Tag Archives: Francisco Rodriguez

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.

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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.

K-Rod’s back, tell a friend

I’ve complimented the Milwaukee Brewers numerous times for what they’ve accomplished this offseason. I praised them when they acquired Adam Lind, and I gave them a standing ovation when they unloaded Yovani Gallardo. Despite what many “experts” have written, the Brewers have had a terrific winter…up until now.

After weeks of negotiating, Francisco Rodriguez and the Brewers agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract, a move that just doesn’t make much sense, fiscally or otherwise.

But before I get into why the Brewers didn’t use their best judgment in signing Rodriguez, let me say that inking him was a better alternative that acquiring Jonathan Papelbon. And for what it’s worth, most of you agree with that statement.

This will be Rodriguez’s fourth stint in Milwaukee, and he has continuously fallen off in terms of WAR. He posted a career-low WAR (-0.6) and FIP (4.50), and gave up 14 home runs in 2014. Yet and still, he’s slated to remove Jonathan Broxton from the closer’s role and take over, which is something I don’t understand. Rodriguez and Broxton are similar pitchers and have aged in the same way as well, even though Rodriguez is three years older. They’ve both lost velocity on their fastballs and have seen their strikeout rates take a dip over the last couple of seasons. Milwaukee now has two former lights-out closers who are past their primes. Yay.

The biggest issue I have with with this acquisition is the cost of it. Paying $13 million over two years for a barely above-average 33-year-old closer is like paying $50 for a leftover steak. You’re overpaying for mediocrity. And it’s especially bad when there’s already another perfectly fine steak on your plate.

Adding Rodriguez to the bullpen doesn’t make the Brewers any better in 2015, and certainly won’t make them better in ’16. If anything, it ties them up a little financially, which is sad, considering all the money that’ll be coming off the books.

Up until this point, the Brewers played the offseason perfectly. I didn’t have a problem with anything they did. But signing Rodriguez is a mistake and a move that doesn’t add any value to the team.

 

Pick a pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez vs. Jonathan Papelbon

The Milwaukee Brewers, despite recently signing Neal Cotts, are still in the market for a reliever, preferably a reliever with closing experience. And contrary to my first reaction, the motive makes a lot of sense. Jonathan Broxton is anything but a sure thing (see fastball velocity), and I won’t be surprised if he’s ousted as closer within the first few weeks of the season (or as early as spring training). The Brewers desperately need a backup plan, mostly because they don’t believe in Jeremy Jeffress as much as I do, but also because Jim Henderson‘s throwing arm is a question mark. Not to mention the lack of “closing experience” the Brewers currently have (for some reason major league teams continue to cite this as a weakness). Milwaukee has made it clear that they want to add another closer to the roster, and names like Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon have been thrown around time and time again. Rodriguez has said he wants to return to Milwaukee, and the Brewers are engaged in conversation with the Philadelphia Phillies regarding Papelbon.

So, assuming the Brewers pull the trigger on one of these players, let’s play another round of “Pick a Pitcher”.

First up: K-Rod.

Okay, we are all aware of the legal troubles Rodriguez has been involved in. That’s old news and I’m not going to touch on that subject because this isn’t a law chat room. It’s a baseball blog. I hope you understand that there’s a difference. If not, God help you. When voting, try to only judge him based on his performance on the field, not off it.

Rodriguez loves Milwaukee. He has already served two different terms with the Brewers and is seeking a third. He wants to be back and would, in all likelihood, take a discount to return. As each day passes without the Brewers inking another reliever, the likelihood of Rodriguez’s return increases, because we know how much they like bringing back old players.

But is he really the best option?

Rodriguez’s WAR has decreased in each of the last four seasons, and in 2014, his -0.6 WAR was a career worst. That’s despite allowing a drastically low .219 batting average on balls in play. His ERA was respectable at 3.04, but ERA is silly to look at by itself. The true story — or least truer story — is told by his FIP, and his FIP wasn’t pretty. League average FIP among relievers was 3.60; Rodriguez posted a mark of 4.50. In other words, only two other relievers who pitched a minimum of 60 innings had a higher FIP. Much of that, however, is due to the number of home runs he allowed (14). His HR/FB ratio was over 20% for the first time in his career as he allowed 1.85 home runs per nine innings. His abundance of home runs resulted in a 2.91 xFIP, meaning that’s what his ERA would have looked like if he had surrendered a league average home run to fly ball ratio. Because of this, odds are that Rodriguez won’t give up 14 home runs again. Still, how much he can be trusted in high leverage situations is unclear.

Financially speaking, Rodriguez is the cheaper option of the two. He’s most likely in the market for a two-year deal worth around $7 million, and while $7 million isn’t much at all, I’d be surprised if the Brewers agreed to anything more than one-year deal with him. They don’t want to be stuck with a declining pitcher for an additional year if it isn’t necessary.

Papelbon, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of both talent and cost.

Papelbon’s 2014 stat line is impressive. He’s coming off his best season (in terms of WAR) since 2011 and he posted the league’s 19th-best FIP among relievers. All across the board his numbers look good. But there are a few areas that should concern Milwaukee’s front office.

Like Broxton, Papelbon’s heater has come out of his hand at a slower speed for the last few years now. As a basic rule, losing velocity is rarely a good thing. Papelbon is not a young man anymore, and his worn-out arm will continue to be worn, resulting in slower fastballs. He’ll (probably) become less effective with each tick of mph he loses.

In 2014, Papelbon allowed two home runs in 66.1 innings. That’s a career low. He allowed 73 fly balls and only one of those managed to leave the ball park — the other home run was considered a line drive by Baseball Savant. Why is that important? Well, just like Rodriguez won’t give up 14 home runs next season, Papelbon won’t give up two. He’s destined to give up more as regression to the mean will be in full effect.

Let’s not forget that the Brewers have to actually trade for Papelbon in order to get him in a Brewers’ uniform. The Brewers have to trade away prospects and acquire Papelbon’s contract that includes a vesting option. The money is why the Brewers haven’t completed this trade yet. They’re okay with giving him $13 million in 2015, but his $13 million vesting option the following year is something the Brewers are refusing to do.

The Brewers have to ask themselves if they really feel like they can compete in 2015. If the answer is yes, trading for Papelbon and attaining his contract would be the smart move. If the answer is no, acquiring either of these players, especially Papelbon, would be foolish.