Who would you sign to play first base?

The Brewers need a first baseman, and while trading for one is a possibility, today we're focusing just on free agents.

First base is sure to be a focus for the Brewers this winter. There are three main options, in free agency at least: Michael Cuddyer, Michael Morse, and Adam LaRoche. Today we're going to look at how these three players compare to each other. For the sake of argument, I'll be using MLB Trade Rumors contract/salary projections for part of it.

Michael Cuddyer

Age(Opening day 2015): 36 years old, Position(s): RF/1B, Handedness: Right; Contract Projection2 years, $22 million

He has experience at multiple positions, but primarily at right field and first base. Obviously the Brewers would use him almost exclusively at first, but it would be beneficial to depth if they could trot him out in right field should Ryan Braun need a day off or get hurt. He's never been a terribly good defender, arguably he's been a bad defender in right, but he's been about average at first. Perhaps that could be helped by moving to first base full time.

Cuddyer has actually been a pretty reliable offensive force into the later seasons of his career. Since 2009 he's only failed to record a wRC+ above 100 in one season (2012). That's very likely related to an uncharacteristically low BABIP. He's never been a huge raw power guy but, based on previous years, 30 doubles and 15-20 homes runs doesn't seem an unreasonable expectation (assuming a full season of plate appearances).

The main downside with Cuddyer is his health. He took multiple trips to the disabled list in 2014 due to hamstring strains, one of which sidelined him for approximately 2 months. He played 130 in 2013, but only 101 in 2012. Age is not on his side here so it's definitely a concern.

Michael Morse

Age: 33; Position(s): LF/1B; Handedness: Right; Contract Projection2 years, $22 million

Morse is, by several years, the youngest of the 3 first base free agents. Similar to Cuddyer, he is capable of playing an outfield position. I say capable because I think there is a big difference between being able to play a position poorly and simply not being able to play a position at all. Make no mistake: Micheal Morse can play left field. He just can't play it well and the ability to play left field is less enticing than right field because I'm more worried about Ryan Braun missing a lot time than Khris Davis. That's really not really why you'd sign any of these guys though, because the Brewers primary need is first base. And like Cuddyer, Morse is a much more reasonable defender at that position.

Morse has a pretty reasonable offensive track record as well. Since 2009 he's missed a 100 wRC+ twice. His peak season was in 2011 when he hit 33 home runs and a 148 wRC+. The next three seasons saw varying degrees of success (113, 80, 133 in chronological order) and varying amount of playing time. Given a full season of at-bats, one could perhaps reasonably hope for 30 doubles and 15-20 home runs.

Morse suffered an oblique injury late in the season that sidelined him until recently when he pinch hit and DH'd for the Giants in the World Series. That's not a lingering concern going into 2015, but he doesn't have a good track record. He's played 146 games once (2011) and over 100 games only three times (including 131 in 2014).

Adam LaRoche

Age: 35;  Position: 1B; Handedness: Left; Contract Projection2 years, $30 million

LaRoche plays just the one position, but it's the only one that really matters here. He's very easily the most experienced first baseman of the group and probably the best defender there. Unlike the other two players he does not come with any major injury/playing time concerns. The only season he missed any significant time was in 2011 and since then he's played 154 games, 152 games, and 140 games.

LaRoche has had pretty reasonable success at the plate in his career. He's missed a 100 wRC+ once since 2009. Over the last three seasons he's reached 127, 102, and 127 in consecutive years. He has a career average of about 25 home runs a season and has only failed to reach that mark once since 2008 (twice if you count his injury shortened 2011 season). He did this while playing at home in pitchers parks with the Braves, Pirates, and Nationals. He's the only left-handed hitter of the group and that could help his home run totals while calling Miller Park home. He's also the only player here to record double digit walk rates in recent years. In fact, he's seen a rise in those walk rates from 2010 to 2014 (10.4%, 12.2%, 14.4%).

I did notice a startling drop in his doubles in recent years. Almost every season from 2006 to 2012 he hit 35 or more doubles. He hit 32 in 2008 and 4 in the injury shortened 2011. In 2013 and 2014 he only hit 19 doubles. His BABIP for those two years were both career lows (oddly enough it was .277 for both years). Unsurprisingly his batting average dipped these two years but his OBP did remain solid thanks to his high walk rate. I have no idea what resulted in the drop in doubles. Perhaps it was age setting in. If that were the case though, I would expect to see a corresponding drop-off in home run numbers. While he did only hit 20 in 2013, he bounced right back hitting 26 in 2014.

Side by Sides

Here's how the three compare statistically in 2014:

PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Michael Cuddyer 205 10 6.8 14.6 332 376 579 151 1.5
Michael Morse 482 16 6.4 25.1 279 336 475 133 1.0
Adam LaRoche 586 26 14.4 18.4 259 362 455 127 1.6


And here's how the three compare over the last 3 seasons:

PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Michael Cuddyer 1139 46 8.1 18.3 307 362 525 127 4.5
Michael Morse 1249 47 5.4 24.4 266 313 448 112 -0.6
Adam LaRoche 1823 79 12.1 20,7 256 346 458 119 5.4

My Take

Right away I'm eliminating Michael Morse. He's missed almost as much time as Michael Cuddyer, but while Cuddyer missed most of his time due to an injury laden 2014, Morse has missed time over consecutive years. He's also been the least effective offensively over the last three years.

Choosing between Cuddyer and LaRoche seems a more interesting conversation. Cuddyer appears to have a higher overall offensive ceiling. He's had solid OBP, but that's due in part to high batting averages. LaRoche hits more home runs and draws a lot more walks and so his OBP is more reliable. If it was me I think I'd bet on LaRoche's consistency instead of Cuddyer's potential. If I thought Cuddyer could play even just 130 games for sure, I might be inclined to go with him.

It gets tougher when considering their projected contracts. The years are the same, but LaRoche is projected to make $4 million more each season. I think he's definitely worth more than Cuddyer but with the Brewers being so close to their financial limits, that $4M could be meaningful.

Your Take?

What do you think? For the sake of argument, let's ignore trading and in-house options. If you had to sign one of these guys, for the projected contract, which one would you take?

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

Poll
Which free agent would you sign to play first base?

  110 votes | Results

MVBrewers: Vote for #5

Kyle Lohse came in at #4. Who will you pick to round out the top five?

You voted Kyle Lohse to be the fourth most valuable Brewer today. That leaves our standings looking like this:

#1: Jonathan Lucroy
#2: Carlos Gomez
#3: Wily Peralta
#4: Kyle Lohse

We now move on to round out the top five, and yet another starting pitcher joins the available choices. How does Matt Garza fit into the voting? Who will you pick to be your fifth most valuable Brewer? Voting is open now.

Poll
Who was the 5th Most Valuable Brewer in 2014?

  51 votes | Results

Brewers bring back Coles to be hitting coach

Another year has brought another promotion for a rising star in baseball's coaching ranks. The Brewers on Thursday hired Darnell Coles to be their hitting coach, continuing the former utility man's swift rise up the instructional ladder.

Brewers bring back Coles to be hitting coach

Another year has brought another promotion for a rising star in baseball's coaching ranks. The Brewers on Thursday hired Darnell Coles to be their hitting coach, continuing the former utility man's swift rise up the instructional ladder.

MVBrewers #4: Kyle Lohse takes the second spot in a strong starting rotation

Kyle Lohse continued to pitch well in 2014, giving the starting rotation a formidable 1-2 punch with Peralta.

When Kyle Lohse was signed by the Brewers before the 2013 season, it wasn't the best received move by the club. Many people saw the age of Lohse. Many lamented the loss of a first round draft pick. Some even started drawing comparisons to Jeff Suppan. However, after two seasons, it's safe to say that those concerns have been silenced.

After a great season in 2013, he built on that with his 2014 season. He pitched nearly 200 innings for the second straight year (1981), improved his FIP (3.95), and nearly set a personal best for strikeouts (141). While his ERA (3.54) and walk rate (2.0 BB/9) did increase, neither of those really hurt him as the season went on. His consistency allowed him to remain #4 in the MVBrewers poll for the second straight year.

One change Lohse made to his pitching this season is his reliance on the fastball. He only used it 6% of the time this year (compared to 15% last year), while his sinker percentage rose to 39.7% (up from 31.8%). He also saw an increase in the use of his other offspeed pitches during the season. This shows a shift in philosophy, going to a more deceptive approach with his pitches. His velocity was mostly unchanged as well, and this shift in pitch types may benefit him as he continues in the league.

The one concern about Kyle Lohse going into 2015 is his durability to last an entire season. While he hasn't seen the DL in the last four seasons, the strain of a six-month season may be wearing him out. Between the first and second half of the season, his ERA (3.26 / 4.04) and FIP (3.63 / 4.53) both had noticeable increases. His walk rate also increased and his strikeout rate decreased, along with a decrease in his ground ball rate and an increase in his fly ball rate. His HR/FB and BABIP rates were virtually unchanged, which suggests this was a result of more balls being hit over other factors, such as defense.

At the same time, some of those fears may be quieted by the way he ended the season. He pitched a strong game in a critical matchup against the Cardinals on September 18, and had a complete game shutout in his last start of the season against the Reds. Those are both good signs as he enters the last year of his deal. If the Brewers want to compete in 2015, they will need Lohse at his best. He should be ready to give his best.

Best Game

Kyle Lohse pitched two complete game shutouts during the 2014 season. The second of those came on September 24, when he held the Reds to two baserunners in a 5-0 win. However, his more impressive one came on June 1, when he needed just 93 pitches to record a complete game shutout in a 9-0 rout of the Cubs.  Here are some highlights from the game:

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Contract Status

Kyle Lohse will enter the final year of his three-year deal in 2015. He will make $11 million in 2015 to finish out his deal, and it does not include an option. This means he will be a free agent following the 2015 season. It may be tough for him to get another deal at 38, but considering how well he is pitching, I wouldn't count him out yet.

Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below, or in their own dedicated section:

  1. Jonathan Lucroy
  2. Carlos Gomez
  3. Wily Peralta

The Thursday Thinker: MVBrewers, one year removed

Can you name the players we selected as 2013's most valuable Brewers?

Here at Brew Crew Ball we're in the middle of one of my favorite annual projects, our MVBrewers rankings. Over the next week or two we'll ask you to select the ten players most important to the Brewers' success (such as it was) in 2014.

These rankings create a lot of interesting debates, but they also give us a chance down the road to look back at players whose contributions we may have forgotten over time. This week's quiz deals with the MVBrewers list from one year ago. How many of the top ten from last year's list of the Most Valuable Brewers can you name in five minutes?

If the quiz isn't displaying correctly for you here or you'd simply prefer to take it over there, follow this link to play the quiz at Sporcle.com.

This quiz also features a boatload of "bonus" and "wrong" answers, players who were either honorable mentions or named as Lesser Brewers last season. There are actually more hidden answers (27) than correct answers (10) this week.

Please post your score in the comments below, but also remember that comments on this post may contain spoilers. If you get all ten answers correct as I'm sure many of you will, post your time along with your score in the comments.

If you've finished this quiz and would like another challenge, then you may also enjoy JP's quiz asking you to name the 2014 Brewers with his clues, or my quiz from two weeks ago asking you to name the Brewers with more career hits than Aramis Ramirez. You can also check out the Thinker archives from last winter.

Good luck, and don't forget to post your score in the comments!

Lucroy among Gold Glove Award finalists

Jonathan Lucroy will hope to become the first Brewers' catcher to win a Gold Glove Award when the winners are announced in a few weeks.

Lucroy, Parra among Gold Glove Award finalists

Jonathan Lucroy will hope to become the first Brewers' catcher to win a Gold Glove Award when the winners are announced in a few weeks.

Jonathan Lucroy, Gerardo Parra finalists for Gold Glove awards

Jonathan Lucroy and Gerardo Parra have both been named finalists for NL Gold Glove awards. Carlos Gomez is not a finalist this year.

Rawlings released their finalists for the 2014 Gold Glove awards an hour ago. Among the finalists this year are two Brewers. At catcher, Jonathan Lucroy is one of the three finalists in the National League. Meanwhile, Gerardo Parra also is one of three finalists for a Gold Glove, receiving his nomination in right field. However, Carlos Gomez is not a finalist this year, just a year after winning a Gold Glove in 2013.

This is Jonathan Lucroy's first nomination for a Gold Glove award (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that). The catcher has always been known for his pitch framing, and his defense has also earned some praise during his career. His competition at the position is Russell Martin of the Pirates and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals. The two of them have combined to win the last seven Gold Glove awards at catcher. Yadier Molina has won the last six (2008-2013), and Russell Martin won before that (2007). Looking at the FanGraphs numbers, their Def stat is very similar between the three. One big difference for Lucroy is that he played a full season, while the other two missed time due to injuries. That may end up playing in Lucroy's favor.

Meanwhile, Gerardo Parra also earned a nomination for a Gold Glove this season. Parra already has won two Gold Gloves, one as a left fielder in 2011 and one as a right fielder in 2013. This season wasn't his best year, as his defensive numbers were down. However, earning another Gold Glove finalist nomination is a testament to how good he is beyond the numbers. Looking at his competition, it's highly doubtful that he will win another award this year. The other two finalists are Jason Heyward of the Braves and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, and both had great years at their respective positions.

One surprise from this year's finalists is that Carlos Gomez is not among them. Instead, Billy Hamilton of the Reds, Juan Lagares of the Mets, and Denard Span of the Nationals earned the three finalist spots this year. While these aren't bad nominations, you have to wonder why Gomez didn't get a spot above the three of them. Looking at the numbers, Carlos Gomez is very comparable (if not better) than these selections. It's a younger group this year, and not even Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates made the list (though his defensive numbers are down this year).

The award winners at each position will be announced on November 4. As a reminder for how it is selected, 75% of it is determined by voting from managers & coaches, and 25% is from SABR. Will Lucroy or Parra earn an award for the Brewers for a second straight year? We'll find out in a few weeks.

Brewers name Darnell Coles as hitting coach

Coles returns to the Brewers after previously spending four seasons as a minor league coach and manager. The organization still needs a first base coach.

It didn't take the Brewers long to find a new hitting coach. Thursday afternoon, the team announced that Darnell Coles would take over the position, less than two weeks after letting Johnny Narron go.

Coles, 52, is not unfamiliar to the Brewers; he has been with the organization since 2010, first as a minor league hitting instructor then as manager of the Double-A Huntsville Stars from 2012-13. He was named the new manager of Triple-A Nashville in October of 2013, but never saw a game in the role as a month later the Detroit Tigers hired him as their assistant hitting coach.

Working under hitting coach Wally Joyner in 2014, Coles helped the Tigers to a .331 team wOBA. That mark was good for second in all of the MLB, just behind the Rockies. Detroit hit .277/.331/.426 as a team, earning a playoff spot and division title.

Coles helped make a star out of outfielder J.D. Martinez this year after Martinez flamed out in three poor seasons with the Astros. Martinez was actually a more valuable hitter in 2014 than established superstar and multi-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, though the presence of Cabrera and other established hitters like Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler can help make any hitting coach look good.

Perhaps most importantly for the Brewers is the fact that the Tigers did not have any notable prolonged hitting slumps this past season. Compare the Tigers' month-to-month OPS to the Brewers:

Month Tigers Brewers
March/April .734 .714
May .769 .734
June .801 .768
July .750 .650
August .710 .730
September .783 .634

With the Brewers, Coles will certainly be tasked with helping the team's hitters to a more consistent approach in an effort to avoid second-halves like Milwaukee had in 2014. How he will do so will remain to be seen, however.

This past season the Tigers were bottom-five in the MLB in sacrifice bunts. They also had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate. Like the Brewers, however, they didn't see a lot of pitches: 3.78 per plate appearance, good for eighth-lowest in the MLB. Milwaukee was the lowest at 3.65. Of course, big parts of these numbers come both from the manager's strategy and the players on the team. Coles and Joyner certainly wouldn't need to give as much coaching to, say, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera. Just as Coles probably won't need to devote as much time to Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and, potentially, Aramis Ramirez.

Coles had a 14-year major league career back in the 1980s and 90s as a corner infielder/outfielder for eight different franchises. As a player he hit .245/.307/.382.

The Brewers still need a first base coach after choosing to let Garth Iorg go.