Some Thoughts on Josh Collmenter

Otherwise known as the guy standing in the way of the Brewers sweeping the NLDS.

Only devoted followers of the game have heard of Collmenter before this week, but now that Collmenter is about to embark on the most important start of his young career, he’s getting a lot of press.  Some have commented on his “ridiculous delivery” and his multitude of nicknames, including “Caveman,” “Ferris Wheel,” and my personal favorite, “Tomahawk” (which makes some sense, I guess, because Collmenter says he honed his skills throwing hatchets as a kid in Michigan).  Others note that Collmenter has tossed fourteen scoreless innings against the Brewers this year, in what is Collmenter’s rookie campaign.  Still others have focused on Collmenter’s role in pushing the D’Backs to a playoff berth (he’s 10-10 in 24 starts, with 28 walks, 100 strikeouts, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP).

Collmenter presumably watched the game on Sunday, so he knows what this Brewers offense is capable of.  In one of the best offensive innings that I can remember all year, the Brewers’ five-run sixth was a thing of beauty, a hit parade that transformed a tie game into a rout.  And Yuniesky Betancourt walked, so you really know things are clicking.

Of course, as Jim Breen notes over at Bernie’s Crew, the keys to the Brewers’ offense still belong to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and they’ve been driving this little buggy to the tune of 9-16 with 2 HR and 6 RBI between them.  Breen suggests Collmenter has handcuffed the Brewers’ offensive aces pretty well this season, but that’s slightly misleading; Prince is 2-5 against Collmenter and Braun hasn’t faced him this year thanks to the nagging calf strain that kept him sidelined for the All-Star Game (and part or all of both series against Arizona).  So we have some success in a small sample size in Fielder’s case, and no track record in Braun’s.

Collmenter gets the pleasure of facing both sluggers back-to-back tonight in a must-win game for Arizona.  The pressure’s on, and we’ll see how well the rookie can handle it.  My suspicion: that nice little scoreless streak everyone’s focusing on gets snapped pretty early.


Feels So Good

The last twenty-four hours have been a whirlwind for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans.

The electric atmosphere at Miller Park last night, when the Brewers clinched their first NL Central Division Championship since 1982, came with plenty of questions.  Despite an evaporating magic number, many wondered just how much of a lock the Brewers were for the postseason with a surging Cardinals club hot on their heels.  An inconsistent offense has left plenty of runners stranded, and regulars like Casey McGehee, Jonathan Lucroy, and Yuniesky Betancourt are all just a few at-bats away from extended slumps.

That offense let some opportunities slip by again last night, but the Crew’s MVP-caliber sluggers provided all the momentum the Brewers would need.  Prince Fielder led off the scoring with a towering solo shot to right in the second.  That was all for the Brewers until the eighth when Ryan Braun hammered a 3-1 slider into left center for three runs.  The mash brothers were all smiles afterwards, and in Prince’s case, a few tears.

While Braun and Fielder grabbed the highlights (including an amazing diving double-play catch and throw by Braun), their effort would have been wasted if not for Yovani Gallardo and the bullpen.  Gallardo delivered one of his sharpest outing of the season, allowing only 1 run while striking out 11 over 7.1 innings.  Francisco Rodriguez struck out the remainder of the eighth, and Axford picked up his 44th save, tying Francisco Cordero for the club single-season record.

And with that, the Brewers are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, potentially as the number two seed.  And that’s where the Brewers want to be, as it would prevent them from having to face the Phillies in the NLDS if the Braves should win the NL Wild Card.

I know Brewers fans have been through a lot of heartache over the years (I can’t help that my mind occasionally wanders back to the waning days of the 2007 season), but I strongly advise everyone to take a break and enjoy this for a while.  The Brewers are in the playoffs, guaranteed, and we all know that anything can happen there.  So no mulling over the faults of the club or projecting how they will fare against their playoff competition.  Lets just ride out the last of the regular season and try to accumulate enough wins to stay ahead of Arizona.

Magic Number Watch: 0!!!

Tony LaRussa approves

Well, it appears that Tony LaRussa, along with every fan in Brewer nation, approves of the way the Brewers handled their three-game series against the Cardinals.  Following a disappointing 1-2 series against the Mets, the Brewers came back with a vengeance against the Central-division leaders, sweeping the Redbirds and claiming sole possession of first place.  LaRussa was uncharacteristically complimentary:

“I don’t want to be melodramatic. This is June and we have to be ready for Washington on Tuesday. We came in here to win a series and they outmanaged us and outplayed us.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums up the series.  Ron Roenicke tinkered with the lineup early and often, giving the offensively inept Yuniesky Betancourt consecutive days off on Friday and Saturday.  Craig Counsell, who received consecutive starts in his stead, had a huge day on Friday, going 3-3 with 3 runs and a walk.  That change allowed Roenicke to keep the slumping McGehee in the lineup, who came up with two hits and a walk in the series and smoked a few balls for outs.*  On Sunday, Mark Kotsay got the nod in center field and came up big with an RBI double in the sixth, which sparked a Brewers rally.  Clinging to a one-run lead, Roenicke replaced Kotsay with Carlos Gomez at the top of the ninth, a genius move that may have saved the game when Gomez made a spectacular grab on a ball Colby Rasmus hit to deep center. 

So, I’d say that, with respect to the question posed here, Ron Roenicke has definitely shown he can play with the big kids.  After all, it’s not often that a first-year manager receives praise from a future hall-of-fame counterpart.

*I continue to believe that McGehee is the key to consistency in this team’s offense.  If McGehee comes around, Roenicke doesn’t have to worry about also starting Gomez and Betancourt; but a slumping McGehee combined with those two (or Nieves at catcher) spells disaster.  Without McGehee, this is a two-dimensional offense (Braun and Fielder) that does not look consistent enough for a deep playoff run.

Is Yuniesky Betancourt replaceable?

In light of Craig Counsell’s blockbuster night in relief of Yuniesky Betancourt-Counsell featured a hot bat, plate patience, exceptional base running and stellar defense-now seems like a good time to inquire into Betancourt’s future.  While Ron Roenicke has said he is satisfied with Betancourt’s defense,* which was widely considered a liability coming into the season, it is Betancourt’s bat that has been most disappointing.  Through June 11, Betancourt is batting only .230, with a paltry 2.56 on base percentage.  That, in turn, has prompted Roenicke to say that he is looking elsewhere for production from the shortstop position.  At this point, it seems inevitable that the Brewers will exercise their $2 million buyout and allow Betancourt to become a free agent at the end of the season.

But what are the chances that the Brewers can pull off a trade to replace Betancourt before then?  In short, not that good.  If we assume that teams will be most motivated to move shortstops in their walk year, the list of available players shortens to ten (excluding Betancourt, of course).**  If we further exclude those players who would not bring any offensive benefit, or are injured, that list stands at three: Jimmy Rollins [PHI], Jose Reyes [NYM] and a former Brewer, J.J. Hardy [BAL].

Rollins, who looked headed for a DL stint until a few days ago, is currently earning $8.5 million as a member of the first-place Phillies.  But Rollins is filling an important role on a team starved for offense with Chase Utley out of the lineup.  Although Rollins is not having any type of career year at the dish, the Phillies, who have their eyes on the postseason,  are probably not thinking about moving him.

Brewers fans who watched the last Mets series will be familiar with Reyes, who has put himself in a position to be one of the top free agents in the 2012 class (slash line of .340/.387/.519).  He projects to be easily a type A free agent, which means the Brewers will have to compensate for both Reyes’ value as a player and the expected draft haul the Mets would get as compensation for his departure.  As one site correctly notes, the Brewers “do not have the prospects to get Reyes.”

Oddly enough, the most likely trade target is a Brewers alumnus, Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy.  He’s been injured this year, but Hardy has managed to put together a respectable line when healthy (.288/.370.492), leading Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun to urge the Orioles’ GM to begin discussing an extension.  As Zrebiec notes, the Orioles don’t have anyone in their system ready to play that position next year, so the overall value of a trade package will have to include some measure of compensation (either in player value or money) for their future shortstop needs.

If the Brewers are unable to work a trade, get ready to see more of Craig Counsell and the unexpectedly hot-hitting Josh Wilson, who has clubbed two of his nine career home runs with the Brewers in only nine at-bats.

* I have trouble reconciling the statistics with what I’ve seen in the field with Betancourt defensively.  Betancourt can make exceptional plays in big situations, but seems to occasionally flub up routine ones that lead to errors but don’t often hurt the Brewers.  Yet his ultimate zone rating, a measure of how many runs a player saved defensively, stands at -4.4 (-15.3 if you extend over 150 games), and Betancourt has committed only slightly more errors than a league-average shortstop (-1 ErrR).  He generally looks like he has good range and can get to most balls, but Fangraphs says otherwise (-4.2 RngR).  The stats say this guy is simply a liability on defense; I kind of fall closer to the Roenicke camp, but saying that Betancourt is not quite the liability you expected defensively is not saying much.

**There may well be some other shortstops on multi-year contracts out there that are available, but I’m far less in-in-the-know about which are being shopped.