Doug Melvin: 2014

By on July 2, 2014
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Doug Melvin has the Milwaukee Brewers like a politician trying to retain their seat in Congress – every 3 years he emerges to put them in a position for the playoffs with aplomb.  There’s a joke to be made about the competency of Congress against Melvin, but it’s more entertaining to show you Ruben Rivera running the bases.

In 2008, 2011 and now 2014, the systematic efficiency by which Melvin rebuilds the mid-market Brewers is evident. Why is this happening every 3 years? Look at the pitching:

  • ERA: the two years preceding 2008 & 2011, the Brewers team ERA shrunk by 0.96 & 1.20 respectively. Year-t0-date 2014, the team ERA is 0.64 lower than two years ago
  • Quality Starts: from 2006-2008, 2008 was the peak year in QS at 84. Same for 2009-2011, with 98 QS in 2011. 2014 is pacing for 106 QS, easily the highest of the last 3 year block
  • only 2 pitchers he drafted have made 10+ starts as a Brewer
  • the closer, every year, has never been a pitcher he drafted

Melvin has to build the pitching staff from the outside, which evidence points to he can do in 3 year cycles. Drafting & developing pitching lends to sustainable success. Years of quality pitching on the cheap is important for a mid-market teams; plus you don’t need to give up top-level assets to acquire top-level pitchers. With this lacking, Melving is grabbing “good-not-great” pitchers via trade & free agency – he is not retooling in one fell swoop if the price isn’t to his liking. It is a piece-meal approach that clearly he is able to work from. In 2013, he signed Kyle Lohse to a 3-year deal; 2014 offseason saw Matt Garza ink a 4-year contract. The 2011 offseason he traded for Shaun Marcum and 2010 offseason saw Melvin sign Randy Wolf. Lohse, Garza, Marcum & Wolf are the definition of “good-not-great” pitchers. This is not a knock on his development of pitching for sustained success, much like our last GM profile of Brian Sabean was not discrediting Sabean’s development of hitting. Rather, it is Melvin with the self-actualization of his weakness and how to turn a positive from that weakness – he needs to bring in outside pitching for quality & quantity.

Melvin aggressively upgraded via trade every playoff year, and this deadline should be no different. The 2014 rotation is littered with depth, which falls in line with Melvin’s history of acquiring a bona-fide ace to lead the staff (CC Sabathia in 2008 and Zack Greinke in 2011). Expect a David Price / Cliff Lee pickup instead of a Tyson Ross / Jake Peavy. To note, manager Ron Roenicke favors control pitchers which points to an arm like Joakim Soria for bullpen depth.

With the staff needing an ace, on offense it is wanting an upgrade. Thankfully for Melvin, he has a balanced lineup capable of slug-fest and a manager willing to play small-ball. Melvin has a largely home-grown lineup who are all producing, creating a balance of Melvin’s love of power (Ryan Braun, Jonathan LuCroy, Khris Davis) and Roenicke’s heavy use of sacrifice attempts (Scooter Gennett). Trades secured two up-and-coming stars (Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura). Free Agency has brought in additional power (Aramis Ramirez). The platoon of Mark Reynolds & Lyle Overbay at 1B, both brought in as free agents this offseason, aren’t contributing much to either Melvin or Roenicke’s styles. Melvin will be in a position to upgrade for a starting or platoon 1B (Mark Reynolds has the 2nd lowest SLG & OPS in the lineup nor does he sacrifice) without feeling the pressure succumbing to demands – the Brewers don’t need a middle of the order bat and should anticipate most of their assets going to a staff ace.

Over the 3 year blocks on offense, there is not discernible transactional data like we have on pitching. He has shown capable of building playoff-caliber offenses through the draft, with astute trades and timely signings in free agency. Much like affording a star pitcher is tough for a mid-market team, drafts & trades for minor league players that became contributors (eg Gomez & Segura) have kept costs manageable. When Prince Fielder left after 2012, power production was replaced with the emergence/patient-development of LuCroy & Gomez. Ramirez was signed the year prior in anticipation of Fielder’s departure.

Doug Melvin will trade for a premium pitcher because he has a systematic approach executed on 3 year cycles: enough time for him to build assets, to cherry-pick depth pitchers on his terms, to rebuild the pitching staff. What will Melvin give up to acquire an ace who will carry the Brewers into the playoffs this year? That is not the right question of how Melvin acquires talent for the Brewers to become playoff contenders. The questions being asked should have started in 2012 after he traded Greinke, much like they should have been asked in 2009 after Sabathia left via free agency. We know Melvin will make a move for 2014. What will he set in motion this offseason for 2017?

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  • brewersfan729

    Can you really consider Wily Peralta a free agent? Yes, he technically was but for all intents and purposes he was scouted, signed and developed by the Brewers in the minors.

    • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

      I understand where you are coming from – in the *strictest* sense, he was a free agent that could sign with any organization. It is tough to classify Int’l Free Agents, since they go through a development system like a draft pick (sans Jose Abreau, Tanaka, etc.). I chose to go by the definition of what a free agent is those since there is Peralta had options on which org to sign with.

      • daveineg

        But wasn’t your point that Melvin has failed to develop starting pitchers in his tenure? Peralta has been in the Brewer organization since he was 16. Melvin obviously saw enough in him at a young age to beat out other teams who may have been interested. I hardly see the distinction between that type of sign and a kid drafted out of high school. Besides, every team signs guys out of the Dominican Republic. It’s not like any team can corner the market..so it’s not all that different than the draft.

        • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

          Great feedback Dave. Good point about Hellweg, thanks for pointing out.

          On Peralta, the point was that as transactions go towards building a roster Melvin’s regime is clearly not as successful drafting/scouting/developing pitchers as is hitters. Thus he needs to constantly build pitching staffs from the outside. Peralta could be added to a section purely called “Developed” instead of “Drafted & Developed”. Even adding Peralta to that list, 3 pitchers “developed” in nearly a decade is a trend that proves how he transactionally builds his playoff teams.

          • daveineg

            Well he also drafted Jake Odorizzi, a key piece he used to acquire Greinke who’s gone on to become a major league starter. You are also factually incorrect about Gallardo and Fiers being the only drafted pitchers with 10 or more big league starts.. Tyler Thornburg has made exactly 10 starts as a Brewer and was ticketed for the rotation in 2014 prior to the signing of Matt Garza and you were remiss in not at least mentioning the number one prospect in the organization is Jimmy Nelson, a starting pitcher who might be putting up the best numbers of any starter in AAA this season and is about one bad Marco Estrada start from replacing him in the rotation. Nelson is being groomed to start for Brewers. He’s not a trading chip as you suggest.

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            You bring up interesting points. The point of this is to drive awareness what Melvin does during playoff years, not hypothesize at random. Let me know your thoughts on the below, want your feedback.

            1) Thanks for catching that about Thornburg Dave, I will update.

            2) Odorizzi was an asset used to acquire an ace, which proves how Melvin builds his staff from outside. Assuming Nelson or Thornburg become rotation-mainstays is different than fact; fact is Melvin treats his minor league players, especially pitchers, as assets to acquire known-commodities EVERY playoff year. Fact is the past two playoff pushes Melvin has emptied his minor league reservoir to acquire an ace. Time will tell if Jimmy Nelson stays a Brewer – doesn’t change the evidence about Melvin during playoff years.

            3) I am not stating he can’t develop pitching, rather that he chooses not to (whether it be patience or skill set). You like Nelson; I totally agree with you that Nelson is going to be a solid starter and Thornburg will have a long career; Melvin & all other teams probably do too. Historically though, Melvin trades those players in a playoff year, right? I’m pointing that out then hypothesizing based off evidence. Here is a quote from the article: “This is not a knock on his development of pitching for sustained success, much like our last GM profile of Brian Sabean was not discrediting Sabean’s development of hitting. Rather, it is Melvin with the self-actualization of his weakness and how to turn a positive from that weakness – he needs to bring in outside pitching for quality & quantity.”