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Entries in Milwaukee Brewers (41)

Tuesday
Dec132011

Brewers Sign A-Ram

Sans Prince Fielder, the Brewers will to struggle to stay among the National League's top five clubs in run scoring (and that's to say nothing of Ryan Braun's possible 50-game suspension for a failed PED test). Bringing in Aramis Ramirez on a three-year deal reportedly worth $36 million won't compensate, but A-Ram is at least a sizeable upgrade over what Milwaukee got from its third basemen in 2010 (which is to say, nothing).

In 2011, Brewers third basemen -- primarily now-Pirate Casey McGehee -- batted .231/.290/.345 and had a .279 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA). Ramirez, meanwhile, is coming off a resurgent season during which he hit .306/.361/.510, with a .371 wOBA. A-Ram struggled with injuries and bad luck in balls put in play in 2010, slashing just .241/.294/.452 with a .245 BABIP while battling thumb and triceps ailments. With better health and bat control this past year, Ramirez made more contact on inside pitches and did a better job covering the outer third as well. Check out his contact rate by pitch location in 2010 and 2011:

Ramirez' contact rate by pitch location, 2010

Ramirez's contact rate by pitch location, 2011

Ramirez's missed 23 percent of the pitches he swung at in 2010, but that fell to 18 percent in 2011. Consequently, his strikeout rate dipped from 17.8% to 11%. His BABIP bumped back up to .308, due mostly to more hits on inside pitches and those straddling the outside corner of the plate: 

Ramirez's in-play average by pitch location, 2010

Ramirez's in-play average by pitch location, 2011

Ramirez is an aggressive hitter who has never walked much, he's 33 years old and he's one of the worst defensive third basemen in the game, having cost his club 19 runs over the past three years according to Ultimate Zone Rating. But he's still serious power threat who will be much better than McGehee was in 2011 and is projected to be in 2012 (a .313 wOBA, according to The Hardball Times' Oliver). Ramirez joins a revamped Brew Crew infield with just one incumbent starter in Rickie Weeks. How does the new-look infield compare offensively to last year's version? Here's a look at last year's starters, and 2012 Oliver projections for Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Weeks and Mat Gamel:

Gamel, 27, is coming off a .310/.372/.540 season at Triple-A Nashville, but he's obviously no Fielder. Over the course of a full season, the offensive difference between what Fielder did last year and what Gamel is forecast to hit is a staggering 45 runs. However, upgrading from McGehee '11 to A-Ram in '12 is projected to be about a 35 run improvement. In other words, they lose 10 runs, or about a win, in offensive value compared to 2011. Of course, losing Braun for nearly a third of the season could easily cost the Brewers another 1-2 wins on offense.

Ramirez probably shouldn't be playing third base these days and his bat doesn't make up for Fielder's departure. That said, he gives them another quality hitter to at least partially ease the loss and make another run at the NL Central title before Zack Greinke hits the open market. It's hardly a coup, but it's a decent short-term solution for a team whose window of contention may soon close.

Monday
Oct242011

Can Slider-Stricken McGehee Keep His Job?

After two productive years with the Brewers, Casey McGehee tanked in 2011. The former Chicago Cubs waiver claim batted .291 with a .346 on-base percentage and a .477 slugging percentage in 2009 and 2010, but he slashed just .223/.280/.346 this past year. His adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS+) was 31 percent below average. That was dead least among third basemen who qualified for the batting title, and it wasn't even close (Placido Polanco was next, with an 85 OPS+).

While Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke benched McGehee in the playoffs in favor of mid-season trade pickup Jerry Hairston Jr. and prospect Taylor Green is big league ready, GM Doug Melvin thinks that McGehee (arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter) can turn it around.

Part of McGehee's struggles could be a product of bad bounces, as his batting average on balls in play plummeted from .315 in 2009-2010 to .249 in 2011. But his power was down too, as the ZZ Top look-alike's Isolated Power, or slugging percentage minus batting average, fell from .185 in '09-10 to .123 this season. The reason for McGehee's power outage and lower BABIP appears to be one and the same: sliders took a serious bite out of him.

During his first two years with Milwaukee, McGehee hit ground balls about 43 percent of the time against sliders and slugged .414 versus the pitch. In 2011, he hit a grounder 59 percent of the time that he put a slider in play and slugged just .330.

He pummeled pitchers when they threw him inside sliders in 2009 and 2010:

McGehee's in-play slugging percentage vs. sliders, 2009-2010In 2011, however, his hot zone on inside sliders shrank. And he was colder than Milwaukee in mid-January elsewhere in the zone:

McGehee's in-play slugging percentage vs. sliders, 2011

Smacking sliders into the grass so often explains how McGehee's overall ground ball rate jumped from 44 percent (right around the league average) to 50 percent in 2011. That's in the same neighborhood as Erick Aybar, Austin Jackson and Michael Bourn

McGehee has legs, but unlike those guys, he certainly doesn't know how to use them. The 6-foot-1, 220 pounder is a serious plodder, with a career Speed Score of 1.9 (five is average). He got a hit just four percent of the time that he chopped the ball in the infield, one of the twenty worst marks in the majors. And his .220 BABIP on grounders was nearly 20 points below the league average. Simply put, McGehee isn't going to zip down the line and beat out infielders' throws to the bag, not when he runs like he's giving Prince Fielder a piggy-back ride.

MLBTradeRumors projects McGehee's 2012 salary at around $3 million, but I doubt that the Brewers will non-tender him. He very likely won't keep the third base job in Milwaukee, as Green hit a mammoth .336/.413/.583 at Triple-A Nashville and is almost assuredly a better defender than McGehee, who has the sixth-worst Ultimate Zone Rating among qualified third basemen over the past three seasons. But, considering that many teams struggled to get production of the hot corner in 2011 (the cumulative line for third basemen was .252/.316/.390), a power-starved team might swing a trade in hopes that McGehee can solve the slider and stop hitting so many easy-out grounders.

Monday
Oct172011

Big Veggie Trims His K Rate

With a 12-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Six of the NLCS, Prince Fielder may well have played his last game in Milwaukee. The 27-year-old free-agent-to-be figures to be looking for a contract that takes him into his mid-thirties and pays him upwards of $150-$200 million; Adrian Gonzalez's seven-year, $154 million pact with Boston this past April will no doubt be brought up by Fielder's agent, Scott Boras.

Fielder is fresh off arguably the best season of his career, once you account for the decline in run-scoring across the game in 2011. The Big Veggie batted .299, with a .415 on-base percentage and a .566 slugging percentage. In addition to drawing bunches of walks and working Bernie Brewer ragged on Miller Park's outfield slide, the lefty slugger cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.3 percent of his plate appearances, well below his 19.1 percent average from 2005-2010.

He fanned less by connecting more often on low pitches swung at with two strikes. First, here's the league average contact rate for lefty hitters with two strikes:

 League average contact rate for LHBs with two strikes

Lefty batters miss 21-22 percent of the time that they swing with two strikes. Now, here's Fielder's two-strike contact rate in 2010:

Fielder's two-strike contact rate, 2010Overall, Fielder swung and missed about 28 percent of the time with two strikes in 2010. He put the bat on the ball frequently on pitches above his considerable belt, but he swung through lots of pitches thrown at the knees. That changed in 2011, however:

Fielder's two-strike contact rate, 2011Fielder cut his two-strike miss percentage to 22 percent this past year. That helped make him one of the best two-strike hitters in the game. Prince batted .249/.347/.447 when he didn't have a strike to spare in 2011, compared to the pitcher-like .180/.247/.274 league average in such situations.

While Fielder's price tag and girth could give teams pause, he's still in the prime years of his career and enters free agency with a highly impressive hitting dossier. With a 143 career OPS+, Prince ranks in the top 50 all-time among batters through their age-27 season. If he retains his two-strike contact boost, Fielder could be even more of a threat at the plate.

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