Buster Olney: Milwaukee Brewers

Ryan Braun's power outage 

July, 22, 2014
Ryan Braun AP Photo/Morry GashRyan Braun ranks 146th out of 163 qualified batters in percent of hits pulled (30.8).
An experienced and smart evaluator who has seen Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun a couple of times this year noted all the twists in his career in a conversation on Monday.

“Wins the Most Valuable Player Award [in 2011] hitting with all kinds of power,” he said. “Tests positive, [but] wins his appeal. Has another big year, with power, second in the MVP. Then, Biogenesis.”

Yes. He was suspended.

“He’s had a lot of injuries. Now he’s completely different.”

How so?

“Takes the ball to the opposite field a lot,” said the evaluator. “I think he’s more of an opposite-field hitter than almost anybody in baseball. He doesn’t really pull the ball anymore, and I don’t think he hits the ball as far as he used to.”

On home runs?

“No, in general. I don’t think the ball goes nearly as far.”

Braun is having a good season, without question, with a .354 on-base percentage. He’s on track to accumulate a respectable 63 extra-base hits -- but with 19 homers and 37 walks, very different from his 2012 totals of 41 homers and 63 walks.

The observations were interesting, so I asked “Baseball Tonight” senior researcher Justin Havens, half of the podcast Fireball Express, to look more deeply into Braun’s performance, to see how close the evaluator’s eye test is to reality.

What Justin found was amazing.
Jed Hoyer, Theo EpsteinAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer, Theo Epstein and the Cubs have a multitude of elite position prospects in their system.
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are loaded with position prospects but don’t have much in the way of pitching prospects. The New York Mets are stacked with great young pitching, but they don’t have much in the way of position prospects.

“Which would you rather have?” one longtime evaluator mused.

It’s an interesting question now, in 2014, in a way that it hasn’t been for many years. Because for the last few decades, the pitcher-to-position player exchange rate -- much like the U.S. versus Canada money exchange rate -- has generally skewed to one side; pitching has generally gotten you more in return than position players.

For that reason, rival evaluators were stunned a few years ago that Seattle would swap elite young pitcher Michael Pineda in a deal for catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero; it smashed against the grain of recent history. For that reason, the Rays were able to get outfielder Wil Myers in return for James Shields and Wade Davis; the Royals desperately needed pitching to ascend.

But as we move within three months of the July 31 trade deadline, is the exchange rate of pitching and position players the same?

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In case you missed it:

The three leading hitters in the NL batting race all wear the same uniform.

The Rockies' Charlie Blackmon is batting .379, Troy Tulowitzki is at .376, and Justin Morneau is at .357. Oh, yeah, and Nolan Arenado is hitting .313 and D.J. LeMahieu is batting .305. Colorado is taking full advantage of Coors Field, and the team OPS is more than 50 points higher than any other team, and the Rockies are 16-12 after coming back to beat the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

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Brewers’ early success no fluke 

April, 12, 2014
Kyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez, Khris Davis Getty ImagesKyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis have all been major contributors this season.
Last September, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin stood and watched the remnants of the 2013 Brewers take batting practice on a Saturday. No Ryan Braun. No Aramis Ramirez. No Jean Segura. But what Melvin conveyed, amid the tatters of a lost season, was hope.

He liked the projected lineup for 2014, he said, with Khris Davis probably moving into a starting role. He thought Yovani Gallardo -- who seemingly never really recovered from the WBC in 2013 -- would bounce back. Melvin seemed intrigued by what the Brewers could be, and so far, that vision has been borne out.

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DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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Why MLB must ban plate collisions 

September, 7, 2013
Prince FielderAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA hard collision at home plate caused Giants catcher Buster Posey to miss much of 2011.
A talent evaluator who works in baseball imagined the future testimony aimed at a team -- or all of Major League Baseball -- in a lawsuit filed by a catcher seriously injured while blocking home plate.

"'I was told in spring training by my catching instructor that this is something I need to do,'" the evaluator said, imitating the words that any catcher could say. "'I didn't block home one day and he called me a -----, and he said that blocking home plate is something that every catcher is expected to do.'"

The evaluator jumped into another role, imagining himself as the catcher's lawyer: "'What happened next?'"

Evaluator as catcher: "'I blocked home plate, as I was instructed to do, and now I can't walk.'"

This testimony could be especially effective, the evaluator noted, if it comes from someone sitting in a wheelchair, and if you think that can't happen, maybe you should watch this video of the hit that Harrisburg catcher Brian Jeroloman took in a Double-A playoff game the other night, when he was run over by Erie's Brandon Douglas.

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Where Robinson Cano could go 

August, 25, 2013
CanoAP Photo/Gail BurtonYankees second baseman Robinson Cano's 4.8 WAR is among the best in baseball.
LOS ANGELES -- If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, then as of this morning, there are 33 games left in the career of Mariano Rivera.

But everybody saw that coming. There may also be only 33 games remaining in Robinson Cano's tenure with the Yankees if he leaves as a free agent when the season is over. He is their best player and they need him, and yet in recent years, teams have held the line with their own superstars -- for instance, the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and the Rangers with Josh Hamilton -- and those choices have been quickly vindicated.

The Yankees have their own experience in deciding whether to invest in a long-term star (Alex Rodriguez), and that hasn't turned out so well.

Cano is represented by Jay-Z and CAA, and the expectation among executives is that they will be looking to plant a flag with their contract -- something in the A-Rod/Pujols neighborhood.

But a big question that has come up among some rival officials is this: What teams will compete against the Yankees to sign him to create that leverage?

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More questions for Braun 

August, 23, 2013
Ryan BraunJeff Gross/Getty ImagesAgainst the backdrop of his statement, there's still much we can't see about Ryan Braun.
About 10 minutes before the start of a "Sunday Night Baseball" game in Baltimore on June 30, Chris Davis finished his pregame routine and stopped alongside the photo well, where I was sitting. Davis had something on his mind.

Earlier in the day, he said, he answered a question posed to him on Twitter: Are you on PEDs?

He had responded no, and he talked about the responses to his response. A lot of folks didn’t believe him.

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The art of killing time 

August, 18, 2013
Chris StewartESPN IllustrationYankees catcher Chris Stewart takes the reader through a day in his shoes.
The typical baseball game consists of only about 14 minutes of live action throughout a roughly three-hour, first- to last-pitch competition. Players usually arrive at the clubhouse for a standard 7 p.m. game between 1 and 2 p.m. This five- to six-hour gap contains baseball rituals such as warm-ups, workouts, batting cage work, stretching, batting practice and final game preparation.

All of these rituals take a little more than three hours for most, so it makes one wonder: What goes on during the other two to three hours?

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Contracts now a target in PED fight 

July, 29, 2013
Alex Rodriguez and Ryan BraunTim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsA-Rod and Braun could be targets of lawsuits if teams feel the players destroyed their own value.
ATLANTA -- Long before Ryan Braun accepted his suspension or Alex Rodriguez asked his lawyer to join a conference call in which the topic was a quadriceps strain, club officials throughout Major League Baseball had started to look into the topic of whether they had legal recourse against players who used performance-enhancing drugs.

For the Yankees, this question really began with Jason Giambi, and this is why Giambi gave the infamous I’m-Sorry-But-I-Can’t-Tell-You-Why news conference so many years ago. With the help of his own representation, answers to difficult questions were crafted in such a way that he could steer around open admission of steroid use -- to protect the money that he had earned and that he would earn in the future -- while still responding, sort of. The statement that Braun issued last week was designed the same way.

The Yankees long ago concluded that given the rules contained within the collective bargaining agreement, they cannot void a contract based on PED use, which is why Rodriguez is still a member of their organization and may still play if he appeals what is expected to be a forthcoming suspension, rather than accepting it.

But some officials and lawyers within the game are taking a look at other avenues through which they might gain some financial relief from busted players –- back doors, in a sense.

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Ryan Braun faces a closed circle 

July, 23, 2013
Ryan BraunMarc Serota/Getty ImagesRyan Braun will sit out the rest of the season, but the hard feelings won't end there.
There was a moment recently when the shift in the attitude of Major League Baseball players toward performance-enhancing drug cheaters blossomed fully, when the last stages of evolution came into view.

The players have changed on this issue from the time the first gossip of steroids use in baseball began in the 1980s, moving from ignorance to ambivalence to acceptance to frustration to resentment to the current DEFCON 1 anger.

A pitcher drilled a hitter in a game this season, and when the inning was over and he returned to the dugout, the pitcher explained to his teammates that he had plunked the guy because he’s a juicer -- a cheater, a PED user. The teammates who heard him understood.

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Before Lance Armstrong finally admitted to Oprah that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he called some of the people he had attacked directly or hurt through many years of lying to offer some form of apology.

Ryan Braun needs to do the same thing, if he hasn’t already started. Because he is the Lance Armstrong of baseball.

His first call must go to Dino Laurenzi Jr., the collector whose character and work he called into question when he made his now infamous statement in February of 2012, after he won his appeal.

He needs to offer apologies to his teammates. As Braun made that statement, he was accompanied by teammates, whom he almost certainly deceived.

He needs to apologize to the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise. Braun tested positive for PEDs in the fall of 2011, in the midst of the playoffs, and against Arizona that fall, he batted .500, with nine hits in 18 at-bats, as the Brewers edged the Diamondbacks, three games to two. Braun’s performance, aided by performance-enhancing drugs, may have directly cost the Diamondbacks’ players money and a chance to advance to the World Series.

The players’ union has gone through a tremendous evolution in its attitude toward those who violate the terms of the drug-testing system, and in the aftermath of Braun’s test, there were members of the Arizona organization who were enraged. The players voted over and over to implement and then repeatedly strengthen the drug-testing program, to ensure the level playing field, because they didn’t want some players to have an advantage over other players in trying to win jobs and earn money.

Braun cheated all of them, and in the fall of 2011, nobody was affected more directly than the Diamondbacks.

He owes an apology to the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. They gave him a big contract, and then signed him to a massive extension, worth about $150 million. They are a small-market franchise and they signed him to be their Cal Ripken, their leader, the centerpiece of their organization -- and now he is no longer that, and can no longer be that, because his professional reputation and marketability are destroyed. He is not only a cheater, he is a cheater who lied about it, then attacked to protect the lie. This is a crushing blow for the Brewers’ franchise.

He needs to apologize to the fans, all of those who supported him because they believed his lies. He misled them, and they bought his jerseys and went to his restaurant and bought tickets to see him play, because he is theirs.

A lot of those apologies need to take place in private, but a lot needs to take place in public, and with more teeth than the words released by Major League Baseball in a statement -- which was shocking in itself, in how the No. 2 person in the sport, Rob Manfred, was quoted as complimenting Braun as it suspended him:

"We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions. We all agree that it is in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter. When Ryan returns, we look forward to him making positive contributions to Major League Baseball, both on and off the field."

Are you kidding? In light of all of the money spent by MLB in dealing with Braun’s first appeal, in how much damage has been done to the sport, in how much of a pall Braun’s situation has cast over other players -- Braun is commended?

No. The only person who should be talking now is Braun, who should be apologizing to all those he hurt, while embracing the full range of embarrassment with all necessary humility and honesty.

He earned it.

NL trade deadline preview 

July, 3, 2013
The perception in some corners around baseball is that the Chicago Cubs fared well in their trade of Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday. "They turned a one-year rental into pieces that can help [going forward]," said an AL evaluator. "They signed him knowing that they could get something for him if he bounced back, and it paid off."

No one doubts that Jake Arrieta is talented, and as the Orioles know from their experience with Chris Davis, sometimes it just takes longer for some players to blossom than others. Maybe that will happen with Arrieta now that he is with the Cubs, a team that continues to collect as much volume as possible, in the same way the Astros have.

There are more deals to come from the Cubs in the days ahead, with Kevin Gregg and Matt Garza replacing Feldman on their front burner. When David DeJesus returns from the disabled list later this month, the Cubs probably will assess the interest for him and Nate Schierholtz and trade one, but not both.

Beyond the Cubs, here is how the trade market is shaping up for the rest of the teams in the National League.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Aaron Hill just came back, and they remain hopeful that Adam Eaton will return sometime soon to the everyday lineup. Their trade-market focus is pitching: They have been among the teams talking about Gregg for bullpen help, and about Yovani Gallardo and others for their rotation.

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Reasons for Wainwright's success 

June, 23, 2013
WainwrightAP Photo/Jeff RobersonAdam Wainwright has a 11.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, by far the best in baseball.
ST. LOUIS -- Oh sure, Adam Wainwright would rather have been on the field in 2011 doing what he loves to do. But he explained on Saturday that while he has always loved baseball, he sort of renewed his vows with the sport that summer as he went through his long recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery.

When the Cardinals were on the road, Wainwright and his wife, Jenny, structured their days around watching the team play, and enjoyed it so much that Jenny told Adam that when his playing days are over, she wants to get the television package that enables them to see all the major league games.

But for Wainwright, that year of watching everybody else play had a practical impact on how he thinks on the mound and how he pitches. He had always had very good command, but since he's come back, his control has been historically great because of a philosophical change that he adopted in his time of reflection.

Wainwright takes the mound for the Cardinals on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN) against the Texas Rangers, with more wins (10) this season than walks allowed.

“It's a matter of making an intentional, solid choice to go out there to go out and attack hitters,” said Wainwright.

Wainwright grew up in Georgia and liked watching Russ Ortiz pitch. Ortiz was a battler, never giving in, never throwing meatball fastballs in hitters' counts; it's a very passive-aggressive way of pitching, and it served Ortiz well in his career.

“In my mind, it was great that he never gave in,” said Wainwright. “When he got into a big spot, he knew who was on deck, and he never gave in.”

But as Wainwright reflected on that, he said he thought also about how Chris Carpenter, Cliff Lee and other aggressive strike-throwers went after hitters without any thought of who was on deck.

“What that did for me was put more emphasis on the pitch I was throwing,” he said. “I made less mistakes that way. Now I can attack hitters more than I ever have.”

That 2011 season, he said, he realized how much he loved baseball when he had it taken from him. So when he and Jenny watched games together, he was an active viewer -- keeping a spiral notebook by his side, jotting down notes and thoughts about what he saw.

“I wanted to know what made pitchers great,” he said. “I wanted to know what made Carp great, what made Cliff Lee great, what made Roy Halladay great. On the other hand, what could I do better that could take my game to the next level?”

It's happened. Wainwright is in the midst of the best season of his career, with a 2.37 ERA, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career (a staggering 11.11, which, if he carries it out over the full season, will be the greatest of all time) and a more efficient approach.

Wainwright's pitches per inning

2005: 15.5
2006: 15.9
2007: 15.7
2008: 14.8
2009: 15.5
2010: 14.6
2012: 15.6
2013: 14.0

The Cardinals need more from Wainwright Sunday night, given that Texas has taken the first two games of this series. Martin Perez -- who has been working on controlling his emotions on the mound -- had a strong start Saturday.

Max Scherzer has reached a stage in his incredible 2013 season in which every time he has success, he's mingling with legends in his performance.

From ESPN Stats and Information:
Max Scherzer moved to 11-0 on the season Saturday, throwing seven innings of two-run ball to lead the Tigers to a 10-3 win over the Red Sox. He's just the fifth starting pitcher in the past 40 years to start a season 11-0 or better and the first to do it since Roger Clemens in 1997. Three of the previous four to start a season like that went on to win the Cy Young Award.

Scherzer struck out six, running his streak of starts with six or more strikeouts to 15. That's the longest streak by any pitcher to begin the season since Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson did it in 2000 and tied for the fourth longest in modern baseball history.

From the Elias Sports Bureau, most consecutive starts with at least six K's to begin a season in AL history:

2000 -- Pedro Martinez, 29

2013 -- Max Scherzer, 15 (active streak, includes Saturday)

1999 -- Pedro Martinez, 15

2001 -- Pedro Martinez, 14

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Scherzer beat the Red Sox:

A. After allowing two runs and three hits in the first inning, Scherzer would settle down and allow only three hits the rest of the way. He threw 76 percent fastballs in the first -- and allowed two hits with the pitch -- but threw just 52 percent fastballs the rest of the way (one hit allowed).

B. With seven lefties in the Red Sox lineup, Scherzer threw a career-high 31 percent changeups. He kept 70 percent of his changeups down in the zone, his second-highest percentage this season.

C. Scherzer threw 75 percent of his fastballs on the outer third or further outside, his highest percentage in the last five seasons. All four of his fastball strikeouts came on pitches in that location.

D. Scherzer didn't walk a batter for the third time this season despite going to six three-ball counts. Three of his six strikeouts came with the count full, tied for his most in the last two seasons.

• Drew Sharp thinks Scherzer has won the right to start the All-Star Game.

Around the league

• That's 10 straight wins for the Blue Jays, and counting.

Lance Berkman, a member of the 2011 Cardinals team that repeatedly ripped the guts out of the Rangers in the greatest World Series of all time, has enjoyed teasing his new Texas teammates about all of that. “To the victors go the spoils,” Berkman said with a smile, as part of an interview that we may show on "Sunday Night Baseball." After the on-camera discussion, Berkman detailed his verbal (good-natured) torture of the other Rangers, saying that he has asked them whether the Texas clubhouse was more silent after Game 6 or Game 7.

• On a recent conference call, Dan Shulman posed a really interesting question: If you were thinking about winning only one championship in a given season and had all the players to choose from, would catcher Yadier Molina be the first guy you'd take?

The selection would be smart for a few reasons. He hits: He currently leads the NL with a .358 batting average. He directs the defense: The Cardinals' position players credit him with making subtle but pivotal adjustments in the field. And he is widely regarded as the best defensive catcher of his time.

General managers will tell you that of all the deficiencies in defensive metrics, there isn't really a great way to enumerate the work that catchers do. So you look at pieces and parts, and Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Info dug these out:

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