The Brewers entered 2012 flying high off a division title and NLCS appearance in 2011, but got off to a disastrous start and were 23-28 as the calendar turned to June. The offense appeared unable to weather the loss of Prince Fielder, and the bullpen gave away game after game. GM Doug Melvin sent Zack Greinke to the Angels in July, and the season effectively looked like it was over.
Surprisingly, the Brewers' offense picked up after the trade deadline, and the team actually challenged for a playoff spot. On August 19, they were 54-66 and looked like they were just playing out the string. They went 29-13 the rest of the year fielding largely the same roster they bring into the 2013 season. Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo remain this team's leaders, and Braun headlines one of the National League's best offenses. With Aramis Ramirez, Norichika Aoki, Jonathan Lucroy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, six of the Brewers' eight starters will likely be fantasy starters in most mixed leagues. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both could be, as well. Gallardo doesn't have near the support in the rotation that Braun does in the lineup, however, and if Milwaukee falls short of the playoffs again this year, it will likely be due to deficiencies in the starting rotation.
1. Norichika Aoki, RF 2. Rickie Weeks, 2B 3. Ryan Braun, LF 4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B 5. Jonathan Lucroy, C 6. Corey Hart, 1B 7. Carlos Gomez, CF 8. Jean Segura, SS
1. Yovani Gallardo 2. Marco Estrada 3. Wily Peralta 4. Mike Fiers 5. Chris Narveson
Unfortunately for Gomez and the Brewers, I'm not buying this as a breakout. To me, this was a player getting hot for a three-month stretch, riding the upswing of the vagaries of baseball. Just take a look at the numbers. Gomez' line-drive rate dropped to 15.8 percent in the second half from 17.8 percent in the first half. His ground-ball rate jumped to 43.7 percent from 34.7 percent. That might be good for his batting average, given that he's a speedster, but it supports the notion that his power streak was a fluke. Over the second half of the season, he posted an 18.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio. Edwin Encarnacion's HR/FB ratio was 18.7 percent last year. Prince Fielder's was 17.9 percent. If you think Gomez will keep that up this year, drop me a line and I'll make sure to get you in my league the next time there's an opening. He should be a good source of steals, but that's the only category to which he'll really contribute this season.
Lucroy only played in 96 games because of a freak injury suffered when a suitcase fell on and broke bones in his hand. In those 96 games, he hit .320/.368/.513 with 12 homers, 58 RBI and four steals. His .881 OPS bested Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer. In 43 games before the injury, he hit .345/.387/.583 with five homers. In 53 games after, while still recuperating from a broken hand, he hit .299/.354/.458 with seven homers. Miller Park is a hitter's haven, but Lucroy actually had a better line when the Brewers were on the road. He hit .348/.379/.516 away from Milwaukee, and .290/.357/.510 in Milwaukee. Oh yeah, he just turned 26 in December, so he's entering his prime. And this guy isn't a top-10 catcher? What am I missing? Jump in with me, fantasy gamers, and Lucroy will be one of your favorite players on your roster this year. And to my pal Mack: It's time for our first wager of the baseball season. Jonathan Lucroy will be a top-10 catcher. You name the stakes.
Fiers' second-half struggles derived from a mix of bad luck and getting himself in unfavorable counts. His BABIP leapt to .325 from .310 in the first half. His strand rate plummeted to 69.7 percent, well below league average, from 80.5 percent, which is well above league average. His walk rate spiked to 7.7 percent from 4.8 percent. Even despite that, he struck out nearly one-quarter of batters, and he was done in a bit by his defense. With Hart, Weeks and Ramirez manning three of the four infield positions, that may not get much better this season. However, Fiers has tended to be more of a fly-ball pitcher in his career, and he has two outfielders who cover a ton of ground in Gomez and Aoki. The answer to this question is that the real Mike Fiers, who turns 28 in June, is somewhere between the one we saw before and after the All-Star break last season. That means he's also the kind of guy I'll be targeting in drafts this year.
NL-only guys to know