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.

Offseason 2012: Fielder and K-Rod offered arbitration

As expected, the Brewers have offered arbitration to Prince Fielder and Francisco Rodriguez, and declined to make an offer to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

Fielder is a lock to decline the offer.  The team eventually signing him will forfeit a first- or second-round draft pick, depending on last year’s record, and the Brewers will also receive a supplemental pick sandwiched between the first and second rounds.

K-Rod may or may not accept arbitration.  If he does, he will receive a raise from his $13.5MM salary last season, but the Brewers will have addressed an area of need in the bullpen.  If he does not, under the terms of the new CBA he will not cost the signing team a draft pick, but the Brewers will receive two supplemental picks; one immediately before the signing team’s first pick, and another sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

Yuniesky Betancourt was not offered arbitration.  The salary just would not have made sense given the $2MM buyout the Brewers exercised earlier this offseason.  Betancourt has stated he wants to come back to the Brewers, though, and with Clint Barmes signing in Pittsburgh and Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes likely too expensive for the Brewers, the shortstop market is thinning out.  Betancourt may yet find his way back to the team at a lower salary.

Takashi Saito’s contract prohibited the Brewers from offering arbitration.  The Brewers will not receive any draft picks for his departure.

Offseason 2012: Offering K-Rod arbitration the right move

The Brewers have four arbitration decisions to make by Wednesday night, but only one is truly a “decision” in the sense that we traditionally use the word. In order to receive draft pick compensation for losing highly or moderately rated free agents, teams are required to offer one-year contracts to the player at a value to be set by an arbitration panel.  These offers can sometimes be risky for teams; if the player accepts, he generally receive a raise from the previous year’s salary.  On the flip side, accepting arbitration can be risky for the player, because it deprives him of the chance to look for a multi-year deal.  This year, the Brewers must decide whether to make offers to four former Brewers:  Takashi Saito, Francisco Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, and Yuniesky Bentancourt.

Fielder will obviously receive an offer.  He would receive a substantial raise from the $15.5MM he earned last season, but is looking for a new deal somewhere in the range of $180-$200MM, and definitely would not accept a one-year contract.  Because Fielder is a Type A player, or one of the most highly rated, the Brewers will receive the signing team’s first- or second-round pick, depending on where it finished in the standings the previous year, as well as a supplemental pick between the first and second round of the draft.

Saito and Bentancourt are obvious nonoffer candidates.  Saito’s contract precludes the Brewers from offering arbitration, meaning the Brewers will receive nothing for his departure.  The Brewers exercised Betancourt’s $2MM buyout earlier this offseason, so risking a one-year contract valued at more than $6MM on Betancourt is not something the Brewers want to do.  And as a Type B, or moderately rated, player, the Brewers would receive only a supplemental pick for losing Betancourt; definitely not worth the risk.

But somewhere in the middle lies Francisco Rodriguez.  Offering Rodriguez was very risky under the previous collective bargaining agreement, because the prospect of forfeiting a draft pick served as a major disincentive to his signing in a market flooded with closers.  Still, I felt it was in the Brewers’ best interests to make an offer then.  I’ve become even more convinced that the Brewers should offer arbitration in light of the new collective bargaining agreement signed this week, which eliminates the draft pick forfeiture for a small class of elite relievers that include Rodriguez.  This makes Rodriguez far more palatable to many teams and increases his marketability.

The risk, of course, is that Rodriguez will accept arbitration.  His services would cost the Brewers somewhere north of the $12MM he earned last season, which is a substantial amount for any player, let alone a set up man. But even that is not as much of a downside as you might think.  With Rodriguez, Saito, and LaTroy Hawkins departing, the Brewers are in serious need of bullpen help.  A quality set up reliever at market value will still cost somewhere between $3-4MM per year on a multi-year deal, so assuming the Brewers go the free agent route, Rodriguez represents only a $9-10MM premium for one year.  The Brewers are not likely to be in the market for one of the major free agents this offseason, and will probably settle for inexpensive, solid players or internal options to fill the voids in the bullpen and at 1B, 3B, SS.  In other words, Rodriguez’s salary would not cripple the team for a long period, and the Brewers – who are still in a position to contend next year – could do worse than Rodriguez again setting up John Axford.

There is, of course, a reward if Rodriguez does not accept: a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft.  And for a depleted farm system (at least, relative to other teams), the Brewers certainly could use the help.  Given that Rodriguez is stuck behind John Axford and desperately wants to close on a multi-year deal, I’d say the balance certainly tips in favor of K-Rod rejecting the Brewers’ offer.

So I don’t see how the Brewers lose by offering Rodriguez arbitration.  Best case scenario, he declines and the Brewers receive an extra draft pick.  Worst case scenario, he accepts and a contending team is stuck with – god forbid – an elite reliever in a depleted bullpen.  He may be an expensive reliever, but, hey, not too long ago the Brewers were handing out $10MM like candy (see: Eric Gagne, Jeff Suppan).  The Brewers could do much worse than another year of K-Rod, even a hefty price tag.

 

Offseason 2012: Shortstop News

With the World Series mercifully over, we turn our attention to the hot stove.  Teams currently have until Thursday to negotiate exclusively with the 148 players who filed for free agency.  For the Brewers, that includes Prince Fielder, Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Yuniesky Betancourt, Francisco Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins, and Takashi Saito.  Do not expect many, if any, of those players to reach a deal with the Brewers by that time.

Two pieces of news relevant to that free agent morass the Brewers are about to embark on.  First, the Brewers today announced that they had declined options on Rodriguez and Betancourt.  Both were prohibitively expensive in different ways; the former financially and the latter in terms of number of wins his retention would cost the 2012 team.  Yet because of a weak free agent market for shortstops – or, more accurately, a weak market in the Brewers’ price range – front office officials have left open the possibility of bringing Yuni back at a cheaper price than his $6M option.  You had to sense this coming when Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke defended Betancourt at their end-of-season press conferences.  That doesn’t lessen the blow if the team has to deal with another offensively and defensively challenged shortstop in 2012.

That brings me to the second piece of free agent news:  the Red Sox announced today that they had picked up SS Marco Scutaro’s 2012 option, depriving the Brewers of one potential cost-effective infield component.  I blogged about Scutaro here, indicating that the Brewers should pursue him as a cheap upgrade to Betancourt, but it appears the Red Sox recognized Scutaro’s versatility and effectiveness as well. With Rafael Furcal likely to remain with the Cardinals after a World Series run, the list of available shortstops beyond Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes is becoming quite unappealing.

One bit of housekeeping news:  This is the first post in Cream City Cable’s Offseason 2012 series.  This series will focus on Brewers’ trade and free agency rumors, and will include a position-by-position review in the coming weeks.  Each post in the series will have the Offseason 2012 tag for easy searching.  Stay tuned; the stove is just warming up!

Game 4 Warm Up

Well, at least I was right about one thing:  it didn’t take the Brewers long to score against Josh Collmenter.  Corey Hart led off the third with a home run to left.  Unfortunately that was all the scoring the Brewers would do in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The D’Backs weren’t quite so tame, though, in what was one of Shaun Marcum’s worst starts of the year.  Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt each knocked in a run in the first, Montero added another in the third, and in the fifth Goldschmidt grooved a two-strike fastball into the seats for the D’Back’s first franchise postseason grand slam.

But we’ve so often talked about defense with these two clubs, and that again was what really cost the Brewers the game.  The team had multiple opportunities to end the fifth before Goldschmidt even came to the plate, but Nyjer Morgan badly misplayed a ball to straightaway center field and Marcum dropped a tailor-made double-play ground ball.  A throwing error by Jerry Hairston, Jr. extended the inning and allowed the D’Backs to plate one more run to end the scoring for the night.

The D’Backs appeared to be testing their luck at the plate against the left side of the Brewers’ infield, as Yuniesky Betancourt had more balls hit his way than I can remember so far in the series.  He fielded most of them well, though, but you have to worry that Arizona will continue to try to exploit the Brewers’ weak left side.  Perhaps Kurt Gibson, widely expected to run away with the NL Manager of the Year award, has found this club’s Achilles’ heel.

Randy Wolf gets the ball tonight for the Crew.  Career versus Arizona, he’s 10-5 with 110 strikeouts in 128 innings, all of which are fine.  The problems are his 51 walks, 1.39 WHIP, and 4.64 ERA.  Wolf lost against Arizona his last time out, but gave up only two runs over 7 1/3, which, if replicated, I would be more than happy with.

His opposition, Joe Saunders, has not won a game in two starts against Milwaukee and owns a 5.68 ERA versus the Brewers.