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NL Central Comparisons: Milwaukee Brewers

I think they should make a Wheaties box for bloggers. Something bright so that it's easy to see in the basement and features the best bloggers on the internet. I would never find myself on that cereal box but wouldn't be terribly heartbroken since Wheaties taste like a cross between Imo's thin crust and cardboard. That is to say they are somwhere between disgusting and tasteless. Yet of all the weeks I would fail to claim my spot on the Wheaties box, I think this week would be the case in point.

Have you ever stood up really fast and had a vertigo feeling like the room didn't quite stand up with you? Have you ever gone for a run and come back only to find that your legs don't really want to support you any more? Have you ever been to one of the day games in St. Louis where the sun beats down on you and bastes you in your own sweat for the afternoon? Have you ever put your head in a clamp and started squeezing it tighter until you just couldn't take it any more?

If you answered yes to all of they above, you obviously had the same strain of flu that I did for the past 4 days with dizziness, body aches, high fevers and terrible sinus headaches among other things. (I've never actually put my head in a clamp, but there's still time.) So I'm doing my best to deliver something that sounds coherent and thoughtful rather than delirious and crazy this Friday.*

I've been comparing the teams in our division to the Cardinals and I think the Astros and the Pirates are the only teams that you can make a convincing argument will be worse teams. The Brewers, Reds and Cubs seem positioned to battle it out for the top this year in a division that appears to be improving. With the release of PECOTA this past week, I'm not going to do estimates of players value anymore or detailed position by position comparisons. For the Brewers, I'd rather focus on the tremendous impact that the Mike Cameron signing is going to have on this team.

A huge part of their success last season was the tandem of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Offensively, they were a powerhouse that was unrivaled in the NL Central. Defensively, they were nothing short of a disaster. Fielder was certainly tolerable at first given his offense but Braun simply wasn't. Braun's defense was so bad that it nearly cost him the ROY award. Given his offensive prowess and gaudy counting stats, that should tell you how obvious and blatant of an issue it really was. During the offseason the Brewers said all the right things about Braun being able to improve his defense given his youth and work ethic. They also quietly sought an external solution that would result in a reshuffling of positions.

Braun accumulated nearly 60 VORP last season despite having fewer that 500 plate appearances. Despite only playing in 113 games, Braun cost his team upwards 0f 30 runs defensively. I imagine it was quite thrilling for Brewer's fans to project Braun across an entire season and then unsettling to think about how much he could cost the team defensively with a full season. While talented, there should have serious questions as to whether Braun could erase enough of his defensive problems to justify remaining at third base.

In 2005 and 2006, Bill Hall took the step from a talented young player with loads of tools to a productive major leaguer -- or so it seemed. Breaking into the majors at age 23, Hall had been moved quickly through the farm system. He played a plurality of his games at 2nd base in 2004, his first fullseason. Moved to 3rd for the majority of the 2005 season and then played SS in about 85% of the games for 2006. Needless to say he never really got a chance to settle in. Again, he was moved for the 2007 season playing CF exclusively. He also gave back the offensive gains he had made in '05 and '06 turning in a .254/.315/.425 line last year after a 05-06 cumulative line of .280/.343/.525. Not the direction that Hall or the team would have hoped his offense would take. This season he'll return to the infield at 3rd base to make room for Mike Cameron.

Cameron was a down ballot MVP candidate in Seattle as a player who did a variety of things very well but nothing outstanding. That is except for his centerfield defense. In the spacious Safeco park, Cameron and Randy Winn combined to turn a huge number of potential doubles into outs. While he's not the same caliber of defender that he was then, he's still a solidly average CF who won't kill you with the bat. And that's all the Brewers need him to be. Any offense that he brings to the team is icing on the cake because his defensive contributions and the cascade of improvements that will result from his addition are significant.

Let's set aside the offense. Braun cost the team around 30 runs last season at third base. Bill Hall was an average centerfielder last year and then lets assume that the left field corps (mainly Jenkins) were about average defensively as well. We're at -30 runs for those three positions. Let's substitute Cameron in for Hall at centerfield. That isn't going to make up any significant ground so lets put Bill Hall at third now. UZR was back and forth on Hall's work at third but there isn't a large enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions. Let's say in a best case scenario he's worth +5 runs defensively at third and worst case scenario he's as bad as -10 runs. So we've got a defensively nuetral Cameron in centerfield, a -10 to +5 Hall at third and an average left fielder. Here's where the Brewers gamble should pay off. While moving Braun to left field raises the expectations for his offense, he's going to be hard pressed to be as bad there defensively. I'd say a reasonable range for Braun in left field is something like -15 to 0.

That would seem to imply that if everything broke wrong (Braun can't play LF well and Hall struggles at third), the Brewers would still gain something like half a win defensively. If everything broke right, it could net them something on the order of 3-4 wins. For $7 million dollars this offseason to sign Cameron, Doug Melvin made a fantastic haul. The reverberations this could have with the pitching staff should be tangible as well.

I wish I could take this scenario and turn into a lesson regarding the Cardinals. The only player that approaches being bad enough defensively to justify a position switch is Chris Duncan. There really isn't anywhere to move him, however, making it a moot point. It's a situation that we haven't been confronted with but it's worth noting how effectively Melvin handled the situation.

The question I'll leave you with this Friday is which player you would want to steal from the Brewers for the Cardinals? Take Richie Weeks for the keystone and give them Kennedy? JJ Hardy for IZturis? Perhaps Yovanni Gallardo would be the best bet and help solidify the rotation -- they can have Reyes. There's a plethora of young talent on the Brewers team and I'm interested to hear who you'd want and why.

*The first night I was sick, I kept waking up convinced that I had to build robots. I would get out from under my blanket and start groping around on the floor for pieces to these robots that I was convinced were waiting to be assembled. The robots were critical components to a top secret government project. I didn't try to build the robots once, but five separate times before I would fully awaken from what I can only describe as the most vivid fever dream I've ever experienced.