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Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Milwaukee Brewers

By Tim Heaney
Edited by Nicholas Minnix

KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Milwaukee Brewers?

Why was Rickie Weeks weak?

We sure that wasn't Jemile Weeks? The elder brother's identity crisis puzzled many owners over Rickie's first three months, during which he clubbed just six home runs and hit .183. Decrying the "same old" Weeks made sense, to a degree, considering he hasn't hit higher than .279 in an at least a full-ish slate and there was speculation his health was once again a factor.

Milwaukee Brewers RP John Axford
Willing to hand the ball to Axford?

Weeks' second half was much more accurate. After regaining the strength in his lower body that was seemingly sapped because of lingering ankle woes, he notched, post-break, an OPS of .800 complete with 13 homers. The most important ingredient was turning those abundant infield cans of corn into digestible dingers.

In fact, in the final three months, he stole 10 of his 16 bags, and his strikeout rate dipped from 22.2 percent to 21.4 to 19.3. Though the dispersion is miniscule, he posted his highest contact percentage (75.2) in the last three years. More importantly, his swinging-strike rate of 9.9 was his lowest by a more significant margin in the last four years.

A healthy Weeks in a full season with these positive changes would revisit his top-five upside among keystoners. Luckily, the middle-round projection by most circles, which may look blindly at his surface numbers, gives him plenty of room to reward your bid with one of fantasy's optimal profit opportunities.

How much faith does Carlos Gomez deserve?

Though it looked like an offensive revelation, he didn't alter his walk-deprived, contact-starved, strikeout-heavy profile, though the final component improved a bit. Increased aggressiveness allowed him to nick a few more pitches outside of the zone, improving the chances of doing more damage with a bigger liner rate. His bat speed may finally be maturing along with his tree rings, which turned 27 in December.

Chiefly, the long-awaited power-speed combo blossomed. An on-base percentage that finally topped .300 (all the way to .305) gave him more chances to take a bag. Also, Corey Hart moving to first base increased Gomez's reps, allowing him to go-go-go.

Of course, his ability to sustain the potency that registered 19 homers in 415 at-bats will fuel or cripple him. His small jolt in up-the-middle and opposite-field thump aided those pesky splits, but Gomez remained a pull leaner, especially with yard-leaving.

One season after six of his eight dingers landed over the left field region, 12 of them did the same in 2012. When you first look at last year's numbers of .426 BA, .780 SLG and 31.6 HR/FB when he pulls the ball, you knee-jerkily assume a correction will come. But when compared to those of .346, .705 and 24.0, respectively, from his part-time 2011, you could say the seeds were planted.

Thinking they'll grow to magnanimous heights, however, will cut your returns if you make him a part of your mixed core. Those numbers are so lofty that they're probably already at their peak, at least for this stage of his development. Gomez's still horrific batting base of skills says that while his thievery isn't necessarily reliant on playing time anymore, it's not enough to think he'll become, say, another B.J. Upton anytime soon, leaving his floor closer to his previous basement than many will think.

What did John Axford's recovery do for his job security?

If people want to believe it cemented the gig, let them. After all, it's hard to devalue a reliever with a set job, at least one that's validated in his manager's eyes. To cap the Canadian's up-and-down 2012, Ron Roenicke handed duties back to Axford late last summer and was rewarded with a 2.93 September-October ERA, which will ease skip's concerns.

Milwaukee Brewers SP Marco Estrada
Estrada must prove himself - again

Observant and tempered fantasy gamers shouldn't erase theirs, though. His walk rate, even when he turned things around, remained in the class of Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson. See that 20.26 pitches per inning pitched that he posted. Of the three seasons in which Axford has closed, he has logged two with a 4.19 BB/9 or higher.

The 1.30 HR/9 and 19.2 HR/FB that plagued his line weren't ridiculous, either, despite his continued grounder inducement and revived low-zone targeting. His enemies' rate of infield flies was nearly cut in half to 5.8, and the liner rate went up to 24.0 from 15.2. Whether by a loft or a rope, he was hit much harder than he was in other years. Those problems remained even during his rebound in the final month-plus and will materialize in some form as long as he's active.

In most rooms, the surcharge for perceived employment safety cancels out any profit that the righty could offer because of his strikeouts. The difference between Ax and the numerous other midrange RPs with SVOs is miniscule, so your ROI has a palpable chance of disappointing your wallet.

Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler aren't household names that prompt Roenicke to question himself at the outset. However, they're intriguing enough to say that Ax will need to sustain his inflated fall improvements and conserve his manager's cuticles to lock this one down for an entire campaign. The best time to invest comes when your room's market price takes a dive. Aggressively driving his bandwagon into elite pastures will crash your roster.

Where do Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers go from here?

They're intriguing assets that should retain a rotation spot, but each has tangible drawbacks that will bite back this year, especially since they call Miller Park home and saw big workload increases.

Estrada's role finally fell into the starter majority, and the skills pay-off translated nicely, especially in the punch-out column; he maintained an above-average swinging-strike rate even while increasing his workload. He's not a flamethrower, but he boasts a diverse arsenal that buckles plenty of knees and causes premature trigger pulls; his advancement in his opponents' overall chase frequency spelled out this approach's success.

There's enough here to justify a late-mixed flier, but don't overspend. Can he nurture a trend with his supreme diamond-pop-up pace so that it continues offsetting his fly-ball concerns? His strike-zone offerings felt connections at their highest rate in the last three years; if his location falters, he'll pay for it. He'll have to keep getting ahead in counts to set things up; any drop-off there will also jeopardize his chances at another plus-K showing.

Fiers' velocity limitations, pitch diversity and first-strike plan mirror Estrada's. The former's deceptive motion recalls Josh Collmenter, who fell painfully back to this planet after a 2011 run of brilliance. Fiers showed similar warning signs that were hidden for the Arizona Diamondback. The Milwaukee righty was hit hard (28.2 percent liners), and if more of those turn into moon shots, his aerial persuasion won't be as kind this go-round. He still has a farm option left, as well, so he may go back to Nashville if he needs to straighten some things out.

Luckily, his curveball and changeup benefit from amplified trickery through his over-the-topitude, giving him more to work with than Collmenter possesses. If Fiers can extract more out of his cutter - MLB's chic pitch nowadays - he might even improve. There's little wrong with him as a roster-capping, dual-universe SP if no one else believes.


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