The Brewers lost again on Sunday to the Reds, this time 4-3 in 10 innings. That wrapped up a 3-4 road trip that took the team through both St. Louis and Cincinnati and saw them playing short handed more often than not. All in all, not a terrible result, though after winning the first two games a little disappointment would be understandable. It was also the 14th straight game that the team scored fewer than six runs.
Yes, that’s an incredibly arbitrary endpoint and the team actually did average a respectable 3.29 runs in those games, with only one shutout and one game where they scored one run. It was also April and the team played eight of those fourteen games outside in less-than-warm climates, which often helps limit offensive production.
As true as all of that is, the team ranks only eighth in the National League in runs at this point with 124. When it comes to power, which has been the team’s offensive calling card for the decade since Prince Fielder, JJ Hardy and Rickie Weeks broke into the big leagues in 2005, they rank only sixth with a .395 slugging percent. Their .300 on-base percent ranks a paltry 13th in the Senior Circuit. Considering on-base percentage is one of the better predictors of how many runs a team will score, this is particularly worrisome.
So what can be done about this? Ryan Braun has missed time and Aramis Ramirez is going through a slump and dealing with injuries himself. For the offense to truly click, those guys will need to be better and the team basically just has to cross their fingers and hope. The team is also pretty well set at catcher and center field, with Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez producing numbers in line with what we’ve come to expect. Jean Segura‘s slow start is of some concern, but the team is just going to have to ride that out and hope he is closer to the player that he was in the first half of 2013.
That leaves three positions where the team might have some hope of upgrading as the season goes on, either internally or externally: first base, second base and left field. Let’s deal with them one by one.
This is the least urgent situation. Scooter Gennett may not be a world beater, but he does a passable job against right-handed pitchers and in the field. They may want to look into getting a better platoon partner for him than Rickie Weeks as the season progresses, perhaps a utility man who can play all three non-first base infield positions, but it’s not an urgent need right now. After all, the right-handed batter is the short side of the platoon and doesn’t impact things nearly as much as the left side. File this one as something to think about come July.
This isn’t a dire situation, because the Brewers have gotten perhaps a bit more than was reasonable to expect from the soft platoon of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay to this point. Still, the team ranks only 11th in the NL in wOBA from the first base position and 12th in wRC, both overall measures of offensive production. Mark Reynolds has legitimate power, but struggles so much making contact that even with a decent number of walks to his credit, he’ll always struggle to get on base. Reynolds has some utility in the fact that he can take a glove and play credibly at third base, but Overbay doesn’t offer much other than some overrated defensive ability at first and solid at bats that too often end up as outs. Reynolds is also killing left-handed pitchers, to the tune of a .278/.381/.611 batting line, so perhaps a platoon could be in order here.
One of the biggest question marks on the team coming into 2014 was whether or not Khris Davis’ big second half last year was for real or a fluke. The early returns (.239/.265/.434) suggest more of the latter than the former, though it’s way too early to write off Davis in any way, shape or form. It isn’t too early to start thinking about ways to upgrade the position, though. Specifically about the fact that against lefties he’s putting up an OPS double that of what he’s doing against right handers. This kind of massive platoon split isn’t something he showed last year, so it’s best not to draw too firm of conclusions, but it’s something to keep a close eye on. If a workable platoon could help turn this position from and offensive minus to even an average slot, it’s at least worth strongly considering.
The nice thing about the Brewers current offensive situation is that the thing they are most in need of, namely left-handed bats who can play first base and/or left field, are not exactly a rare commodity. Those positions are the two lowest in terms of defensive difficulty, and as a result they tend to be among the most offensively proficient in the game. If a team is struggling offensively at a position, it’s hard to pick two better spots than those.
Internally, the team does have Caleb Gindl as a left-handed power bat capable of hitting right-handed pitching and who can play left field. Over the past two seasons he’s posted a better than .500 slugging percentage against right handers in AAA and he certainly isn’t afraid to take a walk. With Braun on the disabled list, he’s going to get a shot to prove he belongs in the majors and if he hits anything like the .242/.340/.439 line he put up last year in the big leagues, room should be made for him not just on the roster, but in the lineup as well.
Externally, both Seth Smith and Nate Schierholtz have extensive histories as righty killers, play for teams that figure to quite possibly be sellers and will be free agents at the end of the year. Either one could do a lot to help the team should Gindl prove unable to handle the role in the coming weeks, though they’ll have to wait for their respective teams to give up for that to happen.
At first, a lot of attention is going to be paid to what happens with first basemen Kendrys Morales over the next 5+ weeks. He is a free agent stuck in limbo because any team that signs him will have to give up a draft pick to do so, at least until after the draft in early June. He was a solidly above average offensive player in Seattle last year, but struggles in the field ever since breaking his leg in 2010. He wouldn’t be a massive upgrade at first, but should improve the situation and wouldn’t cost a prospect to sign.
For a little more off-the-board suggestion, I give you ESPN.com’s Keith Law from his last chat on May 1st:
Matt [via mobile]
For this year, what would you do about the Nat’s IF once Zimmerman returns? Somebody is going to have to sit, and its not Rendon or Espinosa.
Zimmerman to first. LaRoche to Milwaukee?
Clearly, trading for Adam LaRoche isn’t something that is likely to happen, but he would really very neatly fill their biggest need and help them build up an even deeper lineup capable of doing damage top to bottom.
This wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of players who the Brewers could pursue, but rather just a first glance at some possibilities. At 21-11 and with a pitching staff that is doing outstanding work, the team is far from a desperate situation. There are always possible upgrades to be considered even with the strongest teams, though, and it’s at least worth thinking about a few of these things now. We’ll just have to wait and see how things play out over the next few months to determine exactly what sort of upgrades the team might need for the stretch run.