Tag Archives: Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Let’s revisit my 2017 bold predictions

The annual Winter Meetings are in full swing, and while we wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to make some moves, I thought it’d be an appropriate time to check out how my bold predictions from last March fared. But don’t you worry. Once David Stearns — also known as The Wizard — starts wheeling and dealing, The First Out At Third will have all of it covered.

I made five bold predictions last season, and here’s how they turned out.

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames made his return to the major leagues and America after spending three years playing ball in Korea. He showed massive power out there, which is why I thought he was more than capable of hitting bombs at a high rate for the Brewers. Thames tied Travis Shaw for the team lead with 31 home runs, so we’re off to a great start.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (1-for-1)

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve always been high on Santana, which is why I predicted he’d finish with the highest wRC+ on the club. And guess what?

Rank Player wRC+
1 Domingo Santana 126
2 Eric Thames 124
3 Travis Shaw 119
4 Jesus Aguilar 112
5 Ryan Braun 110

Of the 10 Brewers’ hitters who saw at least 300 plate appearances, Santana led the way by producing 26 percent more runs than league average, and just barely beat out Thames for the team high. The 25-year-old outfielder has been subject of recent trade talks, but it’s going to take more than an arm and a leg to pry him from Milwaukee.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (2-for-2)

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

The 2017 season began on April 3. Nieuwenhuis was designated for assignment on April 21. So while he technically made the Opening Day roster, he was let go just 18 days later. He was able to overachieve in 2016 (1.0 WAR), and while the Brewers gave him another shot the following season, they just had too many up-and-coming young outfielders to keep him on the roster. Nieuwenhuis posted a .245 wOBA and 43 wRC+ over 31 plate appearances before Milwaukee kicked him to the curb. I guess I’ll give myself a loss on this one, but man was it close.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .666 (2-for-3)

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

If you remember, Neftali Feliz began the season as Milwaukee’s closer. Boy, did that work out great. He owned a 6.00 ERA and 7.12 FIP before he was released on June 19. Corey Knebel was the clear-cut option to slide into Feliz’s role and take over, but I thought Barnes would be better suited for the ninth inning. I was wrong. Knebel dominated throughout the year (40.8 K%), while Barnes went through ups and downs, though he did lock down two saves. Still, another swing and a miss.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .500 (2-for-4)

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

Though this doesn’t seem bold now, I assure you it was bold at the time. Braun was reportedly very close to being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Yasiel Puig in August of 2016, and while that didn’t happen, the Brewers seemed keen on moving on from him and his contract. After the Brewers and Dodgers failed to come to an agreement, I thought it’d be almost impossible for the team to trade Braun. That’s even more true now. The 34-year-old slugger finished with his lowest WAR (1.5) since 2015 and his lowest wRC+ (110) of his career in 2017. I think he’s destined to be a Brewer for life.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .600 (3-for-5)

Bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

I’ve never published bold predictions on here before. In large part I’ve focused on providing analysis and staying away from clickbait articles, especially when my site was in its infancy. But this year I wanted to try it. Plus, when the season wraps up, you can all laugh at me and tell me how stupid I am. That’s what the internet’s for, right?

Here are my five bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers:

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames is coming back to the major leagues after a three-year hiatus in Korea where he played like Barry Bonds. He launched 147 home runs in the KBO league and earned a three-year, $16 million deal from the Brewers, which could ultimately be the steal of the offseason.

RW23 thinks he’ll finish with 31 home runs this season, besting Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana for the lead. With the power he showed in Korea and his perceived plate discipline improvement, it comes as little surprise that other projection models are spitting out similar numbers.

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve been driving Domingo’s bandwagon since he was acquired from Houston, and I went more in depth about my love for him in an article a few weeks ago. But to sum up, I think he’ll produce the highest wRC+ on the Brewers.

Santana hits the ball hard (he had one of the highest increases in exit velocity from 2015 to 2016), which should lead to more home runs and better production in 2017. His plate discipline is tremendous, but he’ll flourish even more if he becomes just a little more aggressive. He took too many called strikes in 2016 and will need to take the bat off his shoulder if my prediction has a chance to come through. He has a real chance to be an All-Star.

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

This maybe shouldn’t be classified as a “bold” prediction, but I’m putting it on here nonetheless. The Brewers have a plethora of young, highly regarded outfielders who will eventually need playing time. Therefore, Nieuwenhuis could be the odd-man out, despite hitting 13 home runs in limited playing time a season ago.

Nieuwenhuis is a useful bat off the bench, but at this point of his career, he is what he is. He’s produced just one season as an above-average hitter and will never get on base at a consistent clip. I believe Michael Reed — who has more upside — will take his spot on the 25-man roster, as Nieuwenhuis is owed just $900,000 this season. Cutting him loose will be easy.

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

Barnes is really good. Like really, really good. RW23 absolutely adores him, and with his high strikeout rate and exceptional command that he showed throughout the minors and last year during his rookie debut, I think he’ll eventually supplant Neftali Feliz as closer, who will struggle a bit for the Brewers. He struck out 24 percent of batters faced and allowed just one home run in 26.2 innings last season, along with a 2.70 ERA and an even better 2.36 FIP.

If Feliz doesn’t adapt well in Milwaukee, Corey Knebel might get the first shot to replace him, but Barnes has the stuff to be a lockdown late-inning guy.

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

I thought for sure he’d be gone by now. After a 133 wRC+ season, Braun’s value is the highest its been since 2012, and I was convinced David Stearns would take advantage of that. But spring training games have started, and Braun remains a Brewer. I now believe he’ll remain one for the duration of the season.

However, I do think he’ll be traded this winter, especially if he produces at a high level again. But if he were to take a step back, Stearns may be kicking himself for not finding a trade partner sooner.

The Santana/Nieuwenhuis situation

This will be one of my shorter posts, but there’s something I just need to get off my chest.

I’ve never really had a problem with Craig Counsell as a manager before. Sure, he sometimes uses his bullpen in explicable ways, and yeah, he puts Scooter Gennett in his lineup, but for the most part he’s fine. But now that Domingo Santana is back from a long DL stint, I have an issue with the young manager.

For some reason,  Counsell has been penciling in Nieuwenhuis’ name into the lineup just as often as Santana’s. Since Santana was reinstated from the disabled list on Aug. 19, he’s had just 25 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis has 27. And that just doesn’t make sense to me.

The Brewers are rebuilding, right? They don’t care about winning in 2016, right? They’re focused on prospect development, right? Then why in the hell isn’t Santana starting every single game?

Nieuwenhuis isn’t by any means in Milwaukee’s future plans. He’s 29 years old and has been worth just 3.5 WAR in his career. There’s a very high chance that 2016 will be the former Mets’ outfielder only season in Milwaukee. The same cannot be said for Santana. He was just acquired last year in a blockbuster trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers and figures to be a fixture in the Brewers’ outfield for many years to come.

Santana’s development was already stalled because of his prolonged DL trip, and Counsell placing him on the bench is furthering that. He needs at bats. He needs to see major league pitching, He needs work in the outfield. Having him ride the pine in favor of Nieuwenheis is prohibiting all of that, which makes me wonder if Counsell has any idea how to manage a rebuilding team. And why hasn’t David Stearns stepped in and demanded that Counsell act like a rebuilding skipper?

All of this seems fishy to me.

Two unlikely stars

The title of this post has the word “stars” in it, leading you to think I’m going to be writing about two players on the Brewers whom are performing at All-Star caliber levels. I’m not. However, I will be writing about two players whom were projected to be no more than replacement-level performers, but have so far greatly exceeded expectations.

The aforementioned “stars” are Jonathan Villar and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Let’s first start with the projections. Below are two of the most popular projection systems we have at our disposal, ZiPS and Steamer. FanGraphs features them on its website, and they are both highly regarded. The third projection in the table is The First Out At Third’s.

Jonathan Villar WAR Kirk Nieuwenhuis WAR
ZiPS 0.7 ZiPS 0.5
Steamer 0.2 Steamer 0.4
FOAT 0.5 FOAT 0.3
Actual 0.7 Actual 1.0

The projections were underwhelming, but by all means fair. Villar was never much of a hitter in the minors, and Nieuwenhuis was just a 2.5-win player coming into the season. Nothing was expected from them; yet they’ve been the third- and fourth-most valuable players for Milwaukee.

Villar has not only been an above-average hitter (114 wRC+), he’s also been a savage on the base paths (15 SB) and a surprisingly average defender at shortstop. He’s already surpassed Steamer’s WAR projection and could be playing his way out of Milwaukee. A player the Brewers acquired in exchange for a minor-league pitcher has turned into an interesting trade chip. How about that? The Brewers are most likely motivated to move him, too. With Orlando Arcia patiently waiting for his time down in Triple-A, Villar is no more than a shortstop filler, although having him replace Scooter Gennett at second base in the future should at least be discussed.

Nieuwenhuis was one of the last players to make the Brewers’ roster after being claimed off waivers in December 2015. He now has the third-highest WAR on the team, thanks to league-average hitting (100 wRC+) and good defense (2 DRS in centerfield). Nieuwenhuis will never be a power guy, but his walk rate has skyrocketed this year, and that, along with a high .356 BABIP, has led to a .351 on-base percentage. He’s been the only competent centerfielder for the Brewers, as Keon Broxton (-0.2 WAR) and Ramon Flores (-0.2 WAR) have been abysmal.

ZiPS now projects Villar to finish with 1.6 WAR and Nieuwenhuis to finish with 1.7 WAR. Steamer is a little less bullish on the two, predicting a final WAR of 1.0 and 1.5, respectively, but nonetheless, the Brewers have found two diamonds in the rough, which is something a rebuilding team needs to dig for.