Archive for Brewers

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.

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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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Pitchers Hitting – Hidden Wild Card Factor?

Most pitchers are bad hitters, as we all know. Most pitchers look so out of place at the plate that it is a great source of both comedy and debate. Why should we continue this charade? Why should this paean to a by-gone era, propped up under a pretense of “strategy,” continue to degrade the quality of the game we all love?

That debate is better left until another day in another setting with well-established ground rules and adult supervision. Today, we can just look at the impact of pitchers hitting, specifically on their impact on the Wild Card chase.

On Tuesday night, Clayton Kershaw made more than his typical contribution to the Dodgers’ cause. Sure, he pitched brilliantly and shut down an otherwise powerful offense. But Kershaw worked his way on base against Doug Fister in the fifth inning and then “helped his own cause” by dashing from first to third on a bounding single to center field. Read the rest of this entry »


FG on Fox: The Entirety of the Jonathan Lucroy MVP Argument

Okay, I’ll grant that now isn’t the best time to talk about the National League MVP Award, with just weeks to go in a closely competitive regular season. I’ll grant that now isn’t the best time to talk about a Brewer winning the NL MVP Award, with the team in a bit of a slide that recently knocked it out of first place. And I’ll grant that now isn’t the best time to talk about Jonathan Lucroy winning the NL MVP award, since he had a stronger first half than his second half has been to date. In a few senses, the timing here could be better. But the timing isn’t better, and we’re already here, so: how’s Jonathan Lucroy look as an MVP candidate?

His is an odd name to see in the running. I think we’re all still getting used to the idea of Lucroy being a really terrific player, and the NL is the league with Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton in it. Last year, McCutchen won the league MVP. Kershaw won the league Cy Young. Lucroy’s never received a single down-ballot MVP vote. But then, before this year, Lucroy hadn’t been an All-Star, so things can change, and Lucroy has more than earned consideration. By no means is this a slam dunk and there are still a few weeks for the overall picture to shift, but we can run through the Lucroy argument point by point.

Jonathan Lucroy has an MVP case. What follows is why.

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Aceless in Milwaukee

With two losses in a row to the Cubs, the Brewers have fallen out of first place in the National League Central. The National League West looks a lot like the American League West: Whichever team of top two teams in the West does not win the division very probably will be a very good first Wild Card team. If the current standings hold, the Brewers would be the second Wild Card team.

The second Wild Card spot is not nearly as desirable as winning the division, of course, but it is still much better than sitting at home during the playoffs. Moreover, the Brewers are just one game behind the Cardinals. A roughly one-in-three shot at winning the division (and one-in-two of making the playoffs) is not bad at all.

Milwaukee was not projected to be terrible, so this year has not been totally out of nowhere. Like the Royals, for example, they projected to be a roughly .500 team in a division that was not terribly strong. Still, the Brewers’ long stand on top of the Central this season was pretty surprising. As with all teams, there have been various surprise performances (on balance good for the Brewers).

One particularly intriguing aspect of the Brewers’ success in 2014 is their lack of an obvious “ace” – which is sometimes said to be necessary for a team to be successful – in their starting rotation. Read the rest of this entry »


Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher Framing, and the NL MVP

Three years ago, the BBWAA opened their doors to FanGraphs; currently, four of our writers are members, including David Laurila, Eno Sarris, Carson Cistulli, and myself. Having that access has allowed David and Eno to do really interesting work in combining data with comments from the players, including Eno’s piece on Jacob deGrom from this morning, but being in the BBWAA also comes with other privileges, including voting on postseason awards. For the first time this year, I’ve been selected to represent the Atlanta chapter in the NL voting, and I’ll be casting a ballot for both Manager of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

As part of the conditions of being invited to participate, this means that I won’t be able to talk about who I’m planning on voting for until after the ballot is announced in November. However, I can talk about the questions I’m going to have to answer for myself when deciding how to vote, and no player is going to force me to come to a decision on what I feel is an unanswered question more so than Jonathan Lucroy.

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Nights of the Pitcher

Last night was about the pitchers. Nearly every game had at least one good starting pitcher performance, and many of them we’re not even going to talk about today. Max Scherzer‘s 11 strikeouts? Nope. What about Tyson Ross‘ 11 strikeouts? Nope, not them either. We’re not even going to talk about Jeff Samardzija and Wei-Yin Chen, who combined to allow one run across 16 innings. No, we’re going to talk about the five pitchers who posted a Game Score of 75 or better last night — Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy, Matt Garza and Cole Hamels.
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The International Spending Limits Are Not Limits At All

Major League Baseball’s signing period for international prospects kicked off on Wednesday and will continue until June 15, 2015. Teams may sign players residing outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico who have or will turn 16 by September 1 of this year. Just a few years ago, teams were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to develop and sign international prospects. That all changed with the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in 2012.

The CBA imposes bonus pool limits on international signings. The team with the worst winning percentage in the prior year receives the largest bonus pool for the next year. The team with the best winning percentage receives the smallest. The remaining 28 teams fall in between, again according to their winning percentage from the prior season. International players who are 23 years of age or older, and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. Click here for the list of bonus pools by team, with the Houston Astros on top with $5,015,400 and the St. Louis Cardinals at the bottom with $1,866,300.

In additional to the bonus pools, MLB also assigns slot values for international prospects, even though there is no international draft. But the slot values are tradeable, and are therefore valuable for teams looking to spend more on international prospects than their assigned bonus pool would allow. A team can trade for up to 50% of its bonus pool, but it must trade for a specific slot value. For example, a team with a $4 million bonus pool can trade for up to $2 million in pool space, but it must receive in return specific slot values that add up to $2 million, or less. Click here for the list of 120 slot values assigned to each team. The Astros have the top slot value of $3,300,900 and the Cardinals have the lowest at $137,600.

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Carlos Gomez’s Symbolic Pursuit

Way back at the beginning of May, the Diamondbacks were preparing to play the Brewers, and Kirk Gibson warned his pitchers about Carlos Gomez. He tipped them off about his aggressive tendencies, making clear that the pitchers would need to be careful. On Monday, May 5, Arizona got out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Mike Bolsinger started with a cutter, and Gomez swung, and the score was 1-1. One pitch, one swing, one dinger. It was exactly what Gibson warned against, and it’s just one of those things that Gomez does.

Said Gibson:

“We didn’t execute pitches from the first pitch of the game,” Gibson said. “I talked to you guys about Gomez. He’s a first-pitch fastball hitter and we threw one there and hit he it out of the park.”

Admitted Bolsinger:

“I knew he was a first-pitch guy, but I didn’t know he’d swing like that on the first pitch of the game,” he said. “I thought I could (sneak it by him), but I guess I didn’t.”

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Bow Down to Jonathan Lucroy

We’ve known for some time that the best catcher in baseball plays in the National League. There’s only been a small pool of candidates, and for a long time, the debate was more about No. 2 than about No. 1. No. 1 was thought to be a virtual given — it doesn’t get much better than Yadier Molina. But every so often, a position needs to be revisited. Players and player pools are always changing, and right now there’s an extremely compelling argument to be made that the best catcher in baseball is Jonathan Lucroy. Hell, the way Lucroy’s been playing, he doesn’t want there to be an argument at all.

For years, people aware of pitch-framing research have been plugging Lucroy as underrated. He’s among the game’s most anonymous stars, as evidenced by the probability you might not have considered him a star in the first place. From analysts, he’s drawn attention for his defense, so perhaps not enough attention has gone to his offense. And his offense has been very good. At the moment he’s got an average starting with 3, an on-base percentage starting with 4, and a slugging percentage starting with 5. This is the build of an MVP candidate. In the 2007 draft, Lucroy was considered the second-best offensive catcher, behind the allegedly god-like Matt Wieters. It’s Lucroy who’s been the better hitter each of the last three seasons.

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The Diamondbacks’ Grit vs. Win Expectancy

It’s fairly safe to say that Arizona manager Kirk Gibson doesn’t care for Ryan Braun that much. Braun torched Gibson’s Diamondbacks in the 2011 LCS, just before Braun was found to have been taking some form of PEDs. The suspension, repeal fiasco, and Braun’s name coming up in the Biogenesis scandal never sat right with Gibson and he’s been a vocal critic ever since.

This fact and this fact alone could be the reason D-Backs reliever Evan Marshall threw at Ryan Braun twice in a row, hitting him the second time and earning an ejection. It could have been compounded by the fact that Brewers starter Kyle Lohse hit two batters himself earlier in the game. It could have to do with the two batters that were hit the night before. There could be a lot of reasons for it, but one thing is clear; the Diamondbacks playing tough-guy baseball was a bad move as far as the numbers go and ended up costing them the game in this case. Read the rest of this entry »


The Other Contending Team With a Shortstop Issue

You think about a playoff-contending team that really needs help at shortstop, and your mind immediately goes to the Detroit Tigers. Jose Iglesias‘ shin injury took him out of the mix before the season even started, and since Detroit never did go and get Stephen Drew before he returned to Boston, they’ve attempted to get by with a collection of odds and ends. They tried the ancient Alex Gonzalez, who quickly proved he was past his sell-by date. He gave way to Andrew Romine, acquired from the Angels during camp, with a touch of Danny Worth now and then. Romine’s wRC+ of 49 is the highest of that trio, so earlier this month they DFA‘d Worth and went with Eugenio Suarez, who has impressed in limited time and should hopefully prevent them from any further thoughts of asking first base coach Omar Vizquel to come out of retirement.

Maybe Suarez works out. Maybe he doesn’t, and the Tigers end up going out and getting Jimmy Rollins or Everth Cabrera or Ben Zobrist or Didi Gregorius or whatever shortstops become available. Either way, when the trade deadline gets a little closer and you start thinking about team needs, you’re likely going to think about the Tigers and their shortstops.

What you’re probably not going to think about are the Milwaukee Brewers, because they have a 24-year-old shortstop who made the All-Star team last year. They have playoff hopes, and they have Jean Segura. What they also have is a considerable issue.

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The Brewers’ Amazing and Worrisome Bullpen

As we creep up on the beginning of May, the Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in baseball. At 19-7, they’ve thrust themselves squarely into playoff contention, even if the pre-season projections mostly saw them as a third wheel in a difficult division; their early success combined with the struggles of their direct competition have opened the door for the Brewers to make a real run at the postseason. As Jeff noted two weeks ago, it doesn’t even matter all that much that our projections still aren’t that bullish on their future performance, because the cushion they’ve created with a strong first month of the season gives them plenty of room to regress and still be in contention.

Which is a good thing, because there’s almost certainly some pretty harsh regression coming the Brewers direction; one of the core foundations of their strong start has been a remarkable performance from their bullpen.

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The Brewers’ Early Winning Streak

Maybe the most annoying thing you could say is that the Brewers are going to regress. They’re not going to keep winning 83% of their baseball games. They’re not going to end the season with a +378 run differential. They’re not as good as a 1.80 team ERA, and they’re not going to keep running a .250 BABIP against. They’re on a nine-game winning streak, but they’re going to lose, and they’re going to lose, inarguably, dozens of times. The Brewers, in truth, aren’t close to this good. No kidding. This year’s Brewers aren’t literally the best team in the history of baseball.

But every hot streak is unsustainable, just as every cold streak is unsustainable. Any team that wins nine in a row and any team that wins 10 of 12 will have contributing factors you can’t expect to keep up in the long run. What’s important isn’t determining whether or not the Brewers will keep winning at this clip. They won’t. What’s important is determining where the Brewers stand now, relative to where they stood a couple weeks ago before the season was underway.

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Pitch-Framing and a Peek Inside the Industry

Pitch-framing research isn’t really new anymore. I mean, in the grander scheme of things, it’s only been a blink of an eye since the work first debuted, but we’re beyond the discovery stage. We’re at the point where the work is going into refinement, and earlier this week Baseball Prospectus published the latest update. The research was good, and the effort was extraordinary, but ultimately the piece offered a lot of confirmation. The guys we suspected were good are still good. The guys we suspected were bad are still bad. With framing, researchers are almost all the way there.

So, we know about framing, and we know about the numbers. We’re also on the outside, looking in. Whenever this comes up, there’s always the question: so, how is framing actually valued right now within the industry? For example, Jose Molina might be the face of the whole field of study. By the end of 2015, he will have played four years with the Rays for a total of less than eight million dollars. The framing numbers would suggest he’d be worth that much in a month or three. Teams just must not believe in it, right? Or they’re at least being super-cautious.

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Inconsistent Veteran Presence

Last week, Colin Zarzycki reviewed the Milwaukee Brewer bullpen on RotoGraphs. The projected bullpen included the likes of Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Fiers, and Will Smith, among others. The 12 names on the depth chart combined for 12.009 years of MLB service time, with Gorzelanny accounting for half of that total. The depth chart contained some intriguing upside, but was certainly lacking in experience. Enter Francisco Rodriguez, again.

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Brewers Take the Matt Garza Chance

All along, it was suspected that Masahiro Tanaka was holding up the whole available pitching market. Teams wanted to know if they could get the best available pitcher; other available pitchers wanted to know which teams might be reduced to going after them. Wednesday, we all found out that Tanaka had made his decision. A day later, the Matt Garza domino has fallen. Out of nowhere, the Brewers swooped in and claimed Garza for four years and $52 million.

So, it’s that contract, for a pitcher going to a team that’s maybe on the fringes of the race. It’s identical to the contract Edwin Jackson signed to go to a team that wasn’t very good. It’s basically the same as the contract Ricky Nolasco signed to go to a team that wasn’t very good. None of these guys were given qualifying offers, so none of them cost any draft picks. They simply cost money, and as far as this particular move is concerned, it’s hard not to like it. I’d say it’s also hard to love it, but for the Brewers it’s a good upside play.

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The Braves, Jason Heyward, File-to-Trial & Arbitration

The Braves are going to arbitration with Jason Heyward over $300 thousand dollars. It’s a wonderful sentence, full of so many words that could set you off in a million different directions. And so I followed those strings, talking to as many people involved in arbitration as I could. Many of those directions did lead me to denigrations of arbitration, and of the file-to-trial arbitration policy that the Braves employ. There’s another side to that sort of analysis though. Arbitration is not horrid. File-to-trial policies have their use. This is not all the Braves’ fault.

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2014 ZiPS Projections – Milwaukee Brewers

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. 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: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Cincinnati / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / Seattle / St. Louis / Tampa Bay.

Batters
The computer math which informs these ZiPS projections doesn’t know that Ryan Braun was charged, during the 2011-12 offseason, of using PEDs; that he successfully appealed what would have been a 50-game suspension; that he was then named in documents belonging to Biogenesis of America; that he (i.e. still Braun) attributed the appearance of his name in those documents to how his legal counsel had retained Anthony Bosch, the clinic’s operator, as a consultant; or that he then agreed to serve a 65-game suspension last season. The figures here are based on the combination of variables Szymborski generally uses to produce projections: past performance, aging, etc. They reveal no insight beyond that.

What the ZiPS projections below do reveal, however, is how, very quickly and sadly, Rickie Weeks appears to have become a mediocre player, already. In just 2011, Weeks produced a three-win season; the year before that, nearly a six-win one. Now he’s in very real danger of losing his job entirely to Scooter Gennett — a modestly skilled player, Gennett, but without the impressive physical tools that defined Weeks at his best.

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What Mark Reynolds Means To Milwaukee

Minor-league contracts don’t really matter all that much in baseball, no matter how much some fans might think they do. Each year, teams sign dozens of guys to non-guaranteed deals that may or may not include an invite to major league camp, and much of the time you never hear those names ever mentioned again after March. It’s not an official FanGraphs rule that minor-league deals aren’t worth covering, but it might as well be; when Delmon Young got a guaranteed contract from Philadelphia last year, there was a post about it. When the Orioles made him an NRI last week, there wasn’t.

Yet here I am, talking about Milwaukee’s decision to add Mark Reynolds to the first base mix on a non-guaranteed contract, partially because it seems likely that he will have a real impact on the team this year, and partially because of what it says about the Brewers. Read the rest of this entry »