Monday, January 21, 2008

Why not today?

Baseball really has no off-season for me. Still, I usually tend to start thinking seriously about the upcoming season once the Green Bay Packers are no longer in contention for the Super Bowl. In many years of my youth, that meant that one baseball season started before the previous one ended. Not this year. Thanks to a masterful accumulation of talent by a GM who two years ago everyone hated, the coaching of a guy who two years ago nobody knew, and the play of a quarterback who two years ago seemed closer to retirement than he does today, the Packers have left me only 25 days before pitchers and catchers report.

This is either my third or fourth attempt at blogging, depending on how you count. Many of my early efforts failed due to a bit of my own laziness, but mostly because of a lack of focus of the blogs. Much like episodes of Seinfeld, they were about nothing, and much like this sentence, they were cliche'. Occasionally little trivial things would strike me to write about, but I never did because my blog wasn't about that.

I am far more a fan of the game of baseball than I am of any one team. The Brewers however have been my home team since they moved here from Seattle in 1970 and writing about them creates the focus that my other blogs lacked. They also are my favorite team, although the Yankees aren't too far back. I've been toying with the idea of starting a Brewers focused blog even though some very good ones already exist. Hopefully you will pick up a tidbit or two here that you haven't seen somewhere else.

I'll kick things off with a little snippet about each of the starting eight on offense. Hopefully I'll get to pitchers soon and with any luck things will keep rolling from there. I've got to start sometime - why not today? Enjoy.

C - Jason Kendall (age 34)
Purging the team of Johnny Estrada may be addition by subtraction. Almost every starting pitcher on the team had better stats with Damien Miller catching than with Estrada. Kendall was probably the best available alternative. Still, unless he has a positive impact in the pitching stats, his arrival makes the Brewers worse and not better.

1B - Prince Fielder (24)
There are more really good and really young players in the Major Leagues right now than there have been in a long, long time – possibly ever. Prince Fielder is not only a member of that list, he may be at the top. His 2007 season was the best single season offensive performance ever by a member of the Brewers. Being the only left-handed bat in the lineup will probably mean that he will be trotting down to first base a lot this year. He walked 90 times last year – look for that number to easily top 120 or more. If he practices patience at the plate instead of chasing all of those bad balls he is the hands down favorite to take home the MVP.

UPDATE - Ned Yost is apparently considering batting Fielder ahead of Braun. I would think that this move will give Prince a few more good balls to hit, but may hurt Braun for the exact opposite reason.

2B - Rickie Weeks (25)
Weeks is my candidate for breakout player of the year – not just on the Brewers, but in all of baseball. He drew four walks in his first game back from the minors last year on August 10 – went on to post a .442 OBP and .995 OPS through the remainder of the season. He finally looked like the Rickie Weeks that everyone talked about three years ago.

SS - J.J. Hardy (25)
Compared to the rest of his career stats, Hardy’s 15 HRs last April and May look like an aberration. He hit only 11 more in the last four months of ’07. Hardy batted .339 last year when leading off an inning. He has turned into a quality Major League shortstop – above average both offensively and defensively. At age 25, he has plenty of time to develop. He topped 20 HRs for the first time at the same age that Robin Yount topped 20 HRs for the first time.

3B – Bill Hall (28)
In 2006, Bill Hall was a very decent shortstop with above average range. That’s a skill that doesn’t help you as much at 3B, but he will obviously be a significant improvement over Braun in the field. Hall’s 36 HRs in ’06 are probably not any indication of his true ability. His BA and SBs are in serious decline. He also had no triples last year after having six in ’05. Hall appears to be aging very quickly for a 28 year old ballplayer. If he declines any further this year it will mean that the Brewers should be looking to replace him.

LF – Ryan Braun (24)
Braun had only one stretch of three consecutive games without a hit. His splits are extremely consistent no matter what the circumstance. He had the type of year that Joe DiMaggio would take. The Brewers were 11 games under .500 when Braun was in the starting lineup and 15 games over .500 when he wasn’t. I don’t really think that’s an indication of anything. I hope that isn’t an indication of anything.

CF – Mike Cameron (35)
The signing of Cameron significantly improves the Brewers. The domino effect of moving Hall to 3B and Braun to LF should be noticeable on the pitchers’ ERAs. Added to that, he is much better offensively than the Gross-Gwynn-Kapler-Dillon alternative.

RF – Corey Hart (26)
Hart proved last year that he deserved a chance to play and he has developed into a high quality Major Leaguer. He’s a similar player to Jim Edmonds at the same age.

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