An OOTP Brewers Update: Virtual Trade Targets

After a desultory opener, our Brewers have gone .500; they stand at 2-3 on the season, having split a pair with the Cardinals and Cubs. It’s too early to look at the standings, but here they are anyway:

NL Central Standings
Team W L GB
Chicago Cubs 4 1
Cincinnati Reds 3 2 1
Milwaukee Brewers 2 3 2
St. Louis Cardinals 2 3 2
Pittsburgh Pirates 2 3 2

While that top-line news isn’t so bad, basically everything else has gone poorly. First, the offense has been sputtering. Take a look at a few batting stats for the eight regulars plus the two part-timers:

Relevant Brewers Hitters
Avisaíl García 22 22.7% 4.5% 0.188 0.166 0
Christian Yelich 22 22.7% 9.1% 0.286 0.325 102
Lorenzo Cain 21 19.0% 0.0% 0.353 0.265 65
Keston Hiura 21 19.0% 0.0% 0.133 0.226 44
Justin Smoak 18 38.9% 22.2% 0.429 0.318 86
Orlando Arcia 17 17.6% 5.9% 0.462 0.389 143
Omar Narváez 15 13.3% 13.3% 0.200 0.279 61
Eric Sogard 11 9.1% 9.1% 0.250 0.286 64
Jedd Gyorko 9 22.2% 11.1% 0.167 0.173 -2
Ryan Braun 7 14.3% 14.3% 0.400 0.347 110

Arcia is raking, so that promotion has worked out well, even if it’s largely BABIP-fueled. Smoak has a .389 OBP, so I’d trust his wOBA more than his OPS+ (OOTP doesn’t provide wRC+). And Hiura will probably perk up. But the offense has been so desultory that in real life, the team would be contemplating changes, or at least rest days to give veterans a jolt.

So, what should we do? We have a few choices. We could change nothing; it’s only five days, after all. None of these starts are meaningful in a statistical sense yet; in a week, we could be looking at Cain as the best hitter on the team, or wondering why Yelich can’t get it in gear. Give them all a week or two to settle in, and we can re-litigate this with more information.

Next, we could give a few selected starters a rest day. Cain, Hiura, and García all have alarming plate discipline numbers. We can’t bench all three of them at once, but we could give each of them a day off over two days. Is it a small change? Sure. But it’s never bad to get a little time off, and doing it when players are struggling might let them clear their virtual heads.

A third option would be to change the playing time rotations somewhat. I was already skeptical of Cain and García as everyday starters, and we could use this rough start to spark a little change. García’s case is easier; Ryan Braun is right there waiting in the wings. We’re using Braun at first base reasonably often against lefties to protect Justin Smoak’s weak side, but against righties, we could give him more of the playing time in the outfield.

Dialing back Cain’s involvement would be trickier. Yelich and Ben Gamel can theoretically handle center, but Yelich was mediocre in the field as a full-time center fielder in 2017, and Gamel’s bat is worse than Cain’s even if you don’t believe in Cain very much. Our plan, then, would be to give a quarter of Cain’s playing time to Yelich. But then García would have to play the outfield alongside Braun, and we were just benching him… these two options are mutually exclusive.

We’re not touching Hiura for now, aside from giving Brock Holt a few extra reps against righties. And Holt will continue to spell García from time to time. On to the options:

Believe it or not, the offensive struggles were the good news. In his first start of the year (actually following opener Ray Black), Josh Lindblom felt a twinge in his shoulder. Upon seeing the team physician, he got the bad news: 3-4 months on the shelf with shoulder inflammation. We’re writing him out of our plans for the season, unfortunately.

In the immediate future, that’s not a huge blow. Eric Lauer was cooling his heels in Triple-A, and we called him up to fill the rotation. The game thinks that Lindblom and Lauer are roughly equal pitchers, so that’s not a big loss. But the knock-on losses to depth are worrisome; Corbin Burnes is likely better suited as a reliever, though we can turn to him if need be. After that, it’s career minor leaguers. Our bullpen is deep enough that we could potentially survive that, but it’s no fun to be talking about things like this so early in the season.

Speaking of our bullpen: early feelers have gone out to opposing owners on our openness to trading Josh Hader, which we collectively decided on last week. The early responses have been positive; after a flurry of activity to start the year (we didn’t really have an offseason), things have calmed down significantly, but five-ish teams have expressed serious interest in Hader. Our scouts are taking a look at prospects as we speak.

That said, that interest leaves us with another decision. What do we want to get for Hader? I’d submit that I want a depth starter or interesting young pitcher in any deal, but with that aside, we have some options. We could target young hitters; if we want to keep the competitive window open for as long as possible, a stud corner infielder or center/right fielder would fit the team nicely as the existing role players age.

We could target pitching upside; roll a few Jack Flaherty’s, and you’re well on your way to a good team. Or we could go the Rays route; hunt for bargains and accumulate depth, trusting our scouts (and our own intuition) to uncover bargains. Lastly, we could pull back from the trade talks with Lindblom down; building for the future is nice, but the present is a known quantity, and having a lockdown bullpen is an excellent strategy when starting pitching is iffy.

In the meantime, Hader’s second appearance (he melted down in his first) was a return to normal. He came in against the Cardinals to protect a one-run lead and set the side down in order. There have been some ups and downs to start the season, but having peak Hader would make me feel a lot better about the team. Without understanding the OOTP engine, there’s always some fear that he would just start the year broken, and even a short return to normalcy feels good. So, what should we target?

Our other item of business from last week, extensions, is on the back burner for now. Early discussions were fine, but I’d like to see what shakes out with a Hader trade before extending either Hiura or Brandon Woodruff, and there’s no rush on them given their service time. I’m confident we’ll be able to lock down one or both of them, hopefully with a deal that makes both sides happy.

One last note on this simulated league: I’m toying around with the idea of occasionally streaming decision-making in this league if the FanGraphsLive stream takes off. It’s not a this-week thing, both because I’m a technological nitwit and because the streaming schedule looks pretty packed, but I think it might be a fun way to discuss roster strategies in less of a vote-for-this-or-that way. I wouldn’t make it the primary engine for team decisions, but I think it would both be fun and help out my marginal OOTP managing skills. What do you think?

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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2 years ago

OOTP does provide wRC+! I think you have to make a custom view to actually see it (none of the default Batting Stats pages show it, but it’s in there somewhere). Anyway, thanks for writing this series – it’s super fun and works as a passable substitute for actual baseball for now!

Brian Reinhartmember
2 years ago
Reply to  D-Wiz

I don’t remember customizing my view, maybe I did, but it’s under “Expanded Batting Stats” for me. You can add it to any screen by going View -> Edit -> (select whichever row you want and check the check box)