At the half way point, what do you see as the biggest strength of this team?
It is hard to point to one aspect of this team as a clear strength. At different times it has been the bullpen, the rotation, and offense. As Noah points out, this could be considered the true strength of this team. There are no real glaring weaknesses.
However, I also have to agree with Jordan's assessment that the offense has been stronger than the pitching overall. They are scoring 4.56 runs per game. That is 6th best in baseball and 2nd in the National League. Their pitching has allowed 4.08 runs per game. That ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. That's neither bad nor particularly good. It is however perfectly acceptable because the offense can propel them towards victory. I do think there is a chance for improvement in the second half.
To take it a step further, I'd say the best offensive weapon in the Brewers lineup has been Carlos Gomez (152 wRC+). Jonathan Lucroy (159 wRC+) comes in at a very close second place. I chose Gomez for his power and his speed. While Lucroy is perhaps the more dependable bat, Gomez is more explosive. Really, either of these fine young chaps is deserving of the honor.
At the half way point, what is the biggest weakness of this team?
I'm inclined to agree with Noah and Jordan, that the bench is the biggest weakness of the team and subsequently the easiest area to upgrade. Since they covered it pretty well in the previous two articles, I won't dwell on the subject. Instead I'll sadden my heart and talk about the one starting position player on the team that has done the worst.
I am of course and unfortunately speaking of beleaguered shortstop Jean Segura. Last year he was two completely different players. The first half he was dynamic. He was, quite literally, an all-star. The second half, to be polite, he was less than that. When asked this past winter what I thought we could expect from him, I said something in the middle. That has turned out not to be the case.
While his defense has been adequate, his offense has been lacking. His 63 wRC+ ranks 11th on the team below, just 10 points higher than Logan Schafer. Quite surprisingly, he's been worse vs LHP (15 wRC+) than vs RHP (80 wRC+). Perhaps that's reason to be hopeful going forward. He was quite a deal better against LHP last year. He's also stealing bases less frequently and with less success. I do think he'll improve at some point. I'm not ready to write the lad off entirely, but my faith has been shaken.
How are you feeling about the Brewers chances to make the postseason?
I feel very good about the Brewers postseason odds. Before Wednesday's loss, Fangraphs gave the Brewers a 50% chance to win the NL Central and a 73% chance to make the postseason. Baseball Prospectus gave them a 57% chance to win the division and an 83% chance to make the postseason. Fangraphs' projection model has been the Brewers harshest critic this year so the very fact that it's projecting them so well is encouraging.
I am certain the Brewers will be playing in October. For me the real question is how do they get there? Will they enter as division champions or as a wild card team. I don't know the answer. With so many games left against NL Central opponents it's going to be a hard fought battle. With 7 against the Cardinals and 6 against the Reds coming in September, it's also going to be a long battle decided at the last minute.
This is how you script a movie. We're going to be pulling our hair out at different points this season, but I think we'll look back fondly. It's going to be exciting.
Do you believe the Brewers should buy, sell, or stand pat at the trade deadline?
I firmly believe buying is a requirement, not a choice. This team is strong, but it's not without it's holes. As mentioned in previous articles, a left handed power bat would go a long way. While I'd like to see Overbay gone, I am quite sure he's here for the rest of the season. He's been solid in June anyway, so maybe he'll come around. I think the outfield is the place for this bat. As good as Khris Davis has been, he hasn't been so good against RHP that he can't sit every once in a while. The same goes for Ryan Braun. He's been dealing with injuries this year and could benefit from a day off here and there. At the very least, a LHH would make it easier on the offense when he does get a day off.
I also think the bullpen could really use a high leverage RHP. It's number two on my (regular season) list, though I imagine it will be the very first thing addressed by Doug Melvin. He's openly stated he's looking at relievers. The Brewers have recently had a scout at a Red Sox/Cubs game. The Cubs don't have any enticing bullpen arms so if indeed they were scouting relievers, I assume they were looking at what the Red Sox have to offer.
Boston is currently in 4th place in the AL East, 7.5 games back of the division leading Blue Jays. The non-waiver trade deadline is 30 days away so it's looking increasingly plausible that the Sox will be selling. If they do, and the Brewers want one of their relievers, Koji Uehara fits the bill. He's pitching as well as ever so he'd definitely improve the Brewers bullpen. He's making $4.25 million this year so in that sense he's cheap. His contract is up at the end of the year, so Boston can't ask for the moon in trade talks. These two points make him more realistic than other potentially available relievers such as Joaquin Benoit, Huston Street, and Joakim Soria who all have an option remaining for next year and make more money this year. I also wonder if Uehara's age (he's 39) and velocity will scare off some teams who are holding onto silly biases, helping to drive down his price.
If you could make one roster move on the Brewers, what would it be?
I'm going to make a departure from my distinguished colleagues here. While I don't disagree that perhaps it's time to move Marco Estrada out of the rotation and Jimmy Nelson into it, my eye is towards the postseason. I think the Brewers make it to October regardless of who toes the rubber at the back end of the rotation and once there, they'll only need a 4 man rotation at most. Instead, I'd want to make a move that will help them the most in a 5-7 game series.
In my mind that's a reliever. I know that's a bit of a controversial statement, but I think it's true. The bench is less important in the postseason. Unless someone gets hurt, they aren't going to need back-ups starting. Pinch hitting opportunities are important, but the Brewers aren't completely devoid of options as is. A bench player will be most important when playing in games with a DH, but that's going to be 4 at the most and as few as 2, during the World Series. So while that left-handed power bat will be more helpful getting to the post season, it'll be less important once there.
It's been noted before that while the Brewers rotation is solid front to back, it doesn't have an ace like other postseason teams will. They're not going to get an ace either. The next best thing is the ability to shorten the game. Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith, and shock of the ages Zach Duke have all been excellent in high leverage situations. Add Koji Uehara to the mix and your starter only needs to go 5 innings, or twice through a lineup. It would also allow Ron Roenicke more flexibility to play the match-ups if he was free to burn Duke or Smith or whoever, in an important situation.
Best pitcher going forward?
I'm having a tough time choosing between Kyle Lohse and Wily Peralta. I'm ignoring relievers because they're less impactful otherwise I might have included Will Smith in the mix. Peralta has his overpowering fastball and oppressive groundball rate. Lohse has impeccable command and experience. They're the two best starters on the team right now. If you asked me who would have the better career I'd probably give it to Wily Peralta. For the rest of this year, however, I'm going with Kyle Lohse. He's just so good at getting hitters to swing at the pitches he wants them to and inducing weak contact.
Best hitter going forward?
This goes back to the previous discussion about offensive weapons. While I do believe Carlos Gomez has been the best offensive weapon thus far, if I had to bet on who will be the second half hero I'm going with Jonathan Lucroy. He's just more consistent than Gomez. He takes more walks, strikes out less, and makes more contact. Gomez is great and he's going to be great all season. Lucroy's bat is just going to factor into more games and more plays.
Ryan Braun's offense going forward?
I think Braun's thumb has been a major factor this year and will continue to affect him. In Mar/Apr + May he was typical Ryan Braun putting up a wRC+ around 156. In June he hit for a 106 wRC+. He had only had about 40 fewer plate appearances in June than he did in Mar/Apr and May combined. He's certainly better than June's wRC+ would indicate, but he might not be quite as good as Mar-May's. If he can consistently split the difference and replicate his first half 133 wRC+ everything will be fine. I think he can do that.
Do the Brewers make a high profile trade?
Basically, no. I think a high profile trade essentially applies to acquiring a start position player or pitcher and they're not going to do that. They don't need to. Perhaps if they can get Koji Uehara that will make some waves on TV screens but outside of that I don't see a big time player coming to Milwaukee. That's a good thing, mind you. It means the team is strong and the newly-on-the-rise farm will remain intact.
How many wins to the Brewers get in their final 81 games?
Well, early this year I predicted 92 wins using a very crude, fuzzy math, sort of silly homemade projection system. The last time I employed this system I predicted 96 wins and won 12 hot wings from a friend when the Brewers reached that mark in 2011. Therefore I'm sticking with that prediction (which I think just might be good enough to win the division crown). That means in the final 81 games, the Brewers will go 43-38. I think that's quite realistic.
Doug Melvin's grade through the first half?
Melvin traded Norichika Aoki (currently sporting an 83 wRC+) for Will Smith and installed Khris Davis (currently sporting a 119 wRC+) in left field. He also played a part (along with Mark A.) in signing Matt Garza. Garza has suffered from some poor defense (and participated in said poor defense on occasion) but he despite that he's been okay so far. I think he'll be better in the second half. The signing has also helped solidify the bullpen and the overall pitching depth of this team which has been a boon.
Melvin also passed on overpaying Corey Hart, and instead brought in Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. Reynolds defense has been a revelation and his offense has been about expected. Overbay has been meh. Overall, first base has seen a marked improvement from last year and has been solid if not spectacular this year, but on the cheap.
Finally, and questionably, Melvin acquired Wei-Chung Wang via Rule 5 draft. The jury is going to be out on this move for several years. Right now though, he's been nothing but a liability in the bullpen, the ramifications of which may be invisible (wear and tear on the rest of the pen). Of course, there's an equal chance those ramifications are being overstated. The rotation is covering more innings than all but one other team in baseball afterall.
In the end I give Doug Melvin an A-.
Ron Roenicke's grade through the first half?
So much of what a manager does is unknowable. We can really only see his in-game decisions, and even then we don't always know everything that informs those decisions (player in a funk, sore, unavailable, etc.).
I know that Roenicke likes to utilize the shift. That's great. I like that he's stuck with that strict platoon at second base. I'm pleased that Mark Reynolds is playing more than Lyle Overbay.
I'm pleased with the current line-up structure, but I can't give him credit for that. He only moved Braun into the 2-hole because he wasn't hitting and because Aramis Ramirez was on the disabled list. In fact, he's said on a few occasions he wants to get back to Braun hitting 3rd and Ramirez hitting 4th, but that Gomez "won't let him" because he's hitting so well. No points, Ron! No points.
Roenicke has seemed to be more open to playing match-ups with the bullpen this year. That's nice, except sometimes I think he could leave some guys in longer than he does. He is being hamstrung by Wei-Chung Wang so I'll give him a partial pass there. I say only partial because I don't understand why he hasn't attempted to use Wang as a LOOGY on occasion. I think it would help his confidence and success rate if he faced 1 LHH every once in a while instead of pitching 1-3 whole innings at a time every 15-20 days.
I give Roenicke a solid B.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs