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Brewers Season Grades: Top of the Class

We’ve done the bottom of the class.  We’ve done the average and above average “students.”  Now it’s time to take a look at the valedictorians of the 2009 squad, if you will — when we think back about the 2009 season a few years from now, chances are we’ll still remember the performances of the following players.  If there’s good news for the Brewers after a disappointing season, it’s that most of these guys will be around again next year.

A’s
Todd Coffey (A-): After watching Coffey implode during his last days in Cincinnati, it’s been incredible watching him perform as a great set-up man for Trevor Hoffman.  With Hoffman set to return for 2010, the Brewers should have an extremely solid 1-2 combination at the back end of the bullpen.  Next year’s squad will greatly benefit if Coffey and Hoffman can team up to essentially make it a 7-inning game for opponents.
Trevor Hoffman (A): Hoffman’s performance was on a steady decline the last few years in San Diego, but he’s outperformed any expectations we had coming into this season.  For the first time post-Cordero, a lead in the 9th inning always seems safe.  I’m a bit skeptical that Hoffman will be able to duplicate this year’s numbers in 2010, but signing him to a new deal so soon after the season ended shows he wants to be here, and it shows the fans that the team will be trying to contend for a playoff spot again next year.
Prince Fielder (A+): If it weren’t for a guy named Pujols, it’s a safe bet Prince would be getting some real MVP hype.  If this is his last year in a Brewers uniform, he’s at least made it a memorable (yet short) stay.  
Felipe Lopez (A-): Despite some concerns about work ethic and defense, Lopez has filled in admirably at second base since being traded to the club.  He hit .320/.407/.448 since the trade, and while the power numbers weren’t quite there (only three homers post-trade), he’s done a great job of getting on base at the top of the order.
Ryan Braun (A-): He’s improved his OBP from .335 last year to .386, led the National League in hits, continues to develop into a solid defensive left fielder, and has become one of the more vocal team leaders the club has had in years.  It’s easy to see why fans of other teams can’t stand him, but we should be thankful he’s “ours” for the foreseeable future.
With that, we close our player grades series.  Thoughts?  Comments?  It’ll be a long cold winter before Spring Training 2010, but if the few short days after the season have told us anything, we’ll have plenty of news to talk about.

Brewers Season Grades: Solid Contributors

Yesterday we handed out grades for the bottom of the Class of 2009 — those players who earned D’s and F’s.  Today, we recap a group of players that were more productive, and generally good to have around.  Guys who earned C’s were serviceable but most likely replaceable without much cost, while those with B’s were good but had something holding them back.  With that much said, here are the grades…be sure to check back tomorrow when I hand out A’s to the cream of the crop.  Feel free to comment if you agree/disagree below.

B’s
Yovani Gallardo (B): He performed well considering the fact that he was forced into the ace role a year after missing most of the season with a torn ACL.  The high walk totals led to too many short outings, however — how much of it was nibbling, and how much was it just him hitting a wall late in the season?

Mitch Stetter (B): One of my concerns heading into the season would be how well the Brewers would replace Brian Shouse’s old LOOGY role.  Stetter filled in very nicely, and even showed a bit of effectiveness against right-handed batters, increasing his value.  It’s always nice to develop your own relievers — the Brewers got a lot of of value out of him considering his low salary.

Claudio Vargas (B-):
It was easy to scoff at the deadline deal that brought Vargas back to Milwaukee — most were frustrated that Doug Melvin didn’t bring in a starter to help the rotation — but the Human Rain Delay performed admirably as a long reliever, sucking up a lot of innings following short outings from the starters and keeping the team in games.  All in all, Claudio may have found his niche.

Craig Counsell (B+):
After the way Counsell fared at the plate the past couple seasons, it was hard to get excited about him coming back, even at the extremely cheap price of $1 million as a utility player.  A new batting stance seems to have done wonders for Craig, as he put up one of the best batting lines of his career without the ridiculous Lightning Rod stance.  He was especially valuable during the time between the Weeks injury and the Lopez trade, and he’s performed so well that you have to imagine the club wouldn’t mind him coming back next year on a similar 1-year, $1 million deal.

Casey McGehee (B+): Another year, another scrap heap pick up by Doug Melvin that paid huge dividends.  Very few people thought much of the waiver wire pick up late last season — some Cubs fans even mocked the Brewers for making the move — but McGehee put together an incredibly unexpected season.  Heading into spring training, how many people thought McGehee would make the 25-man roster, let alone have his name mentioned as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate?  As I’ve noted before, it’s no guarantee that Casey will be back with the club next season, but at the very least he’s been another Melvin gamble that’s paid off in a big way.

Mike Cameron (B): It’s easy to get frustrated with the high number of strikeouts and the low batting average, but Cameron’s defense and home run pop has again made him worth the money he’s making.  His range isn’t what it used to be in center, but there’s no doubt he’s made Ryan Braun look like a better left fielder, and most fans likely won’t realize what they had until he’s gone.  Here’s to hoping Cameron makes good on his word that he’d be willin to make some sacrifices in salary to stay on with the club — or, at the very least, he doesn’t sign with the Cubs in the offseason.

C’s
Seth McClung (C-): Big Red was a valuable part of the bullpen early in the year, essentially filling the role Vargas filled in August and September.  A move to the rotation flamed out badly, though, and one could point to his horrendous start against the Cubs in Wrigley Field as the beginning of the end of the Brewers’ season.  I still think he has value as a long reliever, but I doubt many people would mind if he was replaced.

Chris Narveson (C): Narveson’s season was nearly a complete mirror image of McClung’s — he flamed out as a long reliever in his first big league stint, but filled in admirably in the rotation when Manny Parra went down with neck spasms.  Narveson hasn’t pitched deep into games in his starts, but he’s shown enough promise there that he at least has to be considered for a bottom-of-the-rotation spot during spring training next year.  I hesitate to raise his grade too high, due to the fact that you can never fully trust outings in the first and last months of the season. 

Chris Smith (C+):
Perfectly acceptable in mop-up duty, and saved quite a few innings from the rest of the bullpen by going two or three innings at a time in a number of appearances.  Also perfectly replaceable, which is why I can’t bear to give him a much higher grade than this.

Mark DiFelice (C+):
His cutter was unhittable early in the year, even drawing the attention of national writers.  Unfortunately, he was never the same following injury, and finished the year on the 60-day DL.  He’s a great story — here’s to hoping that he can recover and again be a big part of the bullpen in 2010.

Frank Catalanotto (C): An afterthought signing, and it could be argued that the Brewers had no intention of playing him in the majors until they ran into injury problems at the big league level.  Far from spectacular, but far from useless in the absence of Corey Hart in August.

Jody Gerut (C-): Gerut was the subject of a lot of criticism early in his tenure as he struggled to get into a groove at the plate as a pinch hitter.  Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, a lot of Gerut’s biggest detractors were also big supporters of Tony Gwynn, Jr. and the bad feelings about Gwynn never getting a real shot in Milwaukee may have rubbed off on him.  Gerut came into his own with a hot stretch late in the season, and with a projected salary in the low $1 million range, he wouldn’t be a bad option for a cheap stopgap centerfielder if Cameron isn’t brought back.

Corey Hart (C-):
For whatever reason, Corey’s seemed like a completely different player following his All-Star game appearance last year, and has struggled to find many hot streaks at the plate.  He lost about a month with an emergency appendectomy, which you can’t blame him for, but even before the injury he wasn’t living up to expectations.  It’s crazy that about 18 months ago, many thought of him as being untouchable in trade talks, and now we’re trying to figure out ways to pry pitching from the Braves by using him in mock trade offers.

Brewers Season Grades: Bottom of the Class

October 5, 2009 3 comments

There were a lot of disappointments during the 2009 season, but the following players were especially mediocre and/or disappointing.  Despite the large amount of unfulfilled expectations, only two players earned F’s for the year, and it’s probably not too hard to figure out who they are.  As always, feel free to chime in with your comments below.

D’s
Mike Burns (D-): Had a couple good starts filling in when he had to, but he was also far from spectacular.  If I had to bet, the journeyman will have to journey to another organization next season.  Nothing against him, but guys like him are a dime a dozen, and the Brewers already have candidates for spot starts next year in their system.
Dave Bush (D): Injuries made Bush’s 2009 season maddingly inconsistent.  At times, he looked like the guy who shut down the Phillies in the playoffs last year.  At other times, everything he was throwing was getting hit hard.  I don’t think he’ll get non-tendered in the offseason, but it’s no longer out of the question that he could be replaced in the offseason — not because he’s the one that needs to be replaced, but because he’d be much easier to get rid of than Jeff Suppan or Braden Looper.
Braden Looper (D+): Loop set a new club record for home runs allowed, and for whatever reason, never showed the velocity he had in St. Louis the past couple years.  If he did, perhaps he could’ve at least been a serviceable bottom-of-the-rotation guy, but good outings were few and far between, despite the high number of wins.  Here’s to hoping he opts out and some other GM will be suckered in by the W-L record, instead of looking at all the other stats.
Manny Parra (D+): Disappointing year overall for Manny.  When most were expecting him to take another step forward, he instead took one or two steps backward, struggling with mechanics and injuries for most of the season.  There was a stretch of a few weeks where he was showing a lot of the promise we all know he has, but those starts were far too infrequent.
Carlos Villanueva (D): After a surprisingly strong season as a reliever last year, Villanueva struggled to get much of anything going this year, at times seeming incapable of putting up a scoreless inning.  Gets bonus points for putting together an outing good enough to keep the Cardinals from getting homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Mike Rivera (D+): We’d all probably be more upset about Jason Kendall getting so many starts at catcher if Rivera had done much at the plate this year. In twice as many games played as last year, he’s hit nearly 80 points lower and barely edged out Kendall in OPS.
J.J. Hardy (D-): How bad was Hardy this year?  The only thing separating him from Jason Kendall is the fact that Hardy was still above average defensively.  At the plate he looked completely lost all year, and didn’t seem too interested in finding a way out of his slump.  Here’s to hoping that the Brewers can find a taker for him in the offseason now that Alcides Escobar has shown he can hold his own.
F’s
Jeff Suppan – Rejoice, Brewers fans…there’s only one more year left on that horrible contract, and with any luck, another team might be willing to take him off the Brewers’ hands if Milwaukee picks up the tab on most of the salary.  I don’t know if anyone saw Suppan’s time in Milwaukee playing out any differently, though.  It was a bad deal from the start, and it’s tied the hands of the club financially.
Jason Kendall – Last year, Kendall was at least good enough defensively to put up with his pathetic .651 OPS.  This year, he wasn’t nearly as lucky when it came to throwing out runners and hit even worse, OPSing .636.  If it wasn’t for Willy Taveras, Kendall would be the worst offensive player in the game.  There’s really no other grade to give him, and he’s the last player many fans would want to see back next season.

Brewers Sweep Cards; End Season 80-82

As trying as the past couple months have been for Brewers fans to endure, it’s still a sad sight to see the season end.  The good news?  The team continued to play hard until Game 162 was in the books, capping off a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.  In many ways, the season finale was the 2009 season in a nutshell: short outing from the starter (Suppan pulled after a couple innings) with a big lead surrendered late in the game.

While the series had no significance to the Brewers other than where they’ll end up drafting next June, they did manage to rain on St. Louis’ parade by dealing the Cards crucial defeats that prevented them from clinching homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.  You’re welcome, Los Angeles.

While many in the state of Wisconsin will now turn their full attention to football — I hear there’s a big game tomorrow night — forgive me if I spend a little while reflecting on the 2009 season and looking ahead to what the team can do to improve in 2010.  As bad as the team has been at times this year, the fact that they managed to crack the 80-win barrier for the 4th time in the past 5 years is still a positive sign.

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll start handing out season grades to the players from this year’s squad.  We’ll start tomorrow with the bottom of the class — those receiving D’s and F’s for the year — but to whet your appetite, here are players who earned “incompletes” for the 2009 season.  For multiple reasons, we didn’t get to see enough of them for me to formulate a solid grade:

John Axford – Seems to have some good stuff, it’s just a matter of gaining control.  Kind of reminds me of Derrick Turnbow in a way.
Josh Butler – Didn’t get much of a chance with the big league club this year, but here’s to hoping he can compete for a rotation spot next year.  Performed well enough in the minors to make the Gabe Gross trade seem pretty fair.
David Riske – Lost to surgery.  It’s a shame this free agent signing hasn’t worked out, because it actually seemed like a solid deal at the time.  Now the Brewers would be lucky to get much of anything out of him.
Alcides Escobar – Has shown flashes of that electric speed and defense already.  I think we’re ready to see it on a full-time basis next season.
Mat Gamel – Struggled to hit consistently with the big league club, but it doesn’t help that he spent a lot of time riding the bench.  I still think of him as the best hitting prospect the team has, and has extra value considering he hits left-handed on a predominantly right-handed team.
Jason Bourgeois – Hope he’s enjoyed the cup of coffee, because there’s no real reason for him to see the big leagues next year. 
Corey Patterson – A little part of me died every time I saw him in the leadoff spot.  I can appreciate the numbers he put up in Triple A, but it’s pretty clear to everyone now that he’ll never be much more than a Triple A All-Star.
Rickie Weeks – One of the saddest stories of the 2009 season.  Weeks finally seemed to be coming into his own when another wrist gave out.  Here’s to hoping he can bounce back next year and it doesn’t take as long for him to get his confidence back this time.

Could Anyone Fix This Staff?

September 28, 2009 2 comments

The rumor mill was buzzing today, with Fox Sports reporting that Rick Peterson may be in line to become the Brewers’ next pitching coach.  Among other things, Peterson is known for helping develop the “Big Three” in Oakland (Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson) and resurrecting the careers of talented-yet-struggling pitchers like Oliver Perez.

While Peterson would probably be the best pitching coach the Brewers have had since Mike Maddux left town, how much could we possibly expect him to improve the pitching staff?  In order for Peterson to work his magic, he has to have some talent to work with — outside of Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, and arguably Dave Bush (I remain a fan of Bush’s…that curveball is just too pretty when everything’s clicking), there isn’t much to work with.  Peterson and Willie Randolph lost their jobs with the Mets largely because the pitching staff was a mess — while Peterson was able to work out a couple of Perez’s kinks, the lefty was still inconsistent under his watch (of course, since Peterson was fired, Perez has completely fallen off a cliff…take that for what it’s worth).

Bill Castro was lauded for his performance when the team was pitching well in the early months of the season.  When injuries and regression to the mean caught up with them, suddenly Castro was constantly criticized and eventually fired.  Chris Bosio was praised for his work with Manny Parra in Triple A when Parra returned to the big league club with a string of very strong starts.  When Bosio became the big league pitching coach and Parra struggled with the rest of the team, his performance was criticized.  The front office currently claims that Bosio will have a fair chance to interview for the full-time job this winter, but if there’s any validity to this rumor, it appears as though Bosio will also be shown the door.

It’s the natural cycle of things for pitching and hitting coaches in the majors.  They’re easy targets despite the fact that they don’t have much to do with the performance on the field.  The top flight coaches — those like Peterson or Dave Duncan — do seem to have a small effect on a few pitchers, but rarely are the results sustainable.  We’ve seen this first hand with how Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper have fared after learning under the “genius” of Duncan in St. Louis. 

Could Rick Peterson have a positive effect on the Brewers’ pitching staff?  Sure.  If he’s the next guy to hold the job, I especially hope he can teach Gallardo and Parra to stop trying to strike everyone out, which in turn leads to less walks.  But don’t expect him to work miracles with the piles of stale crap that are Suppan and Looper (if he returns).  Even if the Brewers hire Peterson, the pitching improvements cannot stop there.  Doug Melvin & Co. still need to find a way to add depth, otherwise they’ll be right back to square one next year the minute someone gets hurt.

Heyman: Macha Likely to Return

September 23, 2009 1 comment

According to SI.com’s Jon Heyman, Ken Macha is expected to return as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers next season, with one caveat — he likely won’t be getting an extension.

That would make Macha a lame duck manager in 2010, which would go against everything we’ve come to expect from GM Doug Melvin.  We’re talking about the guy who quietly gave Ned Yost a (largely undeserved) contract extension after the 2007 collapse just to avoid having Yost enter the 2008 season in the last year of his deal.

While Macha seems to be returning, Heyman’s source makes it seem like that won’t be the case for pitching coach Chris Bosio.  It makes sense that Bosio would be given an interview and a chance to keep the job in the offseason, but we’re being given the impression that he won’t be brought back.  Whether or not that’s fair is up to debate — as interim pitching coach, it’s certainly not Bosio’s fault that the team had little-to-no starting pitching depth, but he’s the easy target for “improvement.”

Considering how the team has struggled to get comfortable under Macha’s watch, it’s hard to feel good about this report.  The only comfort to be gained is that Macha should and probably will be on a very short leash on 2010. 

Sometimes Different Doesn’t Equal Better

September 16, 2009 1 comment

When a team struggles, it’s a natural reaction to point to the manager as the root of the problem.  They’re simultaneously the most visible and most expendable part of the front office, and it’s become common to associate any success or failure with the manager’s decision making.  For the most part, that’s why firing your manager is step number one in proving to your fans that you’re trying to improve.

Sometimes, the change helps.  Buck Showalter was fired by both the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the next year, his old teams won the World Series.  More often than not, though, having a new face in the dugout doesn’t change anything.  Sometimes, it can even make matters worse.

I bring this up because the Brewers are in danger of becoming one of “those teams” — an organization that’s quick to fire its manager whenever things go south instead of working to actually fix the problem. 

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