Yesterday, I started handing out my player grades for the 2010 season with the D's and F's -- if you missed it, you can take a quick minute to look it over. There were six D's and only two F's, compared to last year when I graded seven players with a D and two with F's.
Today, it's the middle of the class, the C's and B's. If you want to compare this to last year, I actually ended up with roughly the same number of players in this category.
Randy Wolf (C+): For awhile, it looked like Wolf was headed for a disastrous season. He flat out could not find the strike zone in June, and when he did, odds were the pitch was hit over the wall. I don't know if I buy Wolf saying it was a change in his tempo that turned his season around, but whatever it was, it worked. Wolf's FIPs in the last three months: 4.47, 4.21, 3.17. A strong finish bumps his grade up, and provides a little optimism for next season.
Chris Capuano (C+): It took awhile for Capuano to get his arm strength back, but by the end of the year he showed that he might be able to serve as a back-end starter. His velocity is back (his 87.4 MPH average was the highest since his first year in Milwaukee) and his control is still good -- give him the winter to continue building arm strength, and he may be back to being the Cappy of old.
Chris Narveson (C): I gave him this grade last year, and for the most part, he wasn't any better or worse. That's actually a good thing, in my eyes, considering many people thought he couldn't be a full-time starter. The 4.99 ERA doesn't look all that impressive, but he's backed up by a FIP of 4.22. He's still very much a flyball pitcher and had the tendency to give up a handful of runs early in his starts (oh how I wish that "first inning ERA" meme would die), but he ended the year with the second-highest fWAR among Brewers starters. He's worth keeping around.
Carlos Villanueva (C-): I still really like him, and at the start of the year he was the team's best reliever, but a sudden spike in his HR/FB rate -- from 11.7% last year to 13.2% this year -- made watching him a little stressful at times. The good news is that he struck just about everyone out, sporting a K/9 of 11.45. I'm afraid that he'll get lost in the shuffle with all the new big arms in the bullpen -- he certainly was in September -- but hopefully a new manager will be will to give CV a clean slate.
Jonathan Lucroy (C-): Considering the circumstances, Lucroy didn't do too bad. He likely wasn't going to sniff the majors until September, starting the year in Double A, but injuries and personal problems for Angel Salome created an opening at Nashville, and then an injury to Gregg Zaun created an immediate opening in Milwaukee. Lucroy's defense behind the plate mostly passed the eye test, especially after we watched George Kottaras for a couple weeks, but the bat never really caught up. It's not a huge deal, since the Brewers don't need a lot of offense from that position, but his lack of patience at the plate is a little concerning. Hopefully next year his walk rates will return to career norms as he gets more comfortable at the big league level.
Craig Counsell (C-): I was going to save my rant on the grades handed out by the Journal-Sentinel until I got to Rickie Weeks, but I can't for the life of me figure out how Craig Counsell got a B. He hit .280/.379/.440 in the season's final month to bump his final line to .250/.322/.319, but as late as August 26th, Counsell was hitting .241/.311/.299. If you believe -- like I do -- that part of the reason Luis Cruz was brought up in September was to see if he could handle the utility role, it'd be easy to believe that the Brewers are willing to part ways with Counsell this offseason.
Kameron Loe (B+): Not bad for a guy who was an average pitcher in Japan last year, huh? Loe may have found his calling as a short reliever -- his fastball was 10.1 runs above average this season, thanks to that ridiculous sink he's able to put on the ball. That sinking action led to a career-high 39.4% O-Swing%, which measures the percentage of pitches a batter swings and misses at a pitch outside the strike zone. Overall, 9.7% of the strikes he threw this year were of the swinging variety. That is, simply, absurd, and is a full 2.5% higher than his career average. The only reason I don't give him an A is because he wore down towards the end of the season, but that's not entirely his fault.
Ryan Braun (B+): Yeah, this was a bit of a down year for Braun, but if .304/.365/.501 is the worst year Braun has, I think we can live with it. The home run power wasn't always there this year, but there is that speculation that he was constantly bothered by elbow and wrist problems this year. As Rickie Weeks can probably tell you, nothing saps power like a wrist injury. Despite being less than impressive for much of the season, he finished the year white hot at the plate, and wound up leading all Brewers batters in WPA this season. Here's to hoping Braun comes back next season re-energized and motivated in other areas of his game, not just at the plate.
Prince Fielder (B+): When you're a hitter, the most important thing is not getting out. Prince was very, very good at not getting out this year. Forget about the poor RISP numbers -- yeah, they happened, they help explain why the RBI total is so low, but they're not going to predict future problems in that department. If this was his last season in a Brewers uniform, it was a good one. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell a narrative that isn't necessarily the truth.
Casey McGehee (B): We know now that 2009 wasn't necessarily a fluke, which is good. What isn't good is McGehee's defense. His range is very limited due to his bad knees, and he can get these knee procedures every offseason, but at his age, you have to figure that the knees are only going to become more of a problem. With the bat, he was good yet again. I still don't think he's much of a long-term answer at third base, but as long as he remains affordable, he's a nice piece to have around.
Corey Hart (B): Last offseason, I gave Hart a C-, tried to think of every mock trade offer under the sun in which he'd bring back pitching, called him a possible non-tender, was irritated when he won his arbitration case, and thought he had a chance to be cut out of spring training. I think it's safe to say I was down on him. Despite the horrible spring, Hart exploded in May en route to a career year and a long-term contract extension. While I'm sure the wisdom of the extension will be debated for years to come, there's no doubt he was a valuable bat this year -- his 2.71 WPA this season nearly caught Braun's 2.72. Can he do it again? Judging from my past predictions on him, I'm probably not the right guy to ask. But this year was fun to watch.
Joe Inglett (B-): Solid, dependable lefty bat off the bench that ended up doing a little bit of everything this year. You have to credit Doug Melvin for making another waiver wire claim that was able to contribute as much as Inglett did, even if he struggled a bit during that stretch in which he was playing every day.
Zach Braddock (B-): Another one of my favorites this season that showed an ability to into pressure situations right away and put away batters with some nasty stuff. He did struggle with his control, though, and struggled at times against right handers. He's better than a LOOGY, his career minor league numbers show he's not just a LOOGY, so I hope to God whoever is the next manager of the Brewers doesn't seem his as a LOOGY.
Lorenzo Cain (B-): Like Lucroy, Cain did well for a guy who probably wasn't supposed to see significant playing time in the majors until September. He won a lot of fans when he risked injury by crashing into the fence to make a catch in Cincinnati, and while like Lucroy the defense looks to be very good, Cain also had more immediate success with the bat than Lucroy. Cain's .370 BABIP (compared to Lucroy's relatively normal .287) had a lot to do with it, and that BABIP is probably so high because of his 20.5% line drive percentage. I don't think Cain hits as well next year with a larger sample size, but at least we won't have to worry about Carlos Gomez manning center every day now.