EDITOR'S NOTE: Fred Hofstetter is the latest in a group of prospective BCB contributors trying their hand in writing on the front page. Fred has been a longtime BCB commenter under the username "derflotr." His debut post is below. - KL
I like a new face. Sometimes more than a regular face. Usually far more than an old, dusty face. A dustface is boring. I know the face. I know it to be functional. The nasal cavities permit airflow. The eyes react to basic visual cues. It bruises when I punch it.
But when it cracks a smile, it reveals a hideous array of buttery teeth and its breath reeks of sardines. Its chin moustache sprouts in patches and its sparse head hair is so light, roving electrons pluck them out with negligible resistance. Its nose is crooked from that incident in ’98, and its eyebrows are overgrown like the fescue at Carnoustie.
But, I also know this face is honest. I know it can get ground balls. I know it can strike a guy out. I know it can give me a competent plate appearance. Sure, I get a little sneezy around it, but I know what to expect.
There are a few players who donned Brewers blue last season whose departures have caused little fuss. While certainly not irreplaceable, they are competent enough to warrant a proper farewell and a bit of prodding to highlight their usefulness.
Which I'm sure they will appreciate now that they're gone.
Baseball-Reference page | Free Agent
Yes, he is still not officially not a Brewer, in that he is still a free agent. But, due to several off-season acquisitions, the likelihood the Brewers sign him is extremely slim.
Or anyone, apparently. There hasn’t been a whiff of a rumor about Loe on the free agent market since late November.
It’s unfortunate that Loe left rather bleakly. He was one of Doug Melvin’s shrewd finds; after spending a season with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, Melvin picked him up on a minor league deal in December of 2009, and quickly found a home in the Milwaukee bullpen, garnering immediate success.
He posted a WHIP under 1.2 in each of his first two seasons, and kept opposing right-handed batters to an OPS of .612 and .601 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. However, his use in late innings, particularly in his long stint as 2011’s "8th inning guy" before K-Rod, and the corresponding inevitability of frequently facing left-handed hitters, led to several blown saves and the public berating with which comes complementary. I’ll just drop some nostalgia here. Sorry.
The problem has been beaten to death; he was never really used properly as a pitcher with a career OPS against about 150 points higher facing lefties. There seems to be a place on every roster reserved for a LOOGY. Loe is a ROOGY, which hasn’t seemed to catch on as a regular bullpen role like the LOOGY, and let’s face it – it’s not nearly as fun to say. In 2010, Loe’s best season, he faced right-handed hitting 63% of the time. In 2011 and 2012, the number fell to 58%. For reference: Randy Choate faced 69% left-handers for the Marlins and Dodgers in 2012, and 74% in his spectacular 2011. Clay Rapada had a terrific season with the Yankees, facing 74% left-handers.
Kameron Loe ought to get the Brad Ziegler treatment: Ziegler posted an impressive 167 ERA+ and an even more impressive ground ball rate of 76%, far and away the highest rate in either league while facing right-handers 67% of the time. Loe fits a similar profile with a GB% hovering around 60% with a 64% outlier in 2011. If his platoon percentage is kept to at least 60% consistently, Loe can certainly hold his own on a major league mound, and potentially excel.
While his particularly awful failure vs. left-handers and an inflated BABIP made for a rough 2012, Loe can still have significant positive value for a team who truly uses him exclusively against right-handers. Even the Brewers.
Just don’t let him face Joey Votto. Yikes.
I'd guess this would be the name most educated Brewers fans would expect to see on a list like this, because, while his overall 5.4 BB/9 rate could inspire some extreme hair-tearing, anyone who was paying attention saw an awfully effective pitcher in the final months of the season, which weren't entirely meaningless innings.
Veras bounced back from a trying month of July with a fantastic August - a month in which his BABIP reached .333, yet he still held batters to a .294 OBP due to tremendous strikeout totals. He kept the momentum as the leaves turned, allowing only 5 hits in 45 PA in the month of September.
Unfortunately, his proclivity for issuing free passes makes this kind of success extremely difficult to achieve consistently without possessing other-worldly stuff. Veras' 'stuff' is certainly above average, but not enough to be able to overcome a career high .324 BABIP accompanied with the inflated walk rate. Probably the best reason for his respectable ERA (3.63) is the fact that only 5.3% of his PA ended with an extra base hit, a career low. He allowed 61 hits in his 67 innings of work, and only 5 of them left the park.
While walks are certainly Veras' main issue, ground ball outs proved elusive. Of the 82 ground balls Veras induced, 26 went for hits. That's a .317 BA on only ground balls. What's average? In 2012, .238. If 6 extra grounders' eyes were shut and Brewers defenders were able to handle them, things could have been very different. Perhaps an RBI single turned into an inning-ending putout, or a potential rally wiped out with a double play.
I'm not terrifically fond of a reliever who routinely provokes self-strangulation; but, as long as he remains durable, as he always has been, shutdown stretches like the one he finished the year on are always a possibility. I'm not sure I'm full-blown envious of the Astros, but I think they bought low on some high upside with a floor that's higher than most people might think.
Baseball-Reference page | Signed minor-league deal with Baltimore
This isn't because Corey Hart got hurt. Or that the clash of the first name 'Travis' with the last name 'Ishikawa' has always irrationally endeared me.
Probably his best ability is, by most accounts, his defense at first base. On the offensive end, it's seeing pitches. And I don't mean the kind of seeing that leads to striking out in 24% of his plate appearances. I mean the 4.05 pitches he saw per plate appearance, a few notches up from the league average - 3.82. Given full playing time, 4.05 pit/PA would have placed him approximately 24th in the league, tied with Dustin Ackley.
And it was as a starter he saw his most success. Each of his 4 HR came as a starter, and he posted a robust .862 OPS in his 27 games started. That's respectable for a reserve, even at 1B. And no, his .260/.315/.340 line as a pinch-hitter isn't awe-inspiring, but part of the job is being able to contribute in the starting lineup in case of a starter's routine day off or injury. In that respect, he was admirable.
Perhaps his most significant aid to the 2012 Brewers came with men on base, and his typical walk-first type of approach at the plate apparently morphed into something more aggressive with men in scoring position, as he chalked up a .348 BA and a .565 SLG in 57 opportunities.
He posted similarly bloated numbers in high leverage situations, according to baseball-reference. Chew on this slash line: .364/432/.606 (that's an OPS of 1.038, by the way) in 38 PA. Pretty good.
Ishikawa is not sexy. He's not 'toolsy'. There isn't a ton of upside. But, he's proven to be effective as a reserve, which isn't always easily replaceable.
Plus, just say that name. Travis Ishikawa. What a delightful culture clash.