StrategyMarch 2, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Milwaukee Brewers

By Chris Routledge

Moving along through the NL Central, we arrive at last year’s National League Wild Card team, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are a team which threatened to make the postseason in 2007 before fading down the stretch and went one better in 2008, finishing one game ahead of my beloved Mets to take the final playoff berth (of course, both teams would have cruised into the playoffs had they played in the NL West, but that’s another story)!

Losing out in the first round to eventual World Series champion Phillies, the question is: can the Brewers build on the excellent promise of 2008, or will they slip back into regular season disappointment?

For a closer look at the Milwaukee Brewers and the rest of the NL Central, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Jason Kendall.246.327.324462498516
1B Prince Fielder.276.372.50786341023588
2B Rickie Weeks.234.342.39889144619475
SS J.J. Hardy.283.343.4787824742569
3B Bill Hall.225.293.3965015555404
LF Ryan Braun.285.335.553923710614611
CF Mike Cameron.243.331.47769257017444
RF Corey Hart.268.300.45976209123612

Unsettled: Bill Hall and Jason Kendall. These guys are unsettled in the sense that their mediocrity is under threat from two youngsters who could easily out-produce them with the bat. Breathing down Hall’s neck is Mat Gamel, a prospect who excelled in the Southern League in 2008. While he struggles defensively, Gamel could still be in line for a midseason call-up. Hall’s recent calf injury is unlikely to accelerate Gamel’s promotion – Mike Lamb and Craig Counsell are the likely fill-ins if Hall’s recovery doesn’t go as well as he hopes. Meanwhile, Kendall is under threat from Angel Salome, who hit an incredible .360/.415/.559 at Double-A last year. Salome will also probably begin the year in the minors, but expect to see him in the majors at some point in 2009.

Target: Corey Hart. Ryan Braun will go in the first round of most drafts, and Prince Fielder will not be too far behind. But despite a 20-20 season, Hart may well drop a little after failing to live up to the massive expectations from fantasy owners heading into drafts at this time last year. He had a poor September (hitting .173) and a disappointing NLDS against the Phillies, and that has stayed in many people’s minds. But the skill set is there for him to raise his game to the level expected of him last year, and for those who believe in such things, he turns 27 shortly before the season begins.

The Rotation

Yovani Gallardo (R)0-01.881.2520824 
Jeff Suppan (R)10-104.961.549067177.2 
Manny Parra (L)10-84.391.5414775166 
Dave Bush (R)9-104.181.1410948185 
Braden Looper (R)12-144.161.3110845199w/StL

Unsettled: None, really. The fifth spot in the rotation was up for grabs before the Brewers signed Braden Looper, bumping Seth McClung into a bullpen role. That said, both McClung and Carlos Villanueva will be out to prove they have the necessary qualities to move into the rotation should any of the five ahead of them stumble.

Target: Yovani Gallardo. Having lost both C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency, the Brewers are left with Yovani Gallardo as the only starter likely to make a big fantasy impact in 2009. We must remember that he only pitched 24 innings the whole of last season. He has the stuff, but is he fully recovered? It is a good sign for fantasy owners that he has decided not to participate in the World Baseball Classic, so he can concentrate fully on preparing for the 2009 season. Keep a close eye on him in Spring Training. Parra and Bush are potentially worth taking late-round fliers on, but temper your expectations if you do.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Trevor Hoffman (R)303.771.0446945.1
David Riske (R)25.311.70272542.1
Carlos Villanueva (R)14.071.319330108.1

Chasing Saves: Last year, the Brewers signed a big-name closer in Eric Gagne. 10 saves in 17 opportunities and a 5.44 ERA later, Gagne was no longer the closer. This off-season, they have signed another big name – arguably the biggest of all – in Trevor Hoffman, giving him the responsibility of the ninth inning. By all accounts, Hoffman struggled in his last year with the Padres, picking up 30 saves with an ERA of 3.77 (his highest mark since 1995, partly due to a jump in HR allowed from two in 2007 to eight last year). But at the same time, his K/BB ratio stayed good, and his K/9 actually increased. Maybe he is on the decline, and there is no doubt he will slip in drafts, but if you can get him as your third closer, be happy!

The rest of the bullpen is far from certain – it’s not entirely clear who will be the main set-up man, although Villanueva has said he wants the job. None of them are worth drafting, and they’ll only be worth picking up if Hoffman goes down with an injury. If that happens, Riske has closing experience (as, of course, does Gagne) and may be the front-runner, albeit not one you should put your faith in.

Final Thoughts

Braun is a clear-cut first-round pick, taken most often in the sixth through eighth positions. If he falls further than that, be thankful and don’t hesitate to draft him. Fielder is going in the late second or early third round, and that seems to be about right. Corey Hart will be next to go – great value if he falls as far as round six, but don’t expect that to happen. J.J. Hardy is one of a clutch of shortstops who tend to be drafted in rounds six through nine, and a lot depends on your personal preference and where the shortstop run starts as to where his value lies. Gallardo is a great mid-round starter (and would be a good number three for your fantasy roster). Rickie Weeks is an enigma – there will surely be someone in your draft who reaches for him, expecting “this to be the year”. Let them. Hoffman we have mentioned, while Bush, Parra and Cameron are potentially decent late-round fliers, depending on the depth of your league.

Yesterday, we previewed the Houston Astros. Check back tomorrow for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Chris Routledge is a Mets fan who is getting fed up to the teeth with them blowing their playoff chances on the last day of the regular season. He swears that, if they complete the hat-trick in 2009, he'll renounce his allegiance and take himself off to a monastery deep in the Himalayas where no one has ever heard of the phrase, "Blown Save". Catch up with him in the Cafe under the username chris8.
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