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A bit of pessimism

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At Home Plate has just posted a preview of sorts: The Milwaukee Brewers: Part 1 Offense.  I must admit I'm approaching this with some serious skepticism; my only previous exposure to Frank Bundy, the author of this piece, is this fatuous Sammy Sosa projection.  The Sosa piece makes assumptions that my BABIP work casts serious doubt upon.  Common sense does, too.

Anyway, trying to be fair, let's look at what Frank Bundy has to say about the Crew.  For the first chunk of the article, it's smooth sailing: there's a recap of 2005 performance; some projections that look pretty similar to ZiPS, and recognition that Prince Fielder will probably replace Overbay's production.  He thinks Corey Hart's first name is Cody, but we'll forgive and forget.  Then we have this gem:

The next replacement is Koskie. Since there were three players to play 50 or more games at the hot corner in Milwaukee last season there obviously isn't one player to compare Koskie to. Due to this we will compare him to the total production the Brewers got from their collective third baseman in 2005:

583 AB, .295/.374/.504, 23 HR, 80 RBI

Looks to me like the Brewers didn't really need to upgrade this position at all. The platoon of Cirillo, Hall, and Branyan seemed to work just fine. With both Hall and Branyan under the age of 31, and Cirillo's very good patience at the plate it didn't seem like a big downfall was in the future either, making the acquisition of the 33-year-old Koskie more questionable.

There's some truth in this: the Crew may not (probably won't) get the same production out of third base that they did last year.  However, last year's line came from a whole bunch of luck.  Helms was BABIP-lucky and Cirillo regained some 1990s mojo to put up a good line.  Hall, of course, was good and will stay good, but he's not really all that relevant here: he saw lots of time at second and short last year, and he will again this year.  Let's remember that the Koskie acquisition means that whenever Weeks isn't starting, it'll Billy instead--not Zach Sorenson or Brian Dallimore or (gasp!) Junior Spivey or Trent Durrington.

In other words: okay, there'll be a downgrade at third, but it's not because of front-office mistakes.  It's because it was foolish to waste three or four roster spots on third base, because Billy Hall is a tremendously valuable super-utility guy, and because Koskie has a good chance to rebound--not to the numbers that the collective four-headed 3B monster put up last year, but to something pretty close--and, don't forget, for less money.  There was no way to guarantee, or even make likely, that the Brewers would get that production from third base again.

Bundy next gives us his "Serious Baseball" projections for the entire team, compared to 2005 production from the same spot, followed by this analysis:

At first glance, it looks like the Brewers are tremendously improved this season, but if you take out that (+.191) OPS difference between Hart/Gross and Chris Magruder, the Brewers are actually projected to be worse in 2006 offensively. The OPS difference when this fourth outfielder platoon is removed is (-.067).

I'm going to ignore for the moment the merits of his method of adding OPSs and focus on his comparison of the utility position.  For "utility", he measures Hall's 2006 projection against Hall's production in 2005.  Not exactly accurate: Hall is already counted in the four-headed-monster 3B line.  If you consider who Hall is really replacing--Junior Spivey and about half of his own ABs from last year--that's something of an improvement.  If you say that Hall and Spivey split the ABs that they'll each get this year, that means Hall is replacing an OPS of about 750-760.  Thus, using Bundy's projection of a 797 OPS for Hall in '06 (ZiPS is a little less optimistic), that .067 decrease is reduced to no more than .030.  

I'd like to take a couple of his next comments together:

In the end it looks like the Brewers have improved their depth in 2006, but haven't necessarily improved their offense. When you take an offense that ranked 6th in the National League last season and subtract .067 points of OPS from that group, things don't exactly come out rosy.

and...

An interesting note about the 2005 Milwaukee Brewers is that besides a 15-day stint on the DL by Brady Clark, all of the Brewers everyday offensive players played full, healthy seasons. The odds of this happening again are not good.

Everything here is certainly true, though I've already taken issue with his "subtracting .067 points of OPS."  Last year, by some combination of luck, a great medical/conditioning staff, and a roster consisting mainly of young and reliable players, the Crew didn't have to rely on the bench beyond managing third base.  On the other hand, it's foolish to assume that'll repeat.  Whether it's Jenkins, Koskie, Miller, or someone else I'd rather not think about, we're due for a major injury.  Unlike last year, unless Miller goes down for the year, we are 100% ready for any injury.

Think about that: how many teams can say that about their bench?  Any outfielder goes down, Corey Hart and/or Gabe Gross step in, forming a nice platoon and possibly replacing the full production of the injured player.  Weeks, Hardy, or Koskie?  Billy Hall's ready, with Jeff Cirillo able to plug gaps at second or third.  Fielder?  That's a bit trickier, but Hart, Cirillo, and Koskie can play first, with Hall filling third if Koskie slides over.

My point is this.  I'm willing to concede that the Brewers may not project to replace every run they put on the board in 2006.  (I'm not convinced, but I'll accept it, barely.)  However, 2005's run total was partly amassed by some luck: good general health combined with better-than-expected performance from Helms and Cirillo.  In other words, last year's offense was constructed to give us somewhere between 650 and 740 runs--we got 726.  This year, we're constructed to get somewhere between 690 and 750, with the possibility of a major breakout from Fielder, Weeks, or Hardy that pushes that upper bound up a bit.  

The cumulative loss of .030 points of OPS at one position--that's .003 points of team OPS once you average everything out, still only .005 or .006 if you lean toward Bundy's projection--is nothing compared to the big picture.  The 2006 Crew offense has a little more upside and considerably less downside.  The pitching will more than make up for any decrease on the offensive side--I'll wait to say much more about that until Bundy weighs in.