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2011 Brewers Preview: Fresh Brew

Herb Ilk

Herb Ilk

Herb Ilk writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

The 2010 season was a familiar scene for the Brewers – top of the league hitting, bottom of the league pitching. Their starting pitching was particularly bad, finishing 15th in the National League with a 4.65 ERA. General manager Doug Melvin made starting pitching his top priority this past offseason and most people assumed they would get it by trading Prince Fielder. Melvin got creative, though, and traded their top minor league prospects for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. In the span of a few weeks the Brewers' rotation went from the cellar to one of the tops in the league.

The Brewers return almost everyone from an offense that ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored. There are still a few holes in the lineup, particularly at shortstop and center field, but this is a team which has been in the top half of the league offensively for four consecutive seasons. It's that combination of hitting and new pitching that has Milwaukee fans hopeful for 2011.

Offseason Moves

Acquired Zack Greinke from the Royals for Alcides Escobar, Lorezno Cain, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.

Greinke was the AL Cy Young winner in 2009, but dropped off just a bit in 2010. His strikeout rate dropped by two strikeouts per nine innings and he gave up a few more hits. He still put up good numbers, which should all get better with a move to the NL.

Traded Brett Lawrie to Toronto for Shaun Marcum.

Marcum missed most of the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery, but returned in 2010 with a vengeance. He walked just 43 batters in 195.1 IP while striking out 165 and posted a 3.64 ERA pitching in the AL East. Marcum should also see an improvement with a move to the NL.

Signed Takashi Saito as a free agent.

Saito has been limited by injuries for much of the last two seasons, but he's pitched very well when healthy. The Brewers are expected to limit his innings judiciously and give him time to rest between outings.

Signed Mark Kotsay as a free agent.

Kotsay is a left-handed bench player at this point in his career and will attempt to land a similar role with the Brewers.

Projected Lineup/Rotation

Lineup

1.Rickie Weeks 2B
2.Corey Hart RF
3.Ryan Braun LF
4.Prince Fielder 1B
5.Casey McGehee 3B
6.Yuniesky Betancourt SS
7.Carlos Gomez CF
8.Jonathan Lucroy C

The Brewers have a solid top of the lineup, but fall off quickly at the bottom. They could hit Gomez closer to the top if he proves he can get on base more often, but that is debatable. Betancourt had a bounce back season offensively in 2010, but is no safe bet to duplicate it in 2011.

Starting Rotation

1.Yovani Gallardo
2.Zack Greinke
3.Shaun Marcum
4.Randy Wolf
5.Chris Narveson

The new look rotation will look formidable to opponents. The fifth spot in the rotation is Narveson's to lose, but Mark Rogers and Manny Parra are fringe candidates to push him. The Brewers don't have much starting pitching depth beyond those guys so an injury to any of them could prove fatal.

CL: John Axford

Key Bullpen Members: Zach Braddock, Takashi Saito, Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, LaTroy Hawkins

The Brewers rebuilt their bullpen with newcomers during the season and finished on a high note. Axford walks a fine line between wildness and effectiveness, but gets away with it due to his high strikeout rate. Braddock, Loe and Saito should provide a quality setup crew.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

1.Can Prince Fielder put contract distractions aside and bounce back offensively?

Fielder has been an “every other year” player since reaching the majors. Let's see if anyone can find a pattern:

Year OPS
2006 .831
2007 1.013
2008 .879
2009 1.014
2010 .871

If the pattern holds up then expect big things from Fielder. There is a chance that he could get traded in July if the Brewers were to fall out of contention.

2. Can the Brewers be successful with their weakness up the middle?

Both Carlos Gomez and Yuniesky Betancourt can be black holes on offense due to their lack of on-base skills. While Gomez at least plays above average defense, Betancourt can't even offer that much. The Brewers may end up playing Craig Counsell more often at shortstop or look for an available replacement at the trade deadline.

3. Will Mat Gamel ever find a place to play with the Brewers?

Gamel hit .309/.387/.511 in 82 games for Triple-A Nashville in 2010 and saw just 12 games in Milwaukee. He'll turn 26 this summer and may find himself back at Nashville for one more season. There isn't much doubt that Gamel can hit, he just can't find a position where he can play acceptable defense. The Brewers don't want to give him away so he'll wait until a spot opens up or they trade him.

Strengths

The Brewers have built one of the better starting rotations in the NL to go along with a solid lineup.

Weaknesses

As previously noted, the bottom of the lineup has some issues and the infield defense will test the patience of the pitching staff.

Sleepers

Rising: Shaun Marcum – As mentioned before, both Marcum and Zack Greinke will benefit by moving to the National League, but Marcum is much more likely to outperform his draft position for fantasy owners given his potential to be a top-20 starter – think 15+ wins, 190 strikeouts and very good ratios – on a good team in the NL Central.

Declining: LaTroy Hawkins – Hawkins ran into shoulder issues almost immediately last season and may never return. The Brewers will give him some chances, but this may be the end for him.

Sleeper: Mark Rogers – Rogers will always have injury issues following him around, but he throws hard and has a great curveball. He could make for an above average fifth starter if he holds up and gets the opportunity.

Supersleeper: Logan Schafer – Schafer entered the 2010 season with an opportunity to compete for a roster spot and then a series of injuries ruined his year. He still needs more time in the minors, but he's not far away and Carlos Gomez is on his last chance. Schafer could get a call by mid-season if Gomez falls flat.

Roster

Here's a rundown on the rest of the team not mentioned above.

Brandon Boggs - Boggs spent the entire season at Triple-A Oklahoma City where he posted a respectable .406 OBP aided by 72 walks in 362 at-bats. It was his best season in the minors since 2007, and was enough to warrant at least an invitation to spring training with the Brewers after Texas cut him loose following the season. He strikes out too often and doesn't offer enough power to be anything more than a reserve player in the majors.

Luis Cruz - Cruz spent the entire season with Triple-A Nashville before a late September callup to the majors. He played well enough at Nashville that the Brewers may consider him for a utility infield role at some point, but Cruz doesn't project as an everyday big league player. With the Brewers' loss of Alcides Escobar in the Zack Greinke deal, Cruz's chances of earning some playing time improved since Yuniesky Betancourt is on course to be the team's starting shortstop.

Chris Dickerson - The Brewers picked up Dickerson from the Reds late in 2010 and he hit .208/.271/.264 in 25 games for them. He'll come into spring training with a chance to win a utility outfielder spot, while his ability to play all three positions defensively should help him collect a decent number of bats. With Ryan Braun and Corey Hart locked into the corner spots, most of Dickerson's time will likely come while spelling Lorenzo Cain in center.

Yovani Gallardo - Gallardo pitched very well in 2010, but it was still somewhat below expectations. Some of that may be due to a bit of bad luck since his ERA was well above his FIP of 3.14. Gallardo decreased his walk rate, cut his home-run rate in half and increased his GB/FB rate over the 2009 season, but ended with a higher ERA. He also struck out 200 batters and could push 20 wins this season if he gets a few breaks.

Sean Green - Green, who missed four months with a hairline rib fracture, threw just 9.1 innings with the Mets last season and struggled with command, walking eight batters. He was non-tendered by New York and signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee, where he will look to fill a middle-relief role.

Corey Hart - Hart turned a great first half of 2010 into an All-Star selection and a new three-year contract extension. Overall, he hit .283/.340/.525, but had just a .802 OPS with 10 home runs in the second half of the season. That second-half line is more likely what should be expected in 2011. What's more concerning from a fantasy aspect is that he stole just seven bases in 2010 and had the fewest attempts of his career. Keep that in mind when valuing him for 2011.

Brandon Kintzler - Kintzler moved all the way from Double-A Huntsville to the majors in 2010, using a combination of control and groundballs. He'll get a chance to earn a bullpen role during spring training, but there's not a future closer skill set in play here.

George Kottaras - Kottaras was signed to back up Gregg Zaun in 2010, but was forced into more action when Zaun's season ended in May due to an injury. Kottaras hit .203/.305/.396 in 2010, showing good patience and power, but was not good defensively behind the plate. He'll try to win a backup catching spot in spring training, but the more defensively sound Wil Nieves seems like the better bet to work as the No. 2 backstop behind Jonathan Lucroy.

Kameron Loe - Loe used a hard sinking fastball to provide good numbers in the Milwaukee bullpen in 2010. His groundball rate of 59.4 percent was one of the best in the majors and helped him to a 2.78 ERA. He tailed off a bit in the second half of the season and was a little lucky with his strand rate, but he still struck out 7.1 per nine innings. Loe will pitch in middle relief again for the Brewers in 2011.

Jonathon Lucroy - Lucroy started 2010 in Double-A Huntsville was pushed to the majors in May after Gregg Zaun went down with a season ending injury. He hit .253/.300/.329 in 75 games for Milwaukee with four home runs. It's doubtful that he'll ever hit for much power, but he's shown good plate discipline in the minors and could approach a .300 batting average during his peak seasons. He'll return as Milwaukee's starting catcher in 2011.

Mike McClendon - McClendon made his major league debut in 2010, posting a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings of relief. He'll try to win a bullpen spot again in 2011, but will most likely start the season at Triple-A Nashville. If he is a part of the Brewers' relief corps, McClendon is a better fit in the middle innings than in a setup role.

Manny Parra - Parra continued last season his run at being the most hittable pitcher in major league history. He finished with a 5.02 ERA in 122 innings as both a starter and reliever. His .352 BABIP is in line with his career average, which is the highest by a pitcher with 400 or more IP since the 1800s. What's most shocking is that Parra misses a lot of bats. He struck out 9.5 per nine innings in 2010, but when hitters do make contact, they hit it hard, as he had a career-high 1.33 HR/9IP mark. Control is also an issue for Parra, and he's often prone to giving up a big inning in his starts. The Brewers will keep him around for another season due to that tantalizing strikeout rate, but there isn't much to indicate he'll turn things around. It's also likely that his transition to the bullpen will become permanent in 2011.

Rickie Weeks - Weeks stayed healthy for a full season and had the best year of his career in 2010. He hit .269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs and 11 stolen bases while scoring 112 runs. Fantasy owners would have loved to see him steal a few more bases, but those numbers still put him near the top for his position. The Brewers are trying to work out a contract extension with him since this is the final year of his current deal.

Randy Wolf - Wolf did not pitch well during his first season in Milwaukee, but finished strong and could be a sleeper candidate for 2011. Wolf had a 3.71 ERA with just eight home runs allowed after the All-Star break. He'll head into the 2011 season as Milwaukee's fourth starter, but we think his 2010 numbers more accurately provide a baseline for what you can expect than his 2009 ones do.

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