Getting the Scoop on the New Guys

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

Now that things have died down a bit after the Zack Greinke trade, I thought it would be a good idea to try and get a better idea of who the Brewers acquired last Friday. In my immediate reaction piece of Friday, I did take a look at what these three players have done thus far this season. But statistics can only tell us so much about these players.

In order to get a better idea of what types of players they are, I knew I needed to talk to someone who had some first-hand experience with each player. Thanks to the beauty that is the Twitterverse, I got in touch with Phil Elson, who for 12 seasons has been the radio broadcaster with the Arkansas Travelers, the AA affiliate for the Angels. Phil agreed to take part in a Twitter-based interview to discuss the package that Milwaukee received for Greinke. Here’s what transpired:

RS: Since you’ve had the pleasure of watching Segura, Hellweg, and Pena all season, what was your initial reaction when you heard about the package of players that were being sent to Milwaukee’s organization for Zack Greinke?

PE: Any reaction is split into 2 categories. 1) How it affects the club I cover in Little Rock. 2) How it affect the Angels on the field. For the Travelers it’s devastating because that’s 2/5 of a very strong starting rotation and our starting SS. Segura was probably going to be returning to Little Rock over the next week to 2 weeks. For the Angels…it’s a tremendous trade in the sense they didn’t give up Richards or Bourjos and got an ace like Greinke.

RS: Let’s discuss Segura, the top prospect in the Angels system at the time. What kind of player did the Brewers acquire in Segura?

PE: Segura is amazingly athletic. Rifle arm. Very quick and fast. Power potential. Very strong in the core, hips, legs. Learning to be a more patient hitter and it showed in the last 5-6 weeks.

RS: That’s good to hear. Even though I’m not a huge fan of player comps, does his style of play remind you of any current or former major leaguer? If so, how?

PE: I’m not big on the player comps either to be honest. It’s not fair to the minor leaguer usually. Think of Segura as a guy who can play SS/2B. Give you the ability to get on base and hit for a solid OPS with some pop.

RS: I think we can live with that. Based on what you’ve seen from him this year, what do you consider to be Segura’s greatest strengths on the diamond?

PE: Quickness. Gets to a lot of balls on the infield. Has the chance to be a special baserunner. And I do think he can hit for some pop too.

RS: Segura has faced injury issues in the past. Were there any organizational concerns that durability might be a concern with him?

PE: Yes, but he’s been fine this year.

RS: There have been some concerns with his ability to stay at shortstop. In his time with the Travelers, how do you think he’s handled short? Is it inevitable that he’ll have to move to 2B or do you feel that he could be a long-term SS?

PE: I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable, but it’s possible for sure.

RS: Moving on to Hellweg, can you give any insight about his repertoire of pitches? What does he bring to the mound?

PE: Johnny has a great FB in the mid 90s. He can get it up to 100, but that’s not all the time. Very good 11-7 curve with bite and improving changeup. He’s a legit 6 foot 9. Tall and lanky. Room to grow. He’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: Most reports on Hellweg talk about his command issues. What have you noticed about this? Is it a case of him trying to pick the corners too much or does he go through those phases when it seems like he just can’t throw it over the plate?

PE: Over the last 2 months, for the most part, he commanded just fine. Troubles early, but he started to figure it out. He’s not a nibbler, that’s for sure. Competitive and hard working. A great guy and teammate.

RS: With tall guys like Hellweg, one of the common problems is repeating the delivery consistently. Can you talk about his delivery at all?

PE: Johnny talked about that being an issue throughout his career, especially since he’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: You’ve been able to see Hellweg start 21 games this year for the Travelers. Gut feeling: starter or reliever?

PE: Good question Ryan. I think he should be a starter right now. If the command issues creep up later on he might have to convert.

Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena will get a chance to show Brewers fans what they can do with AA Huntsville.

RS: Finally, let’s talk about Ariel Pena. Same question as with Hellweg: what does Pena bring to the mound? What are his go-to pitches?

PE: 3 very good pitches. 4-seam FB low-to-mid 90’s. Hard slider that he can slow down. Outstanding change up. Big and strong.

RS: Looking through Pena’s stats for this year, his .264 BABIP jumps out at me. Does he generate a lot of groundballs or has he been on the receiving end of some luck, leading to his impressive 2.99 ERA?

PE: Our home ballpark is an extreme pitcher’s park. Could be part of that. He does leave stuff up a bit much sometimes.

RS: My only experience watching Pena was in the Futures Game this year, where he struggled, to say the least. After that disappointing performance, how did he bounce back in his next few starts for the Travelers?

PE: He was mostly fantastic after the Futures Game. He was all smiles the next day. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. He shouldn’t have been left in that long in the Futures Game.

RS: I agree on you there. Not really fair to him at all. And it’s not like the other World pitchers were blowing away the competition. With Pena, do you think he can stick as a starter or do you feel he might be more of a reliever in the long run?

PE: Starter. He’s always been a starter.

RS: So would you describe this trade as a win-win between these two organizations?

PE: Not yet I wouldn’t. You can’t make any comparisons until this season is over and see how Greinke did. But I think the Angels must resign him because they have no depth of starting pitching in the minors.

RS: Well, they’ve shown that they are willing to spend if they are winning, and I would assume they are confident they can get a deal done. That’s all I have – I’ll let you get ready for today’s game. Thanks again for doing this. We here at Cream City Cables really appreciate it.

PE: My pleasure.

It’s nice to get a little insight on the newest members of the Milwaukee Brewers organization. We here at Cream City Cables would like to once again thank Phil Elson (@ARTravs, @ElsonPhil) for helping us out with this.

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Brewers Keep Making Moves; Trade Kottaras to Oakland

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

And just like that, the Brewers have continued in their role as a trade deadline seller.

Recent reports state that the Brewers have come to an agreement to send catcher George Kottaras to Oakland. Kottaras had been recently designated for assignment (DFA) because of the emergence of Martin Maldonado and the return of The Jonathan Lucroy.

Sorry, ladies: Gorgeous George is heading to Oakland.

A career backup, Kottaras became a fan favorite in Milwaukee this year with his late-game heroics, coming through multiple times to help the Brewers claim victories. His ability to come through in clutch situations even created a buzz around Miller Park and on Twitter, with the verb “Kottaras” being introduced into our lexicon. After a game-winning hit, some fans could be heard saying “You’ve been Kottarased!”

As Kottaras came back to Earth after his hot start to the season, Lucroy started to dominate on a nightly basis. When Lucroy broke his hand, many thought it would be a great opportunity for Kottaras to showcase what he brings to the team. But Kottaras ran into an injury bug as well, and Martin Maldonado was called up. From there, Maldonado impressed everyone with his ability to handle the bat while also providing solid defense from the catcher position. It was only a matter of time before Lucroy would return from his injury, and it became apparent that Kottaras was going to be the odd man out.

When he was DFA, Kottaras was told to remain in Milwaukee, as GM Doug Melvin planned on trying to trade the catcher to another team so he could remain in the majors. Oakland, needing help at the catcher position and currently only 4.5 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, proved to be the destination Melvin was looking for.

As the backup catcher for Milwaukee over the last three seasons, Kottaras appeared in 174 games, hitting 17 homeruns with 55 runs batted in and 49 runs scored. Over the last few years, Kottaras received a majority of his playing time serving as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher, guaranteeing Kottaras a start every fifth game. In 49 games last season, Kottaras really showed what he could do by producing a line of .252/.311/.459. This season, his numbers dropped a bit, with a line of .209/.409/.360, which is still an upgrade over what Oakland catchers have combined to do on the year (.198/.250/.269). Oakland’s primary catcher, Kurt Suzuki, bats right-handed, so the left-handed Kottaras could create a natural platoon with him.

As of right now, there has been no report as to what Milwaukee will receive in exchange for Kottaras, and Melvin has stated that he doesn’t believe the deal will be finalized until Sunday. Considering Kottaras is a 29-year-old career backup who was recently DFA, I would not expect much in return. The Brewers probably will receive a low-level project prospect or two. This trade was most likely more about Doug Melvin doing Kottaras a favor by sending him to a team that will keep him in the majors.

Check back with Cream City Cables as the Brewers continue to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

Immediate Analysis of the Zack Greinke Trade

By: Ryan Smith

It finally happened.

Farewell, Zack Greinke. We will certainly miss you.

After weeks of speculation, including some pretty crazy rumors over the last few days, the Milwaukee Brewers finally traded Zack Greinke.

After watching his stock take a hit with a rough July start followed by a mysterious “shutdown” by Manager Ron Roenicke, the enigmatic right-hander quieted his critics with a truly dominant performance on Tuesday night.

Yes, in only 87 pitches, Greinke put to rest any concerns about his health and his ability, instead causing opposing scouts and GMs to bull rush Doug Melvin’s office door.

The winning bid came from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team that beat out AL West rival Texas for the services of Mr. Greinke.

With the move Greinke will join an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren, creating a foursome as dangerous as any in Major League Baseball.

In return, the Brewers will receive three of the Angels top ten organizational prospects, including current top-prospect Jean Segura. Along with Segura, Milwaukee will also receive RHP John Hellweg and RHP Ariel Pena.

SS Jean Segura

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article looking at possible trade packages that Melvin would consider in a trade for Greinke. Then, I wrote that a package centered around Segura and Hellweg would have to be considered. Landing another one of Los Angeles’s top prospects apparently put the deal over the top for Melvin, who was using the rivalry between the Angels and the Rangers to up the asking price for the former Cy Young winner.

There were reports that Melvin was looking to land a top shortstop prospect in any deal involving Greinke, and Segura fits that bill. Segura had recently been called up to the big league club for the Angels, but he only appeared in one game at that level. In 94 AA games this season, Segura produced a line of .292/.346/.404 with 7 homeruns and 50 runs scored to go along with 33 stolen bases. While he would be an immediate upgrade over the current shortstop situation in Milwaukee, I would assume the organization would start with at AA Huntsville, at least for a few weeks.

RHP John Hellweg

Hellweg and Pena also spent all of this season thus far in AA. Hellweg started 21 games, compiling a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA, walking 60 while striking out 88. In his first full season as a starter, Hellweg was producing a 6.62 K/9, but he also had a 4.51 BB/9, showing once again that his biggest concern is his command. Standing at 6’9”, Hellweg has some natural downhill plane on his powerful fastball, which typically sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. While he’s still a work in progress – especially with his secondary pitches – Hellweg still represents a welcome addition to the Milwaukee farm system.

RHP Ariel Pena

In 19 starts this season, Pena was 6-6 with a 2.99 ERA, walking 42 while striking out 111. Pena has some more success with the command of his pitches, resulting in a 3.31 BB/9 and an 8.74 K/9. Pena also has a lively fastball, which is reported to sit around 95 MPH with some movement. His slider is also said to be a hard slider that tends to fall off the table, allowing it to miss some bats. His changeup will need some work, as it can tend to be a BP-fastball if he doesn’t control it well. While Pena’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as Hellweg’s, he seems to have a higher floor, especially considering his ability to control his premium pitches at this point in his career.

Overall, I think GM Doug Melvin did what we wanted him to do – he got the best possible return that he could for Greinke. Texas had already stated that top-prospect SS Jurickson Profar was off-limits, and they recently made it clear that 3B Mike Olt would not be available for a two-month rental. Instead of playing a dangerous waiting game with Texas, he used their interest to get the Angels to give up three actual prospects in order to acquire Greinke. As I said before, Segura could step into the everyday lineup for Milwaukee today and be an immediate upgrade, providing Melvin with the shortstop-of-the-future that he was looking for. Hellweg and Pena give the Brewers two very talented arms to work with, and you can never have enough pitching in baseball.

To Zack Greinke, I say this: Good luck. It was a blast having you in Milwaukee.

To Doug Melvin, I say this: Good job. You did what you had to do and brought back a real package that could help this team in the long run.

To the newest Milwaukee Brewers, I say this: Welcome! You’re going to love it here. I hope you like beer.

Who am I kidding – who doesn’t like beer?

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.

Sink or Swim

By Nathan Petrashek

The most important series of the 2012 season for the Milwaukee Brewers begins right now.

Usually I despise calling one series, even one game, more important than any other.  From a statistical standpoint, they all count the same.  But you have to play with the hand you’re dealt.  The trade deadline means all games are not created equal.  Teams are on the verge of deciding whether they are buyers or sellers, gauging the potential of reaping some prospects for would-be free agents versus making a run at the postseason.  That’s a tough calculus to make.

The fact is, the Brewers have brought themselves to the brink with their shoddy play.  They’ve filled a season’s quota of boneheaded mistakes and blown leads.  The frustration (and ire) was apparent in Ron Roenicke’s postgame comments yesterday.  The Brewers now find themselves is 6.5 games back of front-running Cincinnati, ready to begin a three-game series against the presumptive division champs.

They also find themselves with several potential trade chips in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Francisco Rodriguez, among others.  Those will be pretty tantalizing pieces to “one-piece-away” clubs, and the Brewers have been telling inquiring trade partners “not yet.”  Doug Melvin may have some clarity after Wednesday’s game.