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Feature
 
 
How Far Away Are We?

Bethke
on 10/22/2001

 
Jose was much abused for striking out a lot, but there's no denying he was an outstanding for a SS in '01.

While many articles grade the Crew on the past season, I tend to look at it a different way. I always try and look at the playoff teams and see just how far away my favorite team is from being playoff caliber. In 2001, there was one team that was far and above all the others, the Seattle Mariners. Seattle put together a season for the ages, winning 116 games, tying the all-time record. While they are struggling to beat the Yankees, as has been the case in the AL for many seasons, there is no doubt that the Mariners were a phenomenal team, one of the best to come along in decades. Whether or not Seattle manages to string together many solid seasons is a question that has yet to be answered, but it seems a comparison between our Brewers and the Mariners may be a quick and dirty way to see how far away we are, and where our weaknesses lie.

I will go position by position, and go by career statistics, as they are the most consistent indicator of future performance. I will list the stats in the standard BA/OBP/SLG, followed by OPS (OBP + SLG), and OXS (OBP x SLG).

CATCHER
Henry Blanco--.226/.309/.373, 682 OPS, 115 OXS
Dan Wilson----.262/.312/.393, 705 OPS, 123 OXS

Wilson hits for a higher average, but is only marginally better than Blanco offensively. Given that even Henry's detractors would likely say Blanco is a much better defender, this seems like a push. This is ironic, as there are many people that are insistent that an upgrade at the catching spot is necessary. Wilson's 2001 numbers were quite similar to his career marks also.which you will soon see is not always the case.

1ST BASE
Richie Sexson--.271/.334/.526, 860 OPS, 176 OXS
John Olerud----.300/.404/.476, 880 OPS, 192 OXS

Olerud has almost as wide an edge in OXS as OPS, which is extremely rare. This is because of his outstanding OBP, as he gets out less than 60% of the time. Richie is much more of a standard 1B, more power, less on-base ability. Both are good in the field, Olerud more polished. Edge to SEA.

2nd BASE
Ronnie Belliard--.273/.357/.418, 775 OPS, 149 OXS
Bret Boone-------.265/.321/.435, 756 OPS, 140 OXS---950 OPS in 01

Wow. I do recall last winter on a message board, that someone suggested acquiring Boone and moving him to 3B. A comparison was brought up (I know, it was by me ;), that Bret's numbers were all but the same as Jose Hernandez (compare below). Even with Bret's monster breakout 2001, they are still pretty close. Ronnie is a bit better than Bret over their careers, and hitting nearly 200 points over your career OPS isvery rare. Belly is also a much better defender, Boone has severely limited range. Small edge to MIL.in a normal season. This will not be the last mention of a career season, however.

3RD BASE
Tyler Houston--.261/.309/.424, 733 OPS, 131 OXS-815 OPS in 01
David Bell------.255/.309/.396, 705 OPS, 122 OXS

Tyler is better, both in the field (Bell can barely throw across the diamond), and at the plate. Identical OBP's, Tyler hits for more power. Houston was even better in '01, putting together a wonderful season, until injury. Small edge to MIL.

SHORTSTOP
Jose Hernandez--.250/.306/.420, 726 OPS, 129 OXS
Carlos Guillen----.259/.329/.372, 701 OPS, 122 OXS

Small advantage to the Crew. Jose was much abused for striking out a lot, but there's no denying he was an outstanding for a SS in '01.

LEFT FIELD
Geoff Jenkins-----.284/.345/.520, 865 OPS, 179 OXS
Mark McLemore-.260/.349/.340, 689 OPS, 119 OXS---790 OPS

LF was a vast array of individuals for SEA, but since Mark played everywhere as a super sub. Even with his far above average '01, he's still nowhere near Geoff. Edge to MIL, but again, note the "career" season by a Mariner.

CENTER FIELD
Jeff Hammonds--.280/.341/.466, 807 OPS, 159 OXS
Mike Cameron---.252/.344/.433, 777 OPS, 149 OXS---832 OPS in '01

This one spot may be as representative as the total team package. Hammonds played in less than 50 games due to injury, Cameron had a season far superior than normal. I'm calling this even, due to Mike's defense and his comparative youth.

RIGHT FIELD
Jeromy Burnitz--.257/.362/.499, 861 OPS, 181 OXS
Ichiro Suzuki----.350/.381/.457, 838 OPS, 174 OXS

Ichiro is likely the one of the least productive .350 hitters ever.still, pretty much ALL .350 hitters are plenty productive. What's funny is, despite the fact Ichiro will hit for nearly 100 BA points more, he will get out ALMOST as often. I'm going to give SEA a slight edge here, for the following reasons: Youth, defense, speed, and the scary fact that Ichiro will likely improve, as he's only 27 and saw US pitchers for the first time. That said, Burnie was nearly as productive.

To recap, I called 2 spots even, C & CF. I gave SEA the edge at 1B & RF. That leaves MIL with edges at 2B, SS, 3B, and LF. Surprised? Actually, me too. Now, why was SEA a much better offensive club than MIL? Many reasons, which include:

1. Edgar Martinez went unmentioned, because MIL has no DH. He is a perfect middle of the order hitter, high BA, good OBP skills, good power.

2. SEA was healthy, MIL was not. As simple as that six word sentence is, that sums up a lot about the 2001 season. I compared each team's #1 lineup. In the Brewers' case, that team was only on the field the first couple months of the season.when the team had their only success. SEA, like nearly all dominant teams, experienced good health from start to finish.

3. Did you pay attention to the "career" seasons? MIL had a minor one, as Tyler Houston had a nice year, before injury. Seattle had no less than three, including one for the ages, in Bret Boone. Anytime you have a middle infielder like Bret hit like a corner OF, it will spark the offense to new heights.

4. Even at positions in which the Brewers had an advantage, SEA often had a superior OBP. Not making outs seems to be a "hidden" part of the game that is rising to the forefront. By taking walks, one forces the opposing team's pitcher to throw more pitches; even by working the count and NOT getting on base, you do the same thing. SEA made their opponents work hard, and often spent a good part of the game facing middle relievers.who are usually the weakest pitching staff members.

Let's move to the pitching staff.

STARTING PITCHERS
Ben Sheets
Ruben Quevedo
Nick Neugebauer

Freddy Garcia-3.60.3.05 in 01
Jamie Moyer----4.22.3.43 in 01
Aaron Sele------4.33.3.60 in '01

I'm not even going to list the ERA's of our youthful Top 3 arms, as they pale in comparison to what the SEA starters accomplished. There are two ways to look at this:

1. SEA has MUCH better pitchers than we do.

2. SEA has much better pitching than almost everyone, but at least it can honestly be said that our 3 youngsters, all 23 or less in '01, have the POTENTIAL to actually compare to SEA's top three.

The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. It is unlikely all three young Brewers will remain both healthy AND effective enough to be top of the rotation arms. The Mariners' guys have already made that trip and made it as well as possible. Although Safeco Field is a pitcher's park, the ERA's put forth was astounding.3.60 was good for 3rd.in the rotation. Once again, it is easy to bring up the term "career year", as all of their top 3 lowered their ERA between a half a run and a run. Stunning.

The rest of the rotation?

Jamey Wright-5.15
Jimmy Haynes-5.48

Paul Abbott-----4.28 John Halama---4.73

In the AL, to have all 5 starters have an ERA of under 5 is excellent. Considering Halama was demoted to AAA, despite finishing the year with an ERA almost identical to his career mark, shows the superb depth SEA had in the system. What's funny about that to me is this; many fans feel that this is a strength of the Brewers. They mention names I did not; Rigdon, D'Amico, Levrault, Leiter, etc. My response?

Please. Each of the above listed arms could have an effective 2002, although none are "expected" to. Health is the main issue with 3 of the 4, while Levrault doesn't appear to, at this point of his career at least, have the pitch assortment to start. The idea that our Brewers have "depth" in the rotation, is a best case scenario. Looking at the season which is still nearly six months away, and envisioning a "best case" outcome is very poor planning. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Even imagining good contributions from our young top three, and better than career performances from our 4th and 5th men.the Crew is likely to allow a run or more than SEA did.in the non DH NL. This is, obviously, a HUGE edge to SEA, and an often unmentioned place for improvement for our Crew.

BULLPEN

Curtis Leskanic-4.48 (Coors inflated)
Ray King----------3.15
Chad Fox----------3.25

Kaz Sasaki--------3.24
Arthur Rhodes-----4.53.1.72 in '01
Jeff Nelson---------3.23

Yet another career season for SEA, although superb use of the SEA bullpen by Pinella and pitching coach Bryan Clark aided it. I only went three deep, as the last 2-4 spots are usually filled by youngsters being developed, or veterans without the pitch assortment/stamina to be a starter. Middle relievers are among the easiest position to fill on the field; the only easier that comes to my mind is a reserve 1B and a reserve "speed" OF. Even the best teams in the majors, the Yankees and D'Backs spring to my mind, don't have a solid relief corps deeper than three. Slight edge to SEA, though not as much as you would think.

CONCLUSION

Mine at least, is as follows. When healthy, the Brewers offense is pretty decent, I do remember in May looking at the league rankings in runs scored and seeing our beloved Crew 5th of 16th. However, when injuries occurred, pop went the season. Also, the entire team's weakness is getting on base. Team OBP needs to be addressed in every move made. As far as position players go, depth and OBP would be my top priority. Now, does that mean I'm giddy with our current core of 8 position starters? I would always consider improving any and/or every position if it made my club better. But, overall, the team we put on the field when healthy matches up pretty well with SEA, and that's good enough for me. Adding high OBP bench personnel (Sweeney and Collier were a good start in August) would be high on my list, as well as trying to get younger. I'm not in favor of sitting good prospects on the bench when they could be playing and learning in AAA, but the idea we can't find a younger, higher ceiling 5th OF than James Mouton makes me wonder if James has a picture or two of Davey Lopes that we'd giggle about.

As for the pitching, I'd deal our strength of middle men, preferably Fox, whose fine year is likely the only 162 game stretch he will remain healthy for in his career. Leskanic and Mike DeJean are both solid, and will both be making pretty good money for being a bit better than average, and contributing 70 innings each to the total of about 1450. Considering how many very mediocre pitchers, like Mike Buddie, had success when used on a regular basis, "set up to succeed" so to speak, tells me you can get away with some unproven arms out there.

The rotation, especially with three unproven, yet high ceiling youngsters making up 60% of the rotation, stability is needed from the other 40% of it. For years, many have felt we were a good #2 type starter from having a good staff.and it seems we still are. Wright has the potential to still be one, but it seems very unlikely to come from a 27+ year-old with oodles of big league innings to suddenly develop that consistency. Jamey, if healthy, will have a nice career as a #3/4 guy, but is not what is needed in MIL. Haynes is what he is, a solid #5, with the ability to put together a #4 type season. Both Jamey and Jimmy will likely be making arbitration aided salaries in the $3 million range in '02. Both are big league pitchers, but neither seems a real good fit in MIL, given their top 3.

Other than trying to pry loose a solid 15 win, 200 inning man from an unsuspecting team, I'm not sure if there is an answer. Top arms like that are dealt so infrequently, they are difficult to find on the trade market. If forced to make a choice, I may well keep Haynes, as his innings tend to be higher than Wright's. The fact that Jamey's higher potential makes him more desirable in a trade.

Often times the answers are a bit different than the common perception. In this case, we had a good offense, until our lack of depth hurt us immensely. On the other hand, our pitching, the rotation especially, was never there, even before injuries hit.

It seems quite apparent that what separated us from the Mariners was good health and a stellar rotation, to go along with several, doubtful to be repeated, career best performances. Quite likely some good players making good money, I would guess Burnitz, Belliard, and Wright are likely to be dealt this winter. Personally, I hope we concentrate more on improving our pitching than the everyday lineup. Preventing runs is every bit as vital as scoring them, even if chicks don't dig the easy 4-3 ground out.

 




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