Following a disappointing series against the Athletics, the Diamondbacks continue their
sprint disagreeable limp toward the All Star Break as they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers. After a slow start to the season, the Brewers have emerged as a strong contender in the NL Central, as they enter the series tied for first in the division. The Brewers are 45-40, tied with the D-Backs, and since they probably aren't going away anytime soon, this series may have important Wild Card implications for both teams.
For one night only, I have a special treat for all of you internet personmouths: Brew Crew Ball blogger Nicole Haase agreed to answer some questions about her team. That's right, rather than reading me pretending to know things about the Brewers and compensating by making jokes about Corey Hart's name,* you get to hear from someone who actually watches the team on a regular basis.
Check out Nicole's answers after the jump!
ZM: Zach Greinke was viewed as a potential game-changer in the NL Central when the Brewers acquired him, but the results haven't been there so far, as evidenced by his 5.63 ERA. What's been the problem, and are Brewer fans concerned about their ace?
Nicole Haase: Obviously we were all hoping for/expecting more when the Brewers made the trade for Greinke over the winter. It seems that his performance so far has really split the fan base. It's not surprising that people are disappointed, but a lot of people are still holding out hope that it will get better and we'll see flashes of the Cy Young pitcher we expected before the season is out.
Greinke apologists say that its not fair to look at his ERA because he's been the victim of some pretty bad fielding and has been unlucky. They point to his xFIP, which measures a pitcher's Fielding Independent Percentage. (Read more on FanGraphs here ). His xFIP for 2011 is 2.13 and they say that it's only a matter of time before his ERA regresses to closer to that number. Additionally, he's gotten 80 strikeouts versus 12 walks, which would imply that the control is there.
Despite the high ERA, he has a 7-3 record and the Brewers are 8-3 over his 11 starts.
Those that are frustrated with Greinke and the apologists say that it's ridiculous to say that he's been unlucky and you can't call it unlucky or bad luck when he's leaving pitches up in the zone or giving up big innings. Some of the basic pitcher stats - K/9, BB/9, HR/FB%, LD%, BABIP - Greinke's season numbers are far from his career average. We're just not getting the guy we paid for and its time to stop making excuses.
ZM: Prince Fielder is a free agent at the end of the season, and it seems like everyone is assuming that he'll bolt Milwaukee for a bigger market. What is the Brewers' organization saying about Fielder, and do fans feel like they have a chance to re-sign their star first baseman?
NH: Here's the thing. Those that understand the finance of baseball and that Milwaukee is a small-market team understand that there's no possible way the Brewers should spend the kind of money that Prince is going to command. It would handcuff the franchise for years and basically be one of the worst financial decisions the team has ever made.
Those that are sentimental and thinking with their hearts are still convinced that the Brewers can and should make a deal to keep Prince here.
I love Prince and in a perfect world I'd love to keep him here, but for the long-term health of the team, it would be an absolute abomination to spend that kind of money and commit that many years to him.
It seems obvious that he should go to an AL team, where he can play a few more years in the field and play out the rest of his ten-year contract in the DL spot.
ZM: What moves, if any, do you see the Brewers making at the trade deadline?
NH: The Brewers are in desperate need of a shortstop. Yuniesky Betancourt has been called by some the worst player in the major leagues. Not only is he awful at the plate (.245/.264/.354), where he consistently swings at the first pitch and strikes out about three times as often as he walks, but he's possibly the worst defender to ever play the game. Brewers TV analysts spent much of the first half of the season trying to convince everyone that Yuni wasn't that bad because he hadn't committed errors. Now he's up to 9, so they can't play that card, but really, that's not the problem with Betancourt - it's the number of balls in his area that he doesn't even come close to.
That being said, the Brewers are in no position to trade for anyone. They depleted their minor league system to make the trades for Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum, leaving them bereft of pieces to offer anyone for the pieces they are looking for to round out the team.
ZM: Obviously, baseball fans know all about guys like Braun and Fielder, but are there any "under the radar" guys on the team who deserve more national recognition?
NH: Yovani Gallardo doesn't receive enough attention as one of the aces of the squad. Before the trades, Yo was THE arm on the staff. He's just 25 and is in just his fourth full season in the majors (he spent most of 2008 out with a knee injury). He's got a career 3.72 ERA, averages 8 K/9 and, alongside Marcum and Greinke, gives the Brewers three Opening Day starters from last season in their rotation. With Wainwright out in St. Louis, its probably the best 1-2-3 in the division.
Despite the fact that people know him from the trade in the off-season, I think Shaun Marcum has flown under the radar. He's been a completely solid and consistent member of the rotation. He has a 3.28 ERA and averages more than 8 K/9. Other than one disaster start, Brewers fans know that when he's on the mound, they're going to get a solid outing.
The last one would be closer John Axford. He took over for Trevor Hoffman last year when Hoffman struggled. This is his first full season in the majors and it was known he'd have the closers role as soon as Spring Training started. He was a bit rough to start the season, but still only has two blown saves and he settled down - he had a 0.00 ERA in June.
A few years ago he was let go by the Yankees and was tending bar in Canada and selling cell phones. He held an open-house in Canada to show off his arm and there was such a big snow storm and only one scout made it - the Brewers' scout. Now we're happy to have him and the Brewers could have themselves a closer for many years to come.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Arizona (45-40) Milwaukee (45-40) Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 96 104 Milwaukee
Pitching (FIP): 3.91 3.62 Milwaukee
Fielding (UZR): 23.3 4.3 Arizona
For the sake of brevity, rather than going into a ton of detail about the hitters, I'll just list things about this lineup that I don't understand in bulletpoint form:
- I don't understand why, in a lineup filled with great hitters, Carlos Gomez is batting in what The Book considers the most important position in the lineup. Gomez has an OPS of .660. For that matter...
- I don't understand why Carlos Gomez is in the starting lineup at all. Backup CF Nyjer Morgan has accumulated 2.0 fWAR in 144 PAs, while Gomez has only 1.4 fWAR in 209 PAs.
- I don't understand why Casey McGehee (OPS+ of 59) has started 75 games in a major RBI spot behind Braun and Fielder, while Corey Hart (OPS+ of 117) has only started 6 games there.
- I don't understand why Yuniesky Betancourt, who has a case for being the worst everyday player in baseball over the past four years, is batting in front of promising young catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
- I don't understand why Yuniesky Betancourt is batting in front of anyone with a pulse, including the pitcher, the bench coach, and the chorizo sausage.
Monday: Daniel Hudson (9-5, 3.49) vs. Shawn Marcum (7-3, 3.16)
Insightful Commentary: Shawn Marcum may not be well-known outside of Toronto and Milwaukee, but he's a solid frontline starter who may be in the midst of his best season yet. His FIP and xFIP are both currently at career lows, as his K/9 rate has risen to 8.31 in 2011. He's also doing an excellent job of preventing home runs, as his HR/9 is under 1 on the season.
Insightful Commentary: I'm really trying here, Zach Duke. I'm doing my best to defend you from all those vicious Snakepit commentators by pointing out that you have an absurd BABIP despite a fairly normal LD%. But at some point you're going to have to give me something, like better pitch location, or a more inspiring K:BB rate than the 7:5 you've produced in your last two starts.
Meanwhile, Randy Wolf is a stereotypical crafty lefty who has dug deep into his bag of tricks to have one of the better half-seasons (by ERA) of his career at age 34. His FIP of 4.17 suggests that it isn't going to last forever, though.
Wednesday: Josh Collmenter (4-5, 3.17) vs. Yovani Gallardo (9-5, 3.92)
Insightful Commentary: Same song, different chorus for Collmenter against the A's. He ran into trouble the second time through the order, and eventually gave up four runs in the fifth inning. The shine is almost completely off of the "Collmenter for starter" campaign, and he's going to have to figure out a way to succeed deep into games soon, or he's going to get relegated to the bullpen.
I don't really have much to add to Nicole's analysis of Gallardo, except to mention his new-found durability in 2011. He has yet to miss a start this season, and is on pace to pitch over 200 innings for the first time in his five-year career. For a young pitcher with a history of injuries, that's encouraging to see.
Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks are scuffling heading into this series, and while the Brewers haven't been red-hot lately either, they're probably the better team right now, and they're playing at home. I think Duke and Collmenter will struggle against a potent Brewers lineup, and I suspect the Brewers will take the series two games to one.
All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise mentioned, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs. And of course, a huge thank-you to Nicole Haase for taking time out of her holiday weekend to answer my questions.
Head over to Brew Crew Ball to get the Brewers' perspective on the upcoming series.
*Fun fact: In 2011, Corey Hart's OPS during day games is .820, compared to an OPS of only .789 during night games. Clearly, the sunglasses aren't helping**
**C'mon, you knew there had to be one.