Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers entered 2012 flying high off a division title and NLCS appearance in 2011, but got off to a disastrous start and were 23-28 as the calendar turned to June. The offense appeared unable to weather the loss of Prince Fielder, and the bullpen gave away game after game. GM Doug Melvin sent Zack Greinke to the Angels in July, and the season effectively looked like it was over.
Surprisingly, the Brewers' offense picked up after the trade deadline, and the team actually challenged for a playoff spot. On August 19, they were 54-66 and looked like they were just playing out the string. They went 29-13 the rest of the year fielding largely the same roster they bring into the 2013 season. Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo remain this team's leaders, and Braun headlines one of the National League's best offenses. With Aramis Ramirez, Norichika Aoki, Jonathan Lucroy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, six of the Brewers' eight starters will likely be fantasy starters in most mixed leagues. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both could be, as well. Gallardo doesn't have near the support in the rotation that Braun does in the lineup, however, and if Milwaukee falls short of the playoffs again this year, it will likely be due to deficiencies in the starting rotation.
1. Norichika Aoki, RF
2. Rickie Weeks, 2B
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C
6. Corey Hart, 1B
7. Carlos Gomez, CF
8. Jean Segura, SS
1. Yovani Gallardo
2. Marco Estrada
3. Wily Peralta
4. Mike Fiers
5. Chris Narveson
Bullpen: John Axford (closer), Jim Henderson, Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop, Brandon Kintzler, Jesus Sanchez, Josh Stinson
• Did Carlos Gomez break out before our eyes last season? When the All-Star break came around last year, Gomez was in the middle of yet another ho-hum season. Then, all of a sudden, things started to change. He went 2-for-4 in his first start after the break. A week later, he had a four-game stretch in which he went 6-for-16 with three homers, seven RBI and two steals. Before we knew it, Gomez threw up a .278/.321/.488 slash with 14 homers and 26 steals over the second half of the season. This was not your older brother's Carlos Gomez.
Unfortunately for Gomez and the Brewers, I'm not buying this as a breakout. To me, this was a player getting hot for a three-month stretch, riding the upswing of the vagaries of baseball. Just take a look at the numbers. Gomez' line-drive rate dropped to 15.8 percent in the second half from 17.8 percent in the first half. His ground-ball rate jumped to 43.7 percent from 34.7 percent. That might be good for his batting average, given that he's a speedster, but it supports the notion that his power streak was a fluke. Over the second half of the season, he posted an 18.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio. Edwin Encarnacion's HR/FB ratio was 18.7 percent last year. Prince Fielder's was 17.9 percent. If you think Gomez will keep that up this year, drop me a line and I'll make sure to get you in my league the next time there's an opening. He should be a good source of steals, but that's the only category to which he'll really contribute this season.
• Is Jonathan Lucroy underrated or wildly underrated? We're in the middle of something of a renaissance at the catcher position in fantasy baseball. The talent pool hasn't been this deep in a long time. Still, I can't for a second understand why my brethren in the fantasy community have so little respect for Lucroy. Yahoo! ranks him 14th. ESPN has him 12th. RotoWire also has him 12th. Most regrettably, my man Eric Mack has him 19th. All of them are too low, and here's why.
Lucroy only played in 96 games because of a freak injury suffered when a suitcase fell on and broke bones in his hand. In those 96 games, he hit .320/.368/.513 with 12 homers, 58 RBI and four steals. His .881 OPS bested Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer. In 43 games before the injury, he hit .345/.387/.583 with five homers. In 53 games after, while still recuperating from a broken hand, he hit .299/.354/.458 with seven homers. Miller Park is a hitter's haven, but Lucroy actually had a better line when the Brewers were on the road. He hit .348/.379/.516 away from Milwaukee, and .290/.357/.510 in Milwaukee. Oh yeah, he just turned 26 in December, so he's entering his prime. And this guy isn't a top-10 catcher? What am I missing? Jump in with me, fantasy gamers, and Lucroy will be one of your favorite players on your roster this year. And to my pal Mack: It's time for our first wager of the baseball season. Jonathan Lucroy will be a top-10 catcher. You name the stakes.
• Which Mike Fiers is the real Mike Fiers? In 46.2 innings during the first half last season, Fiers went 3-3 with a 2.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 2.09 FIP and 50 strikeouts against just nine walks. In 80 innings after the All-Star break, he went 6-7 with a 4.56 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.67 FIP, and 85 strikeouts to 27 walks. The results were better in the first half, but Fiers did two things consistently all season. He outpitched his defense and he struck out batters. Despite everything else, that gives me confidence in Fiers in 2013.
Fiers' second-half struggles derived from a mix of bad luck and getting himself in unfavorable counts. His BABIP leapt to .325 from .310 in the first half. His strand rate plummeted to 69.7 percent, well below league average, from 80.5 percent, which is well above league average. His walk rate spiked to 7.7 percent from 4.8 percent. Even despite that, he struck out nearly one-quarter of batters, and he was done in a bit by his defense. With Hart, Weeks and Ramirez manning three of the four infield positions, that may not get much better this season. However, Fiers has tended to be more of a fly-ball pitcher in his career, and he has two outfielders who cover a ton of ground in Gomez and Aoki. The answer to this question is that the real Mike Fiers, who turns 28 in June, is somewhere between the one we saw before and after the All-Star break last season. That means he's also the kind of guy I'll be targeting in drafts this year.
Marco Estrada: Lost in the shuffle of Milwaukee's underachieving year was Estrada, whose 5-7 record belies a monster year in which he posted a 3.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.35 FIP and 143 strikeouts against just 29 walks in 138.1 innings. It didn't exactly come out of nowhere, either. In 92.2 innings in 2011, Estrada had a 3.67 FIP and 88 strikeouts. He's not exactly young (he'll turn 30 in July), but he is showing all the signs of a late bloomer. I'm buying in this season.
Carlos Gomez: I actually think most players on the Brewers are ranked accurately. From Braun to Ramirez to Gallardo to Weeks to Aoki, the fantasy community has this team pegged pretty well. However, as I stated earlier, I would be shocked if Gomez comes anywhere near the 19 homers he hit a season ago. Without that, he's just a speedster with bad rates. Stay away.
Jonathan Lucroy: The one other Brewer I believe the fantasy community is off on, Lucroy should complete the great season he was in the midst of before a reckless suitcase knocked him off track last year. A year of full health hitting fifth in a potent offense should have him among the top 10 players at his position.
Jean Segura: Segura, who came over to Milwaukee in the Greinke trade, hit .264/.321/.331 with seven steals in eight attempts in 44 games with the Brewers last season. He'll man shortstop from Opening Day on, and is all of 23 years old.
Wily Peralta: Peralta, the Brewers' top pitching prospect, figures to start the year in the rotation after an impressive showing out of the bullpen in 2012. He went 7-11 with a 4.66 ERA, but a 3.83 FIP, in 146.2 innings with Triple-A Nashville last season, despite a .351 BABIP and 70.9 percent strand rate. Those latter two numbers normalized when he made it to the majors, and he posted a .248 ERA with a 2.65 FIP. He struck out nearly a batter per inning at Nashville, but also walked nearly five per nine innings. He turns 24 in May, so he has plenty of time to work on his command, and the Brewers are sure to have a long leash with him this season.