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May. 14 2010 - 6:19 pm | 54 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Constant battles, rampant struggles rack Los Brewers

The 2010 baseball season is approximately one-fifth over, and bless them, those underdog Brewers stand at a fairly-lowly 15-19, barely good enough for third place in the pretty-lowly NL Central. As of today, the Baseball Prospectus crew gives the Milwaukee’ers just a 13% chance of squeaking into the postseason. I’m afraid it’s not too early to reference the image of Despair below, universally-understood and specifically curated via Caps of Mishka sports coverage.

GiantDespair

Despair creeps upon Milwaukee baseball

Before I weigh in on what I’ve seen watching the games online, how it matches up with the heavy truth of our under-whelming record, and the still-hot big-picture questions facing the team (Prince Fielder’s slow-ish start & borderline-terrifying free agency situation, Trevor Hoffman’s epic explosion/implosion, bullpen catastrophes galore and starting rotation under-performance, generally gloomy & goofy vibes all around I’m afraid), some comprehensive “where-we-stand” links to get us started from other websites ::

  • Bernie’s Crew has a user-friendly overview of team stats in the categories of offense, starting pitching, and relief pitching. Not much about which to cheer lustily I’m afraid.
  • JSOnline beat writer Tom Haudricourt tweets, re: a recent game: “I was just about to say the Braves going up 1-0 didn’t bode well for the Brewers, who are 12-1 when scoring first and 3-16 otherwise.” Re: strange split struggles in Miller Park, he adds on the hometown paper’s official Crew blog: “It was the 10th loss in 14 home games for the Brewers. Since taking two of three against Colorado to open their home season, the Brewers have lost two of three to St. Louis, been swept in three games by Chicago, dropped two of three to Pittsburgh and now two in a row by Atlanta.” (ATL took the third too, booooo.)
  • Macro-Brew harnesses a nice stat-approach to highlight what is evident to the eye even without employing Aquinas’ theory of intentionality: the bullpen is preposterous. Totally “cooked“.

… running down the hot topics ::

  1. Princey’s future with the team: Mr. Fielder, I have felt closeness to your team-inspiring intensity, your evident hustle, and your mammoth tee-off of a swing, but as MLB Rumors has detailed, the number $200m is getting thrown around w/r/t your next contract (you may have heard you’re a free agent after next summer), and you’re not really doing much to mitigate it, and Boras doesn’t have a public-spirited mission in mind for the world, and we’re ultimately a small-market team, so peace be with you. Peace be upon you. I can see you in (speculated) Fenway in exchange for Buchholz etc., even if the Sox faithful (I see you Will) claim to prefer A-Gon. Personally I hope we hold on to him through this season if we can (reckon there might be clandestine trade chatter already underway at high levels), then look to openly shop our star first baseman around this point next year assuming we don’t have the horses, but obviously it’s impossible to exhaustively or sufficiently the lay of the land in full context in advance, and only the team ownership has full knowledge of what the offers resemble in their pleasant fullness (much like the Prince himself). This year, his strikeouts are up to 35 (already one-quarter of his 2009 total of 138) and his .OPS is down to an unhappy .759 on the year so far, but Goodness Gracious I love watching him at the plate, he’s still got tons of swagger to my eyes, and (this is cliche at this point) everyone knows he starts slowish. I’m still psyched for him to help power us this year.
    Prince Fielder hustles

    Princey hustles positively (not pictured: Scott Boras)

  2. Trevor Hoffman, closer of crisis: I co-sign the judgment of the Disciples of Uecker: I’m afraid it’s time for a radical change. Based on watching T-Hoff serve up grapefruit fastballs in two of four of his excruciating blown saves and watching them get hammered by pro hitters (I mean hammered to a severe degree), I’m never going to be comfortable handing him the ball again in late innings …. those 85 mph batting-practice goofballs aren’t going to get their life or plate placement back without some serious work, say down in AAA. Much respect to the all-time saves leader, but the statistical & visual evidence screams to go with another option, and clearly it can’t be LaTroy Hawkins, our previous 8th-inning veteran who is “puzzled” by his drop in velocity and now has been shut-down for a DL stint after giving up a grand slam to blow a save in epic fashion vs. LAD. Various observers are entitled to express a preference for the new 9th-inning-guy, and the pure data might even point towards a favorite between candidates Villanueva, Coffey, Parra, and Stetter — my personal preference, based on anecdotal evidence, is to go with Coffey (video of his sprint to the mound) in the 9th, Stetter etc. in the 8th, and keep the hard-throwing Villanueva & Parra for long relief, which is obviously needed…
  3. Starting rotation: MLB Rumors surveys the carnage of the status quo, finds that YoGa has been “fantastic”, and as for the rest concludes it’s less carnage-ridden than last year, but there’s a big but: “The Brewers have a solid but unremarkable rotation at this point, though they’re surely hoping to see Wolf and Bush limit their free passes.” I don’t see that we have another option here other than hope Wolf & Davis indeed turn into worthy two- and three-starters… I’m not ready to sell low on Davis yet, just as I’m not ready to go into semi-long-term rebuilding mode yet as long as Prince is hitting behind Braun (who’s been awesome, one of the top-hitting outfielders in the bigs, outta sight and a huge relief to watch him excel, plus Casey is smacking it in above-average ways too, way to go McGehee).

… what would be great here would be to link to some easy-to-watch, light-on-annoying-advertisements video highlights to complement the above, but the official MLB Brewers page (loads with sound) makes it horribly difficult to watch simple video tidbits like that. Going to another online streaming-video site for lower-quality recaps isn’t a great user experience either. Making video fan-friendly (truly so) and open-source and as non-commercial as realistically-possible would be a great look for MLB, but clearly they’re more interested in preserving their monopoly on their video content via their aesthetically-unfortunate and overly-restrictive copyright policy (only click that if you’re emotionally prepared to feel forcibly disconnected from the pro baseball family). We should introduce the top-down MLB corporate team & their consultants to the collaborative, forward-thinking folks at the Center for Social Media and Creative Commons and others.

In lieu of fun and educational video streams, we’ll go back to the original mission of this here Brewers blog, and try to spotlight specific areas on which the team needs to improve in upcoming games. OK OK look, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and say “that would be pretty much offense, starting pitching, relief pitching, and defense”, and that would all be spot-on, but let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard of fandom and aspire to continual team improvement (with an eye towards overtaking the Reds for second, at least, if not the fearsome Cards in first, and at bare minimum facilitating the Cubs’ ongoing project of continual auto-humiliation). With that caveat, here are my top-top-fix-priorities, feel free to refine & enhance in the comments ::

A. Hitting with runners in scoring position – our last series we were again not on our game here, going just 3-14, .214 in this situation. Seems to me this is a first step towards addressing the feast-or-famine nature of our offense, as well as the poor play at home. Easier typed than done, we know. What would be helpful is an intermediate stat, one that made it easy for the community of Brewers observers to see out of those 14 at-bats above, how many we made quality contact with the ball, and how many were (subjectively) middling contact, and how many were whiffs. Obviously this wouldn’t tell the whole story, but like I said, it would be an intermediate step, one that ideally I’d like to have without transcribing every at-bat for posterity. Maybe it can be wrangled from the free data offerings of Baseball-Reference, or maybe teams keep this close to the vest.

B. Keeping the walk rate down from the starters, and for YoGa specifically, keeping his pitch count relatively lower on a consistent basis. That said, managing our starters to throw more to contact has a sizable downside in that our infield defense isn’t understood to be great, esp. at the corners, but what we’re rambling about here is some semi-scientific fan-boosting angles for change, so hey, us fan-boosters can hope. Again, it would be much better to have accessible stats on how many runs against us were made possible by explicit defensive errors vs. by preventable defense lapses vs. by impossible-to-defend well-hit balls, etc., but defensive metrics in baseball are of course even thornier than the selective offensive contact rates sketched above.

C. As per Haudricourt’s observation above, score first or perish trying. It’s one of those oddball stat things where it seems to work, I guess. I’ve already outed myself as a fan of smallball strategies, and with relative speedsters Weeks & Gomez & Escobar in uniform this year, I wish that Ken Macha was borderline reckless on the basepaths and gave them the perpetual greenlight to steal and give Prince & Ryan the chance to knock them in from second base for Runs… but respectively they only have 3, 6, and 0 (!!) stolen bases in the team’s 34 games played to date. While it’s good news the team was a surgical 18-19 in SBs as of the beginning of this month, I’d like to see management less conservative on the basepaths as an admittedly-shaky quick-fix to our young team’s offensive psyche. I could be very very wrong on the tactics here.

Bob Uecker

The voice of summer in MKE

That’s it for now, our beloved Crewers take on the gully Phillies tonight in Brew City. Coming soon, blog posts on other statistical metrics we need in user-friendly formats, more critiques of the agonizing MLB.com web interface & video policies, more thoughts on the economic realities of being a small market team at the median of payroll spending in the league, and a look at the Brewers’ at-bat music choices (a personal pleasant obsession). Go Brewers, and Bless You, Go Mr. Uecker, in your recovery from heart surgery.


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