Brewers’ 2007 report cards: Position players

Part two of my assessment of how each Brewers’ player did…this time, the hitters/position players. As before, I will sort by salary (from highest to lowest, according to ESPN.com), incorporating some measure of their performance versus pay. I probably won’t weigh fielding percentage as much as others would (or should).
1. Geoff Jenkins, $7,333,333–“Jenks” was 32 years old at the start of the ’07 season, and his decline continued, despite seeing mostly right-handed pitching: his OBP plummeted to .319, down from .357 in ’06, and .375 in ’05. His power returned a bit, as he hit 21 homers in 420 AB’s versus 17 in 484 AB’s the prior year. His RBI’s dipped to 64, the fourth year in a row that stat has dropped. Even against righties, Jenks hit only .262 (.215 vs. lefties), and he hit above .300 for only one month of the season, April (23-for-69, .333)…his .244/.304/.447/.751 after the All-Star break should lead GM Doug Melvin to conclude that Jenkins has only limited value as a pinch-hitter from here on out, and Melvin not only will not exercise the $9.0 million option on Jenkins, he probably won’t even offer him a contract. His .988 FPct was only slightly better than Kevin Mench’s .983, but not as strong as Corey Hart’s .991. Grade: C-
2. Corey Koskie, $6,750,000–The Brewers were only responsible for a portion of this…but still a waste of money due to an unfortunate mishap. Grade: Incomplete
3. Johnny Estrada, $3,400,000–Since I was still on the fielding page, I’ll start with the 73 stolen bases he allowed, way too many for a top-tier catcher. But Estrada was acquired for his bat, specifically to drive-in runs…the problem, however, is that the former All-Star got a raise…but saw his numbers drop off–his OBP dropped to .296 from .328 with the D-backs…and his RBI’s dropped to 54 from 71, despite an additional 28 AB’s in ’07. His OBP dropped after the All-Star break, too, to .272, from .311, likely as a result from playing hurt. The switch-hitter, who hit .300+ against both righties and lefties in ’06, saw his BA vs. righties drop to .263. Estrada has one more year of arbitration left, so he’ll be back with a raise…hopefully he can rebound in his walk year. Grade: C+
4. Kevin Mench, $3,400,000–Acquired in the Carlos Lee trade, Mench hit .267, with a .305 OBP, in 101 games. This is too much money for a platoon outfielder, but he may be back to provide some “veteran” experience. He did hit .314 versus lefties…but .212 versus righties. I’m guessing that Mench might get dealt, as he is still eligible for arbitration…if not, I could see the Brewers’ offering him only $3.5 million in the hearing, but settle for $3.75 million.
Grade: C
5. Tony Graffanino, $3,250,000–The Brewers got 86 games out of Graffy before the injury, and he hit just .238 in his first full season of seeing NL pitching since 1998. He would not have returned in ’08 had he not gotten injured…but he did, and may not be ready until May, so Melvin may get him for under $1 million. Graffy was signed for his glove as well, and was a solid defensive player. Grade: C+
6. Bill Hall, $3,125,000–Hall was moved to CF this year, and it would seem to have affected his bat, leading him to get benched in late summer. While his BA only dipped to .254 from .270, his Slugging Percentage tailed to .425 from .553, as his HR’s plummeted to 14 from 35 the year before. His .971 FPct was horrible, even for his first year. He’ll be back, and quite possibly in LF. Grade C-
7. Craig Counsell, $2,800,000–Let’s be honest…Counsell was brought back for his glove to spot relief Hardy, Weeks, and Koskie…as well as his speed (otherwise, we could have kept Jeff Cirillo)…well, okay, Counsell hits left-handed, so there was some value in having a left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench. Counsell’s FPct at 3B was perfect at 1.000 over 50 games, while he made just 1 error in 24 games at 2B, and another error in 27 games at SS, for .991 and .987 FPct’s, respectively. Counsell hit .234 vs. righties…but had a .337 OBP over 274 PA’s, 35 of which were walks. He’s under contract for another year of small ball. Grade: B
8. Damian Miller, $2,250,000–After the Brewers’ passed on their option on Miller for ’07, Damian exercised his option to become the back-up catcher for one last year. Like Counsell, Yost used Miller primarily for defensive purposes and to give Johnny Estrada a rest. Miller made just one error in 446.33 innings for a .997 at catcher (he also had an error in 6.00 innings at 1B). In front of the plate, his BA dipped further, to .237 from .251 in ’06 and .273 in ’05. Miller hit .312 before the All-Star break, and just .161 down the stretch. He will only be back if he wants to play another year…and for a whole lot less money. Grade: B-
9. Rickie Weeks, $1,320,000–Weeks was asked to focus on his defense in ’07 and because of that–and/or a lingering injury or two–he struggled at the plate until coming back after a late summer rehab stint in the minors. Weeks made 13 errors for a somewhat respectable .976 fielding percentage. But Weeks was drafted for his .400+ BA in his last two years at Southern University, and Weeks managed to hit only .235 in ’07…but with a respectable .374 OBP, including a .422 OBP after the All-Star break. Weeks will be back to prove the second half wasn’t a fluke. Grade: B
10. Prince Fielder, $415,000–Prince led the NL in HR’s with 50, up from 28 the prior year, and that alone is enough to warrant an ‘A’ grade. His .288 BA was a 17 point improvement from ’06, and his OBP jumped to .395. A .989 fielding percentage over 153 games proves he has more game than his daddy. He should be the MVP. Grade: A+
12. J.J. Hardy, $400,000–Hardy played 149 games at SS, and made 13 errors for a .978 fielding percentage. His .277 final BA was an improvement over his .242 mark last year, but his OBP was only .323, low for someone that was hitting at the top of the order for much of the year. His 26 HR’s and 80 RBI’s surprised everyone, but only 8 of those HR’s came after the All-Star break. He was not affected much by road games, as his road BA of .276 was only three points less than his home BA of .279. J.J. is due a big raise for ’08 in his first year of arbitration (my guess: $2.5 million)…and was a great value in ’07. Grade: B+
13. Gabe Gross, $398,000–The backup outfielder also saw time in the minors, and returned with a flourish, but still managed to hit only .235 on the year (.329 OBP). In 42 games after the All-Star break, Gross hit .262 with 4 HR’s and 17 RBI’s over 103 AB’s. Gross will likely be back, but is still slated as a reserve unless he has a killer Cactus League effort. Grade: B-
14. Corey Hart, $395,000–Hart finally became the everyday starter midway through the season, and played 128 games, mostly in RF and CF, and had a .991 fielding percentage with just 3 errors. A .295 BA/.353 OBP, with 24 HR’s and 81 RBI’s, plus 23 SB’s and 86 runs mean a great year for Hart and a great value for the Crew. A slump in July (21-for-105, .200) was followed by a .313 BA in August, and .330 in September. Grade: A-
15. Tony Gwynn, $381,000–Too little data. Grade: Incomplete
16. Ryan Braun, $380,000 est.–Braun’s .324 BA after getting called up in May was overshadowed by his 34 HR’s, 97 RBI’s, and 91 runs…in just 113 games, or 70% of a full season. He also fanned 112 times on the year, but hit a whopping .450 versus lefties…and .322 on the road. But 26 errors in just 248 total chances for a .895 fielding percentage meant an error 10% of the time. Hopefully, Braun will improve in this area with more experience…otherwise, they might stop calling him “The Hebrew Hammer” and start calling him “The Hebrew Hole.” Still, Braun became the Brewers’ most exciting player in the second half, and did very well in his rookie campaign. Grade: A-

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