Christopher Reina. 1st April, 2010 - 12:40 am
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The Brewers were unable to return to the postseason in 2009 with the losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets predictably decimating their pitching staff to a level that even their superstar sluggers couldn't overcome.
2009 Opsera Finish: 22nd
What Happened In The Winter
You could say a lot of things about GM Doug Melvin, but you can never say that he doesn't work hard for his salary. He had an incredibly active winter, boldly trading J.J. Hardy to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez in a move to clear space for Alcides Escobar. Gomez will replace Mike Cameron, who signed with Boston.
Melvin then turned his sights on free agency, where his big signing was a three-year deal for Randy Wolf just shy of $30M. Considering Wolf's injury history (33 starts between 2005 and 2007), age (34) and career ERA (4.13), kudos to agent Arn Tellem for landing such a lucrative deal for his client.
LaTroy Hawkins parlayed his 2.13 ERA in 63.1 innings with Houston into a two-year, $7.5M deal to support Trevor Hoffman in the Milwaukee bullpen, who was retained on an $8M one-year deal. Like Wolf's deal, these signings are difficult to rationalize given the lack of financial resources available for the Brewers, who will soon have fast-escalating salaries for Ryan Braun and potentially Prince Fielder if they ink him to an extension.
More affordably, the Brewers signed another starting southpaw in Doug Davis on a one-year, $5.25M with a mutual option worth $6.5M for 2011.
Melvin also signed catch Gregg Zaun from Tampa Bay to replace Jason Kendall while retaining the invaluable Craig Counsell and reliever Claudio Vargas.
Brewers Offensive Preview
Any lineup with Braun and Fielder in the middle of it will score a lot of runs and they certainly did that in 2009 when they were ranked third in runs in the NL with 785 and third in OPS with .767. Considering their age and how many prime seasons they have remaining (at least 10 seasons), I'm not sure there is a better three/four combo for a team to have other than Braun and Fielder.
Braun's OPS elevated from his .888 in his sophomore season of 2008 to .937 in 2009. While his power totals dropped a little bit, he had a nice upswing in OBP from .335 to .386. The primary reason for Braun's surge in OBP was the way he absolutely mashed lefties by hitting .395/.475/.723. Defensively, Braun remains an unmitigated disaster in left field.
Fielder also turned in a better season than his 2008 when Milwaukee reached the playoffs by increasing his OPS from .879 to 1.014.
Surrounding that pair are Casey McGehee and Corey Hart behind them with Rickie Weeks and most likely Gomez ahead of them.
Chicago's decision to release McGehee made sense at the time as he never had an OPS better than .776 in the minors, but he erupted for an .859 OPS in 394 plate appearances with the Brewers. The Cubs took McGehee's wrath fas bad as anybody as he hit for an OPS of .967 against them. He had a BAbip of .330, which is a slightly troubling indicator, but not necessarily meaning his season was an outlier.
Hart improved his OBP from the .300 he posted in 2008 by increasing his walks and decreasing his strikeouts, but he had a sizable power drain. He also was shelved with a foot injury and an appendicitis.
Potentially filling in for Hart will be veteran Jim Edmonds, who continues his NL Central tour with half of the six teams under his belt.
Gomez's game was always better suited for the NL and if he can get a huge uptick in his OBP from his 2009 mark of .287, then he can fully use his remarkable speed. The Brewers will try him in the leadoff spot, but Fielder and Braun don't exactly need help manufacturing runs- they just need base-runners.
Weeks missed almost the entire 2009 season with a torn muscle in his hand, continuing his string of injury-plagued seasons. He clearly has all the talent in the world, but simply needs to remain available to Ken Macha.
Escobar could also see some leadoff duty, especially if his OBP is as good as it has been this Spring. He had a .701 OPS in 134 2009 plate appearances, but of course projects quite a bit better, particularly if he begins to hit righties better.
Brewers Pitching Preview
The Brewers were ranked 27th in total ERA with a mark of 4.83 and 30th in baseball amongst starters with a 5.37 ERA.
The youngster Yovani Gallardo is the clear ace here and is one of the more underrated arms in baseball. He was very consistent through the first four months of 2009, but was roughed up quite a bit in August and September. Nevertheless, Gallardo had a 3.73 ERA and an excellent 9.9 K/9 rate with an all too high 4.6 BB/9 rate.
Wolf undoubtedly had a fine 2009 season with the Dodgers with a 3.23 ERA, but his fielding independent ERA was a more pedestrian 3.96, aided by a .257 BAbip against.
Like Wolf, Davis had an inflated ERA with his 4.12 mark looking not quite as nice when compared to his FIP of 4.84
Dave Bush, the very expensive Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra will take the other two slots in the rotation throughout 2010.
Bush has never had intimidating stuff, but he should rebound from his 6.38 ERA of 2009, while Suppan is already injured and that could be for the best. Note to GMs, don't pay eight-figures annually for a pitcher who can strikeout more than five batters per nine innings.
Parra, meanwhile, has progressively been less effective as he has seen more MLB innings. He had a 4.39 ERA in 2008 with an 8.0 K/9 rate that elevated to 6.36 in 2009. He has proven to be far too hittable and too many walks with a WHIP of 1.829.
Hoffman and Hawkins gives Milwaukee's bullpen no shortage of late game experience and both were still effective pitchers in 2009.
Todd Coffey is a reliable workhorse and Mitch Stetter is an underrated lefty specialist.
Carlos Villanueva struggled in 2009 to the tune of a 5.34 ERA and hasn't been great in the Spring, meaning he'll be lucky to still have a job by Memorial Day.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
The Brewers are a fun team to watch and root for given their offensive abilities, but they don't nearly have enough pitching to compete in the NL Central with the Cardinals and even the Cubs. If Gallardo becomes a Cy Young candidate and the veteran starters all manage to have career seasons with ERAs around 4.00, then they could sneak into the conversation, but that is a very massive 'if.'
Long-term, the Brewers might have to deal away Fielder in return for a legitimate starter to balance out their team and improve their competitive chances.
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