SBN brother blogger jeff sackmann of Brew Crew Ball invited me to exchange five questions in advance of tonight's brewer-cards tilt. here are the five questions he asked me:
- We're two weeks into the season, and much to my surprise the Cardinals are sitting atop the division. What's been the key to St. Louis's success so far?
- You've got an outfield full of names that many fans haven't even heard of. What kind of production are you expecting from the group, and how well do you expect them to fare with the glove?
- After 37 starts in the last two years, Anthony Reyes is now a member of the bullpen. What's going on with this guy?
- What are your early impressions of the Glaus for Rolen deal?
- Many prospect-watchers don't have nice things to say about the Cardinals system. Aside from Colby Rasmus, is there anyone else on the farm who might make an impact in 2008?
my answers are at this link. and here are jeff's answers to my questions:
1. For the first time in years, Ben Sheets had an injury-free spring. He's been unhittable through 3 starts. How's his health outlook? If he stays healthy, can the Brewers be stopped?
If he keeps pitching like this, it's hard to imagine the Brewers being stopped. What people often forget about Sheets is that many of his injuries have been of the freakish variety (vestibular neuritis is nasty, but at least it doesn't affect your elbow), and just a few years ago, he was considered a horse--from 2002 to 2004, he threw 215+ IP per year. Whenever Brewers fans talk about this, we're crossing fingers and knocking on wood, but there aren't any danger signs in view.
2. Heading into the season it was predicted that the signing of Mike Cameron, and the consequent position shifts of Bill Hall and Ryan Braun, would vastly improve the Brewers' defense. Does that seem to be the case so far? To the naked eye, does the defense appear to be tighter?
Absolutely, and this is even before Cameron has made an appearance. [Cameron's serving a 15-game PED suspension.] Bill Hall has made some great plays at third, and best of all, most of his throws actually end up at first base. Braun doesn't look all that comfortable in left yet, but he's got the arm for it, and really, if all the position switch accomplishes is moving him to a less important spot on the field, that's a plus for the Crew.
The defensive focus is now on the right side of the infield, where Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder have both been way below average for most of their careers. Fielder works hard at it, but will probably never be that good, while Weeks...well, you gotta see it to believe it. He can send a routine throw that you or I could make into the stands, and produce a web gem on the next play. It's never boring, I can say that much.
3. Brewer fans can't be too thrilled with Gagne so far. Who closes if he washes out? Is there anybody in the system who can step in, or are you looking at a trade?
No, we're not thrilled, that's for sure. But the pen is built to be flexible. David Riske could be closing for a lot of teams right now, and he's looked good in the early going. Guillermo Mota is still something of a work in progress, but before an adventure on Sunday, he appeared to be coming around. There's not an obvious solution in the minors, but when you've got five guys in the major league pen with closing experience (granted, one of them is Derrick Turnbow, and he's probably not seeing another save opportunity this decade), that's not a high priority.
4. How do you like the pitcher-hitting-8th experiment so far? Has it generated much discussion among Brewer fans? Any specific instances where it seemed to have strategic implications in a game?
It's generated plenty of discussion, and I'm actually surprised it hasn't gotten more attention outside of Milwaukee. I guess LaRussa took the initial brunt of bucking the conventional wisdom, but the pundits are used to LaRussa, while Ned Yost is usually the kind of manager you assume nods along with Joe Morgan when he watches Sunday Night Baseball.
Personally, I love it. On paper, it's not making or breaking the team, but I love the fact that Yost is willing to do something so bold and--dare I say it--sabermetrically welcome. There are plenty of times where it appears to be helpful or not, but it's not the kind of decision you can evaluate without having a lot more evidence to go on--and even then, it's tough to know when it has paid off or not, because you never know what would've happened with an alternative lineup.
5. The Brewer offense ranked 14th among NL teams in walks drawn last year and is a far-distant 16th so far this year. As a result the team always ranks near the bottom of the league in OBP --- kind of like the old Cub offenses of the Dusty Baker era. Is that a big concern, and can anything be done about it?
Well, it's the Brewers way. We make up for it by getting hit by a lot of pitches. Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron were both signed in part for this reason, and of course we haven't seen what kind of impact Cameron will have. The big issue going forward is what Ryan Braun and JJ Hardy can do. I don't know to what extent plate discipline can be taught, especially once a hitter reaches the major league level, but Braun, especially is going to have to work on it.
For both of those guys, part of the issue has been who's hitting behind them. Braun was batting cleanup, ahead of Bill Hall, until he and Fielder requested a switch over the weekend. And Hardy has been batting in front of the pitcher. In both cases, pitchers aren't giving them anything to hit, and they're swinging anyway. You'd think some kind of adjustment could be made, but these are known problems, and we haven't seen much improvement so far.