Welcome to the first Know Your Foe of 2015. Baseball has arrived, and with it Purple Row's preview of each series. First up: the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers boast a core of All-Star caliber players and several above average complementary pieces, but are likely to be undermined by a lack of depth and below-average pitching staff. That basically makes them the NL Central version of the Colorado Rockies, except that the Rockies will need a miracle for their pitching to be even below average.
Hitters to watch
Jonathan Lucroy is the most underrated player in baseball. When contemplating the best players in baseball, the mind usually conjures up players with excessive physical flash: the Mike Trouts flying around the outfield; the Miguel Cabreras demolishing home runs; the Clayton Kershaws throwing shutouts. Those players' dominance is conspicuous, undeniable.
Lucroy, though, is greatness through accumulation. First of all, he's a catcher, the hardest position on the diamond to play. Not only is he a catcher, but he's one of the absolute best defensive catchers in the game; he throws out base stealers at an above average rate and is exceptional at framing pitches. Those skills alone would guarantee him a major league job if he couldn't hit a lick (see Molina, Jose).
But he can hit. He hit .301/.373/.465 last year, good for a 133 wRC+, which placed him between Matt Holliday and Justin Upton in offensive prowess. His 10.1 percent walk rate is outstanding; even more impressive is his miniscule 10.8 percent strikeout rate. Apparently Lucroy has an exacting knowledge of the strike zone both behind and beside the plate.
Add in the fact that his durability allowed him to pile up 655 plate appearances—almost unheard of for a catcher these days—and Lucroy accumulated 6.2 Wins Above Replacement, seventh best in baseball last year. All this from a guy who looks like he should be working in a steel factory. Lucroy will never lead off SportsCenter highlight reels, but the man is a beast nonetheless.
Carlos Gomez is the Yin to Lucroy's Yang. The speedy center fielder is your prototypical baseball prodigy: all diving catches and monstrous swings and base running abandon. His great defense, 132 wRC+, and 40 stolen bases added up to a 5.7 WAR season last year.
Surrounding Gomez and Lucroy are a number of other strong players. Ryan Braun was an MVP in 2012 and will be looking to bounce back from two injury-plagued down years. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has quietly turned in a fabulous career and can still swing the bat at age 36. Jean Segura is a promising young shortstop (coming off a tough year), as is Scooter Gennett at second base. Adam Lind will fortify them at first base.
Overall, this is a team that will score runs. Their depth is questionable though; an injury to any one of their stars will be difficult to overcome.
Milwaukee Brewers 2014 offensive numbers
Pitchers to watch
The Brewers have a couple veterans leading the way in the starting rotation in Kyle Lohse (the Opening Day starter) and Matt Garza. Neither is projected to be outstanding, but each is a reliable, above-average innings eater. As we Rockies fans know, those types of players aren't so easy to come by. Hard-throwing Wily Peralta is coming off a breakout season with a 3.53 ERA in almost 200 innings, though his 4.11 FIP suggests he might have gotten a smidge lucky. Behind Peralta are Sirs Not Appearing In This Series: Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson.
As for the bullpen ... who the hell knows? Relief pitchers are impossible to figure out; just ask Rex Brothers. For what it's worth, Fangraphs' Positional Power Rankings series rates them 27th in MLB (one spot ahead of the Rockies). Francisco Rodriguez (a candidate for "player I'm most surprised is still in the league") saved 44 game last year and will close for them again. Jonathan Broxton and Will Smith also handle late inning work.
Milwaukee Brewers 2014 pitching numbers
Fangraphs has the Brewers pegged at 82-80 for the season, which sounds about right. They have plenty of strengths, but a lack of depth, especially on the mound.
Monday, April 6: Kyle Lohse v. Kyle Kendrick
Tuesday, April 7: Matt Garza v. Jordan Lyles
Wednesday, April 8: Eddie Butler v. Wily Peralta
Visit Brew Crew Ball for more on the Brewers.