Milwaukee Brewers Team Preview (Part 1)

The 2007 Milwaukee Brewers appeared unstoppable for the first month-and-a-half, then mediocre the rest of the way. Which version will the 2008 club mimic?

There was a time when I made the statement that a team full of Rafael Palmeiros or Willie McCoveys would be so dominant on offense as to make for all the shortcomings that would come from having Palmeiro or McCovey play positions like shortstop, second base, and centerfield. Seemingly from the moment I made that statement, I have been made more and more aware of how simply incorrect I was to say that. There is no finer example of the importance of defense than the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers.

2007 was the first season in which I truly paid attention to team defense, thanks in large part to new revolutionary defensive statistics which haven't been around very long. What I discovered by paying attention to team defense is that three teams - the Brewers, Florida Marlins, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (and you can probably throw in the Detroit Tigers) - were absolutely victimized by their defense in 2007. But bad defense hurt no team more than it hurt the Brewers. Because of their horrendous play in the field in 2007, the Brewers missed winning their first division crown in over 25 years.

2007 Standings - NL Central W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Chicago Cubs 85 77 0.525 - 44-37 41-40 752 690 87 75
Milwaukee Brewers 83 79 0.512 2.0 51-30 32-49 801 776 83 79
St. Louis Cardinals 78 84 0.481 7.0 43-38 35-46 725 829 71 91
Houston Astros 73 89 0.451 12.0 42-39 31-50 723 813 72 90
Cincinnati Reds 72 90 0.444 13.0 39-42 33-48 783 853 75 87
Pittsburgh Pirates 68 94 0.420 17.0 37-44 31-50 724 846 70 92
96C8A2
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Mike Cameron CF
Eric Gagne RP
Dave Riske RP
Jason Kendall RHP
a
Departed Pos.
Francisco Cordero RP
Johnny Estrada C
Geoff Jenkins LF
There is reason for optimism in Milwaukee this season, however. Those poor defenders suffered from youth as much as anything, so it is natural for the team's defense to improve in 2008. Additionally, the Brewers have acquired Mike Cameron, who despite his age is still a defensive dynamo, which means that their horrendous centerfielder, Bill Hall, moves back to the infield while their horrendous third baseman, Ryan Braun, moves to left field. Finally, this is a truly talented offensive with an above-average (no, really) pitching staff playing in a weak division that they should have won last season and which has not improved significantly in the offseason.

Catcher
2007 Starter    Johnny Estrada
Projected 2008 Starter   Jason Kendall

There are very few players I have made more fun of since we started BaseballEvolution.com than Jason Kendall. I openly mocked Billy Beane for acquiring the light-hitting catcher and his huge salary from the Pirates in 2005. I revelled when Kendall hit one homerun in 2005 and 2006 combined, and watched his OPS+ slump into the 70s and 80s. Finally, I mourned when the Cubs traded for Kendall last season.

Nevertheless, in the midst of my mockery, I did not lose sight of one interesting fact - Kendall seems to simply prefer playing in the National League. After posting a pulse-less .226/.261/.281 in 80 games with the A's last season before being traded to the Cubs , Kendall put up a remarkable .270/.362/.356 in 57 with the Cubs.

At the age of 34, Kendall may have new life. He will never be the guy who hit 14 homeruns in 2000 again, but he has all the intangibles - veteran, former All-Star, solid catcher - and he should be a nice addition to a young team.

(How much must I like the Brewers to be speaking positively about Jason Kendall?)

First Base
2007 Starter   Prince Fielder
Projected 2008 Starter   Prince Fielder

Comeback Player
Dave Bush
His peripherals are always good. With solid defensive support, could win 20 games.
Disappointment Candidate
Ryan Braun
Peripherals looked terrible last season. No way he puts up those numbers again.
Irony - that the first father and son combination to ever both hit 50 homeruns in a season would be incredibly large, bad defenders named "Fielder."

At the age of 23, Fielder truly arrived in 2007. His game is very similar to Ryan Howard's, but the enchanting thing about Fielder is that despite the fact that pitchers pitched around him in the second half of the season in 2007, Fielder's overall game actually improved. That he could watch his average and on-base percentage improve, and his K/BB go down, while pitchers tried to avoid letting him hit the ball a mile off of them shows that underneath his youth, and girth, lies a mature hitter. He won't hit 50 again this season, but he should improve overall.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Rickie Weeks
Projected 2008 Starter   Rickie Weeks

We're going to have to create a new nickname for Weeks - "good news/bad news." The good news is that the former hot prospect played in a career high number of games in 2007, and was a SABRmetric dream come true. He stole 25/27 bases, managed a .374 on-base percentage )(which was 139 points better than his average, grounded into only 3 double plays, got hit by 14 pitches, and hit a career-high 16 homeruns. It truly looks like Weeks could emerge in 2008, at the age of 25, as a 30/30 threat, and should easily score 100 runs, hit 40 doubles, and post an on-base percentage near 400.

The bad news is that Weeks' average slumped to .235 last season, he struck out nearly once per game, and his defense was absymmal; he was one of the worst defenders in the league at second base. A leadoff hitter than can get on-base will help the team everytime, but it is nice to have a guy who puts the bat on the ball, and who can give his pitcher help in the field.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the bad news for Weeks got significantly less bad in 2007, while the good news only got better. If he can be healthy and play everyday, Weeks should be a star in 2008.


Prince Fielder
Third Base
2007 Starter   Ryan Braun
Projected 2008 Starter   Bill Hall

In 2006, Bill Hall came out of nowhere to play 148 games at shortstop, hit 35 homeruns, and score 100 runs. As a reward for his performance, the Brewers moved him to centerfield, where his numbers dropped off precipitously and he played some of the worst outfield defense in all of baseball.

In 2008, with the arrival of Mike Cameron, Hall returns to the infield, this time third base, and sends Ryan Braun, also a league worst defender, into leftfield. If Hall can get on-base at a .330 clip and keep half of the balls hit his way from going by, he will have done his job.

Shortstop
2007 Starter   J.J. Hardy
Projected 2008 Starter   J.J. Hardy

Cy Young Award Candidate
Yovani Gallardo
Has amazing stuff and was rock-solid in the majors after dominating the minors in 2007.
Comeback Player
Chris Capuano
No real explanation for his nasty downturn last season, should rebound nicely.
After getting off to a torrid start, by June, J.J. Hardy became the "Player Having a Nice First Half Most Obviously About to Return to Earth." Hardy's decent-but-not-great offensive numbers would have been delightful if not for his terrible defense last season. Like Weeks, Braun, and Hall, Hardy ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories for his position - in a few categories, only Derek Jeter saved Hardy from finishing worst in the majors - but unlike his teammates, Hardy plays arguably the most important defensive position on the field.

In 2007, J.J. Hardy was 24 years old, and enjoying his first full major league season. Therefore, Hardy is probably just young, and given another year or two to develop he could easily be a solid hitting and solid defending shortstop. But the Brewers need defense now, and Hardy Age 25 had better work on defense. Put simply, the Brewers need Hardy to be a better defender in 2008, or they need another shortstop.

Continue to Part 2

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