I’ve been meaning to write about the Brewers for about a week now, but got a little bogged down and have been unable to do so. Through the first three weeks of the season, Milwaukee has taken a modest 2.5 game lead over the Astros in the weak NL Central. In fact, at 12-7, the Brewers are the only team in this division over .500. With only 19 of their 162 games played, it’s too early to draw very many sound conclusions, but some potential flaws and strengths do stick out.
I saw Dave Bush throw last Tuesday night (April 17th) in Cincinnati, and the results weren’t very pretty. Bush maintained good arm action from his fastball to change-up, but appeared to be slowing considerably on his curve. The end result of this (along with an aborted follow-through) was his leaving the breaking pitch up for most of the night. He did flash a sharp curve with good break during Alex Gonzalez’s first inning AB on the 2-1 pitch, but that was more of an anomaly on this evening. Having said that, I don’t want to crucify the guy after seeing just one 5 inning start. During 2006, both his K/9IP and K/BB rates took jumps in the right direction, and they’ve continued on those paths during his first 25 innings of 2007. With Bush, Sheets, and Capuano, the Brewers should at least have a serviceable rotation (especially if Capuano can reign in is HR/9IP rate a little).
Offensively, Milwaukee has been off to a good start, with 6 of their 7 players that have at least 50 ABs slugging over .500. In particular, the Kevin Mench/Geoff Jenkins platoon have been hitting well, posting OPSs of .875 and 1.008, respectively. Although these starts are encouraging, digging a little deeper into their stats give a cause for concern. After reading Marc Normandin’s profiles (registration required) on both Jenkins and Mench, and noting Jenkins’ low walk rate thus far (I’m aware, it’s a small sample size) and the fact that ~63% of Mench’s ABs have come against right handed pitchers, a red flag has to go up. The Brewers have over $10 million total committed to these two this year, which should provide plenty of incentive to use them as efficiently as possible.
The Brewers will likely experience issues with outfield defense as well. Throughout the course of the game in Cincinnati, Bill Hall did not look comfortable in CF. He played a Brandon Phillips double awkwardly and took several false steps on otherwise routine plays. Combine this with the limited range of Jenkins and Mench (especially if they continue to play both at the same time), and you have a suspect outfield. This is evidenced by the fact that, through today, Milwaukee pitching has given up 48 doubles, the most in the NL. Not to exonerate the pitching staff from this stat, but the limited range and inexperience in the outfield certainly doesn’t help. In fairness to Hall, it should be noted that he has played only 23 games in the outfield and final judgment should be withheld until given time to adapt.
Rounding out a high level review of the current NL Central leader, let’s take a quick look at their bullpen. Left handed specialist Brian Shouse looked good against the Reds’ lefty sluggers, allowing only a single to Josh Hamilton before striking out Dunn and Griffey. Throughout his career, Shouse has held lefties to a .219/.278/.344 line, and while his use is definitely limited, the $975k the Brewers are paying him isn’t a bad deal. Additionally, late inning relievers Francisco Cordero and Derrick Turnbow are both strikeout pitchers that will serve Milwaukee well, even if they are misused. Ignore Cordero’s high ERA with Texas in ’06, as he had a BABIP significantly higher than his norm that should regress back towards the mean this season.
Prior to the start of this season, I thought that the Brewers would come away with the NL Central title and, as of right now, I haven’t see anything to sway me away from that opinion. This isn’t so much due to them being particularly good as it is to my perception of them being the least flawed team in a weak division.