Five questions: Milwaukee Brewers

Will the attention from Ryan Braun’s PED speculation become a distraction?

The good news for the Brewers is that Ryan Braun will be playing a full season this year if he stays healthy. The bad news is Braun’s suspension was overturned not on his innocence, but a question of chain of custody. Whether or not Braun was actually innocent or guilty, the entire team will hear questions throughout spring training and surely into the start of the regular season. Eventually, as with any situation the media continually questions about, it could become a distraction. Especially depending on how Braun handles it.

If the team struggles or perhaps if Braun starts extremely hot and the questions continue, it could easily become a distraction. Also,there’s the potential threat from MLB executives to appeal the arbitrator’s decision in federal court. I’m sure they would like to avoid a long, draw- out ordeal in court, but they also don’t want players thinking drug suspensions can easily be overturned in future cases.

Is Mat Gamel ready to take a major role in Milwaukee?

What do you do with a player who can’t field a lick at third base and has been waiting for a way to make the major league roster for five seasons now? If you answered make him your choice to replace the second best hitter in Milwaukee history at first base, you are correct.

Mat Gamel has struggled to make contact in his small sample at the major league level. He currently holds a 34.5 percent strikeout rate in the majors and a batting average of .222. Clearly he hasn’t had enough games yet, with 85 played in the last four seasons, but for someone with a .301 average in Triple-A he is quickly gaining the Quad-A player tag.

He’s been given the first base job which should hide his porous defense, but his bat needs to come alive. His power looked ready to peak in Nashville last season with 28 home runs and a .540 SLG. Obviously he could never replace the numbers Prince Fielder has put up in Milwaukee, but the team won’t allow him to be a consistent out by striking out every third at bat.

Will stellar pitching be wasted in to many low scoring games?

The Brewers could have the second best pitching staff in the NL, with only the Phillies ahead of them. They have three potential ace pitchers in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo. On top of that all three are between the ages of 26 and 30.

The three pitchers may not be considered workhorses and have had some minor issues over the past two or three years, but all three, along with Randy Wolf, can consistently total 180 to 200 innings each season. According to Oliver projections, the Brewers rotation shapes up like this:

Name                 IP        W         L         ERA       WHIP      K         BB        HR        K/9       BB/9      HR/9      WAR
Greinke, Zack        200       13        8         3.42      1.17      204       47        17        9.2       2.1       0.8       4.5
Marcum, Shaun        200       12        9         3.52      1.2       155       50        21        7         2.3       0.9       4.2
Gallardo, Yovani     200       13        9         3.64      1.27      206       70        20        9.3       3.2       0.9       4
Wolf, Randy          200       11        11        4.31      1.34      127       65        24        5.7       2.9       1.1       2.5
Narveson, Chris      165       9         8         4.2       1.37      130       59        18        7.1       3.2       1         2.2

Not too many teams in the NL can go into the season with hopes to get that from their starting five, but the offense will have to do its part as well. After finishing third in the National League last year in runs scored, the team will need to find a way to replace at least some of the offense Fielder supplied. If Gamel or new third baseman Aramis Ramirez don’t produce, the team could be facing more and more pitching duels and be on the outside come playoff time.

Has the NL Central become one of the more competitive divisions?

The NL Central sent the joke of the playoffs each season at tone point, and arguably the weakest World Series champion in 2006 with the 83-78 St Louis Cardinals. Since that season though, the division has never had a winner with less than 91 wins, and two of the wild card winners from the division.

This season should be no different, The Cincinnati Reds have loaded up and look prepared to contend for the division. The Cardinals have the addition of Carlos Beltran and return of Adam Wainwright as they attempt to deal with a similar loss of a major contributor, Albert Pujols.

Can Aramis Ramirez replace enough offense to keep the Brewers competing for the playoffs?

The Brewers were able to make a solid addition this offseason in slugging third baseman Ramirez. He isn’t the on-base and power threat that Fielder was, but has been a top third baseman for the past 10 seasons. Since 2001 he ranks eighth in wOBA among all third baseman. He has been more injury prone over the last two seasons, but has missed major time during pnly one season.

The problem with Ramirez is, much like Fielder, his defense is poor and his baserunning will cost the Brewers runs as well. In 2011 Ramirez had his lowest UZR in his career at -9.4, which finished above only Mark Reynolds among third baseman who qualified. If Gamel struggles defensively at first this year, the pitching staff could struggle in front of this troubling defense.

He cost the Cubs 4.9 runs in his base running according to FanGraphs. That was ninth worst among all players last season. Ramirez is in Milwaukee to do two things this season—hit for some power and supply some runs. If he can prove 2011’s UZR was an outlier and provide at least below average or acceptable defense, the Brewers will have made an effective choice in adding Ramirez.

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Jim G.
12 years ago

RE: Gamel – many pundits are referring to his major league numbers, which at least here were referred to as a small sample size. But not only is the sample small, it was very sporadic. Pinch hitting here, a start there, DHing in interleague. Rarely a couple games in a row. And that’s over two seasons. It’s hard for anyone, let alone a rookie, to excel in that position.
But don’t think I’m especially high on Gamel. To me, his biggest concern has been his attitude. His lack of conditioning has caused him injury that have voided opportunities. Some of his comments in the press haven’t been particularly mature. Fortunately, he seems to be putting that image behind him this spring. He’ll never hit for Prince power, but he could certainly approach him in all other categories.

Jim G.
12 years ago

It also boggles my mind how baseball people dismiss 1st base as non-essential defensively. Having watch Prince butcher the position the last few years, it’s remarkable the ways a poor fielding first baseman can affect a club’s defense. (Or a great fielder in a positive way.) How many infield hits were credited because of Fielder’s inability to stretch? His poor footwork? How many errors were credited to the rest of the infield because of his poor scooping ability? Conversely, a great first baseman will help immensely on these points. I know there is now “scooping” data for first baseman. I’m not sure how realistic a picture it paints. But to me, a first baseman’s defense is key. And so much of what they do is more often reflected in the rest of the defense’s statistics. This is why it think Detroit will have so much trouble in their infield. Not only does the entire infield lack range, but they will get NO help from their first baseman.
In Milwaukee, if all of a sudden Ramirez and Gonzalez’s defensive numbers decline further (Ramirez being pretty poor already), I’ll be looking at Gamel’s defense first.

12 years ago

Good stuff as always, Troy.

12 years ago

Ramirez’s defense may be a problem, but it will be better than Casey McGehee’s was.

The Crew upgraded defensively at SS, which I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned.

I don’t really see any reason why, barring some catastrophic injuries, the Brewers shouldn’t be better than last year.  I think they should win the division again, and could be looking at another deep playoff run.