Building & Rebuilding #4: Reserve Control | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

One wonders whether it was a conscientious strategy of GM Doug Melvin to follow the Brewers’ 2014 collapse with an extremely active first week of the offseason. Whatever the motivations — certainly, at least, to make the team better — Melvin is giving Brewers fans and analysts opportunity after opportunity to rinse their mouths of August and September:

  • Yesterday, Aramis Ramirez met the Brewers’ offer and upheld his end of his 2015 option.
  • Ramirez returns with Franchise Starter Yovani Gallardo, who has a chance to make his claim as the Brewers’ best pitcher ever with another strong campaign from his revamped fastball.
  • If that’s not enough for you, Melvin also swapped Marco Estrada for Adam Lind, essentially taking a slight increase in cost to address several potential weaknesses with the club (left-handed power, contact, and offense-first 1B).
  • Coupled with the Luis Jimenez waiver move a few days before the offseason, these transactions showcase a busy GM that is dutifully improving his franchise.

This is wonderful news for Brewers fans, who after a bittersweet 2014 campaign can rejoice, “our Milwaukee Nine are better this week than last,” which is a beautiful refrain for the first week of the offseason. Specifically, the Brewers already have better depth and power potential in the batting order and off the bench, even taking the Jimenez and Lind moves alone (it should be easy to see that Jimenez / Lind would make a fine 1B platoon, for instance). Meanwhile, Ramirez and Gallardo satisfy the club’s ability (or potential) to win-now, and Montgomery will have his chance to work with a farm rebuilding process that is already moving along.

In these circumstances, it’s difficult to determine an “offseason wishlist.” For, Melvin basically addressed a few of the most important areas of the club within a week of the playoffs. Beneath the surface, however, Melvin can continue his aggressive offseason by addressing less-obvious, or less headline-grabbing elements of the club, in order to return Milwaukee to Division Contender.

(1) Platoon Segura and Gennett, Sign or Trade for Shortstop
Scooter Gennett does not hit lefties like a righty, and Jean Segura was sent home with instructions to completely overhaul his hitting mechanics. With Rickie Weeks likely leaving the organization after his option failed to vest, the Brewers have two difficult tasks:

  • Replace the right-handed side of a platoon that was approximately 11 runs better than average at 2B.
  • Address a position that was 17 runs below average in 2014.

Using “RRBI,” or my quick-and-dirty statistic that takes the harmonic mean between R and RBI to estimate actual run production, here is how the 2014 Brewers positions compared to their NL/Miller Park counterparts:

Positional Production Brewers PA NL RRBI Brewers RRBI Difference
CF 719 72 88 +16
2B 679 68 79 +11
C 690 68 77 +9
LF 668 74 76 +2
RF 700 82 83 +1
3B 680 73 70 -3
SS 645 64 47 -17
1B 643 79 61 -18

RRBI is calculated in the following way: (2*R*RBI)/(R+RBI). In order to compare positions to the league and park, the following calculations are made: ((RRBI) / (PA))*(3-year park factor). In case you’re wondering, in 2014 National League, Basic Runs Created calculations equal 101.1% of actual runs scored. RRBI calculations equal 97.4% of actual runs scored. So, one estimate will yield a total slightly greater than the actual run environment, and one will yield an estimate slightly lower than the actual run environment. This is not a sophisticated estimate or calculation. It is meant to be an easy, at-a-glance way to estimate run production.

Certainly, the Brewers could arguably benefit from improvement from Khris Davis, and a healthy Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. These positions are arguably as important as improving 1B, for almost any fix would work at that position; on the other hand, the Brewers must improve at LF, RF, and 3B with their existing options. In this context, SS and 2B become more important, too: first, without Weeks, the Brewers are primed to hand some runs back against left-handed pitchers; and secondly, a mechanical overhaul is not necessarily guaranteed to bring improvement within its first year (this isn’t to say that Segura won’t improve at all, but that one could expect him to experience some growing pains with his new approach at the plate).

While the Brewers are ironing these issues out, they can use their depth with Hector Gomez to split time with Segura at shortstop. This would also allow Segura to platoon with Gennett at 2B, which could also ease Segura into the 2B role that some expected in the first place (this could also prepare the organization for the steadily advancing Orlando Arcia). If a Gomez / Segura split at SS does not bring the position enough production potential, the Brewers can look for a short-term solution on the free agent or trade market.

(2) Improve the Pitching Production
There is no doubt that the Brewers pitchers were the club’s biggest assets in 2014, lead by a solid bullpen and revamped pitching staff. However, as I have investigated over a series of articles, there are circumstantial reasons that the Brewers should continue to improve their starting pitching:

  • With a set of solid middle-rotation or average starters, the Brewers could use more top-rotation potential. Here, the Brewers can look for trades or low-cost acquisitions that could result in solid turnarounds (like Edinson Volquez or Francisco Liriano). The Pirates proved that improving a rotation need not require an expensive, long-term contract. Cutter-slider type pitchers like Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross, or Josh Collmenter could fit this need, too, via trade or free agency signing.
  • The 2014 NL featured fourteen more starters between -4 and 9 runs prevented, which means that rotational rankings were hammered by middle rotation pitchers last season. This depth should not be expected to remain, as young pitchers improve, or other impact starters return from injury. The Brewers must address the standing of their starters within this range.
  • The Brewers arguably have starting pitching depth that could improve the bullpen more than the rotation. Granted, with the trade of Estrada, it is unlikely that Jimmy Nelson or Fastballer Mike Fiers are bullpen bound. However, if the right trades or acquisitions are presented to the Brewers, both Nelson and Fiers should be evaluated as potential impact relievers.

I understand that this will be an unpopular position among Brewers fans, simply because the Brewers have so much depth in their pitching staff, and the pitching was the strength in 2014. However, if the Brewers want to leap from an 83-win threshold to a 90-win threshold, improvements are needed throughout the club. The Brewers can gamble on Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and/or Matt Garza to improve, but they also must have a realistic understanding of potential ace performances from that core.

(3) Trade Short-Term Contracts for Controllable Talent
Ryan presented a solid case for the reasons that Brewers fans might expect the front office to go “all-in” in 2015. Given the number of players that are likely working their last season in Milwaukee, as well as the suddenly developing farm depth, it arguably makes sense for the Brewers to make a strong pennant push with this group. However, instead of making trades that send prospects away for winning MLB talent, the Brewers can also improve the depth of their club — and their competitive prospects for 2016-2018 — by trading “single year” contracts for controllable talent. I understand that such trades, like ’13-’14’s Norichika Aoki/Will Smith deal, will arguably not return truly elite talent to the Brewers. However, such quality, low cost talent is crucial to stockpiling depth and improving future Brewers clubs.

For this chart of potential 2016-2018 Brewers cores, I used players’ actual contracts (per Cot’s Contracts). When a position did not have a specific player currently under contract, I used top AA performances to fill 2016 and 2017, and top A-ball performers for 2018. There is obviously a lot of conjecture in this chart, but it simply serves to show where the Brewers will need to fill in talent gaps in the near future:

Position 2016 2017 2018
C Lucroy (Lucroy) Maldonado
1B (Lind) (Coulter) (Coulter)
2B Gennett Gennett Gennett
3B Jimenez Jimenez Jimenez
SS Segura Segura Segura
LF Davis Davis Davis
CF C. Gomez (Taylor) (Taylor)
RF Braun Braun Braun
BN Maldonado Maldonado Zarraga
BN (Rogers) (Rogers) (Rogers)
BN (Morris) (Morris) (Arcia)
BN H. Gomez H. Gomez H. Gomez
BN Herrera Herrera Herrera
P Peralta Peralta Peralta
P Nelson Nelson Nelson
P Garza Garza (Wagner)
P (Fiers) (Fiers) (Fiers)
P (Jungmann) (Jungmann) (Lopez)
P (Gagnon) (Gagnon) (Magnifico)
P Thornburg Thornburg Thornburg
P Kintzler Kintzler (Wang)
P (Hellweg) (Hellweg) (Hellweg)
CL Smith Smith Smith
CL (Broxton) Jeffress Jeffress
CL Henderson Henderson Henderson

As Tyrone Taylor and Clint Coulter begin showing up in the near future, one can see that there is not that much space between the Brewers’ current “win now” wager and their next potential window for bringing impact (or even average) talent to the big leagues. A few key trades or acquisitions, perhaps bolstering infield or corner (1B / 3B / LF / RF) depth, or adding starting and relief pitching could round out the edges of 2017 and 2018 clubs that will likely find a blend of the current core and top prospects. If the Brewers have an opportunity to trade Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton, Gallardo, Lohse, and/or Ramirez for controllable talent, such a move should be considered. This is not an indictment against any of those players: I will happily cheer for this group of players, as it includes some of my favorite Brewers to watch, and quality veterans for the club. However, I simply do not see “winning now” and “winning in 2018” as mutually exclusive, and a quality trade for another controllable contract could really set the Brewers on a winning path for years to come.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Other sources cited where linked.

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