photo © 2009 Steve Paluch | more info (via: Wylio)Last year, I did 10 Things I Want to See in 2010, and while some of the expectations I laid out didn’t end up happening, it was still a good way to gauge expectations at the start of the year and a way to evaluate the team’s performance at the end of the year. Since we’re now in 2011, here are 11 expectations I have for this team in the new year. Feel free to add your own.
1. Gallardo 200 IP
With back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons, it’s hard to find many areas in which Yovani Gallardo needs to improve. Working deeper into games and pitching more innings is one of those areas. As good as he was in 2010, he still struggled with putting batters away earlier in counts. Strikeouts are always great to see, but he also had his fair share of walks. Even when an at-bat didn’t end with a strikeout or walk, it most likely ended deep in the count, racking up Yo’s pitch count and effectively shortening his starts. I’m kind of tired of the phrase, but if Gallardo can become more “economical” with his pitch count, he should be able to work into the 7th more consistently, hit that 200 IP plateau, and finally be recognized as an ace-quality pitcher.
2. Greinke 5 WAR
We’re all expecting big things from Zack Greinke, especially with his move to the National League. It would be unrealistic to expect him to repeat his 2009 Cy Young season, though, considering it was one of the best single season performances in major league history. Even if he was as good as he was last year or in 2008, though, he’d still be one of the best pitchers the organization has ever seen. Considering FanGraphs had him at 5.2 Wins Above Replacement last season and 4.9 WAR in 2008, let’s set the mark at 5 WAR for his first season in Milwaukee. That may actually be setting the bar low, but the truth is we won’t know how he’ll adjust to pitching outside Kansas City until we see it.
3. Marcum 2010 repeat
With all the Greinke hype, it’s easy to forget just how excited we all were about getting Marcum. In a lot of ways, he’s become the forgotten man in the rotation this offseason, and could even carry that role into the season (at least until he gives up 6 runs and we remember that the club gave up Brett Lawrie to get him). It’s hard to gauge how Marcum will do in 2011, because there are so many factors to consider. Was his 2010 a career year, or what’s to be expected in the future? How is the arm going to hold up just a couple years removed from Tommy John surgery and questionable mechanics? Without big strikeout stuff, will the defense give him enough support to be successful? For that reason, I’ll set the bar a little low for him, too — I’m simply asking that he repeat his 2010 season and prove it was for real. If it was, he may be sticking around for awhile.
4. Hart 3 WAR
I don’t know if you’ll find anyone expecting Corey Hart to repeat last year’s numbers. The power spike was certainly unexpected, even if we knew the potential was there. His BABIP in 2010 was so far above career norms that there has to be some concerns about regression in 2011. The past four seasons, he’s accumulated FanGraphs WARs of 4.3, 1.1, 0.7, and 3.4 — obviously, we have almost no clue what he’s going to do one year to the next. So again, I’m not going to expect as much from Hart as some other people might. Let’s set the standard at 3 WAR — still a valuable piece in the lineup, not quite as good as he was in 2010, and more or less worth his new salary.
5. Fielder “up” year
Things we know about Prince Fielder: He’s gone after this year; he’ll be looking to put up huge numbers before free agency; he has a career trend of alternating “down” and “up” years; he’s due for an “up” year. While I won’t be expecting big things out of Corey Hart, I will be with Fielder. Having three ace types in the starting rotation will be great, but if the Brewers are going to contend with the Reds and Cardinals, Fielder will have to mirror the production of Joey Votto and Albert Pujols. With the team struggling last season, he seemed to be pressing at the plate more than usual. Hopefully this year he won’t feel like he has to drive in three runs a night to give the team a chance to win, and he’ll be able to produce like he has in the past. This is not meant to say that Fielder was bad in 2010 — he was merely “very good” rather than “great.” The Brewers will need him to be “great,” and in his push for a big contract, I don’t see any reason to expect anything less.
6. Upgrade at SS
I think every Brewers blogger is just about sick of talking about Yuniesky Betancourt and his defensive deficiencies. Much like Carlos Gomez last offseason, we’ve all tried looking for positives or potential areas of improvement, but it just doesn’t look like there are any. With that in mind, let’s just hope the Brewers don’t stick with Betancourt longer than they should. I’m fine with a platoon of Betancourt and Craig Counsell. I’m fine with keeping Luis Cruz around if it means having a late-inning defensive replacement at short. But I’ll keep hoping that Doug Melvin will be able to make a significant improvement at the position midseason, perhaps through a deadline deal. We know that the Brewers aren’t opposed to adding payroll as the season wears on, and that they budget for midseason acquisitions.
7. Less bullpen IP
I’m actually excited about this bullpen heading into the season. LaTroy Hawkins was very effective last season when he was actually healthy, Takashi Saito should be very good in a set-up role as long as he’s not forced to pitch back-to-back games, Zack Braddock has the stuff to strike anybody out, and John Axford handled the closer’s role very well last offseason — especially when it came to bouncing back from tough outings and not dwelling on them like some closers of the past. The talent is obviously there, but the effectiveness will depend on how many innings they’ll have to throw. For the most part, I liked the way Ken Macha handled the bullpen in his two years managing the club — he was just forced to go to it too often, and as a result, it wore down by the end of the year. If the new rotation can provide more IP, we shouldn’t have to worry about the bullpen becoming stressed by May.
8. Lucroy BB% of 10%
As far as rookie catchers go, Jonathan Lucroy was fine in 2010. He provided solid defense, but hit like a guy who was essentially making a Double A-to-Majors jump. One of the more concerning areas of his game was his lack of patience at the plate — he simply wasn’t drawing many walks. When you look at his career numbers in the minors, that’s far from his norms. Considering how he was thrown into action before he was ready, I’m willing to give him a pass for 2010 and chalk it up to trying to adjust to big league pitching. This year, though, I’m going to be expecting quite a bit more — especially if he’s going to be hitting ahead of Gomez and Betancourt. A BB% of 10% really shouldn’t be out of the question, considering his minor league averages.
9. Team SB% of 70+%
We know Ron Roenicke is going to run. A lot. He even said we’re going to wonder why the team is running into so many outs. I’m anticipating this to be one of the more frustrating parts of the 2011 season, but if it’s going to happen, I’ll ask that the team at least be successful. Depending on who you ask, you have to have a stolen base success rate of 70-75% in order to help your team more than hurt it. Considering how much this team will run, I’ll set the mark at the lower end of that necessary success rate. We know the team will have the speed to steal a lot of bases, but we don’t know if they’ll have the technique necessary to be successful.
10. Gomez .260 BA
This is more poking fun at a few Gomez quotes from last season (“With my speed, I only have to hit .260”) than anything, but if he is able to at least be anything other than a black hole in the lineup, he’ll be a valuable piece of the team. As the lone solid defender left in the starting lineup, we’re going to have to tolerate him with the bat. If he could give the team anything positive, the year will be a huge success. Let’s just hope Roenicke doesn’t bat him second.
11. An Emerging Prospect
It’s no secret that the Brewers’ farm system is devoid of any impact players after the trades for Greinke and Marcum. For that reason, many are ranking the Brewers’ system as one of — if not the — worst system(s) in the game. I don’t really have a problem with that assessment…as long as it doesn’t become an annual thing. Having a bat or two break out this year would go a long way in repairing the system’s reputation. Maybe Kentrail Davis takes it to the next level. Maybe D’Vontrey Richardson finally puts it all together. Maybe one of the Brewers’ two first round picks in June yields a strong prospect. Either way, it will be imperative to rebuild the system over the next year or two — the expected success at the big league level should be fun, and it’s why we even bother with farm systems, but the only way the Brewers will have sustained success is if they keep turning out high-level prospects. Right now, they have none. By the end of 2011, I sure hope they do.