For a guy whose team has just had the best first-half in the 45-year history of the franchise, Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin is sounding pretty grumpy about the state of baseball these days. Maybe it’s because the 62-year-old Melvin, an old school GM who values scouts over Ivy League whiz kid stat geeks, thinks his NL Central-leading Brewers deserve a little more respect from the Sabermetrics crowd. “There’s this one guy,” Melvin was saying by phone Friday, “who rates the prospects in every organization, and last year labeled (Brewer second baseman) Scooter Gennett ‘just a backup utility player.’ Well, Scooter’s only hit nothing but .300 since last year and been one of our most important players this year and yet, when the guy was asked about him again last week, he repeated the same thing; that he thought he was nothing more than a ‘backup utility player.’ Why can’t these (stat) guys ever admit they’re wrong? A lot of them don’t even watch the games. But then everything has changed so much in baseball. Everything now has to be immediate. We live in a world of Instagrams when, more than any other sport, the most important thing in baseball is that you’ve got to be patient.”
Now, I don’t know if that will make the Get Off My Lawn You Damn Kids Hall of Fame & Museum. But it’ll definitely qualify for the ballot! Might even get enough votes to stay on the ballot for a few years.
Article continues below ...
But hey, that’s one of the wonderful things about being born before 1967: You’re allowed to say things like this and nobody can really hold it against you. And bonus points for actually having heard of Instagram!
Bonus points, too, for giving us a hint but not exposing the poor prospect-rater who’s been so wrong (so far) about Scooter Gennett because Gennett really has been a tremendous success. He’s now got a .361 wOBA in 143 major-league games. For the sake of comparison, .361 last season would have ranked third among major-league second baseman, behind only Robinson Cano and Matt Carpenter.
Guess what. Gennett’s third in the majors this season, behind only Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler.
So does this mean that Gennett’s the third-best second baseman in the majors?
INTERLUDE : There really aren’t so many people who might actually be our unfortunate prospect-rater. It’s pretty much Keith Law, John Sickels, and a few guys at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB.com.
I checked Sickels. He predicted, both before and after last season, that Gennett might well become a decent every-day second baseman. I checked Law. Uh, I think we might have our man. Late last season in a chat, someone asked about Gennett. Law’s only response: “Utility infielder.” And then there’s just last week:
You have to admire the courage of Law’s convictions. I probably would have reversed myself by now. But would that be right? : END INTERLUDE
No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Gennett’s the third-best second baseman in the majors. Actually, I’m almost certain that he’s not, because by most accounts and statistics he’s not a good fielder. That’s probably why he didn’t rank particularly high on prospect lists. Shortstops who can hit but can’t play shortstops become second basemen. Second baseman who can hit but can’t play second base sometimes become utility players. Not always. Not if they hit a bunch.
But just a year ago, it wasn’t at all apparent that Scooter Gennett would ever hit a bunch. Five years ago, the Brewers drafted him in the 16th round. He was the 496th player chosen, and today is one of just two choices from that 16th round to reach the majors (the other is Mets rookie Matt den Dekker. Gennett moved steadily through the minors, but never hit for much power or drew many walks. In both Double- and Triple-A, Gennett posted OPS’s around 700 — which is OK for a second baseman in the majors, not so much for a Double- or Triple-A second baseman.
Gennett’s got an 836 OPS in the majors. If there’s any sabermetrician or scout that predicted, or could have predicted if asked, that Gennett would go from 700 in the minors to 836 in the majors, I would really, really, really like to meet that person. If anybody really believed Gennett was this good, wouldn’t they have offered to trade a Grade A prospect for him last winter? After all, the Brewers had (and still have) two second basemen on the roster, one of whom makes a great deal of money. They might have been willing to part with the 16th-round draft pick, no?
Hey, maybe not. I’m just saying that sometimes they’ll surprise you. And I’m going to give this thing a few more months before expecting Keith Law to admit he was wrong.
Finally, I do want to give Melvin some credit for being honest about his club:
So the Sabermetric set aside, how does Melvin assess his Brewers, who, going into the weekend, had the largest lead of any of the first-place teams? “We’re not great, but we’re not bad either,” he said. “What we are is very balanced in the four important areas — offense, where we’re second (in the NL) in runs, starting pitching, bullpen and defense, where we’re considerably improved from last year when we had 24 errors alone at first base.”
He’s right, they’re not great. The Brewers are 51-33, but have outscored their opponents by only 40 runs. In this strange season, that’s actually the second-best run differential in the National League. But that doesn’t make it/them great. The Brewers are good, and they’ve got a big lead, and Doug Melvin deserves a great deal of the credit for both. Oh, and for giving Gennett a regular job. Sometimes they’ll surprise you.
But Rob Neyer’s Twitter feed will never surprise you: It’s always just that good old-fashioned family fun you’re looking for.