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BCB Mailbag 34: Pitching and Prospects

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Answering the burning questions from you, the reader.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Happy weekend everyone! What had been a pretty quiet few weeks for our local nine during the MLB postseason came to a sudden halt with a couple of notable news stories this week, perhaps portending a very busy offseason. Exciting things ahead, to be sure! So let’s get on to those questions:

drezdn asks:

Why don't the Brewers ever have a captain?

According to Wikipedia, a baseball team captain is something that’s rooted far back in the history of the sport. In the early days of the game, before teams regularly had managers or coaches, the captain would be the player responsible for performing the functions of a manager or coach: submitting a lineup card and deciding which player should man what position, appealing to umpires, knowing any special ground rules, coaching the base runners, etc.

Designating a team captain has become less prevalent throughout the game as time has gone on, as Jerry Remy described during his days with the Angels:

"There's probably no need for a captain on a major league team. I think there are guys who lead by example. You could name the best player on your team as captain, but he may not be the guy other players will talk to or who will quietly go to other players and give them a prod."

According to the article, the Milwaukee Brewers are one of a handful of MLB franchises that as of 2016, had never named a team captain during their existence.

BuckyBronson asks:

Seeing that Counsell got a nod as NL Manager of the year had me pondering something that I don’t know a ton about, so I open the floor to you, to educate me, a nobody.

Does Counsell believe in and execute on modern baseball ideas and analytics? Many times over the last couple seasons I’ve seen things like bunts, high-volume stealing and traditional bullpen/closer usage as things which seem behind the times but were used often by the Brewers. Our lineup cards sometimes seemed puzzling and changed often from game to game.

Is Counsell managing the game as if it was still his playing days? Or is my perception of baseball’s direction still something in the shadows that hasn’t permeated the league completely?

I would say Counsell is an analytical manager, for sure, and if he weren’t he probably wouldn’t have lasted this long working with David Stearns (or gotten that 3-year extension). The Brewers have quickly developed a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking franchises around the league.

As far as the sac bunting goes, the Brewers ranked t-9th in the NL in sacrifice bunts with 42. 14 of those were by Zach Davies, another 5 by Junior Guerra, and 11 more were split up among the rest of the pitching staff. So over 162 games in 2017, Brewer position players sac bunted only 12 times. Counsell’s willingness to juggle his lineups around and try things that may be considered unorthodox - such as batting Eric Thames at lead-off even though he’s not a quick-footed contact hitter - is also evidence of his embracing the numbers. While he does employ a ‘closer’ in Corey Knebel, he’s been willing to use him beyond just tradition closing situations like tie games, on the road, and for more than one inning at a time. His usage of Josh Hader thoughout the year and tendency (especially early and late in the season) to pull starters before they faced the lineup for a third time further supports Counsell’s analytical chops.

Counsell and the front office seem to be in lock step regarding the various aspects of building a ballclub, which is why you’ll hear both him and Stearns downplay the importance of “putting the ball in play” and not being “overly reliant on home runs.” Runs are runs, no matter how they’re scored they all count the same. I like Craig Counsell an awful lot as manager, and I would be pleased if he keeps his job with the Brewers for a long time.

Spaul149 asks:

Who is your favorite minor league prospect (you know you have one), not most likely to succeed (but if that is your favorite that's okay), and what do you hope he can bring to the brewers in a couple years?

Ugh, you want me to pick just one?! I cannot limit it to just one. There are so many guys that I really like and follow pretty closely down on the minors, but I’ll try my best to at least limit it to one position player and one pitcher:

Position player - OF Troy Stokes

Stokes is a short guy like me, listed at an identical 5’8” tall. He was a 4th round pick back in 2014 and flashed some potential but battled injuries during his first three seasons in the minors. This year at age 21, he made some swing changes and batted a stellar .251/.341/.447 in 579 plate appearances split between Carolina and Biloxi for a 124 wRC+. He clubbed 20 home runs, 28 doubles, and 5 triples along with swiping 30 bags. Scouts often overlook him because of his diminutive stature and he’s got some swing and miss in his game, but Stokes is another potential power-speed outfield talent that’s not too far away from the big leagues. He’s spent most of his time in left field, but has also played both center and right and is capable at all three positions. I’ve always liked him as a potential 4th outfielder at the big league level, and if he can maintain or improve the home run power he showed this season perhaps there’s a chance for more.

(Others considered: Zack Clark, Max McDowell, Jake Gatewood)

Pitcher - RHP Jon Perrin

Perrin was a 27th round draft pick as a college senior back in 2015 and has said that he would retire from baseball if he’s accepted into Harvard Law, which is his dream. How can you not root for a guy like that? The 24 year old spent all season in Biloxi this year, pitching to a 2.91 ERA/2.62 DRA/64 DRA- in 105.1 innings. He doesn’t strike a ton of guys out (7.78 K/9 this season), but he’s a command/control specialist (career 1.5 BB/9) who has excelled at keeping the ball in the park (0.5 HR/9). He doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but sits in the low-90s and can touch 93 with his fastball while also mixing in an average slider and changeup. Pitchability guys are my favorite to watch work, and while the profile says likely swingman, I think there’s a chance there’s a back-end starting pitcher in their somewhere. Perrin is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League and has allowed only one earned run through his first 5.0 innings.

(Others considered: Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins, Cody Ponce, Jordan Yamamoto, Luke Barker, Jon Olczak, Jayson Rose, Quintin Torres-Costa)

Itstimetowin asks:

Will the Brewers go after more starting pitching (who is your personal target if so) or will the temptation to bring in more OF’s be to great?

I definitely think that the Brewers will pursue some starting pitching help this winter, for sure. I don’t know that they’ll want to spend as much as someone like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish figure to cost, but I’m warming up to the idea of a pursuit of Alex Cobb, who might be the best pitcher available in that next tier down. Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are another couple of guys that I like as possible depth options.

I could see the team leveraging some of their prospect depth to upgrade their rotation, too. I’m comfortable with the idea of a Phillips/Broxton platoon in center field next season and wouldn’t be opposed with dangling Lewis Brinson out there as the headliner in package this winter if an impact, front-line starter comes available.

SANDYTOLAN asks:

If the Brewers were offered a knockout package of MLB-ready players, should they consider trading Corey Knebel?

And if so, what kind of deal, and to whom, could you imagine?

Is it likely that Knebel is at the highest value he’ll ever have, and that the Brewers should consider a deal at the right (steep) price? Or is such talk outright BLASPHEMY?

I’m of the mindset that any player is available at any time, for the right price. My colleague at BP-Milwaukee and Packers expert Paul Noonan (@badgernoonan) has often said that smart GM’s should call dumb GM’s often and make outlandish proposals, because you never know what will happen. So yeah, while I’m wouldn’t exactly “shop” Knebel this winter, I’d certainly be willing to listen to offers for his services. If the Brewers received an offer similar to the Thornburg deal from last winter - maybe a starting MLB second baseman this time around (since it’s a pressing need) plus three very good prospects - it would be tough for me to say no to a deal like that. Knebel was a breakout revelation this year, but relievers have a reputation of being notoriously unreliable year-to-year. If Knebel keeps racking up saves, he’s going to become very expensive through arbitration, which he qualified for as a Super Two player this winter. He has a history of elbow issues, too; he missed time shortly after he was drafted with a UCL injury, but was ultimately able to avoid Tommy John surgery. (Boy, all of this is starting a lot like the whole Thornburg scenario, isn’t it?)

Mattie Lakes asks:

Would it make sense for the Brewers to trade for deGrom using Quintana, Sale, and Latos packages as comparable price points?

If the Brewers wanted to go out and get DeGrom, I would be 100% all for it. He’s a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm and has three more years of club control. He crossed the 200-inning threshold for the first time in 2017, and though his ERA was merely “good” at 3.53, a DRA of 2.92 and DRA- of 62, along with a career-best 10.7 K/9, illustrate that he was still an elite performer this past season.

This would be an expensive proposition, of course. Using the guidelines that you suggested, DeGrom would cost something like Lewis Brinson, one of Corbin Burnes/Luis Ortiz/Brandon Woodruff, and then maybe someone like Corey Ray and a lower-level arm like Josh Pennington or Carlos Herrera. Pegging trade value is tough to do, so in all reality it very well might take better complimentary pieces than the ones I suggested. But for a pitcher like DeGrom, it could be worth it.


Thanks for the great questions this week, everyone! Can’t wait for the offseason to get started in earnest!

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus