Regression candidates for the Milwaukee Brewers

“Regression” is a commonly used phrase in the baseball community, particularly among those who consider themselves statheads or sabermetric-minded. It’s even popular among fantasy baseballers. Listen to a fantasy baseball podcast and I guarantee you’ll hear the word “regression” at least 49 times. It might become redundant, but it’s important to understand and expect regression, especially if a player has a stat that looks like an outlier and/or is getting up there in age.

Take Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees, for example. Forty percent of his fly balls flew out of the park in 2016. There’s absolutely no chance he repeats that. If he does (he won’t), his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio would be the highest of any qualified hitter in Major League Baseball history. Sanchez has terrific power for a catcher, but even Barry Bonds’ fly balls didn’t carry that much. Sanchez will regress, that much is certain.

Like the Yankees’ backstop, there were a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers last season that produced numbers that are more than likely unsustainable.

Jonathan Villar

Villar is coming off a .373 BABIP, meaning 37 percent of his batted balls went for hits. To put that in perspective, he ranked fourth in MLB in that category, and he was better than Mike freakin’ Trout. Right away, the odds of him sustaining that high of a BABIP are extremely low, just because that’s insane. But there are other warning signs, as well.

Villar hit the ball on the ground 55.6 percent of the time in 2016, which doesn’t leave much room for other types of batted balls, including line drives. In order to try and predict his regression, I looked at every player who was within about three percentage points of Villar’s GB%, so I could see how their BABIP compared to the Brewers’ infielder.

Player GB% BABIP
Eric Hosmer 58.9% .301
Yunel Escobar 58.1% .339
Christian Yelich 56.6% .356
Ryan Braun 55.7% .326
Jonathan Villar 55.6% .373
Cesar Hernandez 54.9% .363
Wilson Ramos 54.3% .327
Adam Eaton 53.7% .329
Ian Desmond 53.4% .350
Jean Segura 53.1% .353
Denard Span 52.7% .291
Adonis Garcia 52.4% .308
Brett Gardner 52.3% .310
Average .333

This list actually shows the 14 players with the highest GB% last season — which illustrates just how frequently Villar put the ball on the ground — and out of all these guys, Villar’s BABIP was far and away the highest, which essentially points to automatic regression. Now, keep in mind that league average batting average on balls in play is usually around .300, and aside from Span, every player above exceeded that, so Villar is still likely to as well. He has the speed which allows him to use ground balls to his advantage — which is why most of these players have admirable marks — but while Villar’s BABIP probably won’t crater down to earth like President Donald Trump’s approval rating, it’s definitely going to drop closer toward the mean (.333) in 2017, and as a result, his overall offensive production will falter a bit.

Ryan Braun

During the last two seasons, Braun has looked like the same fearsome hitter that he was when he produced MVP-caliber campaigns back in 2011 and 2012. He has 55 home runs during that span, 30 of which came last year, and while that has been an impressive run, it’s likely going to come to an end, as Braun is about to experience some serious home run regression.

braun

Above is a chart of Braun’s HR/FB ratio over the course of his career. His fly balls have always carried over the wall at a higher rate than most other players, but 2017 was an entirely different story. Braun not only posted a career high with a 28 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, but he actually led all of baseball in this statistic, and it wasn’t all that close, either. Before last year, Braun never even came close to hitting 25 percent, much less flirting with 30, so predicting a home run regression isn’t exactly a shot in the dark. Not to mention the fact that he recently turned 33, and power usually evaporates with age.

Braun turned in one his best seasons in recent memory, but if his fly balls stop carrying out of the ball park, can we really expect him to put up similar numbers?

Junior Guerra

Guerra came out of nowhere and provided 2.5 WAR in 20 starts for the Brewers last year, second only to Zach Davies. He’ll battle Davies for the right to start on Opening Day, but it’s unwise to believe he can repeat a 2.81 ERA. Just look at his peripherals. His 3.71 FIP and 4.29 xFIP are huge warning signs going into 2018. Those two marks were considerably higher than his ERA because he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, had some issues with walks and kept the ball in the park at an alarming rate — all of which suggest that regression is about to hit him hard.

The then 31-year-old rookie was also quite lucky last season. His .250 BABIP was the fifth-lowest mark among starting pitchers (min. 120 IP), just ahead of Clayton Kershaw and a fraction behind Kyle Hendricks. And even when he did allow hits, he did an unusually terrific job at stranding them, as is evident by his 79.4 percent strand rate.

Steamer projections are predicting him to fall off a cliff with a 4.32 ERA, and while I could definitely see that happening, that may be a bit too much projected regression.

If I were manager: Picking the Brewers starting rotation

Let’s play a game. You like games, right? Good, because we’re going to pretend I’m the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, and I get to pick the starting rotation. Game on.

The Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation posted a combined 4.40 ERA and 8.5 WAR in 2016, ranking 17th and 20th, respectively. A good portion of the rotation’s WAR came from Zach Davies (2.8) and Junior Guerra (2.5), but overall it was just slightly below league average, despite you probably thinking otherwise. With no big-name free agent starters added to the pool, Milwaukee’s pitching staff doesn’t figure to be too much better in 2017, especially if the team rolls out the same lot it did a year ago. But is that really going to happen?

The Brewers have arguably seven pitchers who could start. Only four of them probably should, but manager Craig Counsell needs five. And so do I since I’m taking over as manager for this post. Here are the seven candidates according to Milwaukee’s depth chart:

  1. Junior Guerra
  2. Zach Davies
  3. Jimmy Nelson
  4. Wily Peralta
  5. Chase Anderson
  6. Matt Garza
  7. Tommy Milone

Guerra and Davies are my top two pitchers and are definite locks to make the rotation. RW23 believes Guerra and Davies will see some regression this upcoming season, but not nearly enough to cause alarm. They should still be the best pitchers on the Brewers.

Notice how Garza isn’t listed among the top five. Given how much the Brewers are paying him, that’s a rather big surprise, but his stats back it up. Garza continued to prove he was one of the worst free agent signings in history by accumulating a 4.51 ERA and 4.33 FIP last year, bringing his Brewers total to 4.59 ERA/4.27 FIP across the last three seasons. He’s no longer a viable starting pitcher, and odds are he’ll only be worse this season. As manager, he will not be a part of my rotation. I’m going to stick him in the bullpen where he’ll hopefully eat up some innings as a long reliever. I’d cut him, but he’s owed $12.5 million in 2017, and that’s a lot of money to pay someone to not be on the team.

Like Garza, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson also struggled mightily. Peralta so much so that he was sent down to the minors to try and get right. Nelson, instead of taking another step forward, fell back and posted the highest FIP (5.12) of his career. Still, there’s upside remaining with both of them, more so with Nelson’s side, though. Walks really hurt him last year, along with the home run ball, and If he gets those things figured out, we should see some improvement. As for Peralta, well, I think we know what we’re going to get from him. He’s at best a No. 4 pitcher, and that’s being generous. He needs another chance to return to his 2014 form, though, so I’m going to give him one. Peralta and Nelson, welcome to my rotation.

Four spots are filled with one to go. Anderson and Milone are the final contestants, and neither of them are exactly endearing. Anderson has become increasingly more defective as his career rolls on, and even though he’s just 29, there’s literally no upside. Milone, on the other hand, has been serviceable but has never been considered a good pitcher. He’ll be 30 on Feb. 16 and owns a career 4.12 ERA in 673.1 innings as a starter. And although that ERA would be useful on many ball clubs, he’s never really been able to stick to a team. He started for the Athletics for parts of three seasons and was then shipped to the Twins in 2014 for another two and a half years. In 12 starts a year ago, he was blasted by everyone, as his 5.71 and 5.54 FIP clearly stated. And yet…

I’m going with Tommy Milone to round out my rotation. He’s been a better pitcher throughout his career than Anderson, and it’d be useful to have a southpaw in the mix. Milone has been underrated throughout his career, and I’d like to see what he can bring.

So here it is, my 2017 starting rotation for the Milwaukee Brewers:

  1. Junior Guerra
  2. Zach Davies
  3. Jimmy Nelson
  4. Tommy Milone
  5. Wily Peralta

Milone’s in at No. 4 just to break up the string of right-handed pitchers, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he outperformed Peralta. Regardless, that’s a rather uninspiring group, and it honestly might develop into the worst rotation in MLB if it stays that way.

Help is on the way, however, as Josh Hader should be just a few months away from breaking the rotation. I don’t believe he’ll make the roster right out of spring training, but if he does, he should absolutely be in the rotation. I’m not buying him as a reliever. He’s more than that. Taylor Jungmann isn’t on here either, solely because I don’t think the Brewers have any faith in him. They have Milone on their depth chart over him, for crying out loud.

Until the Brewers are ready to compete, they must adapt to an iffy starting rotation, as underwhelming as it may be. It’s forecasted to be another long season in Milwaukee.

Introducing The First Out At Third’s new projection system: RW23

For the first time in its two-and-a-half year existence, The First Out At Third will feature real projections rather than educated guesses. I’m very excited to announce the creation of RW23.

RW23 is named after my favorite (and greatest) baseball player of all time, Rickie Weeks. I’ve loved him from the moment he made his Brewers debut and I shed many tears during his final game in Miller Park, although he wasn’t even given an at bat. I own a banner of the legend that used to hang up in the stadium, and his is the only autograph I truly cherish. Naming my projections after him was a no-brainer.

Now, RW23 isn’t a scientific or mathematical, computer-based model. It relies on relatively simple formulas that I entered into Excel. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Mike Podhorzer and his book “Projecting X 2.0” credit, though, as I purchased his book to aid me. I made a few small changes and added a bit of my own sauce to it, but there’s no way I would’ve been able to do this without Mike’s book.

I’ve run about 16 projections so far, and I’ve teased a few on Twitter, but I won’t be completely finished until about a week before Opening Day. I hope and plan to release the debut of RW23 then.

I hope you’re as excited as me for not only my projections, but for the 2017 season as well!

The Brewers should be interested in Eddie Butler

Eddie Butler was once a consensus top prospect. In 2014, Baseball America, MLB.com, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Keith Law all rated the right-hander among the top 30 in their respected prospect rankings. Butler rose quickly through the minor leagues, posting a 2.39 ERA High A in 2013 before finishing the season with a 0.65 ERA in six starts with Colorado’s Double-A club. He had the hype, and many thought he was destined to be a fixture in Colorado’s rotation for years to come. But after just 159.1 innings in the big leagues, the Rockies threw in the towel and designated Butler for assignment on Jan. 28.

He’s now in waiver purgatory, awaiting a second chance, and if the Milwaukee Brewers were smart, they’d have already put in a claim for him.

Butler has been anything but a good pitcher during his brief major league career. He’s actually been below replacement level. He owns a 6.50 ERA, 5.69 FIP and 4.90 xFIP, and has struck out just 12.7 percent of batters faced while walking 9.5 percent. His WAR (-0.5) is tied for the third-lowest total among all pitchers with at least 150 innings since 2014. In other words, 297 pitchers have been more valuable to their teams than Butler. It’s no surprise the Rockies gave up on him.

But maybe, just maybe, Butler can transform into a decent pitcher — whether that’s as a starter or reliever — once he gets out of the hitter-friendly Colorado air. Now, Miller Park caters to hitters as well, but not nearly as much as Coors Field. As long as you don’t give up too many fly balls in Milwaukee, you at least have a shot at being serviceable. In Colorado, a whole array of different factors can hurt you, and that’s what happened to Butler.

BABIP FB% HR/FB%
2014 .328 23.4% 13.3%
2015 .333 27.9% 17.1%
2016 .354 29.6% 20.3%

As the years went on, Butler started getting hit harder and harder. Hitters were squaring up on his pitches like it was nobody’s business, and Butler began to give up more fly balls that ultimately sailed out of the park. But, as bad as that is, it’s also why I think he could be a better player in Milwaukee.

Butler’s fly ball rate in each of the above three seasons were well below league average, yet he gave up more home runs than it would suggest. Your average starting pitcher gave up a round tripper on 13.3 percent of his fly balls in 2016. Butler greatly succeeded that, despite allowing far fewer fly balls. Yes, I know Coors Field played a role in this, but still, Butler deserved better.

Butler had a tough time combating this effect for a few reasons, but the main culprit is his inability to miss bats. He just doesn’t strike out batters. Even in the minors when he was one of the top prospects his strikeout rates were uninspiring. The evidence of his future demise in Colorado was there, though many didn’t see it. Despite that, though, he’s suffered from some bad luck. Coors Field is usually mean to pitchers, but for Butler, it was just plain cruel, and a change of scenery could positively alter his career path.

Which is why the Brewers should want to take a chance on the 25-year-old. They are a rebuilding team that has not shied away from signing once highly regarded prospects to minor-league deals. They did it with Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini, and granted, they didn’t exactly work out, but that’s not the point. With Butler, there’s a fair chance he improves. For starters, he’s extremely young and still has time to turn it around. His home runs will surely plummet in Miller Park, and since he does fairly well at keeping the ball on the ground, his BABIP would probably improve to somewhere around league average as well. It also helps that Milwaukee has a revamped infield defense.

I ran Butler’s 2017 projection as if he were a member of the Brewers, and here’s what it spit out if he were to start 15 games.

GS ERA FIP xFIP BABIP K% BB% HR/FB%
Eddie Butler 15 5.00 4.87 4.45 .308 15.1% 9.1% 14.9%

Keep in mind that even if the Brewers do claim Butler, odds are he probably won’t even sniff the starting rotation in 2017. He’s out of minor league options, so if the Brewers did claim him, he’d be placed in the bullpen. I simply wanted to see how he’d perform if he was somehow given 15 starts. The numbers aren’t good, but they’re significantly better than his stats during his Colorado days, mostly thanks to his lower BABIP and HR/FB%. But overall, they’re quite similar to Chase Anderson‘s projection, which I find interesting.

As it stands right now, the Brewers have one of the worst starting rotations in MLB. They have a few exciting pitchers coming up through the minors, but the current rotation doesn’t look good. Signing Butler gives them more depth and another option. Best case scenario is that he turns into a reliable fifth starter or a long reliever out of the bullpen. There’s literally no risk here for a rebuilding club.

Butler was once a top prospect for a reason, and although we can’t blame the entirety of his struggles on Coors Field, it definitely killed him. He needs a new ballpark, a new team and a new sense of confidence.

Take two on Domingo Santana

Last year I wrote this. And in case you don’t want to click on the link, I basically said that I believed Domingo Santana would be Milwaukee’s best player in 2016. That clearly didn’t happen. In fact, it didn’t even come close. Santana finished worth -0.1 WAR or the 16th most valuable position player on the Brewers roster.

To be fair to Santana — and more importantly to me — he only played in 77 games, as he was on the disabled list for a solid chunk of the season. When he was healthy, he hit. He posted a 110 wRC+ and reached base 34 percent of the time, despite striking out in every third at bat. It was his defense (-10 DRS) that killed his WAR, but the offense was there the whole time.

And that’s why I am once again on the Domingo train. I am, however, altering my stance a bit due to his defensive inefficiencies. In 2017 Domingo Santana will have the highest wRC+ of any qualified hitter on the Milwaukee Brewers. Boom. There it is. Instead of being the best player on the team, I’m predicting he’ll be the best hitter.

I suppose I should explain why I’m so high on a guy who has yet to be more than a replacement-level type player.

In 2015, Santana had a hard-hit rate of 32.3 percent split across the Astros and Brewers. Decent but nothing to write home about. Fast forward to last season and it ballooned to 38.5 percent. His exit velocity skyrocketed like Matt Damon in The Martian (phenomenal movie) to the tune of an average of 91.0 mph. Only Nelson Cruz and Miguel Cabrera can say they hit the ball harder in 2016. That’s some good company. Santana had the second-largest jump of any major league player in exit velocity over the past two seasons, and deservingly demolished the ball. (Jeff Sullivan over at FanGraphs went over this in more detail if you’d like to check it out.) Because he hit the ball so dang hard, his HR/FB ratio (27.5 percent) ranked second in MLB behind only teammate Ryan Braun, and he finished with 11 home runs and 14 doubles for a .191 isolated slugging in just 281 plate appearances. His ability to hit for power to all fields in a place like Miller Park suits him extremely well

The only thing that’s really holding him back at the plate is his strikeout rate. He strikes out too much, plain and simple. He has a patient eye (11.4 BB%), but sometimes it’s a little too patient. Of his 91 strike outs a year ago, 36 of them came looking. It’s not like he even whiffs that much. His swinging strike rate was 12.1 percent, meaning the holes he has in his swing are few. That’s not a high rate at all. He just needs to be more aggressive at the plate and maybe attack earlier in the count.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve recently learned how to run baseball player projections (I’m very excited about this). I’ve run a few so far, and Santana happens to be one of them.

AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR BB% K%
Domingo Santana .247 .346 .477 .822 .230 0.354 21 12.3% 32.3%

My projections — which still need a name, by the way — really like Santana. The batting average sucks but so does batting average. According to this, Santana will have a very powerful year, just look at his ISO. I’m still in the process of learning how to project wRC+, so until that comes to fruition, we’ll have to make do with what I have.

Santana is going to get his. His exit velocity isn’t a fluke, and if he manages to stay healthy, he could be a star. He needs another high BABIP and needs to start hitting more balls in the air, though, but it’s something he can learn to do. I think he has 25+ home run potential.

Some people think Keon Broxton will breakout in 2016. Others love Eric Thames. But me? I’m driving the Domingo train. Care to hop on board?

Choose a catcher: Pina, Susac or Bandy?

Martin Maldonado is no longer a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, and as sad as that is for most Brewers fans, it was the right move. The backup catcher was moved to the Los Angeles Angels — along with minor league reliever Drew Gagnon — for 26-year-old catcher Jett Bandy, who by the way, has just a dope name. I wrote about Maldonado’s future a few weeks ago, and although I predicted he’d remain with the Crew for one more season, I’m not at all surprised by the trade.

So the Brewers got rid of one catcher for another catcher, meaning Milwaukee still has three backstops who could essentially start on Opening Day. They have Andrew Susac, who was a part of the Will Smith trade. They have Manny Pina, who put up an impressive .346 OBP in the majors last season. And lastly, the Brewers could pick the newcomer, Jett Bandy, who was worth 0.7 WAR in 70 games for the Angels in 2016.

Later in this post, I’m going to ask you to choose which one should get the majority of playing time during the upcoming season, but for now, let’s talk about each one individually.

Manny Pina

Pina is 29 years old but has just 98 major league plate appearances to his name, with 82 percent of them coming last season. In 33 games for the Brewers, Pina was above-average defensively and just below the average line with his bat with a 98 wRC+. Despite that, though, he impressed at the plate. He walked over 12 percent of the time, and that contributed to a .346 OBP. Now, we must take into account his small sample size. Like I said earlier, he’s barely had a cup of coffee in the major leagues, so we really don’t know if that’s his true talent level. I mean, if it was, wouldn’t you think that he would’ve been given more of a chance in previous years?

For the most part, Pina hasn’t been anything special in the minor leagues. In fact, one could argue that he was just plain bad. But something changed in 2016 when he was in Triple-A as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He posted career highs in wRC+ (147) and OBP (.379) and continued that production when he was picked up by Milwaukee. Other than that year, though, it’s clear why Pina has fewer than 100 plate appearances in the majors.

Pina doesn’t have much power to speak of — he has just 55 home runs across 11 seasons in the minors — and definitely ranks last in that category when compared to Bandy and Susac. So if the Brewers ride with him, they’ll be giving up some offensive fortitude in exchange for solid defense. And that isn’t a bad thing. Having a sound defensive catcher is more prudent than ever before, and that’s essentially what Maldonado was. He had more pop than Pina, but he was most known for his defensive abilities.

Prediction: I don’t think Pina will make the Opening Day roster. Yes, he had a surprising season a year ago, but his minor league track record says that it won’t happen again. Plus, he’ll be 30 in June, too old to be a crucial part in Milwaukee’s rebuild.

Andrew Susac

Susac will be 27 by the time the season kicks off, which means he should be entering his prime playing days, and from the little I’ve seen of the former backup to Buster Posey, I’m encouraged.

In 262 plate appearances, Susac has produced a .317 wOBA and a 104 wRC+ (four percent above league average). Now, his wOBA and OBP (.309) are not desirable. He has too many holes in his swing and needs to improve his contact rate (72.2 percent) and cut down on his whiffs (13 percent). To his credit, though, he has more power than people give him credit for. I think his ceiling his 20 home runs and his floor is around 10 during a full major league season. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s about where Jonathan Lucroy landed. And of course I’m not saying Susac is the next All-Star catcher in Milwaukee. I’m simply saying he has some untapped power potential. Steamer, a projection system used by FanGraphs, has him pegged for nine home runs in just 267 plate appearances in 2017. The power is there, guys.

He was always a good hitter in the minors. I wouldn’t call him great, but he’s definitely proved he has a chance to be the everyday guy. He didn’t do much in 148 plate appearances with the Giants back in 2015, but his eye at the plate that year (9.5 BB%) and last year with Milwaukee (10.5 BB%) tell me he’s on the right track. I just think he needs a legitimate chance.

Prediction: Susac is a better all-around baseball player than Pina, so I think that gives him the leg up. I’d be very surprised if Susac failed to make the roster out of spring training, and I think he has a very good chance to get the Opening day nod from manager Craig Counsell.

Jett Bandy

Like Susac, Bandy will be 27 by the time the season starts up, and last year was his first shot in the majors. In 231 plate appearances, Bandy accumulated an 83 wRC+ (yuck), a .281 OBP (ew) and a .289 wOBA (puke). Yeah, he was not good at all. But don’t panic. There’s a lot to like about this guy. And guess what? I’m about to tell you what those things are.

Bandy was plagued by a .246 BABIP last season. The major league average on balls in play was .300, and of the 323 hitters with at least 230 PAs, he had the 22nd-lowest mark. Although he finished just a tick below league average in terms of hard-hit rate (27.5%), he exceeded league average on balls hit with medium speed (51.1%), so it’s fair to say Bandy was fairly unlucky during his first year in the bigs.

David Stearns traded for him because he believes in his power potential. Stearns is the first to admit that it hasn’t shown up in his stats, but Milwaukee’s GM sees the hidden value, and once again, I have to agree with The Wizard. Just like I said about Susac, I believe Bandy can be a power-hitting catcher if given the chance to play everyday. He hit a combined 24 bombs in Double-A and Triple-A during the 2014 and 2015 season and crushed eight for the Angels in ’16. His profile is very similar to Susac’s, and that could set up a dynamic catching duo for the Brewers.

Above everything else, Bandy is a lethal defensive catcher. According to FanGraphs’ defensive rating (Def), he ranked above-average in 2016. He threw out 17 base stealers, which was fourth in the American League and first among rookies. He’s got a rocket for an arm, and if he could just improve his skills as a pitch framer, he could legitimately be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.

Prediction: It’s going to come down between Bandy and Susac, with Susac ultimately getting the majority of the playing time to begin the season. I do think, however, that Bandy will supplant Susac as the starter midway through the season and never look back.

Now it’s time for you to tell me what you think.

Who are the Brewers getting in Travis Shaw, Josh Pennington and Mauricio Dubon?

Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns — or The Wizard, as I like to call him — wasted no time making headlines in the Winter Meetings. In just the second day, the Brewers traded away their best reliever (Tyler Thornburg) for an everyday player (Travis Shaw) and two prospects (Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington) and PTBNL or cash considerations.

Now, I’m not going to dive deep into what exactly the Brewers gave up in Thornburg, but just know that he ranked 15th in adjusted ERA and 18th in adjusted FIP among qualified relievers last season. Thornburg is good. Really good, actually. But there were some warning signs that the Brewers were aware of. For example, Thornburg has quite an extensive injury history, so who knows when/if he’ll break down again, and 2016 was really his only season of note. Milwaukee traded him at the most opportune time and got a good haul in return.

Let’s talk about that haul.

Travis Shaw is the known player in this deal and will be the everyday third baseman for the Brewers in 2017. That means Jonathan Villar (3.0 WAR in ’16) will move to second base — where he’ll likely have more success than he did at third — and Scooter Gennett (0.1 WAR) will be forced to battle for playing time, unless he’s ultimately traded.

Shaw is a better defender than he is a hitter, but at 26 years old, there’s still some untapped potential in his bat. Last year, Shaw posted an 87 wRC+ (13 percent below league average), a .310 wOBA and a .306 OBP. His stats were definitely down from his rookie campaign in 2015, but he still managed to post the same WAR (1.5), thanks to improved defense at the hot corner. Shaw is an immediate upgrade over Hernan Perez, although Perez still figures to see at bats versus lefties, as Shaw accumulated a measly 51 wRC+ in limited time against southpaws a year ago. Still, Stearns said Shaw will have the opportunity to improve, and more plate appearances should only help that.

Shaw, along with newly signed Eric Thames, provides a left-handed power bat to a right-handed heavy lineup, and although he should help the Brewers for years to come — he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021 — he isn’t the most exciting piece of the trade return.

Before we get to the player I like the most, let’s first focus on Josh Pennington. Pennington turned 21 seven months ago and has yet to pitch above Low-A ball. He was drafted in the 29th round in 2014, falling in the draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school. The Brewers, however, believe he’s rebuilt his arm strength, and reports claim he sits in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball.

Pennington started 13 games in Low-A last season, and racked up a 2.86 ERA and 3.75 FIP. He struck out fewer than eight batters a game and struggled with command (4.29 BB/9), but there’s still a lot to like about this hurler. First and foremost, he’s young and controllable, which is exactly what Stearns has been targeting since becoming the GM. Plus, Pennington just doesn’t have enough experience to be accurately judged yet. His numbers I posted above don’t really mean much without context. His arsenal and ability to hit the high 90s is more telling of his future performance, so at the very least Pennington has a high floor.

Here’s what Stearns had to say about his new pitcher, via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He pitched healthy all of last year,” Stearns said. “We’re excited to be able to bring that type of high-upside arm into the system. “It takes a little while sometimes for guys to regain arm strength after Tommy John, and we believe he has.”

Pennington will be a wait-and-see prospect. The Brewers like him, but until he moves up to Single-A, Double-A, etc and starts facing stiffer competition, he’s little more than a lottery ticket that could pay huge dividends.

The third player the Brewers received from Boston is 22-year-old shortstop Mauricio Dubon. Dubon, in my opinion, makes this a home run trade for Milwaukee, as I think he can be an above-average hitter and fielder in the major leagues. He’s already proven he can hit in the minors, and he might be just a season or two away from his debut.

Dubon once profiled as a slap hitter, posting high ground-ball rates throughout his time in the minors, yet that changed when he went up to Double-A halfway through the 2016 season. In 269 plate appearances, Dubon registered a 151 wRC+ and got on base 37 percent of the time, and he showed some pop as well, with six home runs and a plethora of extra-base hits. Now, he won’t be a power hitter in the majors, but his contact ability is extremely encouraging, and that alone could make him an everyday player.

Because the Brewers already have stud defensive shortstop Orlando Arcia, they plan to use Dubon’s versatility at multiple infield positions in the minors, but according to Stearns, for at least this upcoming season, he’ll stick at shortstop.

The Red Sox got a top reliever in Thornburg, and the Brewers added more exciting prospects to an already stacked bunch. Boston gave up a lot, but with the news trickling in that they signed Chris Sale, it’s clear they’re going for it all in 2017. As for Milwaukee, Shaw will be an instant contributor, Pennington is somewhat of an unknown and Dubon could be the far-and-away best player in this trade.

The Wizard strikes again.