Expectations entering the 2009 season were sky-high after the Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years during the 2008 season. And that was a team that made the playoffs despite many feeling the team under-achieved, with several members of the offense in particular not living up to their potential.
CC Sabathia of course left to sign a lucrative deal with the New York Yankees, and Ben Sheets' injury problems persisted to the point that not only did the Brewers not retain his services, but no other team picked him up for this past year. Despite those two departures, those close to the Brewers and we the fans felt that a full year of Yovani Gallardo, and the hopeful progression of Manny Parra, and several of the team's young hitters, would be able to pick up the slack.
Of course that didn't happen, although not to the fault of the offense, as the Brewers finished third in the National League in runs scored, but second to last in team ERA.
Doug Melvin will be back to serve as the team's General Manager, and Ken Macha will be given another chance to get the Brewers back to the playoffs. Melvin of course will be put to task over the next several months to completely re-vamp the starting pitching staff, which means an incredibly interesting offseason is ahead of all of us.
But he still has plenty to work with. He has two of the best young sluggers in the game, one of the best young starters, a farm system that still has talent to play with, and he should have financial resources as well. Owner Mark Attanasio has put the Brewers payroll in a position to allow the team to remain competitive, a number that should be sustained, if not increased, in 2010 since three million fans passed through the turnstiles for the second consecutive year.
Before the season the Brewerfan.net staff took a stab at naming some preseason award winners while tackling three key questions that would determine the outcome of the 2009 season. Please visit that story to review those predictions:
2009 Preseason Predictions
Based on the collective decisions of the Brewerfan.net staff, here are the 2009 award winners:
Player of the Year: Prince Fielder
From the beginning of the 2009 season, it seemed as though Fielder had addressed some personal issues to make sure the drop-off from his impressive 2007 season to the 2008 season wouldn't happen again. He signed a two-year contract wrapping him up for two of his three arbitration eligible seasons and showed up to spring training in significantly better shape. He re-committed himself to defense at first base, which was apparent all season long, and was reinforced by defensive metrics. He won the home run derby in St. Louis in impressive fashion, launching his signature bombs in the national spotlight that have made him one of the most feared sluggers in the game. And he finished off the year becoming the organization's all-time leaders in walks and RBI while arguably posting the most impressive offensive season in Brewers history.
Three staff members voted for Fielder to take this award before the 2009 season, with two taking Braun, who posted an impressive season of his own, and two others selecting J.J. Hardy.
Pitcher of the Year: Trevor Hoffman
You could make the argument that Trevor Hoffman was the team's MVP given his success closing games, inching closer to 600 saves in his career. He gave the organization a significant comfort level that they haven't had for more than a year going into the ninth inning with a lead, and gave the home crowd and elevated level of excitement as "Hell's Bells" blasted in the park as he entered a game. The Brewers wisely signed him quickly to retain his rights for the 2010 season, hopefully giving them some added negotiating power with free agent starters, knowing that the game's all-time saves leader would be coming in late to preserve wins.
Yovani Gallardo was the favorite among the Brewerfan staff to win this award entering the year, and he likely will be the favorite to win this award for years to come.
Rookie of the Year: Casey McGehee
The Brewers' offseason acquisition of McGehee was similar to that of Scott Podsednik several years ago, as he became the victim of a roster crunch for the Cubs before the Brewers quickly added him to their own 40-man. Due to the presence of infielders such as Bill Hall, Craig Counsell and Mat Gamel, playing time was harder to come by for McGehee during the early part of the season, but he slowly but surely made a case for more regular playing time. Once he got it he responded with a season in which he became a legitimate candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year award. He limped to the finish line with a knee in need of surgery, which he has since had, as now the Brewers have to determine if his season was legitimate enough for them to move forward with him pencilled in as the everyday starter at third base.
McGehee received one vote out of seven to take home the rookie of the year hardware, with most of the staff feeling Brad Nelson would have been a lot more effective to claim this honor.
Jack Voigt Memorial Award (Unsung Hero): Craig Counsell
The actual Jack Voigt Memorial Award winner rarely matches up with who the staff picks during the preseason, which isn't surprising since the unsung hero on the team usually is a player that is difficult to identify. Counsell entered the year as the team's primary utility infielder, and received significant playing time at third base in between Bill Hall's struggles, Mat Gamel's brief callup and before Casey McGehee settled in at the hot corner at midseason. Counsell deserves a lot of credit for working with hitting coach Dale Sveum to alter his unique batting stance, and he responded with arguably his most productive season at the plate. Hopefully the Brewers will be able to keep Counsell around for next year as well, since his versatility and ability to get on base clearly are valuable assets.
Minor League Impact Player: Amaury Rivas
This award came down to Rivas and Josh Butler, both of whom enjoyed breakout seasons. Rivas got the nod for better overall numbers, although it should be noted that Butler missed some time due to injury, and likely would have posted better counting stats had he made a few more appearances. Rivas was the Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year as well, finishing second in the Florida State League in wins (13), tied for third in strikeouts (123), and fifth in ERA (2.98). He has amassed 163 total innings for the Brevard County Manatees the last two years, and may be a candidate to contribute to the big-league team's pitching staff as early as next summer if he continues to enjoy success at AA Huntsville and possibly AAA Nashville early in the 2010 season.
All seven staff members predicted a hitter (Lorenzo Cain, Mat Gamel, Taylor Green, Brett Lawrie and Jonathan Lucroy all received votes) would take home this award.
Three Strikes, a review:
Question #1: The starting pitching staff is obviously the biggest question mark for the 2009 season, highlighted by losing CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. However, a year ago people still considered the Brewers a potential playoff team before Sabathia was even a pipe dream and amidst concerns about Sheets' ability to stay healthy for a full season. Short question made long: Will this team have enough pieces in the pitching staff, regardless of how it is put together, to rise up and once again make the playoffs this year?
With the season now behind us, the easy answer to this question is obviously no, as the team's starting pitching was clearly the reason the Brewers failed to finish the year with a .500 record, much less reach the playoffs.
Most of the staff felt that a significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball would be able to help the pitching staff remain as effective in the win-loss column. Health is always a key issue, so losing Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan, even if they weren't particularly effective even when they were healthy, was a blow to the team.
Every question moving forward is directly tied to what Doug Melvin and his staff does to address the starting pitching this offseason.
Question #2: Ned Yost seemed to be the target of most Brewers fans' criticism until he was fired a few weeks before the team made the playoffs a year ago. While the team assembled somewhat of an all-star cast of coaches, hiring three of the four coaches the team interviewed for their managerial opening, what are your impressions of Ken Macha? Will his presence make a difference for the 2009 ballclub?
This was a tough question to answer at the time, and still is a tough question to answer, since the relative impact a manager has on any given team is debatable. In addition, similar to the answers in the first question, how much can Macha be held accountable for the team's terrible starting pitching?
After Ned Yost, I think all of us wanted to see a much better in-game strategist, and it seemed as though Macha had a plan going into each and every game instead of relying on the gut instincts that Yost often referred to. Macha certainly doesn't offer a warm and fuzzy personality, but he also doesn't go out of his way to defend his players when those players need to be held accountable for their performances.
Macha is always going to carry some criticism between he and his relationship with his players, as he's not a player's coach, and we heard some rumblings during the season that there may have been some friction between those two levels of the team. Again, it's difficult to assess his success after one season, a season that was clearly disappointing, but not by the fault of any one coach or player.
Question #3: Take your stance. What will constitute a successful or disappointing season for the Brewers, and what needs to happen, or not happen, or either to occur?
Most of the answers to this question suggested that making, or not making the playoffs, would constitute a disappointing season. It's hard to argue that the 2009 season was anything but disappointing since the team finished 80-82, third place in the National League Central division, and effectively were out of the playoff chase by August.
Several points were made about certain players in the lineup stepping up and enjoying significantly better years from the 2008 season, most notably Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks. Weeks did indeed step up and looked like the dynamic leadoff hitter we all envisioned when he was drafted second overall in 2003, but then his breakout season ended in June due to a wrist injury. Hardy had a woeful year, and Hart missed significant time to injury, and was wildly inconsistent when he was in the lineup.
That said, as noted above, the team still finished third in the National League in runs scored, thanks to big seasons by Fielder and Braun, consistent production from Mike Cameron, the emergence of McGehee and the midseason acquisition of Felipe Lopez.
Good health of the starting pitchers that did remain was also pointed to as a key for the 2009 season, which of course didn't happen as Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan missed significant time to injury as also mentioned above. Manny Parra did not step up to become the team's second best starter like all Brewers fans hoped for, and Braden Looper somehow managed to win 14 games despite posting a 5.22 ERA.
Overall the staff finished with a 4.83 ERA, largely in thanks to the bullpen (Gallardo was the only regular starter to finish the season with an ERA below Looper's 5.22). While the team is expected to aggressively add at least one if not two starters to the staff for the 2010 season, the team's success will once again rely on this group of arms, or what is left of them, to step up and have much better seasons than they did this past year.
That is what was hoped for this past year, which is why most believe the 2010 team will look drastically different from this past year's squad.
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