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weekend thread: projecting the brewers

last night's game: cardinals 11, mets 8. carp was sharp, flores wasn't, miles and spiezio combined to go 8 for 10. box score and summary at the official site.

i had an (i hope) inspired thought re this weekend's projection thread: let's project a team rather than a single player -- won-lost record, runs scored, runs allowed, and where they will finish in the standings. i'd like to save the cardinals for the last week of spring training, so i'm gonna propose instead a division rivals, a team about which opinions vary widely: the brewers.

no diff'nce of opinion about the brew crew's potential -- they'll start two 23-year-old regulars (rickie weeks and jj hardy) and one 22-year-old (prince fielder), all of whom put up stellar minor-league numbers and performed well in limited major-league exposure in 2005. the only question is how long it will take those young stars to adjust the big leagues and start pushing their team toward the top of the standings.

i think they're ready now. hardy has already had his adjustment period -- he hit .187/.293/.267 in about 200 at-bats before the all-star break last year, but then went .308/.363/.503 after the break. to put his potential in perspective, hardy had as many hr after the break (8) as eckstein did all season -- and that's not a shot at eckstein, merely an acknowledgment that hardy's got excellent power for a shortstop. weeks was still struggling at the end of last season, but even with a batting avg of .239 (in 360 at-bats) he was still about even with grudzielanek (and a far sight better than spivey) in both obp (.333) and slugging (.394). if weeks raises his average to just .260 he'll be among the best-hitting 2bmen in the league. it wouldn't shock me if the brewers get more homers from their keystone combo than the cardinals get out of their two corner outfield slots.

prince fielder, who takes over at first base, is a better prospect than either hardy or weeks. his comps at baseball prospectus include greg luzinski, bob horner, and johnny bench -- ie, league-hr-title type power. that's his long-term upside. having said that, i think he is at greater risk than either hardy or weeks of playing badly in 2006. in 59 at-bats last season he had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 17-2; he got fooled a lot. and his .291 batting average in the high-octane PCL last year does not impress me. as a first baseman, he's got a much higher offensive bar to clear than either hardy or weeks; they're big assets if they can merely generate a .750 ops, but fielder has to post .850-plus just to be average. so he could put up outstanding numbers for a 22-year-old -- say, .a 340 obp and .500 slugging -- and still be a net liability. and if he has an adjustment period and posts .325/.470 for the year . . . . well, a lot is being asked of him this season. while fielder's long-term potential is undeniable, in the short term he may not be a big contributor.

but fielder is still likely to be no worse than the player he's replacing, lyle overbay. and if he struggles, milwaukee can simply plug in another young player -- bill hall, corey hart, nelson cruz -- and keep mashing. they finished 6th in the league in runs scored last year and tied the cardinals for 4th in the league in slugging pct (.423); they outhomered stl by 13 (175-162). i think they may outhomer the cardinals by 35 this year. they may not have a single .900 ops hitter in their lineup, but they also may not have a single player below .750 -- just a solid, consistent lineup with no holes. they also have an outstanding bench. i think their offense could improve by as many as 50 runs, which may be enough to pull them even with -- or even surpass -- st louis.

here's how the brewers' top three pitchers' last year stacked up with the cardinals':

era whip baa k/9 era whip baa k/9
carpenter 2.83 1.06 .231 8.0 sheets 3.33 1.07 .237 8.1
mulder 3.64 1.38 .273 4.9 davis 3.84 1.30 .235 8.4
suppan 3.57 1.38 .275 5.3 capuano 3.99 1.38 .256 7.2

that's about a wash, if you ask me. the brewer pitchers' w-l records didn't compare because they had a lot less run support, and their eras were higher because they didn't keep the ball in the park as well as stl's did. but that's still a damn good top of the rotation. wanna know who ben sheets' top comps are per baseball prospectus? #2 is juan marichal; #4 is don sutton; #6 is mike mussina; #9 is robin roberts; and #10 is fergie jenkins -- 5 hall-of-famers (future or current). taking the last two years together, he's a more dominant ace than carpenter: better in era (2.95 - 3.10), whip (1.02 - 1.09), and strikeouts per 9 (9.1 - 8.2). likewise, while doug davis may lack mulder's career resume, he has pitched more effectively the last two years.

milwaukee finished 5th in the league in pitching last year, half a run a game behind the cards in era; they finished 2d in the majors in strikeouts (1173). the brewers have upgraded the bottom of the rotation, and they'll have sheets for a full season (he missed 10 starts in 2005). how many runs will those upgrades save? without going into the details, i'm eyeballing it at 25 to 40 -- or 3 to 4 wins in the standings.

the brewers do have defensive challenges. they led the league with 119 errors last season and were near the bottom in double plays. clark was above average in center field, but the rest of their defenders were average at best. corey koskie may save them a few runs at 3d base (although he'll cost them a few with his bat), but the best thing their defense will have going for it is strikeouts: the brewer pitchers fan so many batters that the fielders have a restricted sphere of responsibility, which tends to mitigate the damage their shoddy work may cause.

we could talk about other things -- bullpens, managers, midseason trade opportunities -- but i'm gonna leave it there. here's what i want you to project:

  1. regular-season won-lost record
  2. place in the nl central standings
  3. runs scored
  4. runs allowed
here are the brewers' numbers for the last four years:
record finish scored allowed
2002 56-106 6th 627 (16th) 821 (15th)
2003 68-94 6th 714 (11th) 873 (14th)
2004 67-94 6th 634 (15th) 821 (10th)
2005 81-81 3d 726 (6th) 697 (6th)