Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brewers at a Glance

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.


WC said...

The Brewers biggest question (besides the noted outfield) will be the health of some of their young players. In particular, Rickie Weeks got banged up last year and there has been some questions on his endurance. I am also a bit worried with Ben Sheets as the ace this season, seeing as his strikeouts have been pretty much non-existent despite going deep into 2 of his 4 starts. And all this when he is finally healthy!

The NL Central is like the NL West- It is a very even division full of mediocre teams. With a spark from the young guys, I don't see why the Brewers (besides being the Brewers) shouldn't make a run for the top spot.

bstewart said...

I agree, Sheets' lack of strikeouts thus far is something to keep an eye on...especially when you consider that his first three starts were against Houston, St. Louis, and Chicago; teams that practically beg to be struck out. I think it's too early to be very worried, but I would be curious to check out his velocity in these first four starts.

Weeks has looked good so far and is showing the power that he flashed in AAA Nashville in 2005. But I think you're right about his injuries. Issues with a wrist and opposite thumb would concern me, especially with the Gary Sheffield-esque bat waving he has in his stance.

WC said...

In the spirit of this blog I thought I might also point out that the Brewers now have the 18th ranked payroll. They are up $15 mil from last year to just below $72 mil. No other team in the central (even the Cubs) had a comparable increase in spending. Maybe this will motivate other owners (Pitsburgh needs some players that match that stadium!) that respectability is only $15 mil away.

Here is the site I got the payroll numbers from: http://blog.sportscolumn.com/story/2007/4/9/1367/60158

bstewart said...

Good stat, and good point. It will interesting to see how many marginal wins per additional dollar they have over last year at the end of the season. About 40% of that increase is tied up in the Suppan signing...questionable.

"May the Best Team Win" (by Andrew Zimbalist) is a very good book that discusses economics of baseball, revenue, payroll, etc. I'd recommend it.

By the way, Sheets is throwing tonight against the Cubs on WGN.