Last night, the Brewers won their 82nd game of 2012 at Miller Park. Shaun Marcum escaped trouble and limited the damage with his walks, finishing six innings while allowing two runs. The Brewers’ bats powered their attack with three home runs, thanks to Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez. To complete the game, the Brewers’ relievers struck out six batters, including three by closer John Axford. All told, it was a nice win for the Brewers, who are undoubtedly looking to finish their season on the right foot.
Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun has an especially strong case for 2012 NL MVP, as the Brewers started winning and became relevant in the wild card chase until the last week of the season. First and foremost, Braun is the strongest power/speed candidate in the National League, boasting 41 HR and 30 SB. The closest potential MVP candidates to Braun in these categories are Andrew McCutchen and Ian Desmond, both with 20 SB.
Braun is also the best traditional MVP candidate, combining runs and runs batted in to maximize his potential runs created value. While McCutchen or Matt Holliday could reach the 100 R / 100 RBI threshold with a couple of great games to close the season, Braun is nearing the 110 R/110 RBI mark; he is clearly the most productive bat in the league.
Of course, Braun also bests his competition in advanced metrics, including wOBA, wRC+, and WAR. Stated simply, Braun is the best (and probably most well-rounded) bat in the National League. There is no reason not to vote for him as a repeat MVP.
Interestingly enough, Buster Posey continues his strong campaign for the Giants, as some of the other NL MVP candidates fade off. Posey features exceptional AVG and OBP, and is also very solid in terms of overall production (especially for his park). If MVP voters favor a playoff-bound position player, Posey is the best choice. Luckily for him, the fact that he’s extremely valuable as a catcher overshadows the fact that he’s not a traditional MVP-style bat. His high-AVG hitting looks great at that position, and he gives MVP voters a respectable excuse to not vote for Braun.
Last night, Rickie Weeks snapped out of a brief two week power drought, plating two runs on his 21st home run. Weeks batted .214/.267/.250 over his 15-day power outage, as his last home run occurred on September 15. Nevertheless, Weeks’s brief slump should be yet another sign of relief for the Brewers’ second baseman. This slump is certainly shorter than his early season batting woes, and Weeks’s production level during this slump is much stronger. It’s great to see Weeks put together stretches of the season with fewer highs and lows; as great as his hot streaks are, the value of those streaks is hurt by extended slumps (such as his season opening woes).
Overall, Weeks pieced together a disciplined campaign throughout 2012. The second baseman swung at 21.2% of his pitches outside the zone, according to FanGraphs, and saw less than 47% of his pitches in the zone. Perhaps it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy now? Do pitchers simply throw Weeks fewer strikes because he’s patient and will take a walk, or is it a sign that even during a less-productive season, Weeks is a dangerous hitter?
When the Brewers headed west to Arizona and Los Angeles for the last week of May, Weeks was batting .155/.284/.284 after nearly two full months of play. During that road-trip, Weeks turned things around, converting his extreme discipline into walks and a couple of extra base hits. He batted .182/.345/.364 during that trip, and turned a corner, achieving moderate success and breaking out of his slump in June. The rest is history; Weeks was scorching hot from July onward, raising his batting average by 47 points into mid-September.
Perhaps the most important result of Weeks’s turnaround is the power he adds to the batting order at 2B. Coupled with surges by Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy’s steady bat, the Brewers have promising power potential at three key positions for 2013.
Overall, from that May roadtrip onward, Weeks saw 490 PA and 440 AB, batting .256/.343/.440. Nearly 9% of his plate appearances resulted in extra base hits, and 17 of his 43 extra base hits were home runs. Weeks’s turnaround suggests that his batting approach is once again yielding its expected outcomes, and we can also hope that Weeks’s clean bill of health will result in a strong start to 2013.
Shaun Marcum’s Strong Finish
It’s great to have one of the Brewers’ most important pitchers finishing the season strong. Marcum toughed out some control issues and worked six strong innings last night, his third consecutive quality outing. While Marcum’s mix of 12 K/7 BB/2 HR over his last three starts does not look great, he limited his opponents to five runs in 18 IP with the help of the Brewers’ defense.
Thanks to his strong finish, Marcum is guaranteed yet another above average season with the Brewers. Unfortunately, his entire 2012 campaign was plagued with some type of injury issue, which impacted his ability to lead the Brewers’ rotation.
Marcum poses an interesting labor question for the Brewers’ front office. While his mechanics have changed and his pitching approach is different, he put together a serviceable 2012 campaign through multiple injuries. Furthermore, his overall pitching performance in the last few years makes him a potential value signing in an offseason with some strong arms available. While approximately 50 MLB pitchers have worked more innings than Marcum since he returned from his 2009 absence, Marcum sits in the top half of those pitchers in terms of ERA. His basic runs allowed are stronger than his overall Fielding Independent ratios, although his Fielding Independent performance is also above average from 2010-2012.
Based simply on his Fielding Independent performance, FanGraphs estimates that Marcum’s value over the last two years was nearly $19 million (against replacement value). Given that Marcum’s actual on field performance is stronger than his Fielding Independent ratios, the Brewers can make a gamble by offering Marcum arbitration before he hits the market. Against his injury issues, one can ask, what is the value of having his ability to pitch above average innings in the Brewers rotation?