As we approach the halfway point of the Brewers 2013 season, there is little evidence to suggest that their performance thus far has a solid chance of turning around before all is said and done.
However, given the hope some in the Brewers front office had going into this season, it is high time to step back and assess: "Has the Brewers' performance been a result of bad luck, or bad management decisions?"
Let's take a stroll down ol' memory lane and examine four off-season moves (or lack thereof) by Doug Melvin and company.
1. The "Young Gun" Starting Rotation: Perhaps the single-most important "non-move" of this offseason, at least until the late-night acquisition of Kyle Losche, was the Brewer's decision to retain the guts of last season's young and unproven starting rotation. With the surprising performance of their staff during last year's late season surge, Brewers' brass maintained confidence in building around a rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Chris Narveson and Mike Fiers (Mark Rogers would eventually land on the DL during Spring Training).
So, how did things go?
Yovani Gallardo is a puzzling shadow of his former self (7.01 K/9 this season, 9.08 for career; 4.20 ERA in 2013, 3.60 for career). The supposed "ace" in the Brewer's rotation, Yo has been improving a little of late, turning in three consecutive starts without an earned run allowed (that is, until Wednesday night). Nonetheless, some reporters believe he is the most viable trade bait going forward. Is the rest of the rotation rubbing off on him?
Marco Estrada is putting together his worst campaign in the three years he has been a full-time starter with the Crew. After breaking through last season with a 3.64 ERA, there was reason to believe Estrada had finally put it all together. Instead, his command and velocity have both suffered so far this season, and he was even placed on the DL. Was he ever really going to be a bona-fide #2 starter? Let's be honest.
Wily Peralta simply shone in his brief stint with the club last year, finishing with a sparkling 2.48 ERA in 29 innings of work. He was averaging around a strikeout an inning, to boot. This year? Off the radar (5.59 ERA). He doesn't appear confident and it shows. Have teams simply figured him out the 2nd time around?
Chris Narveson is perhaps the easiest case to examine. Chris' tenure with the Brewers has been full of fits of starts, finally culminating with a steady, if unimpressive, second half of 2011 - 11-8 with a 4.45 ERA. Being injured for most of last season doesn't help, but let's face it - Chris doesn't bring the kind of dynamism to provide consistency to the Brewers' rotation. The Brewers simply didn't have better options. Of course, Chris wasn't even much of a factor this season, heading to the DL just after the season began.
The Brewer's had had high hopes for Mike Fiers going into 2013. That is, until a series of worrisome performances in spring training. While Fiers was the starter going into the season, he was quickly moved aside and was used in long relief before being sent down in early June. He just broke his right arm after some encouraging performances in with AAA-Nashville. While he certainly doesn't have a high speed fastball and is an older prospect (he made his debut just shy of 27), he has been heralded for his ability to pound the strike zone with his off-speed pitches. He had a great performance last year and it was fair to expect him as a back of the rotation kind of pitcher.
Overall, the Brewers' front office placed too much trust in marginal starting pitching prospects. Fully aware of the lack of available talent at the AAA level, the Brewers waited too long to pick up another middle-of-the-rotation pitcher who could both provide stability to the rotation and be a mentor to a young and inexperienced staff.
Conclusion: Bad Management Decision
2. The Kyle Losche Acquisition
After suffering through a spring training that saw much of the Brewers' aforementioned staff compete for least consistent performer, the Brewers' brass was desperate to find a veteran pitcher that could provide some dependability to the rotation and provide a mentor for the fragile, young staff.
Enter Kyle Losche, who signed a 3-year, $33 million deal in the waning days of the exhibition season.
At the time, the move was widely perceived to be a risky play. At 34 years old, Losche was coming off of his best season, in which he posted a 16-3 record, 2.86 ERA, and a K/9 of 6.1, all career bests. Just as the Brewers were finally beginning to move on after taking Jeff Suppan's contract on the chin, they made this signing, which had many fans sighing and exclaiming "not again!".
Well, the Brewers have validated fans' concerns, but not in the way you might have expected. No, Kyle is actually doing pretty well. Of course, his numbers aren't like they were last year, but it's hard to maintain last season's performance no matter how talented a pitcher you are. No, the Brewers' offense simply haven't shown up in those games where Losche starts, delivering for him a meager 2.46 runs per start before breaking through June 9th against the Phillies. That puts this "hard-luck starter" at 2nd worst in the National League.
Hard to blame Losche for his misfortune, to be sure. Nonetheless, it has yet to be determined whether he can live up to his heavily back-loaded contract.
3. Carlos Gomez Contract
When the Brewers signed Carlos Gomez to a three-year, $24 million contract extension prior to Opening Day, there were many (including me) who were extremely skeptical of this move. After all, I live in the Twin Cities, with a team whose fans used to laugh at the "steal" they thought they got when they left Gomez for the Brewers in return for J.J Hardy.
Well, it would appear that the 2nd half of last season wasn't a fluke after all. Perhaps Gomez is truly ready to live up to the billing he had been given as a prospect.
While Gomez has cooled off a little of late, this season is on pace to obliterate career records in nearly every meaningful batting statistic. Combined with his continued defensive prowess in center field, and the Brewers have an athlete whose time may finally have come. Perhaps Manny Acta was right.
Consider me a skeptic converted. The Brewers performance has been in spite of Carlos Gomez' performance.
Conclusion: Bad Luck
4. First Base
The Brewers have struggled mightily at this position all season long. It started during the winter when Corey Hart had knee surgery in January to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. At the time, it was presumed that he would be able to make a return to full-time duty at first base by the end of May. However, it is now late June, and a "dejected" Corey Hart is not expected to make a return at all this season.
Not a Happy Camper, via media.jrn.com
Corey's loss has been devastating for the Crew. Corey filled in admirably for the departed Prince Fielder in 2012, posting a 0.841 OPS with 30 HR and 83 RBIs. And it's not like the Brewers didn't have backup at the position. Long presumed to be the heir to Prince at first base, Mat Gamel has suffered ill-timed injuries that have kept him sidelined for most of the last two seasons. As a result, Ron Roenicke has cobbled together a revolving door of Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Francisco and others who together have earned the Brewers an MLB-worst offensive stat line.
The Brewers planned for a platoon at 1B between a budding prospect with a chip on his shoulder and a reliable veteran. Both got injured. There's only so much you can plan for.
Conclusion: Bad Luck.
We've got 2 Bad Lucks, 1 Bad Management Decision, and 1 Undetermined. Based on this analysis alone, one would have to conclude that the Brewers have been brought to their knees by a combination of some weak-minded front office moves but even more plain ol' rotten luck.
Of course, this column doesn't weight each of the above factors. There's certainly a case to be made that the Brewers' emphasis on a young and inexperienced starting rotation was a much bigger gamble than was necessary. However, it may have been unreasonable to acquire another veteran arm in a market with very few high-caliber free agent prospects. Plus, we haven't talked about the windfall of the Greinke trade.
What other areas of the Brewers performance should be subject to this kind of analysis?