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2008 Milwaukee Brewers
You Can't Win When Your Defense Does Offend 2008 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
February 27, 2008

Part One | Part Two

2007 Starters   Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall, Corey Hart, Kevin Mench, Gabe Gross
Projected 2008 Starters   Mike Cameron, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart

Prefatory statement - part of me wishes that the Brewers would keep Braun at third and hope he improves, and load the outfield with Gabe Gross, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart. I would rather have Gross in the lineup on offense everyday than Hall, and I think Braun is a young guy whose defense will work itself out. However, Braun was simply atrocious at third, so I can't fault the Brewers, and the window seems to be closing on Gabe Gross.

In my Cleveland Indians preview, I made the point that while there is not much to hate about third baseman Casey Blake, there is not much to like either. Ryan Braun is the anti-Casey Blake. You have to fall in love with his 91 runs, 34 homeruns, 24 doubles, 6 triples, 97 RBI, and 15 out of 20 stolen bases in 113 games in the first major league action this kid ever saw in 2007. But you have to hate his 112 strikeouts (nearly one per game), his 112/29 K/BB ratio, the fact that his OBP is only 46 points higher than his average, his 13 double plays, and his truly major league worst defense.

So, is this kid Kevin Maas, or is he Albert Pujols? I don't expect 30+homeruns, and 90+ runs and RBI in 450 at-bats again, but he will also hurt the team a lot less in left field than he did at third base. Although - something to watch for - when Chipper Jones moved to left field early in this decade, he suffered through some of his worst offensive seasons of his career.

Brewers Fun Fact
Five of the eight players slated to start in the field on opening day for the Brewers were either born in 1982, when the Brewers last went to the playoffs, or after.
The good news in the outfield is of course Mike Cameron. Any time a team can replace a league worst defensive centerfielder with one of the elite defensive centerfielders in baseball, things are looking up. Cameron, of course, will be 35 this season, which isn't exactly prime age for a centerfielder, and struggled at the plate playing for the Padres last season. Nevertheles, it would be hard for any replacement for Bill Hall to not be an upgrade.

2007 Crew Kevin Mench, Craig Counsell, Damian Miller, Gabe Gross, Tony Gwynn
Projected 2008 Bench Counsell, Russ Branyan, Gwynn, Gross

The Brewers have a remarkably talented bench. Unfortunately for Gabe Gross, he will be 28 this year, the outfield is stocked, and he took a step back last season while seeing his playing time decrease. He still could be a very valuable player, and is the type of player Billy Beane will probably be picking up off waivers in a year or two.

It is hard to figure out where Tony Gwynn, the nephew of former major leaguer Chris Gwynn, fits in with this team. He projects to be an empty average player in the majors, which is a problem because he has hit .260 in each of his two seasons so far.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Ben Sheets, Claudio Vargas, Yovani Gallardo
Projected 2008 Starters Sheets, Suppan, Bush, Gallardo, Manny Parra, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Capuano, Claudio Vargas

Yovani Gallardo
It would not be inappropriate to describe the Brewers' rotation as "much-maligned." Ben Sheets is always hurt, and his big contract ensures that fans don't forget it. Dave Bush may be one of the best peripheral pitchers in baseball, but has posted absolutely lousy WHIP and ERA figures in the last three seasons. Chris Capuano had an overrated 2005 and 2006 before simply bottoming out in 2007, and Jeff Suppan is, well, Jeff Suppan.

Assuming that the Brewers' defense improves, which is a big assumption, it is my opinion that a close study of the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff from 2007 to 2008 will demonstrate just how important defense is to a pitching staff. Indeed, if this Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff had played with an even decent defense in 2007, they could have been a World Series caliber squad.

Consider the following: When it comes to defense independent pitching statistics, Milwaukee's pitching staff finished 2007 ranked fourth best in the National League in homeruns allowed, third best in total strikeouts, and fourth best in total walks. But in statistics that depend on defensive support, Milwaukee pitching staff was horrendous – tenth in the NL for fewest hits allowed and ninth in the NL for fewest runs allowed per game. What’s more, Milwaukee ranked an astonishing 27th in Major League Baseball in what ESPN calls DIP%, which measures the ratio of defense independent stats to defense dependent stats.

For comparison's sake – the teams that comprise the bottom third of major league baseball in DIP% are: the Dodgers, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Florida, the White Sox, Milwaukee, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay.

Of these teams, the Dodgers and Mariners made nominal runs at the post-season before fading before the weather turned cool. Meanwhile, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Florida, the White Sox, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay were among the worst overall teams in baseball.

The Brewers' rotation will get a bit of help in 2008, not only from its defense, but also from some new faces. At 22, Yovani Gallardo, who struck out 439 batters in 380 innings in his last four years in the minors, will be with the big club for a full year after making a big splash (9-5, 3.67 ERA, 101/37 in 110.1 innings) in 2007. 25-year old Manny Parra, who struck out 528 batters in 545.1 minor league innings since 2002, looks to have a shot to make the rotation, and 24 year old Carlos Villnueva looks to get some time either in the rotation or in the bullpen, and posted 470 K and 128 walks in 473.1 minor league innings since 2002.

By July, look for baseball pundits all over the country to talk about what a big surprise the Brewers pitching staff is this year. And remember that you heard it here first.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Francisco Cordero, Derrick Turnbow, Brian Shouse, Matt Wise, Chris Spurling, Scott Linebrink.
Projected 2008 Relievers Eric Gagne, Turnbow, Dave Riske, Saloman Torres, Guillermo Mota, Shouse, Seth McClung

It is not uncommon for a general manager to fill his team with players who played for his former team. This is the phenomenon that brought Sammy Sosa to the Cubs and has stocked the Cincinnati Reds with former Minnesota Twins. This is what has happened in Milwaukee. While this has been a disaster in the outfield - where the train which carried Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench has now brought Gabe Kapler into town - but so far it has paid dividends in the bullpen, where Brian Shouse and Francisco Cordero managed to resurrect their careers the last couple years in Milwaukee.

Hmm, could there be a lesson here? Pitchers who were mediocre in the Ballpark in Arlington are worth a shot, whereas hitters who owe their success to the Ballpark should be left alone?

Anyway, 2008 will see the arrival of Eric Gagne from Texas, by way of a brief, disasterous, but World-Series-ring-producing run with the Red Sox. The Brewers hope the former NL Cy Young Award winner can get enough of the old form back to make up for the departure of Cordero, and Gagne showed that he was capable of pitching the way he used to for at least half of the season with the Rangers last year.

The rest of the bullpen is a bit of a mixed bag. Derrick Turnbow is simply too wild to succeed; his strikeout totals look great, but his walk totals are unforgiveable. Riske was solid as ever last year with the Royals, even coming close to setting a career mark for ERA, but has never gotten me very excited. Guillermo Mota's left his heart in Los Angeles, and has never been the same. Salomon Torres will be 36 this year and has his first bad year out of four last season. Seth McClung is not even worth a comment.

Frankly, the Brewers have so many options in the rotation that the bullpen may be filled with guys like Marra, Villanueva, and Vargas simply because there is nowhere else to put them.

Outlook for the Season

There is no way around it - the Milwaukee Brewers should have won the NL Central division last season but did not. With one of the worst team defenses in recent memory, the Brewers managed to win 83 games and lead the NL Central for most of the year. Part of the problem was that this team was young and not quite ready for prime time. But this team is another year older, and hopefully wiser. Another part of the problem was defense, which the team has done quite a bit to address but has not completely resolved. A third problem for this team was pitching. See problem number two.

Without a clear favorite in the division, and with the 2007 division winner having been a relatively weak team, the Brewers are the team to beat in 2008. The squad appears to have limitless potential on offense and a terrific pitching staff that just needs some consistency. In 2008, it will all come down to defense once again. But rest assured, this team can possibly be as bad on defense in 2008 as they were in 2007. Or so they better hope.

Part One | Part Two
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