The Week In Review, March 21-27

Each Sunday night throughout the season I’ll be looking back at the previous week – who performed well, who wasn’t so good, what to look for next week and other points of interest from the week.

Will Marco become the biggest Estrada on the Brewers since the legendary Johnny?

As we get closer to opening day, the Brewers worked toward filling the last few spots on the roster – a couple bench spots and places in the bullpen, plus replacements for injured regulars Corey Hart, Jonathan Lucroy, Manny Parra and Zack Greinke. The team also made a couple of surprising trades. As the starters get in their final tune-ups before the season starts, let’s check out the week.

Who’s Hot?

Bench candidates Jeremy Reed and Erick Almonte continued to rake, and were rewarded with their hot hitting when they were each informed on Sunday that they would make the opening day roster. Almonte figures to stick around for awhile, but it is unclear if Reed will stay on the roster after Corey Hart is activated from the disabled list. Regardless, Reed went 6 for 14 (.429) with two runs batted in. Almonte had a huge week, picking up 11 hits in 16 at bats (.688) with three RBIs. Hopefully Almonte can keep up the good hitting once the season starts and he isn’t getting regular at bats.

Yovani Gallardo continued to have an outstanding spring, throwing seven innings in a minor league game when Monday’s big league game was rained out, and then on Saturday he threw five innings and struck out nine batters, while giving up a walk and four hits.

Taking advantage of the Brewers’ uncertainty with their fifth starter situation, Marco Estrada stepped up and had two excellent starts this week, making it very difficult for Ron Roenicke and Doug Melvin not to give him a shot in the April 6th game when they will first need a fifth starter. On Tuesday, Estrada, a non-roster pitcher, pitched 4.1 innings, giving up no runs on three hits and a walk while striking out four. He followed that up by giving up two runs on seven hits and two walks in six innings while striking out four.

Who’s Not?

It’s hard for me to get down too much on any of the Brewers’ regulars at this point, as all that really matters, as evidenced by Corey Hart a season ago, is that they make it to the regular season without getting injured. Unfortunately for some, it’s also the time for roster cuts to start happening. The biggest loss this week was when Brandon Boggs was informed he would not make the major league roster. This must have come as hard news for Boggs, who probably thought he would make the team after Milwaukee traded Chris Dickerson on Friday, only to acquire Nyjer Morgan on Sunday morning. Boggs will have to clear waivers before he can be assigned to triple A.

The guy left off the roster in favor of Erick Almonte was shortstop Luis Cruz. Cruz had a pretty good spring, but it was difficult to ignore the amazing spring that Almonte put together. Almonte is not the fielder that Cruz is, but Cruz cleared waivers and was sent to triple A. Look for Cruz to join the major league roster if something happens to Rickie Weeks, Yuniesky Betancourt, or Craig Counsell. Continue reading

Should Chris Dickerson be given a shot at starting?

Over at the Brewers’ official site today, Adam McCalvy published a story about Carlos Gomez. I’ll let you read it, but basically, Gomez talks about how he has vowed to improve, and more familiar lines like “If I get on base at .350, I can steal 50 bases, easy. I can score 100 runs.” There are also some nice things about Gomez’ work ethic and notes about how he hired pitchers to throw batting practice to him this winter.

That’s all very nice, but Gomez has said things like this in the past. I don’t doubt his work ethic, but he has never proved that he will change his approach at the plate and take more walks. In that article, Ron Roenicke even admits that the Brewers aren’t asking for anything from Gomez other than defense, saying “I don’t want to put too much on him offensively, because that’s not really why he’s there.”

A couple days earlier, there was another article at the official site about Chris Dickerson and the superb defense he has been playing this spring, especially towards the end of Sunday’s game, when he made three good defensive plays in a row, including a catch while smashing into the wall and an outfield assist.

I got to thinking – if Dickerson is a good outfielder, and Gomez is a good outfielder, why isn’t Dickerson being given a legitimate look as the starting centerfielder?

Over Dickerson’s career, he has posted 15.7 UZR/150, a fantastic number, and actually a touch better than Carlos Gomez’ 14.5. There is no doubt that Gomez is a good centerfielder, and these fielding statistics aren’t always perfect. Gomez also has a larger sample size, but I think we can probably agree that if Dickerson is a step down from Gomez, it isn’t by much.

Now, we get to the offensive side of things. Gomez, 25, has a career line of .246/.293/.349, and over four MLB seasons has averaged 6 home runs, 45 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases. He has also averaged 114 strikeouts per 162 games over 476 at bats, or a career 23.9 strikeout percentage. He averages just 26 walks per season, or 5.1 percent.

I could get into other things, like the fact that Gomez’ best season was 2008, and he hasn’t shown much improvement over the last two years, but I’ve been over this all before. So I’ll look at Chris Dickerson. Continue reading

The Week In Review, March 14-March 21

Each Sunday night throughout the season I’ll be looking back at the previous week – who performed well, who wasn’t so good, what to look for next week and other points of interest from the week.

Marcum on St. Patrick's Day, where he was very good before leaving with a stiff shoulder.

The Brewers spent much of the past week slowly trying to get healthy, but some more progress was made on completing the roster. Most of the United States forgot about preseason baseball for a few days as the NCAA Tournament got underway, but out in Arizona, they kept on playing…

Who’s Hot?

Luis Cruz had a good week as he strengthened his case for the final bench spot, as Erick Almonte cooled down a little bit, batting 9/19 (.474) with six runs scored and four RBIs, all coming on Monday against the Giants. Cruz did have a fielding error at shortstop on Saturday, but it was his first of the spring. Cruz also showed versatility, playing all over the infield throughout the latter part of the week and playing left and right field on Monday and Tuesday.

Jeremy Reed played well, as he battles with Brandon Boggs and Chris Dickerson for the last outfielder spot. Reed is probably a long shot to make the team, as Dickerson has been a proven big leaguer and both Dickerson and Boggs are switch hitters, but he didn’t hurt his case this week, going 7/19 (.368) with a home run and six RBIs.

Another guy battling for a spot on the team, George Kottaras hit very well for the week, going 7/15 (.467) with his second homer of the spring and five RBIs.

Despite missing a couple of games due to minor discomforts, Rickie Weeks picked up seven hits in twelve at bats this week, including a game on Wednesday night in which he went 3/3 with 3 doubles.

On the rubber, we saw an encouraging start on Saturday from Randy Wolf, who pitched 5.2 innings and gave up two earned runs. Wolf also pitched on Monday, giving up three runs in four innings of work. Not outstanding, but after the way Wolf looked in his first two starts, it looks like he should be in control once the season starts.

Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum had good starts on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Marcum gave the Brewers a scare when he left his start with shoulder tightness, but the injury was revealed to be minor and he won’t miss any regular season starts. One run, three Ks in 4.2 innings for Gallardo, two Ks, one hit, and no runs in three innings for Marcum.

In the bullpen, the guy who really stood out was Pat Egan. Egan threw 3.2 innings over three appearances this week, and didn’t yield a run or walk anyone. Unfortunately he didn’t strike anyone out either, but in 6.1 innings this spring Egan hasn’t allowed a run. Continue reading

The Week in Review: March 7 – March 13

Each Sunday night throughout the season I’ll be looking back at the previous week – who performed well, who wasn’t so good, what to look for next week and other points of interest from the week.

Will this Sound be a Brewer this year?

The Brewers continued spring training this week, and the big story was the news that Zack Greinke had broken a rib playing basketball and will not be ready for opening day. In addition to that injury news, other players (Corey Hart, Manny Parra, Mark Rogers, Jonathon Lucroy) continued to try to get back on the field, while a few more (Ryan Braun, Yuniesky Betancourt) tweaked a couple things, but nothing too major.

Who’s Hot?

The big story this week, hitting-wise, was the emergence of Erick Almonte as a legitimate candidate for the last bench spot, the same bench spot that I suspected Luis Cruz had all but locked up. Apparently, I was wrong. Almonte was huge this week, going 12/18 (.666) with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. For the spring, Almonte is now hitting .444/.459/.806 with 3 home runs and is tied for the spring lead in RBIs with 9.

Another player who played well while playing for a potential bench spot is Brandon Boggs. For the week, Boggs went 8 for 18 (.444) with a home run and 7 RBIs. Boggs also has 9 for the spring, tied with Almonte for the team lead.

Jeremy Reed also went 9 for 20 and knocked in 3 runs.

Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez both continued to hit well, which has done nothing other than make me nervous that they are using up all of their good swings before the games matter. Nevertheless, Gomez has a spring OPS of .933 and Betancourt has a spring OPS of 1.006. Unfortunately, Gomez has yet to take a walk this spring. Betancourt actually has two, so we can take that as a good sign, I guess.

On the other side of the ball, Brewers starters started to heat up a little bit. Yovani Gallardo pitched 3 and 2/3 innings on Friday, giving up only one run and striking out 4. On Monday, he looked even better – 3 innings, 2 hits, 5 strikeouts, and high praise from Ron Roenicke who said “I’m serious, that’s as good as I’ve seen in spring training, ever.” Later in the week, Gallardo was named Milwaukee’s opening day starter, a move most expected after the Greinke injury was revealed.

Chris Narveson, who slots in as the starting pitcher for the home opener after the Greinke injury, also had a good week. On Thursday, Narveson gave up 4 hits in 3 and 2/3 innings while giving up one run and striking out a pair. For the spring, Narveson has given up just one run in 7.2 innings, which is good for a 1.17 ERA – the best among the five Brewer starting pitchers.

Brandon Kintzler and Kameron Loe also continued to pitch well. Kintzler has also given up just 1 run in 7.2 innings this spring, and Loe has yet to yield a run in six innings of work. Kintzler is probably making some people think long and hard about giving him that last bullpen spot. Unfortunately for him, his main competition – Sean Green – also holds a 0 ERA in five innings of work. Continue reading

Who will fill in for Zack Greinke?

Well, it’s been a question that everyone has been avoiding all spring while just kind of keeping their fingers crossed, but we have been forced to address it. Who is Milwaukee’s sixth starting pitcher? After Zack Greinke will miss a couple starts due to a cracked rib suffered while playing basketball, the Brewers must find someone to fill at least one, maybe two or three, of his turns in the rotation.

Could it be Mark Rogers' time to shine?

Adding further mystery to this issue is the fact that the two leading candidates to be the sixth starter – Manny Parra (sigh) and Mark Rogers – are both yet to throw a pitch in a spring training game. Parra has been suffering from back tightness, and after performing an MRI and not finding anything wrong, it seems like Parra should be able to pitch as soon as the pain goes away. Of course, no one really knows when that will be. Rogers has been plagued by a stiff shoulder, but he has been making progress – he was scheduled to throw live batting practice today and hopes to appear in a game sometime this week. Given Rogers’ injury history, however, you can be assured that the training staff is not going to hurry the recovery of Milwaukee’s newly proclaimed top prospect just so he can make one start in April.

The real question here is, if both Parra and Rogers are healthy, who would you go with? The answer to this question, to me at least, seems easy. Manny Parra has been awful as a starter the last few years. He has been reasonably good as a relief pitcher, so why not keep him there? Parra pitched in relief for the entirety of the second half of last season, and probably hasn’t been stretching out at all this spring, as his role at the start of this season was pretty clearly defined, at least as far as I can tell, as a reliever exclusively. Certainly, we could have Parra go out there and pitch four or five innings and turn it over to the bullpen, and hope he has a game like this one. Personally, however, I would much rather go with Rogers. Continue reading

The Week In Review: Spring Training Begins (February 28 – March 6)

Each Sunday night throughout the season I’ll be looking back at the previous week – who performed well, who wasn’t so good, what to look for next week and other points of interest from the week.

Zealous Wheeler had a good week.

Well, spring training games finally arrived, and with it the realization that we still have a few weeks left until any of this actually matters. Players are underachieving and overachieving all over the place, and everything that happens is taken with a grain of salt. Any pitcher can pass off a bad outing as “I was just throwing fastballs and changeups” and anyone who knows remembers Corey Hart last year knows that batting statistics don’t really matter either. It is, however, great to have legitimate baseball back, and let’s take a look at what happened on the field this week.

Who’s Hot?

In the first week of spring, several young guys came out of the gate swinging the bats. Of players with ten at bats or more, Zealous Wheeler and Caleb Gindl both have hits in half of their at bats – Gindl is 5 for 10 and Wheeler 6 for 12. Of course, neither of them has a shot at making the team out of spring, so good for them. Casey McGehee got out to a hot start, and hit three home runs this week, the only Brewer with more than one. Rickie Weeks finished the week with a .533 OBP, despite slugging only .364 – but the high number of walks (4 in 15 plate appearances) is an encouraging sign that once the season starts Weeks will be performing similarly to last year.

On the pitching side, Shaun Marcum got over a somewhat sketchy first start by throwing three shutout innings with three strikeouts and no walks, while giving up just two hits. After one week, Marcum leads the team in innings pitched. Brandon Kintzler has been pretty sharp, giving up one run in 4.2 innings thus far. Zack Greinke has been a little erratic thus far, but says he feels good and has only given up one run in 3.1 innings. John Axford made his spring debut on Friday by throwing a scoreless inning. Takashi Saito pitched against three batters and didn’t give up a run on Saturday, and Mark DiFelice made a nice return this week as well, picking up two scoreless, hitless innings while striking out three.

I should also mention that Yuniesky Betancourt went 5 for 13, and even drew a walk.  He made some comments earlier in spring about wanting to draw more walks, so I’m hoping he is sincere and gets a few more as spring training continues. Continue reading

Sorting through the backup catcher candidates

One of the (few) battles happening around Brewer camp this spring is the fight for backup catcher. The team has clearly committed to Jonathon Lucroy as the starting catcher, and assuming he recovers in time to start the season from a broken pinkie, he will probably start somewhere between 120 and 140 games this year. That leaves roughly 30 starts for someone else. Let’s take a look at the candidates.

Will George Kottaras keep his job?

George Kottaras may have the upper hand in this battle simply because he is the incumbent. Kottaras served as Gregg Zaun’s backup at the beginning of last season, became the starter briefly, and was then usurped by Lucroy due to pretty abysmal defense. Last season Kottaras was worth -0.6 dWAR, according to baseball reference. According to fangraphs, he scored a -5 in stolen base runs saved, and -4 in total runs saved. He caught only 8 of 52 base stealers last year, or 15 percent. No matter where you look, it isn’t a particularly pretty sight.

What Kottaras does have going for him is some pop in his bat. Last season he hit only .203, and his OBP was only .305, but he slugged .396 and had 9 home runs in 212 at bats. Kottaras could end up being a nice home run threat that opposing pitchers would have to worry about at the bottom of the order.

The next candidate is Wil Nieves. Wil Nieves also hit .203 last year, but his OBP was only .244 and he slugged only .310. Over seven major league seasons Nieves has a line of .227/.273/.297. Yikes. Last season he set a new career high in home runs… with three. That more than doubled his career total. Simply said, if Wil Nieves is in the batting order, he will probably be less of a threat than whatever pitcher the Brewers have on the mound.

Defensively, Nieves isn’t outstanding but he is better than Kottaras. He was worth 0.1 dWAR last season – at least we’re in the positives now, right? He lost only one run to stolen bases, and broke even in total runs saved. He threw out 10 out of a possible 41 base stealers last year, or 24 percent. That is right in line with his career total. Nieves isn’t as good of a defensive catcher as Jonathon Lucroy, but he is clearly a step up from Kottaras. Continue reading