Don’t Blame Me, It Was All Zack Cozart’s Fault

by Kevin Kimmes

Baseball fans can sometimes be as superstitious and cowardly of a lot as the average criminal in a Batman comic book. Need proof? Take the case of the perfect game that did not come to be for Mike Fiers last night in Milwaukee.

Around the bottom of the fifth, I had taken to Twitter and Facebook to make folks aware that we had a perfect game in the making. Aside from a few likes on Facebook, no one said anything. Meanwhile, Brewers’ beat writer Tom Haudricourt joked on Twitter about how “I always laugh at those who are outraged when we note that pitchers have perfect games or no-hitters. We are reporters, not concealers.”

And so it would go until Zack Cozart, leading off for the Reds in the top of the 7th, would hit a double and put an end to Fiers’ bid at immortality. Ironically enough, this is the exact same spot where Ben Sheets’ bid for a perfect game ended on 9/13/06 at Pittsburgh when he gave up a hit to Chris Duffy in the 7th.

Then the blame began. My Facebook immediately lit up with “way to go”, “it’s all your fault” and my favorite “Never ever ever mention it while in progress.” So in honor of my superstitious friends and relatives, let’s look at some of my other favorite baseball superstitions:

– Purposely stepping on or avoiding stepping on the foul lines (Mets Turk Wendell and Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra) when entering the field of play

– Wade Boggs only ate chicken before games thus earning him the nickname “Chicken Man”.

– Not showering (or cleaning one’s uniform) after a win. Dusty Baker claimed to have worn the same underwear for 5 years in the minors where he only batted .250, leading to his disbelief in superstitions.

– Justin Verlander’s Taco Bell buffet (three crunchy taco supremes (no tomato), a cheesy gordita crunch and and a Mexican pizza (no tomato) before every start)

– Tapping the plate with the bat prior to taking your stance

– Drawing in the dirt of the batters box. Wade Boggs used to draw a chai, the Hebrew symbol for life, despite not being Jewish.

– Oh, and finally, who can forget Billy Sianis and his pet goat, Murphy. I’ll tell you who can’t, Cubs fans.

So there you have it, the weird, wild and wacky superstitions that fuel baseball lore. And if you need further proof of just how odd things can get, here’s a video of Doc Ellis explaining how he once threw a no hitter while high on LSD.

Zack Greinke: Beyond the Distractions

By: Ryan Smith

Zack Greinke is a really good pitcher.

The previous statement might seem like one of the most obvious statements I could write. Nevertheless, I thought I had to point out the obvious because his impressive 2012 is being overshadowed by Milwaukee’s day-to-day struggles and trade rumors surrounding the enigmatic right-hander.

Brewers fans might not be focusing enough on what Zack Greinke is doing this year.

The fact of the matter is that baseball, like any other professional sport, is more enjoyable to watch when you are watching the best players. At the plate, I’m not sure I enjoy watching anyone more than Ryan Braun, meticulously adjusting his batting gloves, doing that little double-elbow flick, and puffing out his cheeks as he exhales right before he steps in to the box. On the bases, Carlos Gomez is right up there with rookies Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as far as entertainment is concerned. When Gomez hits a ball out of the infield, magic happens. He turns singles into doubles, doubles into triples, and has been known to score from first on a bunt.

On the mound, Greinke is right at the top of my must-see list.

He has multiple pitches that he can consistently throw for strikes. He understands the importance of using his fastball early in games so he can bust out the breaking stuff later on. If he gets in a jam, you know he’s going to turn to his filthy curveball to make hitters look foolish. Greinke is a surgeon on the mound, methodically carving up opposing lineups almost every single time he steps out there.

That last paragraph still doesn’t do justice to the season that Greinke is currently having. Luckily, Fangraphs provides numerous statistical categories that allow us to take a deeper look into how Greinke is dominating on the mound in 2012.

First, let’s look at some of the traditional stats to help us evaluate how strongly Greinke has performed this year. In 16 starts, Greinke has compiled a 9-2 record. Those nine wins are tied for fourth-most in the majors this year. In the world of ERA lovers, 3.00 has long been considered the level expected and required from the league’s top starters. Greinke currently has an ERA of 2.82, which comes in well below that level. In 13 of his 16 starts, Greinke has pitched six or more innings. He has also given up three or less runs in 13 of his starts. Greinke is sporting a 1.17 WHIP, a 9.00 K/9, and a 1.94 BB/9. To the traditional stat-lover, Greinke is having a very impressive year.

In his 16 starts, Greinke has had two duds, giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings against Chicago and allowing seven runs in 2.1 innings against the Diamondbacks. In his other 14 starts, Greinke has pitched 96 innings, allowing 17 earned runs, striking out 94, and compiling a 9-0 record. Frankly, those numbers are ridiculous.

Now, if you’re a sabermetric nerd like me, those numbers just don’t tell you enough. If we take a look at some of Greinke’s advanced stats, we can get an even better idea of just how well he has been pitching this season.

For starters, FIP and xFIP are good indicators of the effectiveness of a pitcher based solely on what the pitcher can control. ERA, WHIP, and HR/9 can all be influenced by team defense, park variances, and official scoring difference. FIP and xFIP try to eliminate those factors, instead focusing as much as possible on the pitcher’s execution from the mound. These stats are also good indicators of what we can reasonably expect from a pitcher going forward. Greinke has an xFIP of 2.72, which is the second-best mark in the majors in 2012, while his 2.22 FIP is the top mark in baseball this year.

Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, is another advanced stat that can shed some light on Greinke’s performance this season. BABIP focuses on at-bats that result in pretty much anything other than a strikeout or a walk. The average pitcher will often have a BABIP between 2.90 and 3.00. If a pitcher has a number noticeably higher than that, it typically means that the pitcher in question has suffered from defensive lapses or general bad luck. Greinke’s BABIP of 3.29 is the ninth-highest total in baseball this year, which should come as no surprise considering the injury to Alex Gonzalez and the regression that seems to have overcome Rickie Weeks in 2012.

Finally, WAR simply takes a look at a player’s overall impact on team wins. While it is not a perfect stat, WAR at least tries to establish how many wins a player is worth to his team when compared to a league-average replacement-level player. A full-season WAR of 6.0 is considered to be MVP-level, and we are only approaching the halfway point of the season. As of right now, Greinke’s WAR of 3.6 is tied with Detroit’s Justin Verlander as the top mark among all pitchers.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it; right now, Zack Greinke is having one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball right now. That’s saying quite a bit considering that we are in the middle of a pitching renaissance.

Sadly, Brewers fans haven’t been able to truly enjoy Greinke’s artistry on the mound because the team has struggled to perform on the field. Instead of getting pumped up for every one of his starts, fans are too busy flooding twitter with updates about which team has scouts at the game to watch Greinke.

There’s a very strong possibility that Greinke finishes the year in another uniform. I, for one, feel that it would be in Milwaukee’s best interest to trade him sooner rather than later in order to get the best possible return for the pending free agent. Don’t get me wrong; I would love to see Greinke finish up the year in Milwaukee and then sign a long-term extension in the offseason. But I also have to be honest with myself. If Greinke was going to sign an extension with the team, I think it would already have happened.

As long as Greinke’s still in Milwaukee, Brewers fans should cherish every time he takes the mound.

In the mean time, let’s just enjoy what he brings to the mound pretty much every time he steps out there. Let’s cheer him on every time he gets two strikes on a hitter. Let’s ignore the struggles of the team every fifth game. Let’s tune out the trade rumors unless they become something more than just rumors.

Instead, let’s give our undivided attention to what Zack Greinke is doing in 2012.

After all, he deserves it.

Addressing Milwaukee’s “Personal Catcher” Situation

By: Ryan Smith

The Brewers had just experienced a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins.  To make matters worse, the Crew only managed to score 10 runs over the course of those four games.  Some fans – myself included – couldn’t help but start to wonder if it was too early to be genuinely concerned about this season.  At that given moment, the Brewers were pathetic.

Pathetic.

Then last Sunday’s outburst happened.  The Brewer bats woke up to the tune of 16 runs.  Sure, a good portion of those runs came against the very mortal Jason Marquis, whose less-than-stellar performance that day forced him into unemployment.  Still, it was nice to see the team wake up at the plate.

For Brewers fans, Sunday’s game was a damn good time.

Helping to lead the charge on Sunday was The Jonathon Lucroy. (I’ve decided to refer to him as “The Jonathon Lucroy” because of the way he’s dominating at and behind the plate this season.)  Already having a breakout season, The Jonathon Lucroy continued his success at the plate with a monster performance, crushing two home runs and knocking in seven runs along the way.  I couldn’t help but think that Sunday might have been just what the doctor ordered: a game to build some confidence for our struggling lineup.

On Monday, my excitement would be put on hold.

Even animals are frustrated with the idea of a “personal catcher” in Milwaukee.

Randy Wolf was pitching.

Now let me point out that I am a fan of Randy Wolf.  I was never a big fan of Randy Wolf as the second guy in our rotation, but as our fourth?  Sign me up.

My problem with Randy Wolf is George Kottaras.

Let me point something else out: I like George Kottaras.  As a kid, I grew up cheering for Milwaukee and Boston, and I’ve continued to do so for quite some time, so I liked Kottaras well before most Brewers fans started using his name as a verb early this season.

My problem with George Kottaras is Randy Wolf.

I can buy into the idea of a pitcher having a “personal catcher” for a few reasons.  Tim Wakefield always had a specific catcher in Boston, and if you remember Jason Varitek trying to catch the knuckleballer in the ’04 playoffs, you completely understand why he has his own catcher.  I would understand if someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka had a personal catcher because he came to the big leagues with a rumored seven pitches.  I would even understand if someone like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay requested a personal catcher because, well, I’d give those guys whatever the hell they wanted.

But Randy Wolf?  As Tom Haudricourt tweeted during Monday’s game, Randy Wolf has exactly eight 1-2-3 innings this season.  He’s pitched 46.1 innings thus far.  That performance warrants a personal catcher?

Sorry.  I don’t buy it.

I’ve heard other arguments for this whole “personal catcher” situation that Wolf and Kottaras have going.  I get the idea that giving The Jonathon Lucroy an off-day every fifth game will help save his legs and keep him fresh into September.

But does the situation have to be so rigid?  Does it have to be every fifth game?  What about every seventh game?  Wouldn’t that still give him more off days than other top-tier catchers have throughout a given season?

Or if they insisted on giving him that fifth game off, couldn’t they juggle it around from starter to starter, based on the each game’s pitching matchup?

The Jonathon Lucroy has been in perpetual Beast Mode all season, especially against lefties.

Monday’s game against San Francisco was the perfect example of my last point.  The Giants were sending southpaw Madison Bumgarner to the mound.  The Jonathon Lucroy is, quite simply, hitting the crap out of the ball against lefties, sporting a line of .419/.455/.742 in 2012.

The left-handed George Kottaras, in limited at-bats, has a line of .167/.500/.167 against lefties this season.  So basically, he knows how to draw a walk against left-handed pitching but isn’t as gifted when it comes to actually swinging the bat in those same situations.

So I have to ask Ron Roenicke one thing: why?

Why take out a guy who is hitting the ball with reckless abandon regardless of where you put him in the batting order?  Why give him an off-day against a left-handed pitcher when he might be our most dangerous bat against lefties outside of Ryan Braun?  Why not wait and give Kottaras his turn in the lineup against Matt Cain on Tuesday?

Why?

Because it was Randy Wolf’s start.  And George Kottaras is Randy Wolf’s personal catcher.

Before the game, when asked about possibly changing this philosophy, Roenicke said, “I like them both out there. I think there should be some   times when I’d rather put ‘Luc’ in there catching Randy. Tonight would  be one of them. But we need to talk to them more about that if we decide   we’re going to go that way.”

Once again, sorry.  I don’t buy it.

Mr. Roenicke, I’m a fan of yours.  I like the style of game you preach to  the players.  I like your aggressiveness on the bases.  I love seeing a  suicide squeeze once a week.

But I also know that you’re the manager and they are your players.  It is your job to try and put out the lineup that gives us the best chance to win the game on any given night.  “We” don’t need to talk about anything if “we” are going to make a decision.

You need to make that decision.  The next time Randy Wolf is matched up against another lefty, you need to put out the best lineup possible.

You need to make sure you have The Jonathon Lucroy out there.  Because right now, The Jonathon Lucroy trumps any “personal catcher” system that you have in place.