2014 Milwaukee Brewers: Warning track power


Paul Mirabella

Paul Mirabella was a left-handed pitcher who seemed to play for every American League team in a career that spanned 1978-90. In reality, he only played for six of them, but had his most success with the Brewers, who had yet to transfer to the National League. Mirabella started with the Rangers and went to the Yankees and Jays in successive seasons, back to the Rangers before a cameo for the Orioles ’83 World Series champs and then longer stints with the Mariners and Brewers. He was mostly a reliever, though he started 22 times for the Jays in 1980 and had a career high in wins. Alas, it was but five and he also had a career-high 12 losses. He had his best year with the ’88 Brewers with a 1.65 ERA, four saves and a .559 OPS against in 60 innings. He was 4-2 with a 3.97 ERA in 59 innings in 1990, his final year. The final numbers: 19-29, 4.45 ERA, 13 saves, 1 shutout (a seven-hitter to beat the Brewers and Larry Sorensen in 1980, 1-0), 499.2 innings, 526 hits, 239 walks, 258 strikeouts, .752 OPS against, 0.4 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Any prospect ranking that goes beyond five will struggle to find enough Brewers. Even that might be too many. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Brewers’ farm system last, and it’s no surprise given that it’s bereft of talent. It didn’t help that the Brewers forfeited last year’s top pick to sign Kyle Lohse, then went out and lost 88 games. “There may not be a player in this system who projects as an above-average player in the majors;” wrote Law about the Brewers, “the best bets are all teenagers who played in low Class A or below in 2013, and none is close to a lock to get there.” Harsh. The Brewers pick 12th and 41st in 2014 (the Matt Garza signing did not cost a draft pick because of his midseason trade; Texas was not permitted to make a qualifying offer), so their ranking should improve. Twenty-ninth next year at least. Law said the Brewers system has “no starting pitching of note,” which is not good if Yovani Gallardo is your ace. In the meantime, note David Goforth, who’s short, old for a prospect and about the best the Brewers have right now. Goforth had a 3.17 ERA in 125 innings last year, but ended the season in a AA bullpen, which isn’t the promotion you want when you’re a starter. Still, on the Brewers, there’s not much better.

Trivia: Ball Four time. Who led the 1969 Seattle Pilots in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, stolen bases, wins, ERA and saves? Seven categories, seven players. Answer below:

What he said: Brewers GM Doug Melvin on team mascot Hank the dog coming north to Wisconsin: “We’re grateful to have an opportunity to make Hank a permanent member of the Brewers family.” What he meant: “Can he pitch?”

Outlook: Third-base coach Ed Sedar said he found Hank the Dog outside the team’s spring complex with tire marks on his fur and “grease all over him.”

Sounds a lot like the condition of the Brewers’ organization. The major-league team finished fourth in 2013, 24 games out, with its star player smeared by a suspension for PED use after claiming the moral high ground as if it were the inside part of the plate. The farm system is worse.

The Brewers put together a team for 2014 that looks a lot like a Milwaukee Braves flashback: lost of power and enough pitching to look good, but not enough of either to seriously contend.

The Brewers traded Norichika Aoki, who doesn’t hit home runs but does everything else, which was a high price for a pitcher (Will Smith) who threw 33.1 innings last year. Aoki’s trade creates a position for Khris Davis, who’s 26 and has power but plays the outfield worse than humbled slugger Ryan Braun. That means Braun moves to right and Carlos Gomez gets to patrol everything in between. Gomez will be busy.

The Brewers like their rotation, and given their farm system, they better be right. But among all starting pitchers with at least 150 innings last year, Kyle Lohse (.700 OPS against), Matt Garza (.712) and Gallardo (.720) were 52nd, 61st and 64th last year. Garza hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011 or 200 innings since 2010; Gallardo has a career 6.46 ERA vs. the Cardinals and, though successful, Lohse maintains a low strikeout rate (125 in 198.2 innings).

The closer is Jim Henderson, who threw a home run every seven and a half innings last year. That would eliminate him but next is the chivalrous Francisco Rodriguez, who threw a home run every six and a half innings. They may come to appreciate Brandon Kinztler, who threw one every 38 and a half innings.

There will be lots of home runs at Brewers games this year, and the Brewers will even hit a few. If there was any confusion, signing Mark Reynolds dispelled that. Shortstop Jean Segura is also a question mark with a bad shoulder, but the good news is Yuniesky Betancourt won’t replace him. The bad news is Jeff Bianchi will.

It’s a bad start to a season that may be better than 2013 but not by as much as the Brewers think. Help isn’t coming after all.

Trivia answer: The 1969 Pilots leaders were Don Mincher in home runs (25), Tommy Davis in RBIs (80), Wayne Comer in runs scored (88), Tommy Harper in stolen bases (73, still the franchise record), Gene Brabender in wins (13), Bob Locker in ERA (2.18) and Diego Segui in saves (12).

Team song: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo: Milwaukee

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