What does Scooter Gennett’s demotion mean for future?

May 20, 2015 Comments off

This could have been the year of Scooter.

After splitting time with Rickie Weeks last year, Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett was given the chance to take over the full-time job. With a solid season, Gennett could have established himself as the team’s second baseman of the future, or at least the next few years. Instead, he’s squandered that opportunity through the first quarter of the season.

Gennett has batted just .154/.203/.200 over 21 games with 10 singles, one home run and three RBIs. He also walked twice — both intentional passes on April 17 as the Pirates pitched around him to face the pitcher — and was hit by a pitch, while striking out 19 times. Nineteen strikeouts in 69 plate appearances put his strikeout rate at 27.5 percent, or higher than his on-base percentage. Missing two weeks with a freak hand injury didn’t do him any favors, either.

So now the fan-favorite second baseman has been sent to Class AAA to figure things out. How long will that take?

When the Brewers made a similar move with Weeks in 2007, he batted .455/.571/.682 over six games before returning. Weeks went from a .212/.330/.363 slash line through July 31 to a .273/.442/.553 mark over his final 43 games of the season. Whether Gennett’s demotion has a similar impact remains to be seen, but the bigger question is whether it even matters.

Gennett entered the season as a career .300 hitter, but offered little more beyond his solid batting average. He can’t hit left-handed pitching — .112/.141/.124 career slash line in 89 at-bats — and appears to be best suited for a platoon role going forward. His defense, while adequate, is not good enough to make up for any offensive shortcomings.

It’s possible Gennett could return in June or even by the end of the month and look more like the hitter he was in 2013 and ’14. It’s also possible this demotion is the beginning of the end for Gennett as the Brewers’ everyday second baseman.

While second base is not a strong position in Milwaukee’s farm system, the club has a number of well-regarded shortstop prospects, with Orlando Arcia, Luis Sardinas and Yadiel Rivera being the closest to major-league ready. If one of them is given a chance to play every day this year or next, it could force Jean Segura over to second base and leave Gennett as the odd man out. Sardinas, who was acquired in the Yovani Gallardo trade with the Texas Rangers, joined the big league club when Segura went out with an injury and has an excellent opportunity to showcase his ability in Segura’s absence.

Meanwhile, Hector Gomez and Elian Herrera will get a chance to show what they can do at second base.

If he sorts things out in Colorado Springs, the second base job remains Gennett’s to lose. But he might do just that if it doesn’t translate to major-league success upon his return.

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Mike Fiers’ strikeout rate on historic pace

May 13, 2015 Comments off

Mike Fiers is striking out batters at a historic rate for the Milwaukee Brewers.

It’s still May, so there’s little doubt his numbers will regress, but his 12.25 strikeouts per nine innings ranks highest among qualified pitchers in franchise history. Next on the list is Zack Greinke at 10.54 K/9 in 2011, and Ben Sheets at 10.03 in 2004 is the only other pitcher above 10.

Former ace Yovani Gallardo’s seasons from 2009 to 2012 rank fourth through seventh, while Jimmy Nelson’s 8.75 mark entering Wednesday’s game was eighth. Expanding out further, Fiers numbers are even more impressive.

He leads the National League and ranks second in MLB behind Cleveland Indians starter Danny Salazar’s 13.09 mark. At his current rate, Fiers would be eighth all-time in MLB, amid five outstanding seasons from Randy Johnson, who also holds the top mark at 13.41 K/9 in 2001. Other names in the top 10 include Kerry Wood and Pedro Martinez. Not bad company to keep.

Unfortunately for Fiers, his other numbers haven’t translated quite as well.

His 3.75 BB/9 is among the 10 highest in the NL, the 1.50 HR/9 rate is in the top 15, and opponents’ batting average on balls in play against Fiers is second-highest in the NL at .383. When Fiers isn’t missing bats, he’s getting in trouble by putting runners on base and compounding that with bad luck on balls in play. This is somewhat reflected in the difference between his 5.00 ERA, 3.94 FIP and 3.32 xFIP. With fielding out of the equation and a normalized home run rate, his numbers improve significantly.

Fiers is unlikely to finish the season above 12 K/9, something that’s been done only nine times in MLB history. Having entered the season with a career rate of 9.17, he may not even join Greinke and Sheets above the 10.0 mark.

Still, Fiers’ remarkable strikeout rate is something to keep an eye on as the season plays out.

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Craig Counsell a perfect fit for Brewers

May 6, 2015 Comments off

Craig Counsell has watched Milwaukee Brewers games for 35 years. Now, we get to find out what he’s learned along the way.

As a kid, he spent his days at County Stadium, where his father worked in the front office for nearly 10 years. At 16, he looked on with 29,356 others on Easter Sunday as Dale Sveum belted one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history.

In 2008, Counsell looked on from first as Ryan Braun crushed a walk-off grand slam to help the Brewers keep pace for the wild card. Two years later, he was there for Trevor Hoffman’s 600th save, throwing a strike from shortstop to first for the final out.

As his career neared its end, Counsell watched from the dugout in 2011 as Braun’s three-run homer helped clinch the National League Central.

Now, as Brewers manager, the 44-year-old Counsell looks on in a different role. One for which he’s a perfect fit.

Baseball in Milwaukee is important to Craig Counsell. He’s a Milwaukee Brewer and he’s “always felt that way.” Sure, he also was a player for the Rockies, Dodgers, Marlins and Diamondbacks along the way, but he came back to his hometown team. A team he wants to see succeed.

Of course, local ties can take Counsell only so far. His experience, knowledge and approach to the game also make Counsell a perfect fit for Milwaukee.

Counsell knows this team as well as anyone this side of general manager Doug Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio. Stepping in as manager, he’s already been with the team since 2007, including two-plus years in the front office. He knows the roster, the farm system and the front office. More importantly, he has a relationship with the players, having been a teammate of eight of them.

According to those teammates, Counsell was a hard-nosed player, an excellent leader in the clubhouse and “basically a player-coach” in his final seasons. He’s highly regarded within the organization and around the league, having been considered by other teams for jobs in recent years.

Counsell isn’t going to take this team to the World Series this year, and he may never do so. But he’s the perfect fit for what this team needs right now.

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Brewers are likely to sell, so why wait?

April 29, 2015 Comments off

The best news for the Milwaukee Brewers this week? Adam Wainwright’s season-ending achilles injury. But not for the reason you might think.

No, the loss of Wainwright isn’t enough to get the Brewers back into contention. Not even close. Rather, the Cardinals’ ace going down for 9-12 months is good news for the Brewers, who undoubtedly will be looking to sell at some point in the next three months.

Teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers, on the other hand, are in the market for starting pitching following season-ending injuries to Wainwright and Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy.

At 4-17 before Wednesday’s victory, the Brewers were off to the worst start by a National League team since the 1997 Chicago Cubs. That team finished 16 games out of first place at 68-94, back when the Brewers were still in the AL.

The Baltimore Orioles started 4-17 as recently as 2010. That team was 32-72 at the trade deadline, and actually improved from there to finish 30 games out of first place at 66-96. Recent history doesn’t offer much hope for the Brewers, even at 5-17.

The last team to win just five of its first 22 was last year’s Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished 64-97 for MLB’s worst record.

Oddly enough, the biggest thing holding the Brewers back from selling could be their own futility. Who wants to trade for a guy with a 7.28 ERA? How about a pair of all-stars on the disabled list?

Fortunately for Milwaukee, they still have quite a bit to offer, especially if teams bet on players like Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza continuing to bounce back after season-opening slumps. For a true rebuild, which such a poor start could merit, just about everyone should be on the trading block, even stars like Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy, once healthy.

At this point, it looks like a question of “when” not “if” the Brewers will sell. The answer should be sooner rather than later, to maximize value.

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‘Quality’ pitching key for a Brewers turnaround

April 23, 2015 Comments off

Through 15 games, the average MLB team has seven quality starts and a 3.88 ERA. The Milwaukee Brewers, as you may have noticed, are not the average team.

Just four of the team’s starts this season have been deemed “quality,” and two of those came this week. They went nine games without one before Wednesday, the Brewers’ longest stretch since 2001.

As a staff, they now sport a National League-worst 4.89 ERA, which actually has improved by nearly half a run thanks to back-to-back gems from Jimmy Nelson and Kyle Lohse. For as bad as the team’s offense had been, the Brewers’ pitching was worse.

With a quality start requiring six innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs allowed, it’s hardly a spectacular achievement. Still, it’s deemed quality for its ability to give the offense a reasonable chance to win the game. The Brewers haven’t given their offense that chance too often this season.

Milwaukee has a first-inning ERA of 6.75, and a 7.31 mark in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. By the time the seventh rolls around, the offense often has been buried. The first-inning numbers — 12 earned runs on 20 hits — are particularly concerning, as the Brewers are 0-10 this season when playing from behind.

Tuesday night’s loss to the Reds epitomized how poorly things had been going.

After a third-inning bases-loaded situation predictably resulted in a grand slam, the Brewers’ offense surprised with four runs of its own in the bottom half of the frame. But the Reds killed any Brewers momentum with a Todd Frazier grand slam in the fourth and additional blasts in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Even on a night when the offense matched its run total from the previous six games, the Brewers still lost 16-10.

Mike Fiers’ ugly outing inflated the young right-hander’s ERA to 6.75, putting him fourth in the rotation, ahead of Lohse at 7.94 and behind Matt Garza and Wily Peralta at 5.40 and 5.68, respectively. Only Nelson is under five, with a 1.35 ERA.

The offense is showing signs of breaking out, and the pitching staff is too. If the latter can keep it up, the Brewers still have some hope of turning around the worst start in franchise history.

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Mysterious case of Brewers’ missing power

April 16, 2015 Comments off

What happened to the Milwaukee Brewers being a power-hitting team?

Through nine games this season, they have just three home runs, which have driven in a combined six runs. It’s still a small sample size, but that puts the Brewers on pace for just 54 home runs this season. Last year they ranked fifth in the National League with 150.

Since finishing tied for last in the majors in 2004, the Brewers have finished in the top seven in the National League in home runs each of the last 10 seasons, including league-leading totals of 231 in 2007, 185 in 2011 and 202 in 2012. During that same stretch, the ’11 San Diego Padres posted the lowest single-season total with 91.

This season, Adam Lind, Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura are the three Brewers who have gone deep. That leaves Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis among those that have yet to hit one over the fence. The four sluggers have combined for 691 career home runs, with a combined 162-game average of 105.

With those names in the lineup, there’s no doubt this team will get its home runs. But it does make their nine-game season-opening stretch puzzling.

So what’s going on with the 2015 Brewers?

They’re not hitting many fly balls, and the ones they do are staying in the park. That sounds obvious, but stay with me here.

The Brewers’ 30.8 percent fly ball rate is 23rd in MLB, while their 4.7 percent HR/FB rate is 29th. Conversely, they have the seventh-highest ground ball rate at 49 percent and their 1.59 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is seventh-highest in MLB. Milwaukee’s 20.2 percent line-drive rate is in the middle of the pack at 19th.

Thanks in part to the low home run and fly ball rates, the Brewers have struggled to score runs. They have tallied just 23 through nine games, including two games in which they have been shut out. Milwaukee has topped two runs in a game just three times

They went homerless in three games at St. Louis, the team’s seventh streak of three games or more without a home run since last May. The longest such streak was five games from June 6-11.

It’s hard to put much stock in a “2014 hangover” even with the way the Brewers finished last season. But how else do you explain a power-filled lineup struggling so much out of the gate?

A lack of power is far from the Brewers’ only problem. But fixing it would go a long way toward getting this team back on track.

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Adam Lind finally fills Brewers’ hole at 1B

April 9, 2015 Comments off

It’s been 3½ years since Prince Fielder last put on a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. After a search that took nearly as long, they look to finally have found a suitable replacement.

Adam Lind, the 17th player to start at first base since Fielder’s departure following the 2011 season, is that replacement. Through three games, he’s batting .667 (6-for-9) with a pair of doubles and a two-run home run, the Brewers’ first of the season.

“It’s been nice to see him swinging the bat,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said during Wednesday night’s broadcast. “He looks like a very professional hitter and is going to really help this ballclub in the middle of that order.”

The 16 starting first basemen between Lind and Fielder? Only a handful are household names.

RELATED: 5 bold Brewers predictions for this season

Mat Gamel, Travis Ishikawa, Taylor Green, Brooks Conrad and Corey Hart split time there in 2012. Juan Francisco, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sean Halton, Alex Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado and Blake Lalli were over there in 2013. Last season, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Matt Clark and Jason Rogers joined the mix.

That first group put together a slash line of .258/.322/.452 with 25 home runs, 88 RBIs and 150 strikeouts against 49 walks. The 2013 crew, they were historically bad at .206/.259/.370 with 21 home runs, 86 RBIs, 171 strikeouts and just 38 walks. Finally, in 2014, they slashed .207/.287/.356 with 19 homers, 61 RBIs, 149 strikeouts and 63 walks.

By comparison, Lind batted .287/.351/.467 with 40 home runs, 152 RBIs, 212 strikeouts and 108 walks over 332 games the last three seasons.

“I think he’s going to be a really big addition,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “(He’s) a really true major league hitter that can hit third, fourth, fifth in your lineup.”

With right fielder Ryan Braun out of the Brewers’ lineup Tuesday and Wednesday night, Lind batted third between catcher Jonathan Lucroy and third baseman Aramis Ramirez. He batted fifth on opening day, behind Ramirez.

Lind’s career numbers — .212/.257/.331 vs. lefties and .293/.349/.510 against right-handers — suggest he could be a good fit for a platoon, but Roenicke does plan to give him a chance to face left-handed pitching.

RELATED: Milwaukee still a special place for John Axford

Even with those splits, Lind looks like a significant offensive upgrade a crucial offensive position.

Lind even has flashed some defensive potential at first base, making a diving stop to start a double play on opening day.

The only real question with Lind is one of health.

While he played 143 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013, Lind managed just 189 games combined in 2012 and 2014 due mostly to back issues that date to 2011. Lind also played through a broken foot last year, which in turn caused his back problems to flare up.

He also opened spring training with lower back stiffness this season. Still, the Brewers remain optimistic that Lind’s back is manageable and will not cause them too much trouble.

“It’s not necessarily an issue if he’s playing too much,” Roenicke said. “It’s one play that he’ll be in an odd, awkward position trying to field a ball or catch a throw from the infielders and then something will tweak the back.”

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