I don't know how it happened. I don't know when it happened, but somehow at some point I became a Doug Melvin apologist. I don't think that Doug Melvin should be fired. I think Doug Melvin should be signed to be the team's GM forever. As the Brewers have now lost their last 9 games seemingly everyone is calling for the head of Doug Melvin. I don't agree with them. I looked all over the internet and I could only find one other person who agreed with me, his name is Al. (FYI, We did this before the Brewers won yesterday.) Warning, this be long.
MPD: As of this writing the Brewers have now lost 8 games in a row. Of the eight games I would say that five of the games were lost by the starters and two were lost by the bullpen (with the final game being Sunday's against the Phillies which I would say was lost by one centimeter of Corey Hart's bat.) Now, everyone is calling for people to be fired. Some I agree with (Hoffman), some I could care less about because it won't make a difference (Macha) and the final one, I just don't understand. That final one is Doug Melvin, the mustached general manager. People are saying that because he put the team together that sucks right now that he should be fired for it. It's not just casual fans, it's diehards fans too and the argument is is logical. After all, he is the one who signed Doug Davis, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Suppan, LaTroy Hawkins and throughout his GM career he's never been good with the pitchers. Those pitchers I mentioned are the ones that have underperformed and someone has to take the blame for them, but to me it shouldn't be Doug Melvin. Everyone who has performed poorly does not have a track record of performing this poorly and you can't blame Doug Melvin for that.
Trevor Hoffman has been awful, but he showed zero signs of decline last season. He is throwing the same pitches at the same speed he always has, but he's missing his spots. Does that mean he is done? Or is it something else?
Doug Davis hasn't been great, but he's also faced some bad luck (.415 BABIP.)
LaTroy Hawkins was hurt.
Claudio Vargas? Well, you can't win em' all.
Todd Coffey has had five bad outings and 15 shutout ones, but he's on pace for a lot of innings right now. That can't be good.
In your opinion Al, what has been wrong with this pitching staff, whose fault is it and what can be done to fix it?
Al's Ramblings: I don't think the staff has anything wrong with it that trending to the norm, SP's going deeper, and a couple weeks of having an extra reliever won't cure. I always find it funny that folks do not name some guys...for example, Yo, Wolf, Narveson, and Bush have pitched ok, albeit, maybe not quite as deep as you would like. Davis has struggled, but has not been fortunate as of yet. Suppan is what he is, but I would not say two starts is enough of a sample to make a judgment. By the way, I'm 98% sure MA added the 4th year to Suppan's deal, when they met in LA, not Doug.
CV, Coffey, and even Parra to a point have done well, then fell victim to their workload. You can try and blame that on Macha if you wish, but let's be honest, he has not made many strategic moves yet this year for a PH or for a better chance to win...for the most part, the SP has gone 5-6 frames, got hit or reached their pitch count, and been removed. This isn't nuclear engineering or Alton Brown making something with yeast in it, it's elementary stuff.
Hoffman? I don't know. You can point blindly to his age, but his velocity is still there, and his location is not. Is that because of his amount of time on the planet? Possibly, but unlikely. Hawkins was not at 100%, and was also giving up more bloops than blasts.
One thing I'm a little disappointed in is we have not heard a word about Hoffman or Peterson studying videotape trying to find a quirk, or a minor flaw. A couple years ago, Guillermo Mota pitched well early, got hit for a month, and then was "fixed" when they found he was standing hunched up a bit, and thus, throwing "across" rather than "down", which left his pitches up. Casual fans never noticed, but Mota had a good 2nd half...but many folks just saw his ERA was still high and assumed he was still struggling, because they're clueless clods who worry about when parking lots open so they can sit in the parking lot and drink longer while never using their tickets for the game, and/or doing some scouting of their own while watching TV and proclaiming, with no proof of course, that Ryan Braun "has a hitch in his swing" or Corey Hart "holds his elbow too high". While those players have made millions, the goofballs are still out there, muttering similar unfounded claims which, if repeated enough, are taken as fact by the masses.
In closing, there are only two types of pitchers, those that have had surgery, and those who haven't had surgery...yet. Hawkins, Hoffman, and Davis have been among the most consistent performers in the sport the last 5-10 years. Injuries do happen, as does ineffectiveness...but both are difficult to gauge. All you can do is build depth, and thus far, Stetter,Axford and Estrada have been solid reserves to the big league staff.
Allow me just to throw this in...almost every team will go through a losing streak, or maybe 9 of 11, or something like that. The earlier it happens, the more it matters to those prone to jumping to conclusions, when in reality, that's just the way it is. You did not see me praising the braintrust when they won 6 of 8 on the road, nor do you see me on their case during an 8 game losing streak.
MPD: Come on Al, tell me how you really feel.
Speaking of unfounded claims I read something Witardo wrote a couple weeks ago that I thought you would enjoy. He said that:
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo was counted on to be the staff ace, and while he hasn't been that, he has easily been the most effective starter in the rotation.
Apparently a staff ace isn't the most effective starter in the rotation. Things like this are probably exactly what leads to people wanting the team to be blown up (a-dub wondered recently if the Brewers should start looking to trade Prince) or for someone to be fired, but it's really just a lack of understanding. I think the thing that most people forget is that Doug Melvin isn't trying to build the mid-90's Braves or even the current San Francisco Giants. Bush, Davis, Suppan, Narveson and even Wolf are all 4.00 - 4.50 ERA starters with Gallardo being the only truly above average guy. He wants the pitching staff to perform around league average so that the offense, which is a top 5 offense, can do the rest of the work. That's his style and that's a good plan, not only from a roster building standpoint, but also from a fan sitting in the stands watching the game standpoint. A 6-4 game is way more entertaining than a 2-1 game when the team can't buy a hit. Chicks dig the long ball.
The Brewers are struggling right now, but like you said every team struggles at some point and I don't think it's a huge reason to worry. The team would be right around .500 if you took away Hoffman's blown saves. It probably doesn't help that Carlos Gomez and Jim Edmonds are hurting right now. Jody Gerut is not what most people would call a major league quality center fielder, defensively at least. Still, it speaks to Doug Melvin's talent as a GM that two of our outfielders are on the DL and we still have someone with pretty decent career numbers out there taking their place. Last season they were able to slide Casey McGehee in when Hall struggled. This year they have three legitimate options in right field. You wrote about depth in the first part concerning the pitching staff, but I think it's a concept a lot of people don't fully grasp. How vital has Melvin's roster depth been to this team in the past few years? Is that his biggest strength as a GM? Or is it something else?
Al's Ramblings: The depth is there, but Doug's best quality has been finding players for next to nothing, or nothing. Posednik, Kolb, Turnbow, Davis (part one), and so on. This team has Narveson, Coffey, McGehee, Inglett, and Edmonds as examples. Doug actually said the other day that (paraphrasing here) "fans don't realize it's harder now, because Prince used to make less, but now that he's more experienced, he's far more expensive, but he's still the same player". Most people don't remotely understand this, of course, but they used to have $70M plus Prince (670k in 2008), and now, they have $70m plus Prince ($7 million in 2009)...but since the payroll is higher, people think they should somehow magically be better. This is still Milwaukee, a small market. You can't build like Boston and New York, you have to build with your farm system and young, pre-arby players, then fill in the holes. Doug has managed to create depth with castoffs and waiver claims, as he can't do it solely with Wolfs and the like, he can only afford one or two of them.
Look what this team had when Doug took the helm...John VanderWal, a decent and productive bench guy mind you, was playing RF and batting clean-up. Eric Young was signed to be the "offensive spark plug", while Ronnie Belliard and Mark Loretta, who both played for a decade and were all-stars since then, sat on the bench, because they "were not aggressive enough at the plate" and were not fast enough. Many of us have said, this team has a window, and then will have to retool when the "kids" either get too spendy or leave as free agents. Now, the "retooling" has to begin, as Prince is nearing the end of his 6 years. Hart is already making more than he's worth (though he's a nice complementary player). Weeks is almost at the point where it's a long-term commitment to an oft-injured, very talented yet sporadic piece, or to move on. But, we're the only ones even thinking of this next step, as everyone else thinks that by some act of God, the Brewers can just continue onward infinitely.
Now, I'm not suggesting the Crew needs to tear it down and begun anew, but if this 70-75 win pace continues, taking bids is the next step. Dave Bush, for example, is worth more to a team on pace to win 88 than the Brewers. Now, I felt this team was a 86-88 victory club 45 days ago. They might still be, but as Fangraphs pointed out yesterday, it's going to be hard for this club to win 61% the rest of the way, as what's done is done. Now, if the rotation picks it up and they win 12 of 15, it's a different story. Fortunately, this decision does not have to be made today, they can see what happens for another 50 games and go from there. If I ask you what this team needs, you would probably say "a couple hard throwing young arms"...well, you could probably get a stopgap at 1B and two very good pitching prospects, within a year of the bigs, for Prince. Going forward, they have to keep in mind, are we trying to win 90 games in '10, or are we now looking at '11 or '12. They can't answer that yet, nor can we. However, in 6 weeks, I think it will be obvious. Putting the cart in front of the horse won't help anything.
And, maybe I'm slow to respond here, but I think most intelligent fans know Macha is not the problem, nor is Melvin. However, we all realize that "making a change" is often just common practice.
MPD: I'm not even going to discuss Ken Macha because honestly, I think the Brewers are going to fire him just to shake things up and show the casual fanbase "look, someone is paying for what has happened!" Fair? No, but it won't make the Brewers any better or worse in the long run so I could care less about the decision.
I read something the other day on USSMariner about Process and Results. Basically because nobody can see the future, the best you can hope from someone is to make the best decisions based on what is most likely to happen. As far as Doug Melvin goes I have always admired his process. For the past two years he has signed an average starter (Braden Looper, Doug Davis) to a decent contract on a one-year deal. Doug (and most of us) expected Looper to do one thing, he did another. It didn't work out last year, but he had the right idea and he moved on to try it with Davis this year. Thus far Davis isn't working out either. Good process, bad results. Is this Melvin's fault? No. He couldn't re-sign Sabathia two years ago, but he did the right thing by going after a guy like Looper and not overspending on an AJ Burnett or a Derek Lowe. A move like that could have really handcuffed this team and Doug is smart enough to know that, it's just good process. While I personally don't believe in his process regarding signing expensive closers (I think closers are a dime a dozen and anyone can be one if you put them in the role), I can't argue with the results he got from Hoffman last season and he had every right to expect the same thing this year. It's simply another case of good process with bad results. Things don't always go as planned (more often than not actually), but in my opinion Melvin's process has always been spot on.
Next season is very far away and like you previously said we need to await at least another 50 games before we start making any crazy decisions, but since it's such a hot button issue let's make my final question about Prince Fielder. People seem to forget this, but Prince is still under team control for next season. They can offer him arbitration and who knows what he would get (two years ago Ryan Howard got $10m in his first year of arbitration), but the Brewers will be able to afford whatever that might be because they have both Hoffman and Suppan coming off of the books and their 2011 payroll as of today is only about $25m (via) so even with raises they will have money to play with. Hypothesizing the Brewers stay on their current pace should (or would) Doug Melvin look to trade Prince Fielder this season or save him for one last run with the current group in 2011?
Al's Ramblings: Today, Doug pretty much says he is behind Macha, so MA may be one deciding on the future of Macha and/or Melvin.
As for Looper and Davis, Doug touched on this a while back when he said he was talking to one of Livian Hernandez's former GM's, and he said, "Geez, if we'd have brought him back, they would have run us out of town"...and he's got a 1 ERA thus far. Braden (or as I heard him called at Miller Park last year, by the hundreds, "Brandon", heh) did about what I expected, maybe 10% higher ERA, but probably standard deviation...if a guy is expected to compile a 4.50 ERA, 10% in each direction is 4.05-4.95, and if you can project closer than that, you're lying.
To go along with your thoughts, one thing I've found funny lately is whenever relief troubles are discussed, two names that pop up as being "failures" are Hawkins and Riske...guys that have been as consistent as any two relievers in the game until they became injured. As we all know, any pitcher can get hurt at any time, but pitchers with an injury history are more likely to be DL'd. So, Doug went out and signed two very solid relievers who were effective and healthy...and they got hurt. I'm not sure how that's a "failure", it's just bad luck. Now, if you sign Ben Sheets and he misses time, that's not bad luck, that's par for the course. You can say LaTroy and Dave were both in their 30's, but the list of free agent relievers in their 20's is a mighty short one, to say the least.
As for Prince, if the team continues to be a non-contender, I don't know how you can not at least discuss trades in July. At the very least, decisions have to be made soon on several players...extension offer or trade? Prince, Rickie, Corey, and maybe one or two more. Personally, I love Weeks, but I'd have trouble giving him a $30M deal with his injury history. I'm a believer that small markets have to properly use those pre-arby years and deal players when they become too costly for their expected production. Any deal involving Prince is a huge risk to the franchise, especially since Fielder is built like me, and the NL does not have a DH. I don't think Fielder returns in '11, and neither does Hart. Weeks is a wildcard, especially if he can have 150 games of health this season.
MPD: I hadn't actually thought about Sheets in awhile, but if you think about it if he accepts that arbitration offer last season we might not even be discussing Braden Looper or Trevor Hoffman. Funny how that stuff works out.
Personally I see one more year of Fielder, one more year of Weeks (until Lawrie is ready) and Gamel taking Hart's place in 2011 (with him possibly taking Prince's place at first the following year, depending on his defense), but that is a conversation for another time.
Thanks a lot Al, it's been real.
If you aren't familiar with Al you should check out his blog, Al's Ramblings. Once you get through his political thoughts (which are great if you agree with his particular point of view) you'll find some of the best commentary around as well as links to pretty women. Highly recommended.