2010 Season Forecast: Milwaukee Brewers

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)

Season Recap:

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.

2010 Goals:

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.

Pitchers:

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.

Catchers:

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.

Infield:

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.

Outfield:

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.

Bench:

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.

Prospects:

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.

Outlook:

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.

NL’s Best and Worst Pitchers in 2009 – Hot Stove News…

Quick news hits first before we take a quick look back at pitchers in 2009…

Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million when filing for arbitration – if he wins, it would be the highest amount paid to an arbitration eligible pitcher.  Of course, Lincecum is a bit of a party animal off the field, but between the lines he’s one of the five best pitchers in the National League.  He’s certainly one of the most valuable commodities – a pretty durable arm (so far) who gets a lot of batters out and wins games.  [ESPN/SI]

There’s a rather long list of players and teams avoiding arbitration or signing deals – you can get the list on SI or MLB – but the ones that caught my attention were (a) Jonathon Papelbon getting $9.35 million from Boston – about two million more than the going rate and (b) Bengie Molina likely returning to the Giants.  The Mets pursued Molina but apparently not hard enough, and are now stuck with playing backup catchers every day for another year (unless you consider Omir Santos a budding starter).  [FoxSports/ESPN]

FUN WITH DATA!

Having purchased my copy of the Lahman database, which is invaluable for doing quick queries so that I can plug data into my spreadsheets very easily, I can finally start doing the type of statistical analysis that I like…  I’ve already assembled the NL data and will be doing the AL data later this week.  And, after having knocked out the NL sheets, we get to have some fun with the lists it generates.  Today, we’ll start with the pitchers.

Top NL Starting Pitchers

The first rating system I have looks at how many runs a pitcher cost or saved his team over the course of the year above or below what the average pitcher allowed.  ERA is a pretty simple way to note this, mind you.  Someone with an ERA of 2.00 is two runs per nine innings better than someone with an ERA of 4.00.  However, it’s easier to have a low ERA when you pitch in San Diego, so I modify the runs allowed (not earned runs, but runs allowed) by removing the park effect.  Then, I also try to isolate the advantage a pitcher has in being on a team with a good defense vs. one with a bad defense.  For example, a pitcher on the Giants gets help from having a very solid defense – Randy Winn and Fred Lewis in the outfield are plus defenders at their position, the infielders were rather good as well.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals staff had behind them an injured Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan or Ryan Ludwick in the outfield not catching as many flies as most teams and were playing an injured (and less mobile) Mark DeRosa at third and, perhaps more importantly, an outfielder at second base all year in Skip Schumaker.  Once I figure out how many runs the seven guys in the field affected the team’s ability to prevent runs, you can make a second modification to a pitcher’s runs allowed numbers and compare it with the league average.

The league average pitcher allowed about 4.53 runs per nine innings.  The total number of runs saved is not just dependent on runs allowed per nine, but the number of innings pitched.  The best pitchers in saving runs will usually be starters.  Sometimes, a reliever can sneak in there, but not very often.  Let’s get to the list.

Best Starters:

In terms of runs saved, the best starting pitchers in the National League were…

48.57 – Chris Carpenter (STL)
43.19 – Adam Wainwright (STL)
40.25 – Danny Haren (ARZ)
38.80 – Tim Lincecum (SF)
38.30 – Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
38.16 – Jair Jurrjens (ATL)
36.39 – Javier Vasquez (ATL)
33.68 – Josh Johnson (FLA)
30.62 – Matt Cain (SF)
28.51 – Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
28.09 – J.A. Happ (PHI)
26.14 – Ted Lilly (CHC)
23.33 – Jason Marquis (COL)
22.81 – Tommy Hanson (ATL)
21.32 – Clayton Kershaw (LA)

No other starters saved at least 20 runs more than an average pitcher would have allowed given the number of innings pitched by that player.  The top two guys were Cardinals – two pitchers who were wonderful despite having several players not necessarily having good years with the glove.  Those pitchers DO benefit from having the best catching in baseball (Yadier Molina) – but Carpenter’s 48+ runs saved over the average pitcher might be the largest number I have seen in the five years I have done this.  Based on this criteria, Carpenter deserved his Cy Young consideration.  Among the surprises on this list was Clayton Kershaw who couldn’t get any support from his team but really did pitch very, very well and I think could be a sleeper ace for 2010.  And, seeing how well Jason Marquis pitched for the first four months of the season, one assumes that Colorado will miss that kind of production.

Top Relievers:

18.13 – Kiko Calero (FLA)
17.86 – Ryan Franklin (STL)
16.29 – LaTroy Hawkins (HOU)
16.23 – Jeremy Affeldt (SF)
15.49 – Trevor Hoffman (MIL)
13.89 – Nick Massett (CIN)
13.42 – Rafael Soriano (ATL)
12.98 – Huston Street (COL)
12.57 – Jose Valverde (HOU)
12.36 – Todd Coffey (MIL)
12.15 – Tyler Clippard (WAS)

As has been the case for many years, the top relievers are frequently NOT closers but middle relievers who have really good seasons in less demanding roles.  Kiko Calero, who has never had a season anywhere NEAR what he did in 2009 is the surprise winner here.  That being said, the top closer was Ryan Franklin, followed closely by Trevor Hoffman.  More than any other list, this group will change a lot from year to year.  Any number close to 10 is a great year for a reliever.

Worst NL Pitchers…

-44.28 – Manny Parra (MIL)
-33.36 – Josh Geer (SD)
-32.70 – Braden Looper (MIL)
-31.70 – David Bush (MIL)
-31.25 – Jeff Suppan (MIL)
-27.36 – Chad Gaudin (SD)
-25.35 – Todd Wellemeyer (STL)
-22.83 – Micah Owings (CIN)
-21.95 – Felipe Paulino (HOU)
-21.90 – Brad Lidge (PHI)
-20.53 – Brian Moehler (HOU)
-20.20 – Walter Silva (SD)

-21.31 – Kevin Hart (PIT) – but positive 6.30 in CHC

These are the starters for teams who felt like they had no other option than to give 150 innings to someone with a 5+ ERA.  Or, in the case of Brad Lidge, a manager who kept feeding his closer the ball despite the fact that he was getting hammered all too often.  Rarely does a reliever make this list.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that four of the five worst pitchers in terms of their relation to the average pitcher were Brewers.  Look – they aren’t the worst pitchers.  There were guys with 8+ ERAs who got just 20 innings and were sent packing to AAA, too.  Or were hurt or something.  But the Brewers were hanging in there with four guys who are no better than long relievers.  Three of them had seen better days (Looper, Suppan, Bush), but wow.  One sees immediately where the Brewers should spend their money.  Go find three guys who can pitch.  If that means giving Ben Sheets a deal, do it.  Finding three guys who can give you a 4.20 ERA in 180 innings would move the Brewers up 10 games in the standings.  Is it that hard to find three of those guys?  I can’t wait to do my team overview for the Brewers…

Rivera Second to 500 Saves; Storm Rocks High Desert, 33 – 18

Mariano Rivera joined Trevor Hoffman in the 500 save club after getting the last of four outs against the Mets.  What made it especially cool was that he had to bat in the ninth inning against K-Rod with the bases loaded and drew a walk for his first career RBI.

Ian Snell, trying to regain his form in AAA Indianapolis, fanned 13 straight batters in a win over Toledo.  Pittsburgh needs Snell to keep that form and help the Pirates make a run at .500 for the first time since Barry Bonds was…  Well, a Pirate anyway.

Antonio Bastardo will miss at least one start with a strained shoulder.

Hurry Back!  Detroit loses Nate Robertson to the DL with what has been described as “a mass” in his elbow.  Fu-Te Ni gets the call from AAA Toledo.  Fu-Te Ni hails from Pingtung County, Taiwan and has been solid, with a 32/9 K/BB ratio and decent ERA in Toledo.

Matt Harrison also heads to the DL, his second trip to the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his place, Texas recalled Tommy Hunter from AAA Oklahoma City.  Hunter was raced to Texas after being drafted in the first round in 2007 out of Alabama.  His first MLB tour ended with a 16.36 ERA in three starts in 2008, so hopefully this will turn out differently.  I’m not convinced he’s ready.  Hunter shows good control, but doesn’t blow people away.  Frankly, I think the days of Texas being a contender in the AL West might be ending unless they can find some pitchers.  They face Los Angeles in a battle for the division lead starting tonight.

San Francisco put pitcher Kelvin Pichardo on the 60-Day DL with a shoulder problem.  Baltimore’s Koji Uehara’s elbow will require a DL stint as well.

Welcome Back!  Washington’s Scott Olsen returns from the DL (shoulder tendinitis) and gets to face his old team, the Marlins, on Monday.  Shairon Martis heads back to Syracuse.  Mark Ellis returns to the A’s, while Asdrubel Cabrera returns to Cleveland.

Afterthoughts…  The Lake Elsinore Storm topped the High Desert Mavericks, 33 – 18, in a California League game Sunday.  The Storm scored eight in the first, six in the eighth, and give runs in two other innings.  The teams combined for 57 hits and ten homers.  In the game, James McOwen extended his hitting streak to 36 games.