Platoon Bats & Bouncebacks in the Brewers Infield

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

This might be the last time I rap at y’all wearing my depth chart hat. I put off discussing my home team, not because I feel that I’d be any more biased in my examination of them than I would be with other teams; rather, it’s because I wanted to avoid being depressed by what appears to be a closing window. But we’re talking fantasy value here, not playoff odds, so I’ll save my pouting for another post, or for another website altogether.

The 2014 Brewers infield produced a mixed bag for fantasy owners. Jonathan Lucroy continued to improve and was a top-three catcher; those that owned him likely had him at a bit of a value. Scooter Gennett proved to be a viable second base option, at least against right-handed pitchers. On the other hand, Jean Segura took a huge step back. Aramis Ramirez missed a lot of time and put up his worst season in years, even by rate stats. And then there was first base. To say that the Brewers failed to produce a first base option for fantasy players is putting it lightly. Without Mark Reynolds’s 22 homers on the books, it would look even worse, but Reynolds batted under .200 and finished with a .302 wOBA. To think that the team actually got significantly more production out of the first base position than they did in 2013 says more about how historically bad Brewers first basemen were in 2013 than anything about the 2014 squad. This past off-season they traded Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays for the rights to a year of Adam Lind. Lind should provide something of an upgrade, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

First, here’s an overview of what the Brewers infield is likely to be on opening day:

Pos. Starter Platoon/Backup Depth
C Jonathan Lucroy Martin Maldonado  
1B Adam Lind Jonathan Lucroy Luis Jimenez
2B Scooter Gennett Luis Sardinas  
3B Aramis Ramirez Luis Jimenez  
SS Jean Segura Luis Sardinas  

Lucroy tweaked his hamstring early in spring camp and was questionable to be ready for opening day, but it’s looking more likely now that he won’t miss any time—happy news for fantasy owners, for sure. As with many catchers who emerge as franchise players, the Brewers will be looking to give Lucroy more time out from behind the plate while keeping his bat in the lineup. Given Adam Lind’s struggle with lefties, I wouldn’t be surprised to a fairly straight platoon between Lind and Lucroy at first base, with Lucroy behind the plate when the team faces righties. This, of course, adds to Lucroy’s fantasy value; not so much because of the added positional eligibility, but because of the added playing time that this affords him. Lucroy will contribute in AVG and especially in OBP. His home run production fell off in 2014, but he hit so many doubles (53) that some of those should turn back into homers in 2015, especially given a HR+FB distance that held steady at a respectable 284ft. He’ll hit somewhere in the top four spots in the Brewers lineup, so he should produce a nice combo of runs and RBI. Feel secure in taking him as a top-three catcher.

The Brewers can feel good about giving Lucroy more time at first base because they have a capable backup in Martin Maldonado. Maldonado gets great marks for pitch-framing and provides enough pop with his bat to fill in for Lucroy a couple times a week, but he won’t be useful for fantasy purposes outside of the very deepest two-catcher leagues.

Lind hit all of six home runs in 2014, yet he had a healthy average distance of 290 feet on his homers and fly balls. His career low HR/FB% is likely to bounce back. He’ll probably hit fifth in the Brewers lineup, behind Carlos Gomez, Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Aramis Ramirez, so he should have a good number of RBI opportunities. But, it’s very likely that Lind is limited to 450 plate appearances or so, simply because he will sit against lefties. This is not to mention Lind’s history of missing time with chronic back problems, something that already has given him trouble this spring. In that he will actually sit against lefties, you might find use for him in deeper weekly points leagues where his slugging against right-handers will make him worth rostering. He’s probably a better bet for daily leagues where you can spare a bench spot for him on his off days.

Scooter Gennett is another fantasy platoon candidate. In 2014 he was an actual platooner and to date he has just 83 plate appearances against lefties. In said PAs, he’s been as bad as can be, posting a -29 wRC+. Yes, that’s a negative. Considering that wRC+ already measures weighted offensive performance on a scale where 100 is league average, posting a negative number is nearly inconceivable. Yet, with former platoon partner Rickie Weeks now in Seattle and no clear candidate to replace his right-handed bat, Gennett will likely receive more chances against lefties in 2015. He doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t have much power (though Steamer and ZiPS both like him to hit 10 HR), and he doesn’t steal bases. If his horrible performance against lefties continues, it could drag down his best category (batting average) and cause him to remain at the bottom of the Brewers batting order, making it difficult to rack up the counting stats. FantasyPros’ ADP have him as the 24th second baseman being taken, which means that he’s not being drafted at all in a lot of mixed leagues, and might be a last option in NL Only leagues. Success against lefties would help him beat that ranking, but until he proves that he can hit same-handed pitching, the ranking fits. Use sparingly.

I was among the Brewers fans who were relieved when Ramirez picked up his half of a mutual option this past offseason, saving the team from having to plumb the depths of minor league free agents or make a significant trade to fill what would have been a big organizational hole at 3B. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so excited: his production took a big dip in 2014 as he posted the lowest walk rate of his career, his lowest ISO since 1999, and his lowest HR/FB ratio since 2002 with a declining average fly ball distance to corroborate. Yet, with a .285 AVG and 15 homers, he wan’t entirely without value. If he can return to being more selective with his swings and continue to hit line drives, the AVG and OBP can still be there, and hitting cleanup in a decent Brewers lineup is good for RBI count. He should be mixed-league relevant as a CI option, at least. Ramirez has said that he plans to retire after the 2015 season. Here’s to one more good year in the sun.

Jean Segura had a tough 2014. He was struggling through June, then in mid-July his nine-month-old son passed away and he missed a week of games in mourning. He returned to the team and had a strong September that coincided with some mechanical changes, but that also appears to have been driven by a very high average on balls in play. That said, on the whole, Segura was probably a bit unlucky on balls in play last year: his .275 BABIP is very low considering his speed and rate of infield hits. To boot, he has refined his approach little by little, swinging at fewer pitches, making more contact, and hitting more line drives. If he continues to improve in these areas, an upside of a .295 average and 40 steals (i.e. his 2013 numbers) is still present; combined with the potential for double digit home run totals, he’d be an excellent option at shortstop. But the floor is much lower now than we would have expected after his 2013 breakout, and he’s off to another rough start this spring. Even with his somewhat mediocre projections from Steamer and ZiPS, he’s right at the cusp of being a starting SS in standard mixed leagues. With normal luck and some improvement (which we would hope for from someone as young and talented as Segura), he could shoot up the rankings. Draft him as that borderline starter to mitigate risk.

The scariest thing about the 2015 Brewers (from a fan’s perspective) is the absolute lack of depth in the infield—outside of Maldonado anyway. Luis Sardinas came over in the Yovani Gallardo trade and offers good defense, speed, and versatility, but the bat has been bad in the upper minors as the Rangers rushed him along last year, having him reach the majors as a 21-year-old. Given his age and defensive value, he’s better suited to more minor league seasoning, but the Brewers have few other middle infield options and so he’ll probably break camp with the team. He’s not a fantasy option by any stretch.

Luis Jimenez could start some games at first base against lefties, and has had more success in the minor leagues than Sardinas, but he’s always been old for his level. He might not be much better than someone like Matt Clark, but Jimenez’s ability to play both corner infield positions will probably help him win a spot over Clark. Again, he’s of no concern for fantasy purposes.

Hire Robert J. Baumann to live-blog your next birthday party, family reunion, or corporate event. You will not want to forget it soon.

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Why has Matt Clark only gotten 31 MLB Abs.