Five questions: Milwaukee Brewers

The first-base conundrum

One of the Brewers’ most glaring organizational weaknesses heading into the 2013 season is their depth at first base. The organization’s top two choices to man the position, Mat Gamel and Corey Hart, both are injured. The situation is so bad that the team is planning to begin the year with defensive-minded former shortstop Alex Gonzalez manning first base.

The Brewers did not bring in any outside first base depth this offseason, and they outrighted Travis Ishikawa to the minors. (He elected free agency and has since signed with the Orioles on a minor league deal.) Further complicating this situation is the fact that none of the Brewers’ arguable top 10 prospects are first basemen, let alone major league-ready infielders.

First base was once a position of strength for the Brewers, with a young, homegrown Prince Fielder manning the position at the major league level while then-promising prospects Matt LaPorta and Gamel mashed pitching in the lower levels of the minors. Fielder has since left, LaPorta was traded for a CC Sabathia rental (LaPorta then fizzled out in Cleveland), and Gamel has had an uninspiring and injured beginning to his major league career.

Last season saw the Brewers commit to filling their open first base position in-house, leaning on former top prospect Gamel to fill the large void left by Fielder. Gamel struggled to walk (5.3 percent walk rate), hit for power (.101 isolated power) or make solid contact over his first 21 games before tearing his ACL chasing down a foul popup.

Hart stepped up for the Brewers in a big way, shifting from right field to first base and hitting .270/.334/.507 with 30 home runs, contributing nearly three wins above replacement for the Brew Crew in 2012.

However, Hart was not, and is not, the intended long-term solution for the Brewers. He is a 31-year-old right fielder by trade and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season. Furthermore, Hart is slated to miss the first month or two of the regular season recovering from knee surgery (though his recovery is reportedly ahead of schedule).

The Brewers had every intent of beginning 2013 the same way they began 2012, committing to Gamel as their everyday first baseman. Gamel, however, will now miss the entire 2013 season after tearing the surgically repaired ACL in his right knee during the Brewers’ first full-squad workout.

Milwaukee considered giving 23-year-old prospect Hunter Morris, who has never played a game above Double-A ball, an extended early-season tryout, but he now appears ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year. Morris originally was drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Red Sox, though he chose college over the Red Sox and later was drafted by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

He spent most of 2011 in Single-A ball, where he showed good pop (.190 isolated power) but poor patience (3.4 percent walk rate). Last year, he hit .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs in Double-A, was named the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player and the Brewers’ minor league player of the year. Morris showed more mature patience (7.0 percent walk rate) and developing power (.261 isolated power), but an analysis of the whole paints the picture of a rough-around-the-edges player who is still developing.

Morris’ 20-plus percent strikeout rate is not bad given his level of power, and his seven percent walk rate is certainly improved, but his nearly 3:1 strikeout to walk rate and average contact skills indicate a weakness in his approach that major league pitching likely will be able to exploit. Further, his most recent showing in the Arizona Fall League was disappointing. Morris mustered a mere seven extra-base hits (one home run) over 21 games.

The leap from Double-A to Triple-A is a pretty big step itself, so skipping a level and going straight to the majors is not a challenge easily met by even the most talented players. Mike Trout did it in 2011 with notably poor results. Most position players who skip Triple-A are top-rated prospects, guys like Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera and Starlin Castro.

At best, Morris is a marginal top-10 organizational prospect in a weak minor league system. Long term, Morris has solid potential to be what the Brewers are hoping Gamel can be. However, he has not demonstrated that he is polished enough to be an everyday major leaguer. Much like the chili I made the other week, Morris could use a little more seasoning.

Currently, the only remaining first basemen on the free agency market are Aubrey Huff and Carlos Lee. A cheap, one-year, incentive-laden reunion with Lee might hve made sense, but it’s unknown whether Lee is in playing shape, or even interested, at this time. At best, it would have given Milwaukee a full-year major league stopgap at first base, allowing the Brewers to shift Hart back to right field (how such a move will play out with Hart’s repaired knee is an entirely different story) while providing a little positional flexibility, as well.

At worst, such a move would be a waste of a couple million dollars to plug first base for the first four to eight weeks that gives the team depth at first once Hart returns to the field. Heck, the Brewers could have given Lee his old number back and sold unsold “retro” El Caballo jerseys.

As things currently stand, Gonzalez gives Hart more time to heal, and he allows the Brewers the opportunity to let Morris continue to develop in the minors and call him up when he is ready rather than out of necessity. It is not like the Brewers are in a contending position in 2013 anyway.

The Axman comebacketh?

One of the Brewers’ unexpected narratives of 2012 was the implosion of their once-reliable closer. For two years, Axford had consistently shut the door for the Brewers. Over 131.2 innings across 2010 and 2011, Axford accumulated 70 saves in 75 chances (93-plus percent closing rate) while posting a 2.19 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a strikeout rate comfortably north of the major league average (11.1 strikeouts per nine compared to a major league average around 7.1).

Axford had never been a control pitcher in the minors, posting 4.8 walks per nine innings over his Triple-A career, but he seemed to be developing solid control in the majors. After posting 4.2 walks per nine in 2010, Axford posted a decidedly average 3.1 walks per nine rate in 2011 while throwing more first-pitch strikes.

His peripherals were trending in the right direction heading into the 2013 season, but then Axford lost all sense of command. His first-pitch strike rate plummeted to a career-low 54.2 percent (compared to a major league average rate of 59.8 percent), and his walk rate ballooned in excess of five batters per nine innings. His strikeout rate remained high, and his swing-and-miss rate actually ticked up a bit, but this simply may have been the byproduct of increased wildness.

Axford never truly lost his closing job last season because there was never a clear option to succeed him. Francisco Rodriguez struggled with a career-high ERA (4.38) and a career-low strikeout rate. Kameron Loe, who had been a solid bullpen piece for the Brewers in 2010 and 2011, as well, was no better, posting an ugly 4.61 ERA despite solid control and good groundball induction.

Jim Henderson debuted for the Brewers as a solid 30-year-old rookie with a respectable ERA and excellent strikeout numbers, but his control was no better than K-Rod’s, and he had no track record of success to speak of.

Currently, Axford is set to open the season as the Brewers’ everyday closer. Is there reason for renewed hope? I would not bet on it, but there are some positive signs.

On the plus side, Axford’s fastball velocity last year ticked up half a mile per hour, and his fastball historically has been his best weapon. Additionally, a lot of Axford’s damage potentially could be attributed to a seemingly high line-drive rate (24 percent). The major league average tends to be just under 20 percent, so there is some bad luck that could see some correction in 2013.

On the negative side, however, Axford’s walk rate did not improve as the season progressed. There was no real “turning point” to his struggle to find the strike zone. His first- and second-half walk rates were nearly identical, and that is likely going to be his biggest challenge in returning to form in 2013.

Brewers fans should keep an eye on Henderson in spring training. If he continues to do in 2013 what he did in 2012, he may succeed Axford as the bullpen stopper.

Is Yovani Gallardo an ace in waiting or a No. 2 starter?

For awhile, it seemed as though Gallardo was the former, merely suffering from bad luck, but after last season you have to wonder.

After a promising debut in 2007 (3.67 ERA, 2.84 xFIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9), Gallardo was off to a strong late start to the 2008 season before it was cut short by a freak season-ending ACL injury. The next season—Gallardo’s first full one in the majors—his first- and second-half numbers were nearly day and night.

Over his first 114.2 innings, he registered a 3.22 ERA, 9.7 strikeouts per nine and a better-than-average 1.23 WHIP. Gallardo struggled a bit with his command, however, and he walked nearly a batter every other inning (55 in total) during the first half of the season. In the second half of the year, Gallardo upped his strikeouts a bit but seemed to lose gas as the season wore on.

Fatigue only exacerbated his control issues. Over his last 71 innings, Gallardo walked 39 batters and registered a 4.56 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. By mid-September, Gallardo was shut down. Only Doug Davis (203.1 innings pitched, 103 walks) and A.J. Burnett (207 innings pitched, 97 walks) walked more batters than Gallardo (94) in 2009. His end-of-year numbers were nonetheless promising. Gallardo compiled a 3.73 ERA, a 3.71 xFIP and 3.83 SIERA that signaled a promising future for the then-23-year-old hurler

Gallardo’s subsequent season ERAs did not change much relative to the league—he posted a 3.84 ERA in 2010 and a 3.52 ERA in 2011, but his ERA- index numbers from 2009 to 2011 were 90, 95 and 92—but his control markedly improved while maintaining strong strikeout numbers.

Gallardo’s walk rate fell from 4.6 in 2009 to 3.7 in 2010 and 2.6 in 2011, while his first-pitch strike rate jumped from 52.6 percent in 2009 to 61.8 percent and 62.7 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Gallardo showed merely average control in the minors, so this development was a major step if he was to take the leap from good to potentially excellent starting pitcher.

Heading into the 2012 season, Gallardo had three consecutive years of 200 strikeouts, he had built up sufficient stamina to effectively pitch 200-plus innings, and his peripherals in 2011 (3.22 SIERA, 3.19 xFIP) indicated that he was ready to truly break out and reach that “next level” based on more than luck.

Alas, like Axford, Gallardo saw his progress take several steps back. His groundball rate remained strong, but he was not very effective at inducing weak flyball contact. His popup rate, at four percent, was a significant career low that ranked among the absolute bottom of all qualified major league starting pitchers last year.

More significantly, his first-pitch strike rate fell below the major league average (to 56.6 percent), his fastball velocity lost a full tick of gas, and his walks-per-nine rate ballooned to 3.6. Although Gallardo’s nominal walks-per-nine rate was slightly higher in 2010 than it was in 2012, the major league average walk rate in 2010 was nearly eight percent greater than it was in 2012. This means the step back in control was more significant than it appears on its face.

These are ominous signs, but on the surface, little changed for Gallardo. His 3.66 ERA fell somewhere between his 2010 and 2011 results. He struck out just as many batters per inning in 2012 as he did in 2011. His WHIP was league average, and his xFIP was better than it was in 2009.

But these are just nominal observations. Gallardo was certainly still an above-average major league pitcher last year, but his xFIP, relative to the rest of the league, was worse in 2012 compared to 2009. Whereas his xFIP- index clocked in at 82 in 2010 and 83 in 2011, it registered at 91 in 2012. That is a significant jump.

An 82-83 xFIP- would have placed Gallardo’s peripherals within the top 15 last year among all major league pitchers that logged 100 or more innings. The difference between a low 80s xFIP- player and a low 90s xFIP- player last season is Cole Hamels versus Lance Lynn or Jon Lester.

That is not to say Gallardo was not still effective overall, just that he was not in the upper echelon of pitchers last season. In some games, Gallardo was masterful; in others, he was a mess. Her certainly was inconsistent last season if you look at his game-by-game graphic data. Inconsistency, however, is the natural byproduct of wildness. And added uncertainty is not a beneficial attribute for a team in rebuilding mode.

If I were the Brewers (or an attentive fantasy owner), however, I would bet on a return to form for Gallardo in 2013. Of his 81 walks, 31 came in the first two months of the season. After posting ghastly walks-per-nine rates (3.7 and 4.8) in April and May, respectively, that rate fell to 3.1 in June, 2.7 in July and 3.0 in August. Gallardo seemed to lose a bit of steam toward the end of the season, and his walk rate ballooned back up to 4.1 in September.

However, what is critical here is that, once Gallardo found his groove, he was pitching pretty effectively. Gallardo’s xFIP in June was 3.33, in July it was 3.28, and in August it was 2.86. His ERA over this span was 3.11, while his walks per-nine-rate was 2.9.

Gallardo also maintained strong strikeout stuff, whiffing 111 of the 429 batters he faced in June, July and August combined (25.9 percent). If he can work the edges of the plate better in 2013, even with a league-average walk rate, he should not have to look hard to find success.

The Brewers currently have Gallardo locked up through 2014 with a club option for 2015 that would keep him in Milwaukee through his age-29 season. Despite his struggles and steps back in 2012, the Brewers still have an ace on their hands. That is, assuming we see more of the June, July, August Gallardo in 2013 as opposed to the April, May, September Gallardo.

What are the Brewers going to do about their outfield?

As the calendar turned to 2013, the Brewers already were heading into the 2013 season with a relatively shallow outfield. They were planning to deploy Ryan Braun and Hart (once he returned from knee surgery) in the corners, with a Carlos Gomez/Norichika Aoki platoon in center.

With Gamel out for the season, the Brewers likely are going to need to shift one of Aoki or Gomez (likely Aoki) to right field long-term, hoping that Gomez can repeat/retain his breakout numbers from last season (whether his power is legit is a separate question), and that Aoki is legitimate and does not see any regression in his lefty/righty splits.

Who does this leave to play a utility outfielder role, however? Clearly it is Logan Schafer at the moment, but what if Braun is out? As mentioned above, the Brewers do not have impact hitting talent in the minors. Recently signed minor leaguer Cole Garner is rapidly approaching 30 and has barley been able to muster a .700 OPS in the upper minors. Rene Tosoni is younger, but his wOBA at Double-A and Triple-A last season was comfortably below .300.

If Braun gets suspended, a plausible concern in light of new information about a deeper connection to the Biogenesis clinic than originally suspected, then the Brewers are going to go from barely treading water to drowning. Johnny Damon, Scott Podsednik and Bobby Abreu figure to be on the Brewers’ radar over the next few weeks.

The Brew Crew went all in for 2011-12 … and lost. So what’s next?

The Brewers are in an ugly state. Their payroll was just shy of $100 million last season, and they are a small-market team with little to show for their aggressive approach to the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Their farm system ranks among the worst in baseball due to a lack of hitting and impact talent. The Brewers have only a few large contracts, and nothing unbearable that extends past the 2014 season, but their major league roster is pretty shallow on talent.

The Brewers likely are going to need two to three rebuilding years, focusing on the draft, if they want to get back to competition while Braun is still a relatively young man and without blowing up their payroll or putting the team in a worse long-term position than it already is.

Depending on whose list you look at, five to seven of the Brewers’ present top prospects are pitchers. Most of them are likely middle-of-the-rotation types, which certainly have value at cost-controlled rates. The Brewers should focus on economizing their present strength, developing their young pitching, and then parlaying that into solid depth elsewhere on the team.

Make no mistake, the Brewers have nothing on the team that they could reasonably flip into a high-upside upper minor league player outside of Braun, and he is going nowhere. Because they are unlikely to be able to obtain a young, major league-ready talent that they can build around in tandem with Braun in the short term, they should instead work to build a roster of major league role players that they can add to with smart free agency moves and a long-term focus on acquiring high-upside talent in the draft.

The short-term focal point for the Brewers will need to be on corner infielders (third base, primarily) followed by the addition of a few more outfielders (even assuming that one of Mitch Haniger, Victor Roache, Tyrone Taylor or Khris Davis pans out as a major league-capable player). Third base is the organization’s biggest long-term need. If Aramis Ramirez were to get injured, there would be virtually nothing in the system to replace him at this point.

The Brewers also may need a shortstop or catcher long-term, too. They now have rookie Jean Segura set to play shortstop and a top offensive prospect named Clint Coulter catching in the system, but both players are offensive-minded and have questionable defensive utility.

Segura is a recently converted second baseman who has the tools to hit for a respectable average and post a good on-base percentage, but he has about as much power upside as Marco Scutaro. Coulter has shown excellent patience for a 19-year-old (17.3 percent walk rate in rookie ball last season) and possesses good power potential, but catcher is a relatively new position for him, and his arm is graded by scouts at average at best (50 on the 20-80 scale).

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Comments

  1. KidA said...

    I just want to say that you’re a bit wrong on the OF/1B situation.

    Hart was going to be the 1B as soon as he came back, and Aoki would be the starting RF all season. This is what the ‘crew ran with the second half of last year, and was the plan going forward.
    Do I think that’s the best choice? Not particularly.

    You also missed Khris Davis on the minor league OF depth chart, who would surely be the guy to replace Braun if he goes out.

  2. Dan Brockmann said...

    I typically enjoy articles by THT, but this one was npot good.  It was written by someone who has no knowledge of the Brewers.  To find out the author is a Cub fan is not shocking.  Hart was never mentioned to play rightfield this tear.  The Brewers have never looked at Aoki as a CF for platoon or full time.

    I never realized before that a utility outfielder was so important to winning.  The three starting OF last year combined to each steal over 30 bases, and combined to hit 71 Hrs with two of them not playing a full season.

    Offensively they led the NL runs, Hrs, and stolen bases last year if I am not mistaken.  No mention of this.

    Next year, I would like the THT to ask someone with some knowledge of the team to write the article.

    Keep cheering for your pathetic Cubbies!

  3. Kearney Crewer said...

    “As the calendar turned to 2013, the Brewers already were heading into the 2013 season with a relatively shallow outfield. They were planning to deploy Ryan Braun and Hart (once he returned from knee surgery) in the corners, with a Carlos Gomez/Norichika Aoki platoon in center.”

    No they weren’t. It was always Braun, Gomez, Aoki in OF, with Hart at 1B. In fact, of the many questions that could be asked about the Brewers, their outfield alignment isn’t one of them. Hard to take the rest of the article seriously.

  4. David said...

    Yeah, this was a pretty bad write up:

    -Not knowing that the 1B situation revolves around Hart instead of Gamel

    -A 3.7 BB/9 in one month is not “ghastly,” and I think you are vastly overstating Gallardo’s “struggles” in 2012.

    My bigger issue with the Gallardo mention is that it’s treated as the vital question concerning starting pitching. Nowhere in the article are the names Fiers, Peralta, Estrada, Rogers, Thornburg, or Peralta even mentioned once. To me the vital question is not whether Gallardo will be an ace or a 2/3, but rather whether the remaining starters and some of the recently acquired long relievers can piece together enough decent innings to be at least average overall.
    Specifically, can guys like Rogers and Peralta can break out, or can Fiers and Estrada can keep getting guys out (and posting impressive peripherals) despite mediocre-to-poor “stuff”?

    -The outfield comments are largely wrong (Braun in LF, Gomez in CF, Aoki in RF – this is set. If Braun goes down, you forgot to mention Kh. Davis in this discussion, as KidA pointed out)

    -“The Brewers may need a…catcher long term” – 26 year old Jonathan Lucroy (.274/.330/.421 ZiPS projection for 2013) is wrapped up at a very reasonable 5 year contract. He’s seen generally as an average-at-worst receiver (recent pitch-framing research is also quite high on him). Also, 26-year old backup Martin Maldonado ain’t bad, especially on defense. Catcher is not a major long-term concern for the Brewers.

    The Brewers play your Cubs 19 times this year. If THT wants to use you for this again next year, maybe try watching a few of those games?

  5. Dan Brockmann said...

    I would like to thank the others for their comments.  I found so many things wrong, I did not take the time to list them all.  I reacted more with raw emotion.  To write an article and not question the starting pitching is totally ignoring the biggest question mark.  Yovanni is the least of my concerns whether he is a 1 or 2 starter.  Estrada as your 2 tells you the rotation is not looking too strong.  The concern is who is 3-5.  The outfield is probably the strength of this team.  I am not saying the Brewers are going to win the division, but their situation is not as bad as this writer portrayed it to be.  I maybe a Brewer fan, but if you asked me to do a write up about the Cubs, it would be more comprehensive than this Brewer write up.  Jeff Gross should be embarrassed.

  6. Jim G. said...

    I agree with our commenters, this analysis is pretty poor.
    The other thing I get a chuckle about is, for all the doom and gloom about the farm system, last year’s minor league player of the year for the Brewers isn’t even in the top 10 prospects (although I’d hardly call Henderson or Rogers prospects at this point).
    The slight on Lucroy and Maldonado is puzzling, as well. Lucroy has done nothing but improved as he’s gained experience, and hit well over .300 with a bit power of last year. He handled the pitchers very well. I’m excited to think about him playing a full year.
    The focus on Axford in the bullpen is misguided, as well. While he had that awful stretch in the middle of the year, he pulled it together to finish quite well. If I’m going to be skeptical about anybody, it’ll be Henderson. But going into 2012 the bullpen was a perceived strength, and their implosion cost the Brewers the season. Now it has been mostly revamped with the addition of Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny. How good the bullpen is a mystery. Axford may not matter if the guys before him can’t hold a lead. That should have been question #1.

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Are Brewers fans delusional? Hart shifted to 1B because of Gamel’s 2012 injury. He struggled in April, but there was no design to demote Gamel from 1B long-term. Gamel was especially expected to play 1B in 2013 following Hart’s surgery.

    The Brewer’s rotation is not a serious question at all. What it lacks in top talent, it makes up in depth. Estada, Fiers are solid middle of the rotation types, and Peralta/Narveson/Rogers have good upside and at least project as average innings eaters. If any of these guys falter, the Brewers have Thornburg, Jungmann, Hellweg ready in the wings with a couple of other prospects maybe a half season or so out.

    This article was originally written in February, and I stand by it’s content. Any Brewers fan that thinks they have offensive depth, particularly in the outfield, is absolutely delusional.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Jonathan Lucroy has not dont enough in his major league career to warrant your comments. Career BABIP of .315, 2012 BABIP of .338. Career AVG is .280 with a barely north of 6% walk rate. He is an average catcher at best, which of course has its value. But he’s hardly ANYTHING to write home about.

    ISO takes 550 PA to stabilize, not <350. We should therefore give more credence to a ISO closer to .133 (career) than his <100 game rate of .193.

    Walk rates, on the other hand, stabilize pretty fast—in about 1/3 of a season (200 PA). This somewhat validates his 6.4% walk rate against his 6.2% career rate.

    One of the things that led to Lucroy’s increased power and AVG was an increase in flyballs and HALFING of his normal popup rate. That takes a season to normalize, so we’ll see if he can continue to maintain his halfed popup rate.

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Jim:

    I dont run the prospect lists for other organizations. If you have beer with Morris being ranked outside the Top 10, then take it up with Fangraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/milwaukee-brewers-top-15-prospects-2012-13/) and John Sickels of
    (http://www.minorleagueball.com/2013/1/6/3842642/milwaukee-brewers-top-20-prospects-for-2013) for not sharing your opinion. Check the MLE’s. Not every prospect with a solid season, and not every prospect that has a “best of system” season is even a major league average player. Want me to start listing off the number of players that hit 28 home runs in Double A that did nothing for the rest of their careers?

  10. Jeffrey Gross said...

    David:
    Long-term looks longer down the road than 5 seasons. Further, I am not convinced Lucroy is a 5-year solution. A career .279/.326/.412 line is nothing bankable at age 26 with no real upside to speak of based on the minor league numbers. And where’s the depth if he gets injured?

  11. Jeffrey Gross said...

    David: a 3.7 BB/9 is ~21% percent higher than the MLB average. It would be the equivalent, in the other direction, of a pitcher with a 2.4 BB/9. This isnt 4-5 years ago, where the MLB average walk rate was 3.4-3.5

  12. Jim G. said...

    Gamel was ONLY expected to start at first AFTER Hart’s injury, and was heading to the bench upon Hart’s return unless he forced Hart back to the outfield through great performance. He WAS projected to take over at first again if Hart were to leave as a free agent after this season. Gamel’s current injury puts all of that in doubt.
    Gamel didn’t perform poorly up to last year’s injury, but Hart was a revelation at 1st. His below average defense in right field made him a good candidate to move to 1st, a position he had played in the minors. He not only continued his strong hitting, but gave the Brewers very good defense at 1st – something th Brewers hadn’t seen in a long time, especially after watching Prince Fielder butcher there for years. Hart’s tall frame and soft hands helped the infield gain confidence knowing they didn’t have to make perfect throws all the time.
    Combine that with a strong performance by Nori Aoki after getting regular starts taking over for Hart in RF, and there was no reason for the Brewers to consider any other configuration to start this season.
    As far as the rankings of the prospects, I suppose it was also delusional of me to think by posting the link that you would stand by the rankings. Thanks for the tip that many players have had success at double-A and not succeeded in the majors. While Morris has a bit to go before he’s major league ready, he certainly is a prospect to watch.
    As far as the rotation, while Estrada has been a bit of a revelation, he’s never been a regular in a rotation for an entire season. It will be interesting to see how he handles it. Fiers was a shot in the arm as well, but seriously ran out of gas by the end of August. He still needs to prove he can navigate a full season. Rogers and Peralta only have a few ML starts under their belt. While we are hopeful for all these guys, it would be delusional to pass the rotation off as not being a concern.

  13. Todd said...

    I think people forget that Hart was a 1B in the minors, and shifted to the OF because of Fielder. Its a natural position for him to play – he just hadn’t played it in a long time. In fact, Hart seems pretty darn happy to be playing it now, which puts the Brewers in a favorable position of being able to add a quality OF or 1B, because they could flex Hart if they choose. That said, their starting OF was set at the end of last year. There was no question. Ever. Gamel has only shifted to 1B because he has been a bust at 3B. Can’t hack the OF. They want to get his bat into the lineup – but its a moot point now. Bat might never come around to major league pitching anyway. I have to agree with the other comments – the article, while full of fun numbers and such, does not come across as one that has really followed the Brewers. The Hart topic lowers credibility, and unfortunately, impacts the rest of the article which has some merit.

  14. werthless said...

    Your understanding of the stabilization of ISO rates is a bad match with your arrogant follow-ups. Rules of thumb (ie. ISO stabilizes at 500 ABs) are guidelines for analysts to use to inform their confidence levels without having to calculate the appropriate test statistics. Cresting the 500 AB mark is trivial; nothing magical happens. Heck, if you use 90% confidence intervals instead of 95% (which is an arbitrary number in and of itself), then you can probably speak with confidence after 400 ABs. “He posted a .202 rate last year in ~450 PA. 500+ is the threshold for “starting to become significant”—so he’s short of that.” Add 50 ABs of his career production, and he’s at the .180 that you so strenuously objecto to Gomez reaching. Does that mean that you’ll be a believer after 50 ABs this year?

    All of this is coming from a Phillies fan who expects serious regression from Carlos Gomez. You just seem to be overstating the importance of these statistical guidelines.

    I’ll leave the 1B/OF situation and SP situation alone, as I think reasonable people can disagree on how the Brewers will and should proceed, and how good their situation is. (To me, it comes down to whether Aoki or Gamel is a better player.) However, it’s pretty clear to me that the Brewers have a very good catcher situation. In 1,111 major league plate appearances, Lucroy has been a league average hitter. He’s signed to a favorable contract for the next 5 years. He’s 26 years old, so he’s signed through his prime. I’d be hardpressed to find more than a handful of teams that get such good value (a mix of cheap salary yet solid production) at the catcher position.

  15. Howdthisguygetagig said...

    I can’t believe this guy has the audacity to come on and insult people who have been trying to educate him. It’s bad enough that your editors let your publish this garbage without adding to it with further nonsense. Long-term is longer than 5 years huh? In that case every team has a long term issue given that they only control players for 6 years to begin with. .279/.326/.412 is perfectly acceptable for a catcher, especially one whose defensive skills play up. 450PA is close enough to the all important 500 to be worthy of more than your dismissive position.

    Most of the criticism you received was because of your view of the Brewers OF/1B situation. Had you just admitted you were wrong instead of getting sniffy and defensive, people would’ve respected you more. Instead you’ve argued with them in the comments and now you’re getting even more flak.

    Man up. Far better to concede that you may be wrong than compound your problem by defending the indefensible.

  16. Steve said...

    The assertion that Milwaukee’s rotation is not a major question mark is just ridiculous. Gallardo is the one relatively known quantity in the rotation, having posted ERAs between 3.5 and 3.85 every year since 2009. Marco Estrada came out of nowhere to be an above average starter over a season and a half. Peralta and Fiers are even more unknown quantities. Peralta has pitched 29 total MLB innings. Fiers lit up opponents mid-season last year but was horrible in September. Who knows how effective Mark Rogers will be – he might win 15 games or he could be off the team by the all star break, and his pre-season performance has not been encouraging. He also has an extensive injury history. Chris Narveson is coming off major shoulder surgery.

    Gamel is definitely not seen as the Brewers’ 1B of the future. He is injury prone, plays poor defense, and has no track record of MLB offensive success (.246/.293/.348 in 269 PAs). I’d say it’s 50/50 that he’s still a Brewer on opening day 2014. The planned alignment for 2013 all along was Hart at 1B, Aoki in RF, and Gamel on the bench. Gamel was not the first starting 1B option until Hart got hurt. I also think you are underrating Lucroy. He is projected for ~3 WAR over ~450 PAs, which is quite good for a catcher.

    The Brewers definitely have the offense to carry them to the playoffs – the big question with this team is slots 2-5 in the rotation and the always ephemeral bullpen. I think it’s possible that every single Brewers starter will be above average and equally possible that only Gallardo will.

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Let’s keep delving into this. Carlos Gomez never showed any pop in the minors. His career high ISO, at AAA, was .125. He posted a .202 rate last year in ~450 PA. 500+ is the threshold for “starting to become significant”—so he’s short of that. He only struck out 22% of the time, which would be solid for most power hitters. However, with a walk rate of 4.4%, we’re talking about a 5:1 K/BB ratio – which is flat out awful. How does one comfortably buy into even a .180 ISO when the flyball rate remains static and the IFFB% increases? Oliver is the most optimistic for Gomez, and even it only projects him to be a league average major league player (257/.314/.403 (.313 wOBA with good defense). Further, with more popups and less groundballs, I say good luck even repeating a .260 batting average next year.

    Gomez isnt old, but he isnt a young prospect either.

  18. Dan Brockmann said...

    It is becoming obvious that no matter how many people point out short comings of the article to the author, he is never wrong.  I even read some of the article to co-workers who were a mixture of Brewer and Cubs fans.  They all thought the article was bad.  The next time I see an article by Jeff Gross, I won’t waste my time reading it.
    Just remember, admitting to being wrong, is a commendable quality, not a sign of weakness.

  19. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I never said 500 PA is a magic number. It’s the threshold when numbers START become RELEVANT, not definitive. Get back to me when you have a better argument. You didn’t even play the speedsters take longer to develop hitting skills card.

  20. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I have no problem admitting when I am wrong, but this isn’t the case. The brewers did not intend to limit gamel to a bench spot in 2013, hoping he could take over the first base position full time in 2014. That’s just patently ridiculous. Gamel is not getting younger and but for the injury, the brewers would need to give him the PT to flourish or flounder. That is, unless you think they want to lock up a would be 32 year old hitter with a history of injuries to a contract. If that’s the case, I apologize and pity the organization. Morris is not ready yet, and but for gamers health, the brewers would be giving him more time to develop than they are likely to at this point

  21. Jim G. said...

  22. Kearney Crewer said...

    A decent effort, Jim, but wasted on the author. Fair play to him for stickiing to his guns though. It’s never easy to sustain one’s argument in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary but Jeffrey is doing his damnedest.

    I’m still waiting for him to expand on his argument that having an everyday Catcher locked up for just the next 5 years is a long-term problem, too.

    Incidentally, I clicked on the list of contributors to this site and the author’s name was missing. Clearly the editor who didn’t read this garbage article before it was posted is unaware of his existence. Wish I was.

  23. KY said...

    I believe I’ve seen other J Gross posts that I liked.  That being said, I tend to agree with everyone above, the Brewers are more like what the comments are describing and less like the article.  Khris Davis should get mentioned, but so should his defense :(  They upgraded the bullpen a lot too.  Last year the pen was the worst part of the Brewers and their biggest downfall.  They had lots of offense and enough starting pitching and defense.  Hart was definitely at first this year and Aoki in OF.

    “During his absence, Hart thinks the Brewers will be just fine with Mat Gamel at first base.
    “I hope he goes out there and does awesome and makes me go somewhere else (another position), though I don’t know if I can go anywhere else. I think we’re kind of set,” Hart said with a smile.”

  24. werthless said...

    “I never said 500 PA is a magic number. It’s the threshold when numbers START become RELEVANT, not definitive. Get back to me when you have a better argument. You didn’t even play the speedsters take longer to develop hitting skills card.”

    Aw, you thought my comment was an argument about Carlos Gomez and not your analytical capabilities. You’re being hit with comments from all sides, so I can understand your defensiveness. Good luck to you.

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