Friday, July 17, 2015

Next Up: The Milwaukee Brewers

The Pirates open a three-game series in Milwaukee tonight before wrapping up interleague play against the two top teams in the American League Central, Kansas City and Minnesota, wrapped around a four-game series against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Brewers are a .500 team over the past 30 days, going 14-14. Appropriately, that ranks them exactly in the middle of the National League. They've led the league in scoring during the period, averaging 4.6 runs per game. They've given up 4.4 per game, the fifth most.

What's Going Right? When you lead the league in scoring, the offense is clicking. Over the past 30 days, the Brewers lead the league in batting (.282) and on base percentage (.335) and they're second in slugging percentage (.433). They're third in home runs and have been the hardest team in the league to strike out. The bullpen's been OK, with a 3.19 ERA that ranks ninth in the league over the past 30 days, as they've gotten opposing hitters to chase pitches outside the strike zone at a fourth-best-in-the-league 32% clip.

What's Going Wrong? The starting pitchers' 4.63 ERA over the past 30 days would be the worst in the league were it not for the Rockies' Coors Field-inflated 5.41 and the Phillies' cover-your-eyes 7.07. They've struck out batters at the lowest rate in the league during the period and allowed the second-most hard-hit balls. 

Who's Hot? The biggest batting stars over the last 30 days have been outfielder Gerardo Parra (.349/.383/.566 slash line) and first baseman Adam Lind (.290/.396/.538). Lind leads the club over the period with six homers and 19 RBI, while Parra's the leading scorer with 18 runs. He's added five homers and five stolen bases. Second baseman Scooter Gennett, sent the minors in May with a .154/.203/.200 batting line, is hitting .298/.327/.511 since his return on June 11. The team's more familiar stars--catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right fielder Ryan Braun, and center fielder Carlos Gomez--have been solid contributors as well.

Rookie Taylor Jungmann, who debuted against the Pirates on June 9, has a 2.31 ERA over the past 30 days. He'll start Sunday afternoon's game. In the bullpen, closer Francisco Rodriguez has six saves, a 2.00 ERA, and 13 strikeouts in nine innings over the past 30 days, and the two relievers likely to replace Rodriguez if he's traded, righty Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith, have combined for a 2.74 ERA, though Jeffress doesn't strike out enough batters (14% of batters faced, the league average is 21% for relievers) and Smith walks too many (9%, the league average is 7%).

Who's Not? The two worst starting pitchers over the past 30 days have been the two supposedly on the trading block: Kyle Lohse has a 5.94 ERA and Matt Garza's is 7.88. Garza's out with shoulder tendonitis and the Pirates won't face Lohse. Shortstop Jean Segura has an absolutely punchless .252 batting average over the past 30 days: he's walked only three times and has no extra-base hits at all, so his on base percentage is just .278 and his slugging percentage of .252 is lower than that of Pirate pitcher Vance Worley (.267). 

What's the Outlook? I'll reiterate what I said the last time the teams met: 
They...have more good bats than poor ones in the lineup. The key would appear to be to strike early against the starters, since the Brewers bullpen's been up to the task of shutting down the opposition in late innings.
The bigger question is, how long does this team stay together? The Brewers are in last place, 10.5 games behind the Cardinals, and not going to the postseason. There have been rumors about almost everyone on the team getting traded. Braun's contract pays him $96 million over the next five seasons and he's owed either $15 million (mutual option) or $4 million (buyout) in 2021. With a contract that large, he's not tradeable. Lucroy is sort of the opposite: his contract is so cheap ($4 million next year, $5.25 million team option in 2017) that he's hard to trade as well. 

Some players who could be moved won't generate a lot in return. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is 37, having a down year, and has announced he'll retire at the end of the season, so he'll bring little in return. Lohse is a free agent after the season and has a 6.17 ERA. Garza is a little pricey, owed $12.5 million in 2016 and 2017 with a $13 million vesting option in 2018, plus he's got a 5.55 ERA and is on the disabled list.

Other trade pieces are more valuable. This is K-Rod's 14th year in the majors but he's only 33 and still getting batters out. His contract is reasonable ($5.5 million next year, $6 million team option/$4 million buyout in 2017), so he could go to a team in need of relief help (Detroit?). Gomez is arguably the club's best player, and he's owed a reasonable $9 million next year, but he'll be a free agent after that and likely too expensive for the Brewers, so he could depart. Lind has turned out be a nice pickup for the Brewers. He's owed either $8 million or a $500,000 buyout next year, so he could be traded to team looking for help at first base. (The Cardinals and Pirates come to mind immediately). Segura's about to become more expensive, as he's eligible for arbitration next year, but he won't be a free agent until 2019, so I don't fully understand the zeal to trade him. The difficulty for the Brewers is that it makes sense to trade players if they won't be around for the next winning team. The Brewers aren't hopeless, and it'd normally be pessimistic to suggest a team can't turn around in three years, becoming a contender for at least a wild card in Segura's last year before free agency. But Milwaukee has the misfortune to play in the same division as possibly the best organization in baseball (St. Louis) and two of the best young teams (the Pirates and the Cubs), so it could be a long time before they can break into the top three in the division. Thus, I expect the Brewers to be more interested in longer-term prospects than major league-ready players as we approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

No comments:

Post a Comment