As soon as ink hit paper on Aramis Ramirez’s new three-year contract to play third base for the Milwaukee Brewers, it was clear Casey McGehee was not long for the roster. The Brewers had until 11 PM Tuesday to tender McGehee, an arbitration eligible player next season, a contract for next season or allow him to become a free agent. Instead, the Pirates jumped in at the 11th hour, trading the Brewers relief pitcher Jose Veras in exchange for McGehee.
Veras lives off a hard fastball, averaging over 94 MPH on the pitch. His repertoire also includes a curveball and a much lesser used splitfinger.
Veras’s power combo drew a career high 79 strikeouts in 2011; over 71 innings, that produced his second straight season with a strikeouts per nine innings above 10. As with many power relievers, he also struggles to find the strike zone at times, and his 4.3 walks per nine innings was his lowest in a full season. His 3.80 ERA was effectively league average, and his career ERA- (the reverse of OPS+ and wRC+ for pitchers; 100 is average, lower is better) of 98 suggests average is just what the Brewers should expect in 2012, with some upside if he can maintain the low walk numbers. At the same time, there is worry that Veras’s low ground ball rate (38.2% career, 37.3% last season) could lead to home run problems at the less-friendly Miller Park, even though it hasn’t been an issue in his career so far.
As far as McGehee goes, there were signs at times that he could turn it around — his three homer game against Edwin Jackson chief among them. From July 6th through August 28th, McGehee almost looked his old self — he hit .276/.331/.462 over that time period, not coincidentally a period in which the Brewers went 34-12. However, he would fall off sharply over the last month of the season; including August 28th to the end of the season, McGehee was right back to incompetence: .225/.288/.398.
McGehee offers a cautionary tale of believing sharp bursts of Major League effectiveness after mediocrity (or worse) in the minor leagues. As good as a player can look over a season or a season and a half, it takes any numbers involving contact — power numbers, BABIP numbers — at least a full season, if not longer, to even begin to stabilize. There were warning signs even as McGehee looked to come into his own in 2010 — 15 of McGehee’s 23 home runs were classified as “Just Enoughs” by ESPN HitTracker, a stunningly high ratio. Only Adrian Gonzalez had more “Just Enoughs” with 16, and Gonzalez hit eight more home runs than McGehee and did so with half his games at Petco Park.
The Brewers could have gambled on McGehee next season, but the debacle of 2011 made it difficult for the Brewers to consider competing with him manning the hot corner. His bat would have struggled to play at first even in 2010, much less now. Milwaukee and Doug Melvin have moved on, and in getting Jose Veras, they did so while acquiring a useful piece for the 2012 bullpen as well.