Series Preview: Brewers @ Marlins | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

In deference to the baseball gods, I offer these kind words on the Marlins and no stats as a sacrifice to right ship and hopefully spur a Brewers series victory in Miami.

Were the Miami Marlins’ alleged firesales hiding a legitimate rebuilding effort? After a series of now-infamous free agency signings for the 2012 season, and another set of contract-dropping trades, the Marlins now have a young core in place at the MLB level. That this young core is competing in the National League at a rate comparable to the early-season, free agent-loaded 2012 Marlins makes for a compelling story. I remember reading at the time of the Marlins’ massive trade with Toronto that someone advised Commissioner Bud Selig that the trade made “baseball sense” and was not simply a chance to cut salaries. I scoffed at that notion then, and took the route of criticizing Marlins ownership. Now, it appears the Marlins used those trades to build part of their new core.

However, it’s not simply trades that helped make this current Marlins squad. The Marlins front office also promoted a few of their own prized farmhands, and they also signed several moderate free agency deals. This is perhaps the most notable change since 2013; the Marlins went from a bare-minimum roster to one that now features several serviceable MLB contributors that do not have the baggage of gigantic contracts. Here’s a list of 24 key transactions that outline the Marlins’ brief rebuilding effort:

Date Marlins Move Trade Return
December 5 2011 Signed Heath Bell  
December 7 2011 Signed Jose Reyes  
December 9 2011 Signed Mark Buehrle  
January 5 2012 Traded Chris Volstad Received Carlos Zambrano
July 5 2012 Traded Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen Received Carlos Lee and cash
July 23 2012 Traded Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante Received Jacob Turner / Brian Flynn /Rob Brantly
July 25 2012 Traded Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez Received Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough
July 31 2012 Traded Edward Mujica Received Zack Cox
July 31 2012 Traded Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska Received Gorkys Hernandez
October 20 2012 Traded Heath Bell Received Yordy Cabrera
November 19 2012 Traded Emilio Boniface / John Buck / Mark Buehrle / Josh Johnson / Jose Reyes Received Henderson Alvarez / Yunel Escobar / Adeiny Hechavarria / Jeff Mathis / Anthony DeSclafani / Jake Marisnick / Justin Nicolino
December 4 2012 Traded Yunel Escobar Received Derek Dietrich
July 5 2012 Traded Ricky Nolasco Received Steve Ames / Josh Wall / Angel Sanchez
December 6 2013 Signed Rafael Furcal  
December 6 2013 Signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia  
December 10 2013 Signed Garrett Jones  
December 12 2013 Traded Justin Ruggiano Received Brian Bogusevic
December 13 2013 Traded Logan Morrison Received Carter Capps
December 18 2013 Signed Casey McGehee  
January 31 2014 Signed Reed Johnson (minors)  
February 7 2014 Signed Jeff Baker  
February 11 2014 Signed Carlos Marmol  
May 14 2014 Signed Randy Wolf  
May 19 2014 Signed Miguel Tejada

In hindsight, one can see why so many people had adverse reactions to the Marlins’ 2012 firesale. In the span of July 2012, the Marlins went from making what clearly appeared to be a win-now moves to unloading salary and a key franchise player. By December 2012,Miami had erased their free agency spree, and found themselves with a gang of young prospects. What is regrettable about this series is not just that the Marlins went so far into win-now mode, or so quickly into firesale mode, but that this series of moves found the Marlins so embedded into a win-now ideology that they traded away a potentially serviceable 3B like Matt Dominguez for Carlos Lee. Together, this series of moves are an excellent imperative against using strong ideologies — win-now or rebuild — in a front office.

Even if Marlins ownership can be criticized for legitimate reasons surrounding the financial motivations for these trades (especially given their newly minted ballpark at the time of the trades), their baseball operations department arguably put their club in place for a quick turnaround. Their front office seemingly learned from the 2012 free agency debacles and picked up some solid players for relatively reasonable deals, while also advancing core minor leaguers and young players into key roles.

Player PA or IP AVG/OBP/SLG or ERA (+)
SS Adeiny Hechavarria 185 .265 / .304 / .347 (78 OPS+)
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia 158 .267 / .361 / .452 (121 OPS+)
2B Derek Dietrich 122 .250 / .355 / .462 (122 OPS+)
IF Jeff Baker 79 .229 / .291 / .357 (77 OPS+)
OF Reed Johnson 66 .306 / .333 / .516 (129 OPS+)
C Jeff Mathis 37 .300 / .417 / .500
P Nathan Eovaldi 60.7 3.41 (111 ERA+)
P Henderson Alvarez 54.7 3.62 (105 ERA+)
P Jacob Turner 27.3 6.59 (58 ERA+)
P Carlos Marmol 13.3 8.10 (48 ERA+)
P Anthony DeSclafani 11.3 5.56 (70 ERA+)
P. Carter Capps 11.0 2.45 (159 ERA+)
P Randy Wolf 5.0 1.80 (227 ERA+)

Now, 13 of 31 of these players acquired via free agency and trade since 2012 have contributed to the Marlins this season, and a number of youngsters from these trades made BaseballAmerica’s Top 10 lists. Before 2013, Justin Nicolino and Adeiny Hechavarria were #6 and #7 in the Marlins’ system; entering 2014, Nicolino jumped to #4, and Jake Marisnick, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brian Flynn were respectively #3, #5, and #6 in the system. The Marlins are also arguably a “now” organization, as 14 of their Top 15 players at age 25 (or under were already in the MLB, AAA, or AA. By this measurement, the Brewers are a “future” organization, with six of their Top 15 players at 25 or under between Rookie and High A ball.

One can argue that some of these young Marlins are not necessarily “impact prospects,” but the main point is, the Marlins used these trades to acquire young players that they graduated to the MLB. One could make similar arguments about the Brewers’ youngsters Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Wily Peralta, and Jean Segura, questioning their overall status as impact prospects. Yet, the main point is, these youngsters drove a late season surge for the Brewers, and earned roster spots on a competitive ball club. This is also the story of the 2014 Marlins; who may be unexpected contenders, but now can assess a young roster core for future contending efforts. This, of course, is also the value of the Brewers advancing Segura, Gennett, Davis, and Peralta into their core; without young, controllable players, markets like Miami and Milwaukee cannot afford to compete otherwise.

Brewers (48 G): 182 RS / 179 RA
Marlins (48 G): 227 RS / 198 RA

Last Series:
Brewers: Series loss @ Atlanta (4 games)
Marlins: Series victory vs. Phillies

The Brewers are currently 8-12 in May, largely due to their inability to compete in pitching mismatches. This is a complete turnaround compared to April, when a surprising Brewers rotation went 10-2 in starts where they arguably were mismatched against their competitors. Now, the Brewers are currently 2-6 in mismatch starts in May. However, our Milwaukee Nine continue to win when they have the advantage, going 5-3 in May (10-4 in April). Most importantly, the Brewers are only 1-5 in 2014 when a pitching match-up is “even;” in a Marlins series where the Brewers could arguably be even or have the upper hand in each game, Milwaukee needs to win to make up for their losses in mismatches. It’s okay to lose mismatches if one wins even starts, but a team cannot afford to lose when they’re evenly matched and mismatched.

Previous Performances:
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2013 Marlins: 62-100 (513 RS / 646 RA)

2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
2011-2013 Marlins: 203-283 (1747 RS / 2072 RA)

Marco Estrada @ Tom Koehler

Is Marco Estrada throwing too many fastballs? From April 20 onward, the righty has allowed 10 home runs in six starts, but his last four starts have amplified those concerns with 10 walks to boot. Estrada selected his fastball 56% of his offerings during those six outings, which leaves his change at 26% and curve at 15%.Perhaps this is a misguided question, as Estrada used his fastball even more frequently during successful stretches in 2013. However, it simply seems that something is off in his approach; he’s missing the zone with his curve and change, which exposes his fastball. Given his top velocity, Estrada cannot suffer command issues; even during his second half in 2013, Estrada threw between 36% and 38% of his pitches outside of the zone; that has dropped to 35% in May 2014. Only this time, batters are no longer swinging at his pitches outside of the zone.

While Tom Koehler was slightly below average in 2013, the righty has stuff that can dominate batters when he’s on. Koehler’s combination of a hard, low-to-mid 90s fastball and big drop curveball makes him look similar to a young Ben Sheets. That big 12-to-6 drop and low-80s velocity allows Koehler to effectively change up on batters while also giving them a solid breaking pitch. In spring training, Koehler provided perpsective on gaining experience: “Last year — I’d never seen those guys before […] I had to trust solely on what the catchers were calling and the scouting reports. I had no eyes of my own. I think this year having gone through the league one time little bit of a better feel of what guys’ tendencies are.” With eyes of his own, Koehler is mixing his slider and curve more in 2014, and he allegedly added “cut” and “sinking” fastballs, according to Brooks Baseball. But make no mistake about it — Koehler’s favorite pitch remains his big, 93-94 MPH riding fastball.

Wily Peralta @ Jacob Turner

I know that Wily Peralta lost his series opening start in Atlanta, but it was one of my favorite starts of the young fireballer’s career. Specifically, Peralta seemed not to have his best stuff, but he consistently put out fires (with some help from his fielders) throughout the game. Every time it seemed that Peralta would implode, he recorded more outs and limited the Braves’ runs production. This, in my mind, is as strong as a quality start for a young pitcher, for it shows an ability to adjust and keep the game from getting out of reach. It seems worth arguing that last year, maybe Peralta’s effort would have resulted in a type of five-to-seven run, three inning affair. Obviously, none of this can be proven, but it’s just a good feeling in a generally strong season for the young righthander.

The Marlins acquired Jacob Turner when they traded Anibal Sanchez, and the righty quietly served as one of the Marlins solid arms in 2013. After allowing approximately one more run than average in 42.7 replacement innings in 2012, Turner worked 118 perfectly average innings for the 2013 Marlins rotation. While it’s easy to praise Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez — who produced an aggregate 42 runs prevented in 2013, a pitcher like Turner is what could raise the Marlins’ rotation from top-heavy good to balanced-and-excellent. Last year, Turner’s offspeed profile went curve / slider / change, not unlike his rotation-mate Koehler. This year, Turner has completely swapped his pitches, using both his slider and change more frequently than his slower curveball. Alongside these changes, Turner is also featuring his sinker more prominently, which allows him to work on one specific plane between his sinker and change (48% of his total offerings; 75% if you consider that Turner‘s “four seam” fastball is probably closer to a “sinking” or “riding” variety). Here, Turner can break his pitches in on righties or drop them away from lefties, while also consistently changing speeds.

TBD or Yovani Gallardo @ Randy Wolf

Right now, MLB Game Notes list Yovani Gallardo as a starter for Sunday’s series finale. However, the righty may miss a start, depending on how his ankle injury progresses. It is worth noting that the Brewers are the only National League club that has yet to dip into their replacement corps; one can also see that the number of starters used by a given club does not necessarily correlate to that club’s contending status:

Team SP
Brewers 5
Cubs 6
Giants 6
Padres 6
Phillies 6
Reds 6
Braves 7
Cardinals 7
Mets 7
Nationals 7
Pirates 7
Rockies 7
Diamondbacks 8
Dodgers 8
Marlins 8

Ryan raised an interesting point about replacement starters in an argument about Jimmy Nelson. Specifically, the issue is whether Nelson’s skill level has surpassed that of other starters in the Brewers’ current rotation. For obvious reasons, it is unlikely that Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, or Matt Garza will be replaced by Nelson, given their contracts. However, one could conceivably bet that Nelson would replace either Garza or Marco Estrada with quality innings for the Brewers’ rotation. If the Brewers dip into the minors for Nelson on Sunday, it is worth considering the value he could bring to the Brewers rotation for a stretch that is longer than one start. Could a replacement starter help stop the current issues in the Brewers’ pitching staff? In contrast to the “need-based replacement theory,” at what point should a contending team strategically use a replacement starter?

My faith in the world is restored, as I see that Brooks Baseball specifically classifies the “slow curve” and “curveball” for Randy Wolf’s solid 2011 campaign for the division champion Brewers (in 2012, Wolf allegedly threw 22 bloops that averaged 58 MPH. This enters Bugs Bunny territory). According to these breakdowns of Wolf’s approach, the veteran southpaw throws anywhere between seven and eight pitches to batters. Sifting through these dinks and dunks, though, one can find that Wolf really favors his fastballs and curve, and then will use any assortment of wrinkles necessary to disrupt batters. Wolf gets points for having a 3 IP save this season, by the way. He will be the second pitcher to start a game against the Brewers with a save credited to their record this season.

You can follow Nicholas Zettel @spectivewax on Twitter for sporadic musings.

BaseballAmerica. GrindMedia, LLC., 2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. 2014.
2011-2013 NL Rotations with Runs Prevented

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