What a difference a year makes for the starting rotation.  Doug Melvin has managed to build a starting rotation from the top down, which has all but assured that Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson will be the fourth and fifth starters this year for the Brewers.   Over the last year, I have heard and read many folks comparing Randy Wolf to Jeff Suppan .  The two pitchers are completely different and I believe Wolf is still an effective pitcher on the big league level.  Barring a significant injury, Wolf simply has to be a .500 pitcher and continue to eat innings.  If he does that, things will be just fine for Milwaukee this season.  That being said, I believe Chris Narveson will be the left hander people will be talking about in 2011.

Since CC and Sheeter left, the last two spots in the rotation have murdered Milwaukee’s postseason chances.  To be completely accurate, the real reason for the demise of the Brewers the last two seasons would be that, other than Gallardo, the entire staff was nothing but fourth and fifth starters.  Over the course of a season, these starters got chased all too often before finishing six innings.  The result of frequent short outings meant taxing the bullpen, which in turn means taxing the starters.  Suddenly, the Brewers were on a seven game skid and opponents were routinely winning high leverage situations.  This has a snowball effect and can demoralize a team.  Heck, short outings can tear a team apart.  The long lasting effects eventually caused even mild mannered Ken Macha to resort to cheap shots from his rocking chair, instead of just not getting along with Braun and Fielder in Arizona this spring.

Chris Narveson exceeded expectations in 2010 when he pitched 168 innings for the Brewers.  I am going to concentrate on the 158 innings he pitched as a starter, which is the role he will occupy in 2011.  As a starter, Chris was 11-9 and had a 4.85 ERA with a 4.15 FIP.  Remember, FIP measures ONLY things the pitcher is directly responsible for.  This means that he pitched better than his primary numbers indicate and could have been much better.  Indeed, Narveson had some well publicized struggles last year in the first inning.  Hitters had a slash line of .375/.436/.656 and he also gave up 9 of his 21 HR’s in the first frame.  I attribute some of these struggles to inexperience.  Narveson improved as the season went on.  Here is the count on how many earned runs Narveson gave up in his last twelve starts of 2010: 3,1,3,3,3,2,1,2,1,6,2,1.  If I throw out the 6 run game against the Giants, who were red hot and ended up winning the World Series, the tally would be 22 earned runs in 11 starts.  I would take that from my #5 starter any day of the week, wouldn’t you?  I believe Narveson is set to have another improvement in 2011 and will be relied upon heavily as Milwaukee makes its playoff push.

Randy Wolf was a small disappointment coming off a PHAT 3 year- $29.75M contract, yet he pitched 216 innings and had 13 wins.  Opposite of Narveson, Wolf had a lower 4.17 ERA, and a higher 4.85 FIP, combined with a .275 BABIP.  This means he was somewhat lucky to achieve the surface numbers he did.  Regardless, those are good numbers and Wolf is looked at as a solid 4 th starter in the rotation.  This is especially true after he turned it on in the second half of last season.  However, I maintain that Narveson may have had the better year overall.

In fact, as a starter, Narveson had better advanced numbers than Wolf in K/9, BB/9, K/BB (duh), HR/9, WHIP, FIP, and opponent’s batting average.  All the peripherals numbers say Narveson had a better year, yet Wolf had more wins and a better ERA.  The lesson of this blog is that given the plethora of statistical information available to you, looking at just one thing, like wins, losses, and ERA, is short sighted.  Simply stated, I believe that Chris Narveson will have a better statistical season this season than he had in 2010.  I think he will build upon his strong finish from last year, he will improve his consistency with experience, and he will not be the fifth starter by the end of the season.   The odds say that Narveson will catch a few more breaks this season.  With any type of luck in 2011, this could be the Year of The Narv Dog.

 

The “What the f*&# does that stat mean” stat of the week.

I got a couple of easy ones this week.  I am going to use these statistics to prove a point about the team this year.  LOB% simply means the percentage of runners allowed to score once reaching base.  Obviously, the goal is 0%.  I like the statistic as a secondary measure of how effective a pitcher was in a season.  K/BB is pretty self explanatory.  This, obviously, compares how many strikeouts a pitcher has versus walks.

I explain these two remedial statistics this week because I feel this staff could have the potential to be special.  What is going to hurt Milwaukee’s starters this season will be having a subpar defense that IS going to struggle to bail the staff out in tough spots.  In fact, the defense is going to make many situations worse.  Hence, the pitching staff has to do an excellent job this year of making guys earn their way on base, and then subsequently stranding them there via a high strikeout rate.  I believe these two statistics and the team’s rank in the National League will have a direct result on how long Milwaukee is in the division race.  To further my point, last season Milwaukee pitchers were ranked 15 th in LOB% and 9 th in K/BB in the National League.  Peering even closer will show that Milwaukee starters were actually 14 th in K/BB in the NL.  Clearly this is a pattern that will need to change in 2011 for the Brewers to taste champagne in October.

 

Yuni Watch!

If you are like me, you are very interested in seeing what kind of player Yuni Betancourt is.  He played in Kansas City last year, so unless you are a complete dork, or a gifted writer , you haven’t seen him either.  I suspect much of the vitriol surrounding him here in Milwaukee is second party knowledge.  He has been billed as indifferent , incoherent, lazy, terrible with the bat, terrible with the glove, and essentially a zero tool player with a hefty contract.  OF course, I have already discussed UZR and how bad it says Yuni is at playing defense.  In addition, he hardly ever draws a walk.  However, that is not his fault, because he says he’s Latin , and as we all know Latin ballplayers don’t take walks .  Wait?  What?  Yes he did say that.  In fact, in that last JS link he says, “Latin people don’t walk too many times. We just go out there and swing.”

Regardless, I am interested in tracking how bad (or good) he truly is.  Throughout the season we will examine many of the plays and situations Yuni was involved in and how well he performed.  Personally, I think he will be a little better than the train wreck we have been given warning of.  Offense is where Yuni can solidify his 2011 season.  The RBI opportunities are going to be bountiful until he proves he can drive in runs consistently from the sixth spot in the order.

 

Throwback of the week.

Sixto Lezcano, who hit grand slams on opening Day twice for the Brewers, was before my time.  Sure I have read much about him.  I know he was involved in that huge trade in 1981 with the Cardinals that netted the Brewers Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich, and Rollie Fingers.  This Lezcano jersey is sweet and not too many will be at Miller Park this year.  Speaking of sweet, I obviously have throngs of Cubs fans out there following this blog.  In fact, I am pretty sure Wally is thumbing through a wad of fifties now because of them.  To thank them for their loyalty, I have something for their sons to wear to start the season.  This stylish outfit for a male toddler Cubs Fan is priceless.

 

A season you probably have forgotten about by now.

Back by popular demand is the season of 1912.  Last week I reminded you about the season Tris Speaker had in Fenway Park’s inaugural season.  This week I am looking at “The Big Train” Walter Johnson, who also had a decent year in 1912.  He was 33-12 with a 1.39 ERA to go with 303 K’s.  Not bad.  He started 37 games and finished 34 of them, while logging an amazing 369 innings!  Also, Johnson had a LOB% of over .750 and a K/BB rate of almost 4.0.  Against Johnson in 1912, you had to earn your way on base and work hard to score.  Just from these numbers we can see that with 12 losses, his teammates did him no favors with the lumber.  However, a closer examination reveals that they did play good defense that year.  Johnson’s FIP was 1.89 that season.  His defense was essentially saving him roughly a ½ run every 9 innings.  While they struggled offensively, Walter’s teammates kept the club in the game, which left the ball in Johnson’s hand almost every night he climbed the bump.  The Senators finished 91-61 , which was good enough for a hard luck second place and 14 games back.  Fear not, because if the Brewers win 91 games in 2011, they will be playing playoff baseball.

 

Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon

March 31 st .  The Brewers open the regular season on the road versus the division champs.

April 8-10. Cubs v. Brewers, Act One.  A series so epic and so sure to end in a Brewer’s sweep, I am personally going to watch its entirety in Las Vegas in order to get the mortgage in on the action.

Also, please don’t forget to follow my new Twitter account at @simplekindoffan.    My goal of simply maintaining fewer tweets than followers is off to a rocky start.  Now is the time to get in on witty action like this .

 

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