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2006 Team Previews: Milwaukee Brewers, Positional Players

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With the multitude of team previews going up this weekend before the season starts, I felt it best to post things with the "Read More" tag, in order to make navigation on the front page easier. That said, make sure to check out the other things that have already been posted today.

A .500 record does not seem like much at first, until you realize it is the first season since 1992 with a non-losing record in Milwaukee. In 1992 the Brewers finished at 92-70; in 1993, 69-93. After that it was more of the same for the most part. With this .500 record comes a slew of potential star players from the minor leagues. These players should add to the base of talent general manager Doug Melvin has been building on since late 2002 through trades, waiver pickups, and midseason signings. The coaching staff is one of the tops in the league from what I have seen and heard; I have not come across any negative feedback in regards to Melvin's choice for manager, Ned Yost, and Mike Maddux is quickly emerging as one of the best pitching coaches in the game.

The Brewers were not quiet this offseason, making trades to build for 2006 and beyond by acquiring players like Corey Koskie, young Zachary Jackson, David Bush, and Gabe Gross, while only giving up an arbitration eligible player without a position and a minor league reliever who isn't listed in John Sickels' Prospect Book as well as the PECOTA database. Koskie gives them either a starting third basemen or a platoon partner to go along with Bill Hall, Gabe Gross is the backup corner outfielder, Zach Jackson is a young pitching talent that Brewers fans can look forward to, and David Bush helps solidify the rotation starting right now.

  • Acquired
  • Brent Abernathy
  • Brian Dallimore
  • Mark Johnson
  • Gabe Gross
  • Corey Koskie
  • Lost
  • Lyle Overbay
  • Wes Helms
  • Russ Branyan
Losing Overbay can be both a blessing and a curse for 2006. After all, his projected pNRAA would lead the Brewers in 2006 (more on those rankings later), his glove at first base is stellar, and he hits basically league average for a first basemen. The good news is that Prince Fielder is his replacement. PECOTA, conservative as always, expects him to be a somewhat below average. A great deal of that lower value obviously comes from Fielder's questionable first base defense, but that should improve with time, and if not, his bat will make up for it in future years. That's the idea anyways, and the Brewers have shown us which direction they believe Fielder will move in by promoting him and trading the player who blocked his progress.

As for losing Helms and Branyan, I'm disapointed because I am a fan of both players. They are replacing that extremely effective third base platoon with a third base platoon that has better defense and a bat with just as much value (if not more), so it was a good move by the Brewers. Take a look at these tables:

If Hall can maintain the power he has shown, and Koskie benefits from having days off against lefties, the Brewers will have excellent production at the corner.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played). Powered by the musical excellence of Anthrax in the background, let's move on to the positional analysis.

Catcher
2005: Damian Miller .273/.340/.413; +8.18 pNRAA; +9.33 pNRAA/GP

2006: Damian Miller .250/.320/.390; +1.11 pNRAA; +0.74 pNRAA/GP

Gah...that isn't what the Brewers were looking for out of Miller in the last guaranteed year of this deal. A league average catcher is great to have around, but you'd like it if he could maintain his higher level of performance. I'm not so sure I agree with PECOTA on this one; Miller has been very consistent in his career, although his defense did drop off in 2005. He is basically a league average catcher defensively at this point, and thanks to the terrible catching bats around the league, remains an above average hitter at his position.

Miller is 36 years old, which means he could continue on with the success he has had, or he could implode. PECOTA seems to think the implosion will take another season or so, but his statistics are down in the meantime, as is his projected playing time. I'm sure Doug Melvin can arrange a trade for a catcher at some, which is good, because they might have to. Unless Bill Hall can play that position too, of course. You have to love utility players that can hit.

First Base
2005: Lyle Overbay .276/.367/.449; +9.06 pNRAA; +14.32 pNRAA/GP

2006: Prince Fielder .269/.349/.488; -6.13 pNRAA; -7.48 pNRAA/GP

Fielder's projection seems somewhat low, at least based off of an entire season of plate appearances. I think Fielder starts out about the same as he did in 2005 (.288/.306/.458) and turns it on late, enough to post a better line than the one projected here. His defense will need to improve somewhat, but no worries; PECOTA expects Fielder to turn into a fearsome masher in 2007, so just sit tight for a year if it doesn't happen immediately. His 90th percentile projection is quite attractive, and it will be interesting to see how his bat reacts to playing everyday in the majors at age 22.

Second Base
2005: Junior Spivey .236/.308/.374; -10.87 pNRAA; -5.33 pNRAA/GP
2005: Rickie Weeks .239/.333/.394; -6.48 pNRAA; -6.22 pNRAA/GP

2006: Rickie Weeks .267/.361/.462; +5.49 pNRAA; +7.13 pNRAA/GP

Take a look at this graph please, and tell me what you see.

Weeks mOPS had fallen slowly after his initial debut, but the large drop in production came after the injury to his thumb. Looking at where Weeks was before the thumb injury, along with the fact that he is older and has a little bit of major league experience under his belt means that his projection is entirely possible. I don't think Weeks will do this, but if he reaches his 90th percentile projection (.297/.398/.533; +24.18 pNRAA; +33.86 pNRAA/GP

) the Brewers will probably make the playoffs. That statement is obviously dependent on how the rest of the team fares health and performance wise, but if everyone matches roughly their weighted mean projection, Ben Sheets can make 25 starts, and Rickie Weeks goes insane at the plate, the Brew Crew should make the playoffs. That is a whole lotta if's.

Third Base
2005: Russ Branyan .257/.378/.490; +7.52 pNRAA; +6.39 pNRAA/GP
2005: Wes Helms .298/.356/.458; +8.95 pNRAA; +8.50 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jeff Cirillo .281/.373/.427; -0.43 pNRAA; -0.33 pNRAA/GP
2005: Bill Hall .291/.342/.495; +8.62 pNRAA; +12.59 pNRAA/GP

2006: Corey Koskie .251/.351/.431; +2.95 pNRAA; +2.81 pNRAA/GP
2006: Bill Hall .268/.324/.439; -2.45 pNRAA; -2.94 pNRAA/GP

The projection for these two offensively may be sort of meaningless. The splits from above will tell the story better than their PECOTA projections, which I'm assuming still considers them everyday players, rather than platoon partners. Even if Hall was playing everyday, I'd expect more than the paltry line presented here. I can see him duplicating last year's results offensively, but for some reason that appears to be his 90th percentile projection going forward. And solely because I am so incredibly excited that my copy of The Fielding Bible just came to me in the mail (literally, I stopped writing this to tear open the package and skim through it), I'm going to share Corey Koskie's defensive comment with you. If you don't already own a copy of this fine text, you should certainly invest in it.

Koskie is an above-average third basemen with real good reactions and instincts at the hot corner. He has good hands, a strong arm and gets rid of the ball quickly. After ranking in the middle of the pack in 2003 and 2004, he ranked sixth in 2005 despite starting less than half of Toronto's games at third.

Did you order a copy yet? I don't see any other place to get that in-depth a scouting report that is also supported to extremely advanced statistical data. Don't make me link this again.

As you can see from the 2005 figures, third base was an extremely productive position for this team. Kudos to Doug Melvin for having the depth on his roster to account for platoon splits and injury risk without skipping a beat production wise. If Melvin isn't widely considered one of the top three or four general managers in the game, he should be.

Shortstop
2005: J.J. Hardy .247/.327/.384; -3.23 pNRAA; -4.01 pNRAA/GP
2005: Bill Hall .291/.342/.495; +12.37 pNRAA; +18.06 pNRAA/GP

2006: J.J. Hardy .264/.342/.418; +5.88 pNRAA; +6.58 pNRAA/GP

I only have two things to say about James Hardy.
Item #1. Take a look at his 2005 splits:

  • Pre/Post All-Star
  • Pre: .187/.293/.267; 187.00 AB/HR
  • Post: .308/.363/.503; 23.12 AB/HR
Second half performance is sometimes a better indicator of the next season's numbers, and if this is any sign for what you can expect from Hardy, Brewers fans should be excited for their young shortstop.

Item #2: I drafted Hardy as my shortstop in three leagues, so you know I have faith in him. Not that my opinion means a great deal; just figured I'd share it.

Left Field
2005: Carlos Lee .265/.324/.487; -3.45 pNRAA; -5.58 pNRAA/GP

2006: Carlos Lee .282/.347/.506; +5.25 pNRAA; +7.72 pNRAA/GP

Carlos Lee is an interesting player. His bat is obviously useful (although somewhat down from normal levels in 2005), but his glove is the subject of much debate it seems. Rate has Lee as below average defensively in 2005, and roughly league average for his 2006 projection. David Gassko's Runs Above Average has Lee at 0 RAA; exactly league average. David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range puts Carlos Lee at 10th among left fielders using Runs Saved per 27 Outs. So it looks to me as if these defensive systems all have Lee anywhere from a little below average to a little above average. John Dewan has Lee as the fifth best leftfielder of the past three years, although to be fair he was considered a -4 on the plus/minus ranking system Dewan employs for the 2005 season, which would put him at 23rd overall. The scouting report contained in the book raves about him though, so be sure to watch in 2006 to see if he can regain his form.

If Lee does regain his defensive form, he may very well be the best player on the team, or at the least the second best. This all dependent on whether or not Rickie Weeks explodes, as we discussed earlier.

Center Field
2005: Brady Clark .306/.372/.426; +10.27 pNRAA; +14.89 pNRAA/GP

2006: Brady Clark .282/.350/.403; -1.48 pNRAA; -1.90 pNRAA/GP

I don't understand this severe drop in production one bit. It is not as evident in his stat line as it is in his EqA. Do I expect Clark to regress somewhat from the very best season of his career? Yes, of course. I doubt that he has established a new level of performance at age 32, although it isn't unheard of. PECOTA expects a .013 drop in EqA, which is significant, and also expects him to drop from his Rate2 of 104 to a 99 in 2006. First of all, that 104 may be low to begin with. David Gassko has Clark as the third best centerfielder in all the land in 2005, coming in at 23 RAA per 150 games. Then again, David Pinto has him somewhere in the middle using PMR, and Dewan has him at +1 using his system. Ok, maybe I do understand the severe drop in production. Clark has always had potential to perform better than average offensively though, and I see no indicators in his game that say he should regress that far back at age 33. I guess we'll see.

Right Field
2005: Geoff Jenkins .292/.375/.513; +14.50 pNRAA; +21.46 pNRAA/GP

2006: Geoff Jenkins .272/.347/.479; -0.44 pNRAA; -0.60 pNRAA/GP

This may be my least favorite PECOTA projection I've encountered so far. His comment from the 2006 BP annual says he has "dispended with his former reputation of fragility", which I think was the only thing really holding him back before. If he can remain healthy, there is no reason for him to not put up better numbers than those projected My personal thought is that he puts up a pNRAA of roughly +9.93 this year(.282/.360/.507 line).

A large part of the difference in those ideas comes from the defensive production. He had 3 FRAA last year (a Rate2 of 102) in rightfield, after years as a poor defensive left fielder. His PECOTA projection reflects his poor time as a leftfielder, and distorts his projected value. Gassko had Jenkins at +11 RAA per 150 games played; Dewan had Jenkins at +13 in right; Pinto had him at 0.861 RS/27 Outs, good for 17th out of 36. Two systems have him as one of the top five rightfielders in the game (Dewan has him as third), one system has him at or above average, and one system has him below average due to his previous poor defensive play at another position. I think we can expect Jenkins to outperform his PECOTA projection; if healthy, with the bat as well.

Fourth and Fifth OF'ers
2005: Chris Magruder .203/.265/.312; -35.36 pNRAA; -12.38 pNRAA/GP

2006: Corey Hart .272/.337/.475; +1.03 pNRAA; +1.25 pNRAA/GP
2006: Gabe Gross .260/.348/.409; -5.40 pNRAA; -5.24 pNRAA/GP

Corey Hart comes in as basically a league average player, which at age 24 is a good sign. Gabe Gross is below average according to his projection, but he works well in his role as a fourth outfielder. I expect Hart to take over in the long run if one of the corner guys goes down or leaves the team in the future. Apparently Hart can play third base as well, although his defensive figures from that time disagree with that sentiment.

I like Nelson Cruz myself, but he needs to pick up his production; PECOTA likes him for a .257 EqA with plus defense in 2006, which isn't going to cut it as a corner outfielder. His 75th percentile is promising though, coming in at a .272 EqA, which is average for left field. The Brewers have better options than that at the moment. Considering all Melvin gave up to obtain Cruz's potential and reliever Justin Lehr was Keith Ginter, I think we can go easy on him if it doesn't pan out. I like Keith Ginter a great deal, but if he never has a successful season again (and it isn't looking good for out our TTO friend at the moment) Melvin can claim victory, because Lehr was useful in 2005. Even if his 109 ERA+ isn't going to happen again, it still happened.

Now for the lineups. As always, I'll be using my best guess projected lineup for the Brewers, as well as the one I'd like to see employed. Since this is our first National League preview, I want to mention that I set the pitcher to have a .200 OBP and a .250 SLG. If you think that needs to go higher or lower, let me know in the comments.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Clark
  3. Weeks
  4. Jenkins
  5. Lee
  6. Fielder
  7. Koskie
  8. Hardy
  9. Miller
  10. Pitcher
This lineup is expected to score 4.852 runs per game, or 786. I used my expected line for Jenkins rather than his weighted mean, and I put Koskie's projected figures as an everyday player in there, rather than his numbers as a platoon guy. Expect a few more runs per game, as Hardy's projection may be a tad low (Weeks as well) and the Koskie/Hall combination may be an excellent offensive contributor.
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Weeks
  3. Jenkins
  4. Hardy
  5. Lee
  6. Koskie
  7. Fielder
  8. Miller
  9. Pitcher
  10. Clark
This lineup is expected to score 5.021 runs per game, or 813 on the season. That is a significant difference, a great deal of which I have to believe comes from moving the pitcher to the eighth spot in the lineup, and making the ninth spot for the "second leadoff hitter". If you are not sure of my rationale for arranging the lineup in the fashion seen here, I suggest you take a look at Dan Scotto's Lineup Cheat Sheet. A great deal of explaining is down there, and he explained it much better than I can in this space. For the quick crash course, the #3 hitter does not need to be one of your best hitters; think of your #2 as your old #3. You want to spread out the easier outs; hence, the #3 spot is one easier out, the #8 spot is another easy out. The current lineup structure works very well for the first inning, but at the expense of the later innings. I think this setup helps to fix that some. If you haven't already ordered a copy of The Book, by Andy Dolphin, Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman, I suggest you do so, as they expand on lineup construction and various other topics in this excellent text. It is taking me some time to work through it, as it is extremely involved, but it is definitely worth the time spent on it.

Overall, I think the Brewers have a very solid lineup, and if all the players develop like they should, they will score more than 786 runs with their projected lineup. A great deal rests on the strength of their rotation, but this is a team that I think is capable of sneaking into the Wild Card. Literally sneaking in; playing over their heads for 2-3 weeks and then playing to their talent level the rest of the way might be enough to send them to the extended season, especially with the lack of a true dominating team in the National League. Clay Davenport's odds report at Baseball Prospectus yesterday gave the Brewers a pretty good shot at the playoffs. This race is going to be extremely interesting, and I'll be sure to catch as much of it as I can.