Four Brewers could be unexpected 'impact players' in 2014

Sep 28, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett (2) completes a double play against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Citi Field. Image by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Four Brewers could be unexpected 'impact players' in 2014

By Ryan Topp. CREATED Feb 22, 2014

Spring training is underway for the Milwaukee Brewers. After a slow start to the offseason, Doug Melvin filled some holes on the team by signing Matt Garza and Mark Reynolds. A lot of attention will be on the new players this spring, but there are some others that were already on the roster who could make a substantial impact.

It seems like ages ago, but in the early summer of 2012, there were few pitchers with better results than control specialist Mike Fiers. In his first 80 innings, he sported a 1.80 ERA. This wasn’t some epic fluke, because Fiers was striking out a batter per inning while walking only a fifth as many.

His last 10 starts that year became a non-stop barrage of home runs, and the onslaught continued through 11 appearances in 2013. He then ended up on the disabled list for the rest of the year after taking a line drive off the forearm in AAA.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system likes Fiers’ chances
to bounce back if given the chance this year. They have him posting a 3.08 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 17 walks over 52 ⅓ innings. It’s hard to see him getting those kinds of innings right now because he is far down the depth chart.

He also doesn’t have the classic short reliever profile, which usually includes at least one outstanding pitch. He has some ability, and at the rate pitchers tend to get hurt, may end up playing a significant role.

Judging by social media these days, a lot of Brewers fans are ready to turn the page once and for all on the ever-divisive Rickie Weeks. He certainly hasn’t been the same player since his 2011 injury, and as a result has had a very hard time living up to the four-year, $38.5 million contract he signed in 2011.

Scooter Gennett had an outstanding rookie campaign after Weeks went down for the year, and has established himself as something of a front-runner heading into training camp.

As good as Gennett was overall, though, he did struggle quite a bit in a very small sample against left-handed pitchers in 2013. He hit .154, with a .175 on-base percentage and no extra base hits. Even when Weeks struggled in recent years, he was always able to put up better numbers against lefties than righties.

If the Brewers do find themselves in serious contention, Weeks’ contributions offensively against left handers could prove to be quite important. If the team falls out of it but they are able to get something in the first half from Weeks, there is a chance that they could flip him for something useful around the deadline, especially if they’re willing to pay some of his salary. Either way, the final chapter in the Rickie Weeks saga is yet to be written.

Outfielder Caleb Gindl’s solid major league debut in 2013 was obscured by the flashy exploits of Khris Davis.  He goes into camp penciled in as the starting left fielder as a result of some eye-popping numbers after Ryan Braun was suspended. Gindl may not look the part, but he has a long track record of hitting in the minor leagues, particularly against right-handed pitching.

It is unlikely Gindl carries a high batting average, but his combination of patience (20 walks versus only 25 strikeouts) and power (14 of his 32 MLB hits thus far have been for extra bases) make him a stick to be reckoned with.

If Davis falters at all and the Brewers can make room on the roster for Gindl, he could see a sizable number of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers as the season progresses and do some real damage.

OK, so starting pitcher Marco Estrada isn’t really an unknown since he’s been a regular member of the Brewers since 2011, but he is underappreciated. Pitchers have the most control over three aspects of their performance: strikeout rate, walk rate and home runs allowed. When balls are put into play, pitchers are at at the mercy of the defenders behind them and the luck of the bounce.

Estrada happens to be pretty good at striking guys out and avoiding walks, and the home run rate might be due to regress a little a bit, as Curt Hogg detailed in a recent post on Disciples of Uecker. Estrada needs to stay healthy and pitch a full season, and that’s a big “if” considering he’s never thrown over 140 innings in his big league career.

If he can stay on the mound, and the balls stay in the park, there is a good chance his ERA will look a lot more like a number three starter than a number five.

Ryan Topp (@RDTopp on Twitter) runs the Brewers fan site Disciples of Uecker.