Game Thread: Five Questions with Kyle Lobner of Brew Crew Ball

Kyle Lobner of Brew Crew Ball contacted me to ask me to answer five questions about the Braves. So I returned the favor. Here are his answers to my questions about the team we’re about to face:

Question: The Brewers have gotten some unexpectedly good offensive performances this year, particularly from the 26-year olds Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, who have both demonstrated a lot more power and batting average than we’re used to seeing from them. How much of this is luck, and how much of this is for real?

Answer: There’s probably some of both involved in both cases. It might be a little more luck than skill for Lucroy, who is hitting .351 on balls in play this season and almost certainly won’t be able to sustain that, even as someone who runs pretty well for a catcher. The biggest reasons for optimism with Lucroy are twofold: First, he’s been able to knock his strikeout rate down from over 20% to around 14% this season. Second, he was still productive when he returner after missing quite a bit of time with a broken hand this year.

As for Gomez, he’s certainly hot right now and his career-high 16 home runs this season have been a welcome development, but he’s likely to always be a player whose main skill is defense and who occasionally provides some offensive production as a bonus. Even in the middle of his career year he’s still carrying a sub-.300 OBP, his walk rate is actually down a bit from last season (from around 6% to under 5) and well over 20% of his plate appearances end in strikeouts.

Q: Rickie Weeks is safely above the Mendoza line, finally, but this has still been something of a nightmare season for him after signing that big deal a year and a half ago. Bad luck, or have his skills degraded? What do you expect from him over the rest of the contract?

A: I think Rickie Weeks might be the most underrated Brewer on the roster this season. He got off to a dreadful start and was hitting .159/.290/.289 on June 9, but has posted a .272/.357/.459 line since, which is roughly in line with the player he was in 2010 and 2011. Even when Weeks wasn’t hitting his ability to produce long at bats and draw walks meant he still carried some value.

One of the theories regarding Weeks is that he was still hampered early this season by an ankle injury he suffered last season and returned too early from. That’s certainly possible, and it’s part of the reason I’m inclined to believe his rough start to 2012 was an aberration. Weeks was arguably the most valuable Brewer on a team that also had Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in 2010.

Q: Is it time to give up on Mat Gamel? Are there any other prospects close to the majors that you’re expecting big things from?

A: Some of the circumstances involved aren’t his fault, but I think it’s possible any contribution Gamel makes to a major league team in his career will happen in a different uniform. Injuries and bad timing have limited Gamel’s ability to get consistent playing time in the majors and have put him in a tough spot going forward once again: He was expected to play first base for the Brewers this season but his injury opened the door for Corey Hart to move over there and have a great year. Now there’s no spot available for Gamel to return to.

There’s still a chance Gamel will develop into a very good major league hitter, but he’s 27 and has no clear position to play. I’d feel better about the 2013 Brewers with Corey Hart at first and Norichika Aoki in right than I would with Hart back in right and Gamel at first.

Most of the other impact future Brewers on the horizon are pitchers. Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg are with the team as September callups and are probably the #1 and 2 prospects in the organization at present.

Q: The Brewers watched Fielder walk and then traded Greinke. What will it take for them to compete in the near future?

A: Despite everything the Brewers have given up, they return a team that’s probably not far from being very good next season. They lead the NL in home runs and are second in runs scored and their current starting eight (Lucroy/Martin Maldonado, Hart, Weeks, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Gomez and Aoki) are all back for 2013.

The question is going to be pitching. At least three members of the Brewer Opening Day starting five (Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf) will almost certainly be gone, leaving the Brewers with four question marks behind Yovani Gallardo. Mike Fiers leads a group of solid candidates to fill out the rotation, but most of them have limited big league experience and it’s hard to believe the team will go into 2013 without adding a veteran to pitch in.

Meanwhile, the bullpen has been better lately but still may face something close to a complete overhaul. John Axford is a near lock to be back with the team in 2013 but Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Kameron Loe and Manny Parra may all be gone.

Q: Looking forward the next few years, who do you fear the most in the division — the Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, or Pirates? Who do you fear the least?

A: Well, let’s start by scratching the Astros off the list – they’ll be finishing last in the AL West next season. The Pirates have been bad for so long that even this season’s flirtation with contention hasn’t convinced me that they’re a long term threat. The Cubs are kind of a sleeping tiger in the division because they have money to spend, but they’re a long way away from putting together anything interesting.

So that leaves the Reds and Cardinals. The Reds have done a pretty good job of putting together a team that could be good together for a long time, so I’ll list them as the greater long term threat. I think the Cardinals’ window to contend might be closing as their veterans get older.

121 thoughts on “Game Thread: Five Questions with Kyle Lobner of Brew Crew Ball”

  1. JC’ed

    desert, I didn’t go into further detail because I feel like I’ve done so enough here already, but if you insist, it’s my belief that outfield defensive WAR stats are too wonky to be trusted, it’s not just me saying this, and defense makes up a tremendous amount of Bourn’s WAR. Defensive OF metrics are wildly variable, and it’s my belief that there’s a team dynamic component to defensive stats in general that isn’t adequately corrected for in the current attempt to individualize defensive effort. Case in point — third basemen on teams who overshift by putting the 3B to the second base side of the shortstop (to maximize overall range) are putting up historic defensive WAR numbers, but it’s not indicative of anything. Kelly Johnson posted tremendous defensive WAR numbers as an LF, but I watched him and he played two strides from the warning track. There’s too much noise, smarter people than me (or, as far as I know, you) say there’s a lot of work left to do.

    And anyway, I didn’t dismiss them. I specifically said I would like them to be true.

  2. If you’re building your team around young pitching, I’d think you’d want to optimize the defense as well. Bourn gives you a solid bat, speed on the bases and he plays center better than anyone, AND the Braves have no one in the pipeline as a replacement. I absolutely don’t want Jason in center, as he’s proven to be fragile and I don’t see the point in taking your best corner OF in ages and moving him to a position he won’t play as well. Who else are you going to put out there? Constanza? Pastornicky? No way.

  3. Not to pile on, but…

    Bourn has 21 UZR this year, after -6.4 last year, 19.4 the year before that, and 9.9 the year before that. His career UZR/150 is 11.1, and since that’s over 6500 defensive innings, that may be a pretty good reflection of his talent level.

    However, his defensive play this year is literally twice as high as his career UZR/150. So, either he’s having twice as good a year defensively as is his norm, or some of that result is noise in the data. It’s very possible that he’s having a career year defensively, since we know he’s having a career year offensively. But even if he is having a career year defensively that doesn’t preclude there being noise in the data.

  4. I find it dubious that a player’s defensive value can vary from year to year that much. If the numbers are partly a function of opportunity, which can vary significantly, then you don’t have a sufficiently pure measure of skill. Michael Bourn can’t help where the ball is being hit. It’s beyond my comprehension that he could ever measure out to be a poor defensive CF, but that’s what the numbers claim. What could constitute such a variance? His primary defensive value is in his speed, and speed don’t slump, as they say. So you have to take the whole data set with a grain of salt.

  5. “what the numbers claimed last year” is what I would have edited….speaking of which, I’m willing to pony up a few bucks to reinstate that service. Maybe we could look into it.

  6. Don’t forget that Bourn played in Houston with that hill in CF and all those bank shots waiting to happen. Could that have affected his defensive stats significantly?

    Not a metric guy, in case you can’t tell.

  7. @12 Rawr, I still have access from when I took a look at some things for Mac, but none of the theme files are editable, so I can’t change the function file.

  8. Excellent interview, Alex. I think the Pirates are a bit more dangerous in the long term than Kyle does, but we’ll see.

    This isn’t going to be a long evening for Minor unless he can get more efficient, even if his results are good.

  9. That was a bit of bad luck. You’re supposed to as a runner read a ball going into the dirt and take a good secondary in case it gets away and you can move up, but the catcher made a lucky stab and gloved it even though it bounced well in front of the plate. Generally at best they just knock it down and you get back no problem.

  10. Great interview Alex.

    Bourn is not a Brave next year unless he is willing to take less. I would imagine he will be an Astro, Ranger, Nat, Red or Cub.

  11. I’ve got to think we’ll have a chance if we’re bidding against the Cubs or Astros. Who’s going to want to spend the next five years getting his brains beaten in, even for all the money?

    I would make an pening bid in the $85-90MM range for 5 years, and expect to pay $100-105MM. Bourn’s good, but I think he knows he’s not getting Pujols/ Fielder money.

    This Brewer patience is really getting annoying.

  12. Good discussion on player value today. I will also take the other side on WAR as any kind of viable tool to determine relative value. WAR says that Bourn is way better than Josh Hamilton. WAR is just a glorified counting stat that over-values speed, under-values power, and over-weights very unreliable defensive numbers. I’d rather stick with old-fashioned slash lines for offense and my eyes for defense. My eyes tell me that Bourn is an excellent CF. But I’d rather have Hamilton’s bat. There’s no way the defensive runs saved is worth the OPS difference. Every CF in any league will make the routine plays. The great plays are at the margin and there’s just not enough of them over the season to matter. Certainly not enough to make up for 40 HRs.

    If Bourn gets paid like the 3rd best player in all of MLB then there’s no way we can sign him. Fortunately, he won’t get paid like that unless it’s the Phillies – and more power to them in that case.

  13. It sounds like there’s about 5000 Chips in the seats tonight, every weak fly ball they get all kinds of noisy.

  14. Pitch count’s way way up there for Minor. 13 outs, 74 pitches. I’m only following through Gamecast, so what’s his problem? Nibbling too much?

  15. Oh, I’d much rather have Bourn than Hamilton. Hamilton is a terrific hitter, but he’s awfully injury-prone, he’s already 31, he spent more time in left field than center in both 2010 and 2011, and his fielding numbers have started to turn south. Incredible bat when he’s healthy, obviously, but he’s a legitimate gamble.

  16. sansho1,

    Reading back through the comments, I think I was a little too aggressive. I’m sorry about that, I do apologize.

    Regarding the discussion at hand, I think I’m somewhere around Alex’s train of thought: Bourn passes the eye test, and he’s had extremely good numbers throughout his career. Specifically concerning WAR, I think that if Bourn was getting significantly more defensive chances compared to his teammates, we would see that reflected in Heyward and Prado’s numbers (in that the would be average or below average). Since that’s not the case, and given the team’s defensive prowess this year, I don’t think that it’s beyond reason that he really has been this good (for which he should get credit). But that’s just my opinion.

    Also, this isn’t meant as an attack on your logic, but just a clarification: the defensive component of WAR, UZR, automatically disqualifies any play where there’s a significant shift beyond the normal positions.

  17. Desert, you’re correct, as Tom Tango notes on his blog:

    As MGL pointed out yesterday, the shift plays that Lawrie (or anyone) makes are excluded from the calculations. I’d respond directly to the blogger, but AN is blocked at the office.

    Other than the over-shifting, then, yes, UZR is a measure of range and positioning. Indeed, EVERY fielding metric is a measure of range and positioning. Why is that? Because other than the over-shifting, we aren’t being told where the fielders are being positioned. So, while you as the observer can tell where the fielders are roughly positioned, no one is actually recording this information for us to use! You can’t then fault a metric for not using data that it’s not being given. Indeed, if we had the data, WE WOULD USE THE DATA.

    In other words, all defensive stats fail to properly account for defensive positioning. They’re all flawed. We sort of already knew that, but it just means you have to remember that when citing single-season WAR.

  18. Getting a run on a double play feels like joy after seeing the bases left loaded or runners at third with none or one out so much lately.

  19. No problem, desert. I don’t claim to understand defense any more than those coming up with the numbers. And a lot of the criticism has to do with various purveyors of advanced metrics competing for primacy. Which is a good thing, as it should breed a better understanding over time. We’re not there yet, especially as compared to hitting metrics, which I take as pretty solid at this point.

  20. @33, WAR says Bourn is *way* better than Hamilton *this* year. I’m saying that I strongly disagree with that assessment. Over the long term I wouldn’t want either signed to a 6 year deal. In fact I can’t think of anyone I’d sign for long-term big money except for maybe Heyward or maybe Minor/Medlen/Beachy or another young pitcher. I would not sign Kimbrel long-term either.

    I don’t think we can give any single player 20% of our payroll, so probably the debate is moot. We won’t be signing him.

  21. I’m a liiiiiiittle skeptical about letting Minor face Braun again, what with all of the warning track fly balls we’ve been seeing. But I think I’d leave him in at least one more inning. He’s earned that level of trust, IMO.

  22. @37

    I may have out of date info on that — but it’s barely out of date, as this error was being included as recently as the beginning of this season by at least one of the popular advanced metrics. Point being, there are still gross adjustments being made to the measurement techniques. We’re nowhere near the fine tuning stage, IMO.

  23. 39,

    I can definitely agree with you on that.


    Yeah, I think I’m definitely aboard the Josh Hamilton bandwagon. It’s not my money, and HRs are sexy.

  24. There also needs to be a measure of team defensive positioning … I would wager that some teams are probably using crazy-advanced predictive software that combines hitter’s tendencies, the pitching gameplan, and how much they trust their pitcher to locate the ball in a place that is in line with the defensive positioning. Other teams might be winging it. I really don’t know, but I bet you could easily measure it via something like “total steps taken by all defensive players to record an out” over the entire season. Teams with good defensive scouting would in theory have more at ’em balls than those that don’t put as much effort into it.

  25. I thought I had read somewhere that basketball uses some sort of ‘spacial positioning’ type of technology to come up with stats that can shed light on players tendencies when the defender is playing off by a couple of steps or in their face for example. Somebody must be looking into the next great thing like this.

  26. 52,

    That would be really cool. Also, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to evaluate basketball players. Baseball is hard enough with just pitcher and defense vs. hitter; basketball must be near impossible.

  27. Wow. Gutsy sequency by Minor there. I want to pat myself on the back for being one of the few people who still thought Minor could be something when he was awful for the first half of the year, but I’m not sure that I was….

  28. I know that soccer broadcasts at least use some kind of analysis systems in some matches. They can flip to a rendered view of the players and rotate around and show where there were openings/passes/mistakes and so on. Also for some matches they show how far the different players have run during the match.

    I’m not sure if they use GPS or some kind of Video analysis system though, but either should work just as well for baseball (apart from possibly GPS in domed stadiums).

  29. I’m pretty sure that soccer uses chips placed in the players’ shoes. I don’t think every game is trackable in the manner that you speak of just yet.

    That said, it would be cool to do that for baseball and get what amounts to the ultimate defensive data…

  30. I think this goes without saying, but take the out stupid.

    I never thought I’d be thrilled to see Durbin replacing Venters. This is real.

  31. We failed to score when we had opportunity.

    Minor pitched well. Venters did not, and neither did Durbin.

    We didn’t do much tonight, but we’ll give ’em hell tomorrow.

  32. Failing to score with runners on, dumb outs on the bases, an offense which has yet again scored one whole run, an inability of pitchers to take free outs being offered, Durbin in general…

  33. I assure you, when, in the one game playoff, Durbin comes into the game in a high leverage situation, he won’t be the least of our problems.

  34. Fredi wouldn’t be dumb enough to put the season on Durbin’s arm… would he?

    Seriously, Avilan or Hanson would make a better long reliever, and the rest of the playoff bullpen looks pretty obvious from here.

  35. in any winnable game, be it wildcard or whatever, I see the SP going 6, EOF in 8 and the Kraken in 9. leaving 7 as a scary inning for this team… well 7 and anything past 9

  36. 94- Moylan or Martinez would make good 7th-inning pitchers. Even Venters might, tonight notwithstanding.

  37. Why not have a starter available to pitch a couple innings? I’d rather have Medlen start, but I could see a scenario in which Hudson pitches 6, Medlen the next two, then Kraken. Medlen could then start Game 3, Hudson Game 4 or 5.

  38. What has happened to this offense? I thought Greg Walker was supposed to remedy this. This offense is just putrid. You can’t keep expecting to win every game 1-0. This team hasn’t hit for three weeks now (or whenever the Dodger series was.)

    This team is just so hard to figure out-the inconsistency in every phase is just maddening.

  39. In runs scored, the Braves entered tonight 5th in the league, just three behind Washington (which had played one fewer game). It’s just that we’re dependent on secondary skills (we’re first in walks and above average in isolated power) but batting only .251 (tied for 9th in the league).

  40. Reds beat the Pirates; Pittsburgh loaded the bases with no one out in the top of the 14th and didn’t score. So it’s not just us.

    And St. Louis is also losing in San Diego. If we had to lose, tonight wasn’t a bad time (assuming you’ve given up on winning the division).

  41. In the last 22 games (10-12), the Braves have averaged 3.68 runs and have been shut out three times and have scored 2 or fewer runs 11 times. I realize it’s not just the Braves-offense is down generally and most teams go through offensive dry spells-but it’s still frustrating.

    And, oh by the way, the Phillies might just make the playoffs.

  42. And, oh by the way, the Phillies might just make the playoffs.

    You know there’s a lot of mediocrity in the league, and too many teams being permitted into the playoffs, when a team that’s under .500 in mid-September has delusions of making the postseason.

  43. the braves hit the ball pretty well tonight, but did some STUPID stuff on the bases. You cannot waste 4 of your 27 outs (at least) on the bases.

    Tonight looked like some guys were trying WAAAAAYY too hard, which can be as bad as not trying hard enough.

    Hope we put it behind us and get 2 Ws going into the off day.

  44. I didn’t see the game but did Prado really get thrown out as the 3rd out at third when if he’d stayed on 2nd Uggla would’ve been the tying run? Inexcusable.

  45. Not an excuse, but I was impressed with Martin Maldonado’s arm at catcher. From his minor league work, the .280 BA and .754 OPS is most likely an apparition, but the guy looked impressive last night to me.

  46. According to BPro our odds to make the playoffs went up .2% yesterday putting us at 99.6%. Last year I think we made it to 99.8% though.

  47. Prado was definitely LVP last night. You can’t get thrown out at third down 3. That sucked. Oh well, I think our slim shot at the division is pretty much toast. Let’s just play well through the month and see if we can get the bats going.

  48. So, in other sports related news, I finally broke down and joined a (for funsies) NFL Suicide Pool with about 200 other online chuckleheads.

    After survivng the Philly stinkbomb in week 1, I leaning toward picking against Cleveland again. I mean, if the Browns couldn’t take advantage of Philly Sunday, what will they do against a semi-decent team on the road?

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