MEMO TO thebaseball blogosphere: Manager Ned Yost doesn't want your help. Same goes forradio jockeys, newspapermen and, for that matter, his mother. "I'm nottrying to be Mr. Know-It-All," Yost says, recalling an off-season instancein which Lee Yost passed along an article that suggested some areas ofimprovement, "but I know where we're going, and I know exactly how to getthere."
Where his team wasthroughout the first four months of last season was in first place in the NLCentral. An August swoon (9--18), however, ultimately left Milwaukee two gamesbehind the division-winning Cubs. How did they get there? In large part,according to Yost, because of ineptitude in the field. Despite ranking amongthe league's top five in runs, homers, slugging and RBIs, the Brewers had thefourth-most errors in the NL. Sabermetrically speaking, in fact, Milwaukee was28th in the majors in park-adjusted defensive efficiency (the rate at which ateam converts balls in play into outs). Slipshod fielding cost the Brewers 44.7runs—or about 4.5 wins—last season, the first since 1992 in which Milwaukeeplayed meaningful games down the stretch.
To fix this,general manager Doug Melvin reshuffled the deck. In January he signed freeagent Mike Cameron to a one-year deal to play centerfield, though thethree-time Gold Glove winner was suspended for the season's first 25 gamesbecause of a positive test for a banned substance. Bill Hall was moved fromcenter to third base, pushing Ryan Braun—who had the alltime-best sluggingpercentage for a rookie but also the lowest fielding percentage of any majorleague player—to leftfield. There, he'll enjoy the cushion of Cameron'sstill-considerable range and, Yost hopes, the benefits of simple maturation.Reminds the manager, "Young players develop quicker offensively thandefensively."
Those changes willcertainly aid Milwaukee's run prevention. Run generation won't be a problem,not only this season but also for years to come. Just ask Pirates lefthanderPhil Dumatrait. Last Sept. 9 the first five batters in the Brewers'lineup—second baseman Rickie Weeks (now 25), shortstop J.J. Hardy (25), Braun(24), first baseman Prince Fielder (23) and rightfielder Corey Hart (25)—wenthomer, homer, homer, single, single off Dumatrait, then with the Reds. For theseason that group combined for 150 home runs. Fielder blasted 50 homers, makinghim the youngest ever to hit that many. "We hang out all the time,"Braun says of his teammates, "and I think that closeness is one of ourbiggest advantages as a team."
This year Yost willflip Braun and Fielder in the lineup. As eye-popping as Braun's numbers were,there is one that disturbed Yost: only 29 walks, in 492 plate appearances."We're trying to get him to be more selective, especially behind Prince.We've talked about it, and he'll be moved out of that four spot if he can'tadjust," says Yost, who also batted Braun second in spring training to gethis young slugger more at bats.
Alas, thedevelopment of homegrown arms will have to catch up to that of the youngmashers for the Brewers to take the next step. Only 22, righthander YovaniGallardo, who had a 3.67 ERA after his June 14 call-up, is a keeper. However,after Gallardo, who will start the season on the DL (arthroscopic kneesurgery), and perennially injured Ben Sheets, the most proven starters are thehigh-contact duo of Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush, both of whom were hit hard inthe second half. Righty Carlos Villanueva, 24, and especially lefty MannyParra, 25, who throws a mid-90s fastball and a big curve, could bolster therotation. For now, though, they represent a small tweak to a roster thatunderwent several such improvements this winter, changes that won't be enoughto offset the more dramatic moves of the Cubs and the Reds.
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER NED YOSTSIXTH SEASON WITH MILWAUKEE
Eric Gagné (New acquisition)
David Riske (New acquisition)
New acquisition(R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 62)
a modest proposal...
Bill Hall's35-homer season in 2006 earned him a shiny four-year, $24 million contract, butit may also have blinded the Brewers to a flaw in Hall's game: The righthandedswinger doesn't hit righties very well. His career marks against them are.262/.310/.461, and he's never cracked a .321 OBP against them in any season.Making Hall (left) the every-day third baseman for an already unbalanced lineup(most days Milwaukee starts one lefthanded batter, Prince Fielder) continues toleave the Brewers vulnerable when facing righthanders, against whom they hit 36points lower than they did against lefties in '07. Lefty-swinging CraigCounsell, 37, isn't the answer in a platoon; G.M. Doug Melvin needs to lookoutside the organization for an option (Greg Dobbs and Hank Blalock come tomind) that gives his lineup more balance and puts more guys on base.
ERA of Eric Gagnéafter his trade last July from the Rangers to the Red Sox, who mostly used himin the eighth inning. Go figure: When he entered the game in the eighth in asave situation, his ERA was 10.38; when he was summoned in the ninth with asave opportunity, his ERA was 1.96, which was below his career mark of 2.22 asa reliever. This season the Brewers will use their new closer almostexclusively in the ninth.
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MARCH 16, 1981
AT THE MilwaukeeBrewers' spring training camp in Sun City, Ariz., it is simply called TheTrade, capital T, capital T. Just as with references to, say, The Chief inWashington or The Man in St. Louis, no further explanation is indicated. TheTrade is what could bring the Brewers The Pennant, capital T, capital P,period. It has already brought Rollie Fingers, the relief pitcher who holds themajor league record for saves (244), from San Diego by way of St. Louis.
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FIELDERS' CHOICE Weeks and his fellow young thumpers must improve defensively to avoid being taken out of the playoff picture again.
TOM DIPACE (HALL)
RICHARD MACKSON (COVER)