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Last week, Kyle wrote a piece about roster battles, including those for the backup infielders and the fifth outfielder. That got me wondering how the Brewers projected bench for 2015 compares to that of last season.
The comparison will be what the Brewers actually got out of their bench in 2014 versus what is expected for this year, instead of 2014 Opening Day vs. 2015.
The Brewers’ bench in 2014 was a difficult thing to nail down, though. It can’t be often that no two infield positions have the same primary backup. Mark Reynolds was the starting first baseman, but also the backup third baseman. Lyle Overbay backed up first base, Rickie Weeks backed up second, and Jeff Bianchi then Elian Herrera were the primary UT/backup shortstop.
The only bench position that is the same for the Crew from 2014 to ’15 is at backup catcher, where defensive standout Martin Maldonado holds down the fort, recently avoiding arbitration with a two-year deal.
Maldy has had an inconsistent career on offense, posting wOBA’s of .320, .234, and .316 the last three years, two solid years for a defense-oriented catcher sandwiching one dismal one.
I expect Maldonado to hit somewhere around his career average, near a .290 wOBA, while playing exceptional defense. His 2015 in terms of wins above replacement should be reminiscent of his performance last season.
For the remaining bench/backup spots, I will be assuming that Kyle’s favorites win their respective backup jobs. The reasoning for these picks is laid out in the article mentioned above.
Backup First Base:
If Overbay hadn’t completely lit it up as a pinch hitter and with runners in scoring position, he would have been a complete disaster at first base instead of just a bad joke.
In at-bats in which he was listed as the first baseman, Overbay slashed .220/.314/.314. Luckily he hit .324/.425/.471 as a pinch hitter and .351/.465/.509 with RISP. Lucroy won’t see many pinch hit opportunities, and neither he or Jimenez can be assumed to post an OPS over .900 with RISP.
Even then, Lucroy and Jimenez are going to be a huge improvement versus Overbay, who in the end still posted a .333 SLG with 4 home runs from the most offense oriented position in baseball. The current plan is for Lucroy to face lefties at first base and righties at his primary position.
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Backup Second Base:
Rickie Weeks vs. Hector Gomez
Coming into 2014, my expectations were not high for Rickie Weeks. Even now, he has been the worst defender at second base over the last three years (via FanGraphs) by a sizable margin. From there, the Brewers can only expect good things from Gomez, who also has the defensive chops to play shortstop.
The positives for 2015 may end there. Gomez has just 28 plate appearances in the Bigs, and posted a .493 OPS with AA Huntsville in 2013. Of course Gomez slashed .282/.325/.483 with 15 home runs with AAA Nashville last season, which is why he’s the current favorite for the Brewers utility job.
Gomez is widely believed to be both healthier and a different player than the one from 2013, but questions remain about his ability to stick in the Majors. If Gomez had had a better showing over more time in Milwaukee last year, this could be nearer to a draw.
Meanwhile, Weeks posted an .809 OPS while facing mostly lefties, proving more valuable than anticipated. Given Gomez’s question marks and Weeks’ resurgence as a bench bat, the comparison is strongly in Weeks’ favor.
Backup Third Base
Mark Reynolds vs. Luis Jimenez
Reynolds was a revelation in the field with the Brewers. Previously regarded as a poor defender at both corners, the journeyman showed much improved range at first and third, where he backed up the aging Aramis Ramirez.
Now those duties likely fall to Jimenez, who has defense more similar to Reynolds’ pre-2014 than what he displayed with the Crew. Though he posted good defensive numbers via FanGraphs in a short Major League showing in 2013, Baseball America called his defense below average before that season.
In 81 games last year with AAA Salt Lake, Jimenez earned a .942 fielding percentage, and his range is not highly regarded. Jimenez also walks in around 5% of his plate appearances at his best in the minor leagues.
Reynolds also earns some points on a technicality, as he excelled offensively when playing at third base while struggling at first. While playing at first base, Reynolds posted a .632 OPS, versus a much better .790 OPS with 8 home runs in just 127 PA as a third baseman. Sorry, Luis.
Jeff Bianchi/Elian Herrera vs. Hector Gomez
Bianchi is what a team looks for in a utility guy on defense. On offense, Bianchi (now with the Red Sox) owns a career .216/.251/.283 slash line, and was so much worse in 2014, when he hit one XBH and walked three times in 74 PA.
Likewise Herrera walked three times, in his case over 140 PA, but he at least managed to hit .274. Herrera is not a good shortstop, however, nor is he a good right or left fielder. He seems average-to-solid at both second and third, but he didn’t hit enough to make his special breed of super-utility worth it.
Gomez may not have the defensive acumen of Bianchi, or the versatility of Herrera, but he should play solid defense at short and hit at least a little more than his predecessors.
Schafer is somewhat like Bianchi. He’s a guy who gets to the ball on defense, but hasn’t hit enough to warrant a consistent roster spot. Like Bianchi, he’s had a poor offensive career (.603 OPS) and was even worse in 2014 (.554).
He’s more than capable of playing all three defensive positions, which is more than should be said about Parra, who lacks the range of a true center fielder. Even then, Parra’s strong, accurate arm makes him one of the best corner outfielders in the game, and he has won Gold Gloves in both left and right field.
The team is open to moving Parra, but that’s simply because he’s being paid like a starter and a team may trade for him as a starter. Parra was the Brewers fourth outfielder for over 40 games in 2014, and the more games in 2015 the better for their bench.
Logan Schafer/Elian Herrera vs. Shane Peterson
Having two bench players that played just one position (Weeks and Overbay) left the Brewers with four outfielders for most of their season. Once the Brewers acquired Parra from the Diamondbacks, though, Schafer became the fifth option, with super-UT Herrera appearing in 26 games (14 starts) in the outfield late in the season.
Schafer and Herrera’s struggles have been documented, and Herrera looked truly lost in the outfield with the Brewers.
In the minor leagues, mostly with the Athletics, Peterson has logged over 100 games at each outfield position as well as first base.
In 348 games in AAA, Peterson owns an .835 OPS, and though he has just eight Major League at-bats, he’s incredibly likely to be a better option off the bench than Overbay was in 2014, both offensively and thanks to his defensive versatility.
The fifth outfielder is not a foregone conclusion in baseball today, and it’s possible that the Brewers again go with extra infielders, but a fifth outfielder seems more likely this year.
A big reason why Hector Gomez and Jimenez are projected to beat out Luis Sardinas and Jason Rogers is that the former pair are out of minor league options. If Sardinas and Rogers were to make the team, the final results of my comparisons would remain the same.
While Weeks and Reynolds’ 2014’s are likely to be better than their projected replacements, the substitutes for Schafer, Bianchi, and Overbay are almost certain to excel by comparison.
Overall Advantage: 2015