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Five Milwaukee Brewers Playing Even Better Than You Thought

by Tim Muma                                                 5/12/2015
                                     12:00pm


Inspired by JR Radcliffe’s tweet regarding the Milwaukee Brewers leader in wins (Michael Blazek), it got me thinking about the other stats that may be surprising through 33 games this season.

While the win is an entirely awful stat to use for evaluation (see Jonathan Broxton's "victory" Monday night), it still was intriguing to see Blazek leading the club.

With that in mind, even if you’ve watched or listened to most of the Crew’s games, you may be caught off-guard with some of the solid numbers being posted. Whether or not the stats below translate to consistent wins remains to be seen, but the five guys below are helping in their own ways.



1) Khris Davis is second on the team in walks

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
We all know his bat has caught fire the past few games, following a prolonged slump (6-for-49), but he’s actually done a nice job reaching base despite the early struggles.

He made a vow coming into 2015 to be more patient, which is something he actually displayed in the minors.

Now thanks to his 14 free passes and 8-for-13 surge (3 doubles, 2 HR, 7 RBI), Davis boasts a .350 OBP and .783 OPS.

He may still take some wild, "healthy" cuts at times, but it should be encouraging to see so many walks, particularly coming out of a rough stretch of at-bats.




2) Gerardo Parra has the second-highest SLG and OPS on the club

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
The yin to Davis’ yang, Parra has put up some gaudy numbers as well. He’s second on the club in doubles and extra-base hits, and is the only Brewer with multiple triples (3).

The 12 extra-base knocks in 81 at-bats gives him a .481 slugging percentage and an OPS of .784 this year.

His effectiveness will surely drop should he play too much, but Parra is a great option to have when one of the three right-handed outfielders needs a day off, are hurt or are struggling.

An interesting part of Parra's 2015 season thus far is that he has been incredible against lefties: 
.364/.385/.818/1.203 in 13 plate appearances






3) Mike Fiers leads the NL in Ks per 9 innings (minimum 20 IP)

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
Fiers is in the top 10 in overall strikeouts with 42, in the ballpark of Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels.

Heading into Tuesday’s start, Fiers had only racked up 29.2 innings pitched – 9 frames fewer than the next closest strikeout leader.

So despite the 1-4 record, ugly 5.46 ERA, gruesome 1.719 WHIP and opponent’s .906 OPS, Fiers has the best strikeout per nine inning mark in the league at 12.7 K/9.

If he can start to limit his mistakes, he should be able to avoid the big inning, and then his other numbers will likely follow the impressive strikeout figures.




4) Ryan Braun has the 7th best hard-hit ball percentage in the NL

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
No, the results haven’t been up to his MVP precedent, but people claiming Braun is suffering from a lack of PEDs are simply catering to the easy narrative.

Braun has the 7th-best hard-hit ball percentage in the NL at 42.6% - tops on the club among qualified hitters.

His OPS is now up to .776 and he is tied with Adam Lind for the team lead in HR (6). Braun has been fighting some bad habits – mentally and mechanically – that he picked up when his thumb was affecting him last season.

However, to say his power is limited without PEDs is simply false.

The hard-hit ball percentage clearly shows he’s doing damage to the baseball, but he is running into some bad luck.

His BABIP – or batting average of balls in play – sits at .282 this year. That’s 53 points below his career BABIP (.335) and 22 points shy of his lowest BABIP (.304) in a season.





5) Jimmy Nelson allowing the lowest percentage of line drives in the NL

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
In case you weren’t aware, line drives are most likely to produce runs over the course of a season, so limiting them can be a huge key to a pitcher’s success.

Nelson has prevented frozen ropes better than anyone in the Senior Circuit – allowing a line drive percentage (LD%) of 14.3% through 6 starts.

We know he’s pitched well, but it’s an impressive position to be in. If it continues, his 4.00 ERA will certainly come down.

Only Nate Karns of the Tampa Bay Rays and King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners have a lower percentage in all of baseball.

His opponents’ BABIP is also on the low end (.261), suggesting Nelson has had good luck on his side in general.

Yet, he’s also been a victim of poor defense on a number of occasions, so maybe that stuff all evens out in the end. Even if the LD% crept into the 16-17% range, it would be an enormous accomplishment.
 

Milwaukee Brewers Could Be a Test Subject for Radical Lineup Idea

by Tim Muma                                                   5/11/2015
                                       12:45pm


What if a manager went way outside the box and incorporated my son’s radical lineup strategy he uses when he plays MLB: The Show on PS3?

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
The other day, I was having an intense conversation with my baseball-obsessed son about why pitchers usually bat 9th. This came up after I pointed out that the Chicago Cubs’ Joe Maddon bats his starter 8th in his first year in the National League.

Note: Yes, I really can have detailed discussions with him because he understand and cares THAT much. He's also only five years old, so if you say anything negative about HIS idea, I will hunt you down.


With that out of the way, I actually like the idea of the pitcher hitting 8th for a number of reasons, though most advanced statistical theories argue it doesn’t make much of a difference – if any.

My son, however, went well off the grid. 

He decided it would be best if he has the pitcher bat leadoff, because in his words, “I can get him out of the way.”

On the surface, it seems to make little sense. As we know ,that spot in the lineup will get the most plate appearances and it would be nice to maximize it with a good hitter.

At the same time, as we often hear that once the first inning is over, lineup position matters little - at least to a certain extent. Ninth or 1st, you'll still have the pitcher in front of your best hitters, so maybe it doesn’t matter which one you decide to go with after the first inning.

Then a funny thing happened - I started to convince myself it was a viable strategy in extreme cases.

Take the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers as a prime example, at least through their first 32 contests.

The first batter of the game for the Brewers currently has a .188 OBP, which is not only horrendous, but good for dead last in the NL.

They’ve reached base just 7 times in 32 attempts (one of those on an error), drawing just a solitary walk and producing exactly zero extra-base hits.

Al Behrman, Associated Press
Brewers’ pitchers, by comparison, own a .108 OBP with one extra-base hit and a pair of walks. They’ve had nearly twice as many PA, but the OBP isn’t terribly different.

So again, maybe he was onto something, and the thinking would be two-fold.

First of all, Milwaukee has already been starting the game with an out 81% of the time. You might as well have that out come from the pitcher who is making an out at only a slightly higher clip.

The pitcher won’t be batting with anyone on base, which is ideal in that you’d like a real hitter up with men on base. Also, now you don’t have to see him bat again for another eight batters. 

In essence, you haven’t put yourself at much of a disadvantage as you’re “getting him out of the way” and avoiding him as long as possible moving forward.

Even if he took three straight strikes and sat down, it could be an improvement in pitches per plate appearance compared to their usual leadoff hitters – Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura.

As for the rest of the game, is there really going to be a tangible impact if he’s hitting 9th or leadoff? Most likely not as by the time his third at-bat would come around, the situation would dictate whether or not you see a pinch-hitter anyway.

Technically, it gives the manager one extra batter to gauge whether or not he’ll leave the starter in the game or look for more offense.

The second reason leading off with the pitcher could work on this team is that the Brewers don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter anyway. In general, I'm thinking about a guy with a high OBP, stong plate discipline and excellent speed.

Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images
This would eliminate the need for a player to buy into this “mentality” since you’re basically going with hitters 2 through 9 instead.

Brewers fans could probably name plenty of hitters in the last few years who seemed to be spooked by the idea of leading off, unsure if they should change philosophies or just be themselves regardless of the leadoff spot.



Gomez, for example, said he hates batting leadoff, despite the previous manager’s insistence on putting him there.

Perhaps it doesn’t make a bit of difference in the numbers, but I can see the potential for a positive gain thanks to the mental component. The mind is still an underrated part of baseball today because it can’t be measured, unlike so many other aspects of the game.

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
Whoever would have the guts hit the pitcher leadoff would need to have a seriously long leash on his job.

Lo and behold, Craig Counsell might actually be that guy.

He just signed a three-year deal, took over a team that was struggling a ton offensively, and has the numbers on this club to back up a radical move.



Now I highly doubt anyone would actually give it a shot, but the 2015 Brewers, as they’re currently constituted, seem to have the perfect storm for an experiment neither Dr. Frankenstein nor Tony La Russa would dare try.

I say it’s time the dream of a five-year-old baseball fanatic comes to life in Milwaukee! Even I can't tell if I'm serious or not, but it would be fun to see at least once.


Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez: The Shocking Streak Killing the Milwaukee Brewers

by Tim Muma                                                     4/25/15
                                         2:15pm



While the Milwaukee Brewers' pitching has been far from stellar, it's the club's offense that has truly confused and frustrated fans since the end of last season.

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
Through 17 games in 2015, the Crew's offense has been shockingly awful, scoring only 2.71 runs per game (second-last in NL).

Last year, the club finished 6th in the NL with 4.01 runs per contest, aided largely by the league's 3rd-most doubles and 5th-best HR total.

And yet, a disturbing trend of offensive impotence was on display at the end of the season.


From August 26, 2014 until the end of last year, Milwaukee tallied just 2.7 runs a game, eerily similar to this season's output. The team went 9-22 in those final 31 contests.

You may have wondered why I'd seemingly choose an arbitrary date like August 26th. From that date through Friday night's contest, neither Ryan Braun nor Aramis Ramirez have had more than one extra-base hit in a game.

With 8 position players in the lineup, including other talented bats, is it fair to blame two guys for a majority of the teams' struggles? This might indicate it's the leading cause.

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
Ramirez's streak of games with 1 or 0 extra-base hits in a game began on August 26th, and it has continued for 45 consecutive games.

During that span, the third baseman is batting a lowly .192 with a .220 OBP, .269 SLG and an unacceptable .489 OPS.

In more than 170 plate appearances, Ramirez has 9 extra-base hits (2 HR, 7 doubles), 2 walks and just 9 RBI.

Not even close to the production you need from your third baseman, and maybe a sign he's playing one season too many.

Meanwhile Braun's numbers have been slightly better, but he hasn't had 2 or more extra-base hits in a single game since August 2nd of last season.

Justin K. Aller, Getty Images
That's a span of 64 games - easily the longest stretch of his career (previous high was 33 games).

In just over 260 plate appearances in that time, Braun owns just 7 doubles and 6 HR while posting a .226 average and .288 OBP.

He has a Jason Kendall-esque .311 SLG and .619 OPS in that span.

In those 64 games, Braun has 53 strikeouts and a mere 22 RBI.


We know the end of last season was due to the injured thumb, but everyone claims it's doing fine this year, so what gives? Braun has only one extra-base hit - a solo HR in the 9th inning while trailing 6-0. You almost can't have less of an impact.

One can still argue small sample for their at-bats this season, though I'd give Braun more rope than Ramirez. It may be time to give the 18-year veteran even more time on the bench as they have options in Luis Jimenez, Jason Rogers and Hector Gomez.

Tom Lynn, Getty Images
Ramirez's lack of production can easily be seen as an age-induced drop.

Braun, on the other hand, has the hope of improvement as he continues to get at-bats with his "new" thumb. He's smoked some balls that have found gloves, so perhaps he's due for a bit more good luck going forward.

We can analyze the offense as much as we want, but if these two guys don't snap out of it or a Khris Davis, Adam Lind and Carlos Gomez (upon his return soon) will all need to be consistent threats.
handful of other players fill their shoes in productivity, not much will change.

If not, the Brewers' 12-36 mark since Braun and Ramirez forget how to reach 2nd base will likely be matched over the next 48 games.




Ron Roenicke Continues to Come Up Short as Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers

by Tim Muma                                                       4/23/2015
                                            6:30am



Ron Roenicke is not the main reason the Milwaukee Brewers are off to their worst start in franchise history at 2-13 entering Thursday afternoon. Managers clearly play a role - whether it be with bullpen and lineup decisions or the mentality of the players - but he's only part of the puzzle.

Jeffrey Phelps, Associated Press
However, with an average team like the Brewers, the manager has a greater impact because the margin for error is much smaller.

That leads us back to Roenicke, who in my opinion, continues to laugh in the face of common sense and fails to put his players in the best position to succeed.

This isn't anything new to 2015, but Wednesday night's contest in Milwaukee gave us two perfect examples of why I'm not a fan.

Many proponents of Roenicke will point to his first season when the Brewers won a franchise-record 96 games in route to a division title. When the talent is there, it's much harder to mess things up. He was thrust into a great situation.

Some would argue - myself included - that his warts showed up in the NLCS (e.g. sticking with Shaun Marcum, starting Mark Kotsay in center field) and it dearly cost Milwaukee its best chance at a World Series appearance.

Back to present day Miller Park on Wednesday night, watching Jimmy Nelson throw a spectacular 8 innings against the Cincinnati Reds, as Milwaukee tries to snap a 7-game skid.

In the bottom of the 8th of a 1-1 game, the Brewers get a pinch-hit, leadoff double from (of all people) Logan Schafer. That set up the first decision:  bunt the runner to 3rd with one out or let the top of the order get three cracks at a base hit?

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
Most times I could go either way, but it ALWAYS depends on the entire situation. At the plate: Jean Segura.

Last season, it makes some sense to bunt as he wasn't hitting at all.

But in 2015, he's been one of the hottest, most consistent bats on the team. Secondly, the infield was playing for a bunt, so the corners were in and the holes were expansive, raising the percentage considerably for a single.

Segura also does a great job of hitting the ball to the right side - so even if he'd be retired on a ground out, Schafer most likely advances anyway. All these factors say let the kid swing.

Then consider Johnny Cueto. It was only his 4th start of the season and his pitch count had reached 100 for the 3rd time this year. He was also coming off an outing where he threw 101 pitches in 7 frames. While he's a terrific hurler, his effectiveness was compromised - and he had just given up a double to a career .208 hitter.

It just made very little sense to intentionally give up an out in that situation.

Almost predictably, Elian Herrera struck out, which took away the advantage of getting the runner to 3rd with 1 out. The results of Ryan Braun and Adam Lind were somewhat moot at that point, because bunt or not, they would've needed a hit to drive in the run.

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
So with the clubs still tied heading to the 9th, Roenicke summons Francisco Rodriguez. Usually, it makes sense to go with your closer in a tie game at home in the 9th or later as there won't be a save situation.

But it's not automatic!

Roenicke chose to do nearly the exact same thing he did in the third game of the season against the Colorado Rockies.


In that contest, it was a tie game in the 8th inning with a pair of lefties ready to bat for Colorado.

Instead of going to Will Smith to face the two dangerous, left-handed hitters, Roenicke sticks with Jonathan Broxton because "he's the 8th inning guy." After the first out, Charlie Blackmon doubled and Carlos Gonzalez blasted a home run to put the Brewers down a pair.

How about a look at the whole situation for once?

Due up for the Reds on Wednesday: a pinch-hitter for the pitcher, Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto.

Either way, the pinch-hitter would have the platoon advantage, so that's a wash at best. That gets us to Hamilton (switch-hitter) and Votto (lefty). The choice should have been plainly clear: Will Smith, not K-Rod.

First of all, Smith is simply the better pitcher at this point in their careers.

Secondly, Hamilton has a better OBP, slugging percentage and OPS when batting left-handed, and is generally less of a threat hitting from the right side. He also only had 12 right-handed plate appearances this season.

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
And for the record, Hamilton was 1-for-2 against K-Rod and 2-for-2 vs. Smith - so that shouldn't have mattered at all. But Hamilton wasn't the biggest concern. That honor belongs to Votto.

Roenicke said after the game that K-Rod has been better against lefties than righties anyway, so that didn't matter to him. That's nice, but did you consider the batter might be worse against lefites?

Votto is a fantastic hitter either way, but his OPS is nearly 100 points higher when facing a righty. Meanwhile, Smith held lefties to a .167 average last season with Votto going 0-for-2 with a strikeout in his career against Smith.

So instead, Hamilton singles and goes to third on a Votto single. Granted, the wild pitch by K-Rod was a bit of a fluke, but there would've been a far greater chance that situation never arises with Smith in the game instead.

Who's to say if or when Roenicke will be fired, but if you wanted to see two examples as to why he shouldn't have been back, Wednesday was the perfect microcosm for how he fails to give the club the best chance to win.






Brewers Mix blog featured writers Tim Muma, John Linn
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