Monday, May 21, 2012

Brewers Season Recap - Games 1-40

I wasn't too excited to write this blog up until after today's 16-4 victory over the Twins. To say the least, it's been one tough start for the Brewers after such an incredible run to end 2011. Fans are up in arms already about the performances of some Brewers, which it is their own right. Some fair, some not. The injury bug has bit us hard, and early. A lot of things that needed attention this season that were attended to are not living up to the fixes we needed. In this piece, I will go over the good, the bad, and the ugly from what we've seen from the first quarter of games from the Brewers. 


Jonathon Lucroy's clutch hitting. After today's game, Lucroy's stat line reads .342, 4 HR, 27 RBI, with a batting average of .552, 2 HR, 25 RBI with runners in scoring position, which leads the league in all three categories (minimum of 20 ABs). Lucroy also leads the team in triples and is second in RBIs. Lucroy received a contract extension shortly before the regular season started in spring, and has more then lived up to it. Lucroy was hot all spring, and it has carried over into the regular season. If Luc can keep this pace up and stay healthy, he will definitely achieve career highs in an extremely large amount of offensive categories. And hopefully, be shipped to his first career All-Star game in Kansas City.

Lucroy's bat was hot in spring, and it has carried over into the regular season. All-Star caliber year thus far.

Ryan Braun proving critics wrong. "He won't be the same with the protection of Fielder anymore." "He won't have the same numbers with all of the stress of the steroid scandal on his mind." Yeah, right. Though the fans have been vocal, especially in Atlanta and Chicago, Braun has zoned them out enough to carry on without any sign of decline whatsoever. Coming out of the first 40 games, Ryan Braun is tied for 8th in the league for home runs. His full stat line reads .331, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 28 R. Surprisingly enough too, Braun has yet to be intentionally walked yet this year, which many experts said would increase with the absence of Fielder in the line-up. In-fact, Travis Ishikawa has more IBBs (2) then Braun and Aramis Ramirez combined (0). Though he may miss his first All-Star game for the first time in four years because of the fan's ability to vote, he is definitely putting up the numbers of a possible repeat as MVP, which is out of their control.

Zack Greinke's pitching and run support he receives. Through his first nine starts, Greinke has recieved an astounding 49 runs from the Brewers' offense (5.4 runs per game), giving Zack a 5-1 record on the year. I guarantee you that no other starting pitcher on the Brewers is even close to that number. Zack had a rough start to the season vs. the Cubs, posting a 6.75 ERA, but has since brought that down to a much better 2.70 ERA. Though he lost, in his best start of 2012 and quite possibly his entire career, Zack fanned eleven Reds on May 9th over 8 innings of shutout baseball while allowing two hits and walking no one. Zack also has yet to lose a game at Miller Park (vs. Reds was a no decision). Minus that shaky start in Chicago, Zack is proving he is well worth a Matt Cain-type deal. Hopefully Mark A. and Doug see that too.

Shaun Marcum's consistency. Next to Greinke, Marcum has been the Brewers' best starting pitcher to start off the year. His record may not show it, but he has gone out and pitched well every game minus his most recent vs. Astros on May 17th. Through 8 games, Marcum has posted a 2-2 record with a 3.13 ERA. He has pitched up to his career averages in batting average of teams faced, WHIP, and Ground Outs/Air Outs. Also, he is averaging 5.5 strike outs a game, which is .8 higher then what he posted last year of a 4.7. If Marcum, being what I believe is a ground ball pitcher, can keep his K count higher and pitch all around more consistently like how he is, he could make an argument that he too deserves a contract extension with Milwaukee for 2013. Zack can't do it all.


Our "improved" defense. To put it lightly, the Brewers have been complete horse-shit on defense this year. In all parts of the field too, both infield and outfield. The Brewers are tied for the 5th highest amount of errors so far with 35 (tied with Tampa Bay) in 40 games. That is darn near an error per game. They also have the 2nd worst Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER) in all of baseball at .657, with the Rockies being the only poorer team at .651. Defensive Efficiency Rating is the ratio of team defensive outs recorded in defensive opportunities. For those that want the knowledge, to determine Defensive Efficiency Rating for a team, divide the total number of hits in play allowed (not including home runs) by the total number of defensive opportunities (all balls hit into play, not including home runs) and subtract from one: 1-((H-HR)/(PA-HR-BB-HBP-SO)). Anyways, the defense needs to pick up greatly or it won't matter when we score 5 runs a game because allowing 3 errors in games will result in a loss more then the Brewers care to and can lose.

The difference in 2011 Nyjer Morgan vs. 2012 Nyjer Morgan. I'm not even talking about statistics here. I see no energy out of Nyj this year at all. And, maybe that is because of a talk RRR or Doug had with Plush about during the spring or something, but it's reflecting on the way he's been playing. Minus the walk-off vs. L.A., Morgan seems like he's not having too much fun. Again, if he was told to tone it down then that's fine. But, his .214 batting average needs to spark or I say let Nyjer be Nyjer. If MLB promoted him so much in the offseason with his skating with the San Jose Sharks etc., let the man continue to be exposed with his charisma on the field. For lack of a better term, I miss the goof ball that Morgan was last year. It brought crowd into the game, as well as the energy of the players. Even during bad times last year, the moral still seemed high. This year is a different story.

Tony Plush needs to spark up his energy to excite this 2012 Brewers locker room and have fun again.

Randy Wolf missing bats with his pitches. Wolf was never really an ace in his days, even as a Phillie or Dodger. However, he was a great number 3 or 4 lefty option in a rotation to offer good balance. With age, Wolf has clearly lost any dominance that he had in recent years, and the only pitch that helps him a ton is his bender of a curve ball. I've seen Wolf dig deep and hit 90+ on the radar just a handful of times with his fastball, but other then that it's not a special pitch. Wolf relies on defense...a lot. (See above on defense.) With a 2-4 record through 8 games, Wolf has given up a whopping 58 hits with a 6.38 ERA. Now, to be fair on Wolf, C.C. Sabathia, Dan Haren, Ian Kennedy, and Josh Johnson, who are all considered aces for their respective teams, have given up more hits then Wolf. It's been an odd year for pitchers from top to bottom. Still this year may be the end of the road for Randy Wolf. We can only hope he heats up later in the year, much like last year's performances in August and September.

K-Rod's uncharacteristic struggles. So far, the 8 million dollar set-up man hasn't lived up to his price tag. Coming into spring ball, K-Rod was quite local about being fine with being the set up man for a full season with the Brewers. However, he hasn't shown Milwaukee he is fine. His 5.19 ERA is the first sign of an issue. Then jumping to the hits column, K-Rod has given up 10 earned runs already this season. With the Mets and Brewers in 2011, he gave up a combined 21 earned runs between both teams. In-fact, all of Frankie's numbers so far this year are considerably high compared to his career numbers. His career opponent batting average is an impressive .201. His 2012 OBA is .265. Drastic difference indeed. Also, his walk rate is really high, which effects his WHIP, which are both at career highs. So what does it come down to? With walks high and ERA even higher, you would immediately point you finger at his control. But, when referring to K-Rod, can you even talk about control in a serious tone? What needs to happen is that Frankie needs to just settle down. He too, like Wolf, relies on defense. Ground balls and pop ups. If defense is bad, good luck. But, K-Rod is a much better pitcher then what he's showing, regardless of a few defensive mishaps.


Rickie Weeks' 2 month hitting slump. In the Brewers' rout of the Twins on Sunday, they accumulated 17 hits in that ballgame. Rickie Weeks has 22 hits on the year. Jonathan Lucroy had 7 RBI in Sunday's game. Weeks has 7 RBI on the year. His batting average is at an all-time low of .154 and his strikeouts are at an all-time high at 53 on the year. That kind of puts into perspective how Weeks' struggles are at the moment. As much as you all want me to rip into Weeks, I'm not going to. No one seems to understand that at some point in time, everyone struggles at the plate. However, Weeks hasn't been him self since he returned from his ankle injury from last year. Now, you could get all scientific about it, but to keep it simple, the ankle he injured is the ankle he puts all of his weight on in his stance. If you have discomfort in your feet, I don't care who you are, batting is the worst. You have to wonder if his injury from last year is lingering, and messing with his mechanics at the dish. And no, Scotter Gennett is not ready for the big leagues. Neither is Eric Farris. Weeks isn't getting replaced or traded for a bag of peanuts and a bucket of bubble gum. Anyone who thinks any of that should just give up on baseball in general. Weeks is one of the Brewers main investments. You don't verify the return policy on one hiccup.

We've all seen slumps. I can't think of one worse then Weeks', though. He'll turn it around. Slumps don't last forever.

Anyone in the bullpen not named John Axford. Vinnie Chulk 10.00 ERA. Jose Veras 6.27 ERA. Manny Parra 3.10 ERA. Kameron Loe 2.50 ERA. Tim Dillard 4.26 ERA. K-Rod 5.17 ERA. John Axford 4.73 ERA. Now, Vinnie was DFA'd and we called up Juan Perez. However, with Vinnie's ERA still in there, our bullpen has an average ERA of 4.53. And to be honest, it would be worse if I did add Juan to the mix with his 13.50 ERA. I already got into K-Rod, so read above about his issues. Another person for concern in Jose Veras. In 21 appearances this year, Veras has allowed a baserunner in 18 of those games. Whether it was a hit, and walk, a hit by pitch, whatever. Only 3 games he has been really good. Axford, minus blowing his first save of the season and ending his streak, has been pretty much lights out just as last year. These pitcher have got to start pitching better to preserve these leads. Not fair to our offense or our starting pitching with how many games were lost at the hands of the bullpen.

The injury bug. Chris Narveson, Mat Gamel, and Alex Gonzalez are all lost for the season due to injury. Narveson had rotator cuff surgery and both Mat and Alex blew out their ACL and will both begin a 6 month rehab. Gamel's injury is the least of our concern out of the 3. Gonzalez probably hurts us the most, simply because the reason we got him was for his defense at shortstop, a burden the Brewers dealt with all of 2011. Narveson out of the rotation takes away a very decent #5 LHP pitcher in a rather well rounded rotation, and inserts Marco Estrada, who can rack up the strikeouts and dominate through the batting order one time around, but then get destroyed second and third time through. Gamel's injury is unfortunate because this was Gamel's chance to finally prove the doubters wrong that we isn't just a minor league all-star. Gamel will be back with the Brewers next year, so his progression is on hold. Plus, Travis Ishikawa and Taylor Green have filled in nicely at first, minus a few errors. The Brewers have to stay healthy from here on out if they want to contend for the NL Central crown again.

Other ups and downs:

Norichika Aoki has done a fantastic job transitioning to the big league atmosphere. hit hitting style fits in real nice with the design of Miller Park, and his position in the line-up (when he plays). I personally think Nori should be our starting center fielder whenever we face a RHP, and save Morgan for when Nori needs a break or an afternoon game or whatever. Bottom line, every game Nori doesn't play I feel is a waste.

Corey Hart's dwindling defense in right field is becoming a issue the Brewers were hoping they won't see this soon. Sinple plays too, not just difficult ones. His angling is off. His catching on the run is off. Hart's transition to first base may come sooner then he thinks. Corey Hart's bat is a different story. He is second on the team in homeruns with 9, tied for the lead with 28 runs scored, and leads the team in doubles.

Though Hart may not agree, his times in right field could be ending and his transition to first base could be starting.

Aramis Ramirez has been good and bad. He has a .218 batting average and only 3 home runs, but somehow has managed to rack up 21 RBI and 25 runs scored in his favor. He is second on the team in doubles, and has kept his strikeouts down so far. On defense, he really hasn't been all that bad either. He'll get hot, he always does. Coming in, we knew he wasn't going to be Prince Fielder. But, we were expecting a little more then what be are seeing.

Coaching decisions have really harmed this team thus far. There is no legitimate reason Corey Hart should be bunting....EVER. When the Brewers are down late in a game, there is no reason Cesar Izturis should be entering a game as a pinch hitter. When the Brewers are down by 5 runs, there is no reason John Axford should be pitching in the 9th inning.

Carlos Gomez, minus his injury, has gotten off to a really nice start in center field, much like Aoki and much to the demise of Nyjer Morgan. He has a .288 batting average in 22 games played, he is tied for second in both stolen bases and triples. Gomez just looks like he's having fun every single time he goes out there and plays.

Yovani Gallardo has had a rough start on the mound so far. Gallardo said in spring he's going to be more economical this year, and he has been everything but that. His pitch count (I hate pitch counts, by the way. They are stupid.) always seems to hit the 100's late in the 5th inning or to start the 6th. Gallardo needs to find the Yo we seen in the postseason last year....and his barber, and we'll be fine.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

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