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Springtime Storylines: Did the Brewers do enough to fix their godawful rotation?

Apr 1, 2010, 12:15 PM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Brew Crew


The
big question: Did the Brewers do enough to fix their godawful rotation?

With the nice crowds, Prince Fielder’s great season, a good year from Trevor Hoffman and a vague feeling that the team was kind of competitive, it was easy to overlook just how terrible the Brewers’ rotation was last season. They were the worst group of starters in the National League, in fact. Worse than the Mets. Worse than even the Nationals. This august collection of 4th and 5th starters pinched off an ERA of 5.37 in 2009. The team went 80 and 82, and God only knows how they won 80 with that crowd.

The good news is that they should be an improved bunch this year. Randy Wolf was an expensive addition, but an oh-so-necessary one. The return of Doug Davis is welcome too.  Dave Bush and Manny Parra are much better pitchers than they showed in 2009. Yovani Gallardo could build on a solid 2009 and easily take a step forward as well.  Jeff Suppan is still around, but seeing as no one in the Brewrers’ front office wants to go to jail it’s not like they can just tie him to some cement blocks and drop him in Lake Michigan (they’d probably consider subcontracting the job out to someone, however).

But for the rotation to see significant improvement — the sort that would catapult them into contention with the Cardinals — it would take a series of best case scenarios to come to pass. Wolf would have to repeat his career-best 2009 rather than revert to his merely respectable career norms. Bush and Parra would also both need to improve significantly and Suppan would have to flash back three or four years and become average. All of those things are eminently possible. All of those things happening at once aren’t necessarily likely, however, and for that reason I think the Brewers will be battling Cincinnati for second place rather than battling the Cardinals for first.

So what
else is
going on?

  • The lineup has the same sort of dynamic as the rotation: lots of guys who underachieved last year, all of whom need to improve this year if the team wants to make some noise. Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez and Rickie Weeks were all terrible, though Weeks and Hart had injuries as an excuse. Gomez just kind of sucks, and it won’t be at all surprising to see Jim Edmonds get a lot of playing time this season because of it, defense be damned.
  • The bullpen could actually be pretty decent. Trevor Hoffman doesn’t age, apparently, and LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Coffey, Claudio Vargas, Mitch Stetter and Carlos Villanueva are all useful sidekicks. The pen was actually pretty decent last year too, and with the starters figuring to step it up this year the relievers should be fresher and more effective.

  • Alcides Escobar will start his first full major league season. He’s an exciting young player and everyone is high on his glove. If he hits even a little bit it will be considered gravy. Mmmm, gravy.
  • Prince Fielder’s contract status will supply the ongoing drama this year. He’s a free agent after 2011, and as a Scott Boras client we should probably expect him to wait things out and hit the market. Whether he does so depends a lot on what happens with Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez who also stand to be free agents in the winter of 2011-12. If they are extended and/or traded and extended sometime between now and next year, Fielder probably goes out on the market. If their status is still in flux, Fielder and Boras may wisely decide to take what Milwaukee offers for fear that a crowded first baseman’s market will drive down prices. Boras and the Brewers have already spoken this spring. They may very well speak some more as the season goes on.

So
how
are they gonna do?

The prediction business isn’t as easy as it looks. After thinking about the Reds I was kind of optimistic about them and put them second. Now after thinking about the Brewers a bit, I’m not as down on them as I was when I came up with the division order last night. So many things went wrong for the Brewers last year and that can’t happen again, can it? Randy Wolf and Doug Davis will stabilize things, right? Everyone else should improve. This team can win second place, right? 

Prediction: I’ll call them third place in the Central simply because it wouldn’t be fair to demote the Reds mere hours after picking them there. But really, I think it’s a tossup between those two.

Click
here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Nate - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Rickie Weeks were all terrible
    .340 OBP and 517 SLG. Yeah, Rickie Weeks sucks. They should’ve traded him for a real stud like Julio Lugo! Also, Escobar hit .300 last season, consistent with his minor league numbers, although his OBP wasn’t that worthwhile.

  2. lar @ wezen-ball - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    Very fair preview, Craig. You pretty much just nailed every hope/fear Brewers fans have about the season. Glad to see you turned around some from the doom and gloom you hinted at earlier in the week.
    .
    My only gripe is that, though you recognize that the Brewers won 80 games last year despite *everything* going wrong with the rotation (and, eventually, the bullpen through overuse), you don’t seem to think that the opposite was true with the Cards – in that everything seemed to go right for them last year and they won 91 games. If the luck balances out a little better for both teams this year, I can see them meeting somewhere in the 85-88 win area. The Cards are a better overall team, I think, so you’ve got to give them a couple of games on the Brewers, but I don’t think they’ll be as far apart as you might be suggesting.
    .
    Of course, I’m just terrible at predicting standings, so you should probably just ignore me…

  3. Ace - Apr 1, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    You could just predict a 2nd place tie, right? Assuming the wild card comes out of the east, there’s no reason these two clubs couldn’t finish with the same record.

  4. shaggytoodle - Apr 1, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    Weeks was having a career year til his injury occured, I think Escobar will do well hopefully he plays like he did in the winter league, its all about patience for him. While it seems they have sacrificed some power for speed maybe Macha will want to try being more aggressive in base running. I think the Brewers will be pushing hard for the Wild Card come the end of the season.

  5. Doug - Apr 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    If you ask me…the carDUInals ran away with the division last year because their two main competitors (the Brewers and the Cubs) had less than stellar years. The carDUInals looked pretty bad at the beginning of last year and the Brewers were in first until the 4th of July weekend – then their pitching imploded and it was all downhill from there. Now I am sure carDUInal fans will claim that their team won because Jesus blessed because they don’t untuck their shirts after winning – we all know they are the only team that plays the game of baseball correctly. But basically, I think the reason that the dentally challenged carDUInals fans were able to celebrate last year was because both the Brewers and Cubs underachieved.

  6. Doug - Apr 1, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    If you ask me…the carDUInals ran away with the division last year because their two main competitors (the Brewers and the Cubs) had less than stellar years. The carDUInals looked pretty bad at the beginning of last year and the Brewers were in first until the 4th of July weekend – then their pitching imploded and it was all downhill from there. Now I am sure carDUInal fans will claim that their team won because Jesus blessed because they don’t untuck their shirts after winning – we all know they are the only team that plays the game of baseball correctly. But basically, I think the reason that the dentally challenged carDUInals fans were able to celebrate last year was because both the Brewers and Cubs underachieved.

  7. Fast Eddie Felson - Apr 1, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    Craig: Better head on over to http://www.mensjournal.com/save-baseball.
    This guy just called Bernie the Brewer a pedophile.
    I demand an investigation!

  8. JD - Apr 1, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    Rickie Weeks was terrible Craig? Did you see what his stats were before he injured his wrist in mid May? They were FAR from terrible.

  9. APBA Guy - Apr 1, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    Everyone’s on Craig about his stream of consciousness commentary regarding Weeks, et al, but nobody has mentioned that Craig was being charitable about the Brewers’ rotation.
    I’m not sure Parra is a better pitcher than he showed last year. His fundamentals were terrible. Yes, he had a k/9 of 7.5 but he also had a BB/9 of 5.00, and with that goes a WHIP of 1.81. That’s alarming.
    Just because Suppan is on the DL doesn’t mean that he won’t appear later in the year at some point, gasoline can in hand, to replace either Parra or Bush, or an injured Gallardo.
    Remember that the Brewers exceeded their Pythagorean by 2 games last year, so things definitely can get worse.
    I think your 3rd prediction is a reasonable one.

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