Visiting Writer: Analyzing Milwaukee’s defense

29 04 2008

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I have decided to open a search for another blogger that can help keep the content running. This person would take part in writing articles for the site, and just running things when I am unable to do so. If you are interested in the position, shoot me an email. Send me an article, and we’ll see what kind of response it gets. Here’s what we have for today. It’s good stuff. Tell us what you think!

Hi my name is Dan and I’ll be helping out BrewersNation here from time to time. I wanted to take the opportunity today to look at the Brewers defense and how it stacks up so far this year. Jeff Sackmann at Brew Crew Blog was talking about it the other day and I agreed with the whole of his argument, but disagreed on some of the details. When I say “defense,” just for clarification, I’m looking at the position players that support the starting pitcher and not the pitcher himself. Moving along….

The big picture is that, overall, the Brewers defense is looking remarkably improved from last season. Here’s a position by position look at our defense:

Catcher: Jason Kendall is something special behind the plate. First off , I want to say that I absolutely hated Estrada last year. I felt his calling of the game for his pitchers was sub-par (thus some of our pitching problems last year) and his pick off percentage was dreadful. One only has to look at how our starting rotation is pitching this season to see that Kendall is calling a much better game behind the plate. His throws to second are much better too. Hanging near the bottom of the league in “caught runners” with Estrada must have worried the veteran catcher. But actually in spring training coaches worked with Kendall on not leaning so far forward in his throw. The result is better accuracy and opposing offensives have taken note.

First Base: Prince’s wife, Chanel, not only showed Fielder where meat comes from, but also pointed out that his defense ranked near the bottom of all MLB first basemen. Whether its off-season moves, veggie burgers make him lighter on his loafers, or a combo of both the slugger is looking quicker and more agile holding on to the #1 bag. Several acrobatic catches, stops, and dig outs have made Prince a threat both offensive and, now, defensively. Emulating Pujols as a true player on both sides of the playing field is a welcome goal for the youngster.

Second Base: Rickie Weeks is heralded as a “young talent” on the brink of a “breakout” season, but so far in this infant year I have been less than impressed with him. Putting aside his seizuring bat and anemic offensive production, Weeks is looking shaking on the defensive end as well. A few spectacular plays does not cover up the fact that Rickie has had trouble not only turning double plays (like the ninth inning dirt ball that should have gotten Gagne out of a blown save against the Cardinals last week), but turning outs into outs. He frequently is spiking the ball in the dirt on routine plays and only the improved glove of Fielder is saving Weeks from further embarrassment. I don’t want to be too hard on Rickie, statistically he is looking better without as many errors, but numbers don’t always tell the whole story. If he is going to have that breakout season, the second baseman is going to have to step up his game.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy is playing well. There’s nothing spectacular to report from this spot on the diamond. His throws continue to by laser beams and on the money. He’s certainly not giving poor service to Weeks when they’re trying to turning the double play. I was particularly impressed with the couple of times that he’s found himself in shallow left trying to gun the runner down at first. Even though he came up short the other day on that exact play, his accuracy, range, and effort is something to be applauded. Keep up the good defensive work.

Third Base: Whatever frustration Bill Hall might still harbor for getting schlepped around the field from SS to Center to 3rd now should hopefully be subsiding. Hall certainly looking more natural playing in the dirt rather than the lonely grasses of the outfield. His throws have been pretty good and the range has been acceptable. No one can question that booting Braun to left field and filling the position with Hall is a down grade. He might not win any Gold Gloves, but Hall will always give you a solid game at the hot corner.

Left Field: Ryan Braun is the other beneficiary of the off-season merry-go-around. The reigning ROY’s offensive contributions often wiped away the dozens of runs his errors contributed to the opposition. So far Braun has looked pretty good in the outfield. He misplay a flyball in the inaugural series against the club, but had otherwise played decently back there. His great diving catch against the Marlins on Friday and the airmail (no connecting flights with the cut-off man) to snag Pujols at the plate put him on the highlight reels; the caliber of play that he never could produce at third. Like Hall, Braun may never win any awards in left, and he’s no Jenkins (yet), but the kid has the range and the arm to make the position his own.

Center Field: The trifecta of Gabe Gross, Gabe Kapler, and the now return Tony Gwynn held down the fort during the 25 game absence of Mike Cameron. Tony’s gets good marks before he got injured, but Kapler is the real surprise at this positions. Not only has his bat been a wonderful addition to the team, but he covered the center of the field wonderfully. I was thinking that Hart might cover center once Gwynn got injured, and a platoon would take right, but Kapler proved more than capable in getting to balls in center. Gross on the other hand was disappointing. Yost kept on insisting that he just needed regular playing time to help both his bat and glove, neither which proved to be true once Kapler also hit the wall (pun intended) and got injured. Save a small spike in offensive production right before he got traded to Tampa Bay, Gross didn’t have the speed, range, or know-how to get to the hits that Kapler, Gwynn, Cameron, or most center fielders would have gotten to. Cameron will hopefully lock down center for good and we can look for another Gold Glove for him.

Right Field: Corey Hart’s height and speed have always made him an asset in the Brewer’s outfield. Its obviously the reason I thought he might take center during Gwynn’s downtime, but it is his glove and a few fundamentals that have shaken my confidence in him lately. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hart (and my girlfriend has an unhealthy obsession with him), but he’s missing the mark on a number of throws to home that might (just might) have been outs if they were on the money. I would expect Braun to miss the plate, but since Hart has jumped to the top of many sleeper star lists because of such previously good defense the bar is now higher for him. I know that lights might have caused some trouble for Corey the other day as well, but lights are as standard to a ballpark as mid-day drunks so Hart better get used to both. Its probably just a misnomer for the shaggy Texan, so I look forward to better games ahead for him.

Like I wrote at the top of the article (which probably seems like hours you wish you could have gotten back) the Brewers defense has gotten better since its disastrous last season. They are turning outs into outs and taking away a few hits unexpectedly too. This all helps the man in the middle of the diamond throw a much better game when he knows he has competent defenders behind him. While the bats have been quite it is this improved defense that have kept the Brewers in the game.



6 responses

29 04 2008

Great article… you are such a talented writer. I think you should write all of the time here!

29 04 2008

ummm…did you just praise your own article? haha

it’s a good article. i would like to see a bit more statistical analysis, but it’s still a good article.

29 04 2008

Yeah that is me.. I’m pretty self-absorbed… Howard I agree, I should put a few numbers behind these sort of things. Numbers are always my bag, but Sackman’s article in BCB has just the stuff to support an improved Brewers’ defense. I can get those numbers put up here.

29 04 2008

Agreed. Numbers would be great to back up your article.

29 04 2008

Good article, I think we should re evaluate after 50 games to see the progress with Cameron is. I watched only probably 12 of the games so far, but it seems everytime I watch, Bill Hall has a Webgem… so maybe a little more praise is due to Bill Hall. Like mentioned earlier, Jeff probably has better numbers to put “web gems” in perspective, because if you make diving catches and let a routine grounder get by, the web gem is flashy, but not a dependable and consistent thing you can count on.

30 04 2008

Great article- I really enjoy how you clearly broke it down. I’m a relatively new fan of baseball, and this really helped my understanding of not only Brewer’s defense, but the game in general. Keep up the great articles, guys!

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