Happy Monday! Jake and I are back again to deliver content to all of you. What a weekend it was for the Crew. They’re currently only two games back after the sweep of the Cubs (and hey, those other Wisconsin sports teams did pretty well too). With that being said, let’s dive into another mailbag!
1) Dear Lord why, when we have so many outfielders, does Craig Counsell send Villar out there? (Chief Landon, @LRSChief on Twitter)
Gabe: Well, we all know baseball is a game of hot and cold stretches. During the month of August, Villar was en fuego. The month of August featured him posting a .356 batting average, along with a wRC+ of 146. Sure he can play elsewhere, but the main reason Counsell circles back to Villar is to have as many weapons in the lineup as possible. It’s vital to remember that Keon Broxton wasn’t playing the greatest either at the beginning of the month, thus justifying the Villar move. While his defense can be suspect at times, the motive behind the strategy definitely can be seen.
Jake: The reason Counsell has placed Villar in the outfield is a simple one: he’s keeping the hot stick in the order. Since August 10th (18 games), Villar has hit .393/.413/.590 in 64 plate appearances with three home runs and three stolen bases. At the start of September (when he started five straight games in center field), he had taken the position from Broxton due to Broxton’s own struggles (3-for-26, 10 K’s in previous nine games). Though one could argue that they could keep Villar at 2B, you’d be running into Neil Walker, who has hit .279/.395/.485 for the Crew in 81 plate appearances.
2) What the hell happened in Cincinnati? (Patrick Ballweg, Facebook) — NOTE: We received this question prior to the sweep of the Cubs, but we’ll still answer it.
Gabe: I’m just going to make this simple and let Jake do the talking for this one (we had similar thoughts). But it’s pretty simple. It’s baseball. Stuff happens in a 162 game season. Silly things like losing to the team in the cellar of the division then beating the ones at the top are bound to happen. Baseball is always unpredictable and it’s that reason (along with many others) why I love this game so much.
Jake: Baseball happened in Cincinnatti, in all of its frustrating glory. Being a coach for the last four years, I’ve come to expect a level of randomness when you least expect it. Case in point: this series, where every worry of the season (Garza, strikeouts by the offense, relief) occurred in bulk. The first game was simply a second blunder from Josh Hader, who finally showed that he’s human after an impressive major league start through his first 32.1 innings (1.39 ERA, 44 K, .140 opp. average). Arcia’s error didn’t help much either, but it should have been expected that Anderson’s outing would include a few rough patches – such as those three walks (two with the bases loaded). It was a heart-breaker and a game we should have won, but the stars weren’t lined up. The second game featured a bullpen explosion that we’ve all been too familiar with this season – especially from Barnes and Torres, with Wei-Chung Wang facing two batters between the two. The Bottom of the third absolutely killed the chances, as Santana, Vogt, and Villar all struck out with the bases loaded. Combined with the Aguilar strikeout in the top of the seventh (Quentin Berry on third), and the swing-and-miss potential of the team really hit home. As for the final game of the series, the Reds’ offense got to Garza the second time through the order. By the time Suter had come in and stopped the bleeding, the game had already gotten out of hand. Props to Luis Castillo, the Reds’ starter, who struck out 10 Brewers in a very impressive showing. The Crew ran into a strong rookie who has shown some talent this season.
3) Do you think the Brewers will move Nottingham out from behind the plate to see if the bat improves? (MJR, @TheRealMJR22 on Twitter)
Gabe: One could definitely see the move be made, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon. I like to think the Brewers approach their minor leaguers with a sense of patience, and hope they go that route with Nottingham. He’s definitely at the top of the totem pole when it comes to organizational catchers, and you wouldn’t want a lack of patience being what stopped him. But while one might want him to stay, there’s definitely some possibility that he could moved. Remember, his bat might not be the issue that causes it either. Scouts have reflected on his inability to find a consistency behind the plate in regards to fielding. But while we wait, it’s crucial to remember that he’s still a young kid and time remains for possible improvements in his game. It’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on as the years unfold in the future.
Jake: You could take your pick with him: do you want a catcher with an arm but average-to-fringy tools who has extra-base/home run upside, or do you want a player who’s relatively green in the field with a potentially-higher floor with the bat? Due to his relative youth (22 in AA is still young) and control, I would expect the Crew to continue to push him behind the plate until all hope is lost there. Opting to move Nottingham out from behind the plate has always been in the realm of possibility for him – though he’s stated numerous times over that he wishes to remain a catcher for as long as possible. Moving him off the plate might give him more time to focus on the bat, which may allow him to progress further. Though he’s become a more-patient hitter(.209/.326/.369 line, 9.6% walk-rate, 103 wRC+ in 385 PA) he’s still getting baffled by opponents who expose his aggressive approach. The raw power is still there; he’s continued to smack extra-base hits at-will. However, moving him off the position would have mixed results. His value as a player would dip, as his bat hasn’t developed enough to best other prospects in the system for a future MLB spot. Likewise, his plus-arm wouldn’t be a factor in the field. However, if he stays at catcher he’ll need to continue to work on his below-average fielding skills to get a chance to make it in the majors, where catcher’s aren’t always expected to hit incredibly-well.
4) Why is Matt Garza still on the team? (Drew Taylor, Facebook)
Gabe: Pitching is critical to MLB teams, and while he isn’t the flashiest hurler, Garza offers value. While he’s definitely one of the weaker links in the rotation, he hasn’t been extremely bad this year. It’s simple to cherry pick the terrible starts, but when you look at the campaign as a whole, it’s respectable. Sure he doesn’t boast a winning record, but nobody expected that coming into this year. Maybe you anticipate that from the Matt Garza that was on the Rays, but not the one that’s on the Brewers in 2017. One of the main reasons you don’t see Milwaukee dumping him is because he offers a crucial asset to this team — depth. Depth is always needed in rotations. You never know what might happen. Another pitcher in the rotation might lose his touch. An injury might deliver a blow to the pitching staff (cough cough Jimmy Nelson). There are countless more. Nonetheless, Garza mitigates those potential problems. In fact, he has a relatively cheap option to come back next season. It won’t surprise me one bit to see the veteran wearing the navy blue and gold in 2018. While he might be the scapegoat for the common fan, the argument of “He’s bad so he needs to go” must be thoroughly examined prior to actually coming to actual fruition.
Jake: Garza isn’t the pitcher he was back in 2013 – it’s been well documented – but he’s still on the team for a number of reasons. Now the question was posed before Jimmy went down with an injury, so I won’t include that as a reason. A simple response would be because the rosters have expanded to 40, so it would be a waste to dump a player – especially a seasoned one like himself – during a playoff chase. It’s been known for awhile that he’s also very good in the clubhouse, which could also play a factor. However, the biggest reason has to be due to his success this season. This, I feel, is the go-to for a lot of Brewers fans lately; Garza is and will always be the local punching bag. However, this season has gone a lot better than many have thought. Though he did average only 5.5 innings per-start, his first 16 appearances saw him own a 3.68 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and a 1.19 GB-FB ratio – compared to the NL league averages of a 4.35 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 1.3 GB/FB. That’s also better in relation to all other arms combined (though not all individually), especially Zach Davies by that time(4.76 ERA, .289 opp. average in 109.2 IP by 7/21). But of his six starts in August, two were truly horrible (gave up 8 runs before he reached the 5th inning) and one had the defense sputter behind him (gave up 6 runs, only 3 earned). His last start was obviously nothing special, but it’s important to note that he’s still thrown a couple of effective, albeit unspectacular, starts that has allowed the Crew to win. While I would agree that he’s one of the weaker arms in the rotation, he is by no means as horrible as everyone makes him out to be.
That wraps it up for this edition! Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for future posts on social media, as we might answer your questions in the next mailbag feature!