believe that we will be in for much higher quality defensive play this season from the infield.