Friday, May 27, 2011

Excuse Me While I Dash Off A Quick Letter To Ron Roenicke

Dear Mr. Roenicke,

Now that Nyjer "T-Plush" Morgan has come off the DL, the Brewers lineup is complete and ready to fire on all cylinders. The Cardinals will fade, and the Reds are tough but not tough enough. We can catch them, and I'm confident your leadership will be tested in the NLCS against the Phillies come October.

But speaking of Nyjer Morgan... ok, this might sound a little crazy because it goes against the grain: I think Nyjer Morgan should bat leadoff, and Ricky Weeks should bat second. At least for a little while. Morgan seems to have found his stroke and his discipline at the plate is that of steely on-base determination, while his speed is perhaps even more nitro-boosted than Ricky's. The one thing he lacks is power, power to drive in runners.

Ricky has this power. Let Morgan bat leadoff (assuming he's truly become an offensive force to be reckoned with), slashing singles and stealing bases. And then let Ricky Weeks bat. And then Ryan Braun. And then Prince Fielder. Bar none, that would be the top 1-2-3-4 in the National League (again assuming high level of production from Nyjer). Hell, bat Corey Hart and Casey McGehee 5 and 6, and that's the top 1-2-3-4-5-6! If Lucroy continues to hit, and Betancourt maintains his 2010-level batting, that lineup is worthy of a Joey Ramone shout: "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8!"

I'm not saying we can't make the playoffs with the Weeks/Hart/Braun/Fielder lineup. But we can do better. I'm sure you've considered T-Plush in the leadoff spot. I say go with it.


Nato X Coles

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Doofus Of The Week

Hi there. Let me start out this entry by stating a fact that's probably already known to 95% of the people who read this blog: I LOVE THE REPLACEMENTS. On my list of favorite bands of all time, they usually rank #2 (behind Husker Du) and are never not in the Top 5. Last night, I played a bunch of Replacements songs on guitar in a garage during a thunderstorm, including one ("Heyday") that I'm not sure I ever played before. I can do this because I've listened to the music so much that the songs are now permanently ingrained in my brain. It's similar to the Ramones, Tom Petty, the Huskers (of course)... stuff like that.

I went and saw Tommy Stinson at First Avenue on Friday night. The first thing I need to say is that it was a good show, and the band sounded great! Now on to the funny stuff...

It's strange to see such an iconic dude like Tommy backed by... well, backed by two good friends of mine from Milwaukee (Tim Schweiger and Jon Phillip), and Mike Gent from the Figgs (a great band you all should check out if you haven't yet) with whom I'm on a first name basis (although he still thinks I live in Green Bay). It's strange. And cool! I felt so proud of Tim (guitar) and Jon (drums), and even though Paul Westerberg didn't end up joining the party for a song as had been rumored - hey, it was raining, so he probably just stayed in his hole in Edina - I could imagine that Tim and Jon were on cloud nine for sure,if they weren't too nervous! Tim's a worrywart. But he did fine.

Tommy Stinson's fiancee (her name escapes me) was also onstage singing and playing miscellaneous percussion, making the band a five piece. So, there they were, rocking and rolling and playing cool tunes. Naturally, they played "Friday Night Is Killing Me" off Tommy's first post-Replacements album of the same name from his old band Bash'n'Pop. They didn't play my other two favorites off that album, though - no "Fast and Hard," and no "Never Aim To Please." Ya know, those two songs SMOKE. Jon Hands-on always maintained that Tommy solo was better than Paul solo. I probably don't agree, but there's no doubt that Tommy's post-Mats output has a little more fire and energy than Paul's.

There was a drunk idiot at the show. I estimate that around 500 people were there to see Tommy (and/or the opening acts), and one blacked-out zombie somehow managed to piss off nearly all of them. After Tommy's eighth or ninth song, this guy threw an empty can onstage. Here's how Tommy responded, as I can best recall:

"Well now we know who wins the doofus of the week award. What is this, your first fucking concert? Throw something else onstage, and I'll fucking leave."

Wow. I looked at my pals Lucas and Amy (who incidentally have a baby on the way, and apparently they're trying to expose the kid to "good rock vibrations" as often as possible - good for them!), and you know how people sometimes say the word "awkward" in that cadence where "awk" is high-pitched, and then there's a slight pause, and then "ward" is a lower pitch and drawn out, like "whirrrrrrred"? The look the three of us exchanged was the visual equivalent of saying "awkward" like that. Tommy Stinson - EX-REPLACEMENT TOMMY STINSON - threw a tantrum because some drunk threw a can or bottle onstage?

This brings me to my next point. It's a difficult thing to front a band. I'm still figuring out how to do it. There are, in my opinion, three schools of band fronting, with many subschools of course, but they all boil down to one of these three frontman styles:

1. The Master Of Ceremonies. This emcee-style frontman interacts with the audience via snappy banter and clever antics. This can be annoyingly corny if taken too far, but done right, the Master Of Ceremonies commands the room and makes the crowd laugh, cry, oooh and/or ahhh as the situation requires. Examples of people who are excellent at being The Master Of Ceremonies are Bruce Springsteen, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Ben "In Defence" Crew.

2. The Artist. Scowling, intense, The Artist virtually ignores the audience entirely (except possibly to scold them for being insufficiently scowling and intense as well) and is purely focused on sacrificing 110% of his/her mind, body, and soul on the altar of their performance and art. Sometimes The Artist takes themself so seriously that they're a joke, but make no mistake: if the frontman of a band does The Artist right, their catharsis is projected throughout the room like a telepathic explosion, and you WILL be rocked. Examples of The Artist done right are Fugazi, Husker Du (in particular Bob Mould, although he hasn't been The Artist for a decade now), and the Velvet Underground.

3. The Average Joe (or Jolene). Wait, what? Somebody gave me this guitar and put a microphone on a stand in front of me? Ha, well, ok! Stranger things have happened! Let's have some fun! The Average Joe is just like you and me, except they happen to be playing the show right now. No planned routines, no dour self-seriousness, maybe not even a planned setlist. There is NO pretention here, just some songs being played and drink tickets being used. The Average Joe can be a drag between songs, and occasionally really boring while performing them, but if they and their band have a good sense of humor and take the actual MUSIC as seriously as they don't take themselves, then the audience/performer barrier is shattered and everyone feels great about it. The Average Joes that I know include Tom Petty, the Dillinger Four, and the Ergs!.

Tommy Stinson falls firmly into the Average Joe category of frontman, and I would not say that he is anywhere near the equal of the three examples of good Average Joe frontman-ing that I provided. His banter included gems like "A whole bunch of people gave me some jokes to tell, but I forgot them all," and "I'm going to play a bunch of new songs. I guess you guys are the test market." That last one reads much better than it sounded live, by the way. And it didn't help that Mike Gent of the Figgs, standing eight feet away from Tommy is a GREAT Average Joe frontman who can pull off The Master Of Ceremonies too when required.

Later, I heard that he was very stressed out and tired from a long day and in particular a 2-hour spot on local indie radio station The Current, and that he felt like he was losing his voice, too (he sounded fine). Nevertheless, I have to go way out on a limb and risk being called a hypocrite here, and state: he should've let the music do the talking. In his defense, he did take requests, and seemed to loosen up as the night went along.

At one point, Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum's main dude) came out onstage, smashed a guitar, smashed another guitar, and sang "My Generation" while the band did an admirable job of stumbling through the cover. That was the liveliest moment of the night for sure! Dave Hause (the Loved Ones) had opened the show, and came out for a few backups on that tune as well. That was quite a collection of onstage talent! I'm not sure the grumpy old man who was noticeably absent would've fit. I've seen Paul live, and I came away slightly unimpressed.

This, by the way, is why I don't like to go see the shows of old guys from bands I'm too young to have seen play. I always build it up too much in my mind, expecting something that I hear and see in my head when I listen to their great, classic records. It never works out that way (except, oddly, for when I saw Bob Mould solo acoustic in Milwaukee - he was The Average Joe between songs, but holy smokes was he The Artist while playing and singing! Sooooo intense!).

Anyway, once the show was over and the lights came on, I wandered over to where Tim and Jon were hanging, to shoot the shit a little. Tim talked about wanting to tour more, but he was kind of despairing as to his "draw" outside of eastern Wisconsin. I think he's really good, you readers should look up Tim Schweiger and The Middle Men and see for yourself. Also, his old bands (The Obsoletes, and Yesterday's Kids) were absolutely great. Maybe I'll see if he wants to do a two-headed tour with me sometime. I told Tim I was probably splitting downtown, but that he should text me if he wanted to get a drink away from First Avenue. He said he would.

I walked out, and intended to walk to my car and split downtown indeed, but then I looked in The Depot (the bar next door to 7th St Entry) and my taste buds began tickling for a pale ale. I walked in, ordered a Summit, and sat down to watch baseball highlights and wait and see if Tim was gonna come out and meet me. He didn't. So I finished my beer, admired Prince Fielder's amazing 450-foot walkoff homerun a few times, and went home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good Good Things

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what a baseball team can expect from its position players. Probably this is because the Twins lineup has been demolished by injuries, prompting them to start guys like Rene Tosoni*, Matt Tolbert, Rene Rivera (what's with all the Rene's?), and the dauntless Drew Butera, he of the fine defense and the mighty hurricane-force swingannamisses. Also, the experiment in which Alexei Casilla performs the duties of an everyday shortstop has failed, but that's much the same thing. Trevor Plouffe was called up from Triple A Rochester the other day. He had a couple great games, and then got hurt. Yup, well, we'll see.

*I was present at Target Field for five Rene Tosoni Major League Firsts: 1. First hit 2. First RBI 3. First error 4. First home run 5. First time to strike out in every at-bat. Whoa!

There's such a thing as a "replacement-level player," basically a fair descriptive term for guys like Tolbert and Butera. But I'm more interested in what is expected from a player who is better... a player who is better than bad. A player who is GOOD.

In order to win the World Series, you have to be good. In order to win the World Series, you have to first make the playoffs. Eight teams make the playoffs every year. Therefore, the eighth-best team in baseball is the team that demarcates the difference between good and whatever else exists. Therefore, the eighth-best player in the league at every position demarcates that difference for all baseball players.

So, without further ado, here are the eighth-best players, ranked by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), at every position, for the 2010 regular season. For every position, I required a minimum of 400 plate appearances to qualify.

Catcher: Ryan Doumit .738
First Baseman: Ryan Howard .859
Second Baseman: Jeff Keppinger .744
Third Baseman: Mark Reynolds .753
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro .721
Left Fielder: Delmon Young .826
Center Fielder: Drew Stubbs .773
Right Fielder: Jay Bruce .846

BONUS: Here's the fourth-best designated hitter! It's Victor Martinez, at .844.

Here are the rankings for the 2009 season.

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki .734
First Baseman: Adam Lind .932
Second Baseman: Gordon Beckham .808
Third Baseman: Casey Blake .832
Shortstop: Maicer Izturis .794
Left Fielder: Luke Scott .828
Center Fielder: Cody Ross .790
Right Fielder: (tie) Andre Ethier and Nick Swisher .869
DH: Victor Martinez .861

There you have it! Note the difference between 2009 and 2010; the 2010 season was anointed The Year Of The Pitcher. You can see the dropoff from 2009 to 2010 at many of the positions here, especially the infield spots.

So, where are we in 2011 right now? How good does a position player have to hit to be 2011-level good? Here ya go...

Catcher: Brian McCann .770
First Baseman: Gaby Sanchez .946
Second Baseman: Ian Kinsler .750
Third Baseman: David Wright .739
Shortstop: Jamey Carroll .766
Left Fielder: Jonny Gomes .748
Center Fielder: Peter Bourjos .794
Right Fielder: Carlos Quentin .917
DH: Billy Butler .825

Give yourself a pat on the back if your team's player at their position is doing better than any of these guys, because if they are... they are good. That is all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

If Derek Jeter (age 36, turning 37 in June) collects as many hits as Pete Rose did from the season during which he turned 37 onward... he will end his career with 4243 hits. That's 13 shy of Pete Rose's record.

If Alex Rodriguez (age 35, turning 36 in July) socks as many dingers as Hank Aaron did from the season during which he was 36 onward... he will end his career with 819 home runs. That's quite a few more than Hank Aaron (or Barry Bonds).

To paraphrase the Ergs: "But they probably won't."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

State Of The Brewers

Well, the hitters aren't hitting, the fielders aren't fielding, and the pitchers aren't pitching.

Not for the past week, anyway.

One, Zero, Two, Three, and Zero. Those are the number of runs the Brewers have scored in the past five games.

Two, Five, Six, Eight, and Eight. Those are the number of runs the Brewers opponents have scored in the past five games.

This is a team in a serious, serious slump. There's no nit-picking or lineup analyzation that can point out why a team is slumping. If Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun aren't hitting, or Zach Greinke has a bad day, the Brewers are not going to do well.

But I can think of three problems that do need solving...

1. Carlos Gomez. An exciting player and great defender with a wiffle bat. There is no reason to bat him second in the lineup. How many more RBI's would league near-leader Prince Fielder (not to mention Ryan Braun) have if someone who could get on base was batting second? Now that Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan are healthy, it's time for Gomez to take a back seat. As a four-and-a-halfth outfielder (is that a word?) and a late-inning defensive sub or pinch runner, he is a valuable asset. Even when starting, however, he should bat eighth or ninth in the lineup. Pitcher Yovanni Gallardo has a higher career OPS (.671) than Gomez (.638). Zack Greinke apparently hit very well in his younger days.

2. Baserunning. So Ron Roenicke likes to run, huh? Well, if so, the man needs to send Jonathan Lucroy, Yuniesky Betancourt, Carlos Gomez and even Ryan Braun to baserunning camp! In recent games, all have committed blunders which cost the Brewers runs and outs. If the Brewers don't run smarter, they will run themselves right out of the division.

3. Infield Defense. The team has looked sloppy in the past week, true, but really this infield kinda stinks, period. No matter how the Brewers media spins it, and they do try, Messrs. McGehee, Weeks, and Fielder are average at best with the glove. And Yuniesky Betancourt is infamously the worst defensive shortstop who starts every day in the major leagues, with one possible Bronxian pinstriped exception. What can be done about this? I'm not sure. I guess they'd better start hitting, then!

As I wrote this, the top of the Brewers order struck out in a row to open game four of the series in Atlanta. Things have got to turn around! On a positive note, Nyjer Morgan is batting in the second spot in the lineup. That's a major improvement right there.

This lineup is too good, this rotation is too good. I have confidence that we're looking at a team that, if they play smart and hard, will make the playoffs. However, if bad managing and mental errors keep cropping up, there are going to be some very long faces and long nights awake in Brewer Nation come October.