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Monday, October 21st 2019
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It’s Time to Recognize what Jordan Lyles is Doing

With All-Star, Brandon Woodruff, down for the count, Gio Gonzalez on and off the IR list, and Zach Davies struggling to have any sort of success, the Brewers needed to acquire a pitcher at the trade deadline. They got their guy when they traded minor league reliever, Cody Ponce, for Pittsburgh’s, Jordan Lyles. Many Brewer fans, including me, most likely had the thought…“Really Brewers? This is the best help we could get? Laboring starter, Jordan Lyles?” 

When the Brewers acquired Lyles at the end of July, he was struggling mightily for the Pirates. From May 23rd through July 24th, he started 9 games for Pittsburgh and the Pirates were 1-8 in those games. Lyles threw 36.2 innings and had an ERA of 9.57. This was largely because hitters were batting .341 off him with an OPS of 1.108. Jordan Lyles was subjectively, the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball. 

Oddly enough, the Brewers still traded for Lyles and thought he could be a positive contributor to the rotation. Well, since July 31st, Jordan Lyles has been nothing short of spectacular as a Brewer starting pitcher. During this span, he has started 8 games in which Milwaukee is 7-1 in those games. He has thrown 43.0 innings and has a 2.51 ERA with 37 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting an unimpressive .201 against the big righty. Without Jordan Lyles, the Brewers wouldn’t even be in the conversation of making the playoffs. 

So the question is, why is Jordan Lyles finding so much success with the Brewers? The answer is simple. Throughout his career, Lyles has been and is a very streaky pitcher who relies on rhythm and confidence to get going on the mound. He’s the perfect example of how a career 5.15 ERA guy can stay in the league for 9 years. It’s because Lyles is the type of pitcher who can get hot and when he’s hot, he can dominate. His highs are high and his lows are low, but for some teams like the Brewers, he’s worth the risk. Who knows when his luck will run out but I’ll definitely be along for the ride and captain of the Jordan Lyles hype train.

Brewers Lose Yelich for Remainder of Season

Disaster struck the Crew on Tuesday night in their 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins. In his second at-bat of the game, MVP-candidate Christian Yelich fouled a pitch off his knee and was removed from the game. President of Baseball Operations David Stearns revealed the extent of the injury post-game: Yelich had fractured his knee cap and would miss the remainder of the season.

Just two days from the date on which Jimmy Nelson suffered his own freak injury two years ago, the Brewers once again face yet another hurdle on their road to the playoffs. Over the past ten games, the Brewers have made a playoff push that has seen them cut the Chicago Cubs’ lead on the second wild card spot from five games to just one. However, with Yelich sidelined, the Crew lose their best player and their clubhouse catalyst, making it that much harder to continue to separate themselves from the pack of teams competing for the playoffs.

The injury of Yelich will significantly hurt this lineup– you can’t replace arguably the best season in franchise history with the snap of your fingers – but they are not without options to fill in the gaping hole that now exists. Trent Grisham has proven to be a major-league caliber hitter and should now slot into a near-everyday role. Through 33 games and 111 plate appearances, he carries a respectable .263/.324/.455 slash line and can play adequate defense at all three outfield positions.

Veterans Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun will also see an increased pressure to play to their potential. Cain has scuffled for much of the year before recently starting to turn it around, hitting .304 over the Brewers’ past seven games. He still has little to show in terms of power, but him operating as an on-base threat that sets the table for the middle-of-the-order will be adequate for his offensive contributions given how much value he adds on defense. Ryan Braun is on the opposite – he has seen a resurgent offensive year that he will need to continue building upon in order to fill in for Yelich, hitting .282/.338/.484 with 18 home runs. However, he has not been playing every day, and will likely need to take on a larger role for the Brewers’ to continue to roll out their best lineup down the stretch.

Past those three, manager Craig Counsell still has outfield options on the bench like Ben Gamel, Tyrone Taylor, and even Tyler Austin if he’s needed in a pinch. With only one series remaining against a team with a winning record, the hope is that the Crew will be able to hide the loss of Yelich with timely contributions from all of these players and sneak into the playoffs.

There are no words that sufficiently describe the Brewers’ “luck” this year. They lost star reliever Corey Knebel prior to the season, have seen miniscule contributions from several players thought to be key cogs (Aguilar, Chacin, Jeffress, Nelson, Shaw), and now need to make a playoff push without the MVP. The injury to Yelich simply adds to the heap of misfortune. However, there is still a lot of baseball yet to be played and a wild card berth to win, and if this bad luck has taught us something, it is that anything can happen in baseball.

Trent Grisham makes the 2019 MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Year

Every year, MLB Pipeline, the premiere spot to find out about your team’s prospects, comes out with a team highlighting the best players in the minors. This season, Brewer prospect, Trent Grisham, made the First Team as the best left fielder in the minors. He joined elite prospects like Luis Robert, MacKenzie Gore, and Kenosha’s very own, Gavin Lux on the First Team. 

This is a huge honor for Trent Grisham who seemed like a first round bust just last year. He was the 15th overall pick in 2015 and before this season, never lived up to expectations. That changed in 2019 when he dominated both Double-A and Triple-A. He combined for 26 homers, 71 RBIs, and 71 runs in 97 total minor league games. He registered a slash line of .300/.407/.603 which according to MLB Pipeline, Grisham was just one of seven qualified players to reach the .300/.400/.600 slash line mark. Grisham was the only player in the Brewers system to make the First or Second Team while the Padres and Diamondbacks had the most. 

Once Grisham was called up to the majors on August 1st, he started out hot. In his first 11 games with the Brewers he was batting .314 with an OPS of .893. He also had 2 home runs, 8 RBIs and 6 runs scored. He has since cooled off in his last 21 games (12 of which he has started). In those games Grisham has hit .230 with an OPS of .702 with 2 home runs and only 5 RBIs. He has also struck out 20 times in that span. 

With the playoff race heating up, it is important for every Brewer player to get hot. Grisham may very well be on his way. Last night, he tied the Brewers rookie record for hits in a game with 5 and was only a home run away from the cycle. If Grisham starts hitting like he did in the minors, the Brewers will have a deadly bat in the leadoff spot during the hunt for October. 

ICYMI: Bill Hall Retired as a Brewer

Bill Hall officially retired last Thursday, September 5th, as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Bill Hall was known as a fan favorite in Milwaukee because of his batting stance, his ability to be the ultimate utility man, and his game day heroics on Mother’s Day. During his time with the Brewers, Hall had a .300 batting average on Mother’s Day along with 5 runs, 3 RBIs, 2 doubles, 2 walks, and 2 home runs with one of them being a walk-off with his mother in attendance. 

Bill Hall started his career in 2002 with Milwaukee and played with them until the middle of 2009 when he was traded for middling reliever, Ruben Flores. Hall played in 831 total games for the Brewers and batted .253 with an OPS of .758. He also hit 102 home runs, had 367 runs batted in, and scored 370 runs. He put up these numbers while being the utility man for the Brewers. He spent time as the shortstop, third baseman, second baseman, left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder all while maintaining a career fielding percentage of .962%. 

Hall’s best season came in 2006 when he was one of the best shortstops in the entire National League. Many people believed he was snubbed by not making the All-Star team that year behind guys like Edgar Rentería and David Eckstein. In 2006, Bill Hall played in 148 games with the Brewers and hit .270 with an OPS of .899 and an OPS+ of 125. He had 35 home runs, 85 RBIs, 39 doubles, 4 triples, and scored 101 runs while playing solid defense. 

The best stretch of Hall’s career began in 2005 and went through 2008. In this span he batted .262 with an OBP of .326. During those four seasons he also hit 81 home runs for an average of about 20 per season and drove in 265 runners for an average of about 66 per season. All of these are very solid numbers for a utility man who doesn’t always get the added rhythm of playing everyday. 

After being traded from Milwaukee in 2009, Hall was never able to recapture the consistent success he had as a Brewer. He played in 222 games with 5 different teams after Milwaukee. The teams were the Mariners, Red Sox, Astros, Giants, and Orioles. He was able to be decent with one of these teams and that was in 2010 with the Red Sox. That year, he batted .247 while hitting 18 home runs with 46 RBIs. 

Bill Hall was one of those players that if you were a fan of the Brewers in the early to mid 2000s, you remember him. He had some great, memorable moments with the Brewers and I’m glad he was able to reconcile with the franchise and end his career with the team he started with.

Brewers Release Former All-Star, Jeremy Jeffress

Brewer fans woke up this morning to shocking news. MLB analyst, Ken Rosenthal, reported that Milwaukee released veteran reliever, Jeremy Jeffress. Last off-season the Brewers signed Jeffress to a two-year contract with 2020 being a team option that they of course, are not picking up. 

The release is likely due to JJ’s struggles on the mound this season. He was 3-4 with a 5.02 ERA in 52.0 innings. His K/9 was down 2.4 points from last year and he also had a high 1.365 WHIP. Many people, including me, expected Jeffress to have another good year after he was named to his first and only All-Star team in 2018. JJ was 8-1 with a 1.29 ERA in 76.2 innings and was one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball last season. People expected a little regression out of Jeffress this season but nobody expected such a steep decline from the fan favorite. 

Jeffress suffered an injury at the end of last season and he has not been the same since. His velocity has gone way down as well as his accuracy. Jeffress used to be able to throw his fastball 96-99 consistently and now he is in the 92-94 range. With a slower fastball, his off-speed pitches need to be better and he just hasn’t been able to throw them effectively all season. 

Jeffress’ season may be over with the Brewers but it would not surprise me to see a contending team sign him to add bullpen depth. After all, Jeffress is a 10-year veteran who has pitched in 401.0 innings and has a very respectable career ERA of 3.16. 

It’s sad to see Jeffress released but most fans saw the writing on the wall. However, no matter how his career ended with the Brewers, he still provided the team 7 solid seasons and 304.2 innings pitched with an ERA of 2.66. JJ was one of the most exciting players the Brewers had and we (the Cream City Central team) wish him luck in all of his future endeavors. 

 

*Stats according to baseball-reference.com*

The Brewers Basket of Unexpected (and Poor) Performances

Coming into 2019, expectations were sky-high in the Cream City. After finishing one game shy of the World Series the previous October, the Brewers entered spring training with a roster containing many of the same faces, but also some key off-season acquisitions like catcher Yasmani Grandal.

133 regular season games later, things are looking and feeling much, much different. Just as a sample: Four of the Brewers’ five opening day rotation members are no longer in the starting mix, whether it be due to injury (Brandon Woodruff), poor performance (Corbin Burnes and Jhoulys Chacin), or a role change stemming from poor performance (Freddy Peralta). Few things have gone as expected for the Brewers this season, leading to a roller coaster ride for players and fans alike.

Starting with the offense: the Brewers started the season with a line-up that looked to be one of the most fearsome in the league, with free agent signing Yasmani Grandal adding a surplus of talent to a group that already included an MVP (Christian Yelich), multiple other all-stars (Lorenzo Cain and Jesus Aguilar), and a trio of established players with a history of success (Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw). The first seven spots in the order were filled with all-star caliber talent.

However, no one could have seen coming the struggles that caused the Brewers to trade Jesus Aguilar, demote Travis Shaw to Triple-A, and drop Lorenzo Cain from the lead-off spot. Some reversion to the mean was fair to expect for Aguilar after an other-worldly 2018 season, but for his OPS to dip nearly 200 points (from .890 to .694) was far and away from a realistic expected outcome at the outset of the season. The same goes for Shaw and Cain – Shaw’s OPS plummeted 250 points following two years of sustained production, and Cain has performed worse than all but six qualified hitters in Major League Baseball based on the wRC+ metric after being in the MVP conversation during 2018. Whether it is bad luck, poor coaching, or just a natural diminishing of skill level for all three, it would have been extremely hard and downright crazy to have reasonably expected all three to falter to the extent that they have. The three combined for 13.4 WAR in 2018. This year? A meager -0.2 WAR.

Unexpected and low probability outcomes have also played a part in some (but not all) of the Brewers pitching issues. Corey Knebel was slated to be Milwaukee’s ninth-inning relief ace until a spring training injury turned into Tommy John surgery. Jeremy Jeffress and Jhoulys Chacin have been shadows of their 2018 dominant selves, leading to Jeffress no longer handling high-leverage situations and Chacin’s recent release from the team. Throw in Corbin Burnes losing all sense of effectiveness, Brandon Woodruff’s oblique injury, and Freddy Peralta failing to establish himself as a reliable big-leaguer after a promising yet shaky debut in 2018, and you can see how the pitching staff is mired in much of the same unfortunateness as the offense.

Despite these unexpected struggles the pitching staff has faced, some of the blame in that area falls on the front office and their inability to adequately mitigate the risk of their pitching strategy. While starting pitching did not play as important a role on the 2018 Brewers as it did for other teams, that was because they had a shut-down bullpen that could effectively cover the majority of a game’s innings if need be.

The 2019 Brewers’ bullpen was not built to be that same dominant group, as important relief pieces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff were moved to the rotation while Joakim Soria left via free agency. This made the bullpen’s margin for error very small. Throw in the injury to Knebel and the injury recovery of Jeffress and you have just a shell of what the Brewers needed for their starting pitching strategy to work, especially given the inexperience of the majority of their Opening Day rotation members (Burnes, Peralta, Woodruff). Once the injury to Knebel happened and the ineffective return of Jeffress became apparent, something should have been done to improve the staff and modify the model they used to get outs. A stronger starting rotation was certainly needed.

This season is just one iteration of a million possibilities concerning how it could have turned out. There are several things the Brewers can and cannot control. Unfortunately, most of what the Brewers cannot control has gone against them this season, revealing roster construction mistakes and playing a large part in their current struggles. 

 

The elephant in the room: Josh Hader

We all know that all-star reliever Josh Hader has become one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. As of recent however, he has come very vulnerable to the long ball. It’s no secret that he gets hurt when he leaves his four seamer down in the zone. When a pitch is going down the middle of the plate at 95+mph, it is bound to be a homerun derby for any major league hitter. The question remaining is why. Why is the most dominant reliever leaving pitch after pitch, down the middle of the plate?

The pitch usage for Hader is pretty similar to what it was last year, but there is still a bit of a change. He is using the four seam about 5% more than he was last year. Therefore, his slider usage has gone down 5%. When it comes to the movement that he is getting on the fastball, it has gone up giving him more of a break. Meanwhile, twelve out of his thirteen home runs he has given up this year, have come off the fastball. When looking at the details of all the pitches that went yard, there is no similarity except for one. All of his break, extension, and rpm are not a factor, but what has become a factor is when the pitch is thrown.

The majority of the homeruns he has given up are either on the first pitch or when he starts out behind in the count, mostly in 3-1 counts. His most recent home run given up to Marwin Gonzalez was a first pitch fastball down the heart of the zone. The first pitch fastball leads right into the next point, a big reason Hader’s effectiveness has declined this year. 

It is no secret that Hader’s fastball will be apart of every at bat he pitches, what also is not a secret, is when it is thrown. At the start of every at bat, a hitter goes into it knowing there is almost a 90% chance they will be thrown the fastball on the first pitch. Also knowing that the most frequent location the pitch is thrown is up in the zone. That has made his first pitch swing rate has drop 7% than what it was last year. That is putting him behind the count 7% more than last year. Leaving him more susceptible to the long ball. Unfortunately the issues he is encountering, don’t stop there.

The last thing any Brewer fan wants to hear is that hitters are getting used to, and sitting on Hader’s four seam. Unfortunately, that has come a reality. It is shown majorly in the fact that his foul ball rate has skyrocketed 10% higher than last year. That is leaving hitters to see more pitches, which are probably going to be fastballs, and getting more accustomed to them. The contact doesn’t stop outside the foul ball lines. His barrel% has risen 4% more than last year. All of these numbers for Hader have risen more than people would like. However, there is still hope alive to see the real Hader back into action.

Craig Counsell has already discussed the idea of bringing him into less stressful games, where there would be a 3-4 run lead. Not only will that relieve some of the stress of the young flamethrower, but also give him and pitching coach Chris Hook an opportunity to play around with a different approach on the mound. It’s safe to say that there is no reason to get too concerned over the recent issues of Josh Hader. He is still very young and has a somewhat of a predictable scheme when not executed correctly. Needless to say, keep your hopes alive and trust in the process.

The Emergence of Trent Grisham

Brewers fans have themselves another rookie to be excited about here in 2019.

On Wednesday afternoon in front of a packed house at Miller Park, Trent Grisham had his first signature moment as a Brewer. Facing veteran Sergio Romo with the Crew down 5-3 in the eighth, Trent Grisham sent a 2-2 fastball into the second deck in right field for a go-ahead, three-run home run that proved to be the game winner.

It is still a relatively small sample-size, but 22-year-old outfielder Trent Grisham has provided a much-needed spark in the Milwaukee Brewers lineup since his call-up on July 31. Grisham, who started the season in AA Biloxi is batting .314 with a .350 OBP in 11 games primarily hitting leadoff for the Crew.

When Trent was called up he figured to see plenty of playing time, because David Stearns & co. wouldn’t call a prospect up to the bigs just for him to be relegated to the bench. He has seized his opportunity and earned the right to be put in the lineup on a near-daily basis this month.

The Brewers picked Trent, a Fort Worth, TX native straight out of high school in the first round of the 2015 draft. After a couple mediocre seasons in ‘17 and ‘18 in which Grisham hit .223 and .233 respectively, something clicked for him this year offensively. In 34 games with AAA San Antonio, Grisham hit .384 with an eye-popping 1.247 OPS.

Given Lorenzo Cain’s season-long struggles with injury and ineffectiveness, and Ryan Braun’s need for sporadic days off, Trent Grisham figures to have an important role in the last six weeks of the regular season for Milwaukee.

“A lot of times, young players can provide sparks for teams,” Manager Craig Counsell said. “I think that’s what Trent has been doing. It takes pressure off some of the other guys.

If his first couple weeks in the show are any indication, Trent Grisham won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

Documenting Josh Hader’s Recent Struggles

Josh Hader may be the best relief pitcher in all of baseball. However, even a two-time All-Star and former Reliever of the Year winner can’t escape the occasional slump. 

This season, Josh Hader is 2-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 0.795 WHIP in 55.1 innings pitched. He has also added 102 strikeouts and 25 saves. Yes, these numbers look dominant but they don’t tell the full story of Hader’s season. Since July 1st, and Hader’s last 13 appearances, he has pitched 14.2 innings and given up 11 runs with 9 of them being earned. This run to inning ratio is enough for a disappointing 5.52 ERA. In this span, opponents are hitting .262 against Hader with an OPS of .935. Also, Hader is 1-2 with 4 holds, 5 saves, and 3 blown saves. 

Before this slump, Hader had an ERA of 1.77 in 40.2 innings and 20 saves with only 1 blown. Opponents were hitting just .098 against the lefty. Hader’s recent struggles beg to ask the question, what is going on with Milwaukee’s most reliable bullpen arm? 

It almost seems like hitters are starting to figure out Josh Hader. Opposing teams are either attacking the first pitch or doing what they can to get ahead in the count. Hitters have a remarkable .375 batting average with an OPS of 1.625 when they attack the first pitch, which is almost always a fastball. If they lay off the first pitch and get ahead in the count 1-0, batters are hitting just as well with a .364 average. Hader throws his fastball 87.4% of the time and his slider only 12.3%. Simply put, Hader isn’t throwing enough sliders to get batters on their toes, allowing them to sit fastball and attack the pitch they’re looking for. Lastly, when hitters are making contact with a Hader pitch, they are hitting it higher and further than they used to. For example, his home run percentage per fly ball is up 13.7% from 2017 and 8.1% from last year. This is a problem because his fly ball rate is also almost 10% higher than last year’s. 

It looks like Josh Hader is developing a closer mentality considering he has an ERA of 1.71 in ninth innings and a 4.95 when he pitches anywhere else. Maybe to rid Hader of his struggles all the Brewers have to do is pitch Hader in the inning he’s most effective. However, I think it’s a much deeper issue where Hader needs to mix up his pitches more consistently to stay dominant. Whatever it is, I hope Josh Hader and the Brewers figure it out considering they are only 0.5 games back of a Wild Card spot and will need Hader to be lights out to stay in the race. 

*Stats according to baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com*

The Verdict is in on Trent Grisham

Since being called up from Triple-A San Antonio, outfielder, Trent Grisham, has impressed. With the Brewers he has had 15 at-bats and has totaled 5 hits for a .333 batting average. Of those 5 hits, 1 was a towering home run and the other was a double. Also, in just 5 games, Grisham has 5 RBIs. Grisham’s OPS+ is 116, meaning in 5 games he is 16% better at the plate than the MLB average. 

Grisham was drafted in the first round of the 2015 amateur draft because of his ability to hit for both contact and power, his plate discipline, and his surprising speed. So far, in his limited time in Milwaukee, he has shown all of those tools. Before being called up, Grisham had a .381 batting average in Triple-A with a staggering 1.247 OPS. He had 13 homers, 30 RBIs, 8 doubles, and 3 triples in just 34 games for San Antonio. In the future, it would not surprise me to see Grisham become a player very similar to Ryan Braun. 

The main cause for concern that Milwaukee fans had for Grisham when he was called up was his defensive abilities. However, he has played in both left and center field for the Brewers and has yet to commit in an error. His speed in the field is his best weapon considering it allows him to get to balls most outfielders can not. 

At only 22-years-old, Trent Grisham is showcasing he can dominate Triple-A ball and handle MLB competition. With his ability to hit and play the field, it will be very hard for Craig Counsell to leave him out of the lineup moving forward. The Brewers already have their second baseman of the future in Keston Hiura and very well could have found their left fielder of the future in Trent Grisham. This leaves the question…with Milwaukee’s playoff chances looking slimmer and slimmer with each injury, is it time for the Brewers to blow it up and build around Grisham and Hiura?