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  • Brewers Need To Explore Upgrading First Base


    Tommy Ciaccio

    Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Rowdy Tellez joining the Brewers. He's been solid. Now it's time to capitalize on the reputation he's built in Milwaukee to net a bona fide first baseman to win in 2022.

    Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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    A year ago today the Brewers acquired Rowdy Tellez for a prospect named Bowden Francis and an expendable journeyman reliever in Trevor Richards. In one full season in a Brewers uniform, Tellez has endeared himself to Brewers faithful. More than comfortable, the affably nicknamed Rowdy has been clutch on more than occasion. A walk-off against the Giants, a number of tie-breaking home runs, and a grand slam against the Reds that made up half of his franchise record eight RBI’s in a game. 

    But that sentimentality glosses over some harder numbers. Tellez has been worth less than half a win using Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It's the halfway point of the season and if Tellez isn't even on pace to amass one WAR over the course of the season, what is all the sentimentality about? With half as many at bats, Keston Hiura has accomplished more.

    It isn’t like Tellez is a bad player. He joined the Crew after Daniel Vogelbach went down with a hamstring injury, and since arriving Brewers fans have no reason to feel anything but grateful for the paunchy lefty. Clutchness and reliability are difficult to wrap a metric around, but the painful truth is that if you do look at the metrics, Tellez may not be good enough yet to legitimize an every day presence on a team that should be trying to fix an inconsistent offense and win now.

    Centerfielders don't usually fix offenses. First basemen do.

    For instance, look to the East and you’ll see a Washington team that has no earthly reason to be hoarding an elite first baseman in 2022, but they’re equipped with one nonetheless. Former Pirates product Josh Bell has been solid for the Nationals since being traded there in 2020, but is having himself a career year in our nation’s capital just before he hits free agency. With a batting line of .318/.399/.514, Bell is responsible for a lot of headlines that read something like “Josh Bell’s bat shines in blow out loss”. 

    But beyond Bell’s pop, he breaks the mold of what a first baseman does at the plate. His Expected Batting Average (XBA) stands at .309, and his Weighted On-base Average (WOBA) is an astounding .392. He’s putting the bat on the ball and not striking out. He has a 3.5 WAR already.

    These numbers aren’t good; they are elite, revelatory, and quite possibly suggestive of a player who’s quietly putting himself in the company of players like Paul Goldschmidt. The Brewers having a bat that can match the intimidation St. Louis brings to the park would make a powerful statement to fans and rival teams alike.

    To be sure, there would be obstacles. The most obvious would be what the Brewers would need to give in return. It’s worth noting that the package could involve somebody like Tellez. Besides competence and potential, Tellez offers two more years of control. 

    Or maybe Tellez is kept and the designated hitter spot is used to find at-bats. We can debate the details of a satisfactory deal in the comments, but the Stearns administration has been savvy enough to not hoard prospects when the right player is available. The right player is available.

    There would also surely be a backlash from a portion of the fan base. But assuming the strategy is to get a ring, fan outrage should pretty much never be considered because fans aren't experts. Tellez is loved in the same way Milwaukee fans love anyone wearing a Milwaukee uniform, but it's all ephemera. 

    When Jonathan Lucroy was traded, the Brewers acquired a mammoth haul, many fans complained - and Lucroy fell apart. Everyone stopped talking about Lucroy, especially considering the family tree of prospects that eventually helped net Christian Yelich

    Baseball is a game but it's also a business. and being emotionally sterile in the strategy of winning is vital to actually getting those rings. If the Brewers’ offense continues to struggle, tough choices will need to be made, even if they involve fan favorites.

     

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    That was a lot of words to make a point that I'm not sure needed to be made. Tellez is not a superstar, but he's far from the top of this team's problems. He's a solid defensive 1B, and is one of the few bats that opposing teams need to take note of. Even if this team acquires a bat like Josh Bell or Mancini, it is likely that Tellez will continue to see regular at bats.

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    I've brought this idea up a few times to a few different people and it seems to evoke the same response every time, even with me conceding that it might feel like a solution without a problem. This trade doesn't address the Brewers most glaring issue, but it also isn't the only trade the Brewers are allowed to make. His defense would be missed but the idea that he has something remarkable to contribute offensively at this point in his career is just not accurate. Jace Peterson, Yelich, Renfroe, Adames and increasingly Caratini, McCutchen and Urias are all bats that are proving relevant in the lineup. Tellez has good power and some of highest exit velocity in the league, but he also strikes out at a crazy rate and doesn't walk a lot. Getting on base is crucial. If it wasn't, they would have extended Chris Carter after the 2016 season when he led the league in HRs.

    I think the crew could acquire a player like Bell without losing prospect capitol, but that doesn't feel like the Brewers. This would give them a chance to strategize from a position of austerity the way they have previously, but also allow them to acquire the difference making offensive powerhouse that has eluded them in previous trade deadlines. No more hedging with players like Jonathan Schoop. 

    I realized when I posted this that it might be provocative or feel ill conceived. I do think there are aspects of it that are a little unsatisfying, but I think it would work and give the Brewers a chance to win now with impact. 

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    On a straight-up trade, baseballtradevalues.com gives Tellez a 10.4 value, and Bell a 5.6 value. In their current state, I don't know if the Nats would add any of their good prospects to make it work, but maybe they throw in another MLB piece to even things up. If we're looking at prospects, it'd probably cost someone like Small or a similarly valued prospect to bring Bell over. 

    The Nats are an interesting team, as they have made a long-term offer to Soto. If they sign him, they may try to add some MLB pieces to win sooner rather than later. In that case, Tellez may have some appeal. If they can't sign him and are forced to trade him, then they will probably go into rebuild and will be looking for prospects rather than MLB guys.

    I'm not against trading Tellez, but if we do trade him for Bell, we will lose Bell after the season and go into the offseason in need of a first baseman with little money to spend on one. It could help this year (assuming Bell continues to produce at his current pace and doesn't "regress to the mean"), but would hurt our chances of remaining competitive next year.

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    You can easily build an offense from center field if that is where your hole is.

    This all assumes that Bell from the first half is Bell going forward.  That is far from assured.  Tellez has a wRC+ of 118, basically average 1B play which is a win for Stearns in comparison to prior years.  Bell has an wRC+ of 147.  That is a big difference.  However, The Brewers aren't getting those PAs, they are getting future plate appearances.

    All projection systems have Tellez maintaining that 118 wRC+ going forward.  The projection systems are all over the place for Bell, ranging from 121 wRC+ which is indistinguishable from Tellez to a 140 wRC+ which would be an improvement.  Now this range isn't that surprising given Bell has a BABIP of .331 compared to his career of .291. And Bell's career wRC+ is 118. But the idea that Bell is a sure fire upgrade is not supported, especially when defense is considered.

    We have seen Bell have amazing first halves before where it looked liked he broke out to an MVP level only for him to crash in the second half.  See 2019.

    Bell is available and obtainable whereas some of the CF options that should be available (Mullins, Reynolds, and Garcia since they are on the wrong side of the age curve for rebuilding ) will likely not be obtainable for the Brewers. I just think Bell and Mancini as well are not the needle movers people think they are.

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    1 hour ago, monty57 said:

     

    I'm not against trading Tellez, but if we do trade him for Bell, we will lose Bell after the season and go into the offseason in need of a first baseman with little money to spend on one. It could help this year (assuming Bell continues to produce at his current pace and doesn't "regress to the mean"), but would hurt our chances of remaining competitive next year.

    That's the part that makes me say "no, thanks". I have no problem acquiring Bell if the cost isn't prohibitive, but not for Tellez. He defends his position well, is productive (although he certainly has the capacity to walk more, and should), and is tied up for awhile. Having him & Bell makes for a bit of a disjointed roster & makes it trickier to get McCutchen ABs but I would live with that. At the end of the day I'd much rather see a CF brought in but looking at the options I don't know how realistic that is.

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    I'm appreciating seeing the perspectives here and learning from them. I suppose always be happy to know you don't know enough and improve from there. Admittedly I was unaware of Bell's precipitous decline in 2019. It's an anecdotal piece of evidence but it should be considered if you're going to move a young bat with value. Also admittedly I wanted to post something provocative and be forced to defend my point a little but, but I'm starting to come around to the doubting side of my unorthodox proposition. 

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    You are overlooking the one ability that Tellez has over every other bat in the lineup.  It's AVAILABILITY.  He's been available every day.  Same can't be said for anyone else save Yelich but his back flaring up is just a matter of time and Peterson who's great as a super utility guy but not so much playing everyday.  Rowdy's negative is that he's streaky but he's the only guy opposing teams really fear even if it's only when he's hot.  This team has struggled offensively because guys continue to get hurt doing normal baseball things.  I've never seen players so susceptible to ankle sprains and calf strains.  Ankle sprains are a given in basketball, but baseball?  Seems they are avoidable.  Maybe our starting SS doesn't need to prove he has a good vertical jump and just stay on the ground when he's congratulating a teammate.

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    42 minutes ago, Tommy Ciaccio said:

    I'm appreciating seeing the perspectives here and learning from them. I suppose always be happy to know you don't know enough and improve from there. Admittedly I was unaware of Bell's precipitous decline in 2019. It's an anecdotal piece of evidence but it should be considered if you're going to move a young bat with value. Also admittedly I wanted to post something provocative and be forced to defend my point a little but, but I'm starting to come around to the doubting side of my unorthodox proposition. 

    Classy post. Not enough of this on fan message boards. Well done.

    Funny thing with Tellez. He often shows, to me anyway, a knack for trying to work to get his pitch, for knowing what he should & shouldn't swing at. Then out of nowhere he has an AB, or succession of ABs, where he chases. It's more than likely feeling the need to be "the guy", which seldom ends well. Watching him for a year now I see a power hitter who is smart enough to also take his walks, but doesn't do so nearly enough.

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    Great discourse here. I'm enjoying the different perspectives and POV's. It will be very interesting to see what the Brewers decide to do come the deadline. We suddenly have many an intriguing talent to consider in the lower levels and several very intriguing talents developing in the DSL. 

    I always approach this time of year with literally one thought at the forefront of my mind: I'm really grateful it isn't my job to make these all-important decisions. None of this is easy. 

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    There are two huge holes in our offense: CF against LHP (more than .100 ops below average) and 1B against LHP (more than .080 ops below average)( DH against LHP is probably the next on the list) (excessive parentheses are above average).  Everything else on the roster grades out average or better. If Hiura had normal splits instead of reverse splits, then it would be a no-brainer to upgrade at CF. 

    I really appreciate the article, and the data (especially against LHP supports it).

    Rowdy and Keston both grade out poorly on defense. Whether the eye-test agrees, I don’t know. If there was a guy who had great defense, could mash lefties, and cost an organizational 11 or lower prospect, then yes, Get that guy. 
     

    But I get tied up on the emotional part of it. My kids LOVE Rowdy. Their first game in over a year (because I am rarely in WI) was Tuesday, when Rowdy’s home run was the main bright spot. So while Keston and Rowdy have their flaws, I love sharing moments with my kids. The moment will rarely be the World Series. But as long as the moments of jumping off the couch, screaming “Rowdybomb!!!” exist, I will be happy. 

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    Obviously it would be good to have an improvement at any position. You could write an article like this about any of our players.

    But it's more expensive to improve on a player who has been adequate than one who has been abysmal. And I don't even think Bell is a good option to replace Rowdy. He's not a good first baseman, and this year seems to be a fluke.

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    I love this sentence:

    "[A]ssuming the strategy is to get a ring, fan outrage should pretty much never be considered because fans aren't experts." 

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    I'm not in favor of trading Tellez for Bell, but this idea that Tellez is a decent defensive first baseman is something I think people are just gauging on the ol' eye test. Both fangraphs and BR have him as pretty much near the bottom of the NL as far as defensive first basemen go, and the whole "I watch the games" just isn't as good as the data that breaks down the information that we have. On top of that, he's our guy, and we're biased to a large degree.  He's not good at defense, even though he may make a nifty play from time to time, and that certainly colors our perceptions of his value on defense. 

    He's a .4 WAR 1st baseman past the halfway point, and if a clear upgrade could be found (honestly, there probably isn't) that doesn't include top tier prospects or cost certainty (which Rowdy is, over Bell) for the next few years, the Brewers have to at least explore it. 

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    1 hour ago, DuWayne Steurer said:

    I'm not in favor of trading Tellez for Bell, but this idea that Tellez is a decent defensive first baseman is something I think people are just gauging on the ol' eye test. Both fangraphs and BR have him as pretty much near the bottom of the NL as far as defensive first basemen go, and the whole "I watch the games" just isn't as good as the data that breaks down the information that we have. On top of that, he's our guy, and we're biased to a large degree.  He's not good at defense, even though he may make a nifty play from time to time, and that certainly colors our perceptions of his value on defense. 

    He's a .4 WAR 1st baseman past the halfway point, and if a clear upgrade could be found (honestly, there probably isn't) that doesn't include top tier prospects or cost certainty (which Rowdy is, over Bell) for the next few years, the Brewers have to at least explore it. 

    I get what you're saying, but I'm not entirely convinced that the defensive metrics really quantify Rowdy's game in the field.  One particular thing Tellez does an excellent job with is handling inaccurate throws and turning them into outs, and it takes a really bad throw to get by the guy.  He routinely picks all kinds of stuff Prince likely wouldn't have even gotten a glove on.  There is a huge amount of unsung value in that ability.

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