MLB.com reported that the Red Sox, Rays, and Rockies, among other teams, are interested in Brewers corner bat Corey Hart. More importantly, the official site reported that Hart has not yet been cleared for his knee injury, which he expects to occur in early December. This raises questions not only about the Brewers’ ability to get that infamous “hometown discounts” Hart mentioned earlier this fall, but also about whether or not this injury cycle will continue for Hart. It bears repeating that Hart’s knee injuries were more severe than expected in 2013, eventually keeping him off the field the entire season. That he is not yet cleared is a sign of that severity.
Even with Hart returning, the Brewers have notable questions in their 3-4-5. While it is all but set in stone that if Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez are healthy and on the roster together, they will be in the middle of the batting order, the club’s performance with those two does not necessarily suggest success going forward. In 2013, Braun and Ramirez paired as 3-4 hitter only 27 times, and the Milwaukee nine scored 101 runs in those games while winning only 10 of them. That the club scored 3.99 R/G and went 64-71 without both Braun and Ramirez batting 3-4 stands as a reminder that the offense wasn’t productive without those bats, either.
It is difficult to prepare an outlook for the 2014 Brewers’ offense. While the potential of the 2012 club rings loudly, the health, effectiveness, and replacement issues of the 2013 club appear more pressing. Not only did the Brewers receive less than 1/3 of the 2012 PA from Braun, Ramirez, and Hart in 2013, but their batting average and slugging were severely impacted, too:
|Braun / Ramirez / Hart||PA||H||HR||TB||BB||AVG||OBP||SLG|
The lack of stability from the middle order hurt the Brewers in 2013. In 2012, the starts tallied by the top 3, 4, and 5 options (Braun, Ramirez, and Hart) totaled 409 games; in 2013, Braun, Ramirez, and Carlos Gomez — the top 3, 4, 5 — totaled 192 games. In 2012, there was not one secondary Brewers option that started more than 15 games in those spots (Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy started 15 games each at #5, and Hart started 13 games at #4). In 2013, seven secondary options started more than 15 games in the middle order: Lucroy started 53 games at #3, 34 games at #4, and 41 games at #5; Gomez started 29 games at #3 and 19 games at #4; Weeks started 19 games at #5, and Segura started 17 games at #3. In total, the 2013 Brewers used 24 starters in the 3-4-5, compared to 20 starters in 2012 (the 17 secondary options started 77 games in 2012, compared to 290 starts by 21 secondary options in 2013).
In terms of positional depth, however, the promise of returning Braun and Ramirez to form appears too good to look for alternatives. In all honesty, it would be surprising for the Brewers to engage in other options, given the relative difficulty of moving the respective contracts for both Braun and Ramirez. Compared to the NL/Miller Park run environment, the Brewers were basicvally average between 3B and LF last year. Obviously, the benefit of having both Braun and Ramirez for an entire season is that both players can be notably above average players, even when they’re not at their best. In this case, simply returning Braun and Ramirez could help the Brewers gain a dozen runs at each position (maybe more, if they’re really good).
One of the benefits of having Braun and Ramirez in the batting order will be to improve the efficiency of the Brewers’ order. As I analyzed on Tuesday, Norichika Aoki failed to reach an average level of production for a RF and a lead-ff batter, but that’s partially a reflection of the full batting order. One way to judge efficiency is to take the players’ basic runs created (based on H, BB, and TB), and compare that to their R and RBI production. In 2013, the Brewers’ positional players produced hits, walks, and total bases at a level that might have produced 615 runs (the 2013 NL actually produced only 95% of their statistical runs created); in the context of the batting order, these players actually produced approximately 572 runs (based on the balance between R and RBI):
|Position||Basic Runs Created||R and RBI|
Actual 2013 NL runs scored: 9730. Basic runs created produced a total that was 102% of actual league runs; taking the harmonic mean between R and RBI resulted in 97.4% of actual league runs.
Obviously, the balance at 3B and LF in this chart shows an area of inefficiency for the Brewers. Notably, the Brewers also inefficiently used the production of their shortstops, second basemen, and right fielders, although this may simply be a reflection of the typical batting order positions for those particular Brewers. First base is a great example of how a solid batting order spot can boost replacement-level production; despite a gang of underachievers at 1B, Brewers first basemen outperformed their expected run production by approximately 16 runs (Yuniesky Betancourt‘s clutch ability undoubtedly helped here; for all the crap fans give Yuni, his knack for slugging and sacrifice flies typically allows him to outperform his expected statistical output).
One must question whether the positions of SS, RF, and 2B were not optimized, in part, because of the lack of regular performers at 3B, 1B, and LF. Even if the Brewers’ first basemen outperformed their expected performance, the Brewers were ultimately lacking in 3B and LF production. Given the batting position of these players, or rather, the significant role of these positions while healthy, it is worth questioning whether the lack of production in those positions affected other areas of the batting order.
In the context of this batting order, the questions about Corey Hart are amplified. If Hart is indeed healthy, and if the price is right, the prospect of another stable bat in the middle of the Brewers’ order can hopefully help the club gain optimal production from other positions. Unfortunately, the question marks about Hart’s health — as well as the question marks about his new price on the open market — leads one to wonder whether he will be the best option for an efficient Brewers offense. Yet, if there’s one lesson that the 2013 Brewers suggest, it is the value of stability in a batting order. Before the Brewers become concerned about a great offense in 2014, they ought to concern themselves with an efficient offense.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2013.