Your Optimistic Brewer Preview!

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another season of Ron Roenicke Stole My Baseball. 2014 was a fun year of manager nitpicking*, meme development, and corporate branding, and we expect to have more of the same in 2015.

*Note: Not nitpicking. I mean, that whole sequence was insane and I can’t believe it happened to a professional baseball team.

The Brewers aren’t exactly favorites this year, and many don’t see them as serious competitors, but this is the optimistic preview, so we’ll be looking at everything that has to go right for the Brewers to build off of 2014. Let’s start with the big one:

Ryan Braun’s thumb must heal.

Braun was hot garbage last year, especially in the second half where he hit a Yunieskian .226/.295/.374. Braun started out hot enough, but the thumb would eventually reduce his bat speed to the point where he actually changed his approach to exclusively take outside pitches to the opposite field. This worked for a time, but pitchers eventually realized he couldn’t get around on inside pitches, the thumb problem started to worsened, and he became essentially worthless. He is as responsible for the late-season collapse as anyone.*

The reason they didn’t do thumb surgery in-season is partially because they were contending, but also partially because was HIGHLY experimental. There was no guaranty that the surgery will actually work. By most accounts it’s been a success, and if the Brewers are to have any chance at all of contending they need a healthy Braun. We here at RRSMB knew the surgery went well because, well, he managed to track down Ryan Braun while he was rehabbing at his palatial estate, paparazzi-style. We evaded guard dogs, scaled a large, barbed-wire fence, all while trucking a comically large camera lens just so we could get a picture.

We caught a glimpse of him relaxing on his veranda with a few friends. We’d come this far; there was no going back now.

We yelled:

“Ryan, how’s the thumb?!”

And in return he lowered his glasses, glanced off into the distance, and gave us this gesture.

Is that a bionic thumb Ryan? It sure is other Ryan, it sure is.

Is that a bionic thumb Ryan? It sure is other Ryan, it sure is.

And we knew everything would be alright.

*If you’re going to talk optimism, we need to talk about just how smart of a player Ryan Braun is. I think it’s supremely difficult for baseball players to change their approach at the plate. This is why extreme shifts against left-handed hitters often work. It’s hard to take a pitch the other way, especially if the pitcher knows you’re trying to. Last year when Braun realized he couldn’t get around on pitches, he altered his game to focus on hitting to the opposite field, and he was great at it. It’s one thing to make that change, and quite another to make that change and continue to excel.

While last season ended in disappointment, it’s possible that Braun added a new weapon to his arsenal. If his thumb really is fixed and he is once again able to pull the ball with power, he may also be able to integrate his newfound ability to pound outside pitches. It’s possible that he won’t just be as good as he used to be. It’s possible that he’ll be better. 

Jimmy Nelson must adequately replace Yovani Gallardo

Many scouts like Nelson better than Peralta long term. The weird thing about Nelson is that he tends to struggle for a season when he moves up, and then adjust and dominate. I have no idea if this will repeat itself at the MLB level, or if his 69.1 innings with the big league club last year “count” in this equation, but if Nelson can adjust and be at least a league average pitcher (or better!) then the Brewers should be just fine. And really, Gallardo was just a 1.7 WAR pitcher last year. Fiers was a 1.6 WAR pitcher in less than half of the number of innings. It’s not like he has to replace Clayton Kershaw. Jimmy Nelson is completely capable of being league average, with upside to boot.

Adam Lind

Dear Milwaukee,  You're going to love this guy.

Dear Milwaukee,
You’re going to love this guy.

Adam Lind is kind of a one trick pony, but oh, what a trick it is. He destroys righties. Last year he hit .345/.409/.533 against righties. In 2013 he his .309/.385/.539 against righties. He hasn’t been that good his entire career, but his career line is still an impressive .293/.349/.510. Lind is not without his flaws to be sure, but as a replacement for Lyle Overbay in the long half of the platoon, he is a gigantic upgrade. With the right platoon partner the Brewers may see above average play at first base for the first time since Corey Hart, and no matter what, they’ll have some good, bearded fun.

Stars!

To be competitive you need a few star-level players, and the Brewers have three! Which is pretty good! Ryan Braun and his new mega thumb can still be a huge star. In fact, his new-found ability to destroy pitches to the opposite field could make him even more dangerous this year if everything is right. Jonathan Lucroy is debatably one of the five most valuable players in baseball depending on how you feel about framing. Carlos Gomez is still an elite center fielder with a very good bat. All of these players will be around for at least two more years (unless they’re traded), and all should still be very good players for at least two more years.

Filler!

The Brewer farm system may be terrible (but improving!), but it’s cranked out some nice secondary players lately. Scooter Gennett is much better than I thought he’d be and provides needed balance from the left side of the plate. Khris Davis isn’t anything special but his power has at least kept him hovering around average.

Not every position will be manned by an all-star, but it’s important to avoid having to throw in the Yuni Betancourt’s of the world as much as possible, and the Brewer farm system will actually allow for that this season. It’s hard to remember the last time the Brewers didn’t have an obvious replacement-level player at some position, but this year looks pretty good in that regard. If Jean Segura were to regress on defense and not improve on offense he might fit the bill, but he’s still young and his defense should keep him solidly above replacement level even if he continues to be deplorable on offense. Aramis Ramirez may never be his old self again, but the third base position is weak across the league, and in his final season hopefully he can grit out one more good one.

The starting pitching has the potential to be better than last year.

Really! Look, I know it’s hard to replace 200 innings of league average starting pitching, but it’s worth noting that Marco Estrada threw 150.2 inning last year too, and they also get to replace that. Kyle Lohse is still a solid pitcher. Matt Garza is still a solid pitcher. Everyone is impressed by Wily Peralta as he has already met or exceeded expectations. Mike Fiers is an enigma, but I still believe that his bad season was primarily due to his mother’s failing health. I suspect that real Mike Fiers is what we saw last year, and still very good. Lohse+Garza+Peralta+newly adjusted Nelson + Good Fiers = winning.

Creativity!

Lucroy is a catcher, and a great one, but Martin Maldonado may be his defensive superior. Catching is also hard on a player and requires more rest than other positions, but resting Lucroy takes his bat out of the lineup. So what do you do? Well, the Brewers have already said he’ll get some time at first base, and as the short end of a platoon with Adam Lind, this is a great idea to keep Lucroy fresh, keep his bat in the lineup, and bolster the right-handed lineup. Speaking of which…

Balance!

Since Prince Fielder left the Brewers have been extremely right-handed, and while that deficiency is sometimes overstated, it left them vulnerable to late-inning hard-throwing righty relievers, and made it easier on opposing managers. While they’re not the most balanced team ever, simply having Lind, Gennett, and Parra is a huge improvement over any recent Brewer lineup. The picnic area on Miller Park was basically made for Fielder, and they finally have a few guys who can capitalize on it.

Conclusion

The team is secretly well-designed. It’s almost clever. They addressed major holes in the off-season. They addressed balance. They dealt from a position of strength to help the farm system. I even like how they drafted. Most criticism’s of the Brewer farm system recently have focused on the lack of high ceiling talent. The criticism of this current class is that they focused too much on high-ceiling talent. That’s silly. If you need to crank out some stars three or four years from now, that’s what you have to do.

The bullpen looks, on its face, basically the same, perhaps a little worse, but bullpens are basically crap shoot anyway. Ryan Braun was only a 1.2 WAR player last year and the 1st base tandem was only a positive if you believe Mark Reynolds had absurd defensive value. Contending again is as simple as Braun and Lind just being what they should be. If the underlying talent performs like it should, this should be a very good team.

Optimistic Prediction: 92-70.

Coming soon: The Pessimistic Preview! I mean, The Pessimistic Preview. : (

Brewers Offense, an Examination

The offense responded to the Brewers sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid-August by doing this:

  • Lucroy – .298/.380/.397, 0 HRs
  • Reynolds – .133/.220/.222, 1 HR
  • Scoots – .235/.257/.324, 1 HR
  • Segura – .273/.356/.286, 0 HR
  • Aramis – .265/.323/.376, 2 HR
  • Khris Davis – .213/.289/.350 2 HR
  • Gomez – .269/.375/.387, 2 HR
  • Braun – .255/.311/.391, 4 HR
  • Parra – .318/.355/.443 2 HR

All pretty bad. Bad enough that Parra and Lucroy’s numbers look great, and they both had a sub .800 OPS.

There was one bright spot in the Brewers lineup:

Rickie Weeks: .324/.381/.595 with 2 HRs.

One logical conclusion

:  RICKIE2

The Brewers and Strength of Schedule

In an attempt to determine the difficulty of the remaining schedule I took all remaining Brewer games and dumped them into a spreadsheet, looked up the run differential of the opponent (because we all know that run differential tells you more about the quality of the team than wins and losses, right?) and popped that number in the next column. Then I added those up, and took an average.* Not really sure what to call this “metric” or how useful it is, but I found it illuminating. So here goes:

*For example, the Brewers play the Dodgers 6 more times and the Dodgers have a +58 run differential, so they count for +348 of the total. Make sense? Good.

Brewers

Remaining opponents have scored 93 more runs than they have allowed, an average of +1.75 per game. Tough opponents include the Dodgers (six games, +58), Blue Jays (two games, +38) and Giants (six games, +19), but what really hurts them is the lack of awful teams. They have a bunch of games against the Cubs (-46) but so does everyone else. They have three against the Padres (-39) but the Cards have five. The only negatives on the Brewers schedule are the Cubs, Padres, and Marlins. Maybe in a vacuum +93 doesn’t sound like a lot to you. Well…

Cardinals

Remaining opponents have scored 816 fewer runs than they have allowed, an average of -14.57 per game.

The Cardinal schedule is just littered with awfulness. Three games with Boston (-50), five more with the Padres (-39), three with the Phillies (-59), three with the Rockies (-54), and three with the D-backs (-73…Gritty!). The toughest task ahead for them is a three-game series with the Orioles (+30) and after that the best team they have is the Brewers (+24 as I write this). If the Cardinals don’t make the playoffs they have no one to blame but themselves.

Pirates

Remaining opponents have scored 322 fewer runs than they have allowed, an average of -5.75 per game.

The ease of the Pirates schedule is bolstered by a stretch in September where they will play thirteen consecutive games against teams at -46 or lower (Cubs, Phillies, Cubs, Red Sox), but at least there are a few challenges out there. They still have a four-game series with the Tigers (+36), a three-game series with the Nationals (+71) and seven against the Braves (+22). They also face the Diamondbacks and the Padres, so it’s really all over the map.

Reds

Remaining opponents have scored 295 fewer runs than they’ve allowed, an average of -5.27 per game.

Similar to the Pirates but not as extreme. They get two against Boston (-50) and four against the Rockies (-54), but everyone else is middling. They face Cleveland (+3), Miami (-17), and have three at Baltimore (+30).


The Cardinals have a much easier schedule down the stretch, there’s no getting around it. The Brewers will probably have to win the head-to-head battle by a decent margin to hold them off. Hopefully they get started this weekend.

Ralph Sasson, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

One would think that if you had your case dismissed for not adhering to a judge’s instructions about keeping things under seal that you would MAYBE think twice about publicly posting a copy of your own deposition on Youtube. And also, cutting your own “best of” version of said deposition.

But the one thing we know about Ralph Sasson is that he seemingly doesn’t ever think once, let alone twice. In any case…

Here’s the long version.

A couple of things in case you ever end up deposed:

1. You may not want to wear a Miami hoodie. Typically you should dress up for a deposition.

2. “You heard of money ball? this is dummy ball.” Don’t make deposition jokes. It never goes well. (Around 1:17:00)

3. Don’t call the attorneys questioning you “retards”. (Also around 1:17:00)

4. Don’t claim you don’t know what your lawyer is thinking if you are your lawyer. (In the “best of” cut)

5. Don’t invent your own legal theory called “fraudulent impression.” (1:22:30)

6. “You are attempting to sue CAA (Braun’s agent), yes or no?”

“I don’t know” (near the end)
I don’t either Ralph. I don’t either.

Brewers Top 10 Prospects – Midseason Report

Its been an up and down year for the Baby Brewers (that’s my nickname for the Minor League System). Compiling data from my network of scouts is exhausting work, but I’m happy to present my top 10 prospects from 2014:

1. Nick Ramirez – 1B, Huntsville – Has been IBB’d 6 times already this year in the MINOR LEAGUES. You know how many times Barry Bonds got IBB’d in the Minor Leagues? ZERO. Now we here at RRSMB aren’t saying Ramirez is the next Barry Bonds, but the feedback from opposing Southern League managers suggests he is feared more than Bonds was at the same level. 

2Andy Hillis – Pitcher, Arizona – His K rate of 22.0 per 9 is more than double that of Felix Hernandez (9.6). Has a unique delivery where he snaps it like a football long snapper. We’ll see what happens as he moves up the ranks, but rookie ball hitters are having a hard time picking up his release point.

3. Hector Gomez – SS, Nashville: After leading Huntsville with 16 sac bunts last year, Gomez has focused on HBP this year, getting drilled 6 times already in 2014. His 80 grade HBP tool translates well in my MLE projection system.

4. Juan De Los Santos – OF/1B/2B, DSL Brewers – Bit of a sleeper here, he’s run into shockingly bad luck this year. 7.8% of the balls he has hit in play have resulted in GIDP. That sort of GIDPBABIP can’t continue, so look for him to shoot up the prospect rankings in the next few years. His heat map is just a huge burnt orange blob, that’s the type of potential we’re talking about here.

5Chris Razo – Pitcher, Wisconsin: Flashes a plus plus screwball, a plus knuckle curve and fringe-average eephus. He’s struck out 11.1 K/9 thus far, better than Felix Hernandez (9.6)

6. Milan Post Catcher and DH, Arizona – Best Dutch prospect in the organization. Despite wearing wooden cleats at all times, he’s hit two doubles in 2014.

7. Nathan Orf – OF, Nashville – Leads the Org with 4 sac flies in 2014. With the struggles the MLB team has had with runners on 3B and less than two outs, expect a possible call up later this year. His Sac Fly ability has the potential to actualize at the MLB level and we see him as a 2nd division starter.

8. Tom Gorzelanny – Pitcher, Nashville: Made his triumphant return to the minors, giving up only 2 runs in 15.2 IP this year, spliting time between Nashville and Brevard. Prospect to keep an eye on.

9. Tommy Toldeo, Pitcher, Huntsville – Fun fact, NOT from Toledo. Carries a 39 K / 1 IBB ratio. He has finished 10 games without a save due to his strong belief that closers aren’t things.

10. Natanael Mejia – Catcher, Helena: Has hit 10 more minor league HRs than I have. A guy tried to steal on him earlier in the year and he got him out. Has a 21/7 BB/GIDP ratio, which projects out to a .897 OPS at the major league level once his tools actualize.

 

 

 

Brewers Base Running

There are certain things fans of every team think their favorite team is bad at – driving in the guy from 3rd with less than 2 outs, hitting with runners in scoring position, moving runners over, striking out in big situations, overall defense (most teams), terrible bench guys, and base running.

The last one is relevant in the Brewer world as they had a rough go of it on the base paths last night. Carlos Gomez was picked off 2B early in the game. Jean Segura was thrown out by 30 feet trying to go from 1st to 3rd on a single after getting a terrible jump and perhaps fatally, Logan Schafer got nailed at 3rd trying to advance on a ball hit to the SS in the 8th inning.

So of course last night the Brewers were the worst base running team on the planet, but are they any good at base running overall? Are they terrible?

Things the Brewers seem good at to the casual fan (aka me):

  1. They do a good job of grabbing the extra base when there is a play at the plate. Its almost automatic that if a there is a play at the plate on a single, the guy who hit the siingle gets to second base.
  2. Carlos Gomez is amazing on the base paths. He will have the occasional high profile mistake (like last night) but the amount of extra bases he’s able to grab is great. Earlier this year, from second base, I saw him watch a grounder to 3B, wait for the 3B to throw it to 1B and sneak over and take 3B anyways. Incredible.
  3. They had a rough start to the year stealing bases, realized the SBs weren’t happening and have picked their spots better, going 25-31 since June 1st.
  4. I feel like most Brewer fans would disagree, but I like Ed Sedar’s work at 3B. He generally does a good job of knowing the game situation and realizing the value in trying to scoring a guy from third with 2 outs. I’m often surprised at how many people would rather hold a guy at 3B and take a chance with the next guy getting a base hit rather than challenging the defense to make multiple good throws in order to get a guy out at home. You never remember all the times a player scored from 3B or when it easily worked because someone missed a cut-off or wasn’t close on the play at the plate.

Things the Brewers are terrible at to the casual fan:

  1. It seems like they get thrown out way too much on dumb mental mistakes. I’m fine making the occasional aggressive play, trying to score from 3B and getting thrown out happens, but running from 2B to 3B on a ball hit to the SS or taking off for home on a grounder directly to the drawn in 3B is enough to drive a man crazy.
  2. Gomez and Segura are very fast, the rest of the team is painfully slow. Overbay, Reynolds, Ramirez, Injured Braun and Davis are super slow, Lucroy is sorta slow and Weeks/Scooter are OK. They do what they can but with slow guys they’re only able to put so much pressure on the defense with aggressive base running.
  3. They’re not prolific base stealers. Segura and Gomez will take the occasional base but that’s about it. With Gomez getting older and better at hitting he’s taken fewer chances. Segura struggles to get on base, Braun struggles to get on the field and exchanging Aoki for Davis has limited the damage they’ve been able to do on the bases in past years.
  4. The contact play seemed like it hurt them earlier in the year but RRR has cut down on it, or maybe its just working and I’m not noticing.

They actually have base running stats to track a lot of this stuff. These stats account for SB success and taking extra bases via Sac Flies, advancing on ground balls, etc.

Baseball Prospectus has the Brewers rated 2nd overall in the majors at this stat and Frangraphs has the Brewers as the 4th best team in baseball. The TOOTBLAN database is pretty awesome and brings up bad memories, but hard to draw any conclusions from it.

It’d be fun to point out how wrong those stats are, but outside of the broad parameters of them its hard to tell the exact formula – how context is accounted for, game score, inning, etc. They run into the same struggles defensive metrics do, not every “ground ball, RF” is created equal. My guess is a lot of the context is left out, but that’s true of most stats.

We can look at previous years. The Brewers were 15th last year and 14th the year before that in the BP rankings. They were 20th and 5th in the Fangraphs ratings during the same time.

The smaller sample of 2014 seems to be a bit of an outlier from past years with personal you wouldn’t expect an outlier from, so perhaps their looks (ie Aramis lumbering around the bases) and the occasional high profile misadventure distract from what is a great base running team. I suspect they’re probably not as good as the rankings, yet not nearly as bad as you would have thought had you checked Brewers Twitter last night.

That said, it can and has cost them games, or at minimum substantially hurt their odds of winning individual games. If Khris Davis drops a routine fly ball in the 8th inning that allows a run to score, we’d justifiably blame that for the reason they lost. I’m fine doing that with dumb base running (hi Logan) when applicable. Some mistakes aren’t done trying to be aggressive or gain an advantage, they’re just dumb mistakes.

Speaking of base running, it relates to my favorite Brett Lawrie story I heard a while back that I’m choosing to believe is true: back in 2009 during his first spring training they had every minor league player from all levels on the field together and instructors were going over base running basics, saying stuff like “Macha likes when you do this, Macha wants guys to focus on that, etc” Lawrie speaks up, in front of everyone, and says “who the fuck is Macha and who gives a shit what he thinks about base running?” Like I said, I’m choosing to believe this is true.

The All-Star Game is Terrible. Let’s Break It.

Yesterday we got some of the inevitable “you fans are dumb” articles. It’s absolutely true of course. The list of terrible All-Stars voted in by fans is lengthy. Of course, the list of bad players selected by other players and managers is also pretty terrible. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Americans are terrible at voting, and since we know we’re already lousy at this, we may as well be lousy on purpose.

This has happened before. In 1957 Reds fans stuffed All-Star ballot boxes and managed to get Reds selected for every position but first base. After this the vote was taken away from fans until 1970. Brewers fans have been a constant source of chaos in fan voting in the past and this year is no exception so far with almost every Brewer player in striking distance. There is no better time to continue to vote in your favorite player. By which I mean all of the Brewers including Rickie Weeks and Jean Segura. So why should you proceed with this little act of performance art?

1. The All-Star Game is boring, but Brewer games are fun, so let’s turn this into a Brewer game.

ESPN shows get a ton of mileage over arguing whether the All-Star Game counts or if it’s just an exhibition where Larry Walker can wear his helmet backwards and Randy Johnson can throw behind him and aww isn’t it all just too damn cute.

Larry Walker

And once it ended in a tie. The addition of home field advantage in the World Series is no incentive at all as it barely ever affects the World Series anyway, and almost none of these players will be personally impacted in any way. Maybe if the Brewers are all playing together it will actually be fun.

2. We’ve all wondered what would happen if a real team played an All-Star Team.

Let’s find out!

3. It is not some huge moral crime to not vote in the “best” players.

It is, after all, an exhibition. As fans we’ve been empowered to make it whatever we want, and if some player has a bonus tied to making the team, well boohoo. We should use our power to do all sorts of wacky stuff with the All-Star game. All lefties! Vote for the lowest WAR regulars! The all defense team! Let’s see some of that. I personally voted for the worst AL team possible to face my all-Brewer NL All-Stars.

4. Major League Baseball’s attempt to make this a “real” game is awful and they deserve to be told “no”.

If you actually want to make this a real game may I suggest huge cash prizes? Incentives have to actually be incentives, you can’t just throw out the Flint Megabowl and hope to get people excited. We should treat it with all the respect it deserves.

5. Hall of Fame arguments

Surely one of the most annoying arguments for any given potential Hall of Famer is the argument that they made X number of All-Star teams. Players have made All-Star teams while seriously injured, while retired, while sub-par Yankees. It’s already a stupid argument, but we should all go ahead and make it that much dumber. “Remember when Rickie Weeks made the All-Star team as the short end of a platoon?” “Remember when Jean Segura made the All-Star team with a .271 OBP?”

6. All of the fun stories.

This is probably the best reason to do it. A lot of people will be apoplectic if enough Brewers make it, and it’s fun to read self-serious apoplectic diatribes over what amounts to an internet poll about an exhibition game. It will provide me with material, and that is probably reason enough. If you’re one of those people who wants ESPN to cover your team, well, this will do the trick.

7. MLB tells you to do it!

See here:

“With online polls open until 11:59 p.m. ET on July 3, there’s still time to make sure your favorite player gets the starting nod.”

Todd Frazier might be having the best season at 3rd base but he’s not my favorite player. In fact due to some past roto seasons I kind of hate him. I want Mark Reynolds in the game. He’s my favorite.

You’ve got until midnight tonight, we’re the Evil Team of Evil, let’s burn this sucker to the ground. Vote early and vote often.

Evil-Team-of-Evil