The 2010 Brewers & The Groundhog Day Principle:
- Updated: February 10, 2010
Last week was Groundhog Day (the holiday, not the Bill Murray Movie). Per Groundhog Day tradition, the weather outside when the groundhog emerges hibernation is supposed to correlate with how much longer winter is supposed to last. For this article I decided to apply this principle with a twist. I’m going to break down position by position whether the Brewers look better, worse or the same based on how they look early in February. Last year, they were pretty much an average team (80-82). This is my way to determine if it’s likely they will be worse than 2009, be about the same, or improve.
Jason Kendall/Mike Rivera: 2009
Gregg Zaun/George Kottaras: 2010
Probably the biggest no-brainer out of all the positions. While Mike Rivera is adequate for a backup, something (i.e. everything) disturbed me about the fact that Jason Kendall started 133 games for the Brewers last year. Fortunately, this won’t be an issue this year as Kendall is now in Kansas City.
This is obviously an area the Brewers overhauled in the off-season. They brought in Catcher Gregg Zaun to a very reasonable 1-year 2.1 million dollar contract last winter. It’s pretty clear that Zaun is a stopgap until either Jonathan Lucroy or Angel Salome is Major-League ready but I don’t see this affecting his performance. He was in a similar situation in Baltimore last year, occupying the starting catcher position until Matt Wieters was MLB ready (or until enough of the season passed so they wouldn’t have to deal with super-2 arbitration) and he still did a good enough job hitting for catcher. Lucroy/Salome aren’t in the can’t miss/ready for bigs now mode that Wieters was at this time last year (Lucroy hasn’t played above AA). In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zaun starts 120-130 games with 500+ plate appearances. If his hitting is in the neighborhood of last year’s .260/.345/.416 line, the Brewers will be in much better shape behind the plate.
Prince Fielder: 2009/2010
Safe to say the Brewers are in excellent shape here. The only thing that separated Fielder from an MVP last year was playing on a Brewers team that was out of contention and playing in the same league as Albert Pujols. In addition to that, Fielder is a player who doesn’t take days as he played every day and he played 1,431 out of a possible 1,435 innings at first last year.
2009: Felipe Lopez/Craig Counsell/Rickie Weeks/Casey McGehee
2010: Rickie Weeks/Craig Counsell
This area is one of the bigger question marks. The answer to this hinges to the ultimate answer of two questions. 1) Can Rickie Weeks build on the momentum of last year’s strong start and justify the high expectations placed on him? 2) Can Rickie Weeks stay healthy for the whole season?
Two questions, two big ifs. If the answer to both of these questions is Yes, this would be a major boost to the Brewers and do a lot to help them contend. If the answer to the second question is no, I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of Craig Counsell (because it looks like Felipe Lopez isn’t returning in 2010.
Verdict: Better (If Weeks is healthy)
Worse: (If Weeks is injured and/or ineffective)
2009: J.J Hardy/ Alcides Escobar/Craig Counsell
2010: Alcides Escobar
Well, if this was based on defense alone, this would be an improved area. Escobar is obviously the brightest prospect the Brewers have. However, he is still young and a raw talent. I think he’ll eventually become a solid hitter but there definitely will be some bumps in the road. He did hit fairly well .304/.333/.368 after getting called up in August. However, the lack of walks and power is a cause for concern. If these areas were developed a bit more and/or we were talking about the next 3-4 years, I could sign off on this area being better. However, a combination of Escobar being really raw offensively, the fact that J.J Hardy was more unlucky than bad hitting last year and that this breakdown applies only to 2010, the Brewers are (slightly) worse off in this area.
Verdict: Worse: (For 2010)
Better: (2011 & Beyond)
2009: Casey McGehee, Bill Hall, Craig Counsell & Mat Gamel
2010: Casey McGehee/Mat Gamel
Interesting to see how this goes down but should be an improvement either way. McGehee was one of my favorite players to watch last year and I am glad to see him back on the Brewers. He may have overachieved last year (as indicated by a .335 BABIP) but given a full season of play, worst case scenario here would be .270 average & 15-20 homers a year.
Still, I see Third Base as an improved area for two reasons:
1) Bill Hall isn’t on the Brewers anymore:
I’m not sure what happened the last few years, but Bill Hall had progressively become more ineffective as a hitter after his breakout 2006 season. He seemed like a good team player, was flexible to switching positions (i.e. moving to the outfield in 2007) but unfortunately it had gotten to the point where both the Brewers and Hall had to go their separate ways.
2) A strong Plan B:
Even if something happens and the Brewers need a fill-in at third (either McGehee getting injured and/or McGehee moving to second due to Weeks getting injured), the Brewers should be in good hands at third. As it stands, the odd man out in this crowded infield is Mat Gamel. With the exception of Escobar, Gamel is the Brewers hottest prospect. Based on his performance last year, Gamel’s bat (his glove is a different story) is very close to being Major League ready. If things don’t go as planned with the rest of the infield, Gamel could be poised for a breakout season.
2009/2010: Ryan Braun
The second of three positions that look to be unchanged in 2010. Braun has been an elite hitter since being called up during the 2007 season. Every indicator shows that this impressive display of offense will continue into the new decade.
2009: Mike Cameron/Jody Gerut
2010: Carlos Gomez/Jody Gerut/ Jim Edmonds
The last time I wrote on here, was in the immediate aftermath of the trade bringing Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee. While I still stand by my assertion that this wasn’t the best possible, trade I will at least concede the money saved by making this trade has allowed the Brewers to upgrade in the two areas in biggest need of an upgrade (Catcher and Starting Pitching). However, on a pure baseball level, Center Field experienced the biggest downgrade in talent by position for the Brewers during the off-season.
Like Escobar, Gomez is still young and could improve offensively. However, despite Gomez’s speed and defense, the downgrade from Mike Cameron is pretty hard to miss.
2009: Corey Hart/Frank Catalanatto/Jody Gerut
2010: Corey Hart/Jody Gerut
Only difference between last year and this year is Catalanatto is no longer around. Corey Hart has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He appeared to have his breakout season in ’07 and it seemed like he would be a nice complement to the Braun/Fielder combo. Things looked even better in the first half of ’08 as he started well enough to get selected as an All-Star. However, the last year plus has been anything but a smooth ride. A bad second half, an especially bad September carried over into a mediocre, injury-riddled 2009 season and things aren’t looking too much better going into 2010.
Point being, 2010 is a put up or shut up year for Corey Hart. The argument for saying that Right Field is improved is that Corey Hart has shown flashes that he can be a really good player. The argument against is that outside of 2007, his hitting performance has been around league average. Unlike some Brewers who had a bad 2009 (J.J Hardy), there isn’t much of an argument that it can be blamed on bad luck. He had a fairly typical BABIP (.308) indicating that the ability displayed in 2009 is more or less close to what can be expected in the future.
Dave Bush/Jeff Suppan
Well after 2009’s performance, it shouldn’t be too hard for the rotation to improve. Gallardo looks to build upon his first full season and Parra is definitely more talented than his 2009 performance would indicate. Dave Bush is coming off his worst season and it’s reasonable to expect at least a bounce back to his prior performance. Suppan is on the last year of his contract and at this point expectations are pretty low.
In regards to rotation newcomers, Randy Wolf is unlikely to replicate his strong 2009 season but still looks to be a solid middle of the rotation starter. The addition of Doug Davis adds depth to the middle of the rotation. While neither Wolf or Davis are aces, they are a much more reliable source of starting pitching than the two pitchers they are replacing (Braden Looper and Mike Burns).
This one is more or less a push. Hoffman returns for a second season of closer duty. This area comes down to switching Mark DiFelice and Seth McClung for LaTroy Hawkins. The 2-year contract Hawkins got is a bit of a stretch but he’s been proven to be solid as long as he doesn’t get any closer duties. Provided Hoffman stays healthy, this should be a non-issue. On the other hand, the bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as it was in ’09.
[If Weeks is Healthy]
[If Weeks is Injured]
Now that everything is broken down and we have given the chance for the Brewers to show their shadow, what does this reveal? Basically, the 2010 season hinges on the ability of Rickie Weeks to stay healthy and hold down the second base position. If Weeks finally has his breakout season, the summer of 2010 should be exciting for the Brewers as this could be the difference between a .500 season and a playoff spot. While I wasn’t too crazy about the Hardy for Gomez trade, I was fairly happy with most of the other moves made. With their two biggest weaknesses from 2009 addressed (Catcher/Starting Pitching) the Brewers look to at least be in the discussion of contending teams, provided they stay relatively healthy. If Weeks and/or any other significant players lose time to injury, we could be in for a long summer. The worst part, whatever shadow the groundhog sees or does not see doesn’t change the fact that we have to wait 55 more days until opening day to see what is actually going to happen.
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