2014 Preview: Brewers vs. Cardinals | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

A very real rivalry was formed between St. Louis and Milwaukee in 2011, but since then, the Nine from Missouri have claimed the series. While Brewers fans are clamoring for a rebuilt or revamped farm system, the Cardinals are putting their rebuilt organization to good use in the National League. St. Louis can claim to be the class of the Senior Circuit, which adds a new level to the potential rivalry with Milwaukee; our Brewers will need to gain significant ground against St. Louis in order to win in 2014. The question remains, which weaknesses can Milwaukee exploit?

2014 Cardinals Preview

April 14-16: Cardinals @ Brewers
April 28-30: Brewers @ Cardinals
July 11-13: Cardinals @ Brewers
August 1-3: Brewers @ Cardinals
September 4-7: Cardinals @ Brewers
September 16-18: Brewers @ Cardinals

Not unlike their series against the Reds in 2014, the Brewers’ chances against the Cardinals will potentially form their trade deadline moves and any potential contending surges at the close of the season. For better or worse, if the Brewers are to accomplish anything of note in 2014, they will have to do so against the NL Central in September. A lot of familiar faces will help shape a playoff race in 2014, and hopefully it is exciting for the entire division.

Speaking of which, it appears that the NL Central may actually have the strongest division for years to come in the NL. While the NL East is top-heavy, Philadelphia, the Mets, and Miami are in limbo. Similarly, the West may be driven by the Dodgers, while the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Giants seek to reclaim their contending teams of recent years. If the Padres’ rebuilt rotation can stay healthy, they might surprise some people, too, but that is not necessarily the same upside that Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis possess. If the Cubs’ rebuilding effort goes according to plan, the Brewers could quickly find themselves in a difficult spot.

Distance to 90 Wins
Cardinals: 783 RS / 596 RA, -11 (-70 RS / +40 RA)
Brewers: 640 RS / 687 RA, +14 (+90 RS / -50 RA)

Previous Series (Cardinals lead, 31-20)
2013: Cardinals d. Brewers 13-5 (Brewers 70 RS / 106 RA)
2012: Cardinals d. Brewers 9-6 (Brewers 49 RS / 80 RA)
2011: Brewers t. Cardinals 9-9 (Brewers 71 RS / 64 RA)

Best Rotation / Worst Rotation (2012-2013)
As much as the Cardinals rotation improved over the last three years, the Brewers rotation has been just as strong. Both rotations are at a turning point in 2014; the Brewers are looking for veteran improvement to potentially gain a lot of “dependable IP” and upside that was not present in 2013, while the Cardinals are handing their rotation over to the farm. On upside, one might favor the Wacha / Miller / Lynn / Kelly arrangement, but it is difficult to ignore the production that Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo have managed within the last two seasons.

2012 Lohse, 211 IP, 24 runs prevented
2013 Wainwright, 241.7 IP, 22 runs prevented
2012 Gallardo, 204 IP, 16 runs prevented
2013 Lohse, 198.7 IP, 16 runs prevented
2013 Kelly, 124 IP, 12 runs prevented

2012 Kelly, 107 IP, 0 runs prevented
2013 Lynn, 201.7 IP, -4 runs prevented
2012 Wainwright, 198.7 IP, -4 runs prevented
2013 Gallardo, 180.7 IP, -7 runs prevented
2013 Peralta, 183.3 IP, -21 runs prevented

Batting Advantages
Cardinals: LF, C
Brewers: RF
Unknown: Gomez vs. Bourjos, Weeks/Gennett vs. Wong, Carpenter vs. Ramirez, Segura vs. Peralta, Matt Adams vs. Mark Reynolds / Juan Francisco
New Faces: Matt Adams, Kolton Wong, Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta, Khris Davis, Juan Francisco, Scooter Genett, Mark Reynolds

2013 Cardinals LF 716 116.5 0.1627
2012 Brewers LF 725 115.5 0.159 2013 Cardinals RF 728 102.3 0.1405
2012 Brewers 3B 702 108.6 0.155 2013 Cardinals 1B 689 95.0 0.1378
2012 Cardinals LF 737 104.4 0.1417 2013 Cardinals 2B 735 100.0 0.1363
2012 Cardinals RF 729 101.5 0.1393 2013 Brewers CF 677 86.5 0.1278
2012 Cardinals 1B 716 98.6 0.1377 2013 Cardinals C 674 82.0 0.1216
2012 Brewers 1B 678 87.0 0.1283 2013 Brewers LF 674 79.5 0.1179
2012 Cardinals 3B 697 89.4 0.1283 2013 Brewers 3B 663 77.1 0.116
2012 Brewers C 655 81.0 0.124 2013 Brewers C 670 77.1 0.115
2012 Cardinals C 678 80.9 0.1193 2013 Brewers 1B 638 70.7 0.1108
2012 Brewers RF 740 86.5 0.117 2013 Cardinals CF 700 76.8 0.1097
2012 Brewers 2B 713 78.1 0.1095 2013 Cardinals 3B 692 74.5 0.1077
2012 League Average 700 76 0.1085 2013 League Average 700 72.0 0.103
2012 Cardinals SS 715 75.7 0.1058 2013 Brewers SS 707 67.8 0.0959
2012 Brewers CF 700 75 0.107 2013 Cardinals SS 620 57.2 0.092
2012 Cardinals CF 720 72.8 0.1011 2013 Brewers 2B 668 56.9 0.085
2012 Brewers SS 626 62.6 0.100 2013 Brewers RF 736 58.6 0.079
2012 Cardinals 2B 661 63.8 0.0965

You might think it’s ridiculous to call five of eight positions “unknown,” but thanks to (1) the Cardinals’ four new faces, and (2) the Cardinals shifting two key players around the diamond, it is not certain that everyone will have the same positional impact in 2014 that they did in 2013. A bounceback season by Aramis Ramirez could outproduce Matt Carpenter for instance, but 2013 Carpenter is certainly an advantage over 2013 Ramirez. This type of question really can be asked of five different positions, even if the Cardinals might be expected to produce the better offense overall. Production from LF and C might simply be able to drive the Cardinals, should other areas falter, and potential advantages that the Brewers gain elsewhere might not be enough to overcome the top two advantages claimed by the Cardinals.

“Building” vs. “Trading”
One of the common refrains during the 2013 Postseason repeatedly drew attention to the Cardinals’ farm system. This praise is justified for many reasons; most importantly, since young players with little-to-no service time can be contract-controlled by their clubs, there is a decidedly pro-ownership slant to “Building From Within.” What fans really want, and ballclubs, when their clubs are built from within is talent that can be easily cost-controlled (and, therefore, hopefully lead to efficient roster building). While it might be difficult to hide an underperforming player landed for $100 million in free agency, it’s rather easy for ballclubs to make decisions on underperforming players earning the league minimum. Similarly, if a young player turns out to be good, their services can be purchased at excellent rates for future seasons.

The Brewers’ front office under Mark Attanasio has been one of the most aggressive in this regard; from Ben Sheets, to Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and Jonathan Lucroy (among others), Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin aggressively used arbitration-buyout deals to secure talent at a valuable rate. Not surprisingly, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has also aggressively used buyout contracts, including deals for Adam Wainwright (not technically a homegrown Cardinal, but still, a valuable deal in ’08), Jaime Garcia, Matt Carpenter, and Allen Craig. While networks may not directly receive notifications from the MLB to praise “homegrown talent,” the praise of “The Cardinals Way” is distinctly ideological when Bud Selig openly calls for clubs to spend less than 50% of revenues on salaries. Praise of homegrown talent perpetuates ownership interests against those of labor (this makes the development of the most recent CBA rather puzzling, as the owners surrendered draft spending in favor of free agency policies that separate more contracts from compensatory picks).

There could be a sense that fans like the feeling of loyalty, or the excitement of watching players develop from the farm to the big league club, too. When fans clamor for “rebuilding,” they are looking for stronger farm systems, in order to produce more efficient big league clubs. The Cardinals have exceptionally managed their roster in this regard, using competitive clubs in 2011 and 2012 to bring along a cast of flexible players from a productive bench squad into a productive everyday team. It may seem crazy to say so, but who needs Albert Pujols when you’ve got Lance Berkman under contract, alongside Allen Craig and Matt Adams in the system? Deals such as the Carlos Beltran contract are also the result of this type of roster efficiency and flexibility; if a club has a gang of players that will be ready to move around the diamond while they develop into everyday players, that club won’t necessarily need longterm veteran deals to fill their roster. Rather, they can sign players like Beltran to short deals, and then call another player from the farm when that deal is complete. This roster efficiency satisfies fans’ desires to watch “their own” take on other clubs’ hired mercenaries.

By contrast, one of Brewers’ fans complaints about Melvin and Attanasio is that they are always trying to “win now.” In place of bringing farm players to the big leagues, Melvin has systematically traded away prospects (and Attanasio has encouraged free agency signings, even to the detriment of draft picks) in order to build competitive ballclubs. The Brewers’ strategy largely worked from 2006 through 2012, when Melvin transitioned the club from “rebuilding” to “competitive” to “contending;” over that period of time, the Brewers were the fifth best club in the NL. That’s not bad, given the Brewers’ market disadvantages and overall payroll. Even if one is looking to criticize Melvin, when one compares the Brewers’ drafts directly to the Cardinals’ drafts, one might consider that Melvin may have used his farm players to the best of his ability; not every organizational guy can end up as an everyday player, and if they’re not going to be Brewers, Melvin might as well trade them to compete:

2005 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1 C. Rasmus (28) R. Braun (5)
1 T. Greene (30)
5 M. Boggs (170) K. Roberts (145)
22 J. Garcia (680) K. Holmberg (655)
Also Notable M. Brantley (205); Z. Braddock (585)
2006 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
2 Jon Jay (74) B. Brewer (60)
8 Allen Craig (256) S. Hill (242)
Also Notable C. Perez (42) J. Jeffress (16); C. Gillespie (92)
2007 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1 P. Kozma (18) M. LaPorta (7)
3 D. Descalso (112) J. Lucroy (101)
26 T. Cruz (802) B. Feltner (791)
Also Notable C. Gindl (161)
2008 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1s L. Lynn (39) J. Odorizzi (32)
41 K. Siegrist (1235) J. Scott (1238)
Also Notable B. Wallace (13) B. Lawrie (16); L. Schafer (94)
2009 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1 S. Miller (19) E. Arnett (26)
3 J. Kelly (98) J. Prince (105)
13 M. Carpenter (399) S. Halton (406)
23 M. Adams (699) A. Pressley (706)
Also Notable T. Rosenthakl (639) K. Davis (226); S. Gennett (496); M. Fiers (676)
2010 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
9 T. Lyons (289) Y. Rivera (279)
Also Notable T. Thornburg (96)
2011 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1 K. Wong (22) T. Jungmann (12)
11 S. Maness (350) T. Toledo (341)
2012 Cardinals (Pick) Brewers (Pick)
1 M. Wacha (19) C. Coulter (27)
Also Notable S. Piscotty (36) T. Taylor (92)

Of course, directly comparing two clubs pick-for-pick is not necessarily fair; certainly, the Cardinals have hit on talent in certain spots where the Brewers have missed. However, Melvin and his scouting directors have also hit on talent in certain picks where the Cardinals have missed. The discrepancy between the Cardinals and the Brewers is most clear in recent high round picks. While the Cardinals were able to immediately capitalize on Michael Wacha‘s upside, the Brewers’ aggressive college pitching draft choices have not fared as well. One type of bust (like Jeremy Jeffress) begat another type of bust (say, Eric Arnett), which ultimately lead to another series of aggressive (desperate?) early round college pitching picks. From 2008 to present, the Brewers’ first round picks have produced more notable trades than controllable Brewers talent, while the Cardinals have hit on Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Kolten Wong, and Wacha.

Yet, even if Brewers fans and analysts can rightly point out that Melvin needs to improve his first-round draft performance, it is worth questioning whether his use of prospects in trades was problematic. For example, he turned an organizational character-issue into Shaun Marcum, who produced two notably above average seasons (including the best actual (runs-based) performance on the 2011 Brewers rotation). Years ago, I wrote a critical analysis at Bernie’s Crew that suggested that the Brewers would have been better with Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi in their organization instead of Zack Greinke. Hindsight has changed my opinion on that. One might also wonder whether Michael Brantley or Matt LaPorta would have produced valuable seasons for Milwaukee (could you imagine if Melvin had traded Prince Fielder, and then installed LaPorta at 1B, for instance?). The Cardinals made similar “fringe-talent” trades with Brett Wallace and Chris Perez; Wallace was notably part of the trade that brought Matt Holliday to St. Louis.

Perhaps the Brewers have had to trade more talent from their organization because they have had more fringe talent than elite talent from recent drafts. While this leads to an effective criticism of their Scouting and Drafting strategies, one wonders whether their MLB-level roster building should have been any different. Melvin ultimately delivered the Brewers one of their best seasons in franchise history, as well as two playoff appearances out of their rebuilding process. Otherwise, the club has been forever in that “competitive fringe” between rebuilding and contending. It’s easy to say, “The Brewers should draft like the Cardinals and run their organization like the Cardinals,” but there are many moving parts that need to fit into place for such a strategy to work. In the meantime, Melvin has shrewdly used his farm system to favor competitive MLB clubs full of veterans, while the Cardinals have been able to shrewdly turn away veterans in favor of their own system. One wonders when these tables will turn; or, how long can the Cardinals keep this up?

While it is clear that the Brewers and Cardinals are working on completely different planes over the last couple of years, the Brewers could find their chance to beat the Cardinals if the new faces and shifted positions do not form the same successful equation for St. Louis. Any climb toward winning will be difficult for Milwaukee, and it is clear that they are David to the Cardinals’ Goliath; while the Brewers need 140 runs of improvement to get to 90 wins, the Cardinals can have 110 runs worth of things going wrong and still win 90. For the Brewers, it is veteran dependability against the Cardinals’ organizational potential. In this sense, good health and depth will be extremely important for any potential ground that the Brewers gain on the class of the division.

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