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Thursday, May 23rd 2019
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The Arrival of Keston Hiura

Milwaukee Brewers fans have long awaited the arrival of Keston Hiura. Regarded as one of the top-15 prospects in all of baseball, Hiura has been lauded as a potential offensive star that carries an all-star caliber ceiling. With average defense at second base and no significant holes in his overall game, he is likely the Brewers’ most complete prospect since Ryan Braun.

Thus far in his career, Hiura has hit, and hit, and then hit some more. Over just 202 minor league games, Hiura carried an elite-level slash line of .316/.380/.534, hitting 28 home runs, 60 doubles, and 13 triples. He is a true middle-of-the-order threat, combining an advanced approach at the plate with explosive bat speed.

While Hiura was likely to appear in Milwaukee at some point in 2019, no one knew exactly when it would be. Some had pegged June or July as realistic timelines, but it always was going to depend on the need and fit with the Brewers roster. With Mike Moustakas manning second base, the Brewers had an established starter blocking Hiura’s path.

So, despite the roadblock, Hiura did what he always does: he hit. He got off to a hot start with the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate, the San Antonio Missions, hitting .333/.408/.698 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI in just 37 games. Then, with third baseman Travis Shaw’s struggles and his subsequent wrist injury, a door opened for Hiura to make the leap to Milwaukee.

Given Moustakas is a natural third baseman, it made sense for him to slide over to third base to fill in for the injured Shaw, opening second base for Hiura. In less than two years since being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Hiura was slated to make his major-league debut.

In that major-league debut, can you guess what Keston Hiura did? HE HIT. His first at-bat was a glimpse of what makes him so special as a hitter, as he tracked a slider and hit it right back up the middle with an exit velocity of 104 miles per hour. After a walk and a fly out in his next two at bats, he connected on a line drive to left field for a single that measured an exit velocity of 107 miles per hour.

Although one game is a small sample size, Hiura looks to be just as advertised. He is what many would call a “professional hitter” who should contribute significantly offensively while playing defense that is neither spectacular nor shoddy. That profile adds a ton of value to the Brewers, who so far have been bolstered disproportionately on offense by a select few players and could use contributions from further down in the order. If Hiura keeps playing like he did last night, the Brewers will need to have some discussions when Travis Shaw returns from the injured-list.

A Nostalgic Look at the 2001 Brewers

The Bucks have been one of the NBA’s basement dwellers for a long time. It was not until last year where they had a legitimate chance to make the second round in the Eastern Conference. This year is a different story, with Giannis Antetokounmpo running the show, Milwaukee beat the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs. This is the first time they have made the second round since 2001 when Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were the big dogs. For nostalgia purposes and because it’s fun to see how far Milwaukee teams have come, I dove into what the Brewers looked like last time the Bucks were this good. Make sure you read the whole article, there are definitely some names that will bring back all the feels. Ladies and gentleman, your 2001 Milwaukee Brewers.

Record: 68-94, 4th in the NL Central behind the Astros (Led by Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt), Cardinals (Led by Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Placido Polanco, Matt Morris) and Cubs (Led by Sammy Sosa, Eric Young, Rondell White, Kerry Wood)

Run Differential: -66

Manager: Davey Lopes

Lopes coached the Brewers in 2000, 2001, and for 15 games (he was fired after Milwaukee started the season 3-12) in 2002. He finished his Brewer managerial career with a 144-195 record. The best his team ever finished was 3rd in the NL Central. This was his one and only managerial stint.

Led Team

Starting Rotation:

Jamey Wright: GS – 33 : W – 11 : L – 12 : ERA – 4.90 : IP – 194.2 : SO – 129 : WHIP – 1.536 : WAR – 0.4

Jimmy Haynes: GS – 29 : W – 8 : L – 17 : ERA – 4.85 : IP – 172.2 : SO – 112 : WHIP – 1.506 : WAR – 0.9

Ben Sheets: GS – 25 : W – 11 : L – 10 : ERA – 4.76 : IP – 151.1 : SO – 94 : WHIP – 1.414 : WAR – 0.6

Allen Levrault: GS – 20 : W – 6 : L – 10 : ERA – 6.06 : IP – 130.2 : SO – 80 : WHIP – 1.569 : WAR – -1.1

Paul Rigdon: GS – 15 : W – 3 : L – 5 : ERA – 5.79 : IP – 79.1 : SO – 49 : WHIP – 1.664 : WAR – -0.2

The 2001 Brewer starting rotation was one of the youngest in the league with an average age of 24 years old. This age showed because the Brewer starters finished with an abysmal average ERA of 5.27. If anybody was to blame for Milwaukee’s poor 68 win season, it was the starting pitching. The only good thing to come out of the starters was the rookie season of, Ben Sheets. Sheets ended up having a very nice career where he made 4 all star games with the Crew and is considered one of the most popular Brewer pitchers of all-time. The only other starter to have any sort of success in the league after 2001 was Jamey Wright who ended playing 13 more years in the bigs.

Relief Pitchers:

Mike DeJean: G – 75 : ERA – 2.77 : IP – 84.1 : SO – 68 : SV – 2 : WHIP – 1.352 : WAR – 1.4

Chad Fox: G – 65 : ERA – 1.89 : IP – 66.2 : SO – 80 : SV – 2 : WHIP – 1.200 : WAR – 2.3

Curt Leskanic: G – 70 : ERA – 3.63 : IP – 69.1 : SO – 64 : SV – 17 : WHIP – 1.356 : WAR – 0.9

David Weathers: G – 52 : ERA – 2.03 : IP – 57.2 : SO – 46 : SV- 4 : WHIP – 1.075 : WAR – 2.0

Ray King: G – 82 : ERA – 3.60 : IP – 55.0 : SO – 49 : SV – 1 : WHIP – 1.345 : WAR – 1.0

As bad as the starting pitching was, the Milwaukee bullpen was a nice change of pace in 2001. For the most part they were lights out combining for an ERA of 2.78. To put it in perspective last year’s 5 main bullpen guys on the Crew combined for an ERA of 2.95. Players like Mike DeJean, David Weathers, and Ray King all had solid careers after 2001.

Catcher: Henry Blanco

AB – 314 : BA – .210 : OPS – .634 : HR- 6 : RBI – 31 : R – 33

With Henry Blanco his offensive numbers were very underwhelming. However, he played in the MLB until he was 41 years old because of his consistency behind the dish. Even in 2001 he had a very good CS% of 42% which was a year off of his career high 58%. Albeit, Yadier Molina isn’t retired yet, but Blanco had more 40%+ CS% seasons than him. Blanco played 16 years for 11 different teams meaning he was an ultimate journeyman after 2 years with Milwaukee.

First Baseman: Richie Sexson

AB – 598 : BA – .271 : OPS – .889 : HR – 45 : RBI – 125 : R- 94

The 2001 Milwaukee Brewers MVP was none other than the 6’7” monster at first base, Richie Sexson. At the end of the season he was 9th in the MLB in home runs and 5th out of all first basemen. Also, he was 11th in RBIs which ranked 6th out of first baseman. In 3 and 1/3 seasons with Milwaukee Sexson hit a remarkable 133 home runs (over 1/3 of his career total), 398 RBIs and was selected to his only two career All-Star games. After his years with the Brewers he went on to play for the Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Yankees but never quite reached the success he did with the Brewers.

Second Baseman: Ronnie Belliard

AB – 364 : BA – .264 : OPS – .788 : HR – 11 : RBI – 36 : R – 69

The Brewers got a hold of Ronnie Belliard right before he hit his prime. Milwaukee had him as their second baseman from his age 23 season all the way through his age 27 season. However, it wasn’t until the next year when Belliard was with Colorado that he hit his stride in the league. After Milwaukee found a new second baseman, Belliard played 8 more years in the bigs averaging .278 at the plate with a .336 OBP. He also averaged 11 home runs, 53 RBIs, 28 doubles, and 55 runs. These averages compare to Belliard’s absolute best season (1999) with the Brewers. To add to his personal legacy even more, he won a World Series and made 1 All-Star game after the Brewers.

Shortstop: Jose Hernandez

AB – 542 : BA – .249 : OPS – .743 : HR – 25 : RBI : 78 : R – 67

When it comes to shortstops, Jose Hernandez had a very good season at the plate. He had more home runs and RBIs than Derek Jeter and a better OPS than 5x All-Star, Edgar Renteria. Hernandez started his career in 1991 when he was 21 years old but by the time the Brewers got him, it was looking like his best years were behind him. This proved to be incorrect because his three years in Milwaukee were his best. He even made his only All-Star appearance one year after 2001. The only knock on Hernandez in 2001 was his defense which was below average. He committed 18 errors which was 17th worst in the league. Great hitting (Besides the fact he led the league in strikeouts) and so-so defense was the case with the Brewers shortstop in 2001.

Third Baseman: Tyler Houston

AB – 235 : BA – .289 : OPS – .815 : HR – 12 : RBI – 38 : R – 36

Third base was a cluster for Milwaukee in 2001 until they found their guy in Tyler Houston. They tried guys like Luis Lopez and Mark Coolbaugh but none of them stuck until Houston made his mark at the plate. Houston was starting to fall out of the league until 2001 was able to buy him two more years. For his final years he played for the Brewers, Dodgers, and Phillies.

Utility Man: Mark Loretta

AB – 384 : BA – .289 : OPS – .698 : HR – 2 : RBI – 29 : R – 40

Before beloved utility players like Craig Counsell, Junior Spivey, and Bill Hall, there was a man before them. Mark Loretta did it all for the Brewers in 2001. He played second, third, shortstop, and he even pitched an inning (he struck out 2 and gave up 0 runs). Loretta had a very nice 15 year career where he hit for an average of .295. He made 2 All-Star games (one with San Diego and one with Boston) and won a silver slugger award. Loretta was the epitome of what a utility player should be. Perhaps, he was one of the most useful players on the 2001 Brewers despite having no solidified position.

Left Field: Geoff Jenkins

AB – 397 : BA – .264 : OPS – .808 : HR – 20 : RBI – 63 : R – 60

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Geoff Jenkins? He played in Milwaukee for 10 years and gave the city everything he had even if his teams weren’t the best. He was the Brewers first round pick in the 1995 draft and never failed to live up to expectations. Geoff Jenkins was awesome. He was a fan favorite who could hit the ball as well as anybody and throw someone out from the warning track with his canon of an arm. In the 10 years Jenkins played in Milwaukee he hit 212 home runs (average of 21 per year), 704 RBIs (average of 70), 287 doubles (average close to 29 per year) all while hitting an average of .277. For 10 years, I would say that’s very good. I could go on and on about how much I love Geoff Jenkins, but I have to move on to the next starter on the 2001 Brewers.

Center Field: Devon White

AB – 390 : BA – .277 : OPS – .802 : HR – 14 : RBI – 47 : R – 52

Devon White played for the Brewers in his last season of his 17 year career. Even though he was 38 he still provided a decent bat and speed on the base paths (He stole 18 bases on 21 attempts in 2001). Also, White had a very good glove out in center. During his career, he won 7 Gold Gloves while also winning 3 World Series and making 3 All-Star appearances. It’s a shame that Blue Jay fans got to see him in his prime and not Brewer fans.

Right Field: Jeromy Burnitz

AB – 562 : BA – .251 : OPS – .851 : HR – 34 : RBI – 100 : R – 104

The best thing about Jeromy Burnitz is that we got him in the prime of his career. For 5 1/8 years, Milwaukee got to see Burnitz juice 165 home runs. He was a power hitter through and through who also had surprising speed and very good plate discipline. Burnitz played for 5 teams after his stint in Milwaukee but could never find the same success. Burnitz was an excellent option to have bat right before Richie Sexson.

The 2001 Milwaukee Brewers had a lineup that could go up against anybody in the league, but the starting pitching situation proved to be the team’s downfall. Wait…maybe the 2019 Brewers have something in common with the 2001 Brewers…

Handing Out Awards for the First Month of the Brewers Season

The first month-plus of the season has been a story of hot streaks and cold streaks for the Brewers as a collective unit. There have been surprises as well as disappointments, namely the continuation of otherworldly production from Christian Yelich as well as some gargantuan slumps from the likes of 2018 All-star Jesus Aguilar and third baseman Travis Shaw. Starting with MVP, let’s dive into the awards for March/April.

Most Valuable Player- OF Christian Yelich

Statistics: 2.1 WAR, 14 HR, 34 RBI, 1.264 OPS

What more can be said about Christian Yelich’s offensive production that hasn’t already been said over his torrid stretch? He has been so good for so long that Milwaukee fans and the baseball world at large are at risk of becoming desensitized to his level of production. It’s historic, transcendent, and flat-out amazing. This one is a no-brainer. Christian Yelich is your MVP for the first month of the 2019 season.

 

Biggest Surprise- SP Zach Davies

Statistics: 3-0 Record, 1.38 ERA, 21 strikeouts, 1.31 WHIP

If you would’ve predicted before opening day that Zach Davies would lead all NL starting pitchers in ERA after April, it would have been quite hard to believe given that he was not even guaranteed a spot in the rotation coming into Spring Training. With the struggles of the other Milwaukee starters, Davies’ steady presence every fifth day has been huge for the team as a whole. It is likely his performance will taper off some, but so far so good for the 26-year-old right-hander.

 

Biggest Disappointment- 1B Jesus Aguilar

Statistics: -0.5 WAR, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .163 BA, .544 OPS

It took until the second-to-last day in April for Jesus Aguilar to go deep for the first time this season after hitting 35 bombs a year ago. To say it has been a tough season for Aguilar so far would be an understatement. His 3-4 performance on Monday with two home runs is perhaps a sign that he is finding his stroke, however, his stats as a whole for the season are pretty brutal and caused him to lose some playing time to fellow first-baseman Eric Thames.

Best Newcomer- C Yasmani Grandal

Statistics: 0.6 WAR, 6 HR, 12 RBI, .856 OPS

As for players who were not on the 2018 team, Grandal doesn’t have much competition for this award. Ben Gamel has been a decent two-way option off the bench for Craig Counsell, but he hasn’t seen enough starts to warrant consideration in this case. New reliever Alex Wilson has been bad enough to be optioned to AAA, and fellow newcomer Alex Claudio has had his ups and downs as well.

Yasmani Grandal has lived up to his reputation as one of the top offensive catchers in all of baseball in his first season as a Brewer. To boot, his defense has been stellar as well, with just one error committed despite playing just about every day.

At 17-14 the Brewers are in a good, but not great spot after a very tough opening month schedule. Some bounce-back weeks should lie ahead for key Brewers hitters as well as pitchers, and with the schedule set to ease up, the Crew could very well be back in first place before too long.

Stats are current as of the conclusion of play on April 30. 

 

Regression Who? Christian Yelich is not familiar

All stats are as of 4/26 and provided by Fangraphs and Baseball Savant

It’s been about 6 months since Christian Yelich accepted his MVP Award. Almost immediately after, Twitter swarmed with one question, How bad will he regress? When you look at what Yelich was able to accomplish in the second half of last season, your mouth is left open. Super human, is a better way to describe it. Throughout the offseason Yelich made his MVP rounds and was constantly asked, how do you top last year? The answer always seems to be implied as you can’t. That’s saying that a player was so good there is no way he could get better, right? However so far this year, Yelich is proving that theory all wrong.

Everybody seems to only focus on the power aspect of Yelich, when in reality is such a minuscule part of his play. Sure the homeruns are fun and cute, but they are only the end result of a well rounded batter. What goes into it is, the pitches per at bat, hard hit%, and wOBA, to list a few. All of these numbers were incredible for Christian last year, and they seem to be identical or getting better so far this season.

Year Pitches per at-bat Hard Hit% wOBA
2018 3.89   50.8% .418
2019 3.85   55.4% .475

 

Just when you think you would see some sort of downfall, you don’t. It’s crazy to think that a player can be on a hot streak for so long. Or maybe he is just really that good, which seems more like it, at the rate this is going. The only stat that hasn’t gone up since the brink of this young season is the pitches per at-bat. However, it is a very small difference around .04, it is still a difference in the scheme of the season. For kicks, in a 650 PA season, it translates to around a 25 pitch difference, which isn’t much in the long run. The ability to kill pitchers from hitting out of your socks, is insanity itself. Then adding in the fact he can have quality at-bats, will drive them up a wall (get it homeruns go over the wall). It will also result in many more hits. The longer the hitter sits and fouls off pitches he can’t do much with, the better a chance he has to catch a mistake. The moral of the story here, is that he will continue to drive pitchers crazy.

Another stat to look at is Yelich’s hard hit%. Yeah making contact is great and all, however, being able to hit the ball hard is even more deadly. Also, to add on the fact that he is doing it over 50% of the time, thats stupid good. His percentage from last year landed him in the top 2% of the league. Then, to bring that number up just under 5% (top 3% of the league), is insane. Throughout his career he has always hit the ball very well, from the beginning of his career he has improved just over 10%. To add to that, it has never gotten worse in his career it has always gotten better. The kid doesn’t even have any history of regression.

The last thing to look at is wOBA (weighted on base average, aka my favorite stat). If you have read anything I have wrote before, you know that wOBA makes an appearance in almost every article. It is the perfect all around offensive stat. To sum it up, it takes everything into account, HBP, BB, extra base hits, and more. Throughout Christian’s career he has always held a pretty high wOBA number, however it jumped in 2018. His number was incredible last season, putting him above the excellent category according to Fangraphs. Just when you think it couldn’t get better, his number this year has skyrocketed to nearly .07 more than last year. That puts him exponentially over the excellent category, and the top 1% of the league.

Have I convinced you yet that there is no slowing down for Christian Yelich? The numbers really do speak for themselves. Yelich is a special player and one that will be very impactful for years to come. Even if he does slow down a bit to the player we saw in the first half of last season, he was still an All-Star. I think it is safe to say that regression isn’t even in Yelich’s vocabulary.

What Has Happened to Jesus Aguilar?

Note: All statistics are accurate as of April 23, 2019 and courtesy of FanGraphs.

At the 2018 All-Star break, Jesus Aguilar appeared to be a breakout star. He had at times single-handedly carried the Brewers’ offense with a first half slash line of .298/.373/.621 while hitting 24 home runs and 70 RBI. He effectively elevated his profile from back-up first baseman to potential MVP candidate. Just three months removed from being arguably the Brewers’ third option at first base, his performance had landed him a spot in both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.

However, Aguilar turned into a shell of this breakout star in the second half of the year. His performance dipped dramatically across the board, with his slash line post-All Star Game being .245/.324/.436. The dip continued into 2019, as he is currently hitting .132/.231/.162.

Weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), an advanced statistic used to measure a player’s offensive performance, displays Aguilar’s 2018 second-half drop-off in better detail. While he posted a wRC+ of 160 prior to the All Star Break, his wRC+ post-All Star Break was only 101. This means that he was 60% better than the average player offensively in the first half, and only 1% better in the second half.

This isn’t news for Brewers’ fans. Everyone knows Aguilar has been struggling. That change in wRC+ only tells us what has happened, not why it has happened, which is the question fans want answered. So, on a deeper level, what has changed for Aguilar since last year’s monster first half?

To analyze this question, I will compare Aguilar’s first half rate stats from last year to everything since. This combines his performance thus far in 2019 with his second-half 2018 performance. Just a heads up: things are about to get “mathy”.

First and foremost, on a basic level, he has seen large decreases in his pull and fly ball rates. His pull rate has decreased by 10%, with his fly ball rate seeing a decrease of 9%. Also, his pull rate of fly balls specifically has decreased by 17%. That he is pulling fewer of his already decreased number of fly balls compounds this issue. This is a significant problem, as Aguilar hits a majority of his home runs to left field. This simultaneous decrease in fly balls, pulled balls, and pulled fly balls is likely a driving factor in his decreased home runs totals and cumulative offensive output.

In addition, Aguilar has seen a 13% decrease in his home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB) since the first half of 2018. While he posted a HR/FB rate of 27% prior to the All-Star break, that number has dipped to 14% since. This means that while he previously hit a home run with about one in every four fly balls, that is now more like one in every seven. Given that his fly ball rate already decreased by 9% as discussed above, the effect of that decrease on his offensive output becomes multiplied by his diminished HR/FB rate. In short, a much lower number of his already decreased amount of fly balls are turning into home runs.

In place of his fly balls, Aguilar is hitting a significantly higher number of ground balls. His ground ball rate has increased from 31% in last year’s first half to 40% since. Ground balls are easily the least valuable batted ball on average, with an average OPS league-wide of .494 compared to line drives (1.574) and fly balls (.915). Clearly, a shift in Aguilar’s batted ball portfolio from fly balls to ground balls would drive down his offensive output. Increasing their occurrence has done him no favors.

To summarize, so far we have established the following:

  • Aguilar has been hitting far fewer fly balls and pulling fewer fly balls, leading to fewer chances for home runs.
  • When Aguilar has been hitting fly balls, they are turning into home runs far less often.
  • In place of fly balls, Aguilar has been hitting more ground balls, which provide the least value of any batted ball by a wide margin.

Aguilar’s ineffectiveness can be explored further by looking at his batted ball heat maps. These will show how he typically performs in each area of the zone, and which areas (if any) are giving him more trouble than they had previously. It is worth noting that he has faced the exact same number of pitches over the two time frames (Pre-2018 All-Star Break, Post-2018 All-Star Break), so these numbers should be very representative of the changes to his batted ball outcomes. Below are Aguilar’s slugging percentage per ball in play heat map divided into a 5-by-5 grid (courtesy of FanGraphs). On the left is his map from the first half of 2018, and on the right is everything since.

As you can see, the hot areas Aguilar used to have in the middle of the zone have turned cold. The fall in the “middle-middle” zone has been most drastic – his slugging percentage on balls in play there has dropped from 1.536 to .406. Roughly translated, prior to the 2018 All-Star Break, he would most often get an extra base hit when he put a ball in play from that zone. Since then, the typically ball in play ends with him not getting on base.

It is easy to see from the map that he is struggling across the board and not in just one area of the zone. While he used to have 7 hot zones within the strike zone, since last year’s All-Star break he has only had 2. This means that his change in production is not limited to just one specific location that pitchers are zeroing in on.

Finally, is there any one pitch that has given Aguilar more trouble than it had previously?

While Aguilar’s results against each pitch type have dropped across the board, there is one type of pitch that stands out from the rest: sliders. In the first half of 2018, Aguilar slugged .651 against sliders with 7 home runs. Since then, he has slugged a meager .311 with 4 home runs. His batting average on balls in play facing the pitch has decreased from .333 to .143, indicating either he is facing extremely tough luck or he is simply not generating good contact against the pitch. Due to the trends we have discussed above, I would guess that it is most due to a lack of good contact.

So, where does Aguilar go from here?

There is no one right answer to this question, and honestly, I am grossly under-qualified to answer it. However, it is clear that Aguilar had performed better when his ground ball rate was lower and he was hitting more fly balls. The solution to correcting that is not easy – there is a lot from a hitter’s perspective that goes into generating high quality contact at a desired launch angle. However, if there is an area for Aguilar to focus on, it would be to use whatever methods are available to move back towards the batted ball profile that brought him so much success in the first half of 2018. This may be mechanical-based, approach-based, or simply pure luck, but for Aguilar to be an effective Brewer in 2019, it appears that changes need to be made.

Why Brewers Fans Can Take A Deep Breath

Coming off their best season since 1982, the Brewers have raised expectations throughout the league. However, after starting out a red hot 12-6, Milwaukee has dropped seven of their last eight games. A mixture of a small salary cap, tough schedule, abysmal hitting, young starting rotation, and injuries has resulted in the Brewers slow start. Let’s examine the problems and possible solutions to get Milwaukee back on track.

Salary Cap

Most fans are frustrated with the inability to sign free agents Dallas Kuechel and Craig Kimbrel, and rightfully so. After falling one game short of the World Series last year, Brewers fans are hungry for more. Unfortunately, because Milwaukee is the smallest market in baseball, based on metropolitan size, they struggle to compete with teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, and Cardinals when it comes to payroll. Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis sit comfortably around $200 million, as Milwaukee sits right below the league average at $127.5 million. When Mark Attanasio bought the Brewers from the Selig family in 2004, he promised fans that he would spend money and invest in the team. Attanasio has delivered on his promise, investing heavily to payroll by boosting the salary cap $37 million since 2015. The Brewers Owner has also invested another $60 million to the Spring Training facility in Arizona. The rise in payroll helped the Brewers secure third baseman, Mike Moustakas, for 1 year/$7million, and Free Agent catcher Yasmani Grandal for 1 year/$18 million in the offseason. According to Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) of the Athletic, signing Craig Kimbrel would result in the Brewers forfeiting draft picks along with paying him a reported 6 year/$100 million+ contact. Signing Kimbrel would take up 16% of Milwaukee’s cap space, which isn’t viable for a small market team seeking a closer.

The Schedule

It’s easy to say Milwaukee drew the short straw with their first 26 games of the season. Sitting currently at 13-13, the Brewers rank first throughout Major League Baseball in strength of schedule and second in the Relative Power Index. Milwaukee is one month into the season and is done facing the Dodgers. After falling in the season series 3-4 earlier this week, the Brewers won’t face Los Angeles until October if necessary. In addition, after playing ten games against the Cardinals, the Crew won’t face St. Louis until August 19th. This week on MLB Network, Craig Counsell joked with “The Rundown” hosts saying, “Our schedule has been a little funky in that, after this series we’ll have played 17 of 26 against the Dodgers and Cardinals”. Although the Brewers have had a rough start, their record is almost identical to 2018, when comparing the first set of games of each series.

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 2.43.52 PM

Look for Milwaukee’s schedule to ease up around May 30th, when they play the Pirates thirteen times, the Reds eight times, and the Marlins three times before the all-star break.

 

Offense

Throughout the first 25 games, the Brewers have relied heavily on Christian Yelich and Yasmani Grandal. While the Crew is sixth in the MLB for runs scored, the middle of the lineup has been a disappointment. Starting off hot, Lorenzo Cain has cooled off, dropping 40 points to his batting average in just three series. In order to score runs in this top-heavy lineup, Cain needs to get on base for Yelich and Grandal. Jesus Aguilar is currently hitting .134 with zero homers and 18 strikeouts. Travis Shaw has been trending upwards but is still hitting a woeful .200 with four home runs and 32 strikeouts. Ryan Braun’s production hasn’t been awful, hitting five home runs and 16 RBI, however, his .202 average and .239 OBP is not what a playoff contending team needs for the three-hole hitter. With Mike Moustakas out with a broken finger, Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have picked up the slack.  Perez and Arcia have accounted for a combined seven home runs and 14 RBI. As Christian Yelich will likely slow down with production, is it vital that Aguilar, Braun, and Shaw break out of their slumps.

Defense

Milwaukee’s hitting hasn’t been up to par, but their defense has been impecable. Through 26 games, Milwaukee has only committed five errors, the fewest in the Major Leagues. Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have been tremendous middle infielders, committing just one error between both of them. At catcher, Yasmani Grandal is first in the Major Leagues with 2.5 runs saved by framing. Lorenzo Cain has been a bright spot in Center Field currently tied third in defensive wins above replacement at 0.6.

Starting Pitching

26 games into 2019, the Brewers starting rotation hasn’t been ideal. At the start of the season, young guns Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta filled out three spots of the starting rotation. Through four starts, Burnes pitched only 17.2 innings, giving up eleven home runs and a 10.70 ERA before being sent down to AAA. Freddy Peralta has pitched 17.2 innings in four starts, giving up five home runs and 7.13 ERA. Woodruff has been the most promising, going 26.7 innings in five starts with 5.81 ERA. Needless to say, this rotation hasn’t been ideal. The one bright spot has come with Zach Davies. Through five starts, Davies has gone 27.1 innings with a 1.65 ERA and 1.1 wins above replacement. Since being injured in 2017, Jimmy Nelson hasn’t returned to the Major Leagues. However, Nelson is expected to make his next start at AAA in San Antonio this coming week. In 2017, Nelson posted twelve wins to six losses with a 3.49 ERA. If he can replicate those stats in 2019, Nelson will be a great option for number two slot in the starting rotation. Earlier today Gio Gonzalez signed a 1 year/$2 million contract with the brewers for the 2019 season. In five appearances with the Brewers last year, Gio went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.

Bullpen

Injuries have decimated the bullpen for the Brewers in 2019. Before Opening Day, Corey Knebel decided to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his right elbow. Closer, Jeremy Jeffress, started off the season on the 10-day injured list with a sore right elbow and low velocity ranging from 90-92. In addition to the injuries, Junior Guerra was recently placed on the Bereavement List in order to visit his father who is in poor health. Chase Anderson started the year off in the bullpen but was moved to the starting rotation because Freddy Peralta was put on the Injured List for elbow inflammation. Alex Claudio, Matt Albers, and Alex Wilson have replaced the relievers roles but have been wildly inconsistent throughout the year. The only some-what consistent arm in 2019 has been Josh Hader. In his first seven appearances, Hader only gave up one run in ten innings. Unfortunately, his last two appearances have resulted in two losses.

Pitching Solution?

Add a starter other than Gio. The Brewers are in year two of the five-year window for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich’s very generous contracts. Now is the time to spend cash and go for the World Series. Unlike Kimbrel, Kuechel is open to a one year deal for less money. Adding a Cy-Young winner in Dallas Kuechel, and a healthy and productive Jimmy Nelson would provide tremendous depth throughout the whole team. If Kuechel and Nelson are put in the starting rotation, Burnes, Woodruff, Anderson, and Peralta can add serious depth as long relievers. In the 2018 playoff push, Burnes racked up seven wins and zero losses with a 2.61 ERA out of the bullpen. Chase Anderson has proven he can be an out getter with a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched. Peralta can be used as a stretch reliever when starters are having trouble in early innings with his 96 mph fastball and 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Out of the bullpen last year, Woodruff went 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA. Once Guerra returns from the bereavement list his 1.38 ERA will be perfect for stretch innings late in games.

Assuming Milwaukee adds Kuechel to 25-Man Roster:

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 4.55.08 PM

13-13 isn’t an ideal start for the Brewers, but with an easier schedule ahead, more consistent hitting, and the return of injured players, there is no reason to count out the Crew this early.

Should Jesus Aguilar Be Starting At First?

Travis Shaw, Corbin Burnes, Ryan Braun, Alex Wilson, the list goes on and on for Brewer players who have struggled to start the 2019 season. However, I didn’t even list the player who has struggled the most. Last year’s All-Star first baseman, Jesus Aguilar, has had an abysmal start to the season. It has gotten to the point where teams don’t even have to pitch around the big slugger. They can go right at him and way more often than not, get him out. He hasn’t secured a hit since April 18th and hasn’t secured an extra base hit since April 14th. Right now, Eric Thames is a more viable option at first and should start every game for Milwaukee.

Last season, Aguilar was a pleasant surprise for Brewer fans. He finished top 10 in the NL in home runs, runs batted in, adjusted OPS, and slugging percentage. Aguilar had 35 homers, 108 RBIs, 25 doubles, 80 runs, and a .274 batting average. In 2018, he even won the NL All-Star Game Final Vote to secure a spot in the summer classic. Although Aguilar had great stats to end the season, fans who watched him everyday saw a difference in first half Aguilar and second half Aguilar.

1st Half
Games Started- 68
Home Runs- 24
Runs Batted In- 70
Strikeouts- 83
Batting Average- .298
OPS- .995
Grounded Into Double Play- 7

2nd Half
Games Started- 55
Home Runs- 11
Runs Batted In- 38
Strikeouts- 60
Batting Average- .245
OPS- .760
Grounded Into Double Play- 12

Towards the end of last season, Aguilar was not making solid contact with the ball and striking out at an alarming rate. The start to 2019 has been more of the same. Even Chris Davis is having a better start to the season than Aguilar. Yes, that Chris Davis, the one who set an MLB record for most at bats without a hit. Aguilar is having a worse season than him…

Luckily, since Aguilar has been a Brewer his best statistical months have come in May and June. Through 2017 and 2018, Aguilar has proved that a slow start will not define his season. In May, Aguilar has had 12 home runs, 34 RBIs, and averaged a .300 batting average and a 1.004 OPS over two years. June is close to the same, Aguilar has had 13 home runs, 33 RBIs, averaged .299 at the plate and an OPS of 1.000.

It’s not time to give up on Jesus “Dino” Aguilar. History shows that his best at bats are yet to come. However, the Brewers are not in a position to be able to wait for Aguilar to figure it out. The Crew’s best option is to give Aguilar sporadic at bats while making Thames the primary first baseman. Brewers’ hitting coach, Andy Haines, doesn’t seem too worried about Aguilar when he said, “He’s going to get that feel back and be fine. He’s just too good of a hitter to stay in this rut much longer.” Once Jesus gets his bearings at the plate, that’s when Milwaukee should insert him back as an everyday player.

Breaking Down Adrian Houser’s First Career Start

Last night, 26-year-old prospect, Adrian Houser, made his first career start. Houser is a bruising 6’4” 235 pounds with a sinking fastball and a nasty 12-6 curve. Currently, he is Milwaukee’s 15th ranked prospect in their farm system and 5th ranked pitcher. Houser was acquired by the Brewers back in 2015 when Milwaukee traded Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to the Astros. Houser has pitched in the bigs before but never started a game. Before last night he appeared in 15.2 innings for the Brewers and recorded a 2.87 ERA. He has been unstoppable in AAA so far this year. He’s started 3 games, pitched 16.1 innings, struck out 18 and has an ERA of 1.10. Batters in AAA are only hitting .172 against him. With the struggles of Corbin Burnes and Houser’s dominance in Triple-A, it was time for a call up.

Houser started his outing against 2018 NL MVP candidate Matt Carpenter and walked him on 5 pitches. Paul “Goldy” Goldschmidt was up second and Houser gave up a dinky little infield single. With 2 on and no outs, Paul DeJong struck out on three pitches and it looked like Houser got his confidence. The next batter grounded into a double play and Houser was able to successfully get out of the first inning. After 1 inning it looked like Houser settled in and ready to make work of the Cardinals. To start his second inning, the Brewers’ starter gave up a single against the shift to Jose Martinez. For the second consecutive inning, the leadoff man got on base. Yadier Molina followed by lining out to Christian Yelich in right field. The next batter, Dexter Fowler, was able to get a single and advance to second but not before Ryan Braun threw Jose Martinez out at third. 2 outs. Then, Kolten Wong went first pitch swinging and hit a single to right that scored Fowler. Finally, Adrian Houser got the opposing pitcher out to end the inning. After two innings the Cardinals were up by 1 but Houser was making the right pitches and hitting his spots. The Cardinals weren’t hitting the ball hard, they just hit the ball in the gaps. Houser started the third against the top of the order and retired the first two before giving up a double. The double didn’t amount to anything because Houser was able to get the next batter to ground out. After another lackluster top half inning for the Brewer offense, Houser opened up his half of the fourth by giving up another opposite field single to Jose Martinez. This single proved problematic because after Houser struck out Yadier Molina, Dexter Fowler rocked a fastball for a 2-run home run. Up to that point, Houser had not missed his locations but it only takes one for hitters to capitalize. The next two batters grounded out and the fourth inning ended with Milwaukee down, 3-0. Milwaukee tied the game in the top of the fifth thanks to home runs by Ryan Braun and Hernan Perez but Houser didn’t do much to thank them by giving up 2 runs in the bottom half. These runs led to Craig Counsell’s decision to pull Houser in the middle of the fifth.

Adrian Houser’s Final Stats

PC- 78 IP- 4.0 H- 9 ER- 5 SO- 3 BB- 1

My Thoughts On Houser’s Start

Adrian Houser pitched with poise and presence but struggled to get consecutive outs. Anywhere catcher, Yasmani Grandal set up, Houser hit. He did miss a couple times and that’s where the home runs came from. Besides the two long balls, nobody hit the ball extremely hard against Houser which is a good sign moving forward. His final stats won’t blow anyone away but after watching Houser’s first career start, he deserves a couple more chances. He has potential and if he could take a few pitches back, his numbers would have been outstanding.

What Should We Make of the Brewers Bullpen?

In 2018, the Brewers’ bullpen was a model of success. They carried five high-leverage arms in Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Corbin Burnes, and Joakim Soria, giving them numerous combinations with which to finish off games. The surplus of talent led to the Crew ending the year with the fourth-best bullpen in baseball measured by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), while finishing fifth-best in ERA and fourth-best in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), the latter being a metric used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness independent of his defense.

The bullpen was expected to be a strength once again this year at the outset of spring training, with Hader, Jeffress, and Knebel forming a trio that arguably was unmatched throughout the league.

Then, the injury bug hit, with Knebel undergoing Tommy John surgery and Jeffress experiencing shoulder issues that sapped the zip on his fastball. Knebel was lost for the year, while Jeffress has spent the first three weeks of the season on the injured-list.

What was left on Opening Day was a largely unproven bullpen with only Hader remaining from the high-leverage group that made last year’s Brewers so elite. In their place were uninspiring options like converted starters Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra, so-so relievers from last year Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams, off-season acquisitions Alex Claudio and Alex Wilson, and a name most Brewers’ fans would have preferred to not have heard again: Matt Albers.

Through the first three weeks of the season, the bullpen looks to be just what we expected from this group: shaky and relatively unreliable compared to 2018, but also capable of shutting down opponents when everything is clicking.

Nowhere has this been more evident than the two series against the Angels and Dodgers. In Game 2 of the Angels series, the Brewers clawed their way back from a 6-0 first inning deficit to take an 8-7 lead. After Matt Albers allowed a run to tie the game, Alex Wilson walked in a run after intentionally walking the bases full, allowing the Angels to regain the lead. This was followed by Jake Petricka giving up two runs in the bottom of the eighth, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Brewers.

The bullpen followed this up with stellar performances against the Dodgers. In the three-game set, they threw 12 and 1/3 innings of relief while allowing only one run. This is especially impressive given the elite offense the Dodgers currently boast, led by NL-home run leader Cody Bellinger. As a team, the Dodgers are hitting .277/.365/.509. Read that slash line again. On average, the Dodgers are hitting like an all-star. Given that the bullpen contained them to only one run over an entire series, it is clear they have the potential to be a shut-down group.

Statistically, this year’s Brewers are struggling to match last year’s in terms of elite bullpen effectiveness. While they rank 10th in WAR, they are a more pedestrian 16th in ERA and 16th in FIP, making them roughly a league-average bullpen.

In addition, the value of the bullpen is carried disproportionately by one player: Josh Hader. This makes them very vulnerable when he is not available. Given that Hader’s individual WAR is 0.7 and the WAR of the Brewers’ bullpen as a whole is 0.7, Hader has single-handedly carried the unit from being replacement-level to league-average.

“League-average” may be an issue for this team, especially given they have playoff and potentially World Series aspirations. In 2018, the Brewers made up for their lack of high-level starting pitching with their elite bullpen. Thus far in 2019, the Brewers appear to have similar rotation shortcomings, but do not have the bullpen firepower to completely alleviate them. Over the course of the season, you would expect the high bullpen usage necessitated by an inconsistent rotation to wear them down, which could turn into a larger issue than last year given this year’s bullpen’s mediocrity.

Despite the negativity I am spewing above, this bullpen does have chances to improve. Jeremy Jeffress has returned from injury, and if he can perform similarly to his 2018 self, the bullpen will surely gain effectiveness. The Brewers also have a pair of Triple-A starters in Zack Brown and Adrian Houser that they could insert into the bullpen if needed, as they did last year with Corbin Burnes. Finally, David Stearns has made the necessary moves to bolster the roster at the deadline each of the last two seasons, as he has acquired a high-leverage reliever during each of the last two seasons (Anthony Swarzak in 2017, Joakim Soria in 2018). Expect him to make a similar acquisition this year to shore the group up if needed.

 

Can The Brewers Have Sustained Success With Their Current Starters

As I was watching the Brewer game last night and watched Freddy Peralta struggle against the Cardinals, it made me think. If it wasn’t for Milwaukee’s high powered offense and Josh Hader, the Brewers would be horrible. They do not have good starting pitching which is essential to a championship winning team. Look at recent champs, the 2018 Red Sox, 2017 Astros, and 2014 Giants, they all had great starting pitchers. The Brewers cannot make a playoff push, let alone win the NL Central, with their current starting pitchers. *WARNING* A somewhat pessimistic (honest) article follows…

Jhoulys Chacin, Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Zach Davies. On paper, the Brewers have one of the worst starting rotations in the league. If the Cardinals had a starting rotation that looked like ours, fans would be ecstatic for the season.
Chacin and Davies are very consistent. Consistently average. At least you know what you’re getting out of them. However, they can’t be the two guys to anchor down a contending team’s rotation. They are best suited as a very good number 3 and 4 pitcher, not a 1 and 2. Unsuspectedly, Davies has been dominant to start the season. He has started 3 games and shows off a 1.53 ERA, a great sight for Brewer fans. However, I don’t think he can sustain the dominance he has recently showcased. As for Chacin, his best days are behind him.

I love Freddy Peralta the prospect. I don’t love when I see Peralta step on the mound. It’s either he’s putting up a line like he did April 3rd against the Reds when he pitched 8.0 innings, gave up 0 earned runs, and struck out 11 or he’s throwing 3.1 innings and giving up 7 earned runs against the Angels. There is no in between when it comes to the 22-year-old Brewer pitcher. If I had to predict what his numbers will look like at the end of the season, he will be 8-11 with a 4.31 ERA in 166.1 innings and 173 strikeouts. Think former Brewer pitcher Mike Fiers, that’s what Peralta will be this year.

Corbin Burnes was a phenomenal piece to Milwaukee’s bullpen last season. He was 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 38.0 innings pitched. He has great stuff but he is a pitcher who is best suited for the bullpen. So far to start the season, Burnes has started 3 games and given up more runs than innings pitched. He leads the league in earned runs. Very not great. Moving Burnes to starting pitcher was a mistake and if I had to place a bet, he will be in the bullpen to end the season. Somebody like Chase Anderson or Junior Guerra will replace him. Honestly, that won’t make much of a difference either.

Brandon Woodruff is like Burnes, he is a bullpen pitcher made starter. The start to the season hasn’t been so kind to the big righty. He’s only 7 earned runs away from his total last year and at this point, boasts a 6.00 ERA. He’s a #PitcherWhoRakes but that doesn’t matter if he’s giving up runs at an alarming rate.

I know it’s early. Some may say it’s too early to make judgements but were almost a month into the season and guys should be starting to settle in. The Brewers need to make a move and make a move fast. The bullpen isn’t what is was last year, they won’t be able to bail out starters like they did so often last season. Guys like former Cy Young winner, Dallas Kuechel, and other pitchers like Edwin Jackson and Bartolo Colon are still available and would help deepen a pitching staff that needs a boost. The Brewers should be looking at all available starting pitching free agents and all available trade partners if they want to stay relevant. I hope I’m wrong, but you see it far too often in baseball where a team is gifted offensively but doesn’t have the pitching to back them up.