SweetSpot: Milwaukee Brewers

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

August, 4, 2012
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Theme of the week: Late-game drama.

  • Sunday's Yankees/Red Sox tilt featured a 10th-inning go-ahead single by Pedro Ciriaco. There's been only one other go-ahead hit by a Bostonian, in extra innings, in the Bronx, over the past eight years: Jacoby Ellsbury's 14th-inning homer on Sept. 25. And it was the first non-home run version of such a hit since April 22, 2001, when Jason Varitek singled off Mariano Rivera in the 10th, driving in Trot Nixon from second.
  • Anthony Rizzo hit the Cubs' second walk-off homer of the season on Sunday to beat those hated Cardinals 4-2. It's the first time Chicago has defeated St. Louis via walk-off homer since Aramis Ramirez took Dennys Reyes deep in April 2009.
  • Milwaukee's Corey Hart homered in the bottom of the 10th against Washington on Sunday as well. His, unfortunately, was not a walk-off because the Nationals had scored twice in the top of the 10th. Hart finished 4-for-5, including an extra-inning homer, in a home game that his team still managed to lose (in this case, by an 11-10 score). He's the first player to do that since Sept. 7, 2004, when Corey Patterson of the Cubs launched his second homer of the game in the bottom of the 12th in a 7-6 loss to Montreal.It was a dubious first in Brewers franchise history.
  • [+] EnlargeOakland A's
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Athletics on Friday won their second 15-inning game in the span of five days.

  • Oakland is still very much in the walk-off business, securing their 12th of the season with a sacrifice fly by Jemile Weeks on Monday -- in the bottom of the 15th. By inning, it was the latest "sac-fly-off" since Raul Ibanez brought an end to that 19-inning game between the Phillies and Reds last season. It was Oakland's first walk-off sac fly since Rickey Henderson‘s 15th-inning winner to beat Toronto on May 23, 1981.
  • The Athletics played 15 more innings on Friday night against Toronto, and won on another sacrifice fly (by Coco Crisp) in the bottom of the 15th. Oakland leads the majors in walk-off wins with 13. The Nationals have eight. No team, by the way, has ever had two "sac-fly-offs" in the 15th or later in the same season.
  • After surrendering three runs in the top of the 10th on Wednesday, Texas walked off with an 11-10 victory over the Angels on Elvis Andrus' two-run single to cap a four-run rally. It was the most runs the Rangers had scored in an extra inning since May 5, 2009, when they put up a six-spot in the 10th at Seattle. Andrus hit the first walk-off single, with his team trailing in extras, of the season. And it was the first single to turn an extra-inning deficit into an extra-inning walk-off, in Rangers/Senators franchise history.
  • Justin Morneau (4-for-4, HBP) and Jamey Carroll (4-for-4, walk, go-ahead single in the 10th) both had "perfect" days at the plate for Minnesota. The Twins are the only team this season to have two players each record four-plus hits and a hit in every at-bat. Ben Revere and Ryan Doumit both did it on June 22 in Cincinnati.
Statistical support for this column provided by Baseball-Reference.com and the Elias Sports Bureau.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
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  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
2/18/12
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Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

On the same day 82-year-old Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch decided to go all-in on Prince Fielder and a World Series title chase, the San Francisco Giants showed some fiscal responsibility by reportedly agreeing with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on a two-year, $40.5 million contract. The deal means the two sides will avoid going to arbitration this year and next, his final season before hitting free agency.

This is absolutely the correct approach in handling Lincecum. There is no need to negotiate a long-term deal with a pitcher two years before he's a free agent. Pitchers are risky creatures as is, so why take the risk before you have to? This gives you two more seasons to chase your own World Series title with Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain (if the Giants sign him past 2012).

There seems to be a mindset that teams need to "get something" for a player if they might not be able to sign him to a long-term deal when he becomes a free agent. But why does this make sense if you have a chance to win? The Brewers could have traded Fielder before last season, knowing he was unlikely to stay in Milwaukee, but instead went for it and actually strengthened the club instead by acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They made the playoffs and gave themselves a shot at the World Series. It was the right call. The Tampa Bay Rays are taking a similar approach this season with B.J. Upton.

Compare that to the Minnesota Twins with Johan Santana in 2008. They traded Santana for a package of prospects that didn't turn out, but the biggest problem with that trade is that the Twins ended up missing the playoffs when they lost a tiebreaker game to the White Sox. With Santana, they win the division. And once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen; who knows, the Twins may have won the World Series with Santana.

I did a chat earlier on Tuesday in which somebody suggested since the Phillies might not be able to afford Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in 2013 (Hamels will be a free agent) that maybe they should look to trade one of the three. What? Of course not. You go for it in 2012 behind those guys and if you lose Hamels, so be it.

Next season, you'll certainly hear cries that the Giants should look to trade Lincecum. Get something for him while you can. Or you can try and win another World Series title.

The Giants may decide that Lincecum won't be worth that $100 million investment in the future. Maybe they'll try to sign him and he'll bolt, like Jose Reyes with the Mets. But there's nothing wrong with trying to win now.

Especially when you don't have to spend $214 million to do it.

Rickie Weeks deal good for the Brewers

February, 16, 2011
2/16/11
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After what felt like an eternity of negotiations, the Brewers and second baseman Rickie Weeks finally agreed to terms on a long-term contract Wednesday. Ken Rosenthal first reported the details of the new agreement, which potentially pays Weeks $50 million over the next five seasons. The fifth year essentially acts as an option, as the Brewers can opt out if Weeks isn't a full-time player in 2013 and 2014.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireGiven Rickie Weeks' injury history, Milwaukee was smart to include an out clause for the final year of his contract.
At close to $10 million per season, the Brewers are paying for fewer than two Wins Above Replacement (WAR) yearly out of Weeks once we account for long-term salary inflation. Weeks produced a whopping 6.1 WAR in the 2010 season, and even though that kind of production may just be a career year, Weeks is a good bet to eclipse the 2 WAR total on a yearly basis. Both his walk rate (10.7 percent over his career) and Isolated Power (.176 for his career) are well above the league average, and these form the basis of his solid .355 career OBP and .429 slugging percentage.

The obvious comparison for Weeks is another second baseman: the Atlanta Braves’ Dan Uggla. Uggla also received a five-year contract extension this offseason, earning an extra $12 million for a total of $62 million. Uggla has the superior bat -- a .263/.349/.488 career line against Weeks's .253/.355/.429 -- but a worse defensive reputation (which is saying quite a bit) and less speed on the bases. Uggla is also two years older; Weeks won't turn 29 until September while Uggla will turn 31 during spring training.

So the $12 million lower price tag for Weeks seems like quite the bargain. However, I think it makes sense given Weeks's tumultuous injury history. Although Weeks showed no signs of the wrist problems in 2010 that plagued his early career, it remains a worry for many Brewers fans. Last years was the first time that Weeks managed to play more than 130 games in a season -- and only the third time in six tries that he competed in more than 100 games. There's little doubt that Weeks's extension would be much richer -- and perhaps not contain the out clause on the final season -- had he not missed more than 200 career games, including much of a 2009 season that looked primed for a breakout.

Overall, though, it's hard to argue with this deal. The Brewers will be able to escape with relatively little damage should the injury problems strike again, and Weeks is quite likely to be worth much more than his contract while he's on the field. Much like the deals the Brewers have in place with franchise cornerstones Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun, this deal gives the team the flexibility to continue to add talent while retaining a very good player for a long time.

Due to a lack of prospects, the Brewers are set up for the short-term. However, the core talent on the team right now is exceptionally young. Of the team's regular players this season, only fourth starter Randy Wolf and setup man Takashi Saito are over the age of 30. Outside of Prince Fielder and Saito, every other player is under team control at least through 2012. Deals like the Weeks contract should allow the Brewers to stay competitive while rebuilding the farm system.

Jack Moore writes the Disciples of Uecker blog.

Tale of the Tape: Sandman vs. Hell's Bells

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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In response to my post about Trevor Hoffman -- I argued that he should stop at 600 saves -- The Captain's Blogger dispatched this missive:
    Interesting monk-like advice for Hoffman. I wonder how important it is for him to stay ahead of Mariano, though. In my blog, I posted a "tale of the tape" comparing them, and there's really no comparison. There have been lots of references to Hoffman and Mariano having similar cases for the Hall of Fame, but I think they aren't even in the same category. What do you think?

    - William (New York, New York)

Well, they're both closers with huge numbers of saves, so it's pretty hard to keep them from being considered in the same category by almost everybody who follows the game. Like it or not, when people think about relief pitchers they think about saves and almost nothing else.

So I'm afraid you're in for a fair bit of windmill-tilting, William.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't keep at it. Because you're right, Rivera's been significantly more valuable than Hoffman ... and the statistics you presented don't include postseason play, which would of course tip the scales even further.

None of this means that Trevor Hoffman hasn't been a great pitcher. Jimmie Foxx was great; Lou Gehrig was greater. Roberto Clemente was great; Frank Robinson was greater. George Brett was great; Mike Schmidt was greater.

By the established standards of the Hall of Fame, Trevor Hoffman belongs there. But if there wasn't a single relief pitcher already in the Hall of Fame, Mariano Rivera would deserve to be the first.

That's the difference between them, and it's fair to occasionally mention it.

My advice to Trevor Hoffman

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
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If I hope that Trevor Hoffman never saves another game, does that make me a bad person?

I like round numbers. They're easier to remember.

I'll never remember exactly how many games Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson won. But I'll never forget that Lefty Grove and Early Wynn both finished their careers with exactly 300 wins.

* Granted, in both cases it was mostly accidental. After winning his 300th, Grove started three more games but didn't pitch more than one inning in any of them. Wynn wheezed to the finish line, too. After winning his 300th -- his only win in his last season -- Wynn started just once, pitching mostly relief in losing team efforts.

I'll never remember how many hits Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn or George Brett finished with. But I'll never forget that Roberto Clemente finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits.

So yes, it's selfish of me to hope that Hoffman stops right where he is. But wouldn't it be better for him, too? Assuming this is his last season, there are only two things he can still do. He can 1) pad his stats just a little bit, or 2) finish his career with a number that nobody will forget, for as long as people still care about baseball.

The only real advantage to padding his stats would be the possibility that he'll eventually hold the saves record for another decade or two. But there's just not enough he can do, in the season's remaining few weeks, to put much distance between himself and Mariano Rivera.

Rivera's got 555 saves right now. If he pitches for two more seasons and is reasonably healthy, he's going to rack up something like 65 more. That would make 620, and Hoffman's obviously not going to save 20 more games this month. Historically speaking, then, there's nothing to be gained from a few more saves and everything to be gained by sitting tight with 600 on the nose.

Not that anyone asked me.

The Brewers' rotation in 2011

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
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MLB Rumors looks at Milwaukee's 2011 rotation:
    The Brewers made the 2008 playoffs thanks, in large part, to a rotation led by C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Yovani Gallardo has since established himself as a frontline starter, but the Brewers have struggled to surround him with equally capable arms. Barring injuries, the Cardinals and Reds will have strong rotations next year. Here’s how Milwaukee’s starting five will compare ...

    --snip--

    If the Brewers entertain offers for Prince Fielder, as expected, they’ll presumably ask for big league-ready starters in return. Even if they trade Prince, they could have interest in re-signing a pitcher like Bush (he has turned in a solid season). Milwaukee has many question marks behind Yovani Gallardo and Wolf, so it would be a surprise if starting pitching is not at or near the top of Melvin’s offseason wish list once again.

The Brewers have more than enough starters they can use, including veterans Chris Capuano and Chris Narveson, and prospects Amaury Rivas and Mark Rogers. But it's hard to see them competing with the Cardinals and Reds absent some outside help.

And there's help available. Among the free agents who might be available this winter: Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, Tim Hudson, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla, Javier Vazquez, and Brandon Webb.

Of course it was that kind of thinking that led to Randy Wolf's three-year, $30 million contract. And before that, Jeff Suppan's four-year, $42 million deal. If the Brewers can't afford one of the big boys, they probably shouldn't bother.

Which leaves the trade market. I do believe the Brewers should trade Prince Fielder, and I believe they should try to get a couple of hot young pitchers in return. But even if you get them, you can't count on them pitching well immediately. It seems to me that however management plays this thing, the target for 90 wins is probably 2012 or '13 rather than '11.

Update: This post is riddled with errors. I was in a hurry, and didn't check any number of "facts" that were, it turns out, not. Most egregiously, I named Josh Beckett and Tim Hudson as potential free agents, due to their appearance on an old list. But neither are free agents, as both signed long-term extensions since last season.

Thanks to everyone who pointed out my errors.

Reds bolster weak-hitting outfield

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
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Hey, a Hall of Fame-caliber player was just traded to a contender!
There's a lot to like about Chris Dickerson. His career line is .274/.367/.421 and he can play anywhere in the outfield without hurting you much.

Of course, he's also 28 and figures as a fourth outfielder for the Brewers. This move is just about the Brewers getting something for Edmonds while they still can.

For the Brewers, that is. For the Reds, it's about getting one of the better 40-year-old outfielders we've seen in a while. Based on his numbers, anyway. In fact, Edmonds has played so well that it's at least a little surprising the Cardinals didn't claim him, if only to keep the Reds from getting him. As Craig writes, "Because from my point of view, this strengthens the Reds at a time when the Cardinals are in a dogfight with them."

A left-field platoon consisting of Edmonds and Jonny Gomes (or Chris Heisey) could be highly productive.

Don't count out Brewers in 2011

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
6:22
PM ET
Why will the Brewers contend in 2011?

1. The Brewers have already patched up their bullpen.
On opening day, the Brewers' bullpen contained (among others) Trevor Hoffman and Claudio Vargas. After two awful starts, Jeff Suppan joined this awful duo. Those three all had ERAs above 6.90 in April and May, and they combined for a stunning minus-2.96 WPA – mostly via Hoffman and his five blown saves, but also from the general incompetence of the trio. That means that this group was three wins worse than merely average relievers.

Since then, Hoffman has been replaced as closer by John Axford, Suppan has been replaced in the rotation by Chris Narveson and in the bullpen by Kameron Loe. Zach Braddock has taken the role of top lefty from Mitch Stetter (a middling-at-best LOOGY who was utterly incompetent against RHB). Vargas’s low-leverage innings have been split between players like Chris Capuano, who is an interesting project if nothing else, and David Riske, who is merely biding the time until his contract expires.

Axford, Braddock, and Loe have been fantastic since joining the Brewers, combining for plus-2.22 WPA in their time on the team, largely coming after Jeff Suppan’s June 7 release. All three will be under team control next year, making them near locks to be important bullpen pieces next season, added to relievers Carlos Villanueva and Todd Coffey.

2. The Brewers have a favorable payroll situation.
With the toxic contracts of Jeff Suppan, Bill Hall, and others coming off the books, the Brewers will shed roughly $45 million in contracts after this season. After arbitration raises, I estimate that the Brewers will be about $25 million below the 2010 opening day payroll, even if Prince Fielder remains a Brewer. That means they'll have some money to play with.

The Brewers aren't losing much, either. The only important player from 2010 who's on his way out is Jim Edmonds, but he can be replaced in-house by either Carlos Gomez or Lorenzo Cain. At every other position, the Brewers are solid. CHONE's August update projects the Brewers with one above-average player (+2.0 WAR per 150 games) at each position.

That means the Brewers can spend most, if not all, of that "extra" $25 million on their weakness: starting pitching. The market this winter isn't great, but Javier Vazquez, Brandon Webb, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland (likely to decline his mutual option), Jake Westbrook, and Kevin Millwood, among others, are all interesting options. Perhaps a better move would be to use some of that cash to deal with a team like the Marlins, who might attempt to move Ricky Nolasco's high arbitration award in the offseason. They could also trade Prince Fielder for pitching, as Mat Gamel could step in and likely be an average first baseman. For the right pitcher, trading Fielder could actually make the Brewers better in 2011.

The roster certainly isn't perfect, but much of it is returning and there's money to fix the holes.

3. The NL Central is weak.
St. Louis has a good team this year, certainly, but it's not without its holes. Perennial All-Stars Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Matt Holliday form an excellent core, but there are question marks after those four players. The back of the rotation has struggled mightily, as the Cardinals have attempted patches with Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan, eventually trading Ryan Ludwick away for Jake Westbrook. Losing Ludwick, one of the better right fielders in the NL, will hurt next year, and Westbrook will be a free agent. They also lose Brad Penny, who has been injured much of the year, and Felipe Lopez, who was an absolute steal in last year's free-agent market. The Cardinals have played like an 89-win team this season according to Beyond the Box Score's power rankings (looking at cW%). They have a modest amount of money to spend this year, but they are losing enough to the point where I wouldn't feel comfortable projecting any sort of major increase, especially given that St. Louis's top financial priority will be locking up Albert Pujols past 2011, the last year of his current contract.

The Cincinnati Reds have played about as well as the Cardinals so far this year, but there's really only one word to describe why I'm not super high on this team heading into next year: regression. Will Scott Rolen continue to be a power threat in his mid 30s? Is Mike Leake a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher despite skipping the minor leagues? Is Arthur Rhodes really one of the best left-handed relief pitchers in baseball? I'm inclined to say "no" to all of these questions. There's enough young talent on this Reds team to still be solid next season, and they might add Aroldis Chapman to the mix as well, and they won't have Edinson Volquez recovering from Tommy John surgery for half a season. That said, there's no reason to believe that the Reds are anything more than an 89-win team themselves, and simple regression says that we should expect something closer to 86 or 87.

4. "Contending" doesn't mean favorites.
The favorites to win the division next year will be, barring the unforeseen, Cincinnati and St. Louis, in some order and for good reason. However, they're not elite teams, and given the crazy things that can happen during the course of the season, they could each just as easily end up as .500 squads as 95-win teams. The Brewers look like a true talent 81-win team right now. They've played .519 baseball since releasing Suppan, and that's just above what the Beyond the Boxscore rankings expect (a .505 cW percent). I would feel pretty confident calling the roster on hand an 81-win team for next season.

The Brewers had a similar projection opening the season last year, and were given playoff odds of about 17 percent by Baseball Prospectus prior to the season. With the money available to plug holes in the rotation, the Brewers can definitely make themselves a preseason contender (say, 30-40 percent playoff odds) prior to the season, even if they're not favorites.

Jack Moore writes about the Brewers at Disciples of Uecker, a member of ESPN.com's SweetSpot Network.

Can Giants spare what Brewers want?

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
3:00
AM ET
MLB Trade Rumors with a pretty good one:

The Brewers asked the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner in exchange for Corey Hart, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link). Giants GM Brian Sabean is understandably hesitant to deal either pitcher.

--snip--

Sanchez has a 3.47 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 this season. The Giants control the 27-year-old's rights through 2012. Baseball America ranked Bumgarner second among Giants prospects before the season (after Buster Posey). So far in 2010, the 20-year-old left-hander has started four games and posted a 2.57 ERA.

Yes. Understandably. You trade for Corey Hart only if you're trying to win, and removing Sanchez or Bumgarner makes it harder to win.

Granted, Hart might be more valuable than Sanchez and is probably more valuable than Bumgarner ... but general managers just don't like to trade one key piece just to get another. If the Giants trade one of their starters, who's going to fill in? Todd Wellemeyer? They already tried that. It didn't work. Joe Martinez? Well, sure. Unless there's a good reason why he's turned 27 and has started only six games in the majors.

And while it's certainly possible that I'm missing someone, it looks to me like Wellemeyer and Martinez are Nos. 6 and 7, with No. 8 somewhere in Class A, little but a gleam in Brian Sabean's imagination. Which brings up another impediment: If the Brewers can't have Sanchez or Bumgarner, they'll presumably want at least one super-hot pitching prospect. And with the possible exception of young Zach Wheeler (and his super-high walk rate), I'm not finding anybody who fits that description.

So maybe there's just not a good fit here.

All-Star Hart more than summer fix

July, 7, 2010
7/07/10
1:27
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The most valuable, historically significant bit in this Nick Cafardo column-o-rama is the opening section about Allard Baird and his value to the Red Sox, which is gratifying in a variety of ways. I'm not going to run a clip here, because I'm hoping you'll go ahead and read the whole bit for yourself.

This part, though, I will give you:
    9. Corey Hart, OF, Brewers — He’s available and the Giants have been very interested. The Brewers understand that, given the great season he’s had, he’ll be very expensive in arbitration, which could hinder their plan to keep Prince Fielder. However, the Brewers aren’t completely buried in the NL Central, and don’t forget Ken Macha took Oakland from 15 games below .500 at the end of May in 2005 to first place by Sept. 1. Do the Brewers trade Hart for starting pitching? If they heat up, do they become players for Cliff Lee? This is an interesting team to watch over the next couple of weeks.

By the way, some turnaround for a player who opened the season as a platoon guy and wasn't submitted by his team for the All-Star ballot.

Granted, Cafardo wrote the above a few days ago, but it's hard to support the argument that the Brewers "aren't completely buried in the NL Central" ... they're 10.5 games out of first place! They're 8.5 games behind the second-place team! Only three teams in the entire National League have worse records!

As fans, we should never discount the possibility of miracles, but Milwaukee's front office simply cannot make any decisions this month with the postseason in mind. Not in 2010, anyway. If the Brewers look at their roster and think they've got a reasonable chance of contending in 2011, then it might make sense to retain Hart, who's still under team control next season. Especially considering that Hart's successor doesn't seem to be immediately at hand.

Meanwhile, the Giants aren't in quite the same leaky boat this season, but they too should think hard before making a big 2010 push. They're in fourth place, and eight National League teams have better records. Like the Brewers, they should be thinking about 2011. Which doesn't mean Hart wouldn't be a good fit. The Giants figure to be competitive again next season, and there's nothing wrong with a pre-emptive strike. Alex Rios didn't help the White Sox win last year, but this year he's been one of their best players.

Brewers in good hands with Attanasio

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
6:18
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A few snippets from Jon Paul Morosi's interview with Brewers owner Mark Attanasio:


    “The thing you have to remember is that we’ve had three million fans coming to this place two years in a row,” said Attanasio, in his sixth season with the team. “They’re looking for winners. Miller Park is really enjoyable, but they’re coming to see this team win. We have to be conscious of that.

    “We think we have a very good team. Our intent isn’t to dismantle the team simply because we may not make the playoffs this year.”

    --snip--

    Q: Trevor Hoffman is currently at 596 career saves, and it sounds like he will return to the closer’s role soon. How do you hope everything unfolds with him?

    A: I’m a fan. Axford’s been phenomenal, but, as a fan, you’d like to see Trevor get to 600. The manager’s been looking at his game tape, looking at where his pitches are located, the angle of them, and it’s much closer to normal now. The last few outings have looked more like the real Trevor. But Axford’s 6-for-6 (in save opportunities).

    Trevor’s the best. His demeanor has not changed at all in this. He’s the same great guy.

    Q: Was it a gut-wrenching decision to release Suppan because of the money involved? (He signed a four-year, $42 million contract after the 2006 season.)

    A: It was difficult because of the personal relationship I had with him -- and gut-wrenching because he’s the consummate professional. He’s a leader in the community. He gave a lot to charities here. His wife was a leader in the team wives’ group.

    But I’m in the investment business. When you run a portfolio, you have to take your losses and move on.

    Q: Do you think the payroll number will be the same in 2011 as it is now?

    A: Roughly. I’m counting on the fans still coming out. It seems like they are. We have a great fan base that allows us to do that.

    Q: Do you consider the Brewers a mid-market or small-market team?

    A: We’re a mid-market team. We’re 18th in revenues and 18th in payroll this year. When I bought the team, we were 27th in revenues and 30th in payroll.


Boy, is that refreshing. The Brewers play in a tiny market, probably the smallest by population in the major leagues. To the north, cows. To the south, Cubs and White Sox. To the east, Lake Michigan. And to the west, the Twins. No excuses from the owner, though.

Drawing more than three million fans to Brewers games in consecutive seasons is a monumental achievement, and Attanasio deserves a great deal of the credit. When an organization loses, year after year after year no matter who's in the front office or the dugout, I'm always reminded of something a good friend once said: "A fish stinks from the head."

The Brewers might be losing this year. But they don't stink.

Meanwhile, regarding the burning issue of Hoffman's status, I wouldn't read too much into Attanasio's affections. He knows that Axford's the better pitcher, but he also knows that if the Brewers are out of contention in August or September, giving Hoffman his shot at 600 saves wouldn't be the worst thing in the world; in fact it would pretty neat if Hoffman finishes with exactly 600 saves, a number that will have some real resonance among the fans (at least until Mariano Rivera sets a new record in 2012).

Another team learns another hard lesson

June, 7, 2010
6/07/10
4:31
PM ET
If you're a Brewers fan, today's a happy day:
    The Milwaukee Brewers have released struggling pitcher Jeff Suppan during the final year of the richest contract in team history.But his numbers steadily declined in Milwaukee and he went 29-36 with a 5.08 ERA in 97 starts and 13 relief appearances. Suppan made two starts this year before being sent to the bullpen.

    The Brewers owe the 35-year-old Suppan the remainder of his $12.5 million salary this season as well as a $2 million buyout of his 2011 club option.

Hey, at least the Brewers are treating Suppan's contract like a sunk cost, which is a good thing. It's easy to suggest they should have made this move a year ago, but somebody had to pitch all those innings and it's not like he cost Milwaukee a division title. Eventually, though, a high-priced and under-performing player, even if he's not blocking somebody better, becomes an organizational distraction and you have to make a move.

Also, the general manager just gets sick of being reminded that he made a huge mistake.

Of course, what's even better than recognizing a sunk cost is not sinking all that money in the first place. There are a couple of lessons here, probably. The first is that you should be really careful about signing St. Louis pitchers, because some significant percentage of their success is probably due to working with Dave Duncan, and Duncan's magic drops away like so much pixie dust when the pitcher becomes an ex-Cardinal.

The other, more important lesson is that you don't commit $42 million to any pitcher who doesn't have a history of great skills.

Respecting John Axford

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
6:59
PM ET
From Tyler Kepner's piece about what might be the last days of Trevor Hoffman:


    Hoffman, 42, converted just five of his first 10 save opportunities this season, and batters are hitting .339 off him. He is 1-3 with a 12.21 earned run average; the victory came after he blew a save by allowing consecutive home runs. His last game, on Sunday, was in setup relief for John Axford, a former independent leaguer who had never before earned a save.

    "It was a little strange,” Axford said. “Actually, a lot strange. It was kind of surreal."

    --snip--

    “He’s the epitome of what the game’s about, playing the game the right way and being the ultimate professional,” said Chicago White Sox starter Jake Peavy, a former teammate.

    “You can’t help but to pull for a guy like that, and I hate to see what’s happened. I don’t necessarily agree, looking from the outside in, with how they treated the situation. Everybody goes through tough times. And for him to throw the eighth inning of a game and then somebody else save it, I just think that’s as disrespectful as can be.”


This, of course, is why they don't let the players decide who gets to play, and when. According to Peavy's logic, when a once-great closer isn't still good enough to close, you have two choices: 1) keep throwing him out there anyway and lose a bunch of close games, or 2) release him. Anything else would be disrespectful.

Whatever. Last October the Brewers committed to paying Hoffman eight million dollars this season. Granted, there's more to respect than money ... but it's a pretty good start, especially for a 42-year-old junkballer who's going to give you 50 innings.

Anyway, this story's interesting as far as it goes, but Hoffman's far from the first great player who had some issues on his way to a graceful exit from the grand game. You know which name in this story intrigues me?

John Axford.

Guy pitched for Notre Dame for three years, walked 118 hitters in 144 innings, got drafted in the 45th round by the Reds, didn't sign, pitched for Canisius, walked 75 hitters in 75 innings, and somehow wound up pitching in the Yankees' system, zipping from low Class A to Triple-A in three short months.

That was 2007.

Axford spent the entire 2008 season with the Brewers' Class A affiliate in Brevard County, Florida and walked 73 hitters in 95 innings. He was 25, and stuck in the Florida State League.

And then in 2009, Axford found it. He dominated Class A hitters, then he dominated Double-A hitters, and then he held his own in Triple-A and finally, in September, the National League. On the last day of the season in St. Louis, Trevor Hoffman walked three Cardinals in the ninth inning and blew the save. In the top of the 10th, the Brewers scored twice. And in the bottom of the 10th, John Axford struck out David Freese and Khalil Greene before retiring Albert Pujols on a pop to the shortstop.

That was Axford's first save, and if he'd never thrown another pitch he might have been thrilled with his career and how it ended.

But of course it didn't end with that modestly magical moment. He opened this season back in Triple-A, and pitched brilliantly, 19 strikeouts (and five walks) in 13 innings.

Is he a worthy replacement for (early-40s) Trevor Hoffman? I don't know. In his brief time in the majors, Axford's walked 10 in 14 innings. He does throw 95 miles an hour, which is a positive marker. He's never given up a home run in the majors, and gave up only two homers in 47 Triple-A innings. You strike out enough guys and keep the ball in the yard, and you can get away with a few extra walks.

Hey, I just wrote more about John Axrod than Trevor Hoffman. Was that disrespectful?

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