The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #4, Rickie Weeks

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 4.

Rickie Weeks, and some of the fastest (and most fragile) hands in baseball.

There is something about Rickie Weeks. I can’t really describe what it is. When Weeks is hitting, like he did last year and early on in 2009, I just feel like the Brewer offense clicks. What is the use of Fielder hitting all those home runs, or Ryan Braun lacing a double down the right field line, if no one is ever on base? Good leadoff hitters are hard to come by in this league, especially nowadays. When Weeks is on, he is one of the best, and certainly most exciting, leadoff hitters in the game.

Last season, the first time in which Weeks played more than 130 games (he played in 160), he delivered. He hit .269/.366/.464, he hit 29 home runs, knocked in 83 RBIs, and scored 112 runs. He led the league in HBP. He walked 76 times (although he struck out 184 times). He only stole 11 bases in 15 tries, but throughout his career Weeks has been a capable base-stealer, and with a new manager in town, the steals total should go up.

Part of what makes Weeks so important to this years Brewers is the fact that he plays second base. What would happen to Milwaukee if Weeks went down? Craig Counsell has to play every day? Currently, Eric Farris is the only other player on the 40-man roster listed as a second baseman. Eric Farris had a .311 OBP for Nashville last year. Not exactly the kind of guy you want at the top of your order. If Weeks were to go down with an injury (which is, of course, a definite possibility given his history), the Brewers have nobody to hit leadoff. Would you put Counsell there? Corey Hart? Or, god forbid, Carlos Gomez?

Weeks’ health is obviously an incredibly important thing to factor into Milwaukee’s 2011 success. But it isn’t just his health. When I watch the Brewers, I can’t help but feel like Weeks is the spark that gets the entire team going. I mean, obviously he is the leadoff hitter, but on a deeper level, Weeks just brings an intensity to his at bats and every time he gets a hit or is running the bases everyone in Miller Park seems to scoot a little closer to the edge of their seats. I’m doing a very poor job of relaying Weeks’ impact, as someone who tries to use statistical evidence to support his answers, but the point is, Weeks seems to lift the performance of his teammates. Continue reading

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The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #5, Prince Fielder

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 5.

Swingin.

Alright people, we’ve gotten to the point in the countdown where placement has gotten quite difficult – Prince Fielder could be all the way up at #1 in a different version of this list. Anyway, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Prince. Last season, in an “off” year, Fielder hit .261/.401/.471. He hit 32 home runs, and he drove in 83. He led all of baseball in walks with 114. The .401 OBP was the second highest of his career, behind only a stellar 2009 campaign in which he finished fourth in MVP voting. Going into his age 27 season, it certainly seems that a reproduction of last year’s numbers are the floor for Fielder’s 2011.

Fielder has a couple of other things going for him. According to various sources/photos, Fielder has dropped some weight and is in better shape. He is in a contract year, and if Scott Boras is serious about getting 200 million dollars for his client, then Fielder is going to have to have a serious season – especially with the Yankees and Red Sox out of the bidding. There is also the interesting “every-other-year” phenomenon that seems to be associated with Fielder – check out his numbers since 2006, his first full year in the majors:

  • 2006 – .271/.347/.483, 28 HR, 81 RBI, 59 BB
  • 2007 – .288/.395/.618, 50 HR, 119 RBI, 90 BB
  • 2008 – .276/.372/.507, 34 HR, 102 RBI, 84 BB
  • 2009 – .299/.412/.602, 46 HR, 141 RBI, 110 BB
  • 2010 – .261/.401/.471, 32 HR, 83 RBI, 114 BB Continue reading

The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #6, Shaun Marcum

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 6.

Shaun Marcum. Underrated.

Hello folks. Coming in at number 6 in the countdown, we encounter the first of Milwaukee’s two big offseason upgrades to the pitching rotation, Shaun Marcum. Shaun Marcum is a 29 year old righty from Kansas City, and he has spent the last seven years with the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization. He arrived in an early December trade in which the Brewers sent top prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto.  He has a nice beard. So how about his pitching? Let’s play a little game of guess the pitcher – check out the lines from 2010 from the Brewers’ new top of the rotation, without their names:

  • A. 14-7, 3.84 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.368 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
  • B. 10-14, 4.17 ERA, 100 ERA+, 1.245 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
  • C. 13-8, 3.64 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.147 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9

Who do you think is who? Who do you think led that group in everything other than K/9 and wins? If you said Shaun Marcum, you were right. Marcum (C) was the best of the trio last year at preventing baserunners, had the lowest walk rate, and had the best ERA, all while playing in the American League East. He had more K/9 than Zack Greinke (B) and significantly fewer walks than both Yovani Gallardo (A) and Greinke. And, I’ll repeat, he was in the AL East with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Here’s a little bit of trivia: 3 teams in all of baseball scored more than 800 runs last season. Those three teams? You guessed it – Boston, Tampa Bay, and the Yankees. Continue reading

The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #7, John Axford

The Man. The Stache. The Legend.

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 7.

To find the reason why I have chosen John Axford as the seventh most important Brewer to next year’s team, look no further than early last season. Trevor Hoffman, coming off of a stellar 2009 campaign, struggled horribly in April and May, costing the team several games (five blown saves – four of which led to losses – and a 13.15 ERA through May 18). Hoffman’s struggles had a profound effect on the team’s morale and momentum. When the Brewers finally did remove Hoffman from the closer role on the aforementioned May 18th, they were eight games into a nine game losing streak, sported a 15-24 record, and even though there were more than 100 games to play, they never recovered and were never major players in the division race.

Now, you can’t blame all of the Brewers struggles last year on Trevor Hoffman. The rest of the pitching staff pitched in heartily. However, if Hoffman hadn’t blown saves in those four games that the Brewers lost, Milwaukee would have been at least 19-20, and probably better, as there is, in my opinion, no bigger momentum killer than a ninth inning loss when you have the lead.

But we aren’t here to talk about Trevor Hoffman. We’re here to talk about John Axford. Less than a week after Hoffman was removed from the closer role, Axford entered the game in the ninth inning and, despite giving up a run, picked up his second career save and first of the season. Axford would save another 23 games in 2010, finishing the season 8-2 with a 2.48 ERA, 11.8 K/9, and several multi-inning saves. More importantly, he (along with Zach Braddock and Kameron Loe) contributed some desperately needed stability to the Milwaukee bullpen. Quite simply, Axford was spectacular for the Crew in 2010.

But I’m worried.

Milwaukee seems to have a history (at least recently) of finding scrap heap players and turning them in to respectable closers, only to see them fall back to Earth later on. Let’s have a look at the last few players to lead the Brewers in saves. Continue reading

The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: Number 8, Jonathan Lucroy

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 8.

The catcher is a rather important player. He calls the pitches during games. He keeps pitchers calm when things get serious. The Brewers have decided to take a bit of a leap of faith with their catcher. Yes, Jonathan Lucroy was the regular starter for a good deal of last season, starting 74 games after Gregg Zaun went down with an injury. Even so, Lucroy won’t be 25 until June, and he has only played in 96 games above double A.

The Brewers also don’t really have a clear backup catcher, despite bringing in several free agents in the offseason. Unfortunately, not much can be expected out of Mike Rivera, who only played 17 games last year, Wil Nieves, a 33 year old who hit .203 last year, or Martin Maldonado, who has never had a major league at bat. George Kottaras showed some pop but played horrible defense as Milwaukee’s backup last year, and there is no guarantee that he will be back.

As far as Lucroy, he performed pretty well in 2010, considering he essentially made the jump from Hunstville (he played 21 games at AAA Nashville). He hit .253/.300/.329, and hit four home runs and had 26 RBIs. He struck out 44 times, and walked 18, so he could afford to be a little more patient, but he is at least making contact.

Lucroy won’t be mistaken for Yadier Molina in the field, but he isn’t George Kottaras, either. Lucroy threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers last year, which is in the top half of the league. He was effective in the minors at throwing out base runners as well, and by all accounts he calls a pretty good game. Like I said, he isn’t outstanding, but he gets the job done. Continue reading

The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #9, Carlos Gomez

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 9.

Continuing the countdown at #9, we find the infamous Carlos Gomez. Gomez is a tough subject with me. He irritates me to the point that I will often flip channels during his at bats, because I don’t want to be put into a bad mood by watching him swing for the fences on a breaking ball in the dirt on 0-2. I tried leaving him off of this list – other positions left off that would be more fun for me to write about included the shortstop’s glove and the middle relievers. Eventually, I accepted the fact that however annoying and clueless Carlos Gomez may be, he will play a pretty significant role for the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers. (Incidentally, check out these graphs that Jordan over at Brew Crew Ball put together showing the projected production from Brewers starting position players and starting pitchers next season. I found it very cool, and it sort of relates to what I’m talking about in this countdown.)

First and foremost, there is defense. Gomez is generally regarded as a very good defensive outfielder, if for nothing other than the fact that his blinding speed enables him to cover a vast amount of center field. That same speed also enables him to catch up to balls that he may not always take the best route to. There is no denying it, though – Gomez plays good center field defense, which is worth quite a bit in this league. Especially on a team like Milwaukee, who could be the worst defensive team in baseball next year, even with Gomez patrolling center. It would be a shame to see the new pitching staff get disheartened over and over again by bad defense, and Gomez will help, at least a little bit. Continue reading

The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: #10, Chris Narveson

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It starts today with number 10.

Hi folks. Behind door number one we find the one and only Narve-dog. Narveson is not more talented than many players left off this list, and he won’t make all that much of an impact as far as WAR or anything else like that. That being said, I would like to emphasize the importance of a solidified starting rotation. Keeping the Brewers rotation healthy must be a priority this year, as the team has very little in terms of a backup plan (please, please no more Manny Parra in the starting rotation…unless he has an epiphany).

Unlike the other pitchers in the starting rotation, Narveson does not have a lengthy track record of solid MLB success. While we can pretty much count on Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, and Wolf to be reasonably effective while they are on the mound, we can’t necessarily take that for granted when it comes to Narveson. In Narveson’s first major league season, 2009, he made 21 appearances – 4 of which were starts. He performed very well down the stretch for a team out of the hunt, and after a strong spring training in 2010 he earned a spot on the Brewers. After some early season struggles from Jeff Suppan, Narveson was inserted into the Brewer rotation shortly into the season and stayed there for the rest of the year.

All in all, Narveson finished last season with 37 appearances, 28 of which were starts, with a 12-9 record, 4.99 ERA (79 ERA+), 1.378 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9. 12 wins is a very nice number out of your number 5 starter, and the K/9 number is good. The ERA+ is a little troubling, but considering the types of people the Brewers have thrown out there the past few years, any ERA under 5 is nice to see. Continue reading