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Pitching, Defense, and B.S.

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I usually don't pay much attention to Michael Hunt's columns in the Journal-Sentinel, partly because he doesn't pay a lot of attention to the Brewers; when he writes about the Crew, it's 1/3 of a column or something like that.

This morning, he graced us with an entire piece on the team, called Brewers must have defensive attitude.  He starts off with this clever gambit:

So subtract [Carlos Lee's] 60 home runs and 195 RBI from the last season and two-thirds, and here is what you'll have in the 2007 Brewers:

A team much more reliant on pitching and defense, a reason for concern on some levels.

Okay.  Pro-rated to one season, Caballo gave us 40 HR and 130 RBI.  But as Hunt surely knows, we aren't replacing Lee with a gaping hole of suck--after all, it was the Colorado Rockies that signed Steve Finley.  Essentially, we're replacing Lee with Corey Hart.  Hart isn't going to hit 40 HRs (though it would be pretty f'ing cool if he did), but I think it's very reasonable to expect he'll give us half of that.  Maybe more.

So what this really comes down to is 20 home runs.  Still, that's a big deal, but again, it's not like nothing else changed:

  • Prince Fielder should continue to improve.
  • Rickie Weeks (knock on wood) will be healthy for the entire season.
  • Unlike every year except for '06, Bill Hall will play every day.
  • If Menchkins collective calms down, we'll get better production from the platoon than we would from just Jenkins.
  • The bench is stronger, meaning no stretches of Chris Barnwell in the lineup.
Will the offense be a lot better?  Probably not.  Should we be obsessing over losing Carlos Lee?  Absolutely not.

Back to Hunt:

New catcher Johnny Estrada is regarded more for his ability to hit .300 than his defense. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, while known more for his glove, is coming off an ankle injury that cost him most of last season; maybe no one other than Sheets will be more important to the Brewers' chances this season.

Second baseman Rickie Weeks was on pace to set a franchise record for errors at his position before upgrading his defense to an acceptable big-league level, and then he got hurt. To complete the hazy up-the-middle picture, Bill Hall is learning to play center field.

It may be true that Hardy's ankle injury will affect his range.  (I doubt it, though.)  If it does, that's fine: that's why we've got Craig Counsell around.  If Hardy can't be good defense, his value plummets, and Ned Yost knows that.  So...forget about that.

As for Estrada, he's an unknown quantity.  The differences in defense between most major league catchers are probably overstated: sure, Yadier Molina is better than everybody else, but the difference between, say, Michael Barrett, Johnny Estrada, and Paul Lo Duca is not huge.  The fact that Estrada has stuck behind the plate says he's pretty darn good.  Would having Damian catch every game save a run or two here and there?  Yeah.  Would that be stupid?  Yeah.

Of course Rickie is a big question mark.  But again, if he continues to play D like he did early last year...well, I'd bet Tony Graffanino gets a lot more playing time.  Either Rickie's bat makes up for his glove, he makes improvements with his glove, or we seek another solution.

Now...Bill Hall...maybe I'm blindly faithful to the goodness that is Billy, but he's not a problem.  He's not going to win a gold glove this year, but he's going to be solid.  We haven't had a spectacular CF in this century, so it's not like we're going to take a step back.  

What really gets me is the next paragraph:

That is reasonable uncertainty at critical defensive positions for a small-ball team that can't afford to give up runs.

We're a small-ball team now?  What, any team that isn't going to score 900 runs is a small-ball team?  Hell, if we give Ryan Braun the third-base job, that's six positions that are likely to give us 20-25 or more home runs.  That won't make us the top offense in the NL, but it sure doesn't make us a small-ball team.  

Just because we're young and fast and have a fiery manager doesn't mean we're a small-ball team.