74.9 F
Milwaukee
Tuesday, June 18th 2019
Home Brewers

Brewers

CCC covering the Milwaukee Brewers

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.

5 Takeaways from Brewers Pitching Thus Far

We are a little over a week into the Brewers 2019 season, and there has already been some interesting tactics from our fearless leader, Craig Counsell. We all heard it going in to the season, we need starting pitching, we need this or that, blah blah blah. But the Brewers went with the 3 young guys in the rotation with some vets in Jhoulys Chacin at the 1 spot, and Zach Davies (crazy to call him a vet now) at 5. Jimmy Nelson will take over one of those spots as soon as he is back to form, I am thinking at the 2 or even 1spot, but we know CC doesn’t really care where they fall during the season so who knows.

Regarding the bullpen, with Knebel done for the year, and Jeffress not healthy fans were calling for Kimbrel in 2 games The Crew brought in some new names in Alex Claudio and Alex Wilson, and we really don’t know their roles. Going into the Wilson acquisition, I figured he would be a spot guy/low tier guy, but I am already eating my words as he has a save on the books on a rest day from Hader.

Ok so what does all this mean? After watching the first week, I think there are some important take-aways for fans to expect to see this season.

1. Freddie Fastball gets better as the game goes on. This is no secret, the first inning issues, however it is worth noting his fastball speed as gone up throughout the game. In his gem of a start against the Reds, he went 8 deep striking out 11. But it is worth noting his fastball started out around 88-91 MPH, and he was gunning 95 in the 5th , all the way into the 8th inning. Now we can all draw our own conclusions here, is he not warming up enough? Not ready yet?Conditioning? But in my opinion, this will level out as he gets more starts, and he will get over those 1st inning jitters as he gains experience.

2. The Bullpen will be ok! Yes, we are missing some horses now, and one for the year, but Hader and gang is still one of the best pens in the league.  I was ready to donate cash to bring someone in after two games, but that’s baseball, the sky is always falling. However, I truly believe we will be ok with what we have. Hader is going to be a legit Cy Young candidate again, and with Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra figuring out their roles as the season progresses, we should be just fine in those bridge innings from starters to Hader/ Jeffress.

3. Corbin Burnes is nasty. The movement on his slider should not be legal when throwing 95, the pitch will be a meme this year when it fools a guy to his knees. The way he can attack hitters with the action on his pitches is going to be fun to watch, and he does it with confidence. In his start against the Cards, he had a third strike called low, and when he threw it, he walked off the mound. Jose Martinez, the batter, proceeded to stare down the “young pitcher” as if to
“Son” him. Burnes proceed to throw him a third strike on a swing and a miss, and gave him a little fist pump after. To me, this is the confidence a championship caliber team has all year long. We need that swagger, and confidence that we will be there at the end, not that we hope to be there.

4. Chacin is Mr. Consistent. For the most part, Chacin has been a career middle of the rotation guy who will get you roughly 6 innings, and have a season ERA around 3.0 Now the Brewers are asking him to be a bit more than that at the front of the rotation, but his performance remains the same. Chacin is a great guy to have on the team, he doesn’t seem to show much emotion, he is always in control of his at-bats. I am looking forward to seeing what he can do this year, but it looks like CC is always going to know what he’s going to get with Chacin, which is a great feeling for a manager, and fans to have.

5. Everyone is in! Junior Guerra, and Chase Anderson couldn’t have been happy with being demoted to the pen, but both have taken on their new roles positively. Chase is still going to have his home run issues, but it is great to see those guys pitching. We all know injuries are going to happen, so having those guys down there and ready when they get the call is fantastic! We have bullpen guys blowing up social media for their teammates, we have Suter being the fantastic human that he is, and we have a group that is in it together. Now we just need to see if they can put it all together on the field the way it seems in the locker room. Who knows what will happen the rest of the way, especially with the Brewers being tied to Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel at one time. But what I can say is what we have currently is going to be fun to watch, and with Craig Counsell at the controls, we can all take a deep breath, the Brewers pitching staff going to be
ok!

Here is to an exciting season moving forward! Go Brewers!

http://

via GIPHY

 

Week One of Brewers Baseball Recapped

3/28- 3/31 vs STL

 

The opening week of the 2019 season was emblematic of the 2018 Brewers in a small sample. Josh Hader being untouchable in relief, Lorenzo Cain’s defensive heroics, and Christian Yelich’s flat out stupefying prowess at the plate were the storylines of the week, much like last season.

 

Yelich’s Stats: (1.531 OPS, 4 HR, 8 RBI, .531 OBP)

 

The first series against St. Louis as a whole showed some serious star-power from both clubs. For Milwaukee, it was reigning MVP Christian Yelich who carried the load, becoming the sixth player in MLB history to homer in each of his team’s first four games. To illustrate just how ridiculous he has been since last season, since August 1, 2018, 45.5% of Yelich’s fly balls have left the ballpark for home runs.

 

So much for any regression that may have been expected from Yelich. “Yeli” capped off a tremendous series with a walk-off double in game four that electrified the Miller Park Sunday crowd. Along with him, Mike Moustakas hit well, with two home runs, and Josh Hader was brilliant in the closer’s role. Hader threw an immaculate inning on Sunday to close the series out and did not surrender a baserunner in 3 appearances.

 

8-hole hitter Orlando Arcia and newcomer Yasmani Grandal struggled offensively in this series for Milwaukee, going a combined 0-25 from the plate, but Grandal has established himself as one of the better offensive catchers in baseball over the past few seasons, and Orlando Arcia is one full season removed from hitting .277 with 15 home runs. Streaky hitters? Yes, but just one tough series is nothing to be too worried about going forward

 

The redbirds flexed their muscles this series at Miller Park as well, getting 4 home runs and 7 RBI from newly acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Needless to say it will not be fun for the Brewers to see Goldschmidt on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. Aside from Goldy, second baseman Kolten Wong had a strong series for St. Louis, going 8/14 (.571) from the plate and hitting 3 home runs. Offense via the home run ball was plentiful for the Cardinals this series, but simply an inability to come out on top in close game scenarios was their undoing, resulting in a 3-1 series win for Milwaukee

 

4/1-4/3 @ CIN

 

In a series that featured three one-run ball games, Milwaukee came out on top in all three to complete the three game sweep. In the series finale on Wednesday, 22-year-old Freddy Peralta carried the load in a game in a career performance where the offense was unable to provide any insurance after getting out to a 1-0 start. From start to finish, it was his best outing as a big leaguer and it was great to see Peralta oozing with confidence after a rough first start of the season back in Milwaukee.

 

Offensively, Jesus Aguilar was a key offensive contributor in this series, along with noted Reds-killer Ryan Braun, who had two hits, including the game-winning RBI in the first game of the series. Orlando Arcia also broke out of his early slump on Tuesday with a 3-run, opposite field home run for his first hit of the season. Look for the young shortstop to start to return to his 2018 postseason form in the near future. Confidence is everything for Arcia.

 

Given the close nature of this series, it is clear the Reds are in a better spot now than they were at this time last year. They may not have gotten any wins to show for it, but it is clear their pitching staff has improved alongside an already potent offense.

 

For Milwaukee, a 6-1 record is nothing to scoff at, however, five of their wins have been by just one run, and the other was by only two. The Crew can’t expect to come out on top in every close game this season, so it will be imperative to create more insurance runs late in games in order to limit the stress of the pitching staff. Also of note, Milwaukee has only committed one error in their first seven games, which is first in the NL. Sharp defense has been a key part of their success in nail-biter games. Keep up the good work, MKE.

 

Brewers 5 Cardinals 4

With 45,304 in attendance for Opening Day at Miller Park, Jhoulys Chacín would take the hill for his first time as the Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day Starter. Chacín would come out of the gates hot, striking out the side in the first inning. However, after successfully starting off the second inning with two outs, Chacín would walk his first batter. Kolten Wong drew blood first with his two-run home run, followed by a Harrison Bader solo shot.

Facing a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the second, Mike Moustakas would hit the Brewers first home run of the season off of a 1-2 count. After a three up three down third inning for the Cardinals, Milwaukee looked to take the first lead of the 2019 season. After an Orlando Arcia groundout, Jhoulys Chacín would single to left field, followed by a Lorenzo Cain single to center field. The reigning National League MVP would step up to the plate and start right where he left off. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Yelich would hammer a 413-foot, three run homerun, to center field giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead.

Bats on both sides would stay quiet until the bottom of the fifth inning, where Pitcher, Jhoulys Chacín would smash a 405-foot home run to left-center field giving the Brewers a 5-3 lead. After beginning the top of the sixth with a Goldschmidt walk and a Dejong strikeout, Counsell made his first call to the bullpen for Junior Guerra. After giving up a single to Marcell Ozuna, Guerra would settle down and get the final two outs of the inning.

The Brewers would go three up, three down in the sixth. In the top of the seventh Kolton Wong would hit his second home run of the day to right field, tightening the lead to 5-4. The Brewers scored zero runs in the seventh inning, though Eric Thames would hit a single as a pinch hitter.

Josh Hader would come in for relief of Junior Guerra in the eighth inning and proved once again he is a force to be reckoned with. Hader struck out the side, while consistently hitting 97-98 mph. In the bottom of the eighth, Christian Yelich walked and Ryan Braun singled, however, a double play and flyout would end the inning.

With Knebel and Jeffress both out with injuries, Counsell called Hader’s number again to get the last three outs. Josh would get Yadier Molina to flyout center field, followed by striking out Marcell Ozuna. With two outs in the ninth inning, Josh Hader would face pinch hitter Josè Martínez. (Before the at-bat, Martínez was 2-3 with a home run vs Josh Hader in his career.) After ball one, Hader threw a 94-mph fastball right down the plate to what looked to be a certain home run. However, Lorenzo Cain made a leaping catch at the warning track, much like the one in Game 2 of the NLCS in 2018, to seal the victory for Milwaukee. The Brewers will face the Cardinals in Game two of the four game series tomorrow at 7:10 CT.

Notables:

C. Yelich. 1-2, HR, 3RBI, 2BB, R

M. Moustakas 1-3, HR, RBI, R

J. Chacin W, 5.1 IP, 3H, 3ER, 7K, 2BB

J. Hader SV, 2 IP, 0H, 0ER, 4K, 0BB

Brewers Starting Rotation Outlook Heading Into 2019

In a move that shows how much the Brewers believe in their young and relatively inexperienced pitchers, it was announced that the Milwaukee Brewers will begin 2019 with a starting rotation consisting of these five righties in order: Jhoulys Chacin, Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Zach Davies.

 

Jhoulys Chacin was one of the biggest steals of the offseason last year and was a vital part of the success of the 2018 Brewers. He started 35 games, finished with a 15-8 record and a 1.1 WHIP. He is certainly deserving of getting the ball on Opening Day this season. His steady presence and leadership in a rotation that is now very young will be more important than ever.

Evidently, Brewers management is convinced Freddy Peralta is ready to take the jump to the next level. There is no doubting the effectiveness of Freddy’s fastball when he is able to consistently locate it where he wants to. His opponent batting average in 2018 was exceptional, just .178, and he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings. Nearly all of Peralta’s problems are self-inflicted, and do not reflect his opponents’ ability to make hard, effective contact against him. He is still just 22 years old, so if he can gradually cut down on his walk rate, there is no limit to his potential as a starting pitcher in the MLB.

23-year-old Corbin Burnes was extremely effective as a relief pitcher during the latter portion of the 2018 season, (2.61 ERA) and given his success in that role, some Brewers fans couldn’t help but wonder if he would follow in the footsteps of Josh Hader and be designated as a bullpen contributor for the long-term. Instead he will toe the rubber for the third game of the season for Milwaukee against St. Louis, which will be his first career start. Out of the three young pitchers that make up the middle of the rotation, Corbin Burnes has the highest chance of becoming a household name by the end of this upcoming season, given his track record and success last season using an effective fastball and lethal wipeout slider as his two main pitches.

 

Brandon Woodruff is a bit of a late-bloomer compared to his youthful rotation counterparts, but at 26 years old he still has plenty of upside as a quality starting pitcher for years to come. Woodruff was lights out in the postseason for Milwaukee last year striking out 20 batters and only walking 3. In game one of the NLCS, he pitched 2 perfect innings and, in a moment Brewers faithful will not soon forget, he also hit a booming home run to center field off of MVP and 3-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. His evident hitting abilities aside, Woodruff projects as a long-term piece for the Milwaukee Brewers who is versatile enough to start or come out of the bullpen if need be.

 

To start the season, Zach Davies will round out the starting rotation, while Jimmy Nelson continues easing himself back into live at-bats. However, if Davies’ spring training struggles continue into the season and Jimmy Nelson looks to be back to his former self, I would not be shocked if Nelson supplants Davies in the rotation eventually.

 

Aside from those two, the Brewers still have Chase Anderson as an option as well. Anderson will begin the season out of the bullpen, but is a valid option for a spot-start if injury or ineffectiveness plague the rotation. Last season, Anderson was the most home run prone pitcher in the National League, leading to frustration among the fan base and eventually Anderson was not seen as trustworthy enough to make the postseason roster.

From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem like starting pitching may be a position of need for the Brewers, however, if it can stay healthy and consistent, it could end up being a strength of the overall roster and help Milwaukee keep pace in a very deep National League.

 

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

Is Ryan Braun Primed for a Career Resurgence?

Take a step back to December 9th, 2011. The city of Milwaukee was brimming with baseball pride. During his fifth season with the Brewers, Ryan Braun had recently captured Milwaukee’s first MVP award since Robin Yount did so in 1989, and on the heels of a trip to the NLCS, things were looking bright for the Crew with Braun locked into a long-term extension.

Then, December 10th happened.

On that date, an Outside the Lines report was released implicating Braun as a PED-user, stating that he had tested positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone during the playoffs. Braun’s reputation took a nosedive, and after an outstanding 2012 season, his on-field performance experienced a decline as well.

After two injury-riddled campaigns in 2013 and 2014, Braun bounced back in a big way, accumulating 3.2 WAR in 2015 and 3.4 WAR in 2016 while slashing a combined .295/.361/518 over the two seasons. However, 2017 and 2018 were not as kind to Braun – he has posted a sub-2.0 WAR in both years, and saw large decreases in both his batting average and slugging percentage, as his cumulative stats dropped to .261/.325/.478.

Some of these struggles are surely due to Braun’s age. As an injury-prone player in his age 33 and 34 seasons, a decrease in production was to be expected. However, another part of the issue, especially in 2018, was more abstract – Braun seemingly was extremely unlucky.

I’m sure every fan who regularly watched the Brewers last season can remember at least a few instances of Braun hitting a ball right on the nose, only for it to be directly at a member of the defense. While these memories are a qualitative indicator of his “unluckiness”, there are quantitative measures that back it up. MLB’s “Statcast” tracks the velocity and launch angle of every batted ball, and from that data can determine what a player’s stats were expected to be over the course of a season based on his batted ball profile. We can compare these to Braun’s actual stats to see the extent of his “unluckiness”.

In 2018, the difference between Braun’s expected stats and his actual stats was stark to say the least. While he slashed .254/.313/.469, his expected line was .296/.355/.515. Essentially, Braun hit the ball like an all-star caliber player, but got results that would place him as an average regular.

Statcast also measures two statistics called wOBA and xwOBA, which stand for “weighted on-base average” and “expected weighted on-base average”. These statistics account for the true value of each offensive outcome (single, double, etc.) by using the “run values” for each, rather than counting simply by total bases. Given that a single is not actually worth half as much double as is currently represented in slugging percentage, wOBA accounts for that and gives a better indicator of actual offensive output by giving each event its proper value. Accordingly, xwOBA calculates what a player’s offensive output in this regard should have been given his batted ball profile (quality of contact). For Ryan Braun in 2018, he saw a huge negative gap between his expected and actual weighted-on base averages, further adding to the notion that he experienced bad luck. His xwOBA was .368, good for 30th best in the league, putting him in line with the actual 2018 performances of all-stars like Charlie Blackmon, Mitch Haniger, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor. The difference between his expected (.368) and actual (.330) performance was the eighth largest negative gap in the league.

To attempt to bridge the gap between his expected performance and actual performance, Braun decided to embark this offseason on a certain process for the first time in his career – a swing change. He actually started to tweak it during September, during which he saw his best numbers of the 2018 season (.265/.375/.588 with 6 home runs). During September, Braun coincidentally also had his highest percentage of hard hit balls of any month last year (66.7%), which was the highest hard hit rate for any player in any month of last year. Not only could a swing change help him change his luck, but it could actually lead to some of the best stats of his career.

With this swing change, he is aiming to increase the launch angle of his average batted ball, which he believes will help him generate stats that are more in line with his high-level batted ball profile. To illustrate, he said the following during an interview in January: “If you want to take luck out of the equation, you hit more balls over the fence,” he said. “If I’m able to do that, luck becomes less of a factor.” Based on that quote, fans in the left field bleachers at Miller Park might want to pay extra attention when Braun is up this year.

In all seriousness, if Braun can pull off this swing change with success, it could lead to a completely revitalized career trajectory, with team success for the Brewers being an obvious byproduct. Rather than being on his last legs, Braun could play at a high level for another three to four years, given his body holds up. With his contract with the Brewers running through 2021, you can bet that Braun performing in line with his expected statistics would be a true difference maker in helping solidify the Crew as a perennial contender in the NL.