The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Lopez Royalties & Princely Barter

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By Melissa S. Wollering

A highly-underrated acquisition, written off by some, Felipe Lopez has been putting #4 pop back into the bat. As in Paul Molitor, not Brett Favre; you football-convert-Brewers-abandoning-season-is-over-I’m-onto-bearded-forest-dweller-Aaron Rodgers fans. Unfortunately, Lopez didn’t solve any pitching problems which have taken the Milwaukee Brewers out of postseason contention.  So when should we use Prince for all he’s worth? I mean, worth on the market? We’re onto 2010’s hunt.

It’s worth noting, Ken Macha called Lopez a “hitting machine” this week. Now rewind to Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had finally created momentum at the leadoff spot before his season-ending wrist injury May 17th. Until Lopez arrived on the scene, the Brewers couldn’t set runners in-motion for Braun/Fielder plate appearances. Now Lopez is serving a sterling silver decanter of leadoff juice in anticipation of the two young hitters. It’s almost a nightly ritual.

Could this once short-term rental be worth a Melvin investment? Felipe is a free agent after this season, and depending on the strength of a Weeks’ return, he may be worth a look. It took Weeks years to start a season the way he did in 2009, but even at his best, Wickie numbers do not equal those of Lopez.

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Lopez has a .363 batting average and .419 on-base percentage that’s taken Milwaukee’s watery Beer Cheese soup and made it consistently thicker and more productive. In Chart One of two in this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we break down runs per game between Weeks, Lopez and the production drought which occurred when neither was contributing.

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Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Brewers’ record is any better with the guy. The Crew has gone 14-20 (at the time of posting) since Lopez has arrived in the land of Miller. During the 55 week period in which there was no Weeks OR Lopez, the team was 24-31. Crunch that and you get nearly the same percentage points. Jeepers, creepers Soxman. (Note all Batman references have been slightly altered and do reflect TSB’s preference and bias towards this superior superhero.)

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As of Thursday, the Brewers had moved ahead of the Dodgers and were 3rd in the NL in runs scored. Meaning, the offense has not been the problem anyway.

No, the Brewers fall from grace rests squarely on the shoulders of villains called starting pitchers. The trade deadline was a circus in which Doug Melvin was left hanging from a trapeze. Veterans Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan were shot out of the DL canon of injuries. Manny Parra walked on hot coals long enough to get his own show in AAA.  And Yovani Gallardo just couldn’t live up to the title of SuperAce CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets.

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The circus was so scary, Bill Castro was dismissed as pitching ringleader and Ken Macha is now walking the high wire. Eight pitchers have started for the Crew this season and just one, Yovani, has managed to keep his ERA under 4.95. The rotation has the worst cumulative ERA in the NL. Only the Orioles are worse in all the majors. From a 2008 third-best mark of 3.86 to a cellar-chilling 5.23…oh what difference a year makes.

Also, some of our pitchers, namely Carlos Vanillawafer and Mark DiFelice, are being robbed of strikes.  Check out Jeff’s Lookout Landing.  It breaks down the ten pitchers in the majors with the fewest strikes called.

Even worse, take a look at it by team.  The Brewers get fewer strikes called than any other TEAM in MLB, which certainly doesn’t help our already dismal ability to pitch. In other words, we’re getting screwed!

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Moving along, here’s my royal pain-in-the-arse question of week.  Some of you will not be happy with me, however: when is it worth it to deal Prince? Dave at Fan Graphs has some great stats to back the argument up. If you could put a price tag on his .300 batting average, his gong show of home runs and his walk total which is already matching 2008’s in 150 fewer plate appearances, what would that price be? And would it be enough to put the Brewers in Ken’s Hunt for a 2010 Machtober?

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We’re only ponying up $7.5 million this year and $10.5 next until 2011 brings dreaded free agency with Scott Boras playing the lead role of Lucifer. A record-breaking contract  aroma is obviously wafting through some organization’s front office.


Look at it this way. Without Fielder, Milwaukee would still have Mat Gamel (could move to 1B), Rickie Weeks (could be asked to play a position other than 2B, although that could mean OF), Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Casey McGehee and (if we could snag) Felipe Lopez to work the infield. I would also support giving Craigy Counsell another 1-year deal, and for heaven’s sake, give him more than $1M this time!  He’s earned it ten-fold.


Trading a HR Derby, All-Star player after a disappointing season is not easy to market to the Milwaukee fan base, but the money he could rake in to replace our starting pitching rotation could make the difference in a 2010 bid for the playoffs.


Chris Capuano was once slated to return as early as late May of 2009, but ran into injury complications. Other than a Capuano return, Milwaukee has no one ready to move up the pitching ranks.  The once “one year away” Jeremy Jeffress has bigger grass issues than the stuff he plays on.


Fielder has been the man the Brewers organization has been building playoff runs around. “He’s only with us two more years.  That means we’ve got two years to get there or we may never get there.”


I would argue it may be worth flipping that philosophy by using Prince to get to the playoffs in an unconventional way. Deal him for all he’s worth to invest in a starting rotation that can move you in that direction.  If this 2009 season is proving anything, it’s that having Braun & Fielder isn’t enough to reach Machtober.

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Next Week: My take on what the Brewers should do with Hoffman, Cameron, Kendall, Looper, Weathers, Catalanotto and Riviera…

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Mayday, Mayday!

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
The raging submarine has surfaced. The Man with the Mustache has parted the Milwaukee Brewers’ plagued sea from which coast guard officials were picking up distress signals. Adios to pitching coach Bill Castro. Enter Chris Bosio straight from country music land. Speaking of, if your tween wants to party with JJ Hardy, she’ll have to hitch a plane to Nashville. To top things off, Alcides Escobar will now take your questions from the infield. But we’re not done–Bill Hall was also designated for assignment and OF Jason Bourgeois is coming up the ranks.

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A pitching staff that ranks near the bottom of almost every category in the NL brings little job security.  So after 17 years as bullpen coach, it is sufficed to say Bill Castro was NOT cutting it during his first year as pitching coach.

 
I personally mourned the loss of Mike Maddux prior to this season, who was successfully courted by the Texas Rangers.  He was Milwaukee’s pitching coach from 2003-2008 and is largely credited with the Ben Sheets era of Brewers baseball. The organization knew it would be nearly impossible to fill his shoes and the appointment of Bill Castro, while welcomed, was not digested without some skepticism.

 
Tuesday’s 13-6 loss to San Diego was the nail in the coffin. If the Padres have one of the worst offenses in the league and the Crew can’t stop them from scoring, Doug Melvin and Ken Macha will go postal. 22 losses in 35 games often means a team is facing a meltdown on multiple levels.  No, this time it truly is JUST the pitching. When even Bill Hall is smacking homers and you still lose by 7 because of pitching that wreaks of limburger, adjustments are inevitable.

 
As for Castro’s interim replacement, Chris Bosio made his MLB debut in 1986 by pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a second-round draft pick for them back in 1982. Bosio came home to roost this year by taking the pitching coach position for Milwaukee’s AAA Nashville team. As of Wednesday, that team was tied for second in the Pacific Coast League in team ERA with a 4.05 and has allowed the fourth-fewest homers (83).

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Onto James Jerry Hardy—kids call him JJ (trademark David Kay)—the struggling shortshop is two years removed from All Star status and has been playing as such. His .229 batting, mere 11 homers and 45 RBI’s were dismal, essentially putting a black hole the Brewers’ lineup.

 
Hardy was sent down to AAA with little choice.  A player must have five full years in the majors before he is able to turn down such an assignment. Meantime, Aaron Harang just cleared waivers.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Hardy and Hart or Hardy, prospect and Hall for Harang? We could hear more chatter on this in coming days.

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Alcides Escobar, who was brought up to the bigs last season and sent back down to work on his defensive consistency, will takeover for Hardy. He is considered the team’s top prospect, (see “Chart Magnificence” Above), batting .298 in Nashville with two dozen doubles, 6 triples, 4 homers and 34 RBI’s. His OBP is .353 and he could fill the void of stolen bases for the Crew, having tallied 42 himself this season. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but Milwaukee’s stolen base record wasn’t half-bad until Rickie Weeks’ season-ending injury.

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Hall might as well erase the last two years of his life. 24 RBI in 214 at-bats screams gigantic waste of cash. The Brewers are paying him $6.8M in 2009 and $8.4M in 2010 to produce jack squat.  I apologize ahead of time to anyone named Jack.

 
Right now, the organization has ten days to trade Billy, cut him loose or stick him in the minors. Billy has already agreed to head to the minors but injuries forced the Crew to stick him back in the lineup. Don’t hold your breath. No one will want to pick up his salary, so Milwaukee appears to be stuck between a Hall and a hard place.

 
Onto the Brewers decision to go Bourghetto.  By the way, Bourghetto is a termed defined as bourgeois AND ghetto, commonly used by one Paul M. Banks.  Bless Paul’s fine vocabulary, which comes in quite handy here.

 
In 105 games with Nashville, Bourgeois was batting .316 with 18 doubles, six triples, two homers and 41 RBI, with a .354 OBP. Desperate times call for surprising measures. Another OF will be welcome. This could also indicate the Brewers have some level of comfort in considering dealing Hart.

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Wednesday’s decisions won’t fix the starting rotation or the bullpen fatigue, but it’s obvious the front office wants to send a signal to its coaches and players.  The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober isn’t over until the submarine has sunk. Or until Sean Connery says it is.

The Hunt For Ken’s Machtober: Bullpen Breakdown

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 By: Melissa S. Wollering

The starting rotation is experiencing full engine failure, prompting a bullpen meltdown. For the Milwaukee Brewers to salvage their race for October, the organization prayed to the skies above.  Doug Melvin ordered some stormy Weathers to cool off overheated relievers.  He also ordered the Coming of Jesus.  Jesus Colome, that is.

 

 
39-year-old David Weathers gets around. He has license plates from 10 metropolitan cities: nine in the U.S., one in Canada. He also dated both of your twin sisters; as a Yankee and a Met. Doug Melvin worked out a deal after the trade deadline, when Cincinnati put Weathers on waivers. The Crew is handing over a player yet to-be-named or just plain cash.

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Weathers brought sun as well as rain clouds into Milwaukee as a Brewer from 1998 to July of 2001, when he was dealt to the Cubs. He is the third reliever added to the Brewers’ bullpen in ten days and was sought out with the hope that he can eat up late innings. Needless to say, he provides experience, a sneaky cutter ball and the ability to be one of two set-up men for Trevor Hoffman (the other being Todd Coffey).

 
According to Tom Hardricourt, no one was more shocked about his return than Weathers himself.  The good news: Weathers is self-forecasting fresh pitching because he’s received an easy workload and adequate rest in Cincy.  Can he bring clear skies back to a state under a permanent tornado watch?  Check out TSB’s 7-Day Weathers’ Outlook in “Chart Magnificence” below.

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Former Milwaukee Brewer Claudio Vargas is also back to provide some semi-fresh arm action. Mmm…at this point should we find Ruben Quevedo? No? By the way, Doug Melvin gave the Dodgers minor-league catcher Vinny Rottino in exchange.

 
Finally, nothing shows Melvin’s desperate plea for divine intervention more than summoning Jesus himself to the bullpen. Last week, the club called up righty-reliever Jesus Colome from AAA Nashville to replace R.J. Swindle. The lefty could have used his right arm, right toe, left ear or rear end and still wouldn’t have made a difference in the Brewers’ physically-drained bulllpen. Swindle had three stints in the bigs with the Brewers, ultimately allowing a dozen hits and a dozen runs in less than 7 innings, for a 16.20 ERA.  Cue the coming of Jesus.

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Melvin signed Colome several weeks ago after his release from Washington and was assigned to Class AAA Nashville. He’s been great in four outings there; going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and two saves, three hits and two walks allowed in seven innings, and 11 K’s. If he doesn’t knock your socks off just remember, Swindle allowed at least one run in each of his last six outings.
It’s clear that the bullpen breakdown is a direct result of Melvin’s inability to obtain a starting pitcher while Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan are on the DL. 

 

 

During the injury waiting game, the Hunt for Ken’s Machtober has been stymied by starters habitually making short-inning appearances and relievers being beckoned über early.

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Case and point: the tired Mark DiFelice.  He’s made 45 appearances so far this year and even cost the organization Friday’s game. Typically, DeFelice can sack righties. Instead, he hung a “cut” fastball to Houston’s Jason Michaels, who served himself a three-run shot on a silver platter that night. DeFelice admits he’s been dropping his arm and not following through on his trusted pitch. He’s highly unlikely to be the only one in the bullpen doing such a thing.

 

 
Chew on this: the Brewers are 1-21 in games in which Chris Smith has come to the mound. You know you have problems when your pitcher can’t hold a six-run lead.  In addition, you know you have problems when your beer pitcher can’t hold the six-pack you need it to in order for you to get through such a game.

 

Ken Macha worried this domino effect would prevent his team from vying for the “up-for-grabs” NL Central. With the Brewers back below .500, tied for third with the Astros as of Monday and five games off the pace, Ken’s Hunt had better include an improved bullpen first and foremost, with a glorious return for Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan fairly soon afterward.

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Other things worth fixin’ like country fried steak: get somebody on base before there are two outs already on the board. Seriously.

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Stop taking game-critical abuse from senile umpires. On Sunday, Ryan Braun took a third strike so far outside that Humberto Quintero used an Inspector Gadget extendable arm or Stretch Armstrong putty limb to retrieve it. Braun rightfully complained to home plate umpire Larry Vanover. Replays showed the fastball was spotted in Austin, Texas. Those calls are not helping the Brewers.

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Lastly, stranded runners destroy big opportunity innings. AGAIN, these are game-critical innings. On Saturday, the Crew got one run off Mike Hampton in the first but could have put a few more up on the board.

 
In the coming weeks, we’ll keep tabs on the submarine in Ken’s Hunt for you.  Remember that until Machtober, the Brewers do not surrender.