To say the corner infield spots for the Milwaukee Brewers were unsettled in 2013 would be an understatement of epic proportions, something akin to when James Watson and Francis Crick said their discovery of DNA was of “considerable biological interest.”
First base, in particular, turned into a tragicomedy. The last time there were this many knee injuries, somebody owed money to a loan shark.
Hart, lost to knee surgery in January, never made it back. That left the job to Mat Gamel, who blew out his knee during the first day of full squad workouts at spring training in February. That left the job to Taylor Green, who injured his hip in March.
Neither Gamel nor Green played a game in 2013, at any level, and both were designated for assignment shortly after the regular season ended. Gamel wound up being claimed by the Chicago Cubs; Green is a free agent.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the diamond, Ramirez sprained his left knee and wound up missing most of the first month of the season. He would miss more time when he re-aggravated the injury in July and was limited to just 80 starts at third base.
So, to recap, the Crew expected to go into the season with Hart (.270/.334/.507, 30 home runs, 83 RBI in 2012) and Ramirez (.300/.360/.540, 27 home runs, 105 RBI, National League-leading 50 doubles in 2012) at first and third base, respectively.
When they opened the season on April 1 at Miller Park against the Colorado Rockies, a hobbled Ramirez was at third base, but would land on the DL just four games into the year. Alex Gonzalez, a shortstop by trade, was at first base.
In all, the Brewers started seven different players at first base—Juan Francisco (62 games), Yuniesky Betancourt (44), Sean Halton (19), Gonzalez (16), Jonathan Lucroy (9), Martin Maldonado (7) and Blake Lalli (3). None of them had ever played a single game at the position prior to the 2013 season.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Brewers led the majors with 21 errors at first base this season?
But those first baseman made up for the defensive woes by posting some of the worst offensive numbers in baseball at the position.
Milwaukee’s first base gaggle hit a combined .206/.259/.370 with 21 home runs, 86 RBI and 171 strikeouts. Their major league ranks: 30th in batting average, 30th in on-base percentage, 28th in slugging, tied for 20th in home runs, 13th in RBI, tied for 25th in fewest strikeouts.
Besides Ramirez’s 80 starts at third base, the Brewers started Betancourt 43 times, Jeff Bianchi 26, Gonzalez 9 and Francisco 4. Also, Josh Prince and Halton each made one brief appearance there.
Milwaukee’s third basemen ranked 28th in baseball with 26 errors and tied for 26th by participating in just 22 double plays.
Offensively, Brewer third basemen hit .255/.317/.410 with 21 homers and 83 RBI, with 109 strikeouts. They ranked 16th in MLB in average, 15th in OBP, tied for 13th in slugging, 10th in homers, tied for 10th in RBI and 11th in fewest strikeouts.
Ramirez himself managed to salvage a decent season at .283/.370/.461 with 12 homers and 49 RBI in 351 plate appearances. He really turned it on in September, hitting .338/.413/.538 with three homers and 12 RBI. He added four long balls in August.
That enabled the third base brigade to salvage a solid C for the year—not great, but not as bad as it could have been.
First base? If there was something lower than an F, they’d have earned it.
The good news is that Hart wants to come back in 2014, telling Fox Sports Wisconsin last month:
“I’ve told them I would be very generous to stay here. I wouldn’t sit there and ask for anything that is outlandish. I would take a discount to stay here because I think I owe it to them to stay here and be a cheaper player.”
Hart went on:
“Nobody wants to play for free, but I’ve basically sat there and watched all season. I think I owe it to them and the fans to come back.”
Doctors have told Hart he could play another five or six years if he chooses to and he is a two-time All-Star who has two 30-home runs seasons in his nine-year career and five with 20 or more bombs.
There have been other players come back from knee troubles similar to Hart’s and continue productive careers.
Does the name Carlos Beltran ring a bell?
Coming Friday: Grading the middle infielders.
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