Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Wes Helms aka Everyone's Favorite Whipping Boy

From the notes portion of the Tuesday edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Tale of two players: While one third baseman, Russell Branyan, was playing the hero's role, the other two, Jeff Cirillo and Wes Helms, registered radically different emotional levels.

Cirillo, back with the Brewers after a five-year absence, got the biggest cheers during pregame introductions. But that was nothing compared to the prolonged standing ovation he received upon pinch-hitting in the eighth inning.

"They were standing the whole time? That's amazing," said Cirillo, who walked in that at-bat. "That was a pretty good feeling. It's something I'll take with me forever."

Helms, on the other hand, was roundly booed during the player introductions, something unheard-of at a home opener. Afterward, Helms admitted that he was wounded by that reception.

"It shocked me," he said. "If they knew who I am, on and off the field, I don't think they would boo me. They only see the performance part.

"I came back after getting hurt last year and had a terrible year. That's what's in their mind. It really got to me because I know the person I am. I never loaf; I always play hard. I always do my work."

Helms, who has only two pinch-hit appearances, met with Yost over the weekend in Chicago to discuss his status, which basically is No. 3 on the depth chart at third base.

"He called me in and wanted to tell me how things are, where we stood and all that," Helms said. "Basically, he's going with the hot hand. I respect that. I'm going to keep pulling for the team to win. That's all I want, for the team to win."

First of all, I'm not really sure where to begin with all of this. Granted, I was at Opening Day on Monday, but I was still doing my thing in the parking lot and missed the first inning and a half, which obviously included the pre-game intros. If I was there on time, I'd have had no doubt in my mind that I would have lost my voice booing him being anything but sober at that point.

First off, I'm glad Wes realizes why exactly he was getting booed. Obviously, nobody was riding him because he is a bad, unethical person, or anything like that. If that was the case, then that is a whole different issue that I refuse to get into. But for whatever reason, Helms always came off to me as a big, southern ofe that didn't know his head from his cornhole.

With that said, Wes Helms just flat out isn't a very good baseball player, and the fans got sick and tired of him fumbling around at the hot corner. I also think that a small portion of the blame should be on Ned Yost and Doug Melvin, to a certain extent as well.

Melvin made what pretty much has been his only mistake as the GM when he gave Helms a 2-year, multimillion dollar extension after a season in what turned out to be his career year in 2003. All GM's are going to make some mistakes, that's a given, the key is to limit them. With Melvin having virtually no room for error, this isn't a crippling contract that Melvin dished out. Helms will be off the books after this season, and even possibly sooner if he was traded (wishful thinking on my part).

Ned Yost deserves a larger percentage of the blame than does Melvin. Melvin was able to at least partially cover up his mistake by making a trade for Russell Branyan for what was essentially a couple bats and a bucket of balls. Branyan isn't the most gifted player defensively, but he handles himself over at 3B much better than Helms does. Helms and Branyan both have trouble putting the ball in play. Branyan will challenge the single season strikeout record if he gets the majority of the playing time at 3B this season. And we all know Helms strikes out at an alarming rate as well. But the difference between the two is the power potential. We saw what Branyan can do on Opening Day. If he is finally given a full-time role, he can easily hit 35-40 home runs this season. While Helms hit 23 home runs in 2003, he hit only 4 and drove in 28 runs, with an OPS of .683 in 2004. Definitely nothing to write home about. Branyan meanwhile, in limited duty, posted an OPS of .846, 11 home runs, and 27 RBIs in very limited duty.

Now here is where Yost comes into play. He continually ran Wes Helms out at 3B repeatedly despite the fact that he had several more than capable replacements. Bill Hall was third on the team in RBIs, and was only a spot starter. Keith Ginter was third on the team in home runs. And when Branyan was picked up, he possessed the most power potential of anyone on the team. But, all three primarily played second fiddle to Wes Helms, and nobody could understand why. The only thing that could be thought of was the fact that Yost and Helms were teammates in Atlanta prior to coming to Milwaukee and Yost decided to put his "favorite" players out on the field.


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