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Milwaukee Brewers team preview

We'll kick off the 2010 RR team previews with a look at Milwaukee, a team that has enjoyed some modest recent success but needs a lot to go right to make the playoffs this year.  

2009 recap

80-82, 3rd place in NL Central Division

Scored 785 runs, allowed 818 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 80-82.  Given their personnel losses after the 2009 playoff team, this was close to what I expected.  

The High Life:  Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun had monster years.  Casey McGehee, who was picked off the waiver wire from the Cubs, turned in a nice season as a rookie 3B.  Felipe Lopez hit well after Arizona sent him to Milwaukee in a July trade.  At 41, Trevor Hoffman showed he still has something left in the tank.  Todd Coffey showed that a change of scenery is what he needed.

Natty Lite:  The pitching, especially the rotation.  Yovanni Gallordo was healthy and led the rotation with a 3.73 ERA in 185.7 innings (108 ERA+), though he allowed a lot of walks and was less effective than his rookie season in '07.  After him, the rotation was dreck.  Four other pitchers started at least 21 games with ERA +s ranging from 63 to 77.  Of the four, only Braden Looper isn't with the team this year (and he was the best of the four).  Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, and Dave Bush all return to at least contend for a rotation spot this season.  As a team, Milwaukee had the 2nd worst ERA in the NL and gave up the most HRs.

Offensively, the Brewers were third in runs scored and OPS but there were disappointments.  Corey Hart turned in another so-so season, while shortstop J.J. Hardy really fell off and was sent to the minors towards the end of the year.  Rickie Weeks had yet another promising season shortened by injury.

Out with the Olde Style:  Gone are Hardy and Mike Cameron, two staples of the much-improved Milwaukee defense.  The Brewers also did not re-sign Felipe Lopez, who started at second for the second half of the season, and Jason Kendall, who handled the catching for the last two seasons.  Braden Looper and his ~200 innings will also leave, but they won't be missed.

New Style:  Replacing Hardy and Cameron are the highly-touted Alcides Escobar at short and the speedy Carlos Gomez in center.  Defensively they shouldn't miss a beat, and unless Hardy rebounds to his '08 form they will be better off overall at short.  

But the club's big additions are lefty starters Randy Wolf and Doug Davis.  Collectively they should be around league average, which would be a considerable boost to Milwaukee's sorry rotation.

2010 outlook

To cut to the chase, I don't think Milwaukee did enough this winter to make them a serious contender.  If all goes well, the rotation can be merely okay.  Wolf and Davis should be able to provide ~180 innings of averageish to decent starting pitching, though both come with the usual injury and performance disclaimers that accompany pitchers in their mid-30s.  The rotation will still need Gallardo to stay completely healthy and throw more innings (last year's 185.7 is his career high).  Milwaukee will also need a significant rebound from Dave Bush and Manny Parra and should probably kick Jeff Suppan to the curb.  Suppan is 35 and has declined steadily since the '06 playoffs, but he's also making $12.5M this season.  The good news is that ZiPS sees a big rebound for Bush (150 innings, 94 ERA+) and a smaller one for Parra (87 ERA+).  But again, everything will need to go right for this rotation to be decent, let alone a powerhouse.  And while the bullpen should be solid again, if Trevor Hoffman suddenly shows his age there will be trouble. 

Offensively, I don't see the Brewers scoring as many runs as last year for several reasons: 

  • Braun (148 OPS+) and especially Fielder (168 OPS+) hit so well last year that some regression is likely.  This could play out like 2008, where the team saw a drop from its big two simply because their 2007 seasons were so good.
  • Milwaukee will lose siginficant offense from their center fielder.  Mike Cameron's 250/342/452 might not look like a world beater, but Carlos Gomez hit an ugly 229/287/337 in Minnesota last season and has yet to OBP .300 in his young career.  Even with a bump for his age and park/league switch, he won't approach the production Cameron gave Milwaukee.
  • Even with (and perhaps because of) Weeks' injury, the Brewers enjoyed phenomenal production at second last year (303/377/474; with about half of that coming with Lopez starting).  A full and healthy season from Weeks is a big if, and counting on him to maintain the same level of production as his abbreviated '09 season is another.
  • The projection systems also see a dropoff in Casey McGehee's production, who benefitted from a .330 babip last year.  Mat Gamel could replace McGehee if there's a big drop, but the 24 y.o. is also unlikely to match McGehee's 127 OPS+ last year.

Other positions are the status quo (Corey Hart in right) or shouldn't see much of a change.  Greg Zaunn might be a little better than Jason Kendall, but he will also be 39.  And while it won't be hard for Alcides Escobar to out-hit Hardy's 2009 numbers (229/302/357), at a projected 279/321/378 he's not exactly an offensive asset (though ZiPS is on the low side for his Escobar's projections).  All that said, the Baseball Musings lineup projector sees scoring staying at the same level with the Brewers' projected lineup.  So go figure.

Recent matchups, schedule and Bill Hall/Tomo Ohka All-Stars

For the third time in four years, in 2009 the Reds were 8 - 7 against Milwaukee.  South Milwaukee still holds a fear edge.  We play Milwaukee fourteen times this year, including nine times in the final six weeks of the season.  We play at Milwaukee from 9/20-22 and they play here to close out the regular season from 10/1-3.

There are no Bill Hall All-Stars on the team, probably because the award's namesake was traded to Seattle last summer.  But newcomer Randy Wolf fits the Tomo Ohka mold: in 104 innings against the Reds in his career, he's 9-2 with a 1.11 ERA and a K/BB ratio over 5. 

Final Thoughts

I see a slight drop-off for Milwaukee this year.  I'll go with 78-84.  Still, if the team surprises and is in the thick of the race this summer, at least the organizaiton has shown that it's willing to acquire a front-line ace if one's on the market.