With the Bucs playing the Brewers for the first time of the year tomorrow, I did a brief Q+A with Jeff Sackmann, who runs Brew Crew Ball. (I answered some questions for him, too, and I'll link to those as soon as they're posted.) It's been a strange year for the Brewers, who find themselves in last place. I wanted to know what's gone wrong.
Bucs Dugout: Why has the Brewers' hitting been so bad so far? Specifically, what's wrong with Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall? Do you buy Ned Yost's argument that Weeks has been hitting the ball well but just hasn't had much luck, and could that argument apply to Hall as well?
Brew Crew Ball: Weeks has been somewhat unlucky, but that doesn't mean he's going to hit .300 the rest of the way. He hits an awful lot of popups, and his pitch selection is...odd, to say the least. He's not as bad as his numbers suggest right now, but he's going to remain a guy whose value is mostly his walk rate--something like a batting average of .240 and an OBP of .350 is within reach. It's not as dramatic with Hall, but his hits haven't been finding holes, either. He also isn't going to hit .300 (or even .270) anytime soon; his pitch selection is just bad. I can pretty much guarantee that, over the course of this series, he's going to make a Pittsburgh middle reliever look like Johan Santana. At least he's hitting for power, so when he does make contact, he does a bit of damage.
Bucs Dugout: How has Ryan Braun taken to the outfield?
Brew Crew Ball: Pretty well, I think. He's made a handful of nice plays, though that might just mean he's diving for balls that a good outfielder would have camped under. The most encouraging thing I've seen so far was a ball he played off the Green Monster on Sunday to hold a Red Sox to a single. He's showing signs of getting smarter at the position, and there's no question he's got the tools to be successful.
Bucs Dugout: Why did the Brewers move Eric Gagne back to the closer spot after removing him a week or so ago? I know Gagne said he changed his mind and was ready to close again after initially saying he couldn't do it anymore, but why didn't the Brewers just say, "No thanks"?
Brew Crew Ball: I've long since quit trying to make sense out of Yost's bullpen-related moves and utterances. The biggest problem is that there's no obvious replacement for Gagne. David Riske is now hurt, Guillermo Mota has been iffy, and Salomon Torres isn't a much better option. Making matters worse, Ned started a meme among the team's press that a bullpen-by-committee is horribly taxing on the relievers. You see, everyone has to be ready to pitch at all times, and LaRussa--oops, I mean Yost--might use three, four, even two pitchers in the ninth alone. This is the catchall excuse/call-out/warning for the 2007-08 Brewers--we must stop overworking the bullpen! (Never mind that, last I checked, relative to league average, the bullpen is not overworked.)
Bucs Dugout: How is Torres working out for you? There were questions about his work ethic and conditioning floating around right before he left Pittsburgh; have either of those things been problems?
Brew Crew Ball: He's been fine, as far as I know. Maybe that's just because we have bigger problems. Between Torres and Brian Shouse, our LOOGY, Ned as a couple of late-inning decisions made for him. It seems like those two have been in the 7th or 8th inning of every single game this year.
Bucs Dugout: The Brewers have a couple of prospects at Class AA Huntsville, Matt LaPorta and Mat Gamel, who are destroying the ball and look close to being ready, at least with the bat. LaPorta is already a corner outfielder and Gamel--correct me if I'm wrong--currently plays third but looks like he'll move to first base or corner outfield eventually. With all the talent the Brewers already have at those positions, how do you think LaPorta and Gamel will fit in?
Brew Crew Ball: That's a good question. The Brewers certainly have a knack for stockpiling guys who ought to DH. One thought for LaPorta is that he'd play a corner while Corey Hart or Braun would shift to center. (Or Braun would go back to third--Melvin has hinted Braun's future could still be at the hot corner.) You're right, they are mashing, and LaPorta will probably be ready by September; the only decision for the Crew is whether to hold him back until mid-May to keep his arbitration clock from starting.
Gamel's a tougher question. He hasn't even switched positions yet, suggesting that there's hope he'll stick at third. Hall is hardly cementing himself as a long-term option there, so it wouldn't take much improvement in the field for Gamel to earn himself a shot. But Gamel's future may be elsewhere; outside of LaPorta and maybe Alcides Escobar, he's the shiniest nearly-ready prospect in the system right now, and if the Brewers fight back into contention, he could be the guy we trade away to pick up a starter at the deadline.