Monthly Archives: November 2015

Who are the Brewers getting in Jonathan Villar?

For the second time in two days, the Milwaukee Brewers have traded for middle infield depth. Yesterday, the team shipped off Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit in exchange for 2B Javier Betancourt, and today, they landed SS Jonathan Villar from the Astros for RHP Cy Sneed.

General manager David Stearns has repeatedly stated the organization’s goal is to get younger, and it has wasted no time in doing so. Betancourt is 20 while Villar will turn 25 in May.

Because he is out of options, all signs point to Villar being on the major-league roster in 2016. But who exactly is Jonathan Villar?

Villar is a switch-hitting infielder whose versatility makes him a very intriguing acquisition for the Brewers. He’s capable of manning every infield position other than first base, and that includes the hot corner, a position Milwaukee desperately needs to fill.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Villar’s name in the opening day lineup as the team’s third baseman. To me, he’s an upgrade over Elian Herrera and Hernan Perez.

In 658 career plate appearances, Villar has a .291 wOBA and 82 wRC+. He was, however, much better than that in limited action last season, as his 107 wRC+ made him an above-average hitter. He was aided by a tremendously high BABIP of .360, though, a mark Villar surely won’t be able to replicate.

Villar does have some pop in his bat, posting an isolated slugging of .144 and .129 in the last two seasons, respectively. Like most young players, strikeouts are an issue. In 2015, he struck out 22.7% of the time, and the holes in his bat were obvious. He swung and missed at 10 percent of the pitches he saw, and his contact percentage was below league average. Still, he managed a .339 on-base percentage. That’s something to be encouraged about.

He’s a similar player to Jean Segura — especially in terms of his ground ball rate — and that makes Segura even more expendable than he was. Brewers beat writers Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt believe Milwaukee is interested in trading Segura to open the door for Orlando Arcia. Villar could be a placeholder while that transition takes place.

According to Stearns, trading for Villar “opens up possibilities in a number of different areas for what we can do the remainder of the offseason.” Like I said earlier, his versatility is what makes him so appealing.

Offseason goals for the Milwaukee Brewers

I recently turned 24, and in those 8760 days, the Milwaukee Brewers have made the playoffs just twice. They were the National League Wild Card in 2008 (I spent my high school homecoming watching them play the Phillies instead of dancing with my girlfriend) and they were crowned NL Central champs in 2011. Other than that, my life as a Milwaukee Brewers fan has been without reward.

However, they’ve never really “rebuilt” during my lifetime. Despite having only two winning seasons in the 90s, the Brewers failed to get younger through trades and, for the most part, were miserable when it came to drafting players. The early 2000s were spent replacing terrible players with other terrible players amidst 90+ loss seasons, although they did find some gold pieces in the draft. Without drafting the likes of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks, there would be no 2008 playoff appearance. Yet that was the last draft success story for the Brewers front office. Since then, it’s been a mess.

For the first time in decades, the Brewers are undergoing a massive rebuild, and for the first time in decades, they are acknowledging the team won’t be competitive for at least a few years. And I just have one thing to say about it: FINALLY.

It’s about time the Brewers start over. Too long have they been a bad-to-average team. Too long has their fan base been disappointed. A clean, fresh start is a necessity, a conclusion owner Mark Attanasio has ultimately come to. In early October, Attanasio told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “In my thirst to compete, maybe we ended up in the middle a little too often.” I smiled when I read that quote.

New general manager David Stearns has the franchise reins now, and from everything he’s said and everything I’ve read about the man, he seems like the right guy for the job. His focus is centered on giving the organization young prospects whom can be molded into big-league talent. That’s the definition of rebuilding.

That mission begins this offseason, and I have a few ideas on how to start the long-awaited process.

Trade Lucroy, Braun and Rodriguez

Trading the team’s best three players will be no small task, and the average fan will likely throw a tantrum, but this is a move that’s in the best interest of not only the Brewers, but the players themselves.

Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun are in their primes, but by the time Milwaukee’s rebuild is complete, they won’t be anymore. Let them play out their good years on a competitive team instead of wasting away in a Brewers uniform. Plus, the prospects the Brewers would get back for them would be top-rated ones, just like the ones they received in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade. Lucroy’s contract is dirt cheap and he’s one of the best backstops in the game, so trading him shouldn’t be difficult. Braun. on the other hand, is just beginning a five-year, $100 million contract extension. Finding a team to take on that contract won’t be easy, but at least Braun’s 2015 season (129 wRC+)  boosted his value again.

Now, while Francisco Rodriguez‘s days of throwing in the high-90s are long gone, he proved in 2015 he can still be a dominant arm out of the bullpen. The Brewers no longer have a need for a veteran closer who costs $7.5 million, so trading him for a can of pickles would be worth it. Freeing up that money is the most important thing. Plus, I can just bet Scooter Gennett loves pickles.

Acquire a 3B prospect

Aramis Ramirez did a fine job holding down the third base fort for the past two and a half seasons, but during that time, the Brewers failed to prepare for his departure. Right now, they have Hernan Perez* (-0.8 career WAR) and Elian Herrera (0.5 career WAR) as possible third-base options. However, neither of those players are long-term solutions, and there’s no one in the minors who is remotely ready for a promotion to the bigs. The Brewers, without a doubt, need to solidify the hot corner.

When/if the Brewers trade any of the players I mentioned above in my first point, a third base prospect will surely be a point of prominence in any trade discussion.

*Has since been made a minor league free agent.

Add as much young pitching as possible

Teams with depth, particularly pitching depth, are usually the ones who have the most success. Just look at two World Series teams this year in New York and Kansas City. Stearns has already spoke about the importance of pitching depth, meaning going out and grabbing as many young pitching prospects as he can is already on his mind.

The Brewers like the young pitching they have (Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann), but the depth isn’t there, and to be honest, neither is the talent. Their history of draft picks spent on pitchers reads like a bad novel, but hopefully the new front office regime will have a little more luck.

Find a cheap centerfielder

The outfield as it currently lines up is Khris Davis in left field, Domingo Santana in center field and Ryan Braun in right. There’s only one problem; Santana has no business being in center as he belongs in a corner spot. Unfortunately, the Brewers have no true center fielders on the roster, which makes acquiring one a must.

That, however, will cause a traffic jam in the outfield, a problem that can easily be solved by trading Braun. Davis will most likely stay put because he’s cheap and under team control, and I don’t see Stearns giving away someone like that.

Santana will need to be in the lineup everyday in order to get as many plate appearances as possible, but that may mean he’ll need to tough it out in center until a reliable replacement comes along.

The projections: What I got wrong

As you know, baseball projections, or any projections for that matter, are never a sure thing, especially when they consist of nothing but educated guesses, as mine do. Projection systems like Steamer and ZiPS, which you can find on FanGraphs’ lovely site, are much more accurate, because they use complicated and in-depth formulas and models to make their decisions on players. As for me, I simply did some research and predicted the results on my own.

My projections were purely guesses, but I still hit some right on the nose. I did, however, swing and miss on quite a few. Here are the projections I bombed:

Jonathan Lucroy

Avg HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Projection .303 11 .362 129 .377 .159 10.3% 11.4% 4.6
Season Stats .264 7 .313 93 .326 .127 15.4% 8.7% 1.1

After an MVP-caliber season in 2014, I had no doubt in my mind Jonathan Lucroy would follow it up with another stellar escapade at the plate. Way to make me look like an idiot, Jon. He went from a 6-win player to a 1-win player. Talk about astonishing.

Lucroy just wasn’t the same hitter. He dealt with a toe injury, but he also struggled with pitch selection (29.7 O-Swing%), had most of his power zapped and was unusually unlucky when he made contact with the ball; he posted a .297 BABIP after averaging a ,311 BABIP during his first five seasons in the bigs.

Aside from his bat’s disappearance, Lucroy’s defense also wasn’t Lucroy-worthy. According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) stat, which measures a player’s defensive value compared to league average, Lucroy’s value plummeted faster than Meek Mill’s rap career. Last year, he ranked sixth among catchers. In 2015, he was down in the gutter at 37th.

2016 outlook: In hindsight, the Brewers should have traded him immediately after his superstar year. Now, interest in the catcher will surely be down a bit.

Carlos Gomez

AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Projection .287 22 .366 131 .350 .193 22.1% 7.7% 5.3
Season Stats .255 12 .315 96 .314 .154 21.2% 6.5% 2.6

Carlos Gomez went through one roller coaster of a season in 2015, whether it was injuries, being fake traded to the New York Mets or being for real traded to the Houston Astros. And to top all of that off, he was a disaster at the plate.

I knew the Brewers were destined for the bottom of the standings, but no way did I think Gomez would contribute in a negative way to their offensive output. Like Lucroy, I thought he had a chance to compete for the MVP award; instead, he wasn’t even a league-average hitter. His helmet and the ground got pretty friendly, though.

2016 outlook: Trading Gomez was necessary and a fantastic move by Milwaukee’s brass, and I’m on-the-edge-of-my-seat excited for the prospects Houston sent over. In order for the trade to look respectable for the Astros, however, Gomez will need a big bounce-back season. And I think it’s in the cards. He’s my pick for 2016’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Michael Blazek

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
Projection 4.22 4.03 3.90 3.89 7 21.3% 11.3% 42.0% -0.1
Season Stats 2.43 3.17 3.85 3.60 3 21.2% 8.1% 47.4% 0.6

Michael Blazek was a hard player to project. Before 2015, the right-handed reliever had just 17 innings of major-league experience, making projecting his first full year a crap shoot.

As it turns out, Blazek was one of the best relievers the solid Brewers bullpen had, ranking fourth in WAR. He waited all the way until August 2 before allowing his first home run. He didn’t strike out many. but he still managed to hold hitters to an extremely low batting average on balls in play (.243).

2016 outlook: It wouldn’t shock me to see Blazek get a shot at the starting rotation next season. The Brewers are rebuilding, and his arsenal and pitching style are more suitable for a starter, anyway. Why not give him a chance?

Francisco Rodriguez

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
Projection 3.72 4.22 3.15 2.62 11 25.9% 8.8% 42.0% -0.1
Season Stats 2.21 2.91 2.63 2.42 6 28.7% 5.1% 46.4% 1.0

Francisco Rodriguez was horrible in 2014, and I didn’t expect the Brewers to bring him back. I was wrong. I also didn’t expect Rodriguez to be remotely decent out of the ‘pen. I was wrong. This was, by far, the worst of my projections. Apologies, K-Rod.

Rodriguez did a wonderful job of cutting back on his walks and increasing his K rate, but what’s gone mostly unnoticed is his groundball percentage. His 46.4 GB% is the second-best mark of his career and the highest since 2011. Rodriguez’s plethora of grounders is a main reason why his home run totals were almost sliced in half.

2016 outlook: Once again, Rodriguez will be used as a trade chip by the Brewers. Kudos to Milwaukee for hanging on to him for another season in order to get his value back up.

 

***Even though I was very, very wrong about their performances, I didn’t include Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza on this list. I think we saw enough of them over the season as it is. Nobody wants to read anything more about them.