Archive for Brewers

Milwaukee’s Untimely Collapse

Avert your eyes, Milwaukee Brewers fans. I apologize in advance for how painful this may be.

When the Brewers woke up on Monday morning, they were merely a bad baseball team, off to a 2-10 start, the worst in 47 years of Pilots/Brewers baseball. When they went to bed on Monday night, they were still a bad baseball team, off to a 2-11 start, one of just two teams with fewer than four wins. In between, second baseman Scooter Gennett joined the “stupidly weird injury” club, slicing his hand open in the shower. In between, star catcher Jonathan Lucroy left Monday’s 6-1 loss to Cincinnati early with what was revealed to be a fractured toe, one that manager Ron Roenicke could apparently hear happening.

So there’s terrible baseball, and then there’s this, in which a team that had just about no margin for error has gotten off to what’s basically the worst possible start imaginable. You can’t make the playoffs in April, but you sure can miss them. That’s a saying that exists or it’s one I’m either making up or poorly paraphrasing, but now it’s on the Internet, and therefore it’s true. Welcome to the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers, a team that just saw its season implode before it really began. Read the rest of this entry »


Jimmy Nelson Found a New Pitch

The list of guys with new pitches every spring runs deep (27 last year on Jason Collette’s excellent list). The list of those that continue to throw those pitches during the regular season is a little bit shorter (23 last year). And the group that see real success from adding that extra pitch is even shorter — ten pitchers added more than a percentage point to their swinging strike rate thanks to a new pitch last year.

This year, the Spring Training list was once again full. Brewers’ starter Jimmy Nelson is on there, and he’s often been called a two-pitch guy since his changeup is not a plus pitch. Now he’s added a spike curve to his mid-90s fastball and above-average slider. He used it plenty in his first start, so he’s already made the jump to the second list. Can his new pitch mean continued success this year?

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Division Preview: NL Central

We’ve already previewed the two western divisions, the NL and the AL. Today, we move into the middle of the country, and look at perhaps the most interesting division in baseball.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Cardinals 88 74 48% 24% 7%
Pirates 85 77 26% 26% 4%
Cubs 84 78 20% 24% 3%
Brewers 78 84 5% 10% 1%
Reds 74 88 2% 4% 0%

It’s a three team race at the top, with a couple of teams not quite willing to rebuild but also probably not good enough to contend. Let’s go team by team.

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The Top-Five Brewers Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Milwaukee Brewers. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Milwaukee’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Brewers system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Milwaukee system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Milwaukee Brewers

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, AngelsDodgersBlue JaysTigersCardinals & Brewers

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft Rankings2015 July 2 Top Prospects

The top of this list is muddled; I could see the top eight guys in almost any order by midseason and I predict I’ll be changing some of these 45 and 50 FV grades in-season. The Brewers haven’t had a great farm system in recent years, but the big league club had a mini-rebuild and the amateur talent acquisition has seem positive early returns from a more aggressive approach. Gilbert Lara is the consensus best player in last summer’s July 2nd crop and he took a notable step forward after signing with an impressive showing at instructs.

From the 2014 draft, I think 3B Jacob Gatewood is a little too risky for $1.83 million, but the early returns on CF Monte Harrison are excellent and there’s plenty to like about LHP Kodi Medeiros, even if he was a bit worn down after signing. All of these three were part of an aggressive approach, so I’d expect one to work out in a big way. The depth is drastically better now than the past few years and the arrow is pointing up in general.  There isn’t a super elite prospect in the system and this is still a system in the bottom third of baseball, but the Brew Crew are deep in that second tier of talent and there’s plenty of depth and upside here to see a higher ranking in next year’s list as a likelihood.

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Two Eras of Francisco Rodriguez

Doug Melvin, a few days ago:

Melvin wouldn’t comment on the state of possible talks with the Phillies, but acknowledged the lines of communication have remained open with “K-Rod.”

“I don’t know if it’s active, but we still have conversations,” Melvin said. “Mark deals more with that. (Agent) Scott (Boras) keeps calling Mark.”

You know how this goes. Sometimes, Boras has problems finding the right level of demand among 30 baseball front offices. But he’s skilled enough to know that he’s always got more options, as, above 30 baseball front offices, are 30 baseball owners or ownership groups. Said executives are easier to persuade, as they’re in charge of the money, and they tend to know a little less about roster management. So, long story short, Boras has gotten the Brewers to make another commitment to Francisco Rodriguez, this one for at least two years and $13 million. It happened above the general manager’s head, but it’s not a nightmare; Rodriguez remains a useful pitcher, and the Brewers remain on the positive side of the be-a-seller threshold. This is an example of ownership caving, but it’s not a godawful fit.

As is often the case, what I find interesting here is less about the contract, and more about the player. The contract is fine. Maybe a little heavy, I don’t know. But Rodriguez himself has had a particularly fascinating career. So this is a good opportunity to call attention to the transition he’s largely been able to pull off. Rodriguez is still just 33 years old, yet he debuted when he was 20, and his career has had two distinct stages. Rodriguez, at least as a player, has evolved.

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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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The Extremity of the Brewers and Yovani Gallardo

Let’s talk about release points. Are you ready to talk about release points? Of course you are — there’s no preparation necessary. If you’re on FanGraphs, there’s no becoming more ready than you already are. Good news!

Among all the things PITCHf/x keeps track of, release point is one of them. Or should I say, two of them; the system tracks both horizontal release point and vertical release point. For our purposes here, we’ll focus on the horizontal release point tracking. On this scale, which is shown in units of feet, 0 corresponds to the middle of the pitching rubber. A negative number means the ball was released more toward the third-base side, and a positive number means the ball was released more toward the first-base side.

Right-handed pitchers have negative horizontal release points. Their arms, after all, hang off from the sides of their bodies, nearer to third base than first. Left-handed pitchers are just the opposite. With side-armers, you’ll see extreme release points, three or four feet from the middle of the rubber. Occasionally you get someone even more extreme than that. A more ordinary pitcher will have a release point separated from the middle by a foot or two. This is only a little bit interesting, but let’s get into some information. Last year’s Brewers were mostly right-handed. Let’s examine those same Brewers.

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The How and The Why of Michael Fiers

We can say some things about how Mike Fiers went astray in 2013, and how changes to his pitching mix, pitches, and spot on the rubber contributed to his return to relevance in 2014. Those things show up just by looking at the different stats and heat maps we have at our disposal. The harder thing to figure out (if it’s at all possible) is *why* these changes worked.

First, the how.

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Going Low and Away with the Brewers

Back in September, Jeff Sullivan wrote on this very weblog about The Three Most Distinctive Team Philosophies. On Tuesday, I published a piece exploring why Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta fails to record significant strikeouts totals despite possessing elite velocity. This is the result of those posts colliding.
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Wily Peralta and the Case of the Missing Whiffs

The Milwaukee Brewers traded a mainstay of their rotation in Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers last week, as you by now are well aware. When a team trades a mainstay of its rotation, it’s natural to look to the rest of the rotation in an attempt to find who will pick up the slack. Literally, that person will be Jimmy Nelson, who is likely to fill the now-open spot in the rotation. But Nelson’s a fifth starter who is 26 has thrown just 79 innings in the MLB, so the expectations of him are somewhat tempered.

You look to the rest of the rotation and you see Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, two guys whose career trajectories appear to be going down rather than up. Mike Fiers is an interesting case, but believe it or not he’s only a year younger than Garza and since he hasn’t been a big part of the rotation the last two years, the bar isn’t set too high for him, either.

This brings us to Wily Peralta. Peralta is young — he’s just 25. Peralta has been a fixture of the rotation the last two seasons — he’s made 32 starts in each year and racked up 382 innings in the process. Peralta legitimately improved last season — he dropped his ERA-, FIP- and xFIP- while throwing more innings per start. And Peralta is exciting, because he throws really, really hard. But that’s the part I want to talk about.
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Rangers to Try Yovani Gallardo Out of Context

At first glance, Monday’s Yovani Gallardo trade probably seems more significant than it really is. Gallardo is a recognizable name, someone who’s pitched important innings, but he is no longer what he once looked like, and he’s a year away from free agency. Luis Sardinas is a real prospect, recently ranked No. 7 in the Rangers’ system by Baseball America, and he has big-league experience, yet his offensive ceiling is very low. Corey Knebel is another real prospect, with his own big-league experience, yet he’s a reliever with control issues and an elbow injury. And while Marcos Diplan has what they call a live arm, he almost couldn’t possibly be further from the bigs, for a baseball-ing professional. This feels like the Rangers just made a major upgrade to a middling staff, but in reality, Gallardo is something around league-average, and he could be gone by November.

So in that sense, it’s a bit underwhelming. The Rangers did need rotation help, and they got it, but they presumably still aren’t going to the playoffs. And the Brewers have made room in the rotation for Jimmy Nelson, but now they have weaker depth, unless they turn around and make a play for, say, James Shields or Jordan Zimmermann. But there is one part of this that I find particularly fascinating. Yovani Gallardo is changing teams, and Yovani Gallardo is changing leagues, but maybe most importantly, Yovani Gallardo is changing catchers.

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Matt Garza Understands His Catchers

One of the things you’re supposed to learn about in a literature class is subtext. Subtext isn’t exactly a “hidden meaning,” but it’s the unspoken thematic uncurrent of a particular narrative or conversation. While the following will appear to be another post in a long line of posts about Jonathan Lucroy’s pitch framing (It is!), there’s a broader subtext driving the conversation as well that we’ll discuss at the conclusion.

The essence of pitch framing is well-established and relatively simple. Due to the imperfect nature of human eyes and the lack of a uniformly enforced strike zone, the way a catcher receives a pitch can influence whether that pitch is called a strike. Certain catchers have the ability to make balls look like strikes and to make sure that very few strikes look like balls. And certain catchers obviously lack this ability.

The way a catcher receives the ball influences the call, meaning good framers reduce the number of runs scored against their team and make their pitchers look great in the process. Jonathan Lucroy, catcher extraordinaire, is someone who seems to do this very well.

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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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Q&A: Scooter Gennett on Ceramics, Lefties and Riding Scooters

Scooter Gennett of the Milwaukee Brewers is among those players participating in an innovative cancer charity drive that ends Thursday night and benefits LUNGevity, “the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit.” An online auction, coordinated by Major League Baseball media and public relations offices, is awarding scores of unusual prizes to winning bidders. Pitching lessons with CC Sabathia or Dwight Gooden, for example. Rather than a game-used jersey or an autographed baseball, Gennett is donating his time and his noteworthy skills with ceramics, giving a pottery lesson to the winner of his auction.

MLB took this initiative in part to celebrate the life of Monica Barlow, who died earlier this year at age 36 because of lung cancer. Like a majority of people who get lung cancer, Barlow did not smoke. Gennett has gotten involved in part because his father is a cancer survivor. He discussed all of that and more in a phone conversation with FanGraphs during baseball’s winter meetings. In addition to the charity work, he also discussed how he’s preparing for the upcoming season, and further explained how Ryan Joseph Gennett became — sometimes — “Scooter.”

David Brown: Were you into Play-Doh as a kid?

Scooter Gennett: Yeah, when I was younger, I liked those kind of toys where you’d make something. I wasn’t the type of kid to play with action figures. I guess I was a Play-Doh type of kid. But once I turned 8 years old, until high-school age, there really wasn’t much for me other than playing baseball. So I didn’t take many art classes, certainly ceramics, until high school. It was all baseball.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Milwaukee Brewers

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Milwaukee Brewers. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Miami / Tampa Bay.

Batters
It’s not a matter of great urgency — but nonetheless a briefly compelling thought exercise — to attempt to identify who is the star of the Milwaukee Brewers, if pressed to choose just one. Ryan Braun has certainly been the club’s most talented player in the past. Jonathan Lucroy, meanwhile, produced one of the majors’ best seasons in 2014 and finished fourth overall in MVP voting. And Carlos Gomez, one finds, has recorded the most wins among the club’s field players by a non-negligible margin over the past three years. So far as present talent is concerned, ZiPS favors Lucroy among the three — although by less than half a win over Gomez, rendering it an effective tie.

As in recent years, there’s a divide between the club’s best and less-best starters — although it’s less pronounced than in the past. In 2014, for example, ZiPS projected only two players (Aramis Ramirez and Jean Segura) outside the aforementioned triumvirate to record a 1.5 WAR or better. This year, six players appear above that projection threshold.

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Looking for Value in the Non-Tenders

The list of non-tenders is out. Time to dream!

It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.

You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.

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Adam Lind and Baseball’s Worst Position

The baseball offseason arrived all of a sudden. As the Giants were parading around the streets of San Francisco, I was on my computer writing about the Cubs ditching Rick Renteria to hire Joe Maddon. And then Saturday brought the offseason’s first meaningful trade — Adam Lind to the Brewers, and Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays. I’m going to be completely honest with you. I was excited at first, thinking more of the players in the deal than I wound up doing following further examination. I think I was just excited to have the offseason really get underway, to fill the baseball void. But still, this is a trade, with players you’ve presumably heard of, and it was swung to serve a purpose, so it’s worthy of our consideration. What the heck else do we have to consider?

We’ll get to the Blue Jays’ side of things. We’ll get into more detail. But we can start by acknowledging the obvious, that being the Brewers’ motivation to get a deal done. Lind is slated to be the Brewers’ regular first baseman. Here are the least productive positions in baseball, by our numbers, over the past two seasons combined:

  • Red Sox, third base, -2.2 WAR
  • Astros, first base, -2.2 WAR
  • Yankees, shortstop, -2.7 WAR
  • Yankees, designated hitter, -4.3 WAR
  • Brewers, first base, -4.6 WAR

I don’t know, either, but it happened. Over two years, Brewers first basemen combined to be worth almost an impossible five wins below replacement. The situation was better in 2014 than it was in 2013, but it’s also better to have your arm cut off than it is to have your arm cut off, successfully reattached, and then cut off again. For the Brewers, first base was a disaster, a disaster without any reasonable internal solution, so the front office acted quickly to address one of baseball’s very greatest needs.

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Mike Fiers and Pitching Rattled

Perhaps the biggest problem with sports analysis is believing too strongly in one’s ability to understand the future. Perhaps the biggest problem with sports commentary is believing too strongly in one’s ability to understand the present. We’re always more than happy to play psychiatrist when it comes to discussing people we know and talk to every week, but then we allow this to carry over into sporting events, with completely unfamiliar people trying to navigate completely unfamiliar circumstances. We pretty much never know who a player is, and what he’s going through. That doesn’t stop people from analyzing the activity waves in his brain.

You know what I’m referring to, and it happens with every sport, in particular down the stretch and in the playoffs. Choking. Stepping up. Wilting. Clutch. So many people offer so many psychological explanations, yet, we never know whether there’s actually any truth. They’re just explanations after the fact, even though, in every competition, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. So rarely can we actually speak to the psychology of sport. We don’t know when we’re observing a certain mental state, so we can’t analyze what that means.

Which brings us to Thursday night and Mike Fiers. Let’s say that professional athletes are mentally strong — mentally stronger than most. So let’s say it would take a lot for one to be rattled. What kind of event might rattle more than anything else? I’d volunteer a high hit-by-pitch. When you throw a ball that hits someone around the head, that goes beyond competitive adversity. So given what transpired, perhaps Fiers is an actual, observable example of a player playing while rattled. These examples are exceedingly rare things.

Yet, maybe it still didn’t matter. Turns out this stuff is complicated.

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The Brewers as an Inning

So, the Brewers.

brewersodds

As collapses go, that looks nice and spread out. There’s a definite negative slope, but, you know, it could be steeper. You get the vibe from the graph that the Brewers’ decline has been steady and gradual. But there’s the thing about the x-axis, and about how this shows only two weeks. Lately the Brewers have shot themselves in the foot. In their haste to bandage the wound, they’ve accidentally shot themselves in the other foot. With their hands busy trying to stop the bleeding, they’ll just apply the iodine with their mouth-

Working a little to the Brewers’ benefit is that their slide has overlapped with Oakland’s slide, and Oakland has fallen from a loftier position, so the attention’s divided. But the Brewers don’t care about the attention they receive; they care about not being awful, and since this slide began they’re last in the NL in runs scored and first in the NL in runs allowed, where “first” is another word for “last”. They’ve lost 13 of 14 games, and Tuesday’s could’ve been the worst of the losses. Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Brewers had the bases loaded with nobody out. Eight pitches later, a scoreless frame was complete. Then in the top of the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez had two outs and two strikes on Giancarlo Stanton. Nine pitches later, a walk, a steal, and two homers had the Brewers all but defeated. You’d think that all the losses feel the same, but every loss is a snowflake.

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