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…

Prince Crowned King of Home Run Derby

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

When a former Milwaukee Brewers prospect faces a current Milwaukee Brewer who eats Texas Toast, ribeyes and BBQ for lunch, said former Brewer loses.  Prince goes yard 23 times measuring 415+432+431+367+343+480+466+395+ 497+397+460+459+434+453+488+503+429+461+416+453+423 feet.  Grand Total=Dominance. Who does he partially have to thank?  Ryan Braun for his bat.

 

Nelson Cruz showed up Monday just to baffle everyone with 11 in the first round. He stuck it to one of his former teams, the Milwaukee Brewers, then hit the front of the Big Mac sign in left center with his second homer to flip the Red Birds the proverbial bird. His appearance in the first round also produced some of the Best of Chris Berman.

 

“This ball just pegged to [insert left/right field].  Gone.”
“This one to Big Mac Land. Gone.”
“This one OVER Big Mac Land. Gone.”
“That’s his jet stream!  Gone!”
“It’s the proverbial SKYSCRAPEHHHR…gone.”
“That’s a short-term long-termer.”  [What?]

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Best of the Best of Chris Berman:

“Fielder?  No fielder is going to catch that one.”
“Once upon a time we had Julio ‘Won’t You let me take you on a Sea Cruz’.  We have Jose ‘Can You Sea Cruz’. This is Nelson ‘sail around the world Cruz’!

 
By the way, did Chris Berman’s haircut and glasses make him look smarter?  Don’t answer that.

 Home Run Derby Baseball

Prince Fielder goes yard for 415, 432, 431, 367, 343, 480, 466, 395 and 497.   Then he decides he’s not done with the first round until he cracks off a 397 and 429 plus cash-money in State Farm donations.

 
 By coincidence, ESPN interviewed Al Pujols during Prince’s batfest and allowed Pujols to analyze Fielder’s swing.  Pujols likes it but says Prince gets in trouble when he tries to manufacture power.  Pujols has observed that Prince shortened his stroke, now knows how pitchers approach him and says that as Prince learns to be more consistent he will become more successful. Prince certainly found more success in this Derby, having hit only three homers in his 2007 appearance.

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Brandon Inge?  Small guys can’t win with the long ball. There is some awkward complex-reference in there. I’m going to Inge-nore it.  Chuckle.

 
Carlos Pena’s pitcher was a McNulty.  Is that the first time an Irishman’s pitched for a player from the Dominican? I bet they’ll swap Anejo Brugal Rum and Jameson with each other before this week is over.

 
Ryan Howard chose Aaron Spink, his high school baseball coach as his pitcher. St. Louis hometown love was oozing as Howard took several years off that man’s right arm. Spink’s wife will have to teach him to eat left-handed for the next eight months.

 
Joe Mauer only has 15 homers this season due to his late start, but he was very enjoyable to watch Monday.  He had a 458-footer with Chris W. from Des Moines’ name on it. And the announcers didn’t call him Justin Mauer.  Or Joe Morneau.   Bonus.

 
Pujols says 397 +  416 + 389 + 400 + 410 = Quality Over Quantity. I say it put me closer to winning lunch on a Fielder/Pujols bet that I didn’t initiate.  Pony up Jim!  Shall we go for a veggie burger? Nope, Fielder’s over that.  It was temporary.

 
The swing-off is allright. Berman decided it should be re-named a bat-off and added to Webster’s dictionary. Then he verbally tried out another version of a double swing-off, apparently called a bop-off. The former sounds like a fight between Batman and Joker; the latter a mafia murder. The graphics and scoring guys in the truck probably wanted to punch Berman in his grill, considering their “box” on the top of your screen is pre-fabbed to say “SWING OFF” and can’t be rebuilt once the game starts. Way to insult your tech crew.

 
In Round 2, the foul pole moved in order to sabotage Pujols.  He jacked six more to tie Cruz and Fielder’s first-round totals, but it wasn’t enough. Ryan Howard looked tired in this round but tacked on 8 to bring his total to 15. Cruz extracted one more “Sea Cruise” reference from Berman to advance to the final round as a huge surprise. Meanwhile, Fielder goes 460 + 459 + 434 + 453 + 488 + 503 (longest of the night).  One of our readers, Jim, is now buying me lunch AND tells me he started cheering for my boy he’s so convinced Prince in King in one more round. Sure enough, winner tabulates 429 +461 +416 +453 +423 having used his teammate Ryan Braun’s bat! Prince’s little boy was also there to see the whole thing, which warms my heart because baseball is a family pasttime.

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Favorite distraction: Erin Andrews interviews, adorable child charity plugs and tossbacks to “Boomer/Boom/Boomey” with wonderful sweetness. But we just can’t refrain from talking about Roy Halladay’s trade potential, allowing the man to pimp himself during Joe Mauer’s bat, can we Erin?  Perfection…so close…

 
Favorite New Toy: the Home Run Tracker was unveiled, allowing the Eastern SeaPort Network to track the distance of pitches. It turns from yellow to green once it verifies it has enough distance to clear the wall.  I love it.  I just with the MLB Network had debuted it instead…

 
Speaking of the MLB Network, I loved their Home Run Derby Batting Practice coverage.  Real interviews with people like Reggie Jackson unscripted, Tony LaRussa talking candidly about how he thinks the Home Run Derby is a complete load of waffle (and WHY in detail) and Matt Vasgersian being intelligent and natural.

 

 

Well-Spoken Player of the Night: Curtis Granderson.  He speaks eloquently and had great things to say about a charity he’s working on.  I was so enamored with him I have no idea what the charity is for… male Erin Andrews, ladies.

 
Do you ever feel like announcers use Home Run Derbies and the All-Star Week to brag about how many baseball greats they’ve met, which ones they’ve played with, what they occasionally talked about while schmoozing with them and how the rest of us mortals are pieces of Grade E ground beef?  I love stories about the greats.  So tell the stories, tell them all.  Just don’t make it a who’s who contest between the people behind the on-field desk.

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Prince Fielder becoming the first in Milwaukee Brewers’ history to win the Home Run Derby is fitting and well-deserved.  He has shed light on one of the smallest markets in the Major Leagues, he’s been a consistent force at the plate, he’s been a leader for members of his team and his combined efforts make him worth the trouble his agent Scott Boras brings.  Well, worth it until now…  The stakes just got higher.  503 feet higher.