Even though Milwaukeeans have seen their Brewers become the first National League team to 50 wins this season, there are issues to distill – many of which are beyond the patience of general manager David Stearns.
Surely, the outfield depth is impressive, as well as the ability for pitchers, like Freddy Peralta, to make an extended stay in the rotation as an unexpected cornerstone, not an injury replacement afterthought. Some of the call-ups have panned out for this ever-evolving roster (Peralta, center fielder Keon Broxton, reliever Taylor Williams), as stopgaps or spot starters who are yearning for consistent playing time, providing spirit and much-needed pluck. A organizational move at the top of this month, though, made fans stop being vague with their expectations, and confronted their exceptionalism that has pardoned one unconcealed problem in the team’s offense: Orlando Arcia’s plate discipline.
Less than one week ago, the Brewers recalled right-hander Aaron Wilkerson from Class AAA Colorado Springs and demoted Arcia. Through the midway point of the regular season, the biggest offensive drawback has surrounded the man who played 153 games (starting 137) for Milwaukee last year. What hurts is that two players who once manned the middle infield for the Crew and were subsequently looked at as flotsam after Doug Melvin stepped down from being the main shot-caller – Cincinnati second basemen Scooter Gennett and Seattle shortstop Jean Segura – are top-five hitters in their respective leagues.
Sure, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and the odds of betting on an elite prospect (Arcia) who is four years younger than a veteran (Segura) are good. Undoubtedly, the Brewers’ brass thought unloading Segura in early 2016 would prove them prescient, as they waited for Arcia to join the Show, – something he would do months later, after posting a .312 average and being a consistent on-base threat in the Venezuelan Winter League, as a 20-year-old among veterans.
The acquisition of Brad Miller has paid off at the plate (.343 avg. and 1.010 OPS, as of July 4), but Miller has a paucity of the range and arm strength that Arcia has at short. Though the Brewers rank 25th in double plays, they are tied for tenth in team fielding percentage, making hitting productivity a thing of necessity. Aside from the statistics, though, the development of Arcia, or lack thereof, reflects poorly under management that prioritized him over Segura, a dark horse AL MVP candidate at midseason.
It helps that Stearns still has optimism, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, but with the All-Star Game approaching, and the trade deadline soon after, the collective mind of Milwaukee’s brass has to come to a decision in the coming weeks. Long- and short-term solutions have been hard to delineate thus far, as one might have only a handful of names on their tongue, while predicting next year’s roster. It appears the Venezuelan shortstop will rebound and be a mainstay as a big leaguer, but one can’t be sure.
Plate discipline for Arcia has been reckless, to put it nicely, who is whiffing at 40 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone, while swinging at a career-low 67 percent of balls inside the zone. Pitchers have approached him differently at the dish, as he’s being treated to less fastballs (however, with many being cutters), more changeups, and significantly more sliders.
He has supreme confidence in his arm – which can lead to high error rates – but he ultimately saves runs and possesses grand speed. Five players, aside from the 23-year-old Arcia, have found themselves playing short, for varying degrees of time. Counsell isn’t afraid to flip the manager card on a game-to-game basis, plugging and playing anyone who can bollix up opposing skippers’ game plans.
Experimenting with Arcia’s mechanics from now until July 20 – the date of the team’s return from the All-Star break – is harmless, knowing that the team is in first and will be regaining the all-purpose talents of Lorenzo Cain in the coming days. Assuming they don’t trade a spare big-league outfielder and an infielder from the minors to acquire Manny Machado from Baltimore, or Starlin Castro, a converted shortstop, from Miami, the best-case scenario would see Miller as only a pinch-hitter come postseason time, while Arcia recalibrates his plate discipline. However, if it is a mechanics issue, which would have to be fixed during the offseason and spring training, the Brewers have to be keen with their September call-ups and with whom they stack their bench.
Fortunately, after seeing a batting average decline precipitously (.277 to .197), an OPS drop over 240 points, and a propensity to swing at pitches outside the zone, all within a 10-month window, it seems that Arcia only needs to get his head straight and focused – not reboot his stance. As fans have learned this year, with the proliferation of transactions and internal moves across all levels, the Brewers are fine-tuning the team based off raw production – not nameplates.
With minor-league names, from Mauricio Dubon to Jean Carmona, this year could prove vital for Arcia’s future and the devotion the team has to him. Even recent call-up Nate Orf, who is primarily a second baseman, pinch hit and played short for the remainder of Tuesday’s game. Otherwise, Arcia could become an afterthought like Jean Segura once was, though, with a forgettable swing.