Monthly Archives: December 2016

Choose a catcher: Pina, Susac or Bandy?

Martin Maldonado is no longer a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, and as sad as that is for most Brewers fans, it was the right move. The backup catcher was moved to the Los Angeles Angels — along with minor league reliever Drew Gagnon — for 26-year-old catcher Jett Bandy, who by the way, has just a dope name. I wrote about Maldonado’s future a few weeks ago, and although I predicted he’d remain with the Crew for one more season, I’m not at all surprised by the trade.

So the Brewers got rid of one catcher for another catcher, meaning Milwaukee still has three backstops who could essentially start on Opening Day. They have Andrew Susac, who was a part of the Will Smith trade. They have Manny Pina, who put up an impressive .346 OBP in the majors last season. And lastly, the Brewers could pick the newcomer, Jett Bandy, who was worth 0.7 WAR in 70 games for the Angels in 2016.

Later in this post, I’m going to ask you to choose which one should get the majority of playing time during the upcoming season, but for now, let’s talk about each one individually.

Manny Pina

Pina is 29 years old but has just 98 major league plate appearances to his name, with 82 percent of them coming last season. In 33 games for the Brewers, Pina was above-average defensively and just below the average line with his bat with a 98 wRC+. Despite that, though, he impressed at the plate. He walked over 12 percent of the time, and that contributed to a .346 OBP. Now, we must take into account his small sample size. Like I said earlier, he’s barely had a cup of coffee in the major leagues, so we really don’t know if that’s his true talent level. I mean, if it was, wouldn’t you think that he would’ve been given more of a chance in previous years?

For the most part, Pina hasn’t been anything special in the minor leagues. In fact, one could argue that he was just plain bad. But something changed in 2016 when he was in Triple-A as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He posted career highs in wRC+ (147) and OBP (.379) and continued that production when he was picked up by Milwaukee. Other than that year, though, it’s clear why Pina has fewer than 100 plate appearances in the majors.

Pina doesn’t have much power to speak of — he has just 55 home runs across 11 seasons in the minors — and definitely ranks last in that category when compared to Bandy and Susac. So if the Brewers ride with him, they’ll be giving up some offensive fortitude in exchange for solid defense. And that isn’t a bad thing. Having a sound defensive catcher is more prudent than ever before, and that’s essentially what Maldonado was. He had more pop than Pina, but he was most known for his defensive abilities.

Prediction: I don’t think Pina will make the Opening Day roster. Yes, he had a surprising season a year ago, but his minor league track record says that it won’t happen again. Plus, he’ll be 30 in June, too old to be a crucial part in Milwaukee’s rebuild.

Andrew Susac

Susac will be 27 by the time the season kicks off, which means he should be entering his prime playing days, and from the little I’ve seen of the former backup to Buster Posey, I’m encouraged.

In 262 plate appearances, Susac has produced a .317 wOBA and a 104 wRC+ (four percent above league average). Now, his wOBA and OBP (.309) are not desirable. He has too many holes in his swing and needs to improve his contact rate (72.2 percent) and cut down on his whiffs (13 percent). To his credit, though, he has more power than people give him credit for. I think his ceiling his 20 home runs and his floor is around 10 during a full major league season. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s about where Jonathan Lucroy landed. And of course I’m not saying Susac is the next All-Star catcher in Milwaukee. I’m simply saying he has some untapped power potential. Steamer, a projection system used by FanGraphs, has him pegged for nine home runs in just 267 plate appearances in 2017. The power is there, guys.

He was always a good hitter in the minors. I wouldn’t call him great, but he’s definitely proved he has a chance to be the everyday guy. He didn’t do much in 148 plate appearances with the Giants back in 2015, but his eye at the plate that year (9.5 BB%) and last year with Milwaukee (10.5 BB%) tell me he’s on the right track. I just think he needs a legitimate chance.

Prediction: Susac is a better all-around baseball player than Pina, so I think that gives him the leg up. I’d be very surprised if Susac failed to make the roster out of spring training, and I think he has a very good chance to get the Opening day nod from manager Craig Counsell.

Jett Bandy

Like Susac, Bandy will be 27 by the time the season starts up, and last year was his first shot in the majors. In 231 plate appearances, Bandy accumulated an 83 wRC+ (yuck), a .281 OBP (ew) and a .289 wOBA (puke). Yeah, he was not good at all. But don’t panic. There’s a lot to like about this guy. And guess what? I’m about to tell you what those things are.

Bandy was plagued by a .246 BABIP last season. The major league average on balls in play was .300, and of the 323 hitters with at least 230 PAs, he had the 22nd-lowest mark. Although he finished just a tick below league average in terms of hard-hit rate (27.5%), he exceeded league average on balls hit with medium speed (51.1%), so it’s fair to say Bandy was fairly unlucky during his first year in the bigs.

David Stearns traded for him because he believes in his power potential. Stearns is the first to admit that it hasn’t shown up in his stats, but Milwaukee’s GM sees the hidden value, and once again, I have to agree with The Wizard. Just like I said about Susac, I believe Bandy can be a power-hitting catcher if given the chance to play everyday. He hit a combined 24 bombs in Double-A and Triple-A during the 2014 and 2015 season and crushed eight for the Angels in ’16. His profile is very similar to Susac’s, and that could set up a dynamic catching duo for the Brewers.

Above everything else, Bandy is a lethal defensive catcher. According to FanGraphs’ defensive rating (Def), he ranked above-average in 2016. He threw out 17 base stealers, which was fourth in the American League and first among rookies. He’s got a rocket for an arm, and if he could just improve his skills as a pitch framer, he could legitimately be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.

Prediction: It’s going to come down between Bandy and Susac, with Susac ultimately getting the majority of the playing time to begin the season. I do think, however, that Bandy will supplant Susac as the starter midway through the season and never look back.

Now it’s time for you to tell me what you think.

Who are the Brewers getting in Travis Shaw, Josh Pennington and Mauricio Dubon?

Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns — or The Wizard, as I like to call him — wasted no time making headlines in the Winter Meetings. In just the second day, the Brewers traded away their best reliever (Tyler Thornburg) for an everyday player (Travis Shaw) and two prospects (Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington) and PTBNL or cash considerations.

Now, I’m not going to dive deep into what exactly the Brewers gave up in Thornburg, but just know that he ranked 15th in adjusted ERA and 18th in adjusted FIP among qualified relievers last season. Thornburg is good. Really good, actually. But there were some warning signs that the Brewers were aware of. For example, Thornburg has quite an extensive injury history, so who knows when/if he’ll break down again, and 2016 was really his only season of note. Milwaukee traded him at the most opportune time and got a good haul in return.

Let’s talk about that haul.

Travis Shaw is the known player in this deal and will be the everyday third baseman for the Brewers in 2017. That means Jonathan Villar (3.0 WAR in ’16) will move to second base — where he’ll likely have more success than he did at third — and Scooter Gennett (0.1 WAR) will be forced to battle for playing time, unless he’s ultimately traded.

Shaw is a better defender than he is a hitter, but at 26 years old, there’s still some untapped potential in his bat. Last year, Shaw posted an 87 wRC+ (13 percent below league average), a .310 wOBA and a .306 OBP. His stats were definitely down from his rookie campaign in 2015, but he still managed to post the same WAR (1.5), thanks to improved defense at the hot corner. Shaw is an immediate upgrade over Hernan Perez, although Perez still figures to see at bats versus lefties, as Shaw accumulated a measly 51 wRC+ in limited time against southpaws a year ago. Still, Stearns said Shaw will have the opportunity to improve, and more plate appearances should only help that.

Shaw, along with newly signed Eric Thames, provides a left-handed power bat to a right-handed heavy lineup, and although he should help the Brewers for years to come — he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021 — he isn’t the most exciting piece of the trade return.

Before we get to the player I like the most, let’s first focus on Josh Pennington. Pennington turned 21 seven months ago and has yet to pitch above Low-A ball. He was drafted in the 29th round in 2014, falling in the draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school. The Brewers, however, believe he’s rebuilt his arm strength, and reports claim he sits in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball.

Pennington started 13 games in Low-A last season, and racked up a 2.86 ERA and 3.75 FIP. He struck out fewer than eight batters a game and struggled with command (4.29 BB/9), but there’s still a lot to like about this hurler. First and foremost, he’s young and controllable, which is exactly what Stearns has been targeting since becoming the GM. Plus, Pennington just doesn’t have enough experience to be accurately judged yet. His numbers I posted above don’t really mean much without context. His arsenal and ability to hit the high 90s is more telling of his future performance, so at the very least Pennington has a high floor.

Here’s what Stearns had to say about his new pitcher, via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He pitched healthy all of last year,” Stearns said. “We’re excited to be able to bring that type of high-upside arm into the system. “It takes a little while sometimes for guys to regain arm strength after Tommy John, and we believe he has.”

Pennington will be a wait-and-see prospect. The Brewers like him, but until he moves up to Single-A, Double-A, etc and starts facing stiffer competition, he’s little more than a lottery ticket that could pay huge dividends.

The third player the Brewers received from Boston is 22-year-old shortstop Mauricio Dubon. Dubon, in my opinion, makes this a home run trade for Milwaukee, as I think he can be an above-average hitter and fielder in the major leagues. He’s already proven he can hit in the minors, and he might be just a season or two away from his debut.

Dubon once profiled as a slap hitter, posting high ground-ball rates throughout his time in the minors, yet that changed when he went up to Double-A halfway through the 2016 season. In 269 plate appearances, Dubon registered a 151 wRC+ and got on base 37 percent of the time, and he showed some pop as well, with six home runs and a plethora of extra-base hits. Now, he won’t be a power hitter in the majors, but his contact ability is extremely encouraging, and that alone could make him an everyday player.

Because the Brewers already have stud defensive shortstop Orlando Arcia, they plan to use Dubon’s versatility at multiple infield positions in the minors, but according to Stearns, for at least this upcoming season, he’ll stick at shortstop.

The Red Sox got a top reliever in Thornburg, and the Brewers added more exciting prospects to an already stacked bunch. Boston gave up a lot, but with the news trickling in that they signed Chris Sale, it’s clear they’re going for it all in 2017. As for Milwaukee, Shaw will be an instant contributor, Pennington is somewhat of an unknown and Dubon could be the far-and-away best player in this trade.

The Wizard strikes again.