Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Milwaukee's Four Aces

At the beginning of the MLB season, there were rants and raves around the baseball world about the pitching staff in Philadelphia. After all the Phillies had a formidable staff starting with one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last 20 years in Roy Halladay and followed it with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Phillies’ homegrown ace Cole Hamels. It’s hard to argue against the idea that this set of pitchers is one of the most complete staffs that has been seen in baseball. The Phillies have three legitimate Cy Young candidates and are currently the best team in MLB as far as wins go.

The Brewers were considered the second best staff but were a staff of more than capable two slot starters. And Milwaukee and Philly both filled those roles well heading into the All-Star break, but something happened to Milwaukee that changed the shape of pitching in the NL around the break, the addition of Francisco Rodriguez. Since that point it seems that the Brewers starters have a new determination to pitch above their ability on paper and carry leads into late innings where a fierce Brewer bullpen has made it near impossible for teams to put a dent into the Brewers team ERA past inning 6.

Since the All-Star break, the Brewers actually have the best team ERA in the MLB at 2.89, where Philly sits at 3.27. Granted the dominate bullpen has assisted that ERA to become the best in baseball since the middle of July, but the Brewers staff has certainly assisted that mark helping the team go 32-11 in that mark (6 wins better than Philadelphia).

Possibly the only thing making the Brewers better than K-Rod could have done, is the absolute dominance by ace Zack Greinke. Greinke’s second half numbers have been past astounding, with a 6-2 record and a 2.35 ERA despite a 7 run outing, he has been the Major League’s best pitcher during that time, making it feel like a second coming of CC Sabathia in Milwaukee, carrying the Brewers down the stretch into the best playoff run in franchise history. Greinke’s absolute destruction of oppositions can be shown at his impressive 1.01 WHIP and .208 Opponents BA.

Greinke has even been better than the ungodly destructive Roy Halladay. Halladay, although nearly as good carries a 4-2 record with a 2.91 ERA, .6 points above Greinke’s in that same time span. Halladay has been a bit more touchable during that time with a 1.17 WHIP and a .271 opponent batting average. Halladay is a notorious inning eater as a pitcher, but has 20 innings less than Greinke since the break in one less start.

The rest of Milwaukee’s staff has been fantastic in the same period. Yovani Gallardo has carried a dominant line of 5-3 with a 2.59 ERA, 54 K’s in 59 IP and a WHIP of 1.02, marking his territory as the second ace in the Brewers’ staff. Randy Wolf has carried a stunning line of 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 55.1 innings. While Shawn Marcum, the hero of the first half for Milwaukee has a pedestrian (in comparison) stat line of 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA and a WHIP of 1.13 in just 50.2 IP.

When you compare this to the Phillies, the Brewers’ staff lines up just a tad better. Cliff Lee has actually been the Phillie closest to Greinke with a 5-1 record and a 2.40 ERA, Hamels follows very close to Marcum at a 2-3 record but a 3.60 ERA (with some time on the DL) and the winning edge comes in when Oswalt starts going 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA.

Looking at this, should the NL come down to a fight between the Phillies and Brewers in a 7 game CS series you would feel great. Especially with Milwaukee’s unbeatable home record, the Phillies seemed backed against a wall.

It’s time to stop giving the Phillies national recognition and realize, the Brewers over the last 43 games are the best team in baseball, and lined up to be the best team in the MLB playoffs. It’s time for Milwaukee to get optimistic of their baseball team.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

VFBC Podcast Episode 26 "Jeff Cirillo Edition"

Breakdown of The Show:

Taylor Green Freed! :00-18:32
Narveson To The Pen 19:25-29:27
Wily Peralta Dealing 30:36-43:15
Preview/Around NL Central/Chalet Award Winner 44:32-57:37

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cy Axford

The NL has a very strong unit of pitchers. From the three qualified CY Young candidates in Philly to the two phenoms on the bay, the NL league’s choice for the pitching MVP is wide indeed. The last place most voters will look for is the bullpen, but maybe they should adjust their eyes to Milwaukee’s ‘pen and stare down the mustachioed phenomenon, John Axford.

Axford is baseball’s leading closer in saves at 40. He is also entering baseball history in consecutive save marks with 37 astounding chances converted. The bullpen savior from last year is also leading Major Leaguer's in games finished. Already having worked 62.2 innings and striking out 73 in that time he has the makings to be the first CY Young reliever since Eric Gagne did it while taking a needle in the ass. Looking at comparable closers who have won the CY Young, if Axford keeps us the work, he could have a good chance.

Looking at a few outstanding CY Young winning closers, Axford has the makings. The last one was Eric Gagne. Gagne’s season is historic with 55 saves in 82.1 IP the only thing Gagne did that year that Axford can’t touch was the remarkable 137 K’s Gagne was able to obtain. Gagne also did not have the same competition in the NL, as Axford is competing with several starters with ERA’s below 2.5 and records approaching 18 wins.

The most comparable is Mark Davis who won the award while pitching for the Padres. Like Axford, Davis had many logged innings beyond his save mark. Davis finished the season with 44 saves, a very reachable goal for the Axe-man, but had an ERA under 2. That is a goal I think Axford needs to obtain to have any hope to win the CY Young.

With one month to go, Axford still has a great chance to become a valid CY Young candidate compared to the pitching company he would be competing with. In order to have a viable chance, he needs to continue his streak of consecutive saves, lower is ERA and continue to strike out batters at a phenomenal rate. The Brewers closer is by far the best closer in baseball this year and deserves to be in talks for a national award outside of the Rolaids’s Relief Pitcher. He has been one the NL’s most dominant pitchers and very much so deserves to be recognized. Unfortunately the climb to a CY Young will be a very steep hill for the Axe Man, but nothing a closer who is constantly faced with adversity cannot handle.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

VFBC Podcast Episode 25

Breakdown of The Show:

Red Hot! 22-5 Run :00-19:12
Weeks & Gomez Progressing, Roster Shakeup? 20:06-31:42
Rogers and Arnett: Bigger 1st Round Flop? 33:33-46:09
Preview/Around NL Central/Chalet Award Winner 47:25-56:49

Listener/Reader Poll Results

"Who should get the bulk of the PT at 2B right now?"

Jerry Hairston: 73%

Felipe Lopez: 13%

Josh Wilson: 13%

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lessons Learned In 2011

After the Brewers loss to the Dodgers on Thursday at the hands of Clayton Kershaw I got to thinking. This team is heading into the last month of regular season and is really showing what it can do without cornerstone second baseman Rickie Weeks. Roenicke has been able to do one thing so far, win ball games consistently. But, these outings against top quality pitching, not so nice to remember. The Brewers have thrived on offense, yet some ugly numbers jump out at you if you look at some key matchups this year.

When approaching this I decided I would use starts from the best pitcher(s) on teams we will likely see if we make the playoffs/WS. For my purposes I went with pitchers from the Phillies (Halladay, Lee), Braves (Jurrjens, Hanson, Hudson), Red Sox (Lester), Yankees (Sabathia), Giants (Lincecum, Cain), and the D-backs (Kennedy). The Brewers are 4-6 in 11 starts against top pitching talent from this pool. Opposing pitchers are holding hitters to 2.36 runs per start, a drop in production of almost 2 runs from their season average. The only no decision was in a Cliff Lee start against Narveson on April 20th which the Brewers ended up losing in the 8th on a Shane Victorino home run. So, this loss Thursday against Kershaw really didn't surprise me.
What is surprising is the plate discipline the team has shown when facing these elite pitchers. Almost every player on my list is at least making opposing pitchers sing for their supper. The lineup is striking out an average of 5.36 times per start, which given the talent pool of K hungry pitchers seems rather low. Only Sabathia managed to get double digit strike outs against the club. Patience will be vital if we face these pitchers again in Oct/Nov, especially the NL/AL East matchups.

Jurrjens just came back from injury and Hanson is currently down for the Braves, but their starting five may rival the Phillies with a superior bullpen. The Giants achillies heel will be their offense so no problems there, three pitchers threw shut outs against the Brewers, and none of them were by Giants starters. Arizona seems interesting with Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy tearing it up, but I just don't see that team going the distance. The Phillies and Braves still remain the best competition for the Crew in the NL, just like they were April 1st. Philadelphia is the only team from this list we play again in the regular season, so look for this late September matchup to be a good barometer of how the Brewers will fare in October.

Chemistry is something not shown as a stat in the box score, but when watching games pre and post ASB you can see a visible difference in how this team is playing. The Brewers own the 4th best record in baseball, and they have proven that they can win every way possible. The hits, walks, and drop off in strike outs are there, so a lot of it just comes down to timely hitting, and maybe a little luck. But, when you're on a roll like these boys in Milwaukee are sometimes that call goes your way, or a fielder takes the wrong angle, or Prince smashes one over the wall with the bases loaded.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zack, I Am Sorry

I have to get this apology out of the way now, I have waited to long. And after his stellar 7 inning performance last night I am finally going to apologize to Zack Greinke. Zack, I am sorry for not believing in you. Yes, I was one of the many Brewers fans who were ready to jump ship on Zack Greinke after his horrific start at Yankee Stadium on June 28th in which he went only 2 innings gave up 5 hits, 3 walks and 7 earned runs. He got lit up and his body language told me he didn't really give a shit. His ERA sat at 5.63, yes his K/BB rate was stellar, but he seemed to be getting hit hard and also seemed to have a hard time focusing and getting out of jams. Many said he was just unlucky, I didn't buy it, I was too angry. I went as far to say on the podcast and on twitter that I wondered if the Brewers made the right choice by dealing Escobar, Cain, Jeffress and Odorizzi for Zack.

Well since that day, Zack has made me eat every last bad word I spoke or typed about him. In 9 starts since that blowup against the Yankees, Greinke has gone 6 or more innings (7 or more 4 times) won 5 games and lowered his ERA to a beautiful 3.92. Pretty impressive to lower your ERA from almost 6 to under 4 in just 9 starts. That is how good Zack has been over that stretch. His 151 K's to only 29 BB in 121.2 innings is flat out sick and he now has a 12-4 record to his name. The eye test shows that his stuff is sharper, especially his slider which has been so filthy it almost isn't fair for the opposition. To me he also seems to be focusing more and really buckling down with runners on base pitching out of the stretch. Something that I think he really struggled with during and before that Yankees start.

I should have never doubted that Zack would go on a run and start to pitch more like the guy that won the 2009 AL Cy Young award, but I did. I was frustrated. This was the guy that got everyone so jazzed up about how special this 2011 season could be back in December when Jim Breen of Bernie's Crew broke the news that the Crew had trade for Zack. And I just didn't think he was coming through like he should have. Well, he has and this season has been every bit the special season we anticipated. And if the Crew does hang on to this lead over the Cardinals and win the NL Central, there is no one I would rather have take the ball in game 1 of the NLDS than Zack Greinke (no offense Yovani and Shaun). He's earned it and proved it. He is the true ace.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Calling All Gloves, Randy Is Up

Going into 2011 there were a lot of new faces, especially on the pitching side, and with that came expectations and questions. Who is our number one now that we have three elite pitchers? The debate slightly cooled after Greinke's injury, but was refueled in May when Greinke returned and Marcum/Gallardo had been really heating up after some April scuffles. Now all the talk has shifted to Greinke, posting 44 Ks and only 10 walks since the All-Star break. Through all this one thing has remained a constant, Randy Wolf. While a number 4 pitcher on a staff isn't looked at as the guy you can put out there and not worry about, Wolf has proven time and time again that his experience, and his knack for being backed by great defense, are invaluable to the Brewers as we head down the final stretch.

Before the break the only pitcher with a lower ERA than Wolf (3.65) was Marcum (3.39), and Wolf pitched almost 7 more innings than Marcum in that span. He also held opponents to a .259 average which was good for 3rd behind Greinke (.258). After the break Wolf has been following the same path with his 2.34 ERA good for second best among starters behind Greinke (1.56) and again has pitched more innings than any starter. All other stats are comparable as well, so I think we should see much of the same from Wolf going into late August.

A few areas are troubling when you look at his body of work, the first of which being FIP. FIP, for those that don't know, stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, so basically things that the pitcher is accountable for are the only things factored into this equation (HR, BB, K, IP). Randy Wolf has a club leading 3.30 ERA, but his FIP sits almost 100 points ahead of that at 4.25. Why the huge gap? Well to put it kindly some would say Randy Wolf is "lucky". I would disagree and say that Wolf is a product of what he does, and the supporting cast behind him. There will be fly balls, but his 8.3% HR/FB ratio is actually below the league average of 10.6%, so more often than not he will give the defense a shot at the ball before he let's one leave the park.

We know a couple things right away when talking about Wolf, number one is he is not going to surprise anyone with a 95 mph fastball, maybe a 55 mph curve, and number two is he has always been a contact pitcher. The sooner people realize these facts the better it will be for all of us. When you become blind to other stats and focus on ERA, like a lot of casual fans do, you miss the big picture that is Randy Wolf. He has given up more hits than any starter, and has the highest WHIP (1.25) since the break, which explains the large gap between his ERA and his FIP. His .281 BABIP isn't a very lucky number, actually the opposite, so Wolf does and always will need good defense behind him. Last night against the Dodgers was a prime example of this style of play. Wolf walked 5 and earned himself 4 double plays and a triple play for his efforts. This was an exaggerated version of what I am talking about, but the results are there if the defense shows up.

Wolf is what he is, a rare breed, an often looked for but seldom found product. Without a doubt I can honestly say that I would be hard pressed to find a better number 4 on a staff not named the Phillies, in the entire league. Wolf gives you veteran leadership who is active with players and media, a personality that positively effects the clubhouse, and 30-35 starts in a season that you don't have to worry about as a fan or manager if you give him a good defensive effort to back him up. His pitches aren't pretty and he may not have swagger, but Randy Wolf will always be there when you need him. I think it's time to revive the Wolf Pack in Milwaukee, who's with me!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Listener Poll Results

"Did you like the deadline deals for Lopez & Hairston?"

Yes: 100%

No: 0%

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

VFBC Podcast Episode 24

Breakdown of The Show:

Betancourt/McGehee On Fire! :00-12:54
Gallardo, Is He The #1? 14:10-29:28
Minor League Update 30:35-52:38
Preview/Around NL Central/Chalet Award Winner 53:39-1:09:05

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Listener Poll Results

"Favorite food at Miller Park?"

Brat: 41%

Hot Dog: 5%

Cheese Fries: 11%

Cactus League Nachos: 17%

Brewer Burger: 5%

Pulled Pork Parfait: 17%

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

VFBC Podcast Episode 23

Breakdown of The Show:

Weeks Injury/Lopez & Hairston Deals :00-28:21
Zack Greinke On Fire 29:45-41:42
Strong Bullpen Suddenly 42:42-54:37
Preview/Around NL Central/Chalet Award Winner 55:41-1:16:54

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How To Succeed In The NL Central Without Really Trying

We all knew going into this stretch of games what the Brewers had to do. With the best win percentage at home in baseball, and a three team nine game homestand against the NL Central, the Crew needed to protect their slim lead on the division. Two series against the offensive juggernauts that are Chicago and Houston where the tasty looking ones in this stretch, and with St. Louis to wrap it up the Brewers could find themselves in great position going into August. So far in 7 of 9 games the Brewers have had 7 wins, including a classic last night when Milwaukee took on the Cardinals for the first game in the series. So how have the Brewers done it? To answer that lets delve into the stats sandwich that is this weeks box scores.

Take a look at the stats and you would see a lot of close games, small scores, and a lot of boxed zeros, so hitting must not have been that great right? The exact opposite seems to be true when the stats are stretched out over the span of those seven wins. Using batters with a minimum of 15 ABs over the past week as a guide Brewers hitters have a .328 average. They have also smashed the ball collecting 14 doubles and 30 RBIs in the process. The Brewers were also aggressive on the bases, not with stealing bases, but with forcing the opposing defense to be uncomfortable whenever guys got on. The "Roenicke Effect" seems to be working and other teams are trying to anticipate what the runner is doing even when they aren't doing anything. With everybody contributing, most on different days, the pitching staff had it's work cut out for it, but did they ever deliver.

The starting pitching has an ERA of 1.66 during the current 7 game win streak including two shut outs thrown by Wolf and Gallardo. But, it doesn't stop with the starting five because the bullpen, since the acquisition of K-Rod, seems to be a whole different animal and I am beginning to wonder if we even need a lefty in the pen. Batters who have had the unfortunate luck to face this staff over the past week are batting just .218 against starting pitching, and a meager .125 against the bullpen. K-Rod and Estrada are the only two bullpen pitchers to give up any runs since the beginning of the homestand, 1 apiece. Starting pitching has been economical as well, averaging 104 pitches a game, mostly due to the stellar work of our bullpen arms.

The one thing that the Crew still doesn't have is a semi reliable bench, with Kottaras' RBI and Run being the most stats produced from the dugout. With the addition of Hairston the bench should improve. Hairston should not only be a boost since he can play any position except pitcher and catcher, but he is a good influence in the clubhouse. Reading through Nationals blogs and posts after the trade there wasn't a bad thing said about him. The guy is a perfect fit that I for one didn't see coming here. While Hairston isn't known for power, he is a good defender and a reliable bat. This season his batting average (.266) is almost 100 points lower than his OBP (.340) so he should be a good play when we face lefties to platoon with Morgan, and have some chances to get on in front of the big boys.

My favorite moment this week was that we finally got to Ryan Dempster with some great pitching from Loe and a hot bat from Braun who went 3-4, a double for Hart, and a surprising 2 run triple from Casey. If we played the Cubs every week Casey McGehee would be MVP of the NL, maybe the training staff should work out some Waterboy type situation and make him picture every team as the Cubs. Didn't take much to beat Chicago in the second game as Greinke had a very Greinke-like performance and pitched 6 2/3 scoreless, and a Fielder home run was the difference. Biggest loss of the season as Weeks went down with a bad sprain that will take him out of play for 2-6 weeks. Luckily Melvin brought in Felipe Lopez for next to nothing and should be a serviceable option at second. Good outing by Marcum, and Braun hitting a triple short of the cycle, beat the Cubs and completed the sweep of the baby bears.
*Any stats from here on out mentioned in games played against the Houston Astros will be taken lightly, just as their offense will be the rest of the season. Crew sweeps away the garbage and heads to St. Louis to complete the NL Central trifecta.

In a great pitching matchup with Carpenter and Greinke on the mound the Brewers came out on top to snag the first win from under the Cards and put themselves up 3.5 games in 1st place heading into August. I'm no doctor, but people are not supposed to sweat like that Carpenter. Am I the only one who didn't need to see that in super slow mo? Now, the first two series are should wins while the Cardinals series is a must win, but even with the lack of completion this week these are all divisional games. Everyone of these series counts no matter what the teams record is we face. Complacency has been a trademark of this team in recent memory, so here's to hoping they keep having fun in 2011. Let's keep it rolling Crew so we can see more interviews from the professional, Tony Gumbel.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Who Won The NL Central Trade Deadline?

Everyone has been watching the NL Central race unfold as we move into the last months of the season, a tight race has set itself in place that has three of the teams racing for a playoff seat. Now with acquired players from the deadlines, the teams are ready for the stretch, but who improved their chances the most?

The Brewers have acquired exactly what they were looking for heading into July in some infield help that can get on base regularly and a very strong back end to the bullpen. With Francisco Rodriguez backing up John Axford, the Brewers have a back end to the bull pen that can lock a game up after the 7th inning. Doug Melvin also made an easy and cheap acquisition bringing back infielder Felipe Lopez. We can’t expect Lopez to recreate his 2009 season with the Brewers where Lopez had a line of .320/.407/.448 but Lopez provides a solid switch hitting bat, that is patient enough to take walks and some solid defense in the field while the Brewers only ended up giving a small amount of money and losing no one in an already depleted farm system. The Brewers also were able to obtain Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston’s bat is similar to Lopez, while there is not much power, some speed combined with a high OBP Hairston is a needed addition to a Brewer lineup that just needs some defense and people to get on base. The other great advantage to Hairston is he can play almost anywhere, and well. Clearly what the Brewers need if Betancourt’s bat ever cools off. The Brewers really could have added a left hander for the bullpen, but with little options available to meet all of their needs, Milwaukee did the best it could to fill the holes.

The Pirates on the other hand are trading for help for the first time in nearly 20 years. Pittsburgh were able to get Gold Glove infielder Derek Lee to replace Lyle Overbay at first base. Lee may not be the power hitting, .300 AVG machine he was in his prime, but he is having a great season. Already hitting 12 HR’s and 43 RBI’s he will provide some assistance to Andrew McCutchen and an obvious upgrade at first base. The Pirates also traded for outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick isn’t the upgrade he would have been four years ago, but does add a little bit offense. Both of these trades would have given the Pirates anew 4 and 5 hitter a few years ago but not only give the Bucs a slight upgrade as the continue playing above their means.

The last team to improve was the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis already had a strong rotation, but made it devastating with the addition of Edwin Jackson. Jackson was having a very strong season to this point in the AL and now should only get better in the NL especially with the tutelage of Dave Duncan. Jackson can be devastating but I don’t really understand this trade simply for the strength of the Cardinals pitching staff before this point and the loss of Colby Rasmus. Rasmus was a great bat and defender, and the Cardinals already suffered from an offense that can’t always support its pitching even with the combination of Pujols and Holladay. After that trade the Cards then went on to add Rafael Furcal. Furcal is injury prone, having the worst season of his career and rusting with age and lack of play. The Cardinals have always been dangerous but with the loss of offense I can’t really say the won, but mostly broke even. The one advantage brought in with Jackson were the additions of Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel. Both, strong performers out of the bullpen so far this year, to fill in a somewhat weak bullpen, but both may equal the addition of K-Rod in comparison to the Brewers.

By no bias of myself I have to say that Milwaukee has won the trade deadline compared to its competing teams. I actually didn’t feel that way until this moment, but as I write this article I realize that Milwaukee has actually made improvements to its team while St. Louis created a hole as it plugged another one without truly answering any needs and Pittsburgh surely could not have made it’s team extremely better by trading for slight upgrades to assist a team that’s already playing well above its capabilities. Milwaukee on the other hand, gave up no Major League talent to acquire their new players and answered the problems of a weak back end to the bull pen and somehow managed to get infield help, with a trade market that barely provided any upgrades. Lopez and Hairston should be able to fill in for Weeks for a period and Hairston should be able to back up Betancourt or even replace him should Betancourt play like he did before July again. The Brewers are the winners of the trade deadline in their division although it may not appear so if nothing else but for the big name acquisition by the Cardinals.