A lot has transpired over the past few months for the Milwaukee Brewers. But with spring training in full swing and opening day just around the corner, players and coaches are finally beginning to focus on getting ready for the regular season.
Of course, the question fans are now beginning to ask themselves is how each player will be able to produce relative to their 2011 numbers. Will each player improve upon his statistical output or witness a subtle or possibly even an excessive relapse in production?
If you currently find yourself asking any one of those enticing questions, you’re in luck. Let’s go in-depth to try and predict each top 25 player’s statistical output this season.
2011 Stats: N/A (injured)
162-game average: 5.13 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 154 SO, 168 IP
2012 Projection: 4.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24 SO, 4 HLD, 25 IP
Breakdown: Manny Parra sat out all of last season with a back injury and will attempt to come back and revert back to his productive ways of old on a one-year, $1.2 Million contract. The 29-year-old former top prospect is arbitration eligible following this season and will be pitching for a new contract next winter. If he impresses, the Brewers could offer him a short-term deal. If he disappoints, he might have trouble finding work with any other MLB team. He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s sixth-best reliever in our preseason rankings. His left-handed arm could be extremely valuable later in the season, but fans shouldn’t expect to see him much prior to the All-Star break. Most of his appearances will come when the Brewers are either down-and-out or when they’re extremely short on arms. Consequently, his ERA doesn’t look to be too attractive.
24. Cesar Izturis
2011 Stats: .200/.250/.200, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB
162-game average: .255/.295/.322, 2 HR, 40 RBI, 58 R, 15 SB
2012 Projection: .224/.271/.310, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 12 R, 1 SB
Breakdown: In an effort to re-gain depth and defensive prowess off the bench, GM Doug Melvin went out and signed veteran utility infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract in mid-January. His contract isn’t guaranteed, but all signs point to him being in a Brewers uniform on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals. Izturis has never been known for his bat, as he is a career .255 batter and holds true to just a .295 on-base percentage. But that’s okay, though, because the Brewers won’t need his bat — his glove will need to do the talking this season.
2011 Stats (AAA): .336/.413/.583, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 74 R, SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .279/.329/.439, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 39 R, 3 SB
Breakdown: After a scintillating 2011 campaign in the Pacific Coast League where he was named as Milwaukee’s top positional prospect, Taylor Green was probably looking forward to holding the full-time starting job at third base to start 2012. However, those aspirations were all for naught when GM Doug Melvin inked Aramis Ramirez to a lucrative three-year deal. Instead of a full-time role, Green will be asked to provide youth and defensive readiness when needed. Since he can play the field at the hot corner, second base and as first base with relative ease, he’ll be able to log a few at-bats this season though probably not more than 150 at-bats. A good portion of his plate appearances should come during inter-league play.
22. Frankie De La Cruz
2011 Stats: 2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9 SO, 0 HLD, 13 IP
162-game average: 8.16 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 50 SO, 81 IP
2012 Projection: 4.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 30 SO, 3 HLD, 40 IP
Breakdown: 27-year-old Frankie De La Cruz has spent nearly all of his journeyman career in the minor leagues, and at one point ventured over to Japan and made nine appearances with the Yakult Swallows. In his first season in Milwaukee’s system, De La Cruz tossed 137 innings of solid ball, striking out 130 though walking 63 in the Pacific Coast League. However, De La Cruz’s minor league days are all but behind him. With the exit of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito, the Dominican native will have a number of relief opportunities this season. He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s number five reliever in our preseason rankings. And while history shows that the statistics of back-end relievers aren’t exactly picture-perfect, he should log a respectable amount of innings this season and strike out a few batters.
2011 Stats: 11-8, 4.45 ERA, 126 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 161.2 IP
162-game average: 11-8, 4.62 ERA, 142 SO, 1.37 WHIP, 170 IP
2012 Projection: 12-7, 4.39 ERA, 155 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 187 IP
Breakdown: In his second straight season capping off Milwaukee’s rotation, Chris Narveson was by all accounts one of the better number five starters in all of baseball, but saw a regression in productivity compared to his 2010 campaign. His walk rate (8.2% in 2010, 9.3% in 2011) magnified slightly and his K/BB ratio (2.32 in 2010, 1.94 in 2011) took a considerable hit.
If he can show signs of improvement this season, a new contract could be in order this winter. Narveson lost a few starts due to a freak injury in 2011, but he still tallied a fair number of innings. A healthy Narveson throughout 2012 should get around 180-190 innings. I also see him improving his numbers slightly this season, mostly in a reduction of walks, so his WHIP would improve as a consequence.
20. Norichika Aoki
2011 Stats (Japan): .292/.358/.360, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 73 R, 8 SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .277/.350/.396, HR, 12 RBI, 24 R, 13 SB
Breakdown: The Brewers sought to find outfield depth with Ryan Braun’s future in doubt and they got that depth when the signed three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki to a two-year contract. The Japanese left-hander has unquestioned hitting abilities, can play the field effectively and has serviceable abilities on the base-paths. But can he translate those successes over to the major league game? The answer to that question likely won’t be answered for a while. Fortunately for the Brewers, they won’t need him to be the stud hitter he was during his tenure in Japan. Ryan Braun’s return means Aoki simply needs to provide depth for manager Ron Roenicke off the bench throughout this season, and his statistical output should reflect that.
2011 Stats: 4.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 88 SO, 4 HLD, 92.2 IP
162-game average: 5.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 110 SO, 114 IP
2012 Projection: 3.95 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 54 SO, 59 IP, 6 HLD
Breakdown: After minimal opportunities with the Washington Nationals from 2008 to 2009, the Brewers claimed Marco Estrada off waivers prior to the 2010 season. He only made seven appearances that same year, however, he proved to be a real workhorse out of the bullpen last season. Strictly as a reliever, Estrada posted a 4.38 ERA in 51.1 innings and garnered a surprising 9.6 K/9 ratio. He also filled in for Chris Narveson as Milwaukee’s number five starter and performed well.
In all honesty, Estrada should probably be higher on this list, at least in relation to his ranking amongst the rest of the relievers. He has a solid, repeatable delivery and knows his capabilities. I see him returning to a similar role from last season as a middle-innings reliever and improving his statistical yield all-around.
18. Jose Veras
2011 Stats: 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 79 SO, 27 HLD, 71 IP
162-game average: 4.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 66 SO, 66 IP
2012 Projection: 3.77 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 77 SO, 17 HLD, 69 IP
Breakdown: Sent to Milwaukee from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for third baseman Casey McGehee, 31-year-old veteran reliever Jose Veras will remain a relative mystery for fans until the regular season gets under way. Allow me to shed some light onto what he brings to the table: Strikeouts, and a lot of them. In each of the past two seasons, Veras has amassed a K/9 ratio over 10 and has on average maintained an impressive strikeout rate of over 26 percent. He fastball reaches the mid to upper 90s with consistency and has an good slider to compliment it. Veras does walk a fair number of batters, though, so fans can expect a few walks here and there. Overall, he should be a above-average number four option out of the bullpen for manager Ron Roenicke this season.
17. Kameron Loe
2011 Stats: 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 61 SO, 16 HLD, 72 IP
162-game average: 4.33 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 70 SO, 116 IP
2012 Projection: 3.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 67 SO, 18 HLD, 75 IP
Breakdown: Kameron Loe has done an excellent job out of Milwaukee’s bullpen during each of his first two seasons with the club. He’s maintained a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, has struck out over seven batters per nine innings pitched and rarely if ever makes mistakes, holding true to a 3.45 SO/BB and 0.5 HR/9 ratio. For that reason, Loe will be held to a higher standard in 2012. With LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito gone, the Brewers will count on the California native to be their steady number three option out of the bullpen. I have no doubt he’ll do just that throughout this season and therefore see a solid statistical yield from the 30-year-old righty.
2011 Stats: .252/.311/.459, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB
162-game average: .223/.306/.411, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 54 R, 2 SB
2012 Projection: .247/.327/.421, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB
Breakdown: George Kottaras may be the best backup catcher in all of baseball. He’s capitalized on his limited opportunities in the league and drew a lot of interest from teams in need of catching depth around the trade deadline last summer. In all honesty, his deceiving offensive prowess and dependability behind the plate suggest he should probably get more playing time.
Nevertheless, Kottaras likely isn’t guaranteed more than 100 at-bats this season. He logged 111 at-bats last season even with Jonathan Lucroy starting 83 percent of Milwaukee’s regular season games.
15. Mat Gamel
2011 Stats (AAA): .304/.376/.498, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 90 R, 2 SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .264/.345/.429, 22 HR, 70 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
Breakdown: Mat Gamel is by far and away the hardest player to project as far as statistical output goes. He’s crushed the cover off the ball in the minors for each of the past three seasons but has struggled during his limited time at the big league level. As we visited this past winter, Gamel would fit best in the number six hole in the Brewers’ lineup. His left-handed bat and power potential are best served to be in the middle to lower portion of Ron Roenicke’s batting order. If that’s the case, then I think he could potentially reach the 80 RBI plateau, though 70 RBI seems more realistic at this juncture.
2-game average: 13-11, 4.09 ERA, 164 SO, 1.32 WHIP, 209 IP
2012 Projection: 13-10, 3.85 ERA, 139 SO, 1.30 WHIP, 203 IP
Breakdown: 35-year-old Randy Wolf anchored and stabilized Milwaukee’s rotation last season as the No. 4 starter and performed well above expectations. He led all Brewers starters in innings pitched and eclipsed the 210-inning mark for the second straight season in a Milwaukee uniform. Can fans expect a similar statistical output from the tried vet in 2012?
The answer to that question at this juncture is uncertain at best. Wolf has seen a steady decline in his strikeout rate but at the same time has witnessed his walk rate improve considerably. This could end up as a contract year for Wolf, though, if the Brewers opt not to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option at season’s end. With that being said, fans should expect another productive yield from Wolf with a slight lapse in production across the board.
13. Carlos Gomez
2011 Stats: .225/.276/.403, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 37 R, 16 SB
162-game average: .243/.291/.357, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 66 R, 28 SB
2012 Projection: .237/.284/.391, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 32 R, 21 SB
Breakdown: Carlos Gomez has been given more than enough opportunities to take the full time starting job in center field over the past two seasons, but injuries and inconsistencies have taken their toll on a once promising young career. Ergo, it’s difficult to picture Gomez logging more than 75 games this season with the addition of Norichika Aoki. Nevertheless, Gomez will still have a tremendous impact on the bases despite a likely drop in at-bats. Manager Ron Roenicke has vowed to play his brand of baseball this season with Prince Fielder gone, and stealing bases will be a key component to Milwaukee’s divison title defense. If he can stay healthy, there’s no doubt Gomez has the capacity to swipe 30 bases this season.
12. Alex Gonzalez
2011 Stats: .241/.270/.372, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 59 R, 2 SB
162-game average: .247/.291/.399, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 68 R, 3 SB
2012 Projection: .245/.268/.371, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 57 R, 2 SB
Breakdown: While there’s no doubting veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez will be an unambiguous upgrade from Yuniesky Betancourt defensively, there are questions about his bat and whether or not it can sustain itself as retirement inches closer. For one, Gonzalez doesn’t seem to have much power left. His career-best .197 ISO from 2010 dropped all the way down to .131 last season. Secondly, he’s never been known for his plate discipline. He garnered a walk ratio of just 3.7 percent last season and consequently watched his strikeout rate skyrocket to a career-high 21.1 percent. Gonzalez should be at the very least serviceable at the plate in 2012, but if he’s unable to stay within the strike-zone then things could get ugly in a hurry. I look for a decline in several offensive categories for Sea Bass this season.
2011 Combined Stats: 2.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 79 SO, 23 SV, 17 HLD, 71.2 IP
162-game average: 2.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 91 SO, 33 SV, 73 IP
2012 Projection: 2.81 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 69 SO, 2 SV, 35 HLD, 61 IP
Breakdown: The Brewers will be shelling out $8 Million to 30-year-old setup man Francisco Rodriguez this season, and while they probably didn’t want to forfeit that much dough to anyone out of the bullpen other than John Axford, they should get a nice return-on-investment for their compensation.
Rodriguez has proved to be one of the best strikeout artists in all of MLB since his 2000 rookie season, posting gaudy punchout ratios consistently year in and year out. He amassed 33 strikeouts in 29 inning with Milwaukee last season and proved to be the perfect setup man for Axford. K-Rod will get a ton of opportunities as there isn’t a truly dependable reliever after him and Axford. His ERA could rise as a consequence, but it shouldn’t be anything worth stressing over.
10. Jonathan Lucroy
2011 Stats: .265/.313/.391, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 45 R, 2 SB
162-game average: .260/.307/.366, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 53 R, 5 SB
2012 Projection: .271/.317/.398, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 3 SB
Breakdown: I’d be lying to you if I said Jonathan Lucroy is anything more than an average offensive catcher. His numbers aren’t great but you can’t expect much from the guy who bats in the No. 8 spot in an MLB lineup. This season will be Lucroy’s third big-league season after breaking onto the scene in 2010. He struggled with strikeouts last season, hoarding a strikeout ratio of 21.1 percent. Lucroy doesn’t draw a lot of walks either and that greatly affected his on-base percentage. Fans shouldn’t expect too much offense out of Lucroy this season, but there should be a number of subtle improvements to his game. Look for him to cut down on his strikeouts and become a more disciplined hitter in the box in 2012.
2011 Stats: .304/.357/.421, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 61 R, 13 SB
162-game average: .288/.347/.374, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 83 R, 37 SB
2012 Projection: .280/.345/.380, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 49 R, 15 SB
Breakdown: Nyjer Morgan played like a man on a mission last season and it will be extremely difficult for him to live up to the expectations he’s garnered for himself heading into spring training. Many fans would love to see him post similar numbers in 2012, but in reality that’s not likely to happen with Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki vying for at-bats. That said, Ron Roenicke is cognizant of Morgan’s “clutch” gene. In late and close games last season, Morgan batted .333 with a BABIP of .455. Can those impressive numbers carry over to and throughout this season? Odds are that they won’t, so a decline in production is likely on the horizon.
8. Shaun Marcum
2011 Stats: 13-7, 3.54 ERA, 158 SO, 1.16 WHIP, 200.2 IP
162-game average: 12-8, 3.77 ERA, 154 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 192 IP
2012 Projection: 15-10, 3.69 ERA, 163 SO, 1.18 WHIP, 203 IP
Breakdown: Shaun Marcum was exactly what the Brewers needed him to be last season: A dependable, steadfast starter who eats innings and limits mistakes. He set career-highs in starts (33) and innings pitched (200.1) in his first season with Milwaukee. But for as sturdy as Marcum was during the regular season, his postseason struggles were equally as concerning and ought not to be ignored. He allowed 16 runs to cross home plate in his first three playoff starts, totaling just 9.2 total innings of work. It should be interesting to see how (and if) he rebounds from such an uncharacteristic breakdown. Marcum could be pitching for a new contract at season’s end if the Brewers choose not to extend him during the season. With a lot to prove and some self-respect to regain, Marcum’s 2012 output should look comparable to his 2011 campaign.
2011 Stats: .269/.350/.468, 20 HR, 49 RBI, 77 R, 9 SB
162-game average: .255/.345/.435, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 111 R, 21 SB
2012 Projection: .272/.355/.469, 25 HR, 88 RBI, 80 R, 10 SB
Breakdown: Rickie Weeks has become the poster child for how injuries can derail a player’s career. Only in 2010 did Milwaukee’s second baseman register enough games (160) to be considered a full season’s worth of play over the course of his eight-year career.
Nevertheless, Weeks comes into spring training in good condition after injuring his ankle last July, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. If that’s the case, then fans can only look forward to a promising 2012 campaign for the Brewers’ 29-year-old second baseman. Weeks’ production this season will largely hinge on where he is placed in Milwaukee’s lineup. If he resumes his prior role as leadoff man, then fans should expect him to log a fair number of runs. But if he plays protector for Aramis Ramirez, then his run count will be considerably lower and he will have the opportunity to reach the 90 RBI plateau.
6. Aramis Ramirez
2011 Stats: .306/.361/.510, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 80 R
162-game average: .284/.342/.500, 30 HR, 108 RBI, 84 R
2012 Projection: .295/.360/.515, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 87 R
Breakdown: Aramis Ramirez’s better days are probably behind him as far as productivity goes, but playing on a new lucrative contract in a much more potent offense portends that he could be in for a big year offensively in his first season in Milwaukee. Prince Fielder thrived out of the cleanup spot in the Brewers’ lineup and Ramirez should do the same, though admittedly not to the extend that Fielder did once upon a time, of course. Ramirez has proved he can still hit for average and power even at 33 years old and that is a huge plus for the Brewers as opening day creeps closer. I do see his average dropping slightly but nothing to be overly concerned about. His home run tally should be anywhere from 27-35, additionally.
5. Corey Hart
2011 Stats: .285/.356/.510, 26 HR, 63 RBI, 80 R, 7 SB
162-game average: .277/.334/.487, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 89 R, 16 SB
2012 Projection: .283/.349/.519, 32 HR, 80 RBI, 95 R, 12 SB
Breakdown: There are a lot of differing opinions out there about where Corey Hart should be placed in Milwaukee’s lineup to start 2012.
After once again flashing his power to the tune of 26 home runs, many believe Hart would be best served to protect Aramis Ramirez in lieu of batting at the top of Milwaukee’s lineup. But after carving a niche as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off man in August, many (this writer included) believe the 6’6″, 225 pound outfielder with deceptive speed would better help the team in that role. Either way, fans can count on a career-best season from Hart. He will be one of the biggest beneficiaries to Prince Fielder’s exodus and his statistical output should reflect that.
Update: Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that Corey Hart must undergo surgery to repair a meniscus tear and will likely be out three to four weeks.
2011 Stats: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 201 SO, 1.20 WHIP, 171.2 IP
162-game average: 12-11, 3.82 ERA, 177 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 200 IP
2012 Projection: 20-7, 3.40 ERA, 220 SO, 1.10 WHIP, 205 IP
Breakdown: GM Doug Melvin conceded three top prospects in return for Zack Greinke last winter and that gamble payed off in the form of a NL Central division title. Without his veteran arm, it’s hard to imagine the Brewers making the postseason much less taking the division crown.
After a disheartening first-half of the regular season, Greinke would return to Cy Young form after the All-Star break. In 15 starts, the longtime strikeout artist went 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA while striking out over nine batters per nine innings pitched and logging a .234 BAA. He went on to finish with an MLB-best 10.54 K/9 ratio, additionally. This season is a contract year for the agent-less Greinke and there’s no doubt he’ll look to continue his momentum from the end of 2011 into and throughout 2012.
3. John Axford
2011 Stats: 46 SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 86 SO, 73.2 IP
162-game average: 37 SV, 2.26 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 89 SO, 72 IP
2012 Projection: 41 SV, 2.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 85 SO, 70 IP
Breakdown: The Brewers’ bullpen was without question one of MLB’s best last season and John Axford was the cornerstone to their successes as a unit. In his first full season as Milwaukee’s closer, Axford re-wrote the record books by notching a club-record 46 saves in 48 opportunities which was enough to tie for the league-lead in that category. He also garnered the league’s best ERA (1.95) and struck out an impressive 11 batters per nine innings pitched. After such a productive inaugural campaign, Axford will be held to lofty expectations in 2011 and it should be interesting to see how he handles the pressures that come with being a top MLB closer. Granted, he likely won’t have as many save opportunities with a weakened Milwaukee offense, but he can still control his strikeout rate and how many batters he puts on base.
2011 Stats: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 207.1 IP
162-game average: 15-10, 3.63 ERA, 214 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 208 IP
2012 Projection: 18-9, 3.30 ERA, 210 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 210 IP
Breakdown: Statistically speaking, 2011 was the most impressive of Yovani Gallardo’s young career. Not only did he set career-highs in wins (17), innings pitched (207.1), strikeouts (207), ERA (3.52) and quality starts (23), he also led all Brewers starters in each of those categories.
However, what’s most impressive are the subtle improvements Gallardo has made to further improve his game. He lowered his BABIP from .324 in 2010 to .291 in 2011 and witnessed his walk rate drop from 9.3% to 6.8%, not to mention an pronounced betterment in WHIP (1.37 in 2010, 1.25 in 2011). This will be Gallardo’s sixth season in the league despite turning 26 years old last week. He’s seen his numbers improve steadily since his rookie year in 2007, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t take his game to the next level in 2012.
1. Ryan Braun
2011 Stats: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB
162-game average: .312/.371/.563, 36 HR, 118 RBI, 112 R, 21 SB
2012 Projection: .320/.385/.595, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 107 R, 30 SB
Breakdown: After becoming the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension, Ryan Braun comes into spring training with a tremendous chip on his shoulder as he looks to clear his name that’s been dragged through the mud over the past three or so months. But will that affect his productivity this season? As much as I’d like to believe it will, I can’t in good conscience see that happening. The loss of Prince Fielder will play a key role in Braun’s stat line this season. Whether or not Aramis Ramirez is able to provide sufficient protection for the reigning NL MVP this season will go a long way toward how much Braun is able to produce. And since Ramirez is no Fielder, it’s only inevitable that Braun will witness a subtle decline in production in 2011. Still, a .320/.385/.595 line is nothing to slouch at — that could be enough to take home MVP honors for a second consecutive season.