Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Bucks Thus Far

The Bucks entered the season as one of the most intriguing teams in the league, and have thus far lived up to the hype. Six games into the preseason, they are still working out lineup and playing time bugs. Despite being just 2-4, the Bucks have been close in every contest. The duality of this team is exciting at some points, and enraging at others.

Unlike a lot of other fans, I have been very impressed with Samuel Dalembert. Upon his acquisition, I expected an old, immobile, one-dimensional shot blocker, but I have seen much more. As advertised, Dalembert has been good defensively, but he has also shown promise on the offensive end of the floor. His outside shot has been a bright spot in his game (not great, but it's evident) and he's shown some hustle and youthfulness around the basket.

Another positive has been the outside shot of Brandon Jennings. Jennings is shooting 41% from long range, despite an 0-6 night in Toronto. Monta Ellis has also been sharp from deep, shooting an impressive 47%. This, however, will also be a negative to be discussed later in this post.

The Bucks have been terribly inefficient as a team and can not seem to win tight games. One major disappointment of mine that has, in turn, led to their inefficiency has been the infatuation with the outside shot. Sure, the Bucks have been shooting alright from the three point line, but I expected the Jennings-Ellis tandem to increase each others eFG% by getting out in transition or slashing to get easier buckets. Both players have the ability to get in the paint, and get to the line, consistently, yet the settle for lower percentage jumpers. So far, the offense has looked disjunctive.

Alright, Coach, what do you have for us? Scott Skiles is notorious for his defensive minded play, but that is far from what we've seen from this team. We knew the small guard combo would have problems defending, so the Bucks went out and improved the front court with the additions of Dalembert and Henson (oh, and Pryzbilla....almost forgot). Still, the defense has been sub-par. The Bucks have given up 100.8 ppg in their four losses. This would make them 27th in the league last year.

Perhaps the most glaring hole in the defense is the poor defensive play of the guards. Opposing guards are averaging over 48 points a game in Bucks losses. It has been difficult for the Jennings-Ellis duo to stay in front of anybody, despite the opponents size. Even Nate Robinson put up 24 points. Coach Skiles and the Bucks need to find a way to combat this struggle.

Despite all this, the Bucks could still be in for a good season. They have played very well at times, and are as deep as any team in the league. They have yet to play a game with a full roster, which may have hindered them at the end of tight games. Also worth mentioning, the L.A. Lakers are 0-6 in this preseason. It's only preseason, the real stuff starts November 2!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Bucks Rotation

 With the NBA preseason kicking off for the Bucks on Tuesday, I wanted to offer some rotation ideas. But then I looked at the roster. How deep are the Bucks?!

I love this roster, and think they can make noise this year (though I am notoriously a homer...). I will offer, in some unorganized manner, what little rotation ideas I gleaned looking at Alex Boeder's article on eFG% (http://on.nba.com/Oye1wG).

  1. Starters
    Jennings, Ellis, Illyasova, and Dalembert are all but locks to start for the Bucks this year, but who will start at that SF spot? My immediate thought was Mbah A Moute (LRMAM) because he makes an otherwise average defensive lineup a good one. But reports of LRMAM's slow recovery from his off-season knee surgery may cause him to be bumped from the starting group for a bit. Fans want to see Harris get the nod because of his upside and his head turning performance in summer league, but I disagree. Jennings and Ellis will see the majority of the touches in the starting group, and both have below average eFG%. To help make the starting group more efficient and productive, they need another player with a high percentage, someone like Mike Dunleavy (who led the team) over Harris who had an average eFG%.
  2. First In
    If/when LRMAM rejoins the starting lineup, then Dunleavy is the clear 6th man in my opinion. With Dunleavy in and Udrih spelling one of the guards, you can afford to use Gooden, Sanders, or Udoh. Udrih had a below average eFG% last year, but has been well above average four of his six NBA seasons, and as playing team increases so will his output (http://bit.ly/Q607UC). The aforementioned forwards, however, have poor eFG%, but offer a lot to the Bucks defense and depth. Getting those guys in the game with an effective scoring group will keep the Bucks offense and defense well balanced.
  3. Marquis Daniels
    It looks like the Bucks intend to use Daniels primarily as their defensive off-guard. This not only gives the Bucks better defensive options by position, but it also increases minutes for Daniels and Harris, who is fighting for time in a crowded forwards group.
  4. All These Forwards...
    The Bucks have too many power forwards. Period. Illyasova, Gooden, Henson, Udoh, and Sanders will be looking for minutes at the position. Illysavoa has the new, big contract so he'll be the favorite for time there. Gooden should get time as the backup center, but will see good time at the PF spot as well. Hopefully, Henson will make the transition to the NBA and be a great backup option at PF, but that remains to be seen. Udoh is a good option as a deeper bench backup and I'm comfortable with him getting some minutes, but not extended time. Sanders is a great athlete and looks to be much improved this season, but I still don't think he's poised for a break out season any time soon. At this position, he should see limited minutes. He may see some time at center.
  5. But the Forwards...
    Much has been made about the Jennings, Ellis guard tandem. As they go, the team will go. I agree. Unfortunately, according to last years stats, the guards had the worst combined eFG% by position. The small forwards had the best combined average. Look for Skiles to find ways to get these guys (LRMAM, Dunleavy, Harris) minutes and integrate them into the offense.

Also, let it be known that I am a big fan of Doron Lamb and think he should get a bunch of time. He's going to be a good role player for the Bucks, and wherever he finds himself in the NBA in his career.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brewers 2012 recap, a glance to 2013

      The Milwaukee Brewers 2012 season was a real head-scratcher. A rocky start...well not so much a rocky start as a bad five months...found the Brewers struggling for air as the season neared September. The bullpen was a disaster, and the starting pitching never completely clicked either. Injuries devastated every area of the team. Major contributors to the starting pitching, the bullpen, defense, and the batting lineup all fell victim to the injury bug early on. Things were bad. They were really bad, so bad that the Brewers traded away pitching ace Zack Greinke and moved pieces around to begin grooming for the future. But something clicked in September. The Brewers dominated down the stretch and found themselves coming from 12.5 games out of the wild card, to just 1.5 by late September. Unfortunately, the surge was all for naught as the Cardinals took advantage of an easier close to the season and ran away with the final wild card spot.

      The way the season ended left the Brewers with a lot of questions. Are we as bad as we played for the majority of the season? Are these young pitchers as good as they played in September? Who plays first base, shortstop next year? Let's look at how the Brewers got to this position, and where they need to go to get back into playoff contention in the future.

The Past
      The Crew were the talk of baseball at the end of the 2011 season, winning the division, reaching the NLCS, the whole Ryan Braun MVP and steroid thing, and losing Prince Fielder (and what would prove to be crucial bullpen pitchers) to free agency. The Brewers used the off season to fill their holes. Aramis Ramirez was picked up as a power hitter to fill in at 3rd, sure handed SS Alex Gonzalez improved the defense, and Mat Gamel came in to replace Fielder at 1st. They also added to their outfield depth with Japanese star Norichika Aoki.

      I, for one, thought they had built themselves an even better ball club than the year before. The defense was improved, and Fielder's production could easily be replaced with the Gamel/Ramirez combination. The majority of the season, however, proved otherwise.

The Defense
      The Brewers committed the 9th most errors in all of baseball during the 2011 season, but improved to 18th this year. Every member of the 2011 infield (Fielder, Weeks, Betancourt, McGehee)was in the top five of most errors by their position. A nearly complete remodeling of the infield improved the defense. The additions of Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Gamel were obvious improvements defensively. Even when Gonzalez and Gamel went down with injury, their back ups played well defensively as well (cast includes: Hart, Ishikawa, Izturis, Ransom, and others).

The Pitching
      Marquee trades prior to the 2011 season made the Brewers pitching staff dominant. The Crew expected similar output from the same cast in 2012, but to no avail. Narveson was injured early, forcing long reliever Marco Estrada to assume a starting role. Marcum missed significant time during the middle of the season due to injury, as did Estrada. The Brewers blew up the pitching staff after seemingly falling completely out of contention. During one stretch, Gallardo was the only starting pitcher still in the rotation.

      Here's where it gets interesting: the rookies that filled in the rotation were good, really good. Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Tyler Thornburg, and Wily Peralta all showed that they are ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Despite early struggles and throwing a bunch of rookies, the Brewers ended the season with some relatively positive numbers. They led the entire league with 1402 strikeouts, a club record.

      The bullpen was less interesting. Other than strikeouts, the Brewers finished near the bottom in every other major statistical area for pitching, largely (though not entirely) in part to the bullpen struggles. Following the 2011 season where John Axford was untouchable in the 9th and the Hawkins, Saito, K-rod show turned baseball into a five inning game, 2012 was a ginormous step backwards. The revolving door of closers and the inability to find anybody who could consistently get outs left every fan to cringe when a starter was pulled in a close game.

The Hitting
      I'll be the first to say “I told you so” to anyone who doubted the batting lineup entering the 2012 season. The Brewers expected a drop off with the departure of Fielder, but put up even better numbers this season. They were better in every offensive stat other than walks and strikeouts. I expect them to continue to put up good numbers for years to come, as well.

      Ryan Braun had another MVP type season, hopefully putting to rest some of the “steroid” talk (though the allegations were that he used 'roids to heal from an injury, not bulk up...but I won't be the first to correct you!). Aramis Ramirez was also a bright spot. After an expected slow start, he came around and was a force in the lineup. Lucroy continued to improve and showed he will be a serious threat. Even though he spent time on the disabled list, Lucroy average .320 on the year and was clutch.

The Future
      Upper management will have some big decisions to make this offseason. As of now, Gallardo is the only sure-fire starter. It's assumed that Fiers will join him, and hopefully Narveson will recover from surgery well and re-join the rotation. Peralta, Rogers, and Thornburg will get long looks from the coaching staff.
It sounds like Hart will remain at first, and Aoki in RF. I like this decision, though I would like Aoki to hit closer to .300+. Logan Schaefer may get looks as well with Hart leaving the outfield. With Hart at first, Gamel will probably fight for time as a backup at 1st and 3rd.

      Shortstop is the other intriguing position. Young, up and coming star Jean Segura was acquired in the Zack Greinke trade. He showed he has a sufficient arm and an encouraging developing bat, but he has a second baseman's body and is prone to errors. The Brewers can pick up Alex Gonzalez's contract for another year if they chose, but a less expensive and less risky option may be available via free agency.

      Finally, the Brewers need to address the bullpen. I am a firm believer that sending Estrada back to the bullpen will make a big difference. Melvin seems committed to Axford, so the Brewers need to address a 7th and 8th inning guy. The Brewers could resign K-rod for significantly cheaper than his current $8 million contract if they think he can bounce back from his less than stellar year. Regardless, the bullpen needs two more solid options for the Brewers to be a viable division contender.

Here are my immediate thoughts on the roster next year:

RP Yovanni Gallardo
RP Mike Fiers
RP Wily Peralta
RP Mark Rogers
LP Chris Narveson
C Jonathan Lucroy
1B Corey Hart
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Jean Segura
LF Ryan Braun
CF Carlos Gomez
RF Norichika Aoki

RP Marco Estrada
RP Tyler Thornburg
RP Jim Henderson
LP Manny Parra
RP Francisco Rodriguez
RP John Axford
LP a guy like Randy Choate?
RP a guy like Octavio Dotel?
LP Juan Perez (not sold on him, but we need more lefties) or RP John Stinson (is he ready to make the jump to the bigs?)

OF Logan Schaefer
1B Mat Gamel
SS Alex Gonzalez (re-structure contract?)
C Martin Maldonado
UT Nick Punto or Ryan Theriot

      Obviously, even in my semi-non-cash-restricted scenario where I can get whatever players I want, there are still question marks. Even though Melvin said he wasn't playing on making a big free agent splash this year, it should be a very interesting off-season. The Brewers will be back in business if they can address a couple of problem issues (mainly the bullpen and starting pitching). Even so, in a division with the Reds and Cardinals (yes, the Pirates I suppose...) they won't win the division in 2013. Thankfully, the once deemed “emptied” farm system actually shows really good promise and has been producing well in their opportunities in the bigs.

      One thing's for sure, I'll still be watching and “rolling out the barrel” in 2013 and for years to come. Go Crew!

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Stats and information from:
brewers.mlb.com via Adam McCalvy