From Robin To Rickie

February 28, 2006

Dan O’Brien?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 3:45 pm

As much as I want to totally rip the Brewers for even considering this, they have done pretty well with Gord Ash in their front office.  Both O’Brien and Ash have made their share of historically bad moves as major-league GMs, but not too much has gone wrong during the Melvin regime that can be blamed on Gord.  Maybe O’Brien can convince Melvin to go after former employee Austin Kearns.

February 27, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 2:51 pm

There were some Brewers stories of note over the weekend-

  • They signed Ned Yost to a 2-year extension covering 2007-08 with an option for 2009. I have no problem with this move, and think it was necessary. While I at times take issue with some of Yost’s on-field decisions, specifically his handling of the bullpen and his annoying fascination with the sacrifice bunt, I think overall he does a very good job. This again brings up the argument of how much effect a manager actually has on a team. I would argue that it’s far less than has been thought throughout baseball history. However, a couple of the biggest- keeping the team motivated and fostering strong team chemistry- are two things that Yost does very well. I guess this quells any thoughts of Yost keeping the manager’s seat warm for Robin Yount.
  • Ben Sheets looked good throwing to hitters Saturday. Ok, so maybe I was a little premature in expecting Ben to have trouble getting healthy this spring. This is one thing I’ll be glad to be proven wrong on. I’m still curious about what kind of velocity he has.
  • Fans set a single day record for ticket sales on Saturday. You had to figure they’d beat last year’s attendance in 2006, since Wisconsin residents are jumping on the bandwagon in droves. I just want something to be done to get rid of at least half of those Cubs fans. I fall on the side of those who have no fun sitting in sections full of drunk Illinois idiots.
  • The Brewers are seeking to buy out Derrick Turnbow’s first two years of arbitration by signing him to a 2-year extension, covering 2007 and 2008. John and I were talking about this today, and the last thing we want to see happen is overpaying a reliever based on a glamour stat like saves. The team has done a great job the last couple of years putting together effective bullpens on a shoestring budget. I don’t feel that you have to pay relievers a lot of money because you can find effective relievers relatively easily and cheaply. However, if Turnbow can continue to pitch like he did in 2005, I would concede that he’s worth a little bit more cash. How much, though? Is $6 million over 2007-08 reasonable? John would like to see what he does for one more year, but if he throws up another ERA around 2 with 40 saves, how much will he be asking for? That’s probably what the Brewers are thinking here, but you can bet that Doug Melvin is also thinking about what kind of trade value a guy like that would have. Remember, we’ve still got two potential closers sitting around in Jose Capellan and Matt Wise. Heck, this time last year we were discussing whether Mike Adams could handle the role. Things change quickly in the bullpen, and the Brewers would be wise to keep this in mind.

February 24, 2006

Ticket Sales/Attendance Expectations

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Schmid @ 8:00 pm

On Saturday, the Brewers begin their 2006 ticket sales push toward the general public.

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=403818

While this happens every year, this time around, the Brewers are expecting to surpass their record first day sales by a wide margin. As Jamie and I can attest, it can be a right of passage. Many times on this day, we stood for hours at County Stadium freezing, just to buy our opening day tickets.

Can the Brewers surpass their all-time attendance record of 2.8 million in 2001?

To do so, they would have to increase the per game attendance by over 7,500 from last season. Various ticket packages have been a hit with fans to help this cause. One of the good signs is that Brewers’ attendance did not fall off during the second half of 2004 or 2005. People were still willing to take in a game even with vacations, school, and the Packers starting again.

The Brewers and owner Mark Attanasio really hope to challenge that mark by improving the fan experience at Miller Park. Due to increased expectations, season tickets, group sales, and luxury suite sales have all increased. A new picnic area in right field is already sold out for the season and new message boards have been installed in the hopes to increase excitement. Over 50 of the 81 home games have either a promotion or ticket discount associated with them.

We all know that Brewers fans are pretty much the most fickle fans in all of Major League Baseball. They don’t come out to the ball park to see specific players. Simply put, they come out to see a winner. Mark Attanasio did not purchase the Brewers to lose money, nor should he be expected to. The success on the field translates into a better fan expereince and an improved product on the field. Combine that with increased revenue sharing and media deals provide a greater source of money from which to access. Ben Sheets’ contract, along with the trades for high-salaried players like Carlos Lee, are evidence of this change in mentality from the Dean Taylor era. You just don’t offer a contract to a player unless he fits into the the present and future plans for the organization. Up to this point, Doug Melvin has watched the purse strings very resourcefully.

With all due respect to the Selig regime, the current ownership and front office seem to have identified specific marketing avenues that make the average Milwaukeean want to make Miller Park a destination. They are creating a brand which not only appeals to most fans, but which will also generate revenue for the club.

Lastly, the Brewers are focusing a large portion of their revenue on the minor league system. As a small-market team, they must develop from within. Sal Bando ignored it, Dean Taylor began the rebuilding, and with Doug Melvin, we are now seeing the fruits of that labor. It must continue because Milwaukee will not be able to keep all of the Weeks and Fielders forever. Increased attendance is essential in this aspect to keep the best scouts, trainers, and coaches throughout the organization.

This leads me back to my initial question: Can the Brewers surpass their all-time attendance record of 2.8 million in 2001? At this point, I doubt it. They have a great chance to surpass their 2005 total of 2.2 million, but too many things have to fall in place. Ticket sales must be strong throughout the season, not just at the start, and staying in the wild card chace until the very end would help make that a reality.

Analyzing Rickie’s Defense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 3:17 pm

Much has been made of Rickie Weeks’ defensive shortcomings at second base. This morning in the Journal/Sentinel’s position by position preview of the Brewers, they took a look at the second basemen, and once again Rickie’s issues with the glove came up. Dale Sveum, our new third base coach, is apparently working with him and in videotape saw an error in how Weeks was fielding balls (never mind that Sveum, by any metric, was very average to below average with the leather and that he played a grand total of 53 games at second base during his career). Ned Yost went on to compare Weeks to Marcus Giles, a young second baseman he worked with in his time coaching with the Braves.

“Marcus Giles came up, and nobody thought he would ever be an everyday second baseman there,” Yost recalled. “Except for one guy, (infield coach) Glenn Hubbard. Glenn worked and worked with him, and now Marcus is an all-star second baseman. And I foresee Rickie doing the same thing.”

In contrast to Sveum, Giles’ tutor, Hubbard, was a near-Gold Glove winning second baseman in 1332 career games there, but I digress.

Coming up through the minors, no one disagreed that Rickie had a great bat and tremendous talent, a sure fire bet to hit at every level right from the start. However, the knock on him was always that he was brutal defensively at second base, his projected position. Many, including Baseball Prospectus, projected him to eventually move to the outfield. In BP’s opinion, his defense was enough of a handicap that they moved him all the way from #9 on their 2004 top prospects list to #36 in 2005.

When the Brewers picked up Corey Koskie this offseason, many including myself thought it might be a great time to trade Brady Clark, move Weeks to center, and install Bill Hall as our second baseman. After all, since Weeks is athletic he’d be able to handle the outfield, right? And Hall’s bat would be much more valuable coming from a second baseman than at third. Clark’s coming off a very good year, and his trade value right now is probably as high as it has ever been or ever will be. We could cover third base until Ryan Braun was ready with a Koskie/Cirillo platoon. However, in interviews, Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin has continually denied that this was an option or even a consideration, reiterating that Weeks is the Brewers’ second baseman of the future.

What’s the Brewers’ best move? Is Weeks really as bad as people say he is at second base? What about other young second basemen around the league? Are they that much better with the glove? Spreadsheet time!

I decided to use Clay Davenport’s FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) defensive metric to rank all second basemen who played 70 or more games there in 2005.

2BFRAA1

We can see that Weeks is pretty close to the bottom of that list, but is he really that bad? There are some big extremes here, and the range of FRAA goes from 17 on the high end all the way down to -24 on the low end. Taking that into consideration, a -5 doesn’t seem quite as bad.

Some immediate conclusions can be drawn from this list, the most obvious being that as bad as people say Weeks’ glove is, there are a lot of well regarded second basemen that are just as bad. I might’ve just missed it, but I don’t remember too many instances of anyone badmouthing Jose Vidro’s, Ray Durham’s or Tad Iguchi’s defense.

“But wait”, you say, “Rickie only played in 95 games at second; he would’ve been much worse if he played every game.”

That’s true, and is something we need to take into consideration. Here’s the same list, with a column added for each FRAA prorated to 162 games.

2BFRAA2

Here Weeks comes in at -8.5, still better than guys like Ray Durham, Todd Walker, Jorge Cantu, Tad Iguchi and Alfonso Soriano. Plus, the diffrence between Weeks and Soriano is much larger than the difference between Weeks and better defensive second basemen such as Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio, Robinson Cano and Chase Utley.

Tad Iguchi played second base for the World Champion Chicago White Sox, and was touted as a very big reason for the White Sox’ emergence. In fact, when asked what made the difference for them last year, team defense is very often cited. You don’t see too many people talking about how brutal Iguchi’s glove was at second for them.

Alfonso Soriano was unbelievably bad. While he is widely regarded as a star (some would say undeservingly), 24 runs lost to your team while you’re on the field over the course of a season is a lot, folks. The Rangers possibly would’ve improved themselves by having a light-hitting second baseman with an average glove over having Soriano. They must’ve realized this, as they dealt Soriano to Washington for Brad Wilkerson during the offseason. Now the Nationals want Soriano to move from second to the outfield, a change Soriano is balking at (nice team player).

Another consideration to make is how much younger Weeks is than most of the players on this list. Marcus Giles, mentioned by Yost, is now entering his age 28 season and has become a very above average defensive second baseman. Where was Giles at Rickie’s age? In Giles’ rookie year, 2001, at the age of 23, he put up 5 FRAA in only 62 games at second. Needless to say, Giles was and is in a different class from Weeks with the glove. But is that really a fair comparison?

Again looking at the above list, there are four other players within two years age of Weeks who played 70 or more games at second base last season- Robinson Cano (now 23 years old- the list contains their 2005 ages), Ruben Gotay (23), Jorge Cantu (24), and Jose Castillo (25). All of these except Gotay projects to be their team’s starting second baseman in 2006.

Jorge Cantu accumulated his -13 FRAA splitting time between second and third base for Tampa Bay, but I think it’s obvious he’s got some glove issues. Yet the Devil Rays are counting on him to help anchor their youth revival, and have no plans to move him off of second. Prorated to 162 games, his defense is worse than Weeks’ on the same level that Soriano’s is.

Of the second basemen similar in age to Weeks who have already gotten significant major league time, the closest comparisons we can make are Cantu, Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Jose Castillo of the Pirates. We’ve established that at this point Weeks’ glove seems further along than Cantu’s, and it doesn’t seem too far behind Cano’s and Castillo’s. Ignore the many players between them for a moment, and notice that Weeks’ prorated -8.5 is only 3.6 runs worse than Cano’s, and 8.5 worse than Castillo, who was considered league average in 2005.

What can we draw from all of this? After seeing it laid out this way, it seems like thoughts of moving Weeks to the outfield may be premature. Other teams have done very well with much lesser gloves manning second (Iguchi; Todd Walker in 2004 with the Cubs is another good example). Also, Weeks doesn’t turn 23 until September- he’s got a ton of time to get better. I don’t think anyone who’s watched Weeks play doubts that he has the range to play the position, he just seems to make stupid mistakes on routine plays. If his bat develops as expected and he makes decent improvements with his glove, we’ll have an All-Star second baseman for a long time to come in Milwaukee.

February 23, 2006

Crew signs another Dominican pitcher

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 2:05 pm

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/news/060223peralta.html

The Crew signed Dominican right-hander Wily Peralta to a $450K contract, joining Rolando Pascual in this offseason’s Latin American signings.  While we won’t know for a while whether either of these guys turns out, it’s great to see the Brewers putting those revenue-sharing dollars to good use rather than sitting on them and crying poverty.  Peralta supposedly can hit 96(!!) on the radar gun and is not even 17 years old.

I never thought I’d see the day the Brewers started making headlines for signing foreign players.  Why are we not hearing about teams like the Yankees and Dodgers chasing these guys?  Do we actually have an advantage over other teams in Latin American scouting?  If so, Brewers fans have even more to be excited about.

February 22, 2006

Will Ben be ready?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 7:39 pm

Baseball Prospectus author and injury-guru Will Carroll posted his Brewers Team Health Report today, and unfortunately he didn’t have great things to say about Ben Sheets. Will uses a green/yellow/red light system to rank players’ injury risk for the coming season, and Sheets comes in at a solid red (that’s bad). Based on the note there, I think this is a result of cumulative things going wrong for him last year, rather than one major arm issue. We won’t know until the games begin whether he’s completely recovered from the torn muscle in his shoulder, and it seems that at this point the Brewers aren’t saying much. It’s difficult to tell whether Sheets was left off the USA World Baseball Classic roster because the Brewers specifically requested it, or because he’s just not ready to pitch full strength yet. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point this spring the team announces that Sheets won’t be ready to pitch until May. Usually the pitcher is the most optimistic about coming back from an injury, and Sheets isn’t yet proclaiming himself completely ready.

I personally don’t have a problem with the Brewers working him back in very very slowly. I’d much rather have him miss April than to be sub-par and have problems pop up throughout the season. On the bright side, a situation like that would also give the Brewers more time to evaluate the #5 spot in the rotation. I really like Dana Eveland as a future starter, and would rather he start in AAA than be regulated to the bullpen again. Ben not starting the year in the rotation would allow Eveland to pick up some major league starts and give us an idea of whether he can handle it right now (I think he can). Presently it seems like David Bush, Rick Helling and Eveland will be given ample opportunity this spring to claim the #5 rotation spot. Based on the Sheets questions, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of those three in Arizona in a few weeks.

The other concern we can’t forget about with Sheets is his vestibular neuritis, which popped up in 2005 again for the second year in a row, this time for a much longer stretch. Will Carroll notes that the Brewers took extra steps to confer with specialists in Los Angeles this offseason, which is promising, and that they’ve developed a plan to prevent it from recurring. We’ll see, but it looks like Brewers fans will have to get used to a lot of worrying when it comes to our staff ace.

Consider a few of our other starters compared to their median PECOTA projections for 2006 from Baseball Prospectus.

Doug Davis

2005: 222 IP, 93 BB, 208 SO, 3.84 ERA, 4.24 PERA, 5.7 WARP, .283 Batting average for balls in play (BABIP)

2006 (Proj.): 204 IP 78 BB, 161 SO, 3.90 ERA, 4.25 PERA, 5.6 WARP, .285 BABIP

Ok so far, right? Looks like Davis may be for real, which bodes well for the Brewers but also means they should hustle in getting him locked up long-term.

Chris Capuano

2005: 219 IP, 91 BB, 176 SO, 3.99 ERA, 4.92 PERA (!), 6.2 WARP, .292 BABIP

2006: 198 IP, 76 BB, 149 SO, 4.28 ERA, 4.68 PERA, 4.6 WARP, .284 BABIP

One of the big questions for 2006, I think, is whether Cappy is for real or not. I think it can be reasonably argued that his 18 wins in ’05 were the result of good run support and a little bit of luck, especially considered his 4.92 peripheral ERA (according to BP, “a better predictor of ERA going forward than ERA itself”). Will Capuano turn into a bona fide #2 for the Brewers, or will he fall into the 10-12 win, 4.50 ERA innings-eater range?

Tomo Ohka

2005 (Brewers only): 126 IP, 28 BB, 81 SO, 4.35 ERA, 4.45 PERA, 2.7 WARP, .313 BABIP

2006: 174 IP, 47 BB, 98 SO, 4.46 ERA, 4.82 PERA, 3.6 WARP, .289 BABIP

I loved the pickup of Ohka for Junior Spivey last year, but I think any thoughts of him being our #4 hands-down is a little premature. That strikeout rate worries me especially, and considering teams made very easy hard contact with his pitches at times, would it surprise anyone to see him get hammered on a regular basis in ’06?

For a change, there is actually competition waiting in the wings this year in case Ohka falters. Bush projects as no less than at least an innings-eater who won’t kill you, and I think he’s a more important part of the Overbay trade than a lot of people think. Helling will continue as a Dave Burba type, who can swing between respectable starts and steady bullpen work. If the Brewers have to go further than Eveland, Ben Hendrickson is still around. Maybe he can turn his career around- crazier things have happened.

Spring is a time of sorting through what you have, especially with the pitching staff. Considering that the Brewers have three days off in April and may need a fifth starter only once, losing Sheets in April would be a much better alternative to losing him in July and getting anything less than the real Ben early. It may also provide us with a bittersweet opportunity to see what these other arms can do.

Welcome!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 7:38 pm

Welcome to our new Milwaukee Brewers blog! Our names are Jamie Herbst and John Schmid, and we’re just two lifelong Brewers fans who want a place to share our insights and observations about the hometown team. This blog will cover all aspects of the team, including daily performances on the field by the big-league club, the Brewers’ farm system, the front-office decisions shaping the product on the field, and just the entire fan experience from two hardcore fans. We hope you’ll make this blog part of your daily reading, and hope we’ll have great news to share on a regular basis as the Brewers continue their ascent to the top of the NL Central.

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