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The Phillies are in Milwaukee for a three-game series against the Brewers. You read that right: they are in Milwaukee. The series has not been moved to Philly but you can be damn sure the team will be trying to steal the Brew Crew’s signs. Jamie Moyer will open the series against former Phillie Randy Wolf; Joe Blanton will start game two against Chris Narveson; and Cole Hamels will hopefully wrap up a series sweep against Doug Davis.
I caught up with Jack Moore whose blog Disciples of Uecker is part of the ESPN SweetSpot blog network as well. You can also catch Jack’s work at FanGraphs. Jack’s answers to my questions are below; my answers to his questions can be found here.
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1.The Brewers have put up double-digit runs in six games this season with a total of 87 runs (14.5 per game). In the other 28 games, they have scored 97 runs (3.5 per game). To what do you credit the offensive inconsistency?
This is a textbook case of selection bias. You’re never going to see a powerful offense (say, 5+ runs per game) keep their output between 4 and 7 runs for the entire season. What makes the Brewers offense so good is that they have the ability to bust out and score double digits on any given night. That said, there is a certain amount of inconsistency due to how right handed heavy the lineup is as well as how home run reliant the offense is.
2. What can the Brewers do to improve the starting rotation? After Yovani Gallardo, there is a lot of mediocrity.
They already cut Jeff Suppan from the starting rotation, which was a key move as far as improving the Brewers’ chances at the playoffs. His replacement, Chris Narveson, is a soft tossing lefty, but he has a very good changeup and he racked up 8 Ks in only 5.2 innings against a very good Arizona Diamondbacks lineup in his last start. Doug Davis has been pitching much better than his 7.56 ERA would suggest – he’s running a massive .415 BABIP, as seemingly every ground ball has found a hole while he’s been pitching. The problem is that there just isn’t any sort of #2 or better type talent in the organization beyond Gallardo, and I just don’t think there’s anything that can be done to solve that outside of a major move like a Prince Fielder trade.
3. Trevor Hoffman struggled in April but was able to nail down a save last Friday. Is he in danger of losing his job or are the Brewers attributing his lack of success to a fluke? If he does lose his job, who is most likely to take his job?
I think the Brewers are willing to ride Hoffman out, in part because of how ridiculously well he pitched last year. I doubt that he’s close to losing his job, although I do think he should be out – I wrote yesterday that I believe that Hoffman’s career is effectively over. If he loses the job, the next in line is likely Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva is currently running a ridiculous 11.17 K/9 that will probably settle around one per inning, and his changeup is an excellent pitch that can be used to neutralize left handed hitting. He also throws a slider and a curveball – all of his secondary stuff is very good.
4. Casey McGehee wasn’t an offensive powerhouse during his career in the Chicago Cubs Minor League system. However, he has burst onto the scene as one of the Brewers’ go-to bats, especially while Prince Fielder’s stick has been cold. Do you know if McGehee made any adjustments or received advice that led to his newfound success at the plate?
McGehee’s success is absolutely baffling to me. He burst onto the scene with a solid spring training in 2009 and as far as I know, nothing has changed since then. He somehow found some sort of power stroke after leaving the Cubs system – maybe a Brewers hitting coach found something with his swing, but that’s never been truly discussed or pointed out by the media around Milwaukee. This year, his walk rate has even seen a bump over 11%, which would go even farther towards cementing him as a legitimate major league hitter.
5. Speaking of Fielder, we have both been watching our first basemen hit the skids. Like Ryan Howard, Fielder has had trouble hitting lefties despite enjoying tremendous success against them over his career (.907 OPS against LH starters). Is he being pitched differently than in the past?
Fielder is a notoriously slow starter. He has a 120 wRC+ in April for his career against a 140 overall mark. He still has a .374 OBP, and despite his mammoth power only 10.8% of his fly balls are going for home runs. There’s no way that number stays that low – soon he should return to his career level of 20% – nearly twice that. As far as his struggles against lefties go, it doesn’t appear that Prince has really been pitched any differently – this might just be an example of how splits really aren’t predictive until we get a ton of data. Prince is still young, and we would probably be better off assuming that his splits are closer to those of the typical left handed batter than completely neutral as his current marks suggest.
6. Alcides Escobar hasn’t received good marks from UZR since he was called up to the Majors. Since he is not much with the bat, is this concerning? Do you disagree with his UZR rating?
I’m not worried at all. UZR is completely meaningless in this sample size, and I really wouldn’t even be concerned if he ran a negative UZR this season. Escobar’s hands haven’t been great so far, but that could just be nerves from his first season in the big leagues. He has absolutely tremendous range and a very good arm, and those two things will add up to a great defensive shortstop almost every time. As far as his bat goes, his ISO of .135 is much higher than I expected. He’s way too quick to post a BABIP below .260 like he is now, and his numbers should start to pick up soon. Something like .275/.320/.390 is not out of the question at all, and although that doesn’t sound very impressive, I’ll take it all day from a solid defensive shortstop.
7. The Brewers had a bad night on the bases against the Braves on Wednesday but are overall 24-for-28 (86%) on the bases. The Phillies have had similar success on the bases over the past few years for which we credit Davey Lopes. Is Ed Sedar, the Brew Crew’s first base coach, to thank or have the Brewers simply picked their spots exceptionally well?
Ed Sedar is amazing. He’s a big, tough looking guy, and then he opens his mouth and sounds like this (go to about 0:40). I’m not ready to give him credit for the Brewers discovery of the running game, however. Sedar has been around for a few years now, and the Brewers were only successful on 64.7% of steals last season and 73.9% in 2008. No, I think the real credit goes to the increase in team speed. J.J. Hardy was tremendously slow despite his fielding prowess, and he’s been replaced by the speedy Escobar. Mike Cameron had some speed but wasn’t exactly a base stealer. Carlos Gomez, his replacement, will miss this series with a shoulder injury, but he already has 6 SBs and hasn’t been caught yet. Ryan Braun has always been a solid base stealer, with a career 79% success rate (57/72). That gives three very solid options, and the Brewers are also generally good at picking their spots, which means you’re not going to see Prince or McGehee running ever.
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A doff of the top hat to Jack for providing some insight into the Milwaukee Brewers. I am not looking forward to watching Ryan Braun hit against Phillies pitching. In his career, Braun has hit the Phillies harder (1.184 OPS) than any other team against which he has accumulated 70 or more plate appearances. With the top two offenses in the National League going at it, both teams may want to preemptively get their relievers warmed up.