A last look at the Brewers ’09: A first look at what’s next

brewersSeptember General Overview:

September Record 13-15

Season Record 77-81 (with 4 games to go)

The Brewers came into September clearly outside of playoff contention. However, they did have a couple opportunities to impact the Wild Card chase as they had a couple of the front-runners on the schedule in September. In their first chance, they lost 2 of 3 to a Giants team that had legitimate playoff hopes at the time. In their second chance to play spoiler, they fared even worse. They got swept by a Rockies team that finds new ways to win on a daily basis. It was a disappointing but not surprising way to finish off what has been a disappointing season. A season which started very promising and even included about a solid month of being in first place turned into a disappointing season where the Brewers were battling (unsuccessfully) to at least get back to .500. With that in mind it’s time to hand out some bests and worsts for the month of September.

Bests And Worsts of September:

Best HitterCasey McGehee .337./394/.565

Casey McGehee ended his rookie year with a bang. He has strengthened his case for both the Rookie of the Year and to hold down third base for the Brewers for 2010 and beyond.

Best Pitcher Trevor Hoffman 1-1 1.80 era 7/8 saves

MIAMI - MAY 06:  Closer Trevor Hoffman #51 of ...
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Since Hoffman was handed this award last month, I tried the best I could to justify handing it to another pitcher. I almost gave this to Chris Narveson but considering he couldn’t make it out of the 6th the other night against the Rockies, I had to look elsewhere. Sure, Hoffman did have a blown save in September but he has been so dominant and so much better than the rest of the pitching staff that he gets the pitcher of the month award.

Worst HitterCraig Counsell .205/.279/.282

As recently as Tuesday, Jason Kendall was penciled in for this “award”. Overall, Kendall wasn’t great this month but he did just enough in the Colorado series to avoid this dubious distinction. That led me to look elsewhere, eventually leading to Craig Counsell. Counsell obviously isn’t known for his bat but he still needs to produce more offensively to justify the playing time he has gotten this year.

Worst Pitcher Dave Bush 2-4  7.85 era

This was a disappointing end to a less than ideal season for David Bush. He just hasn’t been the same pitcher since being struck by a line drive in May and his struggles in September has been a microcosm for the 2009 season.

Best GameSeptember 6 (2-1 win over the Giants)

For this award, it was a toss up between this game and the win on the 26th over the Phillies. This game got the nod due to a better pitching performance. While the Brewers were out of contention this year, this game had a playoff feel to it. A strong pitching duel (between Braden Looper and Jonathan Sanchez), key defensive plays (Pablo Sandoval robbing the Brewers of a game winning hit in the 10th) and Most importantly, this game also involved the Brewers getting the last word. Prince Fielder capped this game by hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th. To top it off, the Brewers followed up on the walk-off homer with the rest of the team greeting him at home plate and falling down like bowling pins when he stepped onto home plate.

Worst GameSeptember 7 (3-0 loss to the Cardinals)

How did the Brewers follow up this epic game? Well, they pretty much got steamrolled by Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals. Granted Carpenter was on his game but when the only thing separating your team from a no-hitter is a Jody Gerut double, it’s pretty hard to play any worse.

Since the baseball season is winding to a close I will add another set of awards to the normal monthlies: pleasant surprise/biggest disappointment.

Pleasant Surprise Casey McGehee .304/.365/.507 128 OPS+

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 3: Casey McGehee #14...
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This call isn’t even close. McGehee was picked up off of waivers from the Cubs in the off-season. When the Brewers signed him it was more or less an afterthought. For the first couple months of the season, he was “that guy” that they let come off the bench for an at bat or two a week. However, with Rickie Weeks being lost for the season in May, McGehee got more opportunities to play and he made the most of it.

Watching Casey McGehee play has been one of the few bright spots in what has been a disappointing year. He’s had to deal with playing on a bad knee and having to split playing time with Craig Counsell and Mat Gamel. Still he gave it his all, hasn’t missed a beat and proven to be more than capable of hitting Major-League pitching.

Biggest DisappointmentManny Parra 11-10 6.16 era 68 ERA+

I could have gone in many directions here since there were many others “worthy” of this distinction (Hall, Hardy, Looper, Suppan, Kendall, Bush, etc.), but Manny Parra trumped them all. After losing Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia after the 2008 season, the Brewers were counting on Yovani Gallardo and Parra to be the 1-2 pitchers in the rotation if the Brewers were to have any hopes of contention this year.

Gallardo did his part but Manny Parra was inconsistent for most of the season and downright terrible in the other parts (even by Brewers rotation standards). Instead of building on a decent 2008 season, Parra seemed to regress backwards. He fell off so deep that he ended up being sent back to Nashville for a while. While he showed some signs of life after coming back, the damage had already been done to his season.

What’s Next for Current Brewers Players?

With the 2009 season winding down and a return trip to the playoffs not happening, it is time to look ahead to what’s next heading into the 2010 season. The first step towards that is what’s going to happen to the players with expiring contracts. While it is too early to speculate who the Brewers will try to sign from other teams, we can look ahead to which Brewers players may or may not be moving on between now and April.

Mike Cameron .249/.343/.454 108 OPS+

Mike Cameron has held down center for the last couple seasons. He’s done what he has always done, hit around .250 with some power and defense mixed in. While he has his flaws, he still is one of the better center fielders in the league and is a better option than the reserve outfielders that the Brewers have (Jody Gerut, Frank Catalanotto). With Cameron I wouldn’t be too surprised regardless of whether he’s brought back or let go.

Braden Looper 13-7 5.10 82 ERA+

Looper does have a club option for 2010 that would pay him $6.5 million. Based on his performance this year, I’m not too crazy about Braden Looper coming back AND being paid more to do so. He’s managed to stay healthy and attain a good win-loss record (due primarily to strong run support). Still, his performance this year led a lot to be desired and he was still one of the poster children for the Brewers pitching struggles.

Jason Kendall .244/.333/.308 71 OPS+

Jason Kendall seems to be a good person, team mate and the pitchers seem to like him. However, on a team that usually needs to out-slug the other team to win, letting someone like Kendall start 130+ games a season isn’t the best idea. To put it another way, there are 86 National League players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. When you sort those 86 player by OPS+ Kendall ranks 84th. In other words, the Brewers are better off looking elsewhere for next year’s starting catcher job.

Granted, his backup Mike Rivera hasn’t hit much better (.227/.328/.345 79 OPS+), but with Rivera hitting there’s at least an outside chance that he can do something productively offensively. While Rivera isn’t starting material, Rivera is still an upgrade over Jason Kendall in case the Brewers can’t find another catcher through Free Agency.

Trevor Hoffman 2-2 1.76 era 238 ERA+

The Brewers NEED to bring back Hoffman. When the Brewers signed him for a reasonable price last winter, I knew it was a good move. I just didn’t realize it was a brilliant move. Hoffman has been a rock at the back of the Brewers bullpen. This is something that definitely hasn’t been taken for granted (this happens when the predecessors in this job include Dan Kolb, Derrick Turnbow, Eric Gagne and Solomon Torres). While it’s tough to say if he’ll be this dominant in 2010, Hoffman is still one of the elite closers in this league.

Craig Counsell .279/.350/.404 99 OPS+

Counsell has historically been known more for his defense and grittiness than his bat. Armed with an adjusted batting stance, he turned in one of his better years at the plate. It’s likely the Brewers will bring him back. Personally, I’m not too crazy about Counsell coming back as he’s unlikely to replicate these numbers. I don’t mind him coming off the bench occasionally but when he’s in a platoon with Casey McGehee, he’s probably getting too many at-bats. I would prefer to see the Brewers go in a different direction here (i.e. re-sign Felipe Lopez instead).

Felipe Lopez .318/.406/.449 126 OPS+

Lopez was acquired from the D-Backs in July and has held down the second base/lead-off spot ever since. He had a nice 4-hit game in his first Brewers appearance and he hasn’t stopped hitting since. There’s been nothing dominant about his hitting, but he has a knack for finding his way on base.

It’s tough to see where the Brewers would have room for him on the 2010 team (assuming Weeks is healthy) but I would rather see Lopez fill-in the starter/platoon infielder role that’s likely to go to Craig Counsell. He’s just as versatile defensively, younger, a better hitter and even has a little bit of pop in his bat.

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