Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mr. Nice Guy

Doug Melvin was interviewed last night on Dennis Krause's show on Time Warner Sports. They went around position by position and his comments were pretty much what you would expect out of a GM. One comment that caught my ear was about Ned Yost; something to the effect of 'sometimes Ned tries to be too nice.' Then he went on to say some very positive things about Ted Simmons, and said how the Brewers are in 'win now' mode, and that time for developing players is past. It wasn't too difficult to read between the lines. Melvin more or less confirmed what everyone thinks - the heat is turned way up under Ned Yost's seat and if the team doesn't perform well out of the gate, Simmons will take over.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Examining Ben Sheets

Every article written this off-season about the 2008 Brewers contains the phrase “if Ben Sheets stays healthy.” On July 16 of last year, the day that Sheets sprained his finger and was placed on the disabled list, the Brewers were 50-40 and held a 3-1/2 game lead over the Cubs. By the time he was activated on August 29, they had slipped below .500 for the first time all season at 65-66, trailing the Cubs by 2-1/2 games and the Cardinals by 1/2 game; in third place in the division. Of course they never fully dug themselves out of that hole, and for the entire time he was disabled, all you heard about was what a huge impact he had on the team. Obviously the Brewers have a huge emotional investment in Ben Sheets.

Sheets was the tenth player drafted in the 1999 free agent draft. After spending the rest of that year and all of the next putting up impressive minor league numbers, he made the opening day roster in 2001. An 0-2 start got him optioned back to AAA, but after an April 27 call-up, he dominated the first half of his rookie campaign winning National League rookie of the month for June and was the first Brewer rookie to represent them in the All-Star Game. Brewer fans were smitten. On August 14 of that year, then riding a 5-game losing streak, Sheets was placed on the disabled list with tendinitis in the rotator cuff of his right shoulder. The honeymoon had come to an end.

With the memory of Teddy Higuera not yet fully faded and being the best pitcher the Brewers had had since, Sheets immediately picked up a reputation of being injury prone. Although, unfortunately he has lived up to that reputation in recent years, it had little to do with his injury during his rookie year.

He continued to pitch impressively during his second season, however with no other talent around him, the team was failing miserably and fired manager Davey Lopes.

Enter Ned Yost.

Pitching for Ned Yost, one could say, has been both the doing and undoing of Ben Sheets. In his first two seasons under Yost, to say he was the workhorse of the staff would be an understatement. He led the team and established new team NL records for innings pitched in each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He also put up numbers to support the workload. His walk and strikeout numbers were staggering. He was named the team’s MVP in both seasons.

Year Age IP WHIP IP/GS BB/9 K/9 K/BB Mgr
2001 22 151.3 1.414 6.1 2.9 5.6 2.0 Lopes
2002 23 216.7 1.417 6.4 2.9 7.1 2.4 Lopes
2003 24 220.7 1.246 6.5 1.8 6.4 3.7 Yost
2004 25 237.0 0.983 7.0 1.2 10.0 8.3 Yost

All of Sheets' numbers were great and getting better; but those innings – 674 over three seasons. In 2005, Sheets tore a muscle in his back and missed time with a virus. In ’06 it was a shoulder strain and tendinitis. Last year a sprained finger. It is becoming apparent that Ben Sheets body is breaking down from the workload placed on it early in his career.

Year Age IP DL Mgr
2001 22 151.3 38 Lopes
2002 23 216.7 0 Lopes
2003 24 220.7 0 Yost
2004 25 237.0 0 Yost
2005 26 156.7 74 Yost
2006 27 106.0 96 Yost
2007 28 141.3 45 Yost

However, there is more to the story. Take a look at Sheets’ stats over the last three years compared to his career before that:

Year Age IP WHIP IP/GS BB/9 K/9 K/BB Mgr
2001 22 151.3 1.414 6.1 2.9 5.6 2.0 Lopes
2002 23 216.7 1.417 6.4 2.9 7.1 2.4 Lopes
2003 24 220.7 1.246 6.5 1.8 6.4 3.7 Yost
2004 25 237.0 0.983 7.0 1.2 10.0 8.3 Yost
2005 26 156.7 1.066 7.1 1.4 8.1 5.6 Yost
2006 27 106.0 1.094 6.2 0.9 9.8 10.5 Yost
2007 28 141.3 1.238 5.9 2.4 6.8 2.9 Yost

Every key indicator of his skills is getting worse. His WHIP has increased three years in a row. His strikeout rate has declined three years in a row. In 2007 his stellar control slipped to just very good. And most alarmingly, he can no longer pitch deep into a game. A natural progression of those numbers would be a 2008 pitcher whose WHIP is 1.4 and who can only pitch 5 innings per start. That’s Sean Marshall or Anthony Reyes – not Ben Sheets.

So, is it that if Ben Sheets stays healthy the Brewers will be fine? Or is there a bigger problem? Is the decline in his effectiveness due to his injuries or is it the other way around? Could it be that Ben Sheets is not as good anymore as everyone thinks? Sheets is 29 years old and will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season. Many pitchers have made whole careers from that point on; but so have many never pitched past their 30th birthday. The Brewers will have a very big decision to make in the coming months. Maybe it will be time to untie the knot.

Brewers on FOX

FOX Network announced four nationally televised Saturday broadcasts involving the Brewers. The games include the May 10 game against the Cardinals at Miller Park as well as the May 17 game against Boston at Fenway, August 2 at Atlanta, and September 13 at Philly.

In all, the Brewers are expected to televise 150 games in 2008 including most home games in HD. Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder are back as the play-by-play team.

Corey Koskie Update


The Boston Globe has a very good article on Corey Koskie's battle and hopeful comeback from post-concussion syndrome. He still seems to have a ways to go and time is not on his side. Still it's encouraging that at least his life is getting back to normal. It's seems he's been through a lot.

(The link is to page 2 of the article so you don't have to sign in. Click back to page 1 to read the whole story.)

Hat tip: MLB Trade Rumors

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Big Draft

Jack Zduriencik, the architect of the Brewers farm system which produced the heart of the current team, will go to the June 2008 First-Year Player Draft with 7 of the top 91 picks. Their own first round pick is #16, then they get a total of four compensatory picks at the end of the first round and in the second round for losing Type A free agents Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink. Currently those picks are #32, #35, #50, and #51. Their own second round pick is #59 and their third round pick is #91. Some of the later picks could change as a result of free agent signing activity by other teams. While there's no guarantee that any draft pick makes it to the show, looking back to the the 1998 Draft, those same numbered picks produced Kip Wells, Aaron Rowand, and Adam Dunn. Quite a nice haul. And Zduriencik has the know-how to top that. Brewerfan.net has an excellent analysis of the Brewers upcoming draft.

Zduriencik was promoted to a Vice President position by the Brewers this off-season after winning the Major League Executive of the Year Award - the first non-GM ever to take that honor.

Rickie Weeks' young brother Jemile is one of the top prospects in the draft; also a second baseman with supposedly more speed prototypical leadoff hitter skills than his big bro'.

Projecting the Brewers Offense

David Pinto at Baseball Musings analyzes the Brewers' offense for 2008, projecting them to score 4.97 runs per game; roughly the same as their 4.94 in 2007. That would likely put them in the top five in the league.

The Brewers led the National League in home runs in 2007, yet were second from last in walks. A bit more patience at the plate would make those home runs more productive.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Damian Miller

It appears that Damian Miller will retire. Neither he nor Johnny Estrada have jobs for '08 (although Miller turned down offers from teams "far away".)

According to Miller's Wikipedia entry, he is bared from being a member of the MLB Players Association as he played as a replacement player during the 1994 strike. Because of this, his likeness does not appear in various baseball video games. One less thing he can do in his retirement I guess. I wish him all the best.

Another Johan Santana Trade Rumor

I caught wind of this post on Baseball Musings. I had to link to it - it's hilarious. And would be just as funny and true if you replaced "Kansas City" with "Milwaukee".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pondering Mike Cameron

Before the signing of Mike Cameron, the Brewers had no left fielder and very weak fielders at third base an in center field. The signing of course changed all of that, shuffling Ryan Braun to left, Bill Hall to third, and putting a 3-time gold glove winner in center. Some combination of Tony Gwynn, Gabe Gross, and Lord knows who else will keep center field warm until Cameron’s 25-game suspension is over. Hopefully we’ll be none the worse off for the wear.

But a closer look at Cameron reveals that he’s missed 103 games between 2005 and 2006 due to injuries. Granted, a good chunk of that was a result of his flying face-to-face collision with Carlos Beltran in ’05, but he also missed time with an injured wrist and strained oblique. Are Gwynn and Gross good enough to cover more than 25 games in center if Cameron gets hurt? Then it struck me. What if Cameron gets busted again? The next suspension I believe would be 80 games. Add that to the 25 he’s already serving and it’s almost two-thirds of the season. Now you’ve got a hole in a much more important position than left field and you’re filling it with the same guys.

Cameron claims to not know what nailed him on the first two tests. He suspects that the first one was from a supplement and the second from an energy drink. The first failed test obviously didn’t scare him into only drinking milk or Aquafina. I hope he knows how to keep himself clean or the Brewers could have a major problem on their hands.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard

Jayson Stark poses this question in a chat on ESPN, wondering which young slugger you would choose to build a team around. He doesn't definitively answer the question but in the end says he'd take Howard because he's seen him play more. I'll take Prince for the same reason.

Ryan Howard isn't exactly young - he's 28. Prince is 23 and already has 80 career home runs. That's 80 more than Howard had at the same age. Prince's build may negate the difference in age however. He has trimmed down to 260. Wow. That's still a lot for a six foot frame to carry around. Did you know Prince hit an inside-the-park home run last June in Minnesota? Picture that.

Q: Who is the all-time Major League career home run leader among players who weighed 260 pounds or more?

(Click on Comments to see answer)

{Thanks for the link, Max}

Follow-up on Figgins

Just because I am intrigued by this trade rumor, I've been scouring Angels websites to see if I can find any mention of it on their side. While there is nothing mentioning the Brewers, LA Times beat writer Mike DiGiovanna does discuss the possibility that the Angels are shopping Chone Figgins and looking for a third baseman in return. Eric Chavez and Joe Crede are the names that pop up. With that knowledge, Doug Melvin would be foolish to not at least throw his hat in that ring.

Abraham Nunez

The Brewers agreed to a minor league deal with infielder Abraham Nunez today. The 31 year old, switch hitting Nunez was a backup for the Phillies each of the last two seasons. He would probably be very capable of filling Craig Counsell's role if you could find a new home for him and his $2.8M salary.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Figgins Rumor

Over on The Brewer Nation and carried over to Brewers Blog in the comments section of a post about Jeff Suppan's new restaurant, a rumor has flared up that the Brewers are interested in Chone Figgins of the Angels.

On MLB Trade Rumors, an early December post talks about the Cubs' interest in Figgins. The Angels asking price was apparently Aramis Ramirez. One would assume that if the rumor were true, the Brewers' bait would be Bill Hall and a pitcher and then some.

As much as I feel Figgins would be a great acquisition, I've got to believe there is absolutely nothing to this unless the Brewers are willing to part with one of their top starters (Sheets or Suppan - Gallardo I think would be too much; Villanueva not enough.) The Angels rotation is currently John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, Jon Garland, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana. None of them are going to win the Cy Young, but neither would Bush, Vargas, Parra, or Cappuano probably shake up that rotation.

Then again, there are other ways to clear the logjam the Brewers have in the rotation than dealing from the bottom of the deck. Sheets and Hall for Figgins? Hmmm.

Blocked

I’ve read a lot about the feeling that moving Ryan Braun to left field will block top prospect and last year’s number one draft pick Matt LaPorta. LaPorta’s natural position seems to be left field, although he will be playing some right this year. I’ve never understood this notion of a minor league player being blocked.

Assume that LaPorta can play left field, right field, or first base. The Brewers have three pretty good players in those positions – all three currently better than LaPorta. What that means is that LaPorta must become better than one of them to get a job. As long as Braun, Fielder and Hart are better than LaPorta, he doesn’t help your team so he stays in the minors. Once he becomes better, he replaces one of those three. It’s that simple. Just because LaPorta might already be good enough to play on some team doesn’t mean you are obligated to play him on this team.

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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