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Andy Behrens

Pressing Questions: The Milwaukee Brewers

Andy Behrens
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In a standard fantasy draft, four Milwaukee Brewers will be selected in the opening four rounds. Ryan Braun(notes) goes in the first, Prince Fielder(notes) in the second, then Rickie Weeks(notes) and Zack Greinke(notes) are typically off the board by the end of the fourth.

The only MLB teams that contribute more players to the overall fantasy top-48 are the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, with five apiece. If we were to produce a baseball version of the Juggernaut Index, the Brewers would have to be considered a top-five team, easy.

Beyond the top-of-draft selections, Milwaukee's roster supplies us with two additional low-ratio, high-K starting pitchers (Yovani Gallardo(notes), Shaun Marcum(notes)), a third baseman who's coming off a 23-homer, 104-RBI campaign (Casey McGehee(notes)), a high-upside source for cheap saves (John Axford(notes)), and a power/speed outfielder who finished No. 32 in year-end Yahoo! rank last season (Corey Hart(notes)). So there are plenty of useful pieces here. No fewer than nine Brewers will be owned on draft day, even in the shallowest fantasy league. Milwaukee looks like a serious contender for a 90-win season and a division crown.

Yeah, sure, the team need to resolve the Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) problem, but when that finally happens, they'll have few obvious vulnerabilities, at least for one year. Be hopeful, Wisconsin. Your team can take down the N.L. Central as easily as Randall Simon took down that sausage back in the day.

Let's open the floor to questions…

So Milwaukee is under new management, with Ron Roenicke in and Ken Macha out. Should fantasy owners care?

Definitely. Under normal circumstances, a managerial change isn't such a big deal, but the Roenicke move appears to be an exception. He's part of the Mike Scioscia coaching tree, and it sounds like he intends to run — aggressively, all the time.

In real baseball that may not be the best strategy, but in the fake game we love a little recklessness on the base paths. Here's Roenicke's description of his style, via the Journal Sentinel:

Roenicke's devotion to "an attacking style of baseball" means the Brewers won't play station-to-station on the bases as with former manager Ken Macha. Roenicke also has a reputation of connecting well with players, another shortcoming with Macha.

"At times, you're going to say, 'Why are you running so much? Why are you getting thrown out trying to take extra bases?'" said Roenicke. "That's going to happen, but that's the style I like to play. I've seen it win a lot of games over the years.

"At times we're going to get thrown out. But over the course of the season I guarantee we will score a lot more runs by being aggressive. Also, when you let players be aggressive, they have more confidence. That's what this game is all about — confidence."

No matter what your opinion is of the hyper-aggressive running approach in real life, you have to appreciate it for fantasy purposes. Braun attempted to steal just 17 times last season, a career low. Hart ran only 13 times, and Weeks attempted just 15 swipes. Those three are likely to get the green light much more often in 2011, and Carlos Gomez(notes) seems like a good bet to run whenever he manages to reach base, too. (It doesn't happen so often for Gomez, a serious flaw. He's an out-machine, having never posted an on-base percentage above .298 in any of his four seasons).

Greinke is the ninth starting pitcher selected in an average draft — it's almost as if he were still a member of the Royals. That seems wrong, no?

Well, the top eight guys are pretty good, too. But yeah, Greinke has an ADP in the late-40s, and he's just one year removed from an absolutely unreal season in KC (2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.5 K/9). He might be Exhibit A in the case against taking a pitcher at the very top of your draft. Greinke is leaving the DH league, moving to a relatively neutral park, and he'll be pitching for a team that should provide plenty of run support. As disappointing as he might have been last year, the Royals' lineup allowed him no margin for error, and there's reason to believe he pitched better than the fantasy ratios suggest (4.17 ERA, 3.76 xFIP). Don't be at all surprised if he wins five or six more games this season, and loses nearly a full run from the ERA.

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While we're discussing pitchers who've dialed down the degree-of-difficulty, let's not forget Marcum. That guy looks like a steal at the moment, with an ADP in the 120s. He's the No. 34 starting pitcher off the board over at Mock Draft Central, going more than 30 picks later than the K-challenged Trevor Cahill(notes). That's value, gamers. Marcum delivered excellent fantasy ratios last season (3.64, 1.15), despite pitching in the A.L. East, facing either the Red Sox, Rays or Yankees in 10 of his 31 starts. He also K'd 165 batters over 195.1 innings. And back in 2008, Marcum was equally useful (3.39, 1.16, 7.3 K/9). This is a guy to target, no doubt.

Rickie Weeks can't possibly keep himself off the DL in back-to-back seasons, can he?

Prior to 2010, Weeks treated the disabled list almost like a summer home. He hit the DL every season from 2006 to '09, missing a total of 243 days. (Source: Baseball Forecaster). Injuries are always a risk with Weeks, and perhaps the most troubling detail is that three of his DL visits have involved wrist problems. Generally speaking, we throw around the "injury prone" label too often, but when a player seems to have a recurring issue, you worry. It's justified.

So yeah, I'm concerned about Weeks, nervous about his draft day price tag. But there's no arguing with last year's stats: 160 games, 112 runs, 29 HR, 83 RBIs, 11 steals, .269/.366/.464. Those numbers don't really suggest any lingering wrist problems, either. For what it's worth, Weeks is entering his final arbitration year, looking toward free agency (or a multi-year extension), so he's highly incentivized to play 150 games or more.

Not sure if I'll be able to pull the trigger on this guy in Round 4, given our history together, but he did rank as the third-best player at his position last year (and No. 38 overall in Yahoo! rank). Second base isn't actually the scariest roster spot this year — that honor belongs to shortstop — so mixed leaguers shouldn't be punished too severely if they draft Weeks and he happens to break down.

John Axford: Great buy, or greatest ever buy?

Let's not get too crazy here. He's just a closer, so "greatest ever" might be pushing it. But Axford is really an ideal option for those who refuse to pay top-dollar for saves. He was a revelation last year, saving 24 games, posting terrific ratios (2.48, 1.19), and striking out a ridiculous 11.8 batters per nine innings. Trevor Hoffman(notes) is now officially out of the picture, too (and Takashi Saito(notes) is in). Axford has a closer's arsenal and a classic closer's stache. Get him. In the early mocks, he's the No. 16 relief pitcher selected, but he has top-ten (eight? five?) potential.

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