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The Milwaukee Brewers Replay: April 2011 Recap

EDITOR'S NOTE: You may not be familiar with Jon Baas, but frequent Mug readers will likely remember his project, Milwaukee Brewers Replay. Jon is spending the winter using Baseball Mogul to replay the 2011 season day-by-day, and using this Facebook page to share the results and get your feedback on how the team should be managed going forward. I'm fascinated by the project, so I invited Jon to write this post looking at his simulated results through April. - KL

Nearly a month ago, the Milwaukee Brewers closed out their best season in 29 years with a Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS. It was a disappointing end to a fantastic season -- only two games short of a World Series appearance. But the team had won the NL Central, they had set a franchise record with 96 regular season wins, and fan support couldn’t be any higher.

Sadly, though, all things come to an end. It’s a fact of life. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series, and the Brewers went home to their families. The off-season had begun.

But not all fans relish the lack of baseball after so much excitement. Some wish to look back and ponder the question:  What if things had played out differently? With a second chance, and a few changes, could the Brewers have earned a spot in the World Series? Could 2011 have been an even better season?

Enter the Milwaukee Brewers Replay.

But first, perhaps a short introduction is in order.

I’m Jon Baas, a life-long Brewers fan. I’ve grown up watching the Crew; I attended countless games with my father at the old County Stadium; I rooted for the team – even when they struggled to stay above .500 – and, like many fans of the game, I’ve simulated countless seasons through statistical board games, computer games and the like. When I was a kid, Strat-O-Matic Baseball was my game of choice. My father and I would sit down and replay Brewers’ seasons all through summer. I still have those old statistics, even now, 20 years later. As I’ve grown older, I continue to enjoy a good "What If…" baseball simulation. Only now, I prefer to do so with the help of Baseball Mogul.

After the great season we witnessed in 2011, I thought it might be interesting to take that "What If.." approach, and replay the entire 2011 season using the latest release of Baseball Mogul. I thought I’d take it one step further, and incorporate the input of any Brewers fan who wishes to help me manage the team. To that end, I’ve set up a social Facebook page -- the Milwaukee Brewers Replay, and I’m posting the replay line-ups, statistics and game results there on a daily basis. Anyone who "likes" the page, is welcome to help me determine the everyday team moves. Moves like: Who should be in the line-up? Who gets sent down to the minors? Who replaces an injured player? Things like that. It’s a joint effort. A collaboration between dedicated Brewer fans like myself.

To remain as realistic as possible, I have confined my simulation to the same trades, contracts, schedule and ownership decisions as in real life. However, the roster moves, line-ups, injuries, and everything on-field will naturally play out differently – as if the 2011 Brewers had a second chance at greatness.

It’s a fascinating idea. A social experiment. And, quite possibly, the first time something like this has ever been conducted on Facebook.

So, with that said, let’s dive into the results so far, shall we?

In real life, the 2011 Brewers started the season with a few integral players on the disabled list. Manny Parra was out with a joint injury in his back. New acquisition, Zack Greinke had a fractured left rib. LaTroy Hawkins was recovering from August 2010 right shoulder surgery. And on March 30th, a day before the first game of the season, Corey Hart was placed on the 15-Day disabled list with a left oblique strain, along with Jonathan Lucroy who had a fractured pinkie finger. None of these five players would take the field until mid-to-late April… or later.

But what if these injuries never happened? What if these players were available to play on the Opening Day roster? How might they have contributed to the season during the month of April?

Let’s break things down a bit.

In real life, Manny Parra never played a game in the majors in 2011. In our Replay, he’s filled in so far as a long reliever and alternate 6th starter. He’s pitched in three games this April, recorded two loses, and sits at a 5.71 ERA. Nothing impressive. He’s been available to start when needed, and that’s really all he’s done.

In real life, Zack Greinke suffered a fractured rib while playing basketball in February. He didn’t make his Brewers debut until May 4, 2011. In our Replay, however, he never injured himself playing basketball. He was the Opening Day pitcher versus the Reds in Cincinnati on March 31. The Brewers lost that game 6-0, but he pitched 5.1 innings, striking out nine. In April, he won his next five starts, going 5-1 on the season, and recording a respectable 3.11 ERA. He’s struck out 36, given up 18 runs (16 earned), and has held batters to a .237 OBA. He has, without a doubt, been the ace everyone hoped he’d be. So far, anyway.

LaTroy Hawkins, coming off shoulder surgery in real life, didn’t start the season until April 22. In our Replay, he’s been healthy… but he’s remained in the minors for the entire month of April.

In real life, Corey Hart didn’t start the season until April 26, and even then his four games that month didn’t contribute much to the Brewers’ fortunes. In our Replay, he started the season as the active right fielder, and has played in every game so far. In our April, he has 16 runs, 5 homeruns, 15 RBI’s, and a .250 batting average. Not a bad start to the season!

Jonathan Lucroy missed the first ten games of the real life season with his broken pinkie. When he returned, he was the team’s everyday starting catcher. In our Replay, he started the season by sharing the catching duties with George Kottaras. Unfortunately, Kottaras struggled, and Lucroy soon became the everyday catcher. So far in April, Lucroy has played in 21 games, he has 7 runs, 2 homeruns, and has driven in eight. His batting average sits at .246.

Now that April has been completed within our Replay, here’s where things stand beyond the contributions of our five "What If.." performances above:

The Milwaukee Brewers lead the NL Central after 27 games with a record of 19-8. They are 1.5 games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates (18-10), and 2.0 games better than the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs and Reds are so-so, while the Houston Astros have already fallen to 10 games back at 9-18.

In real life, the Brewers were 13-13 at the end of April, in third place, and 2.5 games behind St. Louis.

So far in this Replay, there has been only one injury of note:

On April 16, 2011, during a Washington Nationals game, Rickie Weeks was injured fielding a ground ball by (future Brewer) Jerry Hairston. He scooped up the ball at an odd angle, and fired to first for the out, but dislocated his shoulder on the throw. He was placed on the disabled list, and Craig Counsell has started at second base in his absence. Weeks remains on the disabled list as of April 30.

Ironically, Craig Counsell has been having a great season so far, particularly with Weeks out of the line-up. In 13 games, Counsell has 7 runs, 1 double, 2 triples, 2 homeruns, 9 RBI’s, and a batting average of .369. He also Hit For The Cycle in the April 22 win against the Astros. By contrast, Weeks, before his injury, was batting .233 in 15 games, with 4 runs, 1 homerun, and 8 RBIs. Weeks is due back in the line-up on May 6 for the start of a road series against the Cardinals in St. Louis. It remains to be seen, however, whether Counsell will keep playing, or Weeks will reclaim his old position.

Elsewhere in the line-up this April, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are competing for the team lead in homeruns. Fielder has nine, while Braun has eight. In real life, Braun led with ten in April, while Fielder only had six. In our Replay, Albert Pujols leads the league with ten.

Also in our Replay, the Brewers have been playing a lot more small-ball. At the end of April, Ryan Braun leads the National League with 14 stolen bases, while in real life, during the first month of the season, he only stole three. He ends the month with a batting average of .343.

On the pitching end of things, and beyond Zack Greinke’s stellar April, Yovani Gallardo leads the National League with 46 strikeouts, and heads the rotation with an ERA of 2.64. Closer John Axford ends the month with 12 saves (13 opportunities), and an ERA of 1.69. In real life, at the end of April, Axford only had five saves (in seven opportunities), and owned an ERA of 5.23.

All in all, it’s been an interesting month here in the Milwaukee Brewers Replay project. I think it’s safe to say that the addition of Zack Greinke and Corey Hart at the beginning of the season have helped the Crew greatly. And the improved performances of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Craig Counsell, along with the consistency of John Axford in the ninth inning, have helped the Brewers to a much better start than in real life.

It’s only the end of April (and a few games into May) as of the writing of this post. There’s certainly a lot more baseball to be re-played, but things are definitely looking good for the Crew.

If you’d like to follow along with the Replay, check the stats/standings, or if you’d like to participate in managing the team, take a moment and check out the project’s Facebook page. Click "Like" and help us take the team to the World Series – the World Series "that should have been". We’ll be simulating things all the way through the off-season, so there’s plenty of opportunities to be involved. We’ll also be recapping things here, on Brew Crew Ball, as each month passes in the Replay.

It’ll be an interesting project. And you can be part of it.

The Milwaukee Brewers had a fantastic run in 2011. Best in 29 years! We’re going to try to do the same – or better -- here in the Replay.  We’re in the month of May; the Brewers are on a roll. Come join us!