By Nathan Petrashek
The Brewers played their first game of the 2015 season yesterday, a confidence-boosting (sarcasm) 10-0 drubbing by the Colorado Rockies. Four of the Brewers’ five bench players-Gerardo Parra, Luis Jimenez, Logan Schafer, and Martin Maldonado-recorded at least one at bat. The group reached base zero times in five plate attempts (two of which belonged to Parra after Ryan Braun left the game due to injury).
This should surprise precisely no one. Parra is inarguably the most offensively gifted bench player, and even he is thoroughly uninspiring. Pick your metric: Parra sports a career .325 OBP paired with a .394 SLG%, and a below-average rating per wRC+. As a defensive outfielder, one could ask little more from the gold-glove winner, but there’s not much to like as his bat goes.
Unfortunately, the same can be said of Maldonado and Shafer. With more or less a full season’s worth of plate attempts from both players (Maldonado has 586 in his MLB career; Shafer has 504), it’s apparent that neither is in the MLB for his bat. Maldonado may be one of the better defensive catchers in the game, but owns just a .225/.291/.359 career slash line. Whatever promise one might have seen in Maldonado following his 2012 season (.266 BA, 8 HR) has fallen away. Schafer never even showed that much promise at the dish. Even when given significant playing time in 2013, Schafer responded with 4 HR and a .211 batting average. Again, both players are defensively gifted, but not much use coming off the bench.
Luis Jimenez and the fifth utility player, Hector Gomez, are still young, but neither are any sort of reliable bench bat. Jimenez may have the most potential of any of the Brewers’ utility corp, hitting .295/.327/.485 over parts of three AAA seasons in the Pacific Coast League; it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll adapt to major-league pitching, though. Gomez struggled mightily in 2013 with Huntsville, though he did show some signs of life last year with Nashville in the PCL.
But, you ask, why should we care one bit about what kind of offensive contributions the bench can make? Aren’t they on the bench for a reason? Those are both fair points, but the Brewers play in the National League. They’re going to need hitters to bring in for all those exiting pitchers. Moreover, a weak bench means there’s not much ability to play matchups in critical situations. On a team with a lot of evident weaknesses already (Adam Lind and Scooter Gennett’s inability to hit left-handed pitching, for example), that can be a tough thing to deal with. And that’s not to mention the problems that come with injuries to regular players – a decrease in runs that might become evident with Ryan Braun day-to-day.