Rip It Up and Start Again, Pt. II | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

I’m not great at analogies, except when they’re part of a joke. (You know, something something Clint Eastwood scolding a chair, something something Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. Seriously, imagine President Obama as Clint Eastwood’s imaginary bunny friend. Do it.) Even then, I’m not sure that those analogies are effective or correct, so much as they’re clever. Arguably.

I half-enjoyed the Brewers’ former irrelevance, because it let me take a step back, walk away from my deep, borderline silly emotional investment in the team, and appreciate the qualities that remain from a distance. In my last piece, “Rip It Up and Start Again, Pt. 1: Let ‘Er Rip,” I expressed -or at least implied- my wish that management would recognize the team’s solid foundation, and refrain from offering up the roster or the farm system to the highest bidder this offseason. For once. At the time, this seemed the best possible result: the season would end, and the Brewers wouldn’t do anything stupid or rash or stupidly rash. It was a little like watching a conductor narrowly avoid a train wreck. A little exciting, yes, but the only good result is that nothing horrible happens.

Now, things are… different? The team certainly looks reenergized, for whatever that’s worth (Yeah, I hate when sportswriters resort to this kind of vague, subjective analysis, but it’s hard to ignore the contrast.) Meaningful baseball in September is meaningful.

More importantly, the future-of-the-franchise arms look good, despite a few concerns. The Brewers sold their best pitcher and discovered three or four very good ones waiting in the wings.

Fiers is still delivering, and what seemed a fluke of a season has been revealed as the end product of a solid, subtle skillset. Fiers relies on good location, patience, a sparingly-used but effective cutter, and a scary good 12-6 curveball that surprises me almost every time I see it (so just imagine trying to hit it.) It’s easy to see why he was never taken seriously as a prospect: while most of his pitches are good, their effectiveness largely depends on Fiers’ unusual over-the-top delivery, and on smart location. We know what a 95 mile/hour fastball is worth in the bigs, but how many organizations clamor for a nice curveball with a somewhat sneaky delivery? There may be reason for concern if Fiers’ delivery drifts up more on his curve, and we can probably expect him to struggle a bit in hitters’ parks that aren’t Miller Park –given the hiccup in Colorado- but if there’s another glaring problem area, I haven’t picked up on it yet.

Speaking of 95 mile/hour fastballs, Mark Rogers reminded everyone that he exists, and looks a lot like the briefly awesome Rogers of 2010. 9.5 strikeouts per game and almost 3 strikeouts per walk is pretty impressive. (I still haven’t watched him pitch for more than a few innings, though, because watching him makes me very nervous, for some reason. This is my problem, not yours.)

Also, Wily Peralta, right? Wily Peralta! Has anyone bounced between hot prospect and flop more than Wily Peralta in the last few years? (Other than Mark Rogers, maybe.) I think most of us expected Peralta to be a lot more dynamic, and a lot less consistent. Peralta’s speedy fastball and historical control problems suggested a lot of strikeouts, a lot of walks, and an inevitable bullpen role somewhere, if not in Milwaukee.

So far, Peralta’s turned that expectation on its head, then rubbed its face in the dirt. Okay, not quite, but I was a little shocked at how well Peralta hit the corners of the plate against Arizona even after it became clear that the strike zone was, um, unusually small. When Peralta got himself into trouble, he recovered nicely. A lack of panic is a fantastic sign, as if the results weren’t enough.

And hey, Marco Estrada is still Marco Estrada. He gives up a lot of home runs, but also strikes a lot of batters out. His awful record doesn’t reflect how well he’s pitched, as usual. People are actually asking “Fiers or Estrada” -as if that’s a problem the Brewers have- and the subtext is, both pitchers are good, but who’s better? (Marco doesn’t throw a cutter, so he isn’t cool or hip, and he loses. Sorry.)

In all, the Brewers have a lot of quality starting pitching, but no ace. Yovani Gallardo is the king of quality. He’s Mr. Quality, the worst nickname ever. The usual assumption, however, is that a team needs an ace to win a championship. We’ve seen this before: get an ace, make the postseason, and make him pitch until his arm falls off. Sheets, Sabathia, and… Fiers?

Just kidding, the Brewers aren’t going to make the postseason. That would be too much fun.

Here’s another strategy, instead: use the depth of quality to the team’s advantage. Let’s rely on this cheap, youngish rotation until it stops working, rather than overpaying for names. Let’s recognize that the Brewers have one of the best offenses in baseball, that Rickie Weeks continues to be an important part of that offense, that bad fielding is no longer a pressing concern, and that the team might even have enough talent right now to deal with future bullpen problems. Obviously, Melvin is going to go after proven relievers in the offseason, even if the Brewers do win a championship (which they won’t, seriously.) That’s his job. But in any case, there are a few big lessons to draw from this season:

  1. A team like the Brewers can’t stay in “win now” mode indefinitely.
  2. A team like the Brewers usually can’t fill a pressing need through the market without sacrificing quality in another area (2011: offense for defense. 2012: offense for relief pitching.)
  3. Sometimes a barren farm system yields surprising returns, and sometimes it takes a disaster to find out what you’ve got.

We probably wouldn’t have found out about Mike Fiers at all if Shaun Marcum wasn’t stuck on the DL for most of the year. We probably wouldn’t have seen Peralta and Rogers start for the Brewers this season if the team hadn’t taken a nosedive during the first half. These are good things in themselves, not silver linings.

What strikes me as particularly encouraging about Fiers, Peralta, Rogers and Estrada is the poise each has shown. We’ve all seen Manny Parra look rattled, but even when Rogers has given up a leadoff home run, or Peralta has fallen victim to a netbook-sized strike zone, each has recovered and succeeded.

There isn’t a neat, clean metaphor to describe this team or its future. Essentially, the Brewers started ripping things up, then stopped, and realized they were a lot deeper than anyone thought.

Also, let’s not trade Aramis, okay?

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. SecondHandStore says: September 14, 2012

    Good read. In a weird way, this season has provided me with a lot more hope for next year than I had before it actually started and it’s based exactly on what you pointed out: the young starting pitching. I don’t know if Fiers can reproduce at the same level or if Peralta will be a viable starter, or if Rogers can be healthy for a year, but that’s okay. There is also Narveson to consider, but that’s a big question mark. If we can get two starters worth of innings from those guys I’ll be fine with it. I do think they should go after a free agent starter, but not necessarily an ace. I’m thinking it would be better to go after a lower costing innings eater for the middle of the rotation. I also think they should go after 2-3 free agent bullpen arms. I want Kintzler and Henderson in AAA as insurance rather than have them start with the team. I don’t think they should spend on a position player, except for a cheap Alex Gonzalez. I want to see zero trades. ZERO!

  2. Beep says: September 14, 2012

    Here’s a corny analogy for you…
    For many years the Selig’s failed at growing a forest on a wind blown prarie (small market disadvantage) and we were lucky to grow a lone big tree on the prairie (Sheets). Mark Attanasio buys the land and transplants some big trees (Sabathia, Suppan, Greinke, Wolf). Some of the trees were too big or too old to make it so the Brewers cut down or lost a few big trees recently (Greinke trade, Marcum injury, Wolf ages) and a few new saplings are starting to grow in their place (Fiers, Rogers, Peralta, Thornberg, Estrada).
    Big key is that the seeds below the saplings take root (Bradley, Jungman, Nelson) when we lose these new saplings that grow into big trees.

  3. Confused says: September 17, 2012

    Beep, No more Hallucinagenics….. That analogy should have died with the phrase…. “Here’s a corny analogy for you”……

  4. Cecil Cooper's Love Child says: September 18, 2012

    Very good read and I agree that we can only fix one issue each offseason. This year it is bullpen, especially LH relief. Obviously Parra is not the answer. Overpay for 2 of those arms…get a Kyle Lohse…and maybe bring back Gonzalez on the cheap.

    Everyone needs to give Doug Melvin and his staff some credit. Aramis has been great and barring injury, that contract will be well worth it. Henderson, Kintzler, Fiers, Rogers, Peralta, Segura and Bianchi all have roles with next years team. I think the only debate will be Gamel vs Ishikawa for the backup 1B/lefty bench bat role.


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