The Case for Keeping Chris Carter

By Nathan Petrashek

Its undeniable Chris Carter is on a tear.  In his last three games, he’s cleared the fence four times, chipping in a double and single to boot.  On the season, Carter has a robust .287/.356/.713 triple slash line, a dramatic improvement over last season’s .199/.307/.427 line, which got him non-tendered from the Astros last season.  As further evidence, Carter is rocking an elite 167 wRC+.  For context, Trevor Story, whose performance has arguably been the story (pun intended) of April, has a 132.

Carter, who is on a one-year deal but is arbitration-eligible and under team control for the next two seasons, will undoubtedly be talked about as a trade candidate for the rebuilding Brewers.  But there are clues that David Stearns has not committed to a “full” rebuild, and keeping Chris Carter may just be in the team’s best interests.

There’s no doubt Carter is one of the premier power bats in the game.  Carter has hit the 8th most home runs in baseball between 2013 and 2016.  He’s also 8th in ISO over that span, with .252.  There are certainly fleas (33.4% K rate, worst in the major leagues over that stretch), but when he makes contact, the ball flies.

Carter’s power is a bit of a big deal this season because the Brewers don’t have a lot of true home run threats, a departure from years past.  Ryan Braun, who has five so far, will get his share, but beyond that the power situation doesn’t look so hot.  Domingo Santana (3 HR, 7 2B) is probably the next best power hitter on the team, and while his future looks bright, he’s generally hitting leadoff and is still a bit of an unknown quantity.  Jonathan Lucroy is a good pure hitter, but struggled last season and is only slugging .420 so far this year.  And beyond that … woof.  The Brewers are currently middle-of-the-pack in HR and SLG, and a fair amount of that is due to Scooter Gennet (4 HR, 4 2B) who has never been a power bat and is, in any event, currently on the DL.

On the whole, the benefits of keeping Carter and letting him play out the year well exceed the benefits of a potential trade.  Carter can make baseball in Milwaukee watchable for 2016, and potentially beyond.  I mean, the guy hits 430-foot home runs.  That IS an asset, as it keeps folks interested and helps put butts in seats as the Brewers rebuild.  The cost of keeping Carter the next couple seasons will be minimal.  Contrast these matters with the potential benefits of a trade.  While Carter is a premier slugger, the problems inherent in his game mean he is not nearly as important to other clubs.  It is not reasonable to expect Carter to return anything close to a high-end prospect.

That’s not to say the Brewers shouldn’t trade him if they get a great offer.  They should.  I just don’t see that forthcoming, and meanwhile, Brewers baseball is pretty fun.

 

Second Thoughts on Scooter

By Nathan Petrashek

One of my pet peeves is people who buy so completely into an idea that they have completely closed their mind to any opposing, or even slightly contrasting, viewpoint.  This “tunnel vision” makes having a reasonable discussion at best difficult, at worst impossible.  So regardless of how firmly I might believe in something, I always try to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong.  This is a worthwhile exercise in humility.  And so far in 2016, Scooter Gennett is handing me a big helping of humble pie.

By midseason last year, I had pretty much written off Gennett as a platoon bat.  Gennett’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented; he owns a paltry .123/.183./.172 slash line, although in recent years he’s had reduced opportunities against lefties thanks to the poor results early in his career.  But in the first half of 2015, Gennett couldn’t hit anyone.  He slashed just .239/.275/.384 in the first half and did a month-long stint in the minors as penance.

Gennett turned it on in the second half of 2015, dominated this year’s spring training (.457 OBP, 4 HR), and has continued his hot streak to start the regular season.  On opening day, Gennett rewarded manager Craig Counsell’s decision to give him increasing playing time against lefties, taking Giants’ ace Madison Baumgarner deep to right field.  On the young season, Gennett has tallied 3 HR and is slashing .237/.383/.474, which doesn’t account for two doubles in last night’s abbreviated loss to Minnesota.

Most notable about the “new” Scooter Gennett is his plate discipline. Gennett has benefited from Counsell’s well-documented philosophy of patience at the plate.  According to Fangraphs, Gennett has historically swung at over 40% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone; in 2016, that’s down to 25%.  He’s swinging at slightly fewer pitches in the zone as well (73% career, 66% 2016), presumably looking for better contact.

This new approach has led to a marked increase in Gennett’s walk rate.  Last year, Gennett drew a walk in just 12 plate appearances; in 13 games in 2016, he’s already walked 9 times.  The 16% increase in Gennett’s walk rate probably isn’t going to continue at that clip, but it’s easy to see how even a modest increase will add considerable value, particularly if Gennett continues to bat from the #2 position in the lineup.

Unfortunately, I can’t completely change my tune on Gennett.  While 6 of his 9 walks have come against left-handed pitching, the aforementioned home run off Baumgarner is Gennett’s only hit against southpaws in 2016; he’s 0-for-8 against them otherwise.  As a result, Gennett hasn’t necessarily changed my opinion about him as a platoon player – but I’m intrigued enough by his new plate approach to at least give him further opportunities to prove me wrong.

 

 

A Trade!

Nathan Petrashek

K-Rod-mulls-legal-action-against-former-agents-3O1144NF-x-largeThe Brewers haven’t really made any significant player moves since the end of the season, but that ended today with new GM David Stearns flipping Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers in exchange for two prospects.  Although Stearns claims otherwise, the motivation for the move appears fairly straightforward: Rodriguez was guaranteed $7.5 million in 2016 and has a $2 million buyout on a $6 million club option in 2017.  Detroit is reportedly eating that entire amount, so there are significant cost savings for the rebuilding Brewers, for whom retaining an expensive, aging closer seems foolhardy.

Not that K-Rod wasn’t effective during his time with the Brewers.  He wound up pitching all or part of five consecutive seasons with the Brewers, despite being the subject of repeated trades (and trade rumors).  K-Rod racked up a serviceable 2.91 ERA over 268 appearances, finishing 154 games and accumulating 95 saves.  That places him at fourth on the franchise all-time saves list, just two shy of mustachioed great Rollie Fingers.  Rodriguez was particularly effective in 2011, coming to the Brewers at the trade deadline and tossing 29 innings of 1.86-ERA ball to help the team secure the team’s first division championship since 1982.  And despite a great year in 2015 (57 IP, 2.21 ERA, 38 SV), the Brewers couldn’t find a willing trade partner at the deadline – possibly because of K-Rod’s noted off-field issues that include repeated allegations of abuse, including an incident in the Met’s clubhouse.

In return, the Brewers will receive a player to be named later and a Betancourt – not THAT Betancourt, but rather infield prospect Javier Betancourt.  Betancourt, who hovers somewhere around 10th on most of the Tigers’ prospect lists, is a light-hitting second baseman noted for his defense, but also has the ability to play at third base – two positions in which the Brewers do not have much current depth.  Betancourt doesn’t necessarily have that much upside, but he is a capable body at a scarce position and you can only expect so much when the other team is taking on a sizable salary commitment.

Waiting for the other shoe

By Nathan Petrashek

With the trade deadline looming on Friday, the Brewers, owners of a woeful 43-57 record and currently residing in the cellar of the NL Central, have made only one trade.  To the Brewers’ credit, that trade involved Aramis Ramirez, a player I figured the team would have a tough time moving since he’s battled injuries in recent years, has an obviously declining skill set, and has announced his retirement at the end of the year.  So kudos to the Brewers for getting at least Yhonathan Barrios back in return, a pitcher nee infielder who is extremely raw but was closing games somewhat effectively for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate.

Still, as we approach the deadline, I can’t help but wonder whether the team could be doing more to shop players that clearly will not be essential to the team’s future success.  Chief among those players is Gerrardo Parra, a left-handed gold-glove outfielder having a career year who will be a free agent at year’s end.  Carlos Gomez, the gold-glove centerfielder and (despite last night’s result) constant threat on the basepaths is as good as gone after next year, and would presumably be worth more to many teams because he is more as a short-term rental.  There’s Adam Lind, who has routinely crushed right-handed pitching this season, and Francisco Rodriguez, who has a 1.54 ERA and has converted 22 out of 22 save chances.  The Brewers actually have a lot of tradeable assets, record notwithstanding.

To be clear: I’m not upset these players haven’t been traded yet.  The dominoes really just started to fall for the trade market last week when Athletics ace Scott Kazmir was traded to Houston.  There’s still more than three days until the deadline, and the Brewers no doubt want the best offers they can possibly get.  My concern, rather, is that the front office might be pricing themselves right out of the trade market for certain players.  The latest word is that the team “doesn’t seem especially eager” to trade Carlos Gomez, and will have to be blown away by any trade offer.  That’s a fine position to take publicly, particularly when Gomez has been injured for part of this season.  But if this is also the sentiment privately circulating around 1 Brewers Way, I wonder whether the team might be overplaying its hand a bit.

Gomez would certainly require a premium prospect or two, but that’s not the return to expect for many of the players named above.  In fact, the Brewers could use as many lottery tickets as possible in the farm system at the moment if they’re eyeing a competitive window opening in 2-4 years.  I’m not saying they should give Parra, or Rodriguez, or Lind away, but I definitely would not set the bar too high for a trade of any of those players.  If no team offers prospects the Brewers like, that’s one thing; but it’s another to value your players so much that you don’t feel a reasonable offer is “enough.”  Hopefully I’m being clear, which is difficult with this level of abstraction: for the Brewers, something is better than nothing.

Can Scooter Gennett be “fixed?”

By Nathan Petrashek

Scooter GennettScooter Gennett was optioned to the minors yesterday, ostensibly to “get his entire game together,” according to GM Doug Melvin.  Gennett, who slashed .300/.331/.449 over parts of two seasons, has slumped badly at the plate so far this season.  Between a stint on the disabled list, Scoots hit just .154/.203/.200 in 65 at-bats, and has just one(!) extra base hit all year, a home run.  He’s struggled in the field, too, with three errors to his name already and a below-average UZR rating (though all the usual small sample size qualifiers apply there).  To cut to the quick, this is not an undeserved demotion.

Yet, with the team taking a nose dive to start the season, there’s little danger to letting Gennett figure things out at the major league level.  Even this mostly terrible version of Gennett isn’t going to single-handedly lose games for this mostly terrible team.  Gennett did his “thing” (that being light hitting and and averageish defense) well enough for four years in the minor leagues, and then again with the major-league team in 2013 and 2014, so there’s not really a question about his skills, such as they are.

The bigger problem is that those skills aren’t very alluring to begin with, and certainly not as a lineup fixture moving forward.  Despite hitting nine home runs last year, there is little power potential in Gennett’s bat.  Miller Park helps with that to an extent, but it seems highly unlikely Gennett is going to crack double-digit home runs on an annual basis.

Further, every single home run Gennett has ever hit in the major leagues has come off a right-handed pitcher.  In fact, in his MLB career, Gennett has just one extra-base hit off a lefty, and here’s his triple slash against same-handed pitching: .112/.141/.124.  He showed slightly more promise in that minors than that slash line suggests, but not much.  Gennett looks like the definition of a platoon player, which, incidentally, is where he really shined last season:  as a compliment to the right-handed Rickie Weeks.

So to the extent Melvin thinks Gennett can perform better, I think he’s right.  But “better” is a relative term.  There are long-term problems with Gennett that a brief stint in the minor leagues simply will not fix.  If Melvin thinks that a “fixed” Scooter Gennett will be a viable every-day second baseman, he may well be on a fool’s errand.

On to the next one: Ron Roenicke and the future of the Brewers

By Nathan Petrashek

Ron Roenicke was ousted as Brewers manager tonight, and one and done pretty much sums up his tenure with the team.

Roenicke inherited a can’t-miss roster in 2011, winning 96 games en route to an NLCS appearance.  He placed 2nd in manager of the year voting after the season, losing to Kirk Gibson (which should itself tell you something about manager of the year, but I digress).

Since then, the Brewers have gone 245-265, including a September collapse in 2014 that ranks among the worst in MLB history.  The front office left Roenicke dangle for a while at the end of last season, but made the somewhat baffling decision to exercise the option on his contract for this year.  Then, in spring training, the team picked up his 2016 option, only to can Roenicke about a month and a half later.

What should be pretty obvious from this sequence is the front office has no idea what it’s doing.  Doug Melvin talked openly about rebuilding recently, and word is that the team is actively shopping its veterans.  If that’s the case, there’s absolutely no harm in letting Roenicke ride into the sunset after this year.  If your ship is going down, it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the steering.

But this? Dumping Roenicke at this point smacks of a temper tantrum, an impetuous move made by an angry owner who maybe, despite all evidence to the contrary, still thinks this roster has a chance to win.  The team’s announcement of a new manager – scheduled for tomorrow at 10:30 am – will be telling.  If rumors are true, and Ron Gardenhire is a leading candidate, Attanasio will have shown only that, despite his investment background, he knows how to throw good money after bad.

Burdensom, Unnecessary, Ineffective: The New MLB Ballpark Security Protocol

By Nathan Petrashek

Rob Manfred, MLB’s recently elected commissioner, says he hasn’t heard any fan complaints about the new security policies baseball higher-ups have forced upon us this season.

Let’s change that.

In case you haven’t been to a baseball game yet this year, all fans must now endure an enhanced security screening before entering any MLB ballpark.  We have to empty our pockets (sort of, but we’ll get to that) and pass through metal detectors, in addition to the usual bag searches that have been around for a while.  Contrary to what MLB says, this is every bit the hassle it sounds like.  If you like waiting in line because a drunk in front of you forgot his keys were still in his pocket, you’ll love what MLB has brewed up for you.  Here’s a video the Brewers released that’s meant to be funny but inadvertently shows what an absolute pain in the ass this entire process is:

Without exception, every Brewers gameday staffer I have talked to has fallen all over themselves making clear the new security protocol isn’t a team mandate, but one from MLB.  The implication of these statements is pretty obvious; the team knows this is a colossal hassle on the ground, and, if it were left up to them, they wouldn’t have any of it.  But it’s out of their hands!

A savvy fan will no doubt be asking themselves how in the world these burdensome, unnecessary, and ineffective security measures came to be, if not from the teams.  The answer?  A “recent study of best security practices and MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to elevate and standardize initiatives across the game.”

Wow, that all sounds very official and important.  Homeland Security! Standardize initiatives!  Best practices!  Certainly there’s a good reason to make fans wait for, in some cases, hours to get inside the stadium, right?

Actually, not really.  The New York Times quoted a federal official as saying the new strategy is “not based on any direct threat, or on any sort of intelligence that might indicate stadiums will be attacked.”  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe terrorists or anyone else is targeting MLB stadiums, now or in the future.  Moreover, there’s absolutely no historical precedent for an attack, whether foreign or domestic, on a ballpark.

This comports largely with common sense.  The object of terrorism is to induce fear to be used as a mechanism to achieve a set of (often political) goals.  So a typical terrorist will choose high-visibility events like the Boston Marathon or the Olympics to attack.  While I can understand and appreciate enhanced security at, say, the World Series, the need for enhanced safety protocols at a getaway afternoon game at Miller Park is puzzling and reeks of a sport that thinks too much of itself (or at least wants to pretend it’s the NFL).

And let’s talk about these “rigorous” safety protocols.  The particular metal detectors MLB utilizes leak like a sieve.  I mean, the Brewers are telling people they can leave wallets, shoes, and belts on.  If a giant metal belt buckle is not going to set it off, what’s the point?  One security expert calls the new protocol “laughable:”

The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren’t very sensitive — people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through — and there are no X-ray machines. Bags get the same cursory search they’ve gotten for years. And fans wanting to avoid the detectors can opt for a “light pat-down search” instead.

A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium.

What’s more, the bottleneck created by the metal detectors actually makes it easier to carry out a high-casualty attack.  The fans waiting in line outside are sitting ducks for anyone with truly malicious intent.  The most that can be said about the detectors is they’ll stop the occasional fan from innocently carrying a gun or knife in the stadium – a fine goal, but hardly practical from a cost-benefit standpoint.

The only loser resulting from the new security policy is the fans, who just want to watch a baseball game.  Making it more difficult to attend a game should be the last thing on baseball’s mind.  MLB’s new security protocols are an answer in search of a problem, creating a massive hassle for fans without any real benefit.