Last Five Seasons:
2009: 80 – 82 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 90 – 72
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 75 – 87
2005: 81 – 81
Runs Scored: 785 (3rd, NL)
Runs Allowed: 818 (15th, NL)
Generally a .500 team as their hitting kept pace with their poor pitching… The Brewers got a hot run in May, winning 14 of 17 to make a run to the top of the division, but gradually fell back to .500 by mid August and a bit below it in September. They lost Rickie Weeks to a wrist injury in May, but found ways to work around it. J.J. Hardy’s bat got lost in the summer, but the Brewers had a way around that in Alcides Escobar. The Brewers battered opposing pitchers with above average performers in at least six spots in the lineup on a daily basis.
What they couldn’t get around was their pitching – four starters with ERAs between 5.22 and 6.38. They tried Mike Burns (a prospect four years ago) and his ERA (5.75) fit right in there. Carlos Villanueva had a few spot starts and his ERA was 5.34, too. The bullpen was tolerable – Trevor Hoffman was remarkably solid and Todd Coffey did a great job, but the rest were rather middling.
Defensively, the Brewers had two holes – first base and right field. That both were REALLY poor suggests that there might be a statistical bias, however Milwaukee had only one lefty starter and he worked just 140 innings. Granted – the righties on the staff don’t blow you away with fastballs either. The Brewers third basemen, as a group, were above average – but not MORE above average than Prince Fielder was below average. And the Brewers left fielder, Ryan Braun, was merely league average while Corey Hart was well below average. As a team, the Brewers turned fewer balls in play into outs than the average NL team and the middle infielders didn’t help out by turning two often enough either.
As I read it, the Brewers need to shore up the starting rotation, see if Alcides Escobar is the real deal, and hope that Corey Hart is more mobile in 2010 than he was last year. If Prince Fielder could lose 20 pounds, it might help, too. I’d worry about the long term viability of Trevor Hoffman as a closer – but he was so good last year it’s hard to think that this is the year he falls off the map. However, Hoffman is 42 now and the end could come at any time.
In 2009, the Brewers had one pretty good starter in Yovani Gallardo, who went 13 – 12 with a 3.73 ERA. By my count, he was about ten and half runs better than the average starter in his 185.2 innings. That makes him a solid #2 guy in any rotation. And so ends the good news. Braden Looper cost the team 33 runs (14 – 7, 5.22 ERA), Jeff Suppan cost them 31 more, David Bush 32 in just 114.1 innings, and Manny Parra cost the Brewers 44 runs in his 140 innings. The four guys (other than Gallardo) were 140 runs worse than the average pitcher – and that has to be fixed.
In the off season, the Brewers added Randy Wolf from LA – he had his best season in 2009, but has been around league average (up and down) since 2006. He doesn’t have to blow the league away, but if he could give the Brewers 200 innings of league average pitching, he’d immediately save the team 50 runs. Another signing was Doug Davis – a former Brewer – who has been an above average starter for the last three years. Again – 180 innings at league average would be worth 35 runs in savings. If Claudio Vargas can return to the rotation, or if Manny Parra can stop walking guys and getting in unnecessary trouble, there are two other chances (a little less dependable chances) that the team could save 30 more runs.
The bullpen may need help. I like moving Bush to the bullpen. If Vargas stays in the pen, that would help. Trevor Hoffman is getting old, and Todd Coffey exceeded expectations. I see this group actually taking a step back in 2010 – maybe 20 runs worse than last year.
Out is Jason Kendall, who last year was a tolerable catcher though a bit easy to run on, and a miserable offensive player. In his place for 2010 is Gregg Zaun, who is nearing 40, George Kotteras, and rookie Angel Colome, who battered pitching at Huntsville in 2008 and was decent, though not great, at Nashville last year. Baseball America named Colome as the Brewers’ #5 prospect last year. At best this is a wash.
This is a pretty good group. Prince Fielder is an offensive machine and a defensive liability. The net, though, is one of the better players in baseball. Around the horn, Weeks, Escobar, and Casey McGehee were solid and all will contribute with the bat some. If Escobar lives up to the hype (and he was solid in 2009’s call up), he might add a few runs offensively and remove a few defensively compared to J.J. Hardy. At worst, he’s a wash. Waiting in the wings is #2 prospect Mat Gamel, who was drafted five years ago and if he’s going to make a splash, better get on the diving board soon. Gamel plays third or first – but with Fielder there, would likely push McGehee for his job.
Ryan Braun remains a triple crown threat, and Corey Hart needs to bounce back. Hart’s season was marred by injuries which may have contributed to his range falling off the map. He’s got some power, but his batting average has fallen each year since breaking out in 2007. Mike Cameron, still a productive outfielder and rangy centerfielder, is gone having landed in Boston. In his place is former Twins and Mets prospect Carlos Gomez. Gomez can run down flies like Cameron, but has yet to prove himself as an offensive producer. If Gomez shows improvement and Hart bounces back, this won’t necessarily be an improvement but it won’t be a loss either. My gut tells me that Gomez won’t ever produce like Cameron did last year, and that the Crew will be looking for a new centerfielder in 2011.
Remains strong – Jody Gerut is a dependable fourth or fifth outfielder. Hernan Iribarren and Craig Counsell are still here and producing. Prospect Lorenzo Cain will get a look in the outfield. Heck, if the Brewers get really stuck, they could play Weeks in the outfield if necessary. Zaun and Kotteras will be good backup catchers.
I like Chris Cody, a pitcher in Huntsville last year, who showed some promise and was promoted to AAA Nashville mid-season. He’s not ready, but he might have a shot in 2011. Mike Burns was the best AAA pitcher last year, but didn’t look overly impressive in 2009 with the Brewers and he’s not a prospect… Chris Smith (2 – 0, 17 saves, 1.27 ERA) could be the closer in waiting. He fanned 49 and walked just 6, in 42.2 innings. Brett Lawrie moved up quickly to AA after showing power, discipline, a little speed – and just turned 20. In a couple of years, check back on the progress of Amaury Rivas and Evan Anundsen, who pitched well for Brevard County (A+) in the Florida State League. Rivas, at 23, has been working his way up slowly through the minors. Anundsen was drafted out of high school in 2006 and looks to be turning the corner. Another interesting guy is Eric Farris, a BURNER out of Loyola Marymount, who is a bit of a slap hitter, but stole 70 bases in 76 tries at Brevard County. His teammate Caleb Gindl is a decent outfielder with some power and speed and is making his mark. We’ll see him in 2012 or 2013.
On the whole, I think the Brewers will contend for the NL Central. I’m guessing they score about 760 runs or thereabouts, but more importantly, cut the runs allowed number to a more respectable 700. That would work out to 88 wins – and a potential playoff berth. If the bullpen holds solid and three starting rotation positions show real improvement (and not just two), it could easily be 90 wins or more.