Results tagged ‘ BBtJN ’

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #20 Jonathan Lucroy

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(so on and so forth)

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUC!

Yes, the “ooh” sound in the middle of an athlete’s name means, at least in Wisconsin, that said player will never truly know how the fans feels because it always sounds like ample disdain on the home field. It’s an inevitability. If you’ve ever produced a worthwhile memory, have longevity, and/or are popular for whatever reason, the “oohs” are going to find you. From Brewers favorite Cecil Cooooooooper and the Green Bay Packer John Kuuuuuuuuuuuhn to current Brewer (and today’s profile subject)…

Jonathan Luuuuucroy (er…Lucroy).

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The other thing that Jonathan Charles Lucroy couldn’t escape last year was hitting doubles. They were everywhere, it seemed. Truth be told, he hit 53 of them setting a new high-water mark for that statistical category for catchers. Equally as impressive, if not more so, was the Lucroy finished the deed with two months of an ailing hamstring and when the entire rest of the team was seemingly in a simultaneous slump at the plate. Mind you, Lucroy didn’t avoid slumping in 2014, he just happened to have his in July (.207/.271/.414) after a blisteringly hot June (.359/.427/.602) but still managed six doubles in July.

The statistics are there, and in the interest of time I won’t bore you with all of them. Instead allow me to summarize Lucroy’s on- and off-field contributions to the Brewers both in terms of statistics as well as notoriety. Jonathan Lucroy finished fourth in the National League’s Most Valuable Player balloting for 2014, started the All-Star Game at catcher, set those records for doubles, finished with a .301 batting average by getting the two hits he needed on the season’s final day, is the subject of a Star Wars-themed bobblehead in May at Miller Park as well as a fitting “Double Jonathan Lucroy” bobblehead in Appleton at the Brewers Class-A affiliate in April. He was the Brewers representative in MLB Network’s annual “Face of MLB” contest and even attended the President’s State of the Union address in part due to his work with the Honor Flight program. His “nerd power” and eyeglasses celebration was endearing and his frankness and earnestness as a locker room voice for the team is well-noted. His pitch framing is talked about in most every baseball circle that cares. He’s become a complete player with just enough self-deprecating wit to keep away those who would tear down athletes and celebrities deemed to be too popular.

Lucroy truly is a bastion of baseball excellence for the Brewers. He’s listed among the game’s elite at his position and his play is absolutely paramount to the success of the Brewers in 2015. With that in mind, manager Ron Roenicke has made a decision to continue keeping Lucroy’s bat in the lineup while protecting him physically from catching every single day by using Luc as soft platoon partner at first base with newcomer Adam Lind. Lucroy appeared in 18 games at first base for Milwaukee in 2014 — a that number will likely increase in 2015. He handles the pitching staff well and despite not having a great throwing arm it is accurate.

All (okay, most) of the above is why when Lucroy showed up to Spring Training with a recurrence of the hamstring injury that affected him down the stretch last season, so many fans and analysts were worried. Lucroy is reportedly fine now, though still advised against full out “sprinting”. Getting and keeping him healthy throughout 2015 is something that the award winning medical staff of the Brewers is up for, but the body has to cooperate to a degree.

Lucroy’s availability will go a long way in determining how 2015 ends up for himself, his teammates, and Brewers fans alike.

If anybody is up to the task, it’s the man affectionately referred to as “Luuuuc.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JLucroy20

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #21 Jeremy Jeffress

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Three weeks less a day until this countdown is over. That’s because A) I no longer and never again will preview anyone with one day remaining and B) we’re just three weeks away from Opening Day on April 6 at Miller Park!!!ExclamationPoint!!

The wearer of number 21 gets our focus today, and he is…

Jeremy Jeffress.

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It was the 6th day of June in 2006 when the Milwaukee Brewers made Jeremy Ross Jeffress the 16th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. He signed a day later and embarked on a journey that would eventually bring him full circle for you see Jeffress has not always been a Brewer.

A high school kid out of South Boston, Virginia, Jeffress was considered a quality pick in the middle of the first round. He would make his MLB debut for Milwaukee just under three weeks before his 23rd birthday as a 2010 September call up. There was seemingly more motivation at the time than merely trying to determine whether he was ready to consistently get out Major League hitters. Jeffress was on the verge of being banned for baseball for life.

As the promising fireballer was working his way through the minor leagues, he had been suspended twice for positive tests “involving a drug of abuse”. Two suspensions (for 50 and 100 games respectively) meant that Jeffress was busted three times. The most recent one began at the tail end of June 2009. He had reportedly undergone rehab following his first suspension in 2007, if I recall correctly, and likely just relapsed after a while.

Jeffress ended up missing the rest of the 2009 season as well as over a month of the 2010 season. He needed to be added to the 40-man roster anyway after 2010 or risk Rule 5 Draft exposure, so the Brewers got him on earlier than necessary and pitched him that September. He walked six in just 10.0 innings of work, but also struck out eight and kept his ERA at 2.70. All small sample size stuff, but the velocity was certainly there for him as well.

To his credit, Jeffress finally gave up his habit and had been getting his life right on and off the field. He credits the birth of his daughter as one of the turning points in his life. He also had an underlying medical issue that he has since gotten under control, that being seizures. With proper medication, he’s physically and mentally in the best place he’s ever been and the results are showing in the box scores.

Jeffress was notably a piece in the off-season trade with the Kansas City Royals that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. Jeffress would pitch in 27 games for the Royals over two seasons without much success. A major source of his problems came from command. He was walking a ton of batters. Suffice it to say that as his walk rate has plummeted over the last few years, his results have gotten better and better.

2011: 6.5 BB/9, 4.70 ERA in 14 games
2012: 8.8 BB/9, 6.75 ERA in 13 games
2013: 4.4 BB/9, 0.87 ERA in 10 games
2014 Milwaukee only: 2.2 BB/9, 1.88 ERA in 29 games with a career-best 3.57 K/BB ratio

Jeffress has also shown the ability to miss bats which definitely helps him escape jams whether they be self-created or inherited. Coupled with less base runners (a career-best 1.186 WHIP for Milwaukee in 2014), his skills are begin to amalgamate into a high-leverage reliever with possible 9th inning duties in the future. Still just 27, Jeffress could pitch for another decade if he continues to refine those skills which have gotten him this far.

As for 2015, Jeffress is currently slotted in a setup role mostly tasked with getting three outs in and around the 7th inning. At times he might be used as a right-handed sub for Jonathan Broxton in the 8th inning if Broxton needs a day off. Other times he might be called upon to get a key out prior to the 7th should the game be on the line early. But paired with the left-handed Will Smith, the two hard throwers will be a tough combination to crack for opposing lineups.

Workign in tandem with Smith could be a great thing for Jeffress because if there’s one other thing on which Jeffress can work to improve, it’s getting out left-handed hitters. His splits were pretty rough in 2014.

vs. RHH – .221/.274/.235 – 68 AB, 15 H, 1 2B, 5 BB, 20 K, .313 BAbip
vs. LHH – .392/.458/.510 – 51 AB, 20 H, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 K, .452 BAbip

So while some of that is bad luck, there’s enough of a trend that it’s something worth keeping track of, especially if Jeffress is passed over for a particular inning simply because of the handedness of the hitters due up.

All that said, I expect a very strong contribution from Jeffress in 2015 as the Brewers hope to have a lock down bullpen securing the wins that the rest of the team has put them in place to grab.

You can follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JMontana41

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #22 Matt Garza

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Forgive me, but I’m a bit distracted as I write today what with the Wisconsin Badgers trying to win the BigTen Tournament and a pair of Brewers games in split-squad Cactus League action all happening simultaneously.

We’re 22 days away from Opening Day and if you don’t know how “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” works by now, I imagine you haven’t been by the blog before. Well, the man who wears jersey number 22 gets the focus today since we’re 22 days away from the Brewers’ first regular season game. So let’s take a look at…

Matt Garza.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Photo Day

Matthew Scott Garza is a 6’4″, 31-year-old, right-handed pitcher. A veteran of parts of nine Major League seasons, the Cal State – Fresno product debuted in The Show at age 22 for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins originally drafted Garza in the first round (25th overall) of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Garza has appeared in big league games for five organizations now. In chronological order, they are the Twins, the Tampa Bay Rays (where he pitched a no-hitter), the Chicago Cubs, the Texas Rangers, and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Garza’s contract is something else, with what’s basically a built-in free year in the event that his occasional injury issues pop up too often in Milwaukee. That’s been well-chronicled here and other places, but the short version is that Garza already has a nearly insurmountable task to get his fifth year option to vest. If he misses much more time, there’s a chance that the Brewers could pay him an incredibly team friendly salary in 2018.

For Garza, he’ll be looking to improve on his 2014 numbers which injury avoidance would go a long way in aiding. To that end, Garza has modified his pitching mechanics. He believes that “staying within (himself)” will be key to both maintaining his command and limiting exposure to injuries. (That’s a good article by Adam McCalvy I linked to complete with video and worth your time.)

As for those numbers, Garza posted eight wins and losses in his 27 starts. His ERA was 3.64 in 163.1 innings of work. He had his lowest K/9 rate (6.9) since 2010 with Tampa Bay and saw his walk rate creep back up a little bit. That said, his WHIP was 1.182 and he was nearly as predicted with a 3.54 FIP. Garza continued his full-season streak of above league average performances as well finishing with a 104 ERA+.

Garza has always had the talent to do great things on the mound but being physically able to be out there doing it has been his biggest problem. His last three seasons have seen him pitch in 18, 24, and 27 seasons respectively. So while he’s certainly trending in the right direction lately, he still hasn’t eclipsed 30 starts since 2011 and hasn’t hit 200 innings pitched since 2010. It’s a major tip of the cap to Garza that he realizes this and worked in the off-season to come up with a plan to address it. Hopefully it yields immediate dividends for Garza once the regular season begins.

For the Brewers to compete in 2015, Garza will need to be at the top of his game and on the top of the pitcher’s mound.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #24 Adam Lind

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Three touchdowns and three two point conversions is all that separates us from the most glorious of days which we call Opening Day. At least I think we do. I’ll have to check whether someone else beat me to it.

That’s right, math majors, we’re 24 days away from Opening Day at Miller Park on April 6 and as such I’m writing today about…

Adam Lind.

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Adam Alan Lind (name courtesy of his parents) is a 6’2″, left-handed hitting and throwing, first baseman who is 31 years old. He was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of South Alabama. Some of that information was retrieved from my brain. I learned it along the way from reading and hearing. Some of it came from Baseball-Reference.com and will any statistics I put hereafter.

Up until an off-season trade which sent Lind to Milwaukee in exchange for Marco Estrada, Lind had spent his entire career with the Blue Jays. His best season came in 2009 when Lind played in 151 games and hit .305/.370/.562 with career-highs in almost every statistical category. He even made an appearance in MVP balloting, finishing 15th, while winning a Silver Slugger Award. In the five seasons since, Lind played in 150, 125, 93, 146, and 96 games. That’s due to a variety of factors, but health has always been a dark cloud waiting to rain for Lind.

The 2014 season saw Lind only play in 96 games. He missed the second half of April and first week of May and then missed time again following the first week of July until August 12th. Lind’s overall stats in those 96 games look very good however the truth is in the splits. In a painfully small sample size (for a reason), Lind hit just .061/.162/.061 in 33 at-bats against left-handed pitching. That’s two hits (both singles) and four walks. Against right-handed pitching? That’s a horse of a different color. Lind mashed to .354/.409/.533 in 257 at-bats.

The latter of those two splits is part of what led to the Brewers targeting Lind after the Blue Jays acquired Justin Smoak from the Seattle Mariners, ostensibly making Lind expendable. The former is part of the reason why Lind was available at all. It also led to immediate speculation that Lind would need a platoon partner. The team confirmed that they were thinking about the same and that the plan would be to utilize their All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy some of the time. That said, they also wanted to give Lind a fair chance during Cactus League play to see with their own eyes if he is at all capable of handling lefty pitching.

That plan was delayed when Lind’s back reportedly locked up while fielding grounders at first. Lind missed a handful of days before finally debuting as the team’s designated hitter. He would go 0-for-2 with a walk on Thursday, March 12. Lind’s health could prove to be a pivotal thing in the Brewers’ chances of competing in 2015. They simply need him available far more often than he can’t go if they’re going to capitalize on his abilities.

Time will tell whether the trade was finally the answer to the question that’s plagued the Brewers since Prince Fielder left town following Milwaukee’s deep 2011 playoff run, that of course being who can play first base while being productive at the plate?

The options to question have been numerous but so far unsuccessful. Corey Hart, Mat Gamel, Taylor Green, Alex Gonzalez, Sean Halton, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Matt Clark (who the jury is still out on), Hunter Morris. All couldn’t fill in the blank with their name. The Brewers hope they finally have their answer in Lind.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #26 Kyle Lohse

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Late start to writing, no time for a fluffy open. We’re 26 days away so let’s talk…

Kyle Lohse.

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As we enter the third and final year of the contract negotiated between Scott Boras and Mark Attanasio in early 2013 for Kyle Lohse’s services, I could take this time to look back at Lohse’s career as a Milwaukee Brewer to this point. I’ll save the full analysis for Q4 2015, but for now allow me to remind everyone that how well Lohse would perform over these last two years wasn’t much of a question back in ’13 amongst “Brewers Twitter”. Instead, it revolved more around year three and the associated cost of the forfeited draft pick. Suffice it to say that Lohse has so far lived up to the financial outlay. And while the draft pick has largely been forgotten (as happens to draft picks), the upcoming Championship Season will tell the ultimate tale in many fans’ eyes for how the Lohse contract will be remembered.

It happens all the time, of course. A player can have a good or even great couple of years but if the lasting taste in a fan’s mouth is one of disdain, then the early successes will often be ignored. Lohse’s 2014 is under scrutiny here though, and it should be remembered that it was a good season for the veteran right-hander.

Lohse missed a couple of weeks in August after rolling his ankle while batting in an August 13 start against the Chicago Cubs but still managed to make 31 starts as the #2 starter for Ron Roenicke. He pitched 198.1 innings (just one out shy of matching his 2013 total) in one fewer game. Lohse recorded two shutouts on the season which were his only complete games. Lohse compiled the following stats as well: 1.0 HR/9, 3.13 K/BB, 1.150 WHIP and an ERA+ of 107. All that supported his winning 13 games with an ERA of 3.54. Notable was that Lohse struck out the second highest total in his career (141) in posting his best K/9 (6.4) since 2006 when he was a different pitcher in a different role.

2015 could very well be Lohse’s final year in Milwaukee. He’s getting older and though he’s still pitching well enough to continue his career, there comes a time when every athlete faces the decision of retiring. Should his play fall off or he suffer an injury, there’s a chance he may get pushed into things. Regardless, with 2015 being the final year of his now very reasonably priced contract, Lohse could look elsewhere to continue his career. Similarly, the Brewers could decide that someone among their younger crop of starting pitchers is ready to step into the rotation much like how they traded Yovani Gallardo to give a full-time spot to Jimmy Nelson prior to this off-season.

We should be able to expect steady results from Kyle Lohse once again in 2015, with hopefully a bit more health for both his sake and the sake of the Brewers. Topping 200 innings and making 33 starts would be a welcome increase out of the Brewers’ probably Opening Day starter.

As for the end, the final day of the 2015 regular season will be Lohse’s 37th birthday. Let’s hope we get to help him celebrate with confetti and preparations for postseason play returning to Milwaukee.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleLohse26

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #27 Carlos Gomez

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The number 27 holds a special place in my heart due to some personal reasons. As such, I’ve always paid particular attention — intentionally or not — to who on a given team wears 27. For the Brewers over the years there have been a couple of notable donners, but it was a rough go more often than not. It is the singular reason, for example, that I was willing to keep giving Brady Clark chances to perform.

So imagine my excitement when the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins consummated their November 2009 trade that brought today’s profile subject to the Badger State.

But without further ado, let’s get into my look at…

Carlos Gomez.

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Gomez had quite the 2014 season. In fact, it matched or exceeded his 2013 breakout season in many ways. From identical .284 batting averages and 73 RBIs each year, the similarities are staggering. Here are the two years for the sake of comparison (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com).

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2013 ★ 27 MIL NL 147 590 536 80 152 27 10 24 73 40 7 37 146 .284 .338 .506 .843 128 271 11 10 1 6 2 *8 AS,MVP-9,GG
2014 ★ 28 MIL NL 148 644 574 95 163 34 4 23 73 34 12 47 141 .284 .356 .477 .833 130 274 10 19 1 3 0 *8/D AS,MVP-16

Statistically, as you can see…

  • Better:
    • Games, Plate Appearances, At-Bats, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Walks, Strikeouts, On-Base, OPS+, Total Bases, GIDP
  • Same:
    • RBI, Extra Base Hits, Batting Average, All-Star
  • Worse:
    • Triples, Home Runs, Stolen Bases, Stolen Base %, Slugging %, OPS

Gomez continues to play like his hair is on fire and ran into too many outs on the bases, and with fewer chances he robbed less home runs at the wall. All that considered, despite some nagging injuries again during the dog days of summer, Gomez performed very well in the second season of his talent realization. He feels he can do better and says over and over how he’ll never be satisfied. His stated goal on social media this year is to be the National League’s Most Valuable Player. No reason not to aim high.

But the key reason I point out all of those statistical similarities is because too often we fans see a breakout year be followed up by a poor one, or at least one marred by the dreaded regression. That Gomez was able to once again produce at the plate in 2014 the way he did in 2013 is incredibly encouraging.

Now it’s all about taking that next step forward. Gomez can be an All-Star again with similar numbers but to reach that brass ring of MVP, he’ll need to continue to hone those incredible physical gifts into cleaner and even more refined baseball skills.

I’m looking forward to the results.

Follow Carlos on Twitter: @C_Gomez27

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #28 Gerardo Parra

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Four weeks until Opening Day! Spread the word.

To date in this year’s edition of the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” countdown, we’ve profiled several newcomers to both the organization at large as well as first-timers on the countdown itself. Today’s countdown rookie is the longest tenured so far…

Gerardo Parra.

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Gerardo Enrique Parra is a 27-year-old outfielder from Venezuela. Originally signed as an amateur free agent in 2004 when he was just 17 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Parra reached the big leagues just after his 22nd birthday in 2009. He’s played in exactly nine minor league games since, all in 2010.

Parra has been dependable if unspectacular at the plate compiling a career MLB slash line of .274/.326/.395 in his 833 games over parts of six seasons. He holds a career 94 OPS+ which puts him just below league average. Where Parra is very good and where much of his value is gleaned is in the outfield.

A two-time Gold Glove Award winner (and a finalist more often), Parra has built a reputation as a tremendous defender at all three outfield positions. He gets great reads off the bat and has a great first step in his jumps. Parra is so good, in fact, that he can spot the ball, turn and run to a spot with his eye off the ball, and be camped in the exact spot when he turns back around and awaits the ball’s arrival. In 2013 in Arizona, Parra posted 4.0 dWAR according to Baseball-Reference.com. He didn’t have many opportunities in a small sample size here in Milwaukee in 2014, but given more chances he’s likely to be considered among the Gold Glove finalists again as he was last season.

2015 will be Parra’s final season before he’s eligible for free agency for the first time, and the Brewers are paying him appropriately for his level of service time. He’s an expensive fourth outfielder, but the Brewers are still paying Khris Davis pre-arbitration dollars so it all comes out in the wash.

Parra is a lefty bat which compliments the right-handed hitting starting outfield of Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, and Ryan Braun (from left to right) and his defensive acumen allows him to give all three of the starters a day off from time to time. The Brewers have had that aspect in Logan Schafer these last couple of seasons, but Schafer has yet to prove that he can stay sharp at the plate in a bench role. Parra has been a better hitter than Schafer anyway, and provides a proven combination of big league baseball skills.

All this said, because we have to consider all scenarios, if the Brewers fall out of the contention early enough in 2015, Parra should be one of the first players on the trading block. He’s got significant value to the right contending team as a bench bat or possible defensive upgrade in the outfield.

For now though, Parra can focus on helping keep Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun fresh throughout the marathon that is the 162-game regular season. Gomez’s results fall off as his nagging injuries pile on. An extra day off here and there can only help as we get into August. Similarly with Braun, although all signs are positive for now on his thumb, having a capable player to plug in for some more rest can’t be a bad thing.

Parra is among the reasons that Doug Melvin refutes the claim that Milwaukee didn’t do much to improve for 2015. Parra came over at the trade deadline in 2014. A full season of his contributions will be a boost. I, for one of many, am glad the Brewers have him.

Follow Gerardo on Twitter: @88_gparra

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #29 Jim Henderson

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We did it! Another milestone along the way to Opening Day has been reached and passed. We’re officially inside 30 days. Just 29 days remain until April 6 when Miller Park springs back to life. I can almost smell the tailgating.

As we continue to wind our way through “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, we’ve reached #29 and as such have reached…

Tyler Thornburg Jim Henderson.

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Does that open feel familiar? It should because it’s basically yesterday’s. There’s a reason for it. Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg had many similarities in the 2014 seasons — or more accurately how they came to an end — that it made me feel like I could take my Thornburg piece, change a few of the specifics, and have it work for Henderson just as well.

For example, both men started Spring Training with the idea that they would be key contributors to the bullpen in 2014, but Henderson the closer and Thornburg in middle relief. The seasons for both players ended early because of injured throwing arms but Thornburg was elbow and Henderson was shoulder. Both players had medical procedures to aid in healing, but Henderson was a labrum and rotator cuff “clean up” and Thornburg was a PRP injection. Both players started throwing shortly before camp to test their arms and both started camp healthy although possibly limited.

It’s coincidence that they are back-to-back in the countdown, but the similarities are undeniable. Still, there are enough differences to highlight.

As mentioned, Henderson was originally slated to be Ron Roenicke’s closer in 2014. He had taken over the job in 2013 following the early season implosion of John Axford, and had done a fine job converting 28 of 32 save opportunities and pitching to a 2.70 ERA across 60.0 innings in 61 appearances.

Over the years, the Brewers have been wont to stick with a closer as long as he is effective due to the cost associated with any relief pitchers who perform well in that role over a long period of time. The Brewers have been good about finding guys to fill the job for as long as they are physically able and then moving on.

They hope that Henderson isn’t simply a short-term solution that was but the fact remains that he didn’t make his MLB debut until nearly age 30 for a reason. He relies on fastball velocity and off-speed command because if hitters can sit on a slower fastball, he’ll get hammered. That was evident in 2014 as Henderson had bouts with shoulder inflammation in between spurts of having his 95 MPH heater.

Eventually though, Henderson would succumb to the injury. He actually pitched longer than Thornburg did last year, but it came on a pair of failed rehab assignments in the minor leagues where Henderson could never quite get past the weakness caused by the damaged shoulder.

In full, Henderson appeared in 14 big league games last year and posted a 7.15 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched. He allowed three home runs in his limited time though he still managed to strikeout 17 hitters. The rest of his rates stats were terrible though as he wasn’t physically capable of pitching his game.

Reportedly healthy now, Henderson is taking things slowly with a target of being ready by Opening Day. (If he isn’t, that’s fine because the Brewers have options and once Henderson is ready he can come in as a fresh arm booster shot.) In his first Cactus League game this year though…

…so we’ll have to see how things progress.

Luckily for all involved, 29 days is still plenty of time for Henderson to get his work in so that all the decision makers will have enough information eventually.

If the big right-handed Canadian can contribute to the 2015 Brewers, it’ll be a welcome inclusion.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #30 Tyler Thornburg

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We did it! Another milestone along the way to Opening Day has been reached and passed. We’re officially inside of a month. Just 30 days remain until April 6 when Miller Park springs back to life. I can almost smell the tailgating.

As we continue to wind our way through “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, we’ve reached #30 and as such have reached…

Tyler Thornburg.

TylerThornburg

Conveniently, Thornburg had his first appearance on the mound in his #30 Brewers uniform in quite some time yesterday. It was a rough finish for Thornburg in 2014 after all. He went down with what was originally called an elbow injury. Thornburg suffered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament during his freshman year of high school but rehabbed his way through it and hadn’t dealt with issues since. Word eventually came down that Thornburg had inflammation in his right wrist and elbow but would not need Tommy John surgery, the fix for a ruptured UCL. It was later termed as “UCL weakness” and without significant progress on his own, the decision was made for Thornburg to have a platelet-rich plasma injection (or “PRP”) in the elbow. That seemed to do the trick and despite a distinct lack of information over the winter, Thornburg was expected to be ready during Spring Training.

It turned out to be better than that as Thornburg began throwing bullpen sessions in January. He’s on the right track for Opening Day and the decision was even made to stretch him out to increase his stamina and perhaps have him be the long reliever or return to starting games at Triple-A. One of Thornburg’s issues when he first switched to relief was getting his arm to bounce back, and a move back to starting or long relief — which tends to have more down time — could be better for him physically anyway.

After all, Thornburg was having a very good season up until June 6th when his arm failed him and he was lit up in an inning of work against the Pirates. He was one of the best relievers in Ron Roenicke’s bullpen early, carrying a 0.61 ERA at the end of an April that saw him make 14 appearances. May wasn’t great. 11 games and a 6.00 ERA. He had a very good June 3rd appearance that dropped his ERA back under 3.00 but then disaster on the 6th when five earnies pushed his ERA back up to 4.25.

We all know that when Thornburg is right, he’s got electric stuff. He works hard to keep the ball down and his strikeout numbers were up last year before the injury. That said, he did post a 6.4 BB/9 which is frightening, but to be fair four walks came in that final inning of work on June 6 so that skewed the number a bit.

Regardless of his eventual role, a healthy Thornburg will be a major asset to Roenicke and the Brewers either right away as the 2015 season gets underway or at some point if he has cause to start with the new Class-AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs. Either way, expect to see a healthy Thornburg as a key contributor.

Welcome back.

You can (and should) follow Tyler on Twitter: @TylerThornburg

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #35 Dontrelle Willis

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FIVE WEEKS!

As another Monday rolls around those of us who have them are back to work in our cubicles doing menial tasks for wages that nobody feels are sufficient. But with the dawning of a new week comes the promise that we are one week closer to Opening Day. That’s what comforts us baseball fans and gets us through the long, cold (whether your temperatures are low or not), bitter, lonely winter. That’s why I countdown to Opening Day with this BBtJN series, with that counter over there to the right –>, and with messages on Twitter, Facebook, and the like.

When putting together the schedule for this year’s posts, I was intrigued by March 2 right away. Sure, it’s five weeks away from the home opener at Miller Park, but it also meant that I’d be writing about…

Dontrelle Willis.

 

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If you had told me back when I first launched “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” that I’d ever be filing a thousand words on Dontrelle Wayne Willis, I’d have asked if you were Tolbert*. Quality movie references aside, with the talent, apparent ceiling, and eventual struggles that would push the man known as “D-Train” to independent ball by age 31, I never would have expected him to end up vying for a spot in the bullpen of the Milwaukee Brewers, of all places.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t opportunity in Milwaukee when he first signed his minor league deal and was extended an invitation to big league camp. After all but Will Smith of its multi-headed southpaw hydra left the 25-man roster, the Brewers wanted another lefty in the bullpen if they were able to land one. For a guy like Willis, that’s an oasis in the middle of the Mojave. Opportunity is golden goose and Dontrelle is playing the part of Jack.

Once upon a time (as we bleed the storybook reference) drafted by the Chicago Cubs (8th round, 2000) as the reigning “Mr. Baseball” in California, Willis was traded to the Florida Marlins just prior to the 2002 season as part of a four-for-two deal. He made his Major League debut on May 9, 2003 and helped the Marlins win the World Series to cap off a Rookie of the Year campaign. His best year came two seasons later in 2005 as Willis went 22-10 in 34 starts with a 2.63 ERA, 2.99 FIP in 236.1 innings pitched. That was good for career bests in WAR (7.2), ERA+ (152) and a second-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award balloting. 2006 was an acceptable year for Willis, but 2007 saw him struggle. Just 25 years old at the time, many evaluators targeted different things for Willis to try to get his career turned back around. On December 4, 2007, one of those techniques — the oft invoked “change of scenery” — found Willis as a virtual throw in to a blockbuster trade that sent he and Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers for six players.

Willis only pitched in eight games for the 2008 Tigers, making seven starts. He compiled a 9.38 ERA. In seven starts in 2009 for Detroit, Willis put together a 7.49 ERA. He was walking a ton of batsmen and didn’t have a pittance of his command nor control that carried him to such heights on South Beach. Willis would be traded (with cash) to the Arizona Diamondbacks in June of 2010. This truly began his whirlwind of employment.

The D’backs got six games (five starts) and a 6.85 ERA out of Willis and released him just over a month after acquiring him. He would sign with the San Francisco Giants roughly a week later, pitch out the year in the minors, and became a free agent at season’s end. He spent 2011 as a Cincinnati Red and would make 13 starts for them. In 75.2 big league innings, he compiled a 5.00 ERA but for the first time in a long time seemed to have his walks somewhat reined in (although a 4.4 BB/9 is still far too high).

The next season, Willis signed with and was released by the Philadelphia Phillies during the same off-season. He agreed to a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles four days later though would end up “voluntarily retiring” that July. The O’s released him officially in October. In January 2013, Willis caught on the Cubs but was again released before the season began. He wouldn’t pitch again in affiliated ball until August 2013 when he was signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He became a free agent that November, signed back with the Giants two months later but was released two weeks into the season after uncorking three wild pitches and a walk in two-thirds of an inning over two games. He pitched in independent ball (which he had done during the summer of 2013 as well) but even there his numbers were rough.

The Brewers, with a track record of giving veteran guys a chance and earning dividends, connected with the well-travelled Willis and came to an accord of their own on January 21, 2015. The move was widely panned with cries of consternation over giving a guy a contract who hadn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2011 and hadn’t pitched well since 2006. I’ll personally never understand those complaints over a no-risk, complete flier of a contract like the Brewers have give out over the years to useful guys like Gabe Kapler and complete busts like Kelvim Escobar. The money is always right. And at least with Willis, there was a fit in that the team desired another left-handed pitcher.

However…

For Willis, 2015 is looking like a case of delayed chance. The Brewers signed veteran southpaw relief pitcher Neal Cotts to a Major League contract and then re-signed Francisco Rodriguez to close games, revealing one of the seemingly open bullpen jobs as the mirage it truly was. Willis might stick in the organization and could very well carve out a nice niche for himself with the new Class-AAA affiliate at Colorado Springs while waiting for another opportunity. If he struggles to a degree where the Brewers believe his employ to be untenable, they won’t have reservations cutting him loose. A player in Willis’ situation understands that side of this game, but the lure of another good summer in the sun will likely keep the D-Train chugging (or perhaps lurching) along the tracks until the wheels actually fall off completely.

The cold-hearted business side shouldn’t cause you to trivialize what Willis has in front of him as Cactus League games finally get underway this week in Arizona. He’s been given another chance, another opportunity to seize the day. Often, that’s all you can ask for. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

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