Do you know why the offense is lousy? It has nothing to do with the Brewers "having to hit home runs to score" or any other such nonsense. They do need to hit home runs to score, but that statement, when made by the media, usually implies that if they'd just set down a few more bunts, or take more walks, or whatever, that everything would be fine.
The reason that the Brewers need to hit HRs to score is that, in their lineup as currently consituted, they have 3 competent offensive players, all of whom excel in the power game. They would score without the aid of the HR if they had a few more competent hitters.
These 3 are Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and JJ Hardy (and JJ's really only good "for a short stop.") Ray Durham and Mike Cameron are also OK, I suppose.
Typically, teams have more than 3 competent players in their lineup, but poor choices by management regarding sacrificing offense for defense left the Brewers with little margin for error, and unable to weather any type of prolonged slump. Let's look at the worst offenders.
1. Corey Hart
What happened? Hart led the Brewers in WARP just 1 year ago, but this year has played worse than an average corner outfielder, and over the last month has been nothing short of dreadful (.157/.179/.236). Hart's OBP is down over 50 points from a year ago, and he has walked 9 fewer times despite playing in 17 more games.
Hart has always been prone to these long droughts because of a long swing, and his lack of patience has made him an easy out this year as pitchers have been able to get him to chase low almost at will. Hart has also failed to dominate left-handed pitching like he used to. In 2007 he beat lefties all over the park, sporting a gaudy .331/.419/.613 line, and hitting 9 of his 24 HRs. This year he has almost no platoon split, which would have been fine had he improved against righties. Instead, he's regressed to the point of struggling against both.
Of the offensive problems suffered by the Brewers, this was probably the most damaging as it was both unforseeable and unfixable.
2. Jason Kendall
Jason Kendall is an excercise in masochism, both in the physical harm that he has caused himself by catching every day, and by the harm he has done to his own baseball team. Kendall's defense was excellent this year, however, on a team that struggled to score runs down the stretch, and in which almost every position struggled for extended periods, defense should have been sacrificed at positions featuring a superior offensive backup.
In the final month of the season, Jason Kendall hit .195/.287/.286. Backup Mike Rivera could have easily given the Brewers an offensive shot in the arm with his .306/.377/.435 line. In fact, as one of the few Brewers who reliably got on base, and given the fact that team OBP is the Brewers' single weakest area, it's almost a crime that management could not find more at-bats for their backup backstop. Even if Rivera failed to keep up his gaudy line, anything close would have been an improvement over the inept Kendall, especially considering that the wear and tear on Kendall was exacerbating his problems.
Moreovoer, after september callups were announced prospect Angel Salome (and his .360/.415/.559 line) was available to play, and at the very least, provide a backup in the event that pinch-hitting for Kendall was necessary. For some reason, the Brewers never used Salome.
I don't know what Jason Kendall was out to prove this year by playing in all of those games, especially after his option vested. What he did prove is that he's willing to hurt the team for money.
3. Bill Hall
In the last month of the season, Billy put up an almost Jason Kendallesque .194/.275/.278. Earlier in the year Hall was a shining example of the Peter Principle in action. He was terrible because he can't hit righties, so they platooned him with King of the Three True Outcomes Russell Branyan. Hall's numbers improved because he was only facing lefties, at which point they decided Hall had "figured things out" and started stripping Branyan of at-bats against RHP. The only word for that is stupid.
Hall struggled again while Branyan wasted away on the pine, eventually sustaining a season-ending oblique injury taking BP. Eventually management realized what a disaster they had on their hands, but by that point Craig Counsell was their only platoon option, (although giving Mat Gamel some time wouldn't have hurt) and he's not really much of an option. Third base became the Black Hole of Suck.
What's even worse is that Hall's not a good defensive player. Not improving the situation at third is the biggest management failure of the year. Where have you gone Jeff Cirillo, our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.
4. Rickie Weeks
Has anyone ever been a more frustrating prospect than Rickie Weeks. Occasional flashes of brilliance, long stretches of ineptitude, and defensive incompetence unrivaled in the league. Weeks power and plate discpline disappeared until September, by which time the Brewers had acquired Ray Durham to help him out. This would have been a happy accident had either Durham or Weeks been able to field another postion (or their own position for that matter), but instead two of the Brewers' most productive offensive players down the stretch were both stuck playing (poorly) second base. Maybe it's just as well, as Weeks' increased production was probably more a result of his platoon split than anything else.
When Branyan and Kapler were lost for the year, the Brewers did not just lose backups. They lost huge offensive upgrades at two of their weakest offensive positions. Not playing Mike Rivera was simply managerial malpractice.
When all you have to work with is Mike Cameron, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, and Prince Fielder, and when lefties can get Prince out basically at will, it is not surprising that the offense will stink.
Hopefully they can figure some things out and win a few in Milwaukee this weekend, but if not, this offseason should see some major changes on offense.
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