Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Brewers have a bullpen problem

The bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers, as of now, doesn’t look so good. The team’s front office has been searching for an under-the-radar and cheap lefty to replace Zach Duke, who just happened to fit both of those descriptions in 2014, with no luck. Aside from that, the troubles that haunt Milwaukee’s bullpen are astounding.

Before the Winter Meetings kicked off, Doug Melvin stressed that adding “one or two pieces” to the bullpen was on the top of his to-do list. But the Meetings have come and gone with no additions. Why? It’s not like there were/are no options available, and don’t tell me that the free agent relievers are too expensive. Sergio Santos, a prime candidate for a bounce-back season who owns career 3.29 FIP, was just recently signed to a minor-league deal by the Dodgers. The Brewers should have been all over him (and hopefully they were). Now, there is still plenty of time to go out and make a move as it’s only January, but the longer the Brewers wait, the slimmer the pickings become. If Melvin is holding out hope on finding another diamond in the rough, he might be sorely disappointed.

There are still a plethora of serviceable relievers out there that could fit what Milwaukee is looking for. Carlos Villanueva (projected 0.3 WAR)  would be welcome sight back in Milwaukee, as would Burke Badenhop (projected 0.3 WAR). Both of those pitchers are coming off 1-win seasons and both have had success in Milwaukee in the past. Plus, Melvin has a history of bringing back former players, which is why I won’t be surprised if Tom Gorzelanny returns. I think there are greener pastures elsewhere, but the longer the Brewers go without signing a LHP, the bigger the likelihood becomes of them inking him.

You might be wondering why I’m down on the bullpen, and that’s fair. The Brewers were in the middle of the pack in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP in 2014, so it’s not like they stunk. But they weren’t the cream of the crop either. So, if you’re okay with mediocrity, you probably haven’t agreed with a single word of what I’ve written so far. However, I hope you stick with me and let me explain just what exactly is wrong with the Brewers’ relievers.

Jonathan Broxton 

Broxton will start the season as closer for the Brewers, but even now educated fans (and non-educated fans for that matter), feel like he won’t last long in that role. Brew Crew Ball tried to settle that argument and defended Broxton, but I’m on the doubters side of the fence. Broxton’s fastball has decreased in velocity each of the last three seasons, and his strikeout rate has really taken a dive (see chart below). There is cause for worry with him.

Broxton

Will Smith

Smith is one of the few pitchers in the ‘pen that I trust. He’ll most likely setup Broxton along with Jeffress. True, he slumped a bit during the second half of ’14, but I don’t believe that should sound off any alarms. However, he might not be in the bullpen for long. If the season starts to go down the pits, the Brewers may want to see what he can do in the rotation.

Brandon Kintzler

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised the Brewers tendered Kintzler a contract. Steamer is projecting Kintzler to finish with a 0.0 WAR next year. That means he’s the definition of a replacement player, which means the Brewers ought to be able to replace him. But yet, here he is. Kintzler posted a 4.68 FIP last season, which was by far a career high. Thankfully, that number should come down as his career FIP is only 3.63. But, Kintzler gave up an absurd 17.4% HR/FB ratio and struck out two batters fewer per nine innings than he did in 2013. He can’t be trusted.

Jeremy Jeffress

Jeffress is the second and last pitcher I completely trust out of the bullpen, and I think he’ll soon become a stud. I wrote more about him here.

Rob Wooten

Wooten has pitched in two major league seasons and has an ERA of 4.35 and a FIP of 2.87. In both seasons he’s outperformed his ERA. In 2014, he improved his K%, BB%, HR/9 and groundball rate from his rookie year. There is promise for Wooten, but his high 80’s fastball is something to keep an eye on.

Jim Henderson

Henderson is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, so his future is murky. Will he be able to maintain his velocity when fully healed, or will injuries continue to haunt him? His health will determine his effectiveness going forward.

Tyler Thornburg

The same goes for Thornburg with his elbow. Luckily for him, Tommy John surgery wasn’t necessary, but elbow injuries are always scary and force teams to be cautious. If both Thornburg and Henderson aren’t ready for the start of the season, who do the Brewers turn to if they don’t start signing some relievers?

Jimmy Nelson

Nelson has basically no bullpen experience as 13 of his 18 MLB appearances have come as a starter. If anything, he’ll be used as a long reliever to keep his arm stretched out in case he needs to fill in for a spot start.

Now you see why I think the Brewers have a bullpen problem. They have a lot of inexperience and a lot of question marks in their bullpen. Question marks are usually never a good thing, especially when they’re related to injuries. Melvin needs to act fast and improve his bullpen, otherwise it will be chaos; chaos in the bullpen and chaos when other bloggers write post after post demanding an explanation for Melvin’s ineptness.

Who are the Brewers getting in Shane Peterson?

On Tuesday the Milwaukee Brewers announced that they had claimed outfielder Shane Peterson off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Peterson was only a member of the Cubs for four days, as the club claimed him from the Oakland Athletics on Dec. 19. Peterson will be 27 by the time the 2015 season commences, and has logged just eight plate appearances in the major leagues, but the left-handed hitter should provide some value for the Brewers.

Here’s what Doug Melvin had to say about Peterson:

“We like his versatility. He has played some first base and some center field. Not many first basemen can play center field. It’s nice to get another left-handed bat, too.”

Peterson was acquired to fill depth in the Triple-A outfield, a position barren with the losses of Josh Prince, Kentrail Davis and Caleb Gindl this offseason. Peterson spent the entire 2014 season in Triple A and posted a .381 OBP, a .153 ISO and walked at a 10.6% clip. He also knocked out 11 home runs and stole 11 bases.

If Peterson makes the Brewers out of spring training, he will in all likelihood replace Logan Schafer on the bench. Peterson has considerably more pop than Schafer, and has always gotten on base at a high rate down in the minor leagues (.381 OBP). Schafer has had his time to prove he belongs on a major league club, and after 503 plate appearances and a 63 wRC+, it’s clear that the Brewers should go in a different direction.

Like almost everyone else on the Brewers, Peterson strikes out a lot. And his strikeout percentage will only increase when he faces major league pitching. Still, the Brewers made a nice pickup by adding Peterson. He brings speed, some power from the left side of the plate and has the knack for getting on base. If he hits well during spring training and earns a roster spot, I think he can contribute to the ball club.

Should we be worried about Will Smith’s second-half slump?

For the first couple months of the 2014 season, Will Smith was one of baseball’s best arms out of the bullpen and quickly became Ron Roenicke‘s go-to-guy in high leverage situations. He struck out nearly 30% of batters he faced and boasted a 3.09 ERA in 43.2 innings. He failed to allow an earned run in May (13 IP), diced up lefties and was able to put down righties on a regular basis. His dominance made the news that Zach Duke was signing with the Chicago White Sox a little easier to hear.

But then the calendar turned to July, and Smith’s ERA grew like Pinocchio’s nose. Of the 27 total earned runs Smith allowed last season, he gave up 14 of them in July. Here’s a look at his ERA month-to-month.

Smith

Although the months of July and August clearly weren’t friendly to Smith, his peripherals didn’t change all that much, which is why we shouldn’t be worried about his second-half “slump”.

Nothing drastically changed. In the first half of the season, Smith had a 3.11 FIP. In the second half, he had a 3.45 FIP. Different, but not substantially. He actually struck out more and walked less, and his opponent’s batting average and on-base percentage were nearly identical from the first three months. Smith allowed a higher batting average on balls in play, but just by a little, and was still able to keep the ball in the yard. So what contributed to his high ERA?

The biggest problem Smith had was keeping runners from scoring once they got on base.

First half: 78.6 LOB%

Second half: 64.8 LOB%

Once Smith allowed a runner to get on, he couldn’t make them stay put.That’s because Smith almost completely stopped forcing ground balls, and as a result, balls started to take flight which meant more base hits and less outs. Take a look at this:

GB% LD% FB%
First Half 50.0% 21.8% 28.2%
Second Half 32.1% 24.5% 43.4%

It’s no wonder his ERA took a climb. He did a heck of a job conjuring ground balls and limiting balls in the air during the first half of the campaign, but completely lost his touch during the last few months of the season. A pitcher with a devastating slider, like Smith (5.1 wSL), will most likely be ineffective if he can’t get the ball on the ground. However, Smith’s second half trend of lack of grounders shouldn’t continue into 2015, as his career ground-ball rate is 42.8%. I expect it to normalize.

Smith was overused in the first half (43.2 IP) and underused in the second half (22 IP), as this was due to Roenicke’s mismanagement of the bullpen. With any luck, Roenicke will make smarter decisions on when to use Smith. A set-up man by committee might be the best option with Smith facing lefties and Jeremy Jeffress getting the ball versus righties, but regardless, there’s really no reason to worry about Smith. He finished the year with a fantastic ERA/FIP/xFIP line (3.70/3.25/3.08) and was worth 0.5 WAR as a middle innings reliever.

Take away the month in which Smith gave up 14 runs in 8.2 innings, and Smith is one of the best relievers in baseball.

Brewers should try for Nick Punto

Nick Punto is entering his age-37 season and his coming off an abysmal season at the plate, so it was really no surprise the Oakland Athletics released him today.

But one team’s trash is another team’s treasure, and that’s what Punto could be for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers greatly need to improve their bench, with the departures of Rickie Weeks and Lyle Overbay devastating it, and incumbents Elian Herrera and Logan Schafer providing little value.

Punto and Herrera are similar in that they both are utility men who can play any infield position (with the exception of first base). Punto, however, is the superior defender and has the better bat despite being on the brink of retirement. Steamer is projecting Punto to be worth 0.3 WAR in 2015, while Herrera is projected at -0.1. Even at 37, Punto has more upside than the soon-to-be 30 Herrera. That’s got to tell you something.

Furthermore, both of the players are switch hitters, but while Herrera is best from the left side of the plate, Punto’s advantage comes from the opposite side. And with Scooter Gennett in need of a platoon partner, Punto has the upper hand over Herrera.

Punto isn’t going to hit much, and we should all be aware of that by now. He’s only accumulated four seasons in which he posted a wOBA higher than .300, and has only been above league average in terms of runs created once. But Milwaukee doesn’t need him to be an offensive superstar. They need a sound defender who can start during the rare times the team faces a lefty and who can maybe draw a couple of walks (11.2 BB% in ’14). Punto would also serve as a reliable fill-in if Gennett or Jean Segura would go down with injury.

The most important thing to remember is that Punto will surely be better than Herrera next season. For that reason alone, the Brewers should have interest.

Be wary of Scooter Gennett in 2015

Ever since Scooter Gennett made his major league debut on June 3, 2013, fans in Milwaukee have been enamored with the scrappy second baseman. He made a splash in the bigs almost immediately, boasting a .364 wOBA and 130 wRC+ in his first 69 games. That, plus being paired with the decline of Rickie Weeks, who has always been hated on by Brewers’ fans, made Gennett a quick fan favorite.

But, as expected, Gennett’s statistics took a dip in his first full season. His .320 on-base percentage was eighth on the team (min 100 plate appearances), and he created just four percent more runs than league average. He put up these less than stellar stats while only facing right-handed pitchers, and with Weeks completely out of the picture in 2015 and no clear platoon partner, times could get tougher for the 24 year old.

If the Brewers plan on Gennett being the main man at second, he’ll need to starting hitting southpaws. It’s not that he’s bad when facing left-handed pitchers, it’s that he’s horrifically awful. In his career, he has a .150 OBP, .134 wOBA and -29 wRC+ (yes, it is possible to have a negative wRC+) versus lefties. Those numbers are based on an extremely small sample size, just 78 at-bats, but his minor league splits don’t bode well for him either.

And Gennett is well aware of his battles with left-handed pitchers. Here’s an interesting quote from him in late June of this year:

“I would rather play and maybe struggle against a lefty than not play at all. But if that’s what the team can benefit most from, then I’m happy with it at the same time.”

The Brewers have two options. They can put Gennett out there with no regard to who is on the mound and hope he gets better with time (practice makes perfect, right?), or they can find another Rickie Weeks and put together another successful platoon. In 2014, Milwaukee’s second basemen posted MLB’s fourth-best wOBA and wRC+, and 11th-best WAR. There’s no way Gennett will be able to duplicate those numbers by himself, and thus, is in need of a platoon partner. He knows he’s going to struggle, and if he knows that and the Brewers know that, there’s no reason Gennett should be out there with a lefty on the mound.

I’m not going to release my 2015 projections for at least another month and a half, but I’ll give you a sneak peak of what I expect from Gennett if he gets the call every day.

Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Scooter Gennett .268 6 .310 95 .314 .125 17.0% 4.1% 1.4

And here’s what Steamer is projecting from Scooter:

Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Scooter Gennett .279 10 .314 96 .316 .119 14.4% 4.9% 1.6

Steamer likes Gennett more than I do, but just barely. We both expect him to be below league average when it comes to creating runs, and most of his 1.6 WAR will come from his defense and not his bat.

Gordon Beckham is someone the Brewers must look at. He was recently non-tendered by the Angels, and has a career .341 wOBA and 118 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, making him an ideal option to join Gennett at second base. Before being non-tendered, MLB Trade Rumors projected Beckham to earn $5 million in his final round of arbitration. The Brewers may not want to pay that for a platoon guy, but after giving Weeks $11 million in 2014 for essentially the same role, $5 million is pocket change.

Adding a player like Beckham would not only take pressure off Gennett, but it would absolutely make the team better. Gennett’s not ready for a full-time role, and I don’t think the Brewers can afford to take that chance yet, not if they expect to compete in 2015.