66.2 F
Milwaukee
Wednesday, August 21st 2019
Home Brewers

Brewers

CCC covering the Milwaukee Brewers

Wisconsin Weekly 7/14-7/19

Bucks

Thon Maker
The recently drafted Center was named to the All-NBA Summer League Second Team. Maker averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, with his transition into summer league play looked relatively smooth, especially his mobility for someone his size.

Miles Plumlee The Center who was a restricted free agent is returning to the Bucks after signing a four-year deal worth $52 million. Plumlee averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 61 games played last season, which was his first full year in Milwaukee. The Bucks have three big men in their rotation including Greg Monroe and John Henson. If all three players are kept, their expected payroll for just their centers for the upcoming season will exceed $40 million dollars.

Brewers Prospect Trent Grisham: The Breakout

Entering 2019, scouting services had been souring on Brewers’ prospect Trent Grisham for years. After a tremendous offensive showing (.309/.424/.430) immediately following his selection in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Grisham had failed to post numbers even close to those up until this year.

With three consecutive disappointing seasons at the plate, this is what MLB Pipeline’s scouting report said about Trent Grisham prior to 2019:

Grisham is still in search of his comfort zone as a hitter. He looked particularly lost at the plate in 2018, setting up so far off the plate with an open stance that his front foot was borderline out of the batter’s box. Grisham’s stance along with his naturally passive approach opened the door for pitchers to attack him, and he struggled to drive the baseball even when he got a hittable pitch.

Luckily for Grisham and the Brewers, 2019 has been a different story. Grisham’s first-round talent is shining through… and it’s safe to say that he has found his “comfort zone as a hitter”.

Through 63 games with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers, Grisham posted a slash line of .254/.371/.504 with 13 home runs. Those 13 home runs are his highest total for an entire season, with his previous high being 8 home runs over 133 games and 569 at bats during 2017. This breakout performance led to Grisham’s promotion to the Triple-A San Antonio Missions.

While most prospects need an adjustment period when arriving to a new level, Grisham started Triple-A right where he left off in Biloxi. So far in 25 games, he is hitting a robust .357/.427/.735 with 10 home runs and a wRC+ of 174, meaning that he is performing 74% better than the league-average at the plate.

Behind Grisham’s offensive breakout is a significant change in his approach at the plate that actually seems to be multiple years in the making. Grisham, who has been regarded as a “passive” hitter that hits for contact and attempts to draw walks, steadily increased his percentage of pulled balls over the last threeseasons. Since 2016, he has increase his pull rate from 32.9%, to 40.1%, to 43.3%, to this year where it sits at a lofty 47.3%. This has allowed him to hit with more power.

In addition, Grisham has combined his increased pull rate transformation with an increase in the amount of fly balls he hits. Since 2016, his fly ball rate has jumped from 30.7% to a hearty 46.5%. With that increase in fly ball rate came a simultaneous rise in his home-run-to-fly-ball rate (HR/FB), as it increased from 6.1% in 2018 to 18.1% in 2019.

Finally, Grisham succeeded in keeping the one area of his offensive game that had kept him relevant as a prospect – his patience and plate discipline. Grisham’s walk and strikeout profiles are next-level good, as in Double-A he walked 15.5% of the time while striking out just 17.7% of the time. Those numbers have decreased to 11.2% and 13.8% in Triple-A, respectively, which is still an outstanding showing.

All of this adds up to Grisham re-establishing himself as a legitimate top prospect in a Brewers’ farm system that currently is thin at the top. Grisham may be the closest thing the Brewers have to a prospect with a combination of performance and tools that screams “potential all-star”.

With no immediate opening for Grisham in the Milwaukee outfield, he will certainly be kept in Triple-A to continue his development and ready him for a future role. However, given his production and potential, Grisham could be used as a trade chip over the next week and a half as the Brewers attempt to bolster their roster for a playoff surge. With the Brewers’ thin farm system, Grisham is one player that teams surely will inquire about in trade talks, and he could be a key piece in any impactful trade getting completed. 

The Return of Ryan Braun

The Brewers have had Ryan Braun’s bat in the lineup for just 30 of the teams 78 games so far this season. That makes the Brewers first place start all that more of a surprise. The naysayers don’t seem to think that the Brewers need Braun or that they’re better off without him. I understand people’s dislike for him, but to think that the Milwaukee Brewers are better without him is absolutely foolish. If Braun is healthy, he’s going to hit at an elite level.

image via Bleacher Report

Since May, Ryan Braun has only played in six games. He did however play in 24 games in April and was off to a very solid start. He hit seven homeruns, drove in 18 runs, and had an OPS of 960. I know it’s hard to believe people truly think that the Brewers don’t need a player that produces like that in the middle of the lineup. You know who doesn’t think that? Eric Thames. Thames had an absolutely historic April hitting .345, with 11 homers, 19 runs knocked in, and an OPS of 1.276. Obviously it wasn’t realistic for him to stay on that pace, but there maybe something to his struggles. Since Ryan Braun got hurt in May, Eric Thames has seen his numbers drop significantly. I’m not taking anything away from what he has done so far because he has been great. Shattering any expectations that the Brewers could have had for him going in the season. In the month of May, Thames only hit three homers with a batting average of only 221 and an OPS of 791. He got his power stroke back this month hitting six homers, giving him 20 on the season. However, so far in June he has only hit 179 with an OPS of 722. Eric Thames is still going to draw walks and hit homers, but the numbers speak for themselves, he’s a better hitter when hitting in front of Ryan Braun.

image via JSonline

The bottom line is if the Brewers want to stay in the division race all season, they are going to need contributions from everybody, including Ryan Braun. Everybody in the Brewers lineup will benefit with him in the lineup. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guys hitting in front of him seeing better pitches or guys in the bottom of the order hitting with him on base, everybody benefits.

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.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #6-10

The common theme with last week’s group of prospects was their sky-high potential. This week, prospects #6-10 boast that same potential, but also have a history of performance that backs it up. All five of this week’s prospects are 21 or younger and in the lower levels of the minor leagues. While some fans may find it discouraging that they will most likely not be in Milwaukee until at least a couple of years down the road, it is important to remember that these prospects have already figured out how to perform professionally at a high level, and with that they still have tons of room for growth in each of their respective skill sets. I find that very exciting, as each of their production thus far could very well only reveal a scratch on the surface of what they may become. Here are top prospects #6-10:

10. Lucas Erceg 3B

The Brewers selected Erceg with the 46th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he has done nothing but impress since. Although his performance is pretty clear-cut indicator of his on-field talent, he has an interesting backstory of off-field struggles, which supposedly scared some teams away from taking him as high as the Brewers did in the draft. After a breakout sophomore campaign at the University of California, where he batted .303/.357/.502, Erceg was deemed academically ineligible, forcing him to transfer to Menlo College. Erceg’s transfer worried scouts, as it made them question his work ethic. In many scouting reports, he is noted as having a questionable attitude, making his early selection by the Brewers a gamble in the minds of some.

Predicting the Milwaukee Brewers’ Opening Day Roster

With Opening Day just around the corner, fans can taste baseball in the crisp spring air. In just nine days, the smells of hotdogs and brats will waft through the Miller Park grounds as the Brewers’ faithful eagerly await their club’s defense of the NL Central crown. As always, Opening Day will begin with the introduction of the team’s first 25-man roster. Who will toe that first base line at Miller Park on March 28th? Here’s my thoughts on the first iteration of the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers, with italics indicating I project them to make the Opening Day roster:

Catchers

The Locks: Yasmani Grandal, Manny Piña

The Candidates: Erik Kratz, Jacob Nottingham

Craig Counsell put all questions to rest regarding the catching situation at the start of spring training: Grandal would be the starter, and Piña the backup. That still appears to be the plan, barring an injury to either of those two. While Kratz has done everything in his power this spring to earn a roster spot, his .222/.250/.481 slash during spring training is likely not enough to convince Counsell into keeping a third catcher, especially given his love for positional versatility and an eight-man bullpen. Kratz has no minor-league options remaining, so he will need to pass through waivers to stay in the Brewers’ organization. If he is lost to another club, it should be considered a meaningful loss, as he is a clubhouse leader and a more than capable back-up should either Piña or Grandal get injured.

Nottingham will be optioned to Triple-A San Antonio, where he will continue his development as a prospect. His role will become much more important if Kratz is picked up by another team.

Infielders

The Locks: Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Mike Moustakas, Hernan Perez, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames

The Candidates: Tyler Saladino, Corey Spangenberg

The locks are all returning from last year’s club, with Aguilar-Moustakas-Arcia-Shaw being the starting unit. Perez is the Brewers indispensable super-utility man, as he can play all seven positions in the field. While the Brewers certainly prefer not to deploy him in center field, he can play there if needed, and his defense at each of the other six positions is at least average.

Thames, who many considered to be a trade candidate at the outset of the offseason, earns his roster spot as somewhat of a utility man in his own right, as he is predominantly a power-hitting first baseman but can play a passable left and right field. He has had a monster spring, and will form a semi-platoon at first base with Jesus Aguilar.

Saladino is nearly certain to not make the cut – he simply does not offer any difference-making qualities that warrant creating a spot for him on the roster. He will provide minor league depth in case an injury arises, with this being his final option year. Spangenberg on the other hand has a real shot to make the roster as a utility man, as he swings a left-handed bat and has displayed some positional versatility this spring. However, I think he will not start 2019 in the big leagues, losing out to an outfielder we will discuss shortly, though we will certainly see him in Milwaukee at some point this season.

Outfielders

The Locks: Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich

The Candidates: Ben Gamel

Braun, Cain, and Yelich form one of the elite outfield batteries in not just the National League, but all of Major League Baseball. Their individual success this season will be directly correlated to the team’s overall success.

Gamel is likely to be the last man to make the roster on the position-player side. In my opinion, it comes down to him and Spangenberg, with Gamel getting the nod due to him being a natural outfielder. Both Gamel and Spangenberg have swung the bat adequately in spring training (.758 OPS for Gamel/.783 OPS for Spangenberg), and Gamel checks two boxes by being a left-handed hitter and a capable defender at all three outfield positions.

However, if there is one spot we could see some Opening Day shenanigans similar to the Ji Man Choi situation last year, it would be here. If Stearns and Counsell feel for whatever reason that Spangenberg gives the Brewers a better chance to win on Opening Day than Gamel does, then they could simply have Spangenberg open on the MLB roster and option him down to the minors once he serves his purpose. It’s not likely, in my opinion, but it is within the realm of possibility.

Starting Rotation

The Locks: Jhoulys Chacin

The Candidates: Chase Anderson, Corbin Burnes, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff

The Brewers rotation was as wide-open as could be entering Spring Training, with the only 100% lock being Chacin. To sum up the rest of the group, Anderson and Davies struggled in 2018, Burnes and Peralta are the young hot-shot arms looking to stick, Woodruff is wedged between having more value as a reliever or as a starter, and Nelson is still rehabbing from surgery that took place in 2017. Let’s dissect that a little bit.

I expect the Brewers to give Davies a chance in the rotation to start the year, with Anderson being either demoted to the minors or sent to the bullpen. Both have experienced success in Brewers’ rotation in the past, but both have also struggled to ERAs that are over 7.00 this spring. Anderson has been working through an adjustment in his delivery, and I do not think the Brewers want to have that situation in their starting rotation until it is completely ironed out. Davies profiles as a back-end arm, so long as he can keep the Brewers in games and hold ERAs in the 4.20-4.50 range, he should be serviceable.

With the younger guys, I predict that Burnes, Peralta, and Woodruff will all earn rotation spots. The Brewers repeatedly stated last year that the plan for Burnes was to gain experience in the bullpen in 2018 and move to the rotation in 2019, and given the other options available to the Crew I see no reason for them to stray from this plan. He likely will combine moments of brilliance with moments of frustration in the first couple of months, but by the time the stretch run comes along I expect him to be a solid number-three starter.

Woodruff has looked much more polished this Spring and finished the year strong in 2018, so he is a sure bet to be in the rotation at this point. Peralta has showcased his electric stuff over spring training, and that he has a much higher ceiling than Anderson with a similar floor, I think he will earn the fifth rotation spot.

Unlike 2018, the Brewers start off 2019 by playing seven games in seven days, so there is no possibility for them to start the year with a four-man rotation.

Nelson is slated to continue his rehab by starting the year in Triple-A San Antonio. He has looked good this spring and is the closest thing the Brewers have on paper to being an ace, so once he is ready to go, he is certain to be inserted into the rotation.

Bullpen

The Locks: Matt Albers, Alex Claudio, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel

The Candidates: Chase AndersonJacob Barnes, Junior Guerra, Adrian Houser, Jay Jackson, Jake Petricka, Aaron Wilkerson, Taylor Williams

Disabled List: Jeremy Jeffress, Bobby Wahl

The bullpen picture is fairly straightforward at this point for the Brewers. Craig Counsell said that Albers will be on the Opening Day roster, betting on the possibility that his 2018 pre-arm injury performance will re-emerge in 2019. Hader, Knebel, and Claudio (acquired from the Rangers) will form a high-leverage trio that will hopefully welcome back Jeffress soon.

To fill out the four remaining spots, Barnes, Guerra, and Williams have the experience and past performance to have solid footing in making the roster. For the final spot, it comes down to Chase Anderson, some low-leverage arms (Wilkerson and Houser) and non-roster invitees Jake Petricka and Jay Jackson. I don’t think Petricka or Jackson will make the roster due to that necessitating their addition to the 40-man roster, and Houser and Wilkerson do not offer enough upside to justify a roster-spot over Anderson. While Anderson has the edge for the final spot in my opinion, the Brewers could instead opt to keep him in the minors to get him back on track as a starter. If he is put in the bullpen, it may be difficult to stretch him back out to being a starter this year, should he be needed in that role. He could provide good value as a long relief man if kept in the majors.

The bullpen is also the position group most likely to see an outside addition (usually via waivers) prior to Opening Day. We have seen this in each of the past three seasons with Carlos Torres (2016), Jared Hughes (2017), and Dan Jennings (2018). If David Stearns sees an arm on the waiver wire he deems more valuable than his in-house options, he will scoop that player up. An acquisition of this type will become even more likely if Corey Knebel ends up being placed on the disabled list with his elbow injury.

In addition, there have been reports that the Brewers are targeting Craig Kimbrel on the free agent market. Adding one of the top relievers in the game would put this group over the top, while also providing a more than adequate patch for the high-end talent lost to the rotation in Burnes and Woodruff.

In Conclusion

Based on my above analysis, this is the final projection for the Brewers’ Opening Day Roster:

Catchers (2) – Yasmani Grandal, Manny Piña

Infielders (6) – Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Mike Moustakas, Hernan Perez, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames

Outfielders (4) – Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Ben Gamel, Christian Yelich

Starting Pitchers (5) – Corbin Burnes, Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies, Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff

Relief Pitchers (8) – Matt Albers, Chase Anderson, Jacob Barnes, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Taylor Williams

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.

Brewers add bullpen help in Yankees’ Webb

 

So, the Cubs kick-start the MLB trade season with a big deal to acquire Jose Quintana from their cross-town rival White Sox for a quartet of prospects, including the #8 and #93 prospects in all of baseball. So, did the Brewers respond with a similar trade, such as the recently oft-rumored Sonny Gray deal? Well, not necessarily. However, they may have just improved their bullpen, one of the few parts of their squad which struggled on a fairly consistent basis in the first half of the season.

On Thursday, the Brewers announced a move that sent minor league first baseman Garrett Cooper to the New York Yankees in exchange for 26-year-old left hander Tyler Webb.

Cooper, also 26 years old himself, has had a fantastic year in AAA at Colorado Springs, hitting .366 with 17 HR and 82 RBI. While the hitter-friendly environment of Colorado may have had something to do with Cooper’s offensive explosion, he has shown some consistent power and overall talent since coming into the Brewers minor league system. However, there simply was just not enough room up at the big club for him, with both Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar having more than solidified their places on the Brewers roster.

Ryan Webb however, unlike Cooper, has had some major league experience. In fact, Brewers fans may be quite familiar with him after the team’s recent series in New York. Webb gave up two runs in two innings against the Brewers, both runs coming in Friday’s 9-4 victory off of a wild pitch and sacrifice fly. Overall, he gave up a total of 3 runs in 6 innings with the Yankees, but it was in the minors where he truly showed what he can bring to the Crew. Playing in 21 games for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the 6’6” Webb posted a respectable 3.24 ERA while holding a 47/3 K/BB ratio in 33.1 innings. Brewers fans will become even more familiar with Webb quickly, as the team announced during the writing of this article that Webb, along with OF Brett Phillips, will be assigned to Milwaukee Friday in the wake of starter Junior Guerra’s injury. In addition, Michael Blazek will be optioned to Colorado Springs.

So, who wins this trade? Both teams get important help at positions of need, and if this works out for the Crew, it could further propel David Stearns into the Wisconsin GM stratosphere. Regardless of what happens, we here at Cream City Central are looking forward to a great second half of the season. Play ball!

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.