Projecting the Brewers’ Opening Day Lineup (Sort of)

Opening day for the Brewers is a mere 12 days away, and with each passing day, we begin to piece together the puzzle that will become Milwaukee’s April 1 lineup.

On Monday, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the news that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had put the finishing touches on what will be his starting rotation to begin the starting rotation. The unveiled rotation — easily distinguishable from its 2012 opening-day version — is reportedly comprised of: Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Chris Narveson and Mike Fiers.

Aside from everyone’s curiosity of how the bullpen will be pieced-together, the question on everyone’s mind now seems to be: What will Milwaukee’s opening-day lineup look like?

While no one can answer that question with a whole lot of certainty at this juncture — aside from the third and fourth spots in the order  — we can certainly speculate as to how each of us would ‘structure’ Roenicke’s lineup should we wondrously transform into the Brewers’ third-year skipper.

Conveniently enough, that’s exactly what I plan on doing.

Allow me to attempt to persuade you into agreeing with my own personal ‘construction’ of Milwaukee’s opening-day lineup. This lineup is not so much a projection as the title would have you believe; rather, as I alluded to earlier, this is a more personal dissertation of how I would fashion positions one through nine on opening day against the Colorado Rockies (by the way, I’ll be at the game). Let’s get started.

1. Norichika Aoki (RF)Norichika+Aoki+Milwaukee+Brewers+Photo+Day+PSq3DwNmkpel

2012 stats: .288/.355/.433, 10 HR, 81 R, 50 RBI, 30 SB, 115 wRC+

There’s a lot to like about what Aoki, 31, brings to the table as a lead-off hitter, and he proved that to each of us last season. From this spot in 2012, the 31-year-old  posted a .286/.353/.438 slash line. The number to focus on here would be his .353 on-base percentage, as this is inarguably the most all-telling stat for the effectiveness of a lead-off hitter. Interestingly, Aoki topped heralded lead-off hitters such as (among others) Jose Reyes and Michael Bourn in this category last season. He also drew nearly as many walks (34) as he did strike out (37) from this spot, and furthermore stole 24 of 32 bases. Add the fact that Aoki posted the roster’s best contact rate (88.3%), a swell rate for any lead-off hitter, and it seems Aoki would make the most sense here.

2. Carlos Gomez (CF)

2012 stats: .260/.305/.463, 19 HR, 72 R, 51 RBI, 37 SB, 105 wRC+

Popular opinion seems to think Rickie Weeks would be the best fit here. While there are merits to that notion, Gomez probably brings more upside than what Weeks could otherwise provide. First, Gomez’s speed would be a tremendous complement to Aoki’s atop the order. Even at 27 years of age, Gomez hasn’t lost a step on the basepaths since his early professional days. Second, Given Gomez’s .311 on-base percentage out of the No. 2 hole last season, he and Aoki would be able to get on base at a respectable rate in front of Ryan Braun. For those reasons, Gomez gets the spot here.

3. Ryan Braun (LF)

2012 stats: .319/.391/.595, 41 HR, 108 R, 112 RBI, 30 SB, 162 wRC+

There will (probably) come a time when Ryan Braun’s slowly diminishing speed will place him on the clean-up spot in Milwaukee’s order; however, that time is . Must I explain myself here?

aramis-ramirez4. Aramis Ramirez (3B)

2012 stats: .300/.360/.540, 27 HR, 92 R, 105 RBI, 9 SB, 142 wRC+

Exactly 97.3 percent of Ramirez’s plate appearances last season came as Milwaukee’s clean-up hitter, and I see no reason as to why that should cease to be in 2013.

Just how effective was Ramirez out of the No. 4 hole last season? For starters, he out-performed Prince Fielder in the slugging percentage department, garnering a .540 slugging percentage to Fielder’s .528. He tied for the league-lead in runs batted in for cleanup hitters, led the league in doubles (49) and scored more runs than any other No. 4 hitter in the National League. If my calculations are correct, Ramirez seems the easy choice here.

5. Rickie Weeks (2B)

2012 stats: .230/.328/.400, 21 HR, 85 R, 63 RBI, 16 SB, 100 wRC+

Weeks’ days of being a viable weapon on the bases are certainly in the rear-view mirror, so for me, it seems only appropriate for him to move down in the batting order, where his power will help drive in runs. Many will point to the fact that Weeks has traditionally struggled at the plate with men on base as a reason for not placing him here. However, comparing Weeks’ 2012 numbers to those of the best No. 5 hitters in the game, we see that Weeks edged out many hitters as far as individual numbers (home runs, stolen bases, etc.) are concerned. Jonathan Lucroy would have been a nice choice here, but in my mind, Weeks is the best option.

6. Jonathan Lucroy (C)

2012 stats: .320/.368/.513, 12 HR, 46 R, 58 RBI, 4 SB, 138 wRC+

Lucroy was one of the most productive hitting catchers before his wife dropped some luggage on his throwing hand late last May, landing him on the disabled list for a good chunk of the season. Still, he prospered after coming back, hitting .299/.354/.458 post-injury. As for where he’s placed in the opening-day batting order is anyone’s guess, but the fact that exactly 87.5 percent of his career plate appearances have come in either the sixth, seventh or eighth spot gives us a clear indication as to where Roenicke may place him. I’ll put him here due to the fact that he is a .291/.327/.446 hitter in the No. 6 hole, with a .315 BABIP. Milwaukee will need someone with a knack for finding holes in defenses to drive in Braun, Ramirez and Weeks. For that reason, Lucroy is the best choice for this spot.

7. Alex Gonzalez (1B)

2012 stats: .259/.326/.457, 4 HR, 8 R, 15 RBI, SB, 133 wRC+

Gonzalez, also referred to as ‘Sea Bass’, has been a bottom-of-the-order dweller for much of his professional career, with exactly 56 percent of his 6,098 plate appearances coming as either a No. 7 or No. 8 hitter — and there’s a good reason behind that. Arguably his best work has come via the No. 7 hole, where he’s hit a respectable .247/.286/.409 with 45 home runs and 193 runs batted in. There’s a decent chance he ends up here if not due to the fact that the majority of his plate appearances with the club last season came from this spot.

8. Jean Segura (SS)Jean-Segura-late-round-steal-USAT-Images

2012 stats: .264/.321/.331, 19 R, 14 RBI, 7 SB, 74 wRC+

Putting Segura here makes a lot of sense if I’m Roenicke. For one, Segura batted from the No. 8 hole in all but one of his starts last season, so there’s a certain amount of familiarity with this spot in the lineup that would work to Milwaukee’s benefit. Secondly, Segura fresh legs would provide much-needed speed to the bottom of Roenicke’s lineup. Many seem to think Segura will hasten his way to a hefty stolen-base total this season, with ZiPS projecting him to steal 26 bases this season. If he is able to reach that mark, that would be the most stolen bases by any No. 8 hitter…since the turn of the millennium. Lastly, and most importantly, Segura’s successes in spring training (.350/.366/.500, 20 total bases in 14 games) would help even-out a front-loaded batting order, helping to set the stage for the top of the order to drive in runs.

9. Yovani Gallardo (RHP)

He is the opening-day starter, no?

To recap:

1.) Norichika Aoki (RF)

2.) Carlos Gomez (CF)

3.) Ryan Braun (LF)

4.) Aramis Ramirez (3B)

5.) Rickie Weeks (2B)

6.) Jonathan Lucroy (C)

7.) Alex Gonzalez (1B)

8.) Jean Segura (SS)

9.) Yovani Gallardo

Tweet me (@alecdopp) your thoughts and let’s get the conversation started.

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