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The Milwaukee Brewers: Fear the Wurst?

Basics

  • Manager: Ron Roenicke (fourth year)
  • 2013 Record: 74-88
  • 2013 Division Finish: Fourth place
  • 2013 Runs Scored: 640
  • 2013 Runs Allowed: 687
  • 2013 Attendance: 2,531,105
  • 2013 Payroll: $86.5 million
  • 2014 Expected Payroll:  $98.1 million

Two years removed from a 96-win season, the Brewers’ 2013 was already headed in the wrong direction (41-56) when they were rocked by the PED-related suspension of superstar LF Ryan Braun for the final 65 games. Their 74-88 record was Milwaukee’s worst since 2004.

2B Ricky Weeks had collapsed at the plate. 1B/OF Corey Hart was unable to return from microsurgery on his knees. 3B Aramis Ramirez missed two months with a knee sprain. And Braun was struggling with a hand injury even before his suspension. SP Yovani Gallardo was arrested for a DUI. What began with the possibility of a run at the post-season turned into a complete wipeout.

But the picture isn’t necessarily bleak for the 2014 Brewers. Braun returns, as do breakout players SS Juan Segura, C Jonathan Lucroy, CF Carlos Gomez and LF Khris Davis. With the addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers starting rotation is solid.

Key Losses from 2013

  • OF Norichika Aoki, free agency
  • 1B/SS Yuniesky Betancourt, free agency
  • SP Chris Narveson, free agency

Key Acquisitions/Extensions

  • SP Matt Garza, free agent, 4 years/$50 million
  • 1B Mark Reynolds, free agent, 1 year/$2 million

Top Ten Prospects (Baseball AmericaFangraphs)

Run Production

Despite losing Braun for nearly half the season, the Brewers finished eighth in runs scored in the NL. They were ninth in wRC+, tenth in on base percentage and fifth in slugging. It’s worth noting that they were dead last in drawing walks.

Projected Lineup

  1. Carlos Gomez (28), CF
  2. Jean Segura (24), SS
  3. Ryan Braun (30), RF
  4. Aramis Ramirez (35), 3B
  5. Jonathan Lucroy (27), C
  6. Khris Davis (26), LF
  7. Mark Reynolds (30), 1B
  8. Scooter Gennett (23), 2B

The Brewers enter 2014 with plenty of offensive firepower. Barring a sausage fest of injuries and slumps, the Brewers should have one of the top offenses in the NL. It all starts, of course, with Ryan Braun, who is back from the suspension and destroying the ball in spring training. Mark him down as highly talented and infinitely motivated.

Carlos Gomez (.284/.338/.506) blossomed into an elite player last season (7.6 fWAR) with 24 homers and 40 stolen bases. Remember the game he robbed Joey Votto of a potential game-winning home run? His heroics weren’t limited to just that one game. Gomez won the National League Gold Glove for CF.

Jonathan Lucroy (.280/.340/.455) was fourth among NL catchers in wRC+ and hit eighteen home runs and stole nine bases. He also plays 1B to keep his bat in the lineup.

In his first full season with the Brewers, Jean Segura (.294/.329/.423) had an excellent season, with 12 homers and 44 stolen bases. He hit especially well against the Reds (.338/.388/.514). Segura was also an above average fielder in the middle of the infield.

OF Khris Davis, who basically took over in LF for Braun, was so impressive in his 150+ plate appearances (he slugged .596), that the Brewers are moving Braun to RF to keep Davis’ bat in the lineup. Braun replaces Norichika Aoki in the corner. Aoki, who led-off for the Brewers last season, was traded to the Kansas City Royals.

Run Prevention

In 2013, the Brewers starting pitchers combined to finish eleventh in the NL in ERA and fifteenth in FIP. Part of their problem was a low strikeout rate, fourteenth in the NL. But over consecutive years they have made major free agent signings to strengthen their rotation and enter 2014 with a solid starting five.

In terms of defense, the Brewers are one of the more aggressive teams at implementing position shifts. First base coach Garth Iorg said “Yeah, it works. We wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. It’s beneficial, there’s no doubt about it. It’s crazy.”

Expected Rotation

  1. Yovani Gallardo (28), RH
  2. Matt Garza (30), RH
  3. Kyle Lohse (35), RH
  4. Marco Estrada (30), RH
  5. Wily Peralta (24), RH

In 2012, Milwaukee signed 34-year-old SP Kyle Lohse to a 3-year/$33 million contract that also cost the organization a first-round draft pick that wen to the Cardinals. This offseason, the Brewers signed Matt Garza to a 4-year/$50 million contract. Those pitchers give the Brewers depth in the rotation.

Yovanni Gallardo actually had a better season than Lohse, ERA notwithstanding. Gallardo’s FIP has remained below 4.0 since 2009. One warning sign for the veteran pitcher was a drop in his strikeout rate (from 9.0 to 7.2 K/9), mostly attributed to a decrease in fastball velocity from 92.6 mph to 90.7 mph over the past two seasons. Ron Roenicke has named Gallardo the starter for Opening Day.

Marco Estrada is under-estimated as a starting pitcher mostly because he can’t stay healthy for a full season. Last year, Estrada led the Brewers’ starters in K/9 (8.3) and xFIP over his 21 starts.

Finally, 24-year-old, Wily Peralta, had a solid rookie season, starting 32 games and finishing with a 4.13 xFIP and 4.37 ERA. Peralta had some mediocre-to-poor starts against the Reds, but did turn in a sparkling 3-hit shutout against Dusty Baker’s club on July 9.

Bullpen

The Brewers bullpen had the third lowest ERA in the NL, but that success was belied by a closer look at the fundamentals. The Brewers pen had the fourth poorest strikeout rate and benefitted from a low BABIP. That translated to an eleventh-best FIP out of fifteen teams.

Jim Henderson enters the 2014 season as the Brewers’ closer. Henderson recorded 28 saves in 32 opportunities (87.5%) last year and his 11.25 K/9 was one of the highest among NL relievers.

But after Henderson, Milwaukee’s bullpen is short on depth. Francisco Rodriguez returns, as does Brandon Kintzler. Will Smith, who was acquired in the Aoki trade, held left-handers to .157/.204/.353 line, striking out half of the lefties he faced in 54 plate appearances. But getting to the back end of the bullpen is the weak link in the Brewers’ team.

  • Closer: Jim Henderson (31)
  • Set-up: Francisco Rodriquez (32), Brandon Kintzler (29)
  • Lefty specialists: Will Smith (24)

 

3 thoughts on “The Milwaukee Brewers: Fear the Wurst?

    • Fair point about the damage an injury to a starter could do to them. If things fall right, they are in the playoff mix, But, overall I will stick to the credo that pitching matters more than offense. BTW, anybody else find themselves waiting for Lohse to lose his magic? That’d be nice.

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