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What we can look for from Suppan

The Suppan signing is now official. He's passed his physical, and now it's just a matter of paying him more money than the Brewers have ever paid a single player in team history, and Jeff slotting in as our #3 or #4 starter.

A great place to start analyzing a player's stats is their Hardball Times player page. The thing that jumps out to me is how the new defense will affect things.

As you all know, the Brewers didn't exactly have the greatest defense on the planet in 2006. Without getting into the morass of defensive metrics, let's look at how Brewers pitchers did relative to their FIP. In short: not so good. Team totals: ERA of 4.83, FIP of 4.39. In approximate terms, then, the Brewers defense cost the team nearly half a run per game. That's about how much the Cardinals defense saved Suppan. Put it all together: if Suppan switched defenses, his ERA last year would've shot up a full run.

Ouch. Dan Szymborski's projection system is a bit more optimistic than that, but I don't know what ZiPS thinks about Milwaukee's defense.

Now, there are reasons you might sensibly project the Brewers defense to be better this year. Prince Fielder will be this much more experienced. He will never be a gold glover, but he may work his way toward average. I would expect some improvement from Rickie Weeks, too. Those two guys are the most important: since Suppan is a righty, opposing teams will send more lefties to the plate, and those lefties are more likely than not to hit to the right side.

More improvement might be expected on the left side of the infield: JJ Hardy is probably better than Bill Hall, and Koskie is better than the battalion of replacements we sent in for him last year. Suppan gives up a few more groundballs than average, and under Mike Maddux's tutelage, we might expect that to increase still more.

For Suppan, this stuff really matters. He's a great example of a hurler who "pitches to contact." His strikeout rates are very low--much lower than just about any successful starter in baseball. Since 1999, he's struck out between 4.4 and 5.3 batters per nine innings each and every year. In the last four years, he's been closer to the top of that range than the bottom: his last three K/9 numbers have been 5.3, 5.3, and 4.9. That's a good sign: he's not fading yet. What it does mean is that he's a pitcher who's going to rely on his defense. Put another way: he's going to live or die with his defense.

To take the analysis of his peripherals just a bit further: his walk rate and home run rate tells a similar story. He walks a decent number of guys--not Doug Davis bad, but enough that there'll be plenty of double-play opportunities for JJ and Rickie. His walk rates for his three years in St. Louis were 3.1, 2.9, and 3.3. Home runs, not so shaky. He's hovered around one homer per nine innings for his time in St. Louis, which is just fine.

If you've read this far, you're seeing a pattern. In a lot of ways, we just signed a proven veteran version of Carlos Villanueva. That sounds a little negative, especially since we're paying Carlos about $10 mil less, but I don't mean it that way. One thing I haven't mentioned is that Suppan is a virtual lock for 190 innings, and that's something that must have influenced Doug Melvin's decision to offer up the big bucks.

Sheets's health remains a big question mark, but Capuano and Dave Bush have proven themselves as reliable. With three rocks in the middle of the rotation, we can tinker with the #5 spot, instead of having to tinker with two or three spots all season long. That advantage is more psychological than anything else, but if it means Ben Hendrickson doesn't don a Brewers uniform between March 20th and September 1st, that'll be a big difference between the '06 Brewers and the '07 squad.