I decided to put out the call on Twitter (where you can follow me @WhatsaTararrel) for topics Brewers fans were interested in hearing about last night. I only got one response, from Brewers Addict (@ballacksrise), who asked, “How about convincing me Conrad is worth a bench spot?” Sounds like a fine question to me, and I’ll expand it a bit to talk about the bench in general, as there seemed to be quite a few Brewers fans complaining on Twitter earlier this week about how bad the team’s bench is, and I feel like that’s a sentiment that deserves some attention.
The Brewers have five bench spots available, which will almost certainly be allocated 2 OF, 2 IF, and 1 backup catcher. The OF spots will go to Aoki and Gomez, and if Hart starts the year on the DL, his spot will be taken by either Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl, or Travis Ishikawa. Each has their strengths: Schafer is more solid defensively, Gindl has the stronger bat, and Ishikawa has experience as a pinch-hitter (Although Schafer and Gindl have both already been sent down to Nasvhille, Adam McCalvy has indicated they’re still possibilities for this roster spot). Personally, I would go with Gindl, as the Brewers already have three outfielders who can play CF, so defense isn’t that big of a concern. However, considering that whoever fills this spot will probably only be up for around 5 games, it doesn’t really matter all that much.
At backup catcher, the Brewers are going with George Kottaras. In last week’s podcast, J.P. Breen indicated he’d prefer Martin Maldonado to get a backup spot, as he values defense in the backup catcher role. No disrespect intended to J.P., but I am firmly on Team Κοτταράς. Personally, I don’t really see why a particular attribute, such as defense, would be valued more in a guy who only plays every fifth day; what I’d rather see is a player whose skillset complements the starting catcher’s. If Lucroy were a big bat, terrible glove type catcher, then absolutely I’d like to see Maldonado make the roster; however, because he’s got a great glove, and a good bat but with little power, I like having a guy who can come off the bench and mash, and don’t mind his defense so much. Just a personal preference. Either way, the Crew is fine in this department.
This leaves the two backup infield slots. One of these is going to Cesar Izturis who, to put it mildly, is bad. He’s never been known for his bat, and lately his glove has left much to be desired, too. He really doesn’t seem to belong on a major league roster at this point in his career, but the Brewers need someone who can back up SS behind Alex Gonzalez, and Izturis is pretty much the only such someone they have. Then, finally, this brings us to the other IF spot, which is most likely going to be claimed by Brooks Conrad. Taylor Green was also in the running for this spot, but appears to be out of it after being sent to AAA Nashville. So, here’s the big question: why Conrad over Green? There are several reasons, but I think it ultimately comes down to one word: handedness. Aoki, Schafer, Gindl, Ishikawa, and Kottaras all bat left-handed. Gomez bats right-handed, and Izturis is a switch-hitter, but neither of them are in the majors for their bats. The Brewers need a legitimate right-handed bat off the bench. Taylor Green is left-handed, and Brooks Conrad, for all his faults, owns a .268/.358/.465 career line against left handed pitching. Granted, that’s only in 81 plate appearances, so it probably overstates his true talent, but he still appears to be a solid right-handed option off the bench.
So that’s the bench. Now, to address the question in the title of this post: is this a good bench or a bad bench? Well, it’s certainly better than the bench they started with last year, which featured Jeremy Reed, who dragged in a .253/.310/.356 career line, Erick Almonte, who hadn’t played since 2003, and Mark Kotsay, who, well…. It also featured Wil Nieves in the backup catcher role, who failed to hit my weight in a Brewers uniform, let alone his. Granted, being better than last year’s opening day bench is a low bar to clear, so putting that to one side, I still feel like overall this isn’t a bad group. Certainly, I think the team’s OF depth is enviable; as I said before, they have 3 players who can man centerfield, and they have two guys in the minors who are more than qualified to be 5th OFs. The infield spots on the bench are clearly a weakness, but I’d say that’s more to do with Izturis than Conrad. They have multiple good candidates to pinch hit against righties, and one solid option to pinch hit against lefties in Conrad. Considering how right-handed the starting lineup is, it’s probably better for this bench to lean more left-handed, so I’d say the composition is a good fit for this team. In an ideal world, you’d like to see a bench full of guys talented enough to be starting on worse teams. Short of that, what the Brewers have works quite well. Now if only they had someone who could back up SS…