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Milwaukee Brewers 2012 End-of-the-season Wrap-up

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As promised, here’s my end-of-the-season assessment of the Milwaukee Brewers.

While most writers have concentrated on the Brewers’ pitchers major league-leading 29 blown saves (ouch!), or the many injuries to key players (first baseman Mat Gamel, pitcher Chris Narveson, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez suffered season-ending injuries early, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy and pitcher Shaun Marcum spent significant time on the disabled list), or the weak first-half performances by Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Aramis Ramirez as reasons why the Brewers finished third in the National League Central and missed the second Wild Card slot by four games, I’d rather focus on something else.

Put simply, the Brewers had an extremely inconsistent season.  Some months, the Brewers looked terrible.  Other months, the Brewers looked like world-beaters — with one of their best months being the month of September (which is why they were in Wild Card contention at all).

This is the main reason the Brewers could lead the league in positive categories like runs scored, home runs, and strikeouts (by pitchers), and also lead in such a horrible category as blown saves at the same time.

In other words, the 2012 season for the Brewers was one of some very high highs, some very low lows, and one of remarkably puzzling statistics.

That said, some players stood out more than others.

On the bad side:

Closer John Axford had the most inconsistent year of his young career.  While his stat line doesn’t look that bad — 35 saves in 44 chances, a 4.67 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, a 5-8 record and 93 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings — the fact remained that Axford’s ERA was much higher in 2012 than it was in 2011, when Axford posted a 1.95 mark along with 46 saves in 48 opportunities.  And of course Axford blew far too many saves, actually losing his job as a closer for a while before regaining it after a series of sparkling performances as a set-up man in July  (Axford posted three holds during that time).

But at least Axford was able to regain his form, as he looked much better toward the end of the year.  This bodes well for his future with the Brewers.

Backup closer/set-up man Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez had an even more inconsistent year than Axford; while K-Rod had 32 holds, by far the most on the club, K-Rod also had only three saves in 10 opportunities (seven blown saves, in short), a 2-7 record, and a 4.38 ERA in 72 innings of work.

As K-Rod had an $8M contract last season and vastly underperformed considering his talent and overall reputation, it’s obvious that unless K-Rod takes a serious pay cut, he’s likely headed to another team.

The rest of the Brewers bullpen (save only Jim Henderson): for whatever reason, most of the bullpen looked like deer caught in the headlights for the vast majority of the 2012 season.  There were reasons for this — for example, the death of Jeff Adcock the long-time assistant groundskeeper, who knew all of the relievers extremely well, certainly played a part in the Brewers’ overall inconsistency.

Even so, the performance of Kameron Loe (6-5 record with a 4.61 ERA in 61 1/3 innings with only seven holds and two saves out of seven opportunities, compared to his 2011 statistics of 4-7 record with a 3.50 ERA in 72 innings of work with 16 holds and one save out of eight opportunities) was perplexing; the performance of Manny Parra (2-3 record with a 5.06 ERA in 58 2/3 innings of work with nine holds and zero saves out of two chances, compared with his 2010 stats of 3-10 record with a 5.02 ERA in 122 innings of work, half as a starter and half as a reliever, with no holds and no saves) was merely irritating, and while Jose Veras’ stats look good (5-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 67 innings of work with 10 holds and one save in two opportunities), more was expected of him than this.

Now to the disappointing starter, Shaun Marcum.  Marcum spent two whole months on the disabled list, and ended up with a 7-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 124 innings of work, which looks OK.  But Marcum’s 2011 record of 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA in 200 and 2/3 innings of work showed that he’s capable of much more.

Marcum’s year was disappointing because of his injuries, not because of his talent.  But because he couldn’t pitch every fifth day for two months, the Brewers’ record suffered.  That is an undeniable fact.

And because of Marcum’s lengthy stint on the DL, the Brewers actually waived him late in the year, hoping someone else would pick him up.  When no one else did, it was obvious that the Brewers were less than pleased that Marcum was still on the roster.  That’s why it seems most unlikely that Marcum will remain a Brewer in 2013, especially as he’s now a free agent.

Then we get to perhaps the most disappointing player on the entire team — Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had a horrendously bad first half, as his .162 batting average on June 12, 2012, shows.  And while Weeks eventually did pull his hitting form together, as his ending line of a .230 BA with 21 home runs and 63 runs batted in shows, his fielding was atrocious: a .974 fielding percentage with 16 errors and perhaps the least range of any second baseman in major league baseball.

Weeks is thirty years of age.  This is significant because very few players improve their defense at this stage of the game (my favorite player, Vinny Rottino, is one of the few who demonstrably has, at least at the catcher position).  But Weeks shouldn’t have had this sort of precipitous decline in his range; the only possible excuse for it is the nasty injury he suffered in 2011 where his foot, at full extension, hit the first base bag at an odd angle, which put Weeks on the disabled list for a substantial length of time.

If that’s the case, Weeks’ range should improve again now that he’s fully healed.  But I’d still like to see the Brewers find Weeks a fielding mentor, as when Willie Randolph was the bench coach for the Brewers a few years ago, Weeks’ fielding improved markedly.

Now let’s get to the positives, some of which were quite surprising:

Reliever Jim Henderson came up from AAA, where he’d been the closer, and showed he has the talent and the moxie to pitch extremely well at the major league level.  Henderson posted a 1-3 record with a 3.52 ERA in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched, with 14 holds and three saves in seven opportunities.  Henderson was one of the few bright spots during the late July/early August part of the season, and he’s someone I’m rooting for in 2013 to cement his job as the primary set-up man for Axford.

Starter Yovani Gallardo improved from a 7-6 record at the All-Star break to finish at 16-9; his ERA was 3.66 in 204 innings.  Gallardo also had 204 Ks.

The main reason Gallardo’s late season dominance was important was due to the trade of pitcher Zack Greinke in late July.  Greinke had a 9-3 record with the Brewers in 123 innings of work; he also had 122 Ks, and was the undisputed ace of the staff.  That’s why Gallardo had to step up in the second half of the season — and step up he did.

Right fielder/first baseman Corey Hart was a revelation at first base; after being shifted mid-season, and after not playing first base since 2006 (that at the AAA level, and only part-time), Hart posted a .995 fielding percentage with only four errors.  And Hart’s hitting continued apace; Hart had a .270 average with 30 HRs and 83 RBI, which possibly would’ve been even better had he not been hobbled with a nasty injury to his plantar fascia late in the season.  (Hart hit only .254 in September due to that injury.)

Compare Hart’s fielding and excellent range with that of former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder in 2011 — the 5’10” Fielder had a .990 fielding percentage with 15 errors and a much smaller range than the 6’6″ Hart — and it’s clear that Hart has an excellent future ahead at first base.  Because if Hart could do this well after changing positions mid-season, how well is he going to do after he’s fully recovered from his injury to his foot and has a full Spring Training under his belt in 2013?

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez ended the season with a .300 BA, 27 HR, 105 RBI and 9 SBs in 11 attempts, which seemed nearly inconceivable on April 24. 2012, as Ramirez was in his characteristic season-starting slump and was hitting only .164 with only one HR and six RBI.  Ramirez’s fielding in 2012 was much better than it had been in 2011; he cut his errors in half (from 14 in ’11 to seven in ’12) and improved his fielding percentage (from .953 in ’11 to .977 in ’12) while increasing his range.

And when you consider that in 2011, the Brewers had Casey McGehee — whose .942 fielding percentage and 20 errors, along with a very small range, didn’t exactly inspire confidence — it’s obvious that Ramirez was an extremely bright spot for more than just his bat.

Right fielder Norichika Aoki hit well and improved his fielding as the season progressed; Aoki should be a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year award with his .288 BA, 30 stolen bases in 38 attempts, 10 HR and 50 RBI.

The Brewers’ young pitchers Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers all did extremely well as rookies.  Fiers’ record of 9-10 is deceptive as Fiers ran out of gas in the final three weeks of the season; still, his ERA of 3.74 in 127 and 2/3 innings of work was quite promising, and his 135 Ks (a better than one strikeout per inning ratio, which is excellent for a starter) shows his talent in full measure.  Rogers, who came up in August, posted a 3-1 record with a 3.92 ERA in 39 innings of work, and his 41 Ks (again, a better than one strikeout per inning ratio) bode well for Rogers’ future.  And Peralta, who was called up in September, looked so good with his 2-1 record and 2.48 ERA in 29 innings of work that both Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez said Peralta has all the makings of long-term starter in the major leagues.

But I’ve saved the best for last.

Put simply, Ryan Braun is in a class by himself.  Braun had perhaps his best overall season in 2012 (.319 BA, 41 HR, 112 RBI, and 30 SB in 37 attempts), easily equaling or improving upon his 2011 National League MVP effort (.332 BA, 33 HR, 111 RBI, and 33 SB in 39 attempts) despite losing teammate Prince Fielder to free agency and having to deal with clean-up man Ramirez starting off in a horrendous slump.  While Ramirez eventually got it together (by the All-Star break, Ramirez was hitting .272), the fact remained that Braun didn’t have much support in the first month or so of the season, which meant Braun could be pitched around.

And, of course, due to the whole performance-enhancing drug scandal (did he or didn’t he?  I believe he didn’t.), Braun was booed mercilessly in every ballpark save one: Miller Park in Milwaukee.  But this didn’t stop him, nor did the rancor of various sportswriters, nor did the ruination of his reputation — absolutely nothing stopped Braun from putting up MVP-like numbers and carrying the Brewers to their 83-79 record and missing out on the second Wild Card by only a few, short games.

Ultimately, though, the Brewers 2012 season will be remembered for its inconsistency — for its excellent late-August to mid-September run to the playoffs and an above-.500 record, yes, but also for the bullpen meltdowns of mid-June to mid-July.  For their excellent cadre of young starters, yes — but also for the two months of Shaun Marcum’s stint on the DL.  For John Axford regaining his form, yes — but also for his losing his form, and losing it badly, mid-season.

The next question is, whither 2013?  Well, a lot depends on things that can’t be known right now.  For example, how many of the 2012 relieving corps will come back next year?  How many injuries will the ’13 Brewers have to deal with?  Will Chris Narveson be able to regain his form as a starter, or will his post-surgical recovery limit him to shorter stints out of the bullpen?

But things do look promising despite the ’12 Brewers’ puzzling inconsistency, which is far better than I thought back in early August.  And that, most of all, is why I believe that the 2013 Brewers might surprise everyone and finally make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1982.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

October 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

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