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There's never a shortage for cool numbers in baseball. Cleanup hitters struggle, a former utilityman goes off and some dude who's never closed games before is perfect. Go figure (which is what we've been doing).
The team can hit. But will the pitching be stingy enough to keep the team in the race?
It will all come down to pitching. Heard that one before, Brewers fans? Offensively, Milwaukee has a versatile and explosive lineup built to contend right now. The Brewers led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases a year ago, and every regular returns in 2013. So while Bernie Brewer should be plenty busy again this year, the hope is that the bullpen phone won’t ring so much. The team took a major step in improving the rotation while hopefully lessening the load on the bullpen with the signing of Kyle Lohse late in spring training. He and Yovani Gallardo are the only proven winners in the starting rotation, and the bullpen, though largely remade, was arguably the worst in the majors last year.
In Gallardo and Lohse, the Brewers boast two aces at the top of the rotation. Gallardo is a workhorse who almost always keeps his team in the game and can be counted on to be among the league leaders in strikeouts. He has started three consecutive Opening Days, and there’s zero doubt that he’ll again anchor Milwaukee’s rotation. Just how soon Lohse will be ready this season is a question, given that he signed on March 26, just six days prior to the Brewers’ first game. A victim of a shrinking free agent market, the 34-year-old inked a three-year deal for $33 million. Lohse has been a double-digit winner just five times in his 12-year career, but was 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in just under 400 innings for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He will offer a huge boost to the rotation. However, the contract may not look so good in 2015. The big question is, who will follow them? Veterans Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson, both of whom have pitched well in starting roles in the past, are the third and fourth starters. Both missed time with injury last year (Estrada missed a month with a quad strain; Narveson was out nearly the whole year with a torn rotator cuff) and both have experience pitching out of the bullpen, so manager Ron Roenicke may opt to put one or both of them there to solidify a shaky relief corps. Mike Fiers was surprisingly effective over his first 16 starts (8–6, 2.85), but seemed to tire as he faltered down the stretch (1–4, 7.09 in last six starts). Mark Rogers, a former No. 1 draft pick who saw his ascent slowed by injuries, finally got his chance and pitched well, striking out 41 in 39 innings. Big Wily Peralta, the organization’s top pitching prospect, threw well in his first big-league stint late last year (2–1, 2.48). He’ll get a shot at some point this season.
There’s nowhere to go but up. Brewer firemen had a bad habit of starting more infernos than they extinguished for a significant stretch of 2012, dooming any chance Milwaukee would return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. The good news is that flame-throwing closer John Axford seemed to fix his problems late in the year (converting 17 of his final 18 save opportunities), and just about all the other arsonists are gone. After toiling in the minor leagues for 10 years, Jim Henderson finally made it to The Show in 2012 and pitched well enough that he’ll be the set-up man for Axford. Brandon Kintzler, another late-season addition, will also get plenty of late-inning work. Lefties in the bullpen have been a rarity in recent years, but the Brewers picked up two from the Washington Nationals in the offseason, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. So, the Brewers return the closer who led the majors in blown saves and everybody else is either new or relatively unproven. A recipe for success?
Milwaukee’s middle infield promises to be one of the most dynamic in the National League. At second, Rickie Weeks worked hard to dig himself out of a major early-season hole (raising his average from .190 to .230 by hitting .282 over his final 65 games), and his powerful bat is a rarity at the position. As always, the question is whether he can stay away from injury. The Brewers have struggled to find a reliable shortstop for several years, but the Crew believes they’ve found one in 23-year old Jean Segura, the key pickup in the Zack Greinke trade. Though he’s a free-swinger, Segura has the tools at the plate and in the field to be a fixture in the Milwaukee infield for years to come.
At third, Aramis Ramirez was just what the Brewers hoped for in his first year in Milwaukee, putting up his usual impressive numbers at the plate (hitting .300 and collecting 100 RBIs for the seventh time and notching his 10th career 25-homer campaign) and leading all NL third basemen in fielding percentage. At first, Corey Hart settled into his new position nicely and didn’t let the transition affect his offensive performance. However, knee surgery in January will delay his season up to a month. Veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has 1,536 games at short and none anywhere else on the diamond, will don the first baseman’s mitt to start the season. His season ended last year after just 24 games due a torn ACL.
If you’re a fan of the No. 8, you’d better enjoy watching Ryan Braun wear it because odds are it will never be donned by anyone else ever again in Milwaukee. Braun seems assured of going down as one of the Brewers’ all-time greats, and he’s still only 29 years old. One of the game’s most prolific sluggers, Braun followed up on his MVP season by posting numbers that were just as gaudy, leading the NL in homers, total bases, runs and OPS. In center, Carlos Gomez has finally established himself as a legitimate everyday player. He’s always been a plus defender, and last year he became much more consistent at the plate, putting up career bests in just about every category and ranking as one of only five players in the majors with at least 15 homers and 30 stolen bases. There was no more pleasant surprise in Milwaukee last year than Norichika Aoki. Arriving from Japan with little fanfare, Aoki’s emergence allowed Hart to move to first base. As a catalyst at the top of the lineup, Aoki has a nice blend of speed and occasional power.
Roenicke has a nice problem behind the plate with two more-than-capable backstops. Starter Jonathan Lucroy ranks among the top hitting catchers in the game today; his .320 average last year was the best among Milwaukee catchers in team history. When he missed a long stretch due to a hand injury last year, Martin Maldonado stepped in and showed he belonged in the bigs. Defensively, he’s better than Lucroy, and he more than holds his own at the plate. Expect him to see more action than the typical backup.
The bench has rarely been a strong point in Milwaukee, and this year is no exception. With regulars firmly established at every position, there will be little opportunity — barring injury — for significant at-bats for anyone on the pine. Logan Schafer is a nice fourth outfielder, bringing superior defense and great speed. Taylor Green is a capable left-handed pinch-hitting option, and Maldonado will spell Lucroy behind the plate.
Brewer fans have every reason to be confident in the franchise’s leadership. Even though he’s cut payroll back this year, owner Mark Attanasio has shown a willingness to spend money and make bold trades to give the team a chance to win. GM Doug Melvin has assembled a group that has won consistently, a fact that should not be taken for granted in Brew Town. The franchise has posted four winning seasons the last six years; this after zero plus-.500 campaigns the previous 14 seasons. Roenicke made a great first impression, leading the Crew to the NLCS in 2011, but last year may have been a more impressive performance, guiding the club through an early offensive slump and a midseason bullpen meltdown to eventually get the team back in playoff contention.
Brewer fans are a little confused about how to approach this season, and with good reason. Is it a rebuilding year? With a group of unproven starting pitchers and a re-tooled bullpen, it looks that way. Is the Crew a contender? With a proven offensive attack, it’s hard to count them out. Here’s the most positive way to look at it: Expectations will be lower than they were a year ago. The team can hit. Axford may have solved his problems, and the rest of the bullpen is new. A bunch of talented young pitchers are looking to make their mark. It’s more fun to be the hunter than the hunted. Sound good, Crew fans? If not, there’s always the Sausage Race.
Lineup RF Norichika Aoki (L)
Versatile offensive threat who ranked among NL’s most potent rookie bats in 2012. 2B Rickie Weeks (R)
Veteran overcame horrendous early-season slump by
hitting .282 over final 65 games. LF Ryan Braun (R)
Perennial All-Star is only player in the majors with 100 runs and RBIs in each of last four seasons. 3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
Steady presence at hot corner batted .327 over final 111 games, raising average from .218 to .300. C Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Arguably best offensive catcher in team history; .320 average was tops ever among Brewer catchers. CF Carlos Gomez (R)
Solid defender coming off career-best year at plate — notched career highs in homers (19) and steals (37). 1B Alex Gonzalez (R)
The veteran shortstop who lost most of last season to a knee injury, will be the stopgap at first until Corey Hart is healthy. SS Jean Segura (R)
Highly touted prospect was key acquisition in Zach Greinke trade; hit .329 in final 22 games.
Bench 1B Corey Hart (R)
Moved to new position and still excelled at plate, ranking among NL leaders in HRs and extra-base hits. Knee surgery in January has delayed his season. INF Taylor Green (L)
Became first Brewer since Prince Fielder (2005) to collect first two career homers as pinch-hitter. A strained hip has landed him on the DL, but he shouldn’t miss too much time. C Martin Maldonado (R)
Outstanding defensive catcher gets results — team was 10 games over .500 in his 58 starts. OF Logan Schafer (L)
Speedy centerfielder is ideal fourth outfielder with good defensive skills. INF Jeff Bianchi (R)
Second-round pick in 2005 made his first appearance in the majors last year, hitting .188 in 69 at-bats.
Rotation RH Yovani Gallardo
Ace produced second-most quality starts in NL (25); has four straight seasons with 200-plus strikeouts RH Kyle Lohse
The Cardinals’ ace in 2012 pitches to contact. He had a 1.090 WHIP last season, but just 143 whiffs in 211 innings. RH Marco Estrada
Bounced back from injury to go 5–2 with 2.03 ERA in final eight starts of season. LH Chris Narveson
Opened season in rotation but suffered year-ending rotator cuff injury after just two starts. RH Mike Fiers
Ranked third among NL rookies in wins (nine), strikeouts (135), ERA (3.74) and IP (127.2).
Bullpen RH John Axford (Closer)
His 81 saves over last two seasons are third-most in MLB; had career-high 93 K’s in ’12. RH Jim Henderson
Made big-league debut after 10 seasons in minors; pitched well enough to earn set-up role in ’13. RH Brandon Kintzler
Worked way back from injury to add stability to Brewer pen; retired 12 of 14 first-batters faced. RH Mark Rogers
Lost his spot in the rotation after team signed Lohse; struck out 41 in 39 IP a year ago. Begins the season on the DL, but not too serious. LH Mike Gonzalez
Veteran lefty held left-handed batters to .179 average last year; has 56 career saves and could be closer in a pinch. LH Tom Gorzelanny
Steady veteran lefty is equally effective against left- and right-handed hitters; can also spot start. RH Alfredo Figaro
Non-roster player has earned the final spot in the pen. RH Burke Badenhop
Could be the odd man out when Rogers returns.
This week's superlatives include a perfect game and an MVP.
Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National Leagues and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's — June 11-17 — standouts.
Baseball fans finally made it to third base, on the cusp of believing that MLB and its players are clean — standing on third base, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to celebrate a PED-free game with Ryan Braun and MLB itself coming up to bat. But both Braun and MLB struck out, leaving fans stranded at third.
I’m sure Braun feels like he just hit a home run, getting a 50-game ban overturned. But fans feel stranded. MLB probably feels like it just got called out on strikes on a pitch in the dirt. (Hey, it happens.) But fans feel stranded.
After the cloud of the Steroid Era, which began in the 1980s and lasted well into the 2000s, fans have been apprehensive in accepting the credibility of MLB’s drug testing program.
Since an agreement with the players instituted the testing program 2006, players have been busted 27 times. That isn’t close to the number of players most fans suspected of cheating in the early 2000s, so it’s easy to see why many fans didn’t immediately jump on board. And suspending Guillermo Mota or J.C. Romero for 50 games, or even Dan Serafini, didn’t exactly convince fans that the game was clean.
But once Manny Ramirez got popped in the midst of terrific run with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans began to take note. After hitting .396 for the Dodgers during the second half of 2008 after his trade from Boston, Manny was off to a torrid start for L.A. in 2009 when he was suspended for 50 games.
If MLB is willing to suspend a star like Ramirez, then the program must be working, right? If the suspension of lesser known players managed to get fans back on base, the Ramirez decision moved the fans to second. As time passed and gaudy offensive numbers became a thing of the past, fans were more comfortable moving on to third, finally prepared to proclaim the game clean.
Then, while standing on third base, believing that favorite stars like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have been tested and tested again for PEDs, and that all were drug-free, the hammer fell, crushing fans’ hopes.
And I’m not sure what’s worse, quite frankly, having the NL MVP taking PEDs, or having a system that we can no longer trust. I think I would take the tainted MVP.
Now I have no business declaring Braun innocent or guilty. Only he truly knows the answer to that. And sadly, that’s not the most important issue right now. The fact that we can’t trust testing, or that there is a loophole large enough to convince a judge to doubt the process, can only mean that MLB and its players do not have a reliable testing system.
Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series in late October, the baseball world has witnessed many major moves and risky contracts — and that was with the big-money Yankees and Red Sox staying fairly quiet. From power sluggers leaving the NL Central to power arms moving east, there were many winter changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the 2012 campaign and beyond. Here are nine of the most important hot stove happenings:
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Milwaukee Brewers Mt. Rushmore
A franchise that began as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 lasted just one season in the northwest prior to moving to Milwaukee under new ownership that included Bud Selig. The Brewers have the distinction as the only franchise to compete in four different divisions at some point: the AL West from 1969-71, the AL East from 1972-93, the AL Central from 1994-97 and the NL Central from 1998-present. But Milwaukee has just two division titles, the first in 1982, and the second in 2011. This past summer the Brew Crew established a franchise record 96 wins. In 43 seasons of competition, the Brewers have finished at .500 or better just 15 times. The 2002 season marked the only time the franchise lost 100 games, and the only season with a worse record than the expansion season of 1969. The two names that scream loudly to any Milwaukee fan for Mt. Rushmore are Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Finding two additional names takes a bit more digging.
The most popular man in Milwaukee (who never played for the Green Bay Packers, that is) won two MVP awards, one as a shortstop in 1982, the second as a centerfielder in 1989. Yount made his major league debut on Opening Day in 1974 at age 18 and spent his entire 20-year career with the Brewers. The Hall of Famer amassed 3,142 hits, 1,632 runs and 1,406 RBIs in a Brewers uniform.
With Yount firmly entrenched at shortstop, Molitor was forced to find other positions in order to break into the Brewers’ lineup. Like Yount in 1973, Molitor was drafted No. 3 overall in 1977. And also like Yount, Molitor found himself in the Brewers’ Opening Day lineup the following season. A shortstop by trade, Molitor stated at five different positions the first five Opening Days of his career (shortstop, DH, second base, left field and third base). In 15 seasons in Milwaukee, Molitor totaled 2,281 hits, 412 steals and a .303 batting average in 1,856 games.
Ranking third in most offensive categories in Brewers history (albeit a distant third) is enough to get Coop in this honored company. He has 154 more RBIs than Molitor, which ranks him second in that category. Cooper in fifth with 201 home runs. Of the nine 120-RBI seasons in team history, Cooper owns three of them, most of anyone. The former first baseman also owns three of the team’s seven 200-hit seasons, again, tops on that list. Acquired prior to the 1977 season from Boston, Cooper batted .302 over 11 seasons with the Brew Crew. During his first seven seasons with the team, he finished fifth in MVP voting three times over four seasons with an eighth-place vote mixed in. He won two Gold Gloves and batted .316 from 1977-83, averaging 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. His .352 average in 1980 would have been good enough to win an AL batting title 22 times during the 30 years from 1962-91, but George Brett chased .400 in 1980, ending at .390, leaving Cooper to settle for runner-up.
You can say what you want about Selig’s tenure in the Commissioner’s office, but he worked tirelessly to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left for Atlanta after the 1965 season. It isn’t a stretch to say that the owner-turned-Commissioner is responsible for bringing baseball back to Milwaukee.
Given his long-term commitment to the team, Ryan Braun is a positive PED test last October away from already being honored. The 2011 NL MVP has some making up to do.
Along with Yount and Molitor, Jim Gantner shares the record for games played by three teammates.
Mike Caldwell averaged 15 wins and 231 innings from 1978-83, and won 102 games.
Had he signed a long-term contract with the franchise, Prince Fielder most certainly would have hit his way onto the mountain.
Stormin' Gorman Thomas averaged 35 home runs and 98 RBIs from 1978-82.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Will talk of steroids in baseball ever go away? When will this loathsome subject that dirtied the past two decades of baseball become a distant memory?
Unfortunately, the subject of steroids and other PEDs in baseball will never go away. Never ever, ever.
NL MVP Ryan Braun is the latest player to test positive for something on the restricted list. With his camp adamantly denying wrongdoing, the appeal process will drag through much of the offseason. And what should be made of the award Braun has yet to actually receive? If it is determined that he in fact cheated, can the award be rescinded?
The bad news for Braun is that one of two things will happen after his appeal is heard with MLB: He’ll be found guilty of using illegal substances and shelved for 50 games, costing him about $1.85 million and forever tarnishing his otherwise pristine image; or he will be exonerated and show up for spring training in February with a clean record, yet forever placed on the “suspicious list” by most fans and members of the media.
And the news gets worse. As long as there is more money in cheating than in testing, the sinister laboratory minds and illicit athletes will always be one step (or more) ahead of the chemists developing tests.
So we are stuck with the curse of these insidious drugs. I believe that MLB testing is working, but it’s not absolute — and never will be. But baseball will always have this problem as long as substances can allow players to run faster, throw harder, hit with more power and prolong careers. With every 10-year, $254 million contract signed, players will try to cut corners. And every spring when clean players are cut, many will face unimaginable temptations.
And so it goes. Until the long list of players from the “Steroid Era” are no longer on the Hall of Fame ballot, we will continue to hear arguments about Hall of Fame voting as many writers will allow their suspicions, or proven allegations, about PED use to determine their Hall voting.