Sunday, February 16, 2014

Three Things To Watch This Spring For The Brewers

As pitchers and catchers report to camp for the Milwaukee Brewers, many questions remain unanswered. Although the progression of Spring Training will provide clarity to these questions that arose during the offseason, here are a few things to watch during this Spring Training for The Crew.

1. Who's on first? Who's on second?

There will be major competition to two positions throughout spring as there is a three way (maybe even a four way) battle at for a two-man platoon of first base and a two-man battle for playing time at second base.

Juan Francisco will be joined by either Mark Reynolds or Lyle Overbay on the Opening Day 25 man roster once the dust settles from Spring Training. Both Reynolds and Overbay were signed on minor league deals with invites to major league spring training to duke it out for a starting first base position. Unless there is an injury, I don't see how Lyle Overbay makes the 25 man roster. I really think this one may be locked up before spring training even begins. Could a name like Sean Halton or Hunter Morris emerge as a candidate as well? I'd say yes, but there's a reason why the Brewers went out and signed Reynolds and Overbay in the first place.

As for second base, either Rickie Weeks or Scooter Gennett will be starting at second base on Opening Day while the other will ride the bench and enjoy some sunflower seeds and Gatorade. No matter who starts and who doesn't on Opening Day, though, this will be a platoon just like first base. Who ever plays and who doesn't will ultimately reflect on the pitching match-up and obviously who's swinging the hot bat and who's not. Earlier in the offseason, Ron Roenicke implied that Scooter Gennett was the favorite to be the starting second baseman heading into the 2014 season, but all of that can change with a hot spring by the recently married Rickie Weeks.

2. Who will take over the lead off duties?

The Brewers have an extremely large void at the lead off spot in the batting order now that Norichika Aoki is gone as he was traded to the Royals earlier this offseason for south-paw pitcher Will Smith. The plus about Aoki is that he always found a way to get on base. Infield singles, bunting, hit by pitches, walking...he found a way to get on. Aoki also lead the entire league in at bats per strikeout at 14.9. In order to replicate the same offensive statistics as the Brewers did last year, they will need to be careful on who they put in that role.

Because of his speed, the obvious candidate that comes to mind for some would be Carlos Gomez. He had a break out year last season and is set up to have an even bigger one this year. That being said, Carlos is not known for being patient at the plate and tends to strike out more often than not. Granted he set personal records in hits (152), batting average (.284), on base % (.338), stolen bases (40), and walks (37) last season, he also set a personal record in strikeouts (146). I personally think he's better suited batting in the two-hole behind the lead-off hitter or in the 6th spot in the order if his power stroke returns. His placement depends on who else is in the lineup that day.

The most realistic candidate for the leadoff spot is Jean Segura. He's got about the same amount of speed as Carlos Gomez. He offers the same attributes and Nori Aoki did as a lead off hitter. Segura's on base percentage of .329 is right on cue with the league average (.329). Segura and Aoki have the same exact RC/9 (runs created per 9 innings/27 outs). Basically, if you took nine Jean Seguras or nine Nori Aokis and put them in a lineup, they would produce 4.8 runs per game. They both have near identical offensive win % (Jean is .543, Nori is .545) Just like RC/9, if you have nine of either player, you would win 54% of your games. One of my favorite advanced stats to look at for a lead off hitter is total average. You find that by adding up total bases, hit by pitches, walks, and stolen bases (subtract caught stealing) and divide that by subtracting hits from at bats and then adding caught stealing and ground in to double players (Total Bases + HBP + BB + SB - CS) / (AB - H + CS + GIDP). By doing that, you'll find that Jean Segura beats out Nori Aoki's .660 total average with a .699 total average of his own.

(Note: Scooter Gennett has a lot to work on before he can even be considered as a lead off hitter.)

My quick projected lineup for opening day:

(Assuming LHP Mike Minor is Atlanta's Opening Day Starter)

1. Jean Segura
2. Carlos Gomez
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Mark Reynolds
6. Jonathon Lucroy
7. Rickie Weeks
8. Khris Davis
9. Yovani Gallardo

(Assuming RHP Kris Medlen is Atlanta's Opening Day Starter)

1. Jean Segura
2. Scooter Gennett
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Jonathon Lucroy
6. Carlos Gomez
7. Juan Francisco
8. Khris Davis
9. Yovani Gallardo

3. Who will round out the final spots of the bullpen?

The bullpen has between four to five spots already filled. You'd have to assume that Jim Henderson, Francisco Rodriguez, Brandon Kintzler, Tom Gorzelanny, and Will Smith all have bullpen spots secured. That being said, there are about five more guys available for the Brewers to pick from to fill the final two spots.

Tyler Thornburg - With the signing of Matt Garza, Tyler Thornburg was unfortunately bumped from the starting rotation. He could still make the team, but he'll have to settle for a bullpen role. If he has a strong spring and the Brewers think he's more valuable in the Brewers bullpen rather in the Sounds starting rotation, he could take one of the final spots.

Rob Wooten - We got to see Rob for the first time last season. He produced a respectable 3-1 record, 3.90 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 27.2 innings pitched. He has good control and movement on his low-90s fastball. He makes a case to make the bullpen.

Alfredo Figaro - The flamethrower could find his way back into the bullpen if the Brewers feel they need his arm back in there. I, however, feel Figaro will be DFA'd when a spot for Mark Reynolds needs to be cleared.

Michael Blazek - Acquired from the Cardinals last season in which we sent them John Axford, some say Michael Blazek is John Axford 2.0. Big arm with closer potential. He'll definitely get a serious look.

Wei-Chung Wang - A Rule 5 Draft pick, Wang (right) would have to stay on the Brewers' 25 man roster for the entire season. Otherwise, he'd be sent back to the Pirates unless the Brewers and Pirates work out some sort of deal. Wang will be given a look this spring, but it's going to be difficult for him to stay on the team when he's never pitched passed rookie ball. He may end up becoming a trade chip if he pitches well.

Outside looking in: Donovan Hand, Jimmy Nelson, Zach Duke, Michael Olmsted.

Hopefully this gets everyone even more excited for Brewers baseball! 43 days until Opening Day. 43 days.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota

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