Defending Casey McGehee’s Defense

McGehee in the field - Good or Bad?

Casey McGehee, certainly, has had a down season.  He’s been much better lately, but I’ve noticed many people who still like to complain about him.  At this point, McGehee has turned his season around offensively, and I think most people would agree that there isn’t much to be worried about – McGehee is hitting almost .278/.325/.458 since the All-Star break, which stands up quite well to his .285/.337/.464 line from a year ago.

However, most of the complaints I see are about McGehee’s defense.  It is easy to lump McGehee in with the defensive shortcomings of Yuni Betancourt, and just blame the problem on “the left side of the infield.”  Certainly, McGehee hasn’t been Scott Rolen over there – his 18 errors are tied for third in the NL, and he is the only non-shortstop in the top 5.  He has committed 5 more errors than any other 3b in the National League, in fact.  I was curious, though, so I looked a little deeper into the numbers.

According to Fangraph’s Ultimate Zone Rating (the most trusted of defensive metrics), McGehee is actually having a good year as a defensive third baseman.  McGehee’s UZR/150 in 2011 is 8.0, which actually ranks fourth in the NL among third basemen who have logged more than 500 innings this season.

It’s true that McGehee’s first two seasons in Milwaukee weren’t outstanding defensively.  In 2010, McGehee recorded a UZR/150 of -4.0, and the seasons before that, he had an atrocious rating of -22.0.  Some of that, however, could be attributed to McGehee getting used to the majors.  McGehee actually had a pretty good defensive reputation in the minors.  According to baseball-reference’s numbers, McGehee rated 15 runs above average at third base throughout his minor league career.  I am having a hard time finding minor league scouting reports, but it seems that McGehee’s defensive reputation as a minor leaguer was that he was an above average, but not outstanding, fielder.

The above average part is important, to me.  Most people seem to think that McGehee is a horrible defender.  UZR seems to refute that idea.  I know that no defensive metrics are infallible, but the point is, I think McGehee is a better defender than he is given credit for.  Yes, 18 errors is bad – but McGehee has not only played more games at third base than any other National Leaguer this year, but his range has been good, so he has gotten to more balls.  Yes, McGehee has the most errors, but he has the most defensive chances by a significant margin – McGehee has had 298 defensive chances in 2011, and the second most in the NL is Chase Headley’s 267.

I believe that ‘the eyeball test’ stands up to this.  Ever since I began thinking about the shellacking that McGehee’s defensive reputation has been taking, I’ve been paying more and more attention to his defense during games.  McGehee does appear to have good range, and he has a strong, accurate arm.  He will even make an occasional surprisingly athletic move.  Compare that to Yuni, who is just a nightmare at shortstop – his fundamentals are atrocious, his arm is weak and inconsistent, and his range is terrible.  Whenever he makes an impressive looking play, you find yourself prefacing it with “yes, but it would have been much easier if he DIDN’T have the range of a large boulder.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Casey to Mike Schmidt, but I do think that McGehee has been better defensively than anybody has given him credit for.  If you don’t believe me, just keep an eye on him next time you’re watching the Brewers, and I think you might be surprised.

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Taking solace in the Brewer loss

Chin up, Marco.

No one likes to lose.  Baseball, however, is a game of failure.  The team that had the best record in the history of baseball still lost 46 times.  In baseball, you’re considered very good if you get a hit 3 out of 10 times, and considered an all time great if you happen to get hits 4 out of 10 times throughout a season.

This is something that Brewer fans may need to be reminded of.  The team has been so, so good over the past three weeks that we’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to lose.  Every single time the Brewers take the field, we, the fans, expect them to win.  And, for the most part, they have.  It’s been kind of crazy, if you think about it.  Prior to today’s loss, the team was 19-2 over its last 21 games.  19-2!  That’s crazy.  Almost ’07 Rockies good.  Even with the offense sputtering the last few games, the pitching has been so good that it didn’t matter.  The Brewers became just the sixth team since 1900 to win 5 straight games while scoring 3 runs or less.

Since the all-star break, Zack Greinke has looked like the Cy Young award pitcher of ’09 (despite worse peripherals – but hey, a balance had to be struck somewhere).  Even with Brett Lawrie raking for Toronto, Shaun Marcum hasn’t made me regret the trade for one second.  Yo has been Yo.  Randy Wolf is pitching out of his mind.  Even Marco Estrada has had a couple of very good starts.

Which brings me to this afternoon.  To stop the Brewers, it took Clayton Kershaw – one of the very best pitchers that MLB has to offer – vs. Marco Estrada, the Brewers’ sixth starter (who has only started 8 games in his major league career).  You can’t feel too badly when your sixth starter loses to Clayton Kershaw.  Losses have to happen sometimes.

One may say, “the Brewers offense has been bad – they haven’t scored more than 3 runs in a week!”  You would be correct.  However, it is rare that Brewer offensive slumps last much longer than 6 days.  And think about it – over this most recent Brewer offensive slump, they’ve gone 5-1.  There is no reason to expect a team to win 5 out of 6 games in which they fail to score 4 runs or more.  But the Brewers did.  There is also no reason to expect a team with Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder batting 1-4 to not score 4 runs or more for much longer than 6 games in a row.  Yes, Yuni is finally Yuni again, and McGehee is still questionable, and second base is still a question (although Hairston has looked good the last few games), but this is a good offense.  Don’t expect this slump to last much longer.

The only real issue could be the Brewers’ demanding schedule: they are in the midst of playing 17 games in 16 days, it’s late August, etc etc.  Not to worry.  The Brewers get 2 days off in 5 days starting next Thursday.  After that, Carlos Gomez and Rickie Weeks will probably be back, plus the September call-ups will arrive – plenty of time for Taylor Green to spell Casey McGehee at third.

Basically, I’m just happy to be a Brewer fan right now.  When it seems like the only way to beat this team is to throw Clayton Kershaw against Marco Estrada, then life is good.

Jonathan Lucroy: Unsung Hero

The Brewers just beat the Cardinals in game 1 of a huge 3-game series, and I am very happy, along with the rest of Brewer nation.  Especially on a night like tonight, where the Brewers were able to beat a good team while getting almost no production from their big stars.  Consider: Rickie Weeks, injured.  Ryan Braun, 0-5, big time error.  Prince Fielder, no hits in the first 9 innings (although he did have a big hit in the tenth), and should have been charged with an error.  The two biggest hits in this game came from the red hot Corey Hart (a third-inning two-run homer) and Casey McGehee (tenth-inning RBI double), two big stars from last year who have been a little more disappointing in 2011.

But one guy who I feel has been overlooked, even as the supporting cast has taken the spotlight lately, is Jonathan Lucroy.  Tonight, Lucroy quietly went 2-4 with a big RBI and a run scored.  It’s kind of the way it’s been for Lucroy this season – putting up solid, unspectacular, largely unnoticed numbers.  On the season, Lucroy is batting .286/.326/.406 with 8 homers and 48 RBIs.  Since the Brewers’ spectacular streak started a couple weeks ago, Lucroy has gone 13-38 with a homer and 9 RBIs.  Again, solid, but no one is really talking about it.  Consider that Lucroy has batted almost exclusively 8th this season – his RBI numbers could be significantly higher if he had been batting higher.  I always wondered why Roenicke didn’t give Lucroy a shot in the 5-hole when there was so much trouble there.

You might think that a .286 batting average with 8 homers and 48 batted in isn’t all that spectacular.  Remember, though, that Lucroy is a catcher.  Among catchers in all of baseball with 300 ABs, Lucroy ranks fourth in batting average, behind only Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Alex Avila, who were all all-stars.  His 48 RBIs are the third-most by an NL catcher – once again, mainly from the 8 spot in the order.

In the field, Lucroy has been as advertised.  He has thrown out 26 percent of runners this season.  Not a fantastic number, but serviceable.  Anyone watching him has seen that he is very good at blocking balls in the dirt.  He has also done a good job handling the Milwaukee pitching staff – a staff with two newcomers.

Now, remember that Lucroy is only 25, he is in just his second major league season, and he was hurried to the majors last year because of an injury to Gregg Zaun.  It’s difficult for anyone to hit .285 in their second season, but few expected it from a catcher who never had a major offensive reputation in the minors.

The Brewers have been lucky enough to have a lot of major contributors this season, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that Jonathan Lucroy is the Milwaukee Brewers’ unsung hero.

 

The Cardinals are Morons

Well, all in one night, the Cardinals firmly placed themselves in first as the team that Brewer fans most hate.

Public Enemy No. 1?

Maybe I don’t pay attention to the team enough.  I know that Tony La Russa has a reputation as a jerk, and I’ve seen (and been annoyed by) his antics – from complaining about every aspect of games his team loses, to being paranoid about sign-stealing and other things that probably aren’t happening, to being an apparent steroid enabler (or, at least, one who looks the other way), getting arrested for drunk driving, and suing twitter.  However, the last two days have been so, so irritating, I’ve become the latest member of the Shut-the-hell-up-Tony-La-Russa Club.

So what has happened?  Well, there was the whole debacle with La Russa forcing a trade of one of his best assets, Colby Rasmus.  But that doesn’t affect the Brewers – if anything, we should all be thanking La Russa for being an idiot and getting rid of Rasmus, who could very well be a star.

Yesterday, the Brewers, who were being completely shut down by Chris Carpenter through 4 innings, hung a 5 spot in the fifth.  There were whispers that the Brewers and sign-stealing master Ron Roenicke were onto Carpenter and Molina.  What bothers me more about yesterday, though, were La Russa’s assertions that Miller Park Staff were making the ribbon board around Miller Park’s club level brighter while the Brewers were hitting.  Essentially, the article goes on to say, they were wondering how a below-average road team could also be the best home team in baseball without cheating.

Fast forward to tonight.  In the 7th inning, Takashi Saito hits Albert Pujols on his left hand with a fastball that was near his head.  However, there was no reason the Brewers would be throwing at Pujols at the time, as they were trying to protect a one-run lead.  Perhaps La Russa was mad that Pujols was hit near his recently injured left wrist (which, of course, Milwaukee had nothing to do with – not to mention, can you imagine how impossible it would be to aim a 91 mph fastball at someone’s hand?), or maybe La Russa just thinks Pujols is too good to get hit by a pitch, but whatever the reason was, he came out in the bottom of the inning and had Jason Motte throw a fastball at Ryan Braun.  He missed, so he did it again.  He didn’t miss.  Motte was somehow not ejected, but La Russa took him out.  Of a 7-7 game with playoff implications and nobody out.  The Brewers went on to load the bases with nobody out, and much to my chagrin, were unable to score.  Nothing would have made me happier than La Russa’s moronic behavior backfiring.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

Anyway, it appears that La Russa’s stupidity is spreading to his players.  In the top of the 10th inning, Yadier Molina struck out looking.  On a strike, mind you.  For some unfathomable reason, Molina flipped his lid, bumped the home plate umpire twice, and spat all over his face.  I would be amazed if Molina is suspended for less than 5 games.  That’s right – an all-star catcher, during a pennant race, freaking out about a good pitch.  Getting himself suspended for a long time.

With the Cubs totally irrelevant this year, and the Reds struggling, it is easy for fans to shift their dislike solely on the Cardinals.  I respect that the Cardinals have a loyal, supportive, informed fanbase (much better than the Cubs), but their support of La Russa SHOULD be waning.  He’s been toying with them for ages, and now he’s shipped out one of their future stars and made himself look like a horrible person (which, I guess, he is) in front of thousands of Brewers fans.  In the eyes of this Brewer fan, the Brewers definitely have a new, indisputable nemesis – the St. Louis Cardinals.