Archive for Brewers

The Worst Called Strike of the Season

The worst called ball of the season was literally a fastball in the middle of the strike zone. That makes it genuinely the worst called ball imaginable, with the consolation being that it at least didn’t matter very much. When I’ve written these posts in the past, I’ve noted that the bad called balls look worse than the bad called strikes. There is no called-strike equivalent of a ball on a pitch down the middle. You’ll never see a called strike on a pitch at the eyes. You’ll never see a called strike on a pitch in the dirt. I think the default is to call a ball, unless the pitch does enough convincing, and there are limits to that. Still, one post has to be followed by the other. Writing about the worst called ball means I have to write about the worst called strike. That’s below, and I’m sorry it isn’t more visually hilarious, but this is still the worst of something, over seven months of baseball, and the devil is in the details. The devil loves details.

The second-worst called strike of the season? I’ve already written that up, because it was the worst called strike of the season’s first half. It was a lefty strike, thrown by Max Scherzer to Odubel Herrera to open a ballgame. The pitch measured 11 inches away from the nearest part of the strike zone.

Unsurprisingly, the worst called strike of the whole season is similar, in that it’s a lefty strike away off the plate. Over time, we’ve grown kind of used to the lefty strikes getting called, but the thing about this is lefty strikes are balls. The zone shouldn’t extend off the plate in either direction, for anyone, but it has and it does, and hitters have to live with that. The second-worst called strike was 11 inches away from the zone. The worst called strike was 12 inches away from the zone. That’s 9% worse. Pretty big gap when you’re at an extreme.

The good news is nobody cared.

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Projecting Milwaukee’s Slew of Late-September Call-Ups

On Monday night, the Biloxi Shuckers, the Brewers Double-A affiliate, fell to Chattanooga in the Southern League championship. Following the loss, the Brewers rewarded several members of the Biloxi squad with promotions to the big leagues. Among Tuesday’s call-ups were: outfielder Michael Reed, infielder Yadiel Rivera, and right-handed pitchers Yhonathan Barrios, Adrian Houser, Jorge Lopez and Tyler Wagner. Let’s have a look at what the data have to say about these prospects. (Note: WAR figures represent projected WAR totals through age-28 season, according to KATOH system.)

Michael Reed, 4.5 WAR

Michael Reed opened the year with Double-A Biloxi, and was promoted to Triple-A on August 1st. He was later reassigned to Double-A for the playoffs to get a few more reps. All told, the 22-year-old hit a respectable .270/.377/.408 on the year with an impressive 27 stolen bases.

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Likely Scenarios for Current Front-Office Vacancies

Two seasons ago, I ranked the job security of each general manager and listed GM prospects. I think I did a pretty good job with both lists given what we knew at the time, and may do it again as Opening Day 2016 closes in. We’ve had less executive movement in the last few off-seasons than usual and it looks like the regression is happening this year, with four GM jobs currently open and a likely fifth coming soon. This seemed like a good time to cover each of the situations in flux and target some possible changes in the near future, along with some names to keep in mind as candidates to fill these openings.

The Open GM Spots
We have two teams without a top baseball decision-making executive, in Seattle and Milwaukee:

The Mariners moved on from (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik recently, a long-rumored move that club president Kevin Mather admitted he waited too long to execute. Mather has said they’re looking for a replacement sooner than later (likely eliminating execs from playoff teams), with GM experience (eliminating most of the GM prospects you’ll see below), and that the team doesn’t require a rebuild (meaning a shorter leash and higher expectations from day one). This should prove to narrow the pool of candidates a good bit, but this is still seen as the best of the currently open jobs.

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Is Taylor Jungmann for Real?

Every year, a number of starting pitchers seemingly come out of nowhere to become significant contributors at the major-league level. Sometimes, as in the case of, say, Jacob deGrom, the sudden evolution at the major-league level is real and sustainable. In the case of the majority of these short-term success stories, the league adjusts, the pitcher is unable to, and either disappears from the major-league scene or settles into a lesser role.

Coming into the 2015 season, Brewers right-hander Taylor Jungmann appeared to be little more than a failed first-round pick, with prospects of perhaps a big-league cup of coffee in his future. Instead, he has turned out to be a bright spot in a lost season for the Brew Crew since being summoned to Milwaukee in early June. Has the big righty turned a corner, settling in for a long run in the big club’s rotation? Or is this a short-term mirage, a dream that the big righty might wake up from any moment now?

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Taylor Jungmann and Diminishing Marginal Utility

When faced with batters on base, Milwaukee Brewers righty Taylor Jungmann goes to his sinker more and throws lower in the zone. He hasn’t given up a home run on the sinker, and the pitch produces ground balls nearly three-quarters of the time. So why doesn’t Jungmann go to the sinker more often?

“What makes the sinker better is that I don’t throw it as much,” Jungmann told me before a game against San Francisco. “It makes it that much more effective because they aren’t looking for it. If I threw it every single pitch, my four-seamer would be better.”

Right now, Jungmann has found the right uses for his sinker. If he used it more, he’d get less value from each additional sinker. This is what makes evaluating pitches by their peripherals so difficult, especially in small samples. Sure, Mat Latos has gotten six whiffs on 24 changeups this year — for a percentage that’s almost twice the average changeup whiff rate — but that doesn’t make the pitch good.

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The Future for David Denson on the Field

Milwaukee Brewers prospect David Denson made history yesterday when he revealed he is gay. With his announcement, Denson became the first active, openly gay player in the history of affiliated baseball.

Given his significance to the game, there’s unlikely to be any shortage of coverage regarding Denson in either the near- or long-term. As some of the authors of that coverage have already noted, attempting to become a major leaguer is difficult enough without having to contend with questions of personal identity and concerns about acceptance at the same time. Denson himself has stated that he’s relieved that he can divert more of his energy now to baseball itself.

What I’d like to do here is set aside for a moment the implications of David Denson, gay ballplayer, and to utilize my KATOH projection system to consider briefly Denson’s prospects for reaching the majors.

Just 19 now, Denson was drafted by the Brewers in the 15th round in 2013, and has split the 2015 season between Low-A Wisconsin and Rookie League Helena, where he currently plays. In 268 trips to the plate this year, the first baseman has hit just .229/.313/.360, due in no small part to his elevated 26% strikeout rate. Denson opened the year in Low-A, where he also spent the second half of the 2014 season. But the Brewers reassigned him to extended spring training in May when he was hitting .195/.264/.305. He’s put up a more respectable .247/.339/.390 line since joining the Brewers Rookie League affiliate in June. Based on his 2015 numbers,  forecasts Denson for just 0.2 WAR through age 28, with a meager 6% chance of cracking the big leagues.

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JABO: The Downfall of Doug Melvin

Last week, in this space, I wrote about Dave Dombrowski’s Achilles Heel in the wake of the Tigers letting go of their long-tenured General Manager. Yesterday, another long-term General Manager was relieved of his duties, as the Brewers have moved Doug Melvin “into an advisory role”, opening up their GM position for the first time since 2002.

Like Dombrowski’s start in Detroit, Melvin’s first few years in Milwaukee were pretty rough. The team lost 94 games in both 2003 and 2004, then hung around .500 for the next three years, so it was five years of laying the groundwork for a competitive team. But in 2008, things started to come together around a strong young core that included 24-year-old sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and 25-year-old middle infielders J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks. To supplement the team’s homegrown core of All-Star hitters, Melvin made a big mid-season trade for CC Sabathia, whose dominant performance helped carry them to the team’s first postseason berth since 1982.

While Sabathia was just a half-season rental — and predictably signed for big money in New York that winter — the Brewers retained the young core that looked like it should form the foundation of a perennial contender. However, since the start of the 2009 season until Melvin’s resignation, the team went just 540-545 and only made the postseason in one out of those seven years. While Dombrowski is leaving Detroit on the back of a long run of success that may just now be coming to an end, Melvin’s track record is more of a long string of unfulfilled potential.

So why weren’t the Brewers able to turn one of the best young groups of home-grown hitters into a consistent winner? Unlike with Dombrowski, Melvin didn’t have one glaring flaw that came back to haunt him on an annual basis. Instead, the Brewers lack of success can be chalked up to three significant organizational failures over the last seven years.

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Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Carlos Gomez Trade

Days after acquiring Scott Kazmir, the Astros went out and bought more players last night. This time around, they acquired Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for four prospects: Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser and Josh Hader. Let’s take a look at how this quartet of minor leaguers projects. (Note: WAR figures denote WAR through age-28 season.)

Brett Phillips, 3.7 WAR

Brett Phillips, 21, has split the 2015 season between High-A and Double-A where he’s hit .320/.377/.548 in 97 games. Phillips hit for gobs of power (.268 ISO) at the former location, but it’s yet to show up (.142 ISO) at the latter. Still, his ability to get on base has enabled him to post a 133 wRC+ since his promotion. Phillips also has above-average speed, which shows up in his stolen-base numbers.

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Astros Acquire Acceptably Healthy Carlos Gomez

Here’s a trade that’s as much about a trade that didn’t happen as it is about itself. Yeah, it’s independently interesting that the Brewers traded Carlos Gomez to the Astros. It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that the Brewers also traded Carlos Gomez to the Mets, except that they didn’t, officially. The Mets, as you’re probably aware, claim they didn’t like Gomez’s medicals. Gomez and the Brewers said there’s nothing wrong in there. The Astros evidently didn’t see enough to convince themselves Gomez isn’t worth a barrel of prospects. So now it’s basically about the Astros’ evaluation vs. the Mets’ evaluation, and it was the Astros who freaked out about Brady Aiken.

Could be, it wasn’t actually about health. Maybe the Mets didn’t want to take on money, and we’ll see if they do anything else before Friday afternoon. Could be, also, there are just valid differences of opinion, since passing a physical isn’t always black and white. A few offseasons ago, Grant Balfour passed a Rays physical after failing the Orioles’ version. Teams look at things differently. I don’t know how right or wrong the Mets really are.

Here’s what I do know: another team in the race has determined Gomez should be able to help them. That team is paying a lot for the privilege. For the Mets, Gomez could’ve solved two problems. Instead, he’ll try to solve problems for the Astros, and honestly, this package is probably a better one for the Brewers, too, compared to Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. The Brewers had a trade fall through, and then they made a better one. I don’t mean to make this about the Mets, but they’re the most fascinating party in all of it.

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Aramis Ramirez Returns to Pittsburgh

Brent Morel started at third base for the Pirates on Monday. The same Brent Morel who has a career .272 on-base percentage. He started again at third base last night as well. This must have struck fear into the hearts of Pittsburgh Pirates fans, perhaps giving them some flashbacks to the bad old days. Thankfully, that shouldn’t happen very often, as the prodigal son — Aramis Ramirez — has returned. The Pirates re-acquired him on Thursday evening in exchange for minor-league pitcher Yhonathan Barrios.

When Aramis Ramirez left the shores of the Allegheny, he had accumulated just 3.2 WAR in his 2,253 plate appearances in a Pittsburgh uniform. But with the Pirates’ National League Central rivals in Chicago and Milwaukee, he went on to become the player the Pirates always envisioned him as. Now on the brink of 40 WAR for his career — a bar that has only been crossed by 40 other third baseman in big-league history — Ramirez is back in black and gold, and Neal Huntington and Co. couldn’t have picked a better time to bring him back into the fold.

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The Pros and Cons of Adam Lind

The trade deadline is 25 days away, and with so many teams bunched up in the middle of the standings, there could be a serious shortage of talent available for teams looking to upgrade. In particular, available hitters seem to be particularly scarce, as the few sellers that exist in the market are mostly going to be selling veteran pitchers. Between Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, some pretty good arms will likely change teams in the next few weeks, but for teams like the Pirates and Cardinals — who could use a bat far more than another arm — the pickings are beyond slim.

Right now, in fact, it appears that the best hitter likely to change teams before the deadline is Brewers first baseman Adam Lind. Yes, the same Adam Lind who was traded for Marco Estrada over the winter, because the Blue Jays didn’t really want to pay him $7.5 million to DH for them. Lind wasn’t exactly a hot commodity during the off-season, and given his track record, it’s not hard to see why teams weren’t exactly falling all over themselves to add him to their line-up. Here are Lind’s seasonal wRC+ marks by year since he broke into the big leagues.


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Why Do We Care About the Spitball?

Much of (baseball) history comes down to who you believe. Let’s take Gaylord Perry, for example. Here’s an excerpt from his Society of American Baseball Research bio:

Following the season, the rules committee finally outlawed the practice of a pitcher putting his hand to his mouth anywhere on the pitcher’s mound, instructing the umpire to call a ball upon each infraction. According to Perry’s later confession, spitballers had to learn to use foreign substances like Vaseline or hair tonic, rather than saliva. In Perry’s words, “That rule virtually eliminated the pure spitball in baseball. I had the whole winter and spring to work out an adjustment. It wasn’t easy.” Prior to the rule change, Perry would touch his cap and mouth, and fake a wipe of his fingers. Now he had to get his moisture somewhere else on his person, and also learn a new series of elaborate decoy moves. He spent the winter practicing in front of the mirror. After a rocky spring training, he managed just fine.

Seems pretty bad. And at the end of his long, illustrious/infamous career, Perry would actually be ejected for having a ball covered in vasoline. But then, consider his Hall of Fame plaque. Its second sentence reads:

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The Case for Trading Jonathan Lucroy

The Brewers season is over. Already a mediocre team that needed to catch a lot of breaks in order to contend, Milwaukee has gotten off to an 8-18 start, watched two of their best players end up on the disabled list, and on Sunday night, they fired their manager. They currently stand 11.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central race, and the season is only a month old. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, they may be 20 games out, and even the lowered bar of the second Wild Card can’t save the Brewers 2015 season. Which is why they’ve already told other teams that they’ll likely be an early seller, and are just waiting for buyers to decide it’s time to upgrade in order to start moving veterans for things that can offer more help in the future.

However, according to Buster Olney, the Brewers are hanging a not-for-sale sign on their best player.

This shouldn’t come as any big surprise, as even rebuilding teams have rarely moved their franchise players lately. Whether it was Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, or Giancarlo Stanton, we just haven’t seen non-contending teams be willing to put legitimate frontline players on the market, preferring instead to build around their best players rather than use them as chips to try and stockpile a larger quantity of talent. It’s one thing to trade role players and guys on expiring contracts, but no one seems particularly interested in getting rid of the kind of player that is very hard to get back.

But I think there’s a strong case to be made that the Brewers should go against the grain here. Jonathan Lucroy is a great player, but I think the Brewers are probably better off trading him than they are keeping him.

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On Orlando Arcia’s Lack of Power

Milwaukee Brewers fans haven’t had much to get excited about this year. Their team’s 5-17 record is easily the worst in baseball, and with a BaseRuns differential of -45, it appears as though they’ve been about as bad as their record suggests. It’s unlikely the Brewers will continue to play this poorly, but it’s probably safe to say the they won’t be anywhere near the playoff race this fall. Our playoff odds calculator gives them a minuscule 1% of even making it into the Wild Card game.

The current iteration of the Brewers is pretty depressing — Adam Lind is literally their only player who’s hitting better than league-average. But despite their current struggles, Milwaukee has a few intriguing minor leaguers on the horizon, who represent beams of light for Brewers fans. One of those players is shortstop prospect Orlando Arcia. Kiley McDaniel deemed Arcia the Brewers best prospect over the winter, and the 20-year-old has lived up to that billing with a hot start to 2015.

Through 78 trips to the plate in Double-A Biloxi, Arcia’s hitting .409/.468/.545. This is obviously a very small sample of games, but still, a .409 batting average is pretty eye-popping. Arcia’s year-to-date numbers are almost certainly good enough to make us re-evaluate what we thought of him a month ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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, AngelsDodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

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

Draft Rankings: 2015, 2016 & 2017

International Coverage: 2015 July 2nd Parts One, Two & Three, 2016 July 2nd

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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