Tagged: Randy Wolf

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #43 Randy Wolf

Courtesy of Hammerin’ Hank and Jackie Robinson, today is the only day out of three that sees a new entry in the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” season preview series.

I do hope that you’ve been enjoying reading about the men who likely have the most say in the fortunes of the 2012 Brewers, along with some who will contribute down the road a bit.

Today we are six weeks plus one day shy of Opening Day 2012 at beautiful Miller Park. Since there are seven days in a week that means, math majors, that Opening Day is a mere 43 days away.

Think back to last season a bit and envision who wears #43 when he takes the field…or I suppose just dart your eyes an inch or so up your viewing device and read the title again.

Either way, today belongs to:

Randy Wolf.
With the distinction of being the final name on the Brewers 40-man roster when listed alphabetically by surname, Randall Christopher Wolf also owns the offering du jour in Brewers camp this spring so far with his fellow starters. His cut fastball is being tinkered with by both Chris Narveson and Zack Greinke.

But more on Wolf’s repertoire in a minute.

First, let’s remind ourselves about Wolf’s physical characteristics. He’s a left-handed throwing starting pitcher who also bats left-handed. Wolf stands 6’0” tall and weighs in, at last update, 205 pounds. He was born on August 22, 1976 in West Hills, California which makes him 35 years old.

Coming to Milwaukee as a free agent in the winter of 2009/10, Wolf signed a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth season as a Brewer. 2012 is the third and final guaranteed year of his contract so his performance this season will obviously go a long way in determining where and for how much his 2013 season will play out.

Naturally, if Wolf is fantastic the Brewers will exercise their option and keep Wolf in town. If he struggles, the team may choose to decline bringing back a 36-year-old pitcher who might be nearing the end of his career. Wolf, though has three things working in his favor meaning he’ll likely find a job in 2013 if he wants one.

After all, Jeff Suppan keeps getting work.

Those three things are his command, his durability, and his handedness. When Wolf’s body no longer will endure the rigors of starting, he’ll absolutely have the option of a “second career” in the bullpen. If you throw left-handed and can get left-handed hitters out, there is a job for you. I could definitely see Wolf finishing out a solid career with bullpen work like former Brewer LOOGy Brian Shouse. It would only be a matter of whether Wolf would want to pitch in the bullpen.

Those things are a little ways off though, so instead of dwelling, let’s take a look back at Wolf’s career highlights, his 2011 season in Brewer blue, and then glance at what his 2012 might hold.

A 13-year MLB veteran at this point, Wolf has seen a lot in his time but there are a couple of things he’s yet to experience, for example, playing in the American League. More than that, Wolf hasn’t tasted the World Series. He came to Milwaukee, in part, because of the window of opportunity he saw here.

Some of that opportunity was realized last year with a division crown, 96 wins, and a decent showing in the NLCS. More lies ahead though.

How much more for Wolf can be tied back to a trade to Houston, of all places, during the 2009 season. Following an All-Star appearance in 2003 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Wolf had been a middling starter at best for parts of five seasons through his time with San Diego in 2008.

Given Wolf’s fly ball pitching tendencies, one would think that a job at notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park would lend itself well to Wolf. The opposite was true, and Wolf compiled a 4.74 ERA in 21 starts for the Padres, allowing 6 home runs in 11 home starts, before being sent to the Astros.

His first start with Houston was against the Brewers at Miller Park, an outing which saw Wolf last only 4.1 IP after giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks, including one homer.

But it was in Houston where Wolf made a mechanical adjustment in his pitching that made all the difference and extended his career to the point where, after the Los Angeles Dodgers took a chance on a one-year contract for 2009, the Brewers were willing to offer a multi-year deal which Wolf accepted.

In the second year of that multi-year contract, Wolf went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 134 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings in 2011. Those numbers were the result of some good luck as Wolf’s xFIP was 4.47 and his strand rate 75.9%. His BABIP against was .286 in 2011 which is better-than-average for a pitcher.

People have enjoyed pointing to regression for Wolf each of the past couple of seasons since his numbers improved after his adjustment, usually citing some combination of xFIP, BABIP, and/or strand rate. While it might be luck that repeats itself, Wolf has been keeping a lot of those numbers relatively consistent.

To paraphrase an exchange between and the Abigail and Ben Gates characters in National Treasure 2, she is like the sabermetric community in saying that when results are good despite the peripherals, it’s luck. To which Randy Wolf would snarkily reply, “I get lucky a lot.”

For the Brewers sake, hopefully Wolf has at least one more season of “luck” left in him. Nothing he’s done over the past two years should make us think otherwise, but for the record both Bill James’ projections and ZiPS have Wolf finishing 2012 with an ERA near 4.00. (James says 3.94 while ZiPS checks in at 4.04.)

As far as Wolf’s immediate outlook for the new season, expect more of what you saw to finish 2011 insofar that he’ll pitch fourth in the rotation, have a personal catcher who isn’t his personal catcher, and finish with a low double-digits win total.

He’ll continue to work off of his four-seam fastball/change up combination, the cutter which Fangraphs seems to have labeled as a slider, and his slow eephus curve.

Wolf will continue to often match up against other team’s fourth starter, giving the Brewers a decided edge against most teams in the league when it comes to pitching ability from that slot.

Also working in Wolf’s favor for a strong 2012 campaign is that he doesn’t have to go into Spring Training games worrying about the rotation’s order or composition. He can focus on getting himself ready. Getting ready to go in the spring is what it’s there for, in the end.

Hopefully by the end of the regular season, though, Wolf and the rest of his teammates will be getting ready for another trip to the playoffs.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #52 Cody Scarpetta

Three of the last four days in our player preview countdown to Opening Day have been lost to Brewers coaches. Yesterday’s culprit was bullpen coach Stan Kyles who wears #53 when in uniform.

Today however, and for the next seven days following today, a player wears the number in question. That would make it eight straight for “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, a stretch which shall not be broken this year and which is only duplicated once, but this stretch includes a non-roster invitee to Spring Training who I’m still debating on whether to profile. Unless I hear an outcry of want, that player, Juan Perez who was assigned #46 when the Brewers acquired him, probably won’t be previewed.

I won’t be holding my breath while waiting for his fan base to cry out in support, but I still haven’t officially made up my mind. After all, I strive to preview players on the 40-man roster and/or those who could contribute to the 25-man roster at some point in 2012. The only thing working in Perez’ favor is his handedness.

But enough about those other members of the Brewers organization; as it is 52 days until Opening Day, we are here today to discuss the player who wears 52:

Cody Scarpetta.

Working as a starting pitcher for each of 23 appearances in 2011 as a member of the Double-A Huntsville Stars, Cody Michael Payne Scarpetta posted a season linescore of 8-5, 3.85 ERA, 100 H, 61 R (50 ER), 8 HR, 61 BB, 98 K, 1.38 WHIP over 117.0 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .234 batting average.

Scarpetta’s play in the first half of the minor league season earned him a reward of sorts. With a bit of an overworked bullpen just before the Major League All-Star Game break, Milwaukee officially optioned Mat Gamel back to the minor leagues on July 10, 2011 and called up Scarpetta for a game that same night against the Cincinnati Reds.

With the game tightly contested the entire way (eventually won by the Brewers with a bottom of the ninth walk-off from Craig Counsell), Scarpetta didn’t enter the game and therefore has no official Major League career to speak of yet. The fact remains that Scarpetta was in uniform for the game and no doubt learned plenty from his 24-hour tour of Milwaukee.

The level of performance that earned him that one-day callup would not carry over to the 2011 Arizona Fall League where, in five appearances (four starts) as a member of the Peoria Javelinas, Scarpetta lost three games and allowed 16 earned runs on 13 walks and 14 hits, two of which were home runs, in just 7.1 innings pitched. That was bad for an ERA of 19.64 and a WHIP of 3.68!

Small sample size or not, and regardless of the fact that the AFL is littered with on-the-cusp talent, it’s clear that Scarpetta simply didn’t have much of anything to offer in Arizona. The future remains bright enough for Scarpetta, though, and he likely could contribute out of the bullpen if needed in 2012.

For a look at how he got to this point, let’s go back and review Scarpetta’s early years as a professional.

Scarpetta was originally drafted in the 11th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Guilford High School and forewent a commitment to Creighton University to sign with the Brewers organization. In an odd circumstance, Scarpetta (who is still only 23 years old today) had his original deal voided because of an injury and when the team resigned him it was forced to add him to the 40-man roster at the end of the same year (2008) or risk losing him to the Rule V Draft.

What that also means is that Scarpetta’s minor league options began having to be used up immediately to keep him in the system beginning with the 2009 season. Normally a player has three options but with the unique circumstances of Scarpetta’s situation, the league granted a fourth minor league option to the Brewers on Scarpetta therefore allowing them to stash him in the minors for one more year before doing so would require exposing him to waivers first.

As you can surmise, 2012 will be an important year in Scarpetta’s development as his final minor league option will be used.

Scarpetta will be working on a fastball that’s already been described as “very good” and sits in the low 90s, a plus curveball that was described as “the best in the system” by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season and a changeup which, while improved, is still developing. He’ll need all three of those pitches to profile well if he’s to get a legitimate shot at joining a Brewers rotation that could, technically, have four openings in 2013. As it stands today, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will both be free agents at the end of 2012, Randy Wolf could become of a free agent if the Brewers decline their 2013 option and Chris Narveson becomes arbitration-eligible prior to the 2013 season which could always lead to a non-tender if Narveson doesn’t perform well enough this year.

Preparing for that final step, Scarpetta will take the next step in 2012 by most likely beginning the year in the rotation for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. If he doesn’t start in Triple-A, he’ll likely be one of the first looks for an early-season promotion thereto.

To be successful at the highest minor league level, Scarpetta will have to overcome the command and delivery issues that have some baseball people saying that his best (or possibly only) path to the majors is a complete dedication to the bullpen. It’s been said that Scarpetta has “enough stuff” to start, but you have to be able to control that stuff to be successful at starting.

Listed at 6’3” and 244 pounds, Scarpetta has good size and a build that should hold up well throughout a season regardless as to his eventual role. Naturally everyone in Milwaukee hopes Scarpetta can be an effective contributor in the rotation, but again it remains to be seen if he’s got those kinds of chops.

With pitchers and catchers set to officially report to Spring Training in just five days, and all the uncertainty beginning in 2013 both individually and with the big league pitching staff, the most important season so far in Cody Scarpetta’s career is about to get underway.

What he does with it could make all the difference.

Milwaukee Brewers S.W.A.T. Team Indeed Special

The Milwaukee Brewers have been gaining in both popularity and recognition on a national level due to their superb play as of late. This popularity led the FOX broadcasting network to option games on consecutive Saturdays to become a part of their national broadcasts.

During a pre-taped segment at Miller Park (the game today is part of a three-game series at Citi Field in Flushing, NY) FOX broadcaster Chris Rose discussed various topics with several Brewers players, including one Nyjer Morgan.

 

The story of Tony Plush is one that has not really been tackled by this blog despite my extensive discussion about it on Twitter. I won’t rehash anything here but suffice it to say that Morgan is more than a bit unique. In fact, in the taped segment Prince Fielder agrees with Rose’s assessment of Morgan as “a little crazy”.

The reason for this post is not, however, due to any of Morgan’s actions, hand-gestures, yelling or otherwise. Instead it is being written to expound on something Morgan uttered when he was in the midst of being quizzed on Milwaukee Brewers trivia by Rose.

Rose asked Morgan if he knew what the nickname of the 1982 Brewers offense was. As any Brewers fan with knowledge of the team prior to 2008 would know, it was “Harvey’s Wallbangers”. Morgan didn’t know this, admitted as much, but said that he knows that this group is calling themselves the “SWAT team”.

This could have a simple reference to swatting baseballs with baseball bats but I like to think of it in another way whether Morgan meant it as such or not.

S.W.A.T. is an acronym for specialized police forces around country and elsewhere. S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons And Tactics. This a moniker that, quite simply in my estimation, personifies the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers perfectly.

Let’s take that in halves and I’ll show you what I mean.

Special Weapons: The Milwaukee Brewers have plenty of players that can be categorized as “Special Weapons”. Here’s an incomplete list.

  • Ryan Braun: Former Rookie of the Year. Four-time elected All-Star Game starting outfielder. Currently second in the National League in batting average. Leading the NL in runs scored and slugging percentage.
  • Prince Fielder: Youngest player to ever hit 50 home runs in a single season. Two-time elected All-Star Game starting first baseman. Recipient of MVP votes several times. Batting over .300, with 28 HR, 96 RBI. Leading the NL in RBI. Second in the NL in OBP and OPS.
  • Nyjer Morgan: Spark plug that always seems to be in the middle of game-winning situations and game-turning plays. Recently had a double-digit game hitting streak. Getting on-base multiple ways. Keeps the clubhouse loose and keeps everybody relaxed during the grind of the season.
  • John Axford: Second in the National League (and all of MLB) in Saves. Current owner of a 34 consecutive Saves streak. Three pitch arsenal which can all be thrown for strikes. 97-98MPH heat. Outstanding control. Came out of nowhere to take over the closer role from future member of the Hall of Fame, Trevor Hoffman and has converted saves since then at a 92.4% clip.
  • Take your pick of the Starting Pitchers. They are currently on a spectacular run of efficiency and dominance. The only recent hiccup was Randy Wolf’s start on August 20 in New York but otherwise it’s been a tremendous past few weeks. Getting stronger at the right time. Here are a couple of highlights from the new members this year to the Brewers’ rotation.
  • Zack Greinke: 12-4 record. Former AL Cy Young Award winner. Currently 9-0 at Miller Park this season (the team is 11-0 in his home starts). 151-29 K-BB ratio.
  • Shaun Marcum: 11-3 record. 2.47 ERA on the road. .227 opponent batting average. Has played stopper more than a couple of times this year.

Again, that’s an incomplete list because several others could be on it but let’s move ahead to…

Tactics: Under first-year manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers have employed several tactics that have helped them defeat opponents on a consistent (and lately near constant) basis. Here are a handful of examples.

  • Over-Shifting: The Brewers have shifted a lot this season as a way to help make up for a lack of range amongst three-quarters of their infield. Not only have they shifted against the biggest left-handed hitters by having the shortstop play up the middle or even on the first-base side of second-base, but they’ve also flipped the script and done the opposite against right-handed hitters by having the second baseman play up the middle on several occasions. This has led to many batted balls that would normally be easy hits against a standard defensive alignment to wind up as outs in Fielder’s glove at first.
  • Squeeze Plays: When Roenicke took over he warned everyone that this team would be much more aggressive on the base paths. The result has been mixed at times with the baserunners running into several outs as they tested their own limits or simply miscalculated their odds for success. However one base running tactic that Roenicke has used several times this year with good success has been the suicide squeeze (with its less exciting cousin the safety squeeze sprinkled in as well). There have been a couple of bad examples lately due to missed signs, but they are still employing the tactic.
  • Five-man Infield: Late in games when the opponents have the winning or tying run at third base with less than two outs, Roenicke has made it a habit to head to the mound to talk to his pitcher and infield, and to beckon left fielder Ryan Braun in from his normal spot to fill space on the dirt instead. This has worked more often than it has failed but just the radical idea of trying it makes it a specialized tactic indeed.
  • Strict Platoons: Most contending teams don’t have strict platoons at any position. The Milwaukee Brewers have two. First is the fact that Randy Wolf and starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy haven’t ever been able to get on the same page when it comes to the way Wolf likes to pitch a game. Therefore, Lucroy does not catch Wolf at all. Backup catcher George Kottaras does instead. Wolf feels more comfortable so it makes sense. The other strict platoon is in centerfield. After the plan to begin the season wasn’t effective, Nyjer Morgan began starting against all right-handed pitchers with Carlos Gomez starting against lefties. Once Gomez got hurt coupled with Morgan’s stellar play, many fans were calling for Morgan to start every game. This wouldn’t have been the best option and it wasn’t the option Roenicke went with. Other players have filled the role against lefty starting pitchers and Morgan has continued playing at a high level due to being put in the best position to succeed.

With all of these examples of tactics and weapons, I think it’s pretty clear that whether “T-Dot” intended it or not (and let’s be honest, he probably did), S.W.A.T. is an absolute personification of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers.

Simply stated it’s another dynamite drop from the silver-tongued Tony Plush, aka Mr.Eezzy Breezzy, aka Mr.Gotta B Startin Somthin, aka Mr.Professional Tony Gumble, aka T-Dot…Nyjer Morgan.

This S.W.A.T. team is highly talented, highly trained, and will take down an opponent with skilled precision and remarkable play.

The National League has been on notice for a while. The nation itself is taking notice as well.

It’s about time.

Milwaukee Brewers 25-Man Roster Comes Into Focus…For Now

By: Big Rygg 

After a flurry of moves today the 25-man roster heading north with the parent club has become as clear as it’s been all spring. Justin James and Mike McClendon were optioned to the minor leagues and once GM Doug Melvin traded minor leaguer Cutter Dykstra for OF Nyjer Morgan, Brandon Boggs was placed on waivers.

teamhuddle.jpg

When those moves were completed, there were 27 players officially left in Major League camp though two of them (Jonathan Lucroy and Corey Hart) are expected to be officially placed on the DL shortly.
As for the current 25-man roster, it’ll break down like this:
Four (4) Starting Pitchers
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Shaun Marcum
  • Randy Wolf
  • Chris Narveson
Eight (8) Relief Pitchers
  • John Axford
  • Takashi Saito
  • Kameron Loe
  • Sean Green
  • Zach Braddock
  • Mitch Stetter
  • Sergio Mitre
  • Brandon Kintzler
Two (2) Catchers
  • George Kottaras
  • Wil Nieves
Six (6) Infielders
  • 1B – Prince Fielder
  • 2B – Rickie Weeks
  • SS – Yuniesky Betancourt
  • 3B – Casey McGehee
  • Bench – Craig Counsell
  • Bench – Erick Almonte
Five (5) Outfielders
  • LF – Ryan Braun
  • CF – Carlos Gomez
  • RF – Mark Kotsay
  • Bench – Jeremy Reed
  • Bench – Nyjer Morgan
Now, obviously things will change throughout April quite a bit. Five expected roster members will be starting the season on the 15-day Disabled List. These are pitchers Zack Greinke, Manny Parra and LaTroy Hawkins, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and right-fielder Corey Hart.
All of the DL placements will be retroactive to March 22nd (the earliest date allowed by league rule) which means that the men on it to start the year will be eligible to come back to the active roster as of April 6th. Not everyone will be ready by then, but two or more might be.
When Lucroy returns, one of the other catchers will be removed from the roster. Kottaras and Nieves are both out of options and, in reality, Lucroy’s injury is simply delaying the inevitable for one of them. With Martin Maldonado and Mike Rivera set to share the catching duties at Triple-A Nashville, one has to wonder whether the person Lucroy pushes out will even choose to remain with the organization should he clear waivers.
Hart’s situation is much the same though it seems much more clear who loses their job when he returns. Spring Training non-roster invitee Jeremy Reed made the club based on his performance over these past few weeks, but with the Brewers having recently traded for the younger, more talented, team-controlled (contract-wise) Nyjer Morgan, it appears fairly obvious that, barring injury, Reed will be the odd man out when Hart is deemed ready to go.
As for the pitchers, it’s a bit more muddled. The team is only taking four starters north because they don’t need a fifth one until April 6th. That being said, unless they choose to have recently acquired swingman Sergio Mitre make that first spot start, someone will have to be sent out to make room for the fifth starter. If someone is sent out, it’ll likely be Brandon Kintzler because not only does he have options remaining but they aren’t going to keep eight relief pitchers all year anyway.
If they choose to go with Mitre on the 6th of April, Kintzler will survive a while longer. A fifth starter isn’t need again after that until the 16th.
So if we go down the diverging paths another step, we get to the two relief pitchers, Hawkins and Parra. If Mitre makes the spot start, Kintzler will be optioned down as soon as Hawkins is ready to come back. When Parra is deemed healthy he’ll replace one of the other left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, either Braddock or Stetter. Who is sent down to Nashville due to his return will probably rely a great deal on performance over these first couple of weeks.
Of course the elephant in the room is the eventual return of Zack Greinke. When he is ready to contribute the bullpen shrinks back to seven members. No ifs ands or buts about that. If he’s somehow the first pitcher to return, Kintzler again goes. If he’s second behind Parra it could be Mitre who goes because they’d have their long-man back. If Hawkins is on the roster too it could be an interesting decision to say the least.
But for now the 25-man roster is very clear…for at least a week or so anyway.

The Week That Was: Did Anybody See This Coming?

By: Big Rygg 

The day was Monday, May 3rd. The Milwaukee Brewers were taking a much needed day off. After scoring all of two runs in the previous four games (three of them were shutouts), a more timely day off there may not be all season.

In Los Angeles, Ryan Braun’s stomping grounds and home to team owner Mark Attanasio, the Milwaukee Brewers got away from baseball and got their heads straightened back out.

Tuesday night saw the start of a series against the Dodgers. It also saw the first of back-to-back 11 run outputs by the offense. The first night they needed more of the 11 than they did the next night, but even still both games wre wins for Milwaukee and suddenly they had won three of four.

Before the team could feel comfortable, though, they put up only three runs in the third game despite having a chance to sweep the Dodgers for the first time in franchise history. That game was lost in the bottom of the ninth inning when LaTroy Hawkins couldn’t get the game to extra innings. He loaded the bases and succumbed to the moxie of Andre “All I Do Is Walk Off” Ethier to the tune of a grand slam. (Hawkins would land on the disabled list two days later with shoulder weakness.)

The Brewers headed for Arizona and Chase Field with a 3-4 mark on the roadtrip to that point.

So what happened after a three-run losing effort from the offense? How about a three-run winning effort complete with Trevor Hoffman’s second save on the trip, his 596th career save? Yovani Gallardo (winning pitcher in the only victory in San Diego) threw another dominant start by striking out 10 Diamondbacks in just five innings.

Thinking that perhaps another pitching duel was on tap, Randy Wolf took the hill in Arizona where he had won six starts in a row in visitors’ uniforms. History would be kind to Wolf on this day.

Wolf started off rocky, letting the D’backs plate two in the first inning, but settled down after that. His demeanor no doubt helped by his team going on a 12-0 run.

Yup. Twelve, zero.

The Brewers finished off the game with five more players touching home plate safely after Wolf gave up a solo home run to Mark Reynolds.

And the last of those runs? Plated when Jody Gerut finished off hitting for the cycle with an RBI double in the ninth. It was only the sixth cycle in Brewers history and the first since Chad Moeller accomplished the feat in 2004.

So to that point, after getting shut out three times in four games, the Brewers put up run totals of 11, 11, and 17 around winning four out of five and having somebody hit for the cycle.

To top off the week, Chris Narveson went out and spun yet another near-quality start, but very good start nonetheless and Prince Fielder hit another home run which is always a good sign.

Narveson struck out eight in 5.2 innings pitched before giving way to Todd Coffey to get out of a jam. Coffey got himself into a jam and was rescued by the freshly recalled Mitch Stetter. The bullpen threw up zeroes the rest of the way (despite Jeff Suppan loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth) and the Brewers head back to Milwaukee owners of a 6-4 mark on this 10-game road trip out west.

So let’s recap this recap, shall we?

Brewers head to San Diego after a brief and rough homestand. They get shut out in consecutive games before Gallardo plays the role of stopper in game three. They promptly get shut out again before leaving San Diego.

The knock Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw out of his start in under three innings and rough up teammate Chad Billingsley as well while putting up consecutive 11-run games. They lose game three in L.A. on a walk-off grand slam. Demoralizing.

In Arizona, the Brewers sweep their gracious hosts and score a total of 26 runs in the three-game set.

What a week.

Then again, that seems to be this team’s M.O. so far this year. As skipper Ken Macha said this week: “Get on the rollercoaster.”

It should be a fun, if frustrating, ride this season with this team.

Yeah, that’s quite the week that nobody saw coming.

Brewers by the (Jersey) Numbers: #43 – Randy Wolf

By: Big Rygg

If I told you that you had to fill 34 starts throughout the course of a season and offered you the choice between the following stat lines, which one would you take?

11-7, 3.23 ERA, 214.1 IP, 178 H, 24 HR, 58 BB, 160 K, 1.101 WHIP, 24 Quality Starts

14-7, 5.22 ERA, 194.2 IP, 226 H, 39 HR, 64 BB, 100 K, 1.490 WHIP, 14 Quality Starts

Is there even the tinyest little chance that you’d select line two? I suppose that if you were selecting a starting pitcher for your chief rival you might go that way.

The Milwaukee Brewers, however, made a decision to swap out line two with line one when the offseason came around. They agressively pursued the free agent starting pitcher that produced line one while declining their option on the pitcher responsible for line two.

The results of those efforts are that Randy Wolf, and not Braden Looper, will take the ball every fifth day for Milwaukee during the 2010 season. Despite Looper’s usually amazing and sometimes downright silly run support which led to three more Wins than Wolf tallied in 2009, Wolf easily outpitched Looper as evidenced by the numbers as the top of this post.

Not only did he hold left-handed hitters to a .159 batting average in 2010, Wolf also held the right-handers down to .246 average. What’s more, all of Wolf’s peripherals got better in the 2nd half of 2009. That’s right folks, he got better as the year went along.

Heading into his second full season after making a mechanical adjustments while with the Houston Astros in 2008, Wolf aims to continue posting the spectacular numbers that he has been able to accumulate.

Not only should Brewers fans be happy that he’ll be doing so for Milwaukee, they should be happy that the man he replaced won’t be stinking up the pitcher’s mound alongside him.

Quick Hops: Non-Tenders, Counsell, Rumors

By: Big Rygg

Plenty to talk about as I roll out a new title here. When I have several things to discuss and I choose to put them in one post instead of several, it’ll be called “Quick Hops” as I hop from topic to topic. Oh, and if you don’t know, hops are an ingredient in beer…and the team is the Brewers…I hope you’re following me.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

Non-Tender Choices Add Intrigue to Spring Training

The Milwaukee Brewers chose not to tender contracts to injured relief pitcher Mark DiFelice, pitcher Seth McClung and catcher Mike Rivera. This makes the three men free agents, able to sign a contract with any team. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you understand the arbitration system and what the meaning of the non-tender is.

The system that is in place in Major League Baseball allows for a team to “control” a player for six seasons of service time (in the majority of cases). During the first three years of team control (again, in most cases) the team has 100% control over what they pay a player provided that the salary is at least as much as the league-mandated minimum. Typically teams negotiate salaries with players on a year-to-year basis anyway in an effort to involve the player in their money-dealings, but the team has the final say if they and the player cannot reach an accord. If that happens, then the team “renews” the player’s contract at whatever number they deem fair. This can upset players greatly if they feel they outperformed a certain level of pay with their level of play. Prince Fielder is the Brewers’ most recent example of that situation when, after becoming the youngest player in the history of the league to slug 50 home runs in a single season, he felt he was deserving of much more than the contract that he was offered. The two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, so the team renewed Fielder’s contract at a rate that was in line with their team’s pay scale for non-arbitration eligible players.

Being eligible for arbitration is what leads to the non-tendering of contracts if it’s going to happen. When a player becomes eligible for arbitration, salary is no longer completely up to the team. There are a lot of details that I could bore you with, but the basics are that the team and player negotiate to reach a salary for the upcoming year. If the two sides cannot agree on a number by a certain, pre-determined date then they exchange figures. These figures are those that they will submit to a salary arbiter before the season begins. Arbitration hearings are scheduled over a few days in the spring. The team and player can continue to negotiate up to the beginning of the hearing to reach an agreement. If they do, great. The player signs the contract and plays under its terms. If they don’t, a three-member arbitration panel hears the case and chooses one of the figures the sides submitted several weeks prior. (To note: During Doug Melvin’s tenure as General Manager of the Brewers, no player has gone to a hearing.)

Now, the reason that arbitration eligibility can lead to a non-tender is because the contracts a player gets go up in value significantly during arbitration. The jump in salary in the first year of eligibility is often a multi-million dollar one. What’s more, is that arbitration salaries are often influenced simply by service time itself more so than performance. For example, former Brewer J.J. Hardy made around $4MM in 2009. His 2009 season was terrible. It was terrible statistically and it was terrible peripherally. Hardy is not worthy of even the same salary let alone an increase in salary. However, with the system that’s in place, it is an unbelievable rarity that a player’s salary goes lower.

To summarize this entire Hop, allow me to say this: While Mark DiFelice was non-tendered under the rare case where he wasn’t arbitration eligible (he had shoulder surgery which will most likely cost him his entire 2010 season), the increases in salary that McClung and Rivera (who is eligible for arbitration for the first time) stand to receive are more than the Brewers want to pay for those positions for next year. McClung might have been a combination of high-salary/low-performance with the adding of LaTroy Hawkins and needed a spot on the 40-man roster for him, but most likely they could’ve kept McClung anyway with the injury to DiFelice. As for Mike Rivera, the Brewers are finally able to move on from the career backup. Rivera has been a servicable backup backstop during his time with this franchise however he has never been the future at the catcher position. The Brewers knew this when Damian Miller retired and they brought in Jason Kendall for the last two years with Rivera backing him up. Finally, however, the Brewers feel that they have talent at the position in the minor leagues such that they can promote from within and, with a season or two of tutelage at the Major League level, have a home-grown starting catcher for the first time since Mike Matheny.

This should make for a fun battle to watch during Spring Training. The Brewers have two catchers that might be ready to make the jump. Angel Salome has been the most talked about catching prospect in the system for a couple of years now, especially when he put up such gaudy offensive numbers as part of that stacked AA Huntsville club from two seasons ago that included Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel, Matt LaPorta and others. He was the starting catcher for AAA Nashville last year. The catching prospect that has gotten the most talk lately, howevere, has been Jonathan Lucroy who was the starting catcher for Huntsville in 2009. The consensus seems to be that Lucroy might be more ready for the big leagues now with his better plate discipline and what not, but that Salome’s ceiling might still be higher. The Brewers did also claim George Kottaras on waivers early in the off-season as well, so if both youngsters are unable to show anything in spring training that wins them the job, Kottaras might end up being the defacto big league backup while the kids get some more seasoning down on the farm.

Any way it ends up, it ought to be a fun ride. Stay tuned.

The Craigger Set to Stay Put, Announcement to Come Monday?

Monday is shaping up to be a big day for Doug Melvin’s staff. The reports from Indianapolis at the Winter Meetings this past Monday through Thursday were that free-agent pitcher Randy Wolf would be announced to the media as the Brewers’ latest acquisition this coming Monday after passing his required physical examination.

The Brewers, though, just might have two names to announce on Monday. While free-agent signee LaTroy Hawkins was rumored to be announced this coming Tuesday, veteran infielder and team leader Craig Counsell has reportedly agreed to stay in Milwaukee for what might be the balance of his career.

I couldn’t be happier about this move. Even if Counsell doesn’t duplicate his offensive production from 2009, his ability to play three infield positions very well defensively is a huge asset to this team. With inexperienced (at the major league level) starters at SS and 3B in Escobar and Casey McGehee respectively along with Rickie Weeks one bat waggle away from season-ending surgery, having Counsell to spell all three positions is as invaluable for 2010 as having him has proven to be over the past couple of years as well.

Welcome back, Craigger! The Brewer Nation is glad you never left.

Rumor Burner Stays Warm on Hot Stove

Doug Melvin has made no bones about his desire to add two starting pitchers during this off-season. Signing Randy Wolf to a free agent contract gives him one. Where the second one comes from has been a matter of some opinion.

There are still plenty of free agents on the market to be sure. Given the Brewers’ projected payroll, some of them are out of the team’s price range. However, there are several that can be had for a reasonable rate that have great chances to put up better numbers than most members of the Crew’s 2009 starting rotation. In this realm, names like Doug Davis, Jon Garland, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Wisconsin-native Jarrod Washburn and the recently non-tendered Chien-Mien Wang to name a few.

Pulling off a trade is another possibility that is open to Melvin et al. The Brewers still have a handful of trade chips that they can deal to interested teams to get a starting pitcher in return. It’s all about making something work for all teams involved. The biggest rumor that has been floating around since the Winter Meetings is a trade involving the New York Mets which would send Corey Hart to the Big Apple in exchange for John Maine. This makes sense for a couple of different reasons for both teams, but the biggest thing for Milwaukee’s point of view is that it gets us another starting pitcher. It also relieves us of Corey Hart and his waning value. He performed poorly last year but has had recent success and could still have plenty of upside. Maine has worked with new Brewer pitching coach Rick Peterson before when Peterson was in the same role with the Mets. The pairing led to Maine’s best season as a pro so it’s reasonable that it could produce positive results should the two be reunited in Milwaukee.

The Brewers are rumored to be preparing for this possible trade by readying offers to a handful of right fielders. They haven’t offered contracts to any of them yet, of course, because Corey Hart is still on the roster and would start in right field is no move is made. However, I have been told that guys such as Austin Kearns, Xavier Nady and recent 2009 Brewer Frank Catalanotto (who has one of the best batter walkup tunes EVER!). It’ll be interesting to see if the Brewers need to make an offer to one of these players or to another outfielder altogether. Even if they keep Hart, they carried five outfielders for the majority of 2009 and they currently only have four on the 25-man roster in Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Jody Gerut and Hart.

Whether a trade or signing is next on the horizon for this team remains to be seen, but the Hot Stove League shouldn’t cool down for Milwaukee for a bit yet.

Just an FYI here to finish things up, the next Brewer Nation podcast with yours truly and Cary Kostka should be recorded at some point this month, schedules permitting. We’ll definitely keep you posted though here at the blog so come back often and thanks for your continued (or brand new) readership!

Brewers, Wolf Agree to Three-Year Deal

By: Big Rygg

The report is “breaking” all over the internet (let’s be honest…the explosion of Twitter has been a ton of fun for the Winter Meetings this year so far) that free agent starting pitcher Randy Wolf has officially agreed to a new contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. After an edict from MLB stating that teams are not allowed to announce signings of any kind before physicals are completed, the Brewers are still mum at the time I write this.

The reported details are for 3 years at “nearly” and “just under” $30MM with a team option for a 4th year. This nearly matches to the letter what I posted over at the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel’s Brewers Blog yesterday. I was told by a friend that the initial contract offer from the Brewers was 3 years with an option for a 4th year (the same) but at $31MM over three years (the option year was told me to be $12MM). I’ll be interested to see what the final number is reported as since no one has been able to pinpoint it yet. First talk was 3/$27MM since some professional reporters were saying a $9MM/year deal. Then yesterday it became exactly what I said (3/$31MM) that was the offer and then today it’s 3 years but the money is down to not quite $30MM.

But enough about the financial numbers. Let’s go over the numbers that have the impact on the field that we’re all hoping Wolf will bring.

First, let me give full disclosure on something, before last season when Milwaukee needed an extra starter and we ended up with Braden Looper in February, Randy Wolf was a free agent. I did not want the Brewers going after him. Granted, since the Brewers weren’t ever really in the discussion for Wolf, I didn’t look very closely at his peripheral numbers, but the bold-faced ones that are always printed with a pitcher’s name did nothing to excite me. So, is one year in the city of angels enough to change my mind? Let’s review the numbers and then I’ll tell you whether or not I like this signing.

Please note, that’s not to say that I don’t view this signing as a necessity. The Brewers needed to land an above average starting pitcher and they landed the arguable #2 free agent starting pitcher on the market. That’s a good thing for perception if nothing else. But I digress from “need” and will now delve into the worth.

Randy Wolf – DOB: 8/22/1976, 5’10”, 210 lbs, Bats/Throws: L/L

2009 Stats: 11-7, 3.23 ERA, 34 GS, 214.1 IP, 178 H, 81 R, 77 ER, 24 HR, 58 BB, 160 K, .227 BAA, 1.10 WHIP

Wolf has been fairly mediocre over the past several seasons, and put together back-to-back 30+ start seasons for the first time since 2002/03. He pitched over 200+ innings for the first time since 2003 as well. Wolf has had some injury issues over the past half-decade, sure, but when he’s been in the lineup he has been a fair pitcher (on average).

His worst season statistically was back in 2006, his last season in Philadelphia. Sure, he was 4-0 that year, but he only started 12 games and only pitched 56 innings. In that year cut short by an injury, Wolf was never really “right”. His 5.56 ERA was the highest of his career as was his 1.69 WHIP and .285 BAA. The 56.2 IP he accumulated was easily his lowest total as well. Wolf has been a winner throughout his career, however. There are many stat-heads out there that will tell you that Wins and Losses are a terrible way to measure a pitcher’s true effectiveness. With all due respect, while I don’t believe either that they are the best way or even a great way, the numbers do hold some merit. I’ll do a separate blog about why I think that sometime down the road because if I did it now, I’d lose sight of what this post is about. Regardless, Wolf has won in his career. He overall record stands at 101-85 and even when his numbers aren’t the best, his offense tends to support him.

Here’s the rub about Wolf’s numbers though, he has consistently improved each year since the 2006 season, Perhaps culminating in the 2009 season numbers above, perhaps not. One thing we know for sure is that Randy Wolf didn’t have good numbers in 2009 simply because he pitched in a “pitcher’s park” for his home games. In fact, Wolf had better numbers on the road last season. What’s more, when he previously had pitched for the Dodgers during the 2007 season, he was 9-6 with a 4.73 ERA, a WHIP of 1.45 and a BAA of .273. What’s more, that was the only season in his career in which he finished with more ground ball outs than fly ball outs. That should lend itself to a “pitcher’s park” helping his numbers out. Perhaps it was just injuries then, but either way, Dodgers Stadium isn’t what earned Randy Wolf this contract; his left arm is.

I could go deeper and provide the stats for his road/home splits last year, but that information is available on the internet pretty readily. Besides, chances are that this is enough information to help you form your own opinion about Wolf.

So here’s mine:

Randy Wolf, while not an ace by any means to this point in his career, is a solid signing by this club. We’ll see if the money ends up hurting the team, but with so much money coming off of the ledgers after 2010, this deal shouldn’t end up hamstringing this ballclub financially so long as we all continue to fill Miller Park.

I think Wolf slots in nicely in the #2 slot in our rotation and will, as a guesstimate, be capable of contributing to 15-20 wins for the team. I’m not saying he’ll have 15-20 Wins on his record, but that with our offense, we should be able to easily win 15 of his starts with a realistic chance at winning 20 of them. Some quick math for you: If all five pitchers in a rotation make 32 starts, and the team’s record in all of them is 20-12, you finish 40 games over .500 in those games. We won’t do that because no team has five #2s on it let alone the Brewers, but I point it out for the purpose of illustration.

Oh, and for the record? The Dodgers’ record in games that Randy Wolf started in 2009 was 22-12.