With the Milwaukee Brewers approaching the final month of the season, I thought I would take a look at the first year of the club’s rebuilding process. Some good, some bad. Some promise, some disappointment.
I thought I would do that by breaking down the roster – infield, outfield, catcher, starting pitcher and bullpen – and sharing my thoughts.
Unlike a lot of people, I’m not going ga-ga over Jonathan Villar. When I see a player consistently making the same mistakes over and over and over, I have a tendency to wonder how much baseball smarts this player has.
Some people compare him to Carlos Gomez, but I’m not one of them. Gomez was a terrific fielder at a different position. Every time someone hits a ground ball to Villar when he was at shortstop, with runners on and two outs, for example, I held my breath. Making the spectacular play and blowing the easy one at one of the most important positions is not a good thing.
I can see how Villar is compared to Gomez on the base paths – they hurt you as much as help you with some of the dumbest base running I have seen in years. And when I see that repeated, it bothers me more than it seems to bother the Brewers.
In my own opinion, I think Villar has individual goals (stolen base title) at the top of his mind, knowing if he’s successful he will help his team. I don’t see him as a selfish player.
The other reason I can’t compare Villar to Gomez is his approach at the plate. Most of the time he is patient and his on base average (.381) and batting average (.298) through August 24 is excellent. You don’t see him screw himself into the plate trying to hit homers like Gomez did.
I’m not sure where Villar’s future lies. He’s at third base for now, but he might be a better second baseman. But there lies another situation.
What do the Brewers do with Scooter Gennett, who has worked hard to show he can hit lefthander’s when given the opportunity this season. Villar and Gennett have similar doubles/triples stats, the same amount of homers and Villar has a slight edge in RBIs. However the biggest difference is BA (.298 to .268) and OBP (.381 to .322), which gives Villar a bigger advantage.
I see Villar as a placeholder at third, but his future might be at second base, if he is not used as trade bait in the off-season.
Speaking of placeholders, that is what Chris Carter is. What you see is what you get. A .223 BA and a .323 OBP. You would like to see both improve a little (.235, .340), but he is getting paid – and not a lot of money at that – to hit homers (30) and drive in runs (70) and he has done that. With no first baseman or third baseman on the horizon for a few years, GM David Stearns has to find placeholders like Carter for now.
The other big surprise – and this is something I predicted last spring – is Hernan Perez. He can play the corner outfield positions and any infield spot – but his bat is what has him up here. He is hitting .282 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs with 20 less games than Villar and Gennett. He needs to work on his .308 OBP, though. But every team needs a player like Perez and he has been one of the biggest surprises this season. A great utility player for a good team, but one who sees every day action now with a rebuilding squad.
The Brewers brought Orlando Arcia up to take some of the attention away from the Jonathan Lucroy-Jeremy Jeffress deal which has Texas at the top of the American League right now. I am interested in seeing who they got as the third player since they keep saying he is a very quality player. He better be.
The Brewers can deny it all they want, but that was the major reason for Arcia’s promotion. I just hope they don’t make the same mistake with him that they did with Keon Broxton (more on that later). Arcia has struggled and has been in and out of the lineup a little, but now is the time to throw him in there and have him play since they are ‘rebuilding.’ Sitting Arcia on the bench helps no one.
Ryan Braun is having an excellent season. He is batting .316 with a .378 OBP and 13 stolen bases. His power numbers (22 HRs, 71 RBI) would be better if he played more (104 of 125 games) because of the rest he has been given (back). Of course, without that rest, Manager Craig Counsell probably couldn’t have gotten that much out of him.
Ironically the contract Braun signed is not as much of a burden if the Brewers wanted to trade him because of some of the moronic signings by other owners last spring to lesser players. Since the Brewers are not paying anyone else besides Matt Garza, a payroll dump is not something they need to do.
They don’t need to trade Braun – and they don’t have to – since he is the closest thing they have to a major league hitter on the current team, which is struggling to be respectable offensively in the last few weeks.
Wasting their time with the likes of Ramon Flores – and it was a waste of time – and playing Kirk Niewenhuis in more than just a utility role left huge holes in two-thirds of the outfield.
Domingo Santana’s various injuries couldn’t be helped, of course, and now he lost most of the year and the Brewers have no idea whether he can be a good – ‘good’ is the key word here – major league outfielder. Fact was Perez was the Brewers second-best offensive threat in the outfield behind Braun when Counsell moved him to right field.
Then there was Keon Broxton, who I felt was the favorite for centerfield going into spring training. He struggled to start the year going 0-for-24 and since his return on July 25 he is batting.329 (26-for-79, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 10 SB) in 26 games since being recalled from Triple-A. But the Brewers kept messing with him playing the yo-yo game when they had nothing on the MLB roster which was better. He was on the roster from Opening Day through April 16, May 20 through June 3 and June 10 through July 3 before bringing him up for good.
To Broxton’s credit, he worked on his batting stance, dropping his hands and hopefully now this is a sign of the future. But if you ‘claim’ you’re rebuilding, sending him up and down so many times is not the way to go about it.
The Brewers have several outfielders among their top position players in the minors. Hopefully they are smart enough to see if someone has the ability to jump from Double A to the bigs next spring they shouldn’t hesitate to try it like other clubs do. Give people a reason to buy tickets.
It will be interesting to see what Stearns does here. Martin Maldonado knows the pitching staff, has a good arm but his offense is hit and miss, with emphasis on the latter. But to be fair, that’s not what he gets paid for.
In his first 13 games, Manny Pina hit .308 with a .438 OBP. He had a nice Triple A (.329, 5 HR, 43 RBI), but he isn’t the answer either. Besides Maldonado is 30 and Pina is 29. Andrew Susac, 26, who came in the Will Smith trade and is injured, is a journeyman. Their top catching prospect Jacob Nottingham is at least two years away.
It will be interesting to see what they do.
STARTING PITCHING (D+)
A 31 year old rookie and a pitcher who can’t break a pane of glass. These are the highlights of the 2016 starting pitching staff.
I couldn’t imagine where the Brewers starting staff would be without Junior Guerra and Zach Davies. Guerra is 7-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 17 starts with 90 strikeouts in 97.1 innings. Opponents have only hit .206 with a WHIP of 1.09. Those stats are outstanding.
Davies isn’t impressive looking (6-0, 155 pounds) but the 23 year old is 9-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 22 starts. He’s fanned 100 in 127 innings with a .264 BAA and a 1.26 WHIP. I have not enjoyed watching a pitcher work a hitter in years like I have watching Davies.
Davies reminds me of former Brewers Pete Vukovich, as his goal is to make you hit his pitch. He works the corners, works the inside of the plate, throws a lot of off-speed pitches, which make his 90 MPH fastball look more impressive.
He might look way younger than his age, but when he opens his mouth he is an intelligent young man who gives a good interview.
His problem is if he has an off-day or if his pitches catch a bigger part of the strike zone than he wanted to, you could usually find them somewhere in the bleacher seats. Not a lot of margin for error.
The only goal the front office should have with two other starters (Garza and Wily Peralta) is simple. Pray they pitch well enough to have some value to be moved in the off-season. I actually prefer Garza, who will be harder to trade because of his contract, more than Peralta, who is tradable. I have never be excited about Peralta – he reminds me too much of Yovani Gallardo – way over-hyped and too inconsistent to start for a successful team UNLESS they’re desperate (i.e. Baltimore Orioles).
Chase Anderson to me is ‘just a guy’ with a 7-10, 4.99 ERA, who opponents hit .270 against and who puts too many guys on base (1.42 WHIP).
How fast this ‘rebuild’ can happen will depend a lot on the pitchers.
Needing to bounce back QUICKLY are pitchers like Jorge Lopez and Taylor Jungman (I haven’t given up on him yet), for example. I think their best starting prospect is Josh Hader and I see no reason he isn’t given an opportunity in September.
Hiram Burgos (8-9, 4.60 ERA), impressive stats at Colorado Springs, Aaron Wilkerson, acquired in the Aaron Hill deal and Wei-Chung Wang, they held on to him as a Rule 5 Draft pitcher when he couldn’t contribute, so why not see if he can now since he has had a good season. Besides, he’s lefthanded. And don’t put him in the bullpen!
Brandon Woodruff also deserves a chance (7-8. 3.63 ERA, 98 K in 91.2 IP, 1.15 WHIP).
Speaking of the bullpen, Stearns has done a great job of putting it together and Counsell has done a great job of using them.
They traded their two best bullpen pitchers (Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith) and never missed a beat with Tyler Thornburg taking over the closers role. I didn’t agree with adding Carlos Torres, but it was a brilliant pickup by Stearns, as Torres is 2-2 with a 2.81 ERA, 62 strikeouts in 64 innings and a .213 BAA and a 1.17 WHIP.
Corey Knebel has pitched well (3.44 ERA, .215 BA, 1.36 WHIP) when he wasn’t on the disabled list. Michael Blazek, Jacob Barnes, Damien Magnifico, have pitched well when healthy, but because of the injuries some of the stats don’t show it. Brent Suter, who started at Triple A, will work out of the bullpen, giving the team a lefthander.
I thought the Brewers would win 68-72 games – I was optimistic, I guess. I cheer for them every game, but when they lose I don’t shed any tears. Most of the year they stayed in games and if they lost, it happened late in the game so they got me to stick around.
My grades reflect that the outfield and the starting pitching were big disappointments in 2016. But the bullpen and the infield leave hope for the future. With a month to go, it will be interesting to see what happens in September.
Stearns made a statement last week that he won’t be bringing up many prospects ‘because he doesn’t want a crowded clubhouse.’ I hope he was kidding, because now is the time to get a look at what’s in store for 2017.
That’s part of ‘rebuilding,’ David.