Selig ranks among Wisconsin’s sports icons

Everything about Bud Selig screams "Cheesehead." For one, Wisconsin is the ultimate blue-collar state, and he always carries himself as just another citizen who shovels his own snow. He spent years on the board of directors of the Packers. In fact, he continues to eat a hot dog every day at the same Milwaukee Frozen Custard stand.

Brewers add pair of Minor Leaguers in deal with LA

With all quiet on the Major League front, the Brewers on Thursday continued addressing Minor League needs via a three-player trade with the Dodgers. Milwaukee sent catcher Shawn Zarraga to Los Angeles in exchange for versatile outfielder Matt Long, who was actually traded twice Thursday, and left-hander Jarret Martin.

So are the Cubs good now?

The Cubs have had an active offseason, and their fanbase is expecting contention. They're getting closer, but the expectations may have gotten a bit out of hand.

I have previously disclosed around here before that I'm pretty scared of the Chicago Cubs revival that's underway. The Cubs were already in position to get good again beyond 2015; they have Theo Epstein running the show, a huge budget, and a farm system on the verge of graduating a lot of talent. However, there seems to be a sense among Cubs fans and national observers that this offseason has sped up that process, and that a return to contention for the Cubs has arrived. This week's Sports Illustrated showcases some of that crazy optimism-- according to the cover, Vegas odds for the Cubs winning the World Series have gone from 50-1 to 12-1 in a month and a half, which is insane. (Today I checked Vegas Insider, and they have the Cubs at 10/1 to win the World Series, which is tied for 4th in MLB).

To showcase how quickly this shift has occurred; here's something I wrote in April while previewing a Brewers/Cubs series:

...for now, the Cubs are not particularly good. The rotation is reasonable but their lineup has, well... a couple of players who might be able to start for a contending team. They still only have 3 (or 4 depending on how you count Mike Olt) regulars under 25, so they're not turning things over to the young position players completely yet. Their plan is likely to hope a few of those veterans have big first halves and can fetch a few more prospects at the trade deadline. The aforementioned solid rotation, too, has not exactly been taken over by the youth movement either; Travis Wood is 27 and the rest of the starters are 29, 30, 30, and 31.

This Cubs squad feels a bit like the '04 Brewers. That was a pretty bad, veteran heavy team with a few pieces that was just wasting time until the prospect wave arrived. The current edition of the Cubs have a bit more young talent-- Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Mike Olt in particular-- but aren't going to be finishing out of the NL Central cellar this year, either.

From then on, everything seemed to go pretty much according to their plan. They flipped some starting pitching for assets at the deadline and broke in big time prospects Jorge Soler and Javy Baez. Then the offseason came and they went ahead and hired one of the best managers in baseball, Joe Maddon, to run their baseball team. And to top it off they went out and signed Jon Lester.

So now, what I have seen from the Cub fanbase seems to indicate that they are of the view that the pendulum has swung back in the Cubs favor for good. Back in that April article, I expressed the idea that I was more optimistic about the Cubs future than most Cubs fans I knew. Now, after a brief interlude of Cubs fan tolerability, we're back to the status quo and they're expecting to compete this year.

So where do they actually stand, particularly in comparison to our Brewers?

To carry on the analogy above, if the Cubs last year were the 2004-2005 Brewers, it seems to me that the Cubs this year have skipped ahead to some bizarro version of the 2007 Brewers with a competent manager. That '07 Brewer team started off great but ended up at 83-79, blowing a playoff spot in the final month of the season. It also marked the emergence of 5 new members of the young Brewer core:

  • 23 year old Prince Fielder, who hit .288/.395/.618 with 50 home runs
  • 24 year old Rickie Weeks, who hit .235/.374/.433
  • 24 year old J.J. Hardy, who hit .277/.323/.463
  • 23 year old Ryan Braun, who hit .324/.370/.634 with 34 home runs in just 492 plate appearances, but also racked up what was probably the worst defensive season of the modern baseball era
  • 25 year old Corey Hart, who hit .295/.353/.539

That team still had plenty of holes. Bill Hall in center field had a subpar year, and the Menchkins platoon in left wasn't quite average. And Johnny Estrada wasn't Jonathan Lucroy. The pitching staff had a sporadically healthy Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo for the second half of the year, Francisco Cordero in the bullpen, and very, very little else. It took the addition of CC Sabathia the following season to finally get the Brewers back to the playoffs.

It would be wishful thinking that the Cubs collection of hitting prospects will all come through as big as the young Brewer core did back in '07, but it's almost uncanny to me how closely the young guns on the projected Cubs roster match up with that '07 Brewer team. Matching in order from the bullet points above:

  • 25 year old Anthony Rizzo is already a star with a .286/.386/.527 season under his belt. He's not Prince, but in a depressed offensive era he's one of the best 1B in the NL.
  • 22 year old Javy Baez will likely play second base. He's a top tier prospect who really struggled in his first shot at the big leagues last year, hitting .169 in 229 PAs.
  • 25 year old Starlin Castro has been around for a while now but has a Hardy-like power stroke for a shortstop.
  • 22 year old Kris Bryant is maybe the best prospect in all of baseball, who mashed in college and the minors and will likely make his MLB debut early this year at 3rd base. This may sound a bit familiar to Brewer fans.
  • 23 year old Jorge Soler is a more highly touted outfield prospect than Corey Hart ever was and had a great debut last year, but they are comparable power-hitting right fielders, and a Hart-like career track for Soler seems very reasonable.

The takeaway is that this is a Cubs team that might be getting close to that '07 Brewers team in terms of offensive talent. There will surely be growing pains for the Cubs, as there were for those Brewers, but they're back to being in the conversation for a playoff spot. And I don't like it.

I'll still take this year's Brewer squad to win more games than the Cubs. The Cubs at 10/1 to win the World Series while the Brewers are at 35/1 is legitimately insane (not to mention the Cardinals at 12/1). But it's very clear that the gap has narrowed considerably. And, quite honestly, 2015 is not the year I'm nervous about.

What We Learned: December 18, 2014

News and notes from around the web.

Cram Session

NL Central Update

Around Baseball

  • Sometimes, baseball and politics do mix. With the United States normalizing relations with Cuba, many have wondered how this might influence baseball things. Previously, Cubans like Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman have had to flee the country illegally in order to play ball in MLB.
  • The big news in baseball, of course, was the huge three-team trade between the Padres, Rays and Nationals that saw Wil Myers heading to San Diego. Here is a breakdown of the deal:
    PADRES GET: OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan, P Jose Castillo, P Gerardo Reyes
    RAYS GET: OF Steven Souza, P Travis Ott, C Rene Rivera, P Burch Smith, 1B Jake Bauers
    NATIONALS GET: SS Trea Turner, P Joe Ross

Brewers coach LeBoeuf undeterred by cancer battle

Limitations in his legs caused by cancer hasn't stopped Minor League coach Al LeBoeuf from instructing his players and son on the field.

Brewers coach LeBoeuf undeterred by cancer battle

Limitations in his legs caused by cancer hasn't stopped Minor League coach Al LeBoeuf from instructing his players and son on the field.

Don’t dismiss Jonathan Broxton in 2015

It seems a lot of Brewers fans are underwhelmed at the concept of Jonathan Broxton as closer. If you count yourself among their numbers, take note of the following.

When the Brewers first acquired Jonathan Broxton at the waiver trade deadline, to be perfectly honest, I didn't really care that much. I though it was an appropriate move for the cost to acquire. Namely 2 non-prospects. At first glance I thought he was a high risk acquisition that could easily tank. With a $9 million price tag in 2015 and at least another $2 million in 2016, I actually got a little angry. But once the season ended, and I took a closer look, I found some reasons to feel hopeful.

One might look at his recent performance and compare it to his past performance and walk away unimpressed. He doesn't have the velocity he once possessed nor has he been striking out batters at such a prodigious rate. That's the wrong way of looking at it though. We should only be concerned with who he is now and what he is capable of now.

I think there are two things that tell us he might still be a good reliever in 2015. Looking at his career numbers, he's only had 2 seasons which we could truly call bad. Those would be his 2011 and 2013 years. One thing above all else connects those two seasons: Health.

In 2011 Jonathan Broxton missed almost the entire season due to an elbow injury. He eventually had some surgery to clean up some bone spurs in his elbow. In 2013 he again missed a significant amount of time due to a torn flexor tendon in his elbow that required surgery.

In seasons when Broxton was generally healthy he was very effective. In fact only twice in those seasons did he have an ERA above 3.00 (3.13 ERA in 2008, 4.04 ERA in 2010). While he did miss a handful of games at the start of 2014, he was otherwise healthy the entire season. His ERA in 2014 was 2.30. While it's fair to call him a high risk player, at the moment there is no reason to believe that Jonathan Broxton won't be healthy again in 2015.

It's at this time an individual may feel compelled to note Jonathan Broxton experienced a career low average fastball velocity in 2014. Such an individual would indeed be correct. However this individual will have missed an important point. While Broxton's season long average fastball velocity was his lowest ever, it was rising from June onwards.

Jonathan Broxton 2014 Velo Chart

Velo chart via brooksbaseball.net

It might be helpful to take a wider view of his average velocity to see just how much his velocity jumped in the second half of the season.

BroxtonCareerVeloChart

Jonathan Broxton never regained the peak velocity (97-98 mph) he had way back in 2009, but towards the end of 2014 his velocity was right around what he had been averaging (94-95 mph) from 2010 through 2013. That's encouraging.

He was recovering from injury at the start of 2014 and as the season went on his velocity really started coming back. I think it's too soon to conclude that his velocity has returned for good. However at the least, there is now a reason to believe his velocity (94-95 mph) will be there if he's healthy in 2015.

As Carson Cistulli notes here, Broxton has always been "a player for whom there's been a strong correlation between arm speed and effectiveness."  There is reason to believe his velocity will be there so long as he is healthy. There is also reason to believe he will be healthy in 2015. Therefore, there is reason to believe he will be an effective reliever in 2015.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

Velocity charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Brewers sign Petersen to Minors deal with invite

The Brewers restocked their Triple-A outfield on Tuesday with Minor League deals for Triple-A veterans Bryan Petersen and Ben Guez, and invited Petersen to Major League Spring Training.

What we learned: December 16, 2014

Brewers news and notes from around the web.

Cram Session

  • The Brewers are, apparently, still interested in Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig. However, it seems unlikely the team would be willing to give up as much as another who may view Craig as a viable full-time starter. That said, any deal would offer Boston some salary relief and the Brewers could be waiting on the edges in case nobody else steps up. The Marlins had been rumored to have interest, but signed Mike Morse to a deal.
  • Of course, the biggest actual news around the team involves soon-to-be-former MLB commissioner Bud Selig. The Brewers will be honoring their former owner with a 'Bud Selig Experience' being built for next year. It will be a multi-media presentation, will be open year-round, and nobody will care beyond the snark when it was first announced.
  • ESPN is going to feature Jonathan Lucroy in a segment this week regarding his spending time with a cancer-stricken four-year-old.
  • Rob Neyer looks at the future of the NL Central and, surprise surprise, doesn't see the Brewers as viable long-term contenders. People said that about Milwaukee four years ago, too.
  • The Brewers did make one signing yesterday, bringing in outfielder Ben Guez for minor league depth. Milwaukee is running low on outfielders in the upper levels of the minors (more on that later) so more deals along these lines should be expected.
  • Not that the organization's farm system is devoid of talent at outfield, of course. They just haven't reached Double-A or Triple-A yet. They certainly have some top prospects at the position, including Tyrone Taylor, who was featured in a profile by Bernie Pleskoff at MLB.com.

NL Central Update

Around Baseball

  • The Padres signed Brandon Morrow to a reasonable one-year deal. Though he's had a lot of injury woes, he potentially would have looked nice in the Brewers bullpen.
  • As mentioned above, the Marlins signed Mike Morse to a two-year contract. That could take them out of the running for Allen Craig.
  • The Royals signed Alex Rios for $11 million and the Dodgers picked up Brett Anderson for $10 million. Hefty deals for chancy players.
  • The Yankees signed Chase Headley for four years. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ALEX RODRIGUEZ???

Scouting profile: Brewers outfield prospect Tyrone Taylor

Bernie Pleskoff had an opportunity to scout Taylor in the recently concluded Arizona Fall League. Taylor played 18 games in center for the Glendale Desert Dogs. He handled 48 chances without making an error. Offensively, Taylor hit .271 in 93 plate appearances. He stole three bases in four attempts. Taylor made the AFL West Division Fall Stars team.