64.3 F
Milwaukee
Monday, September 16th 2019
Home Brewers

Brewers

CCC covering the Milwaukee Brewers

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?

The Brewers Could Be Adding A New Bullpen Arm

After having Tommy John surgery on July 31st, 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers could be getting utility pitcher and fan favorite, Brent Suter, back by late August. 

The 6’5” 29-year-old lefty was having one of the best seasons of his career in 2018 before having elbow troubles. He was providing great value for the Brewers as a back end starter with the ability to come out of the bullpen. In 2018, he pitched in 20 games, started 18 of them, and had a 4.44 ERA in 101.2 innings pitched. His best stretch of the season came between April 27th and July 21st when he pitched in 11 games and had an ERA of 3.47 in 57.0 innings. 

For his career, Brent Suter has pitched in 56 games for the Brewers in which he has started 34 of them. Suter has a career ERA of 3.91 in 204.2 innings and has also struck out 163 batters. 

Brent Suter has a great combination of three pitches that he can locate and throw with confidence. He has a four-seam fastball that he throws in the upper 80s as well as a nasty slider that he can throw with the same velocity. The fastball and slider are his main pitches but he can also sprinkle in a change-up that he throws in the upper 70s that tails away from a right handed hitter. These three pitches make Suter a tough pitcher to time up and also makes him a good lefty specialist.

When it comes to his recovery, everything coming from the Brewers’ front office and Suter’s camp is saying he’s been doing great and is slightly ahead of schedule. When he first had the Tommy John surgery it was believed Suter would not even come close to pitching in 2019 but now optimists believe he will be back by early September or even late August. Suter has been throwing bullpen sessions since late May and has even pitched in two games for the Brewers rookie level team this season. In Suter’s two rookie level games he has thrown 2 innings, struck out 4, and given up 0 runs without allowing a base runner. 

Brewer fans should be excited to get Suter back. He can be a starter, a long reliever, and a setup man, which in turn, can take the pressure off other Brewer pitchers. Also, at the end of the season when the bullpen starts to get fatigued, adding a fresh new arm could be what Milwaukee needs to make a playoff push.

Grading the Milwaukee Brewers 2019 Trade Deadline

Heading into “Deadline Day”, David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers had holes to fill. With Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin out of an already shaky rotation due to injury, starting pitching looked to be a target even with the acquisition of Jordan Lyles earlier in the week. The bullpen also seemed to be an obvious area of need, as the Crew lacks consistent high-level relief production outside of Josh Hader.

With these priorities in mind, Stearns completed three trades on Wednesday, acquiring pitcher Jacob Faria from the Tampa Bay Rays, pitchers Ray Black and Drew Pomeranz from the San Francisco Giants, and cash considerations from the Minnesota Twins. Let’s take a look and grade each individual deal made this week.

The Trade: Brewers acquire SP Jordan Lyles from Pittsburgh in exchange for minor-league RP Cody Ponce.

Brewers’ fans are very familiar with Lyles – this is the second straight deadline that he has made his way to Milwaukee. Lyles pitched well for Milwaukee down the stretch in 2018, posting a 3.31 ERA over 16.1 innings, with the caveat that most appearances were very low-leverage. When the Brewers made the decision to not tender Lyles a contract this off-season, Pittsburgh swooped in to make him a member of their starting rotation. He started the season off hot, posting a 3.09 ERA in 10 starts through the month of May. Then, the wheels fell off, and his ERA jumped to 5.36 after his performance over the following two months.

The front office has said they believe they can make adjustments to Lyles to fix his woes, but odds are it won’t turn him into a playoff-caliber starter. Nor should we expect him to be anything near that. This deal was made to get a starting pitcher that can eat some innings and hold it down until Woodruff and Chacin return. Giving up Ponce, a minor-league reliever that would have needed to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season, is a price that has little to no chance of hurting the Brewers in the long-term. Overall, this deal is unexciting, but can’t hurt. Grade: B-

The Trade: Brewers acquire SP/RP Jacob Faria from Tampa Bay in exchange for 1B Jesus Aguilar.

There were rumblings earlier in the week that the Rays were interested in Aguilar, and that interest was acted upon on Wednesday to the surprise of some Brewers fans. Aguilar, who became a fan favorite over his two-plus years in Milwaukee, became expendable due to a combination of his offensive struggles and lack of versatility. With the Brewers looking for controllable young pitching, dealing him for Faria makes sense.

Faria comes with four more years of controllability and has the potential to either pitch out of the rotation of bullpen. After seemingly breaking out in 2017 with a 3.43 over 16 appearances (14 starts), he took a step back in 2018 with a 5.40 ERA that led to his demotion to Triple-A. He has only thrown 10 major-league innings in 2019, all being out of the bullpen. His Triple-A numbers have been solid but unspectacular, as he has posted a 4.07 ERA while splitting time between starting and relieving.

This trade is geared towards the future, giving the Brewers pitching depth that could potentially turn into a rotation piecedown the road. If Faria turns into a starter, this trade is a steal. If he remains in the bullpen, it could be a big miss. Grade: B

The Trade: Brewers acquire cash considerations from Minnesota in exchange for minor-league RP Marcos Diplan.

The Brewers designated Diplan for assignment earlier in the week to make room for the addition of Jordan Lyles to the 40-man roster. Diplan, who ranked in the Brewers top-30 prospects prior to being traded, had seen his prospect star dim in recent years as he failed to overcome control issues. Once seen as a potential mid-rotation starter, Diplan has been transitioned to a bullpen role, and the front office clearly did not see enough progress to warrant a 40-man spot. This trade looks to be pretty inconsequential at the moment – a lower-level minor leaguer would have been nice, but the cash can’t hurt. Grade: C+

The Trade: Brewers acquire SP/RP Drew Pomeranz and RP Ray Black from San Francisco in exchange for minor-league SS Mauricio Dubon.

What I will dub “the trade that made Twitter shake” brought two likely relievers to Milwaukee for the Brewers’ #3 prospect. When reporter Robert Murray tweeted that the Brewers had agreed with the Giants on a “significant trade”, fans immediately reacted with joy thinking the Crew had acquired either Madison Bumgarner or Will Smith. Just minutes later, those hopes were dashed when they saw the real return – Pomeranz and Black.

Despite the reaction, this is not a bad trade for Milwaukee. They get a current bullpen piece that can start in a pinch with Pomeranz, in addition to a future bullpen piece in Black that can reach triple digits with his fastball. Pomeranz sports a 5.68 ERA on the year, making 17 starts and 4 relief appearances. While he may appear to be having a terrible season, it really was just a terrible month of May in which he had a 19.16 ERA. His 3.61 ERA outside of those months is what the Brewers are hoping shows up down the stretch, where they plan to use him primarily out of the bullpen.

Black is an interesting second part of this trade. He has seen good success in the minor leagues, but faltered to a 6.17 ERA over 23.1 innings in his first taste of MLB ball in 2018. He has thrown just two big-league innings in 2019, while posting a 5.16 ERA in 22.2 innings of relief at Triple-A. What stands out most is his strikeout ability – he has a 14.29 K/9 rate thus far in 2019 in the minors. If he can put it all together, he could be downright filthy.

What made this trade hard to stomach for Brewers fans was parting with prospect Mauricio Dubon. He was one of the Brewers’ top minor-league prospects, but in my opinion his status had been elevated in the minds of many due to the Brewers’ depleted farm. His .297/.333/.475 slash line at Triple-A only gave him a wRC+ of 91, meaning he was actually 9% worse than the league average player on offense. If that doesn’t sound right, consider that overall offensive output has skyrocketed at the Triple-A level due to them using the (potentially juiced) MLB baseball in 2019. Dubon has the ceiling of an average starter, with a realistic role being a platoon-player or utility infielder. I would say that giving that up for two potential impact relievers is a fair price. Grade: B-

Overall, Stearns and the front office did a solid job acquiring small pieces with the limited resources they had at their disposal. However, the lack of a truly impactful starting pitching acquisition limits this club’s ceiling. Given the injuries that the rotation currently has to deal with, failing to go get a reliable starter could turn into the difference between a playoff berth and a September disappointment. Incremental improvements like these can only get you so far, so it will be up to the rest of the roster to play more consistently and provide a real push.

Overall Trade Deadline Grade: B-

How does Keston Hiura compare to Vlad Jr.?

Everybody who follows the sport of baseball knows Toronto Blue Jays phenom, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. This is not only because his dad is a Hall of Famer and was once one of the most entertaining players of all-time, it’s because Vlad Jr. is good, like really good and extremely fun to watch. Vlad has all of the tools and charisma to be the face of the MLB for many years to come. He’s has been the #1 ranked prospect in baseball for what seems like forever and he’s putting together a solid rookie season. Vlad Jr. gets all of the media attention, but Milwaukee Brewers rookie second baseman, Keston Hiura, deserves more.

Last Saturday night, when I watched the Brewers beat the Cubs, 5-3, one player really stood out. Of course, it was Keston Hiura. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th inning, the rookie smoked a double to the opposite field to tie the game and he wasn’t done there. Two innings later, in the bottom of the 10th, the game was tied at 3 until Hiura squared up a Craig Kimbrel curveball and ended the game with a walk-off 2-run home run. His late game heroics caused him to be all over Twitter in what seemed like the first time all year that fans from other cities got to see Hiura’s greatness. It’s that time in the season where the media should spend less time on Vlad Jr. and more time on Keston Hiura.

When comparing the numbers between the two rookies, it’s not hard to see who has been producing at a higher level. In 33 less games, Hiura has the better numbers and is having a better rookie season. Guerrero has had 316 plate appearances in 76 games while Hiura has had 177 plate appearances in 43 games. The first number I want to look at is batting average and Hiura dominates this category with a .325 BA compared to Vlad’s .259. Now, Hiura has had less at-bats so theoretically he should have a better average but that’s only the case if he was 10 points better. Instead, he’s 66 points better which is tough to ignore. Sure, Vlad Jr. isn’t known for his average but more so his power and even then, he only has 10 home runs compared to Hiura’s 11. Essentially, the only “power” stat Guerrero has Hiura beat in is doubles where he has 16 compared to Keston’s 10. Vlad has a decent OPS and OPS+ of .757 and 103 respectively but Hiura blows him out of the water in the category with his numbers looking like 1.009 and 155. Keston has played in far less games than Vlad but even has a better WAR than him. Honestly, since he was called up from AAA, Hiura has been one of the best players in all of baseball and nobody outside of Milwaukee knows it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, when Vlad Jr. is getting all of the attention, it should really be Keston Hiura considering at the moment, he is the far better player and prospect.

 

 

*Stats accurate as of 7/29/19 at 6:00 pm*

*Stats according to baseball-reference.com*

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. 

Brewers at a Crossroads with Jhoulys Chacin

Brewers’ starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin enjoyed a standout campaign in 2018. Leading the starting staff with a 15-8 record and 3.50 ERA in 35 games started, he was a reliable workhorse who performed admirably down the stretch (see: Game 163 at Wrigley Field).

Unfortunately for both Chacin and the Brewers, his 2019 performance is a shadow of what we became accustomed to during his first year in Milwaukee. In 18 starts this season, Chacin has posted a 3-10 record with a 5.67 ERA. What changed for the guy that many expected would be the staff ace for a repeat playoff run?

Most noticeable is a massive increase in the rate which Chacin gives up home runs. From 2016-2018, Chacin’s home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9) never exceeded 1.0, with him placing 13th among all starting pitchers in 2018 with a HR/9 rate of 0.84. In 2019, that rate has more than doubled to 1.89, which ranks him 6th worst among pitchers that have thrown at least 80 innings. While some may attribute this seismic shift to the “juiced ball”, the jump for Chacin does not tie solely to that – the league-wide HR/9 rate has increased by about 20%, while Chacin’s has increased by 125%. It has more to do with Chacin’s individual performance than anything else.

In line with Chacin’s home run issues is an increase in hard contact against him. During 2018, his hard contact percentage was 36.6%, putting him just in line with the league average of 35.3%. In 2019, he has allowed hard contact on 47.6% of balls put in play against him, almost 10 percentage points higher than the league average of 38.1%. Once again, this is an increase that seems to be attributable to Chacin’s performance, not the league’s elevated offensive environment.

Given his struggles, what is the next move for the Brewers with Chacin? There are three options: keep him in the rotation with the hope he straightens it out, move him to the bullpen, or designate him for assignment, which would effectively be his release from the Brewers.

Keeping him in the rotation is likely for the moment, unless the Brewers acquire a starting pitcher at the deadline. The Brewers have tried internal options Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes, and none have provided results that warrant a rotation spot over Chacin. However, Chacin is certainly the weakest link amongst the current five starters, and his removal would need to be followed by a deadline acquisition. If the Brewers are serious about contending, you have to think that they will pursue and complete a trade for a starting pitcher over the next week and a half.

If that trade removes Chacin from the rotation, it would leave the Brewers with two options: demoting Chacin to the bullpen, or designating him for assignment. The challenge with demoting Chacin to the bullpen is that he does not have a profile that necessarily fits a bullpen role. Most starters-turned-relievers succeed because it allows them to concentrate on a two-pitch mix that works in a relief role, but not in a starting one where they need to keep hitters off balance for multiple trips through the batting order. In 2019, Chacin only has had one pitch that is consistently successful – his slider (.368 slugging percentage against). Both of his other two main offerings (four-seam fastball and sinker) are allowing slugging percentages in excess of .660. Putting him in the bullpen may allow him to throw either of these pitches less frequently, but he still will only have one effective pitch in his slider.

The other option is to designate Chacin for assignment. Making Chacin available on waivers, just one year removed from a 3.50 ERA, would almost certainly lead to him being claimed by at least one front office that believes they have the insights and tools to “fix him”. In the event no team claims him, Chacin would be able to refuse a minor league assignment due to his major-league service time, and the Brewers would be faced with releasing him and paying the rest of his contract. This would likely not be an issue given that Chacin is in the final year of his deal.

Of these options, I think that it couldn’t hurt to at least try Chacin in the bullpen if they do make a move for a starting pitcher. He could easily replace Jay Jackson or Burch Smith as an active reliever, as neither provide much upside and are mostly in Milwaukee to eat innings in a blowout scenario. Even if it ends up not working out due to his lack of a consistent second pitch, his upside in a relief role is easily higher than either Jackson or Smith.

Time is ticking for Jhoulys. With only one more turn in the rotation for him before the Brewers hit the deadline, his next start may shape his future in Milwaukee.