Hitter projections for the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers

Welcome to the 2019 edition of the RW23 hitter projections for the Milwaukee Brewers. RW23 — creatively named after Rickie Weeks — was created in 2017 with the help of Mike Podhorzer and his book, “Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance.”

Below you’ll find the RW23 hitter projections for the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers, along with the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems for comparison. In its debut season, RW23’s hitter projections went toe-to-toe with Steamer, while solidly beating ZiPS.

Remember projections are just projections. Don’t take them as fact. But feel free to bash them in the comments section.

C Yasmani Grandal

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 532 .247 .355 .487 .842 .240 .361 28 24.0% 14.1% .280
Steamer 496 .237 .344 .453 .797 .216 .345 23 25.0% 13.5% .277
ZiPS 475 .238 .349 .462 .811 .223 .351 23 25.7% 14.3% .281

1B Jesus Aguilar

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 595 .258 .329 .480 .810 .223 .346 30 27.2% 8.8% .309
Steamer 578 .242 .317 .454 .771 .212 .330 28 26.4% 9.1% .286
ZiPS 526 .258 .333 .492 .825 .234 .350 28 25.3% 9.5% .297

2B Mike Moustakas

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 603 .269 .330 .508 .838 .239 .356 34 16.6% 8.1% .270
Steamer 575 .261 .321 .489 .809 .228 .342 30 16.5% 7.5% .264
ZiPS 580 .267 .324 .506 .818 .239 .350 32 16.2% 7.1% .268

3B Travis Shaw

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 595 .282 .376 .534 .910 .252 .386 34 19.0% 12.9% .298
Steamer 598 .249 .334 .457 .791 .209 .338 27 21.3% 10.8% .276
ZiPS 560 .261 .340 .472 .812 .219 .346 26 21.4% 11.1% .282

SS Orlando Arcia

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 552 .245 .293 .357 .650 .112 .286 11 22.9% 6.2% .303
Steamer 507 .253 .302 .377 .679 .123 .293 10 19.4% 6.2% .299
ZiPS 553 .247 .294 .360 .654 .113 .283 10 21.3% 6.0% .302

OF Ryan Braun

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 460 .270 .331 .493 .824 .222 .351 20 19.8% 8.0% .300
Steamer 507 .265 .330 .476 .807 .212 .342 23 19.6% 8.4% .290
ZiPS 440 .269 .332 .470 .802 .201 .340 18 19.5% 8.2% .300

OF Lorenzo Cain

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 600 .296 .372 .424 .796 .128 .349 12 15.8% 10.3% .339
Steamer 620 .284 .356 .422 .778 .138 .339 14 16.9% 9.2% .327
ZiPS 568 .287 .359 .409 .768 .123 .336 11 16.2% 9.3% .330

OF Christian Yelich

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 662 .310 .390 .544 .934 .234 .397 29 20.5% 11.0% .360
Steamer 637 .297 .381 .515 .896 .218 .382 26 20.5% 11.2% .344
ZiPS 673 .298 .379 .522 .901 .224 .384 28 21.1% 10.8% .349

1B Eric Thames

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 340 .232 .316 .478 .794 .246 .342 19 32.3% 10.0% .295
Steamer 258 .235 .329 .459 .788 .224 .336 12 30.3% 11.2% .299
ZiPS 427 .229 .333 .478 .818 .256 .346 23 32.3% 12.2% .293

OF Ben Gamel

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 322 .272 .346 .416 .762 .144 .332 6 19.7% 9.5% .330
Steamer 110 .267 .333 .393 .725 .126 .316 2 20.9% 8.5% .330
ZiPS 530 .267 .331 .413 .744 .146 .322 9 20.4% 8.3% .326

INF Hernan Perez

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 295 .254 .288 .398 .686 .143 .297 9 21.6% 4.6% .301
Steamer 216 .253 .290 .294 .685 .141 .295 5 20.0% 4.9% .294
ZiPS 415 .255 .286 .401 .686 .145 .294 11 20.5% 4.3% .298

INF Cory Spangenberg

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 252 .264 .328 .426 .753 .162 .328 8 27.1% 8.0% .339
Steamer 75 .245 .306 .383 .688 .138 .300 2 28.4% 7.4% .328
ZiPS 461 .246 .306 .406 .712 .160 .308 13 30.4% 7.2% .337

INF Tyler Saladino

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 129 .228 .285 .365 .650 .137 .285 3 25.9% 5.3% .308
Steamer 81 .230 .293 .352 .645 .121 .283 2 24.2% 7.3% .290
ZiPS 321 .228 .292 .345 .636 .117 .280 6 23.1% 7.5% .283

C Manny Pina

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR K% BB% BABIP
RW23 261 .239 .303 .365 .668 .126 .293 6 19.0% 6.7% .281
Steamer 96 .250 .306 .388 .694 .138 .301 2 20.4% 6.6% .296
ZiPS 334 .247 .303 .385 .688 .138 .297 8 19.2% 6.3% .285

 

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Dark horse Cy Young candidates for 2019

Welcome to the 2019 edition of my dark horse Cy Young candidates.

I’ve been putting together a list of dark horse Cy Young candidates since 2015 when I was writing for a different site. The topic was assigned to me by my editor, and ever since then, it’s been a little pet project of mine. I had major success in my debut season, with two of my dark horses winning the prestigious award. Aside from 2015, I haven’t had a place to publish my candidates save for Twitter and Google Docs, so I decided to issue it on The First Out At Third, an — other than this yearly article — exclusively Milwaukee Brewers website.

I only have three requirements when picking my candidates:

  • They haven’t won the Cy Young award in the past
  • They haven’t received a single Cy Young vote in the past three years

You can find my past picks here, and once the 2019 season begins, I’ll post a link on Twitter that allows you to follow along with my candidates.

Let’s see who I think will take a huge leap forward this season and fight for some Cy Young votes.

1. RHP Collin McHugh – Houston Astros

McHugh is set to return to the starting rotation after spending all of the 2018 campaign in Houston’s bullpen, a place in which he was light-out dominant. In 72.1 innings, the 31-year-old struck out over 33 percent of batters he faced, while hitters batted just .175 against him, good enough for the 10th-lowest mark among qualified relievers. In the end, his season numbers were more than impressive, as McHugh finished with a 1.99 ERA and 2.72 FIP. Only five relievers had a lower ERA.

McHugh wasn’t sent to the bullpen because he was struggling as a starter. Far from it actually. The Astros were just so deep with starting arms that McHugh — along with Brad Peacock — were the odd-men out. McHugh has actually performed very well as a starter in his career. In 645.2 innings, he owns a 4.00 ERA and 3.73 FIP. His time in the bullpen allowed him to work on a few things, one being his slider. McHugh’s slider was a nightmare for right-handed hitters last season, as they hit just .135 against it. McHugh also increased his fastball velocity by nearly two ticks.

The veteran hurler and podcaster is obviously not the best pitcher in Houston’s incredible rotation, and he’s definitely not the most noteworthy, but if he’s as dominant as I think he will be in 2019, fans all across Major League Baseball will begin to know his name.

2. RHP Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates

In his third season in the big leagues, Taillon tallied his best year in 2018. The 27-year-old posted career lows in ERA (3.20), FIP (3.46), strikeout rate (22.8%) and WAR (3.7) across 191 innings. It’s fair to say he broke out, though I believe an even greater breakout is on the horizon.

Taillon — a former top 100 prospect — has been able to increase his strikeout rate every year, while never struggling with control. With a power sinker at 95 mph and solid spin (75th percentile) on his curveball, I see no reason why his strikeout trend shouldn’t continue this upcoming season. In fact, a considerable leap in strikeout rate wouldn’t surprise me. Take a look at his StatCast ranks from 2018, and you’ll see he’s above average in numerous key categories.

In order to pitch like a Cy Young, though, Taillon will have to work on keeping the ball in the yard. While 20 home runs allowed isn’t necessarily a terrible number, his 11.7% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio was the 30th-highest mark in all of baseball. Again, not terrible, but in an extreme pitcher-friendly stadium like PNC Park, that’s just too high, and it needs to come down.

The Pirates won’t be good in 2019, and they won’t be very much fun to watch, but Taillon could change that when he’s on the mound. A Blake Snell-like breakout could very well be on its way.

3. RHP German Marquez – Colorado Rockies

If you were to guess who the top five qualified starters in strikeout rate during the second half of last season were, you’d probably come up with four of the five. It’s likely, however, that you’d miss Marquez. That’s right. Only Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and and Jacob deGrom struck out batters at a higher rate than Marquez in the second half, a half in which he was making everyone swing and miss. The 24-year-old (oh my god, he’s only 24) struck out hitters at a 33.9 percent clip on his way to a 2.61 ERA and 2.25 FIP after the All-Star break. On the season as a whole, Marquez finished with a 3.77 ERA and 3.40 FIP.

Marquez’s ability to generate whiffs is why I love him in 2019. He finished in the top-15 in swinging-strike rate, and 186 of his 230 punch outs (80 percent) came on a swing and a miss — eighth-most in MLB.

Because of his absurd finish to the year and the fact that he likely hasn’t even reached his best yet, you might see Marquez on many lists like mine. However, pitching in homer-happy Coors Field doesn’t help him. It really doesn’t help him. The Colorado Rockies are one of four teams that have never had a pitcher win the Cy Young award. By that fact alone, Marquez is a dark horse.

4. RHP Jose Berrios – Minnesota Twins

Berrios started 25 games in 2017 and 32 games in 2018, and he somehow managed to put up nearly identical stats in both.

ERA FIP BB% WAR
2017 3.89 3.84 7.8% 2.9
2018 3.84 3.90 7.7% 3.3

As the table clearly shows, Berrios essentially duplicated his 2017 season last year. However, there is one stat I knowingly left off the table. A stat that shows he actually improved in 2018 more than we may think. And that’s strikeout rate.

Berrios increased his strikeout rate by nearly three percent from 22.6 percent to 25.4 percent. Only 17 other starters can say they had a higher strikeout rate than him. Not too shabby for a 24-year-old kid, eh? What’s even more impressive about that is Berrios is doing it without over-the-top impressive StatCast numbers. His fastball velocity is barely above average (58th percentile), and his curveball that he throws 30 percent of the time is well below average, sitting in the 37th percentile range. Despite that, though, Berrios started getting more whiffs via his curveball in 2018, and that greatly aided his overall strikeout numbers. Berrios also does a good job of limiting hard contact. The average ball hit off him was hit at a speed of 86.1 mph, while his hard-hit rate was above league-average, as well.

Berrios is set to lead the Twins’ rotation, and could very well be on his way to a memorable season. Like Taillon, though, he’ll need to do a better job of limiting home runs if he expects to pitch with the big guns.

5. RHP Nick Pivetta – Philadelphia Phillies

Who needs Dallas Keuchel when you have Nick Pivetta is a sentence that has never been written or said until now. But I believe it to be true.

Pivetta recorded a 4.77 ERA in 2018, which isn’t good, so you might be wondering how and why he’s one of my candidates. Well, as you know, ERA rarely tells the entire story, and Pivetta’s peripherals are far more encouraging. Pivetta was the owner of the second-largest gap between his ERA (4.77) and FIP (3.80) last year. His ERA minus FIP was 0.97, trailing only Jon Gray‘s total of 1.03, meaning Pivetta was the victim of some rotten luck. A lot of Pivetta’s struggles can and should be blamed on Philadelphia’s record-breaking terrible defense, which should be much-improved this season. Add another reason to be encouraged by Pivetta.

Even Pivetta’s expected stats — which are based on launch angle and how hard a ball is hit — say he had bad luck. He allowed a .339 wOBA, while his xwOBA (expected wOBA) was .311. His expected batting average was .237, yet he allowed a .255 average. Long story short, Pivetta pitched much better than a 4.77 ERA.

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. Pivetta — who just turned 26 — was a top-15 pitcher in strikeout rate. He struck out 27.1 percent of batters he faced, while walking only 7.4 percent. His K-BB% — which is a good indicator of future success — was the 12th-highest mark among his peers. Guys, Pivetta is a damn good pitcher. With more luck and a better defense behind him, his standard numbers should begin to reflect that. Watch out for him in 2019.

Brent Suter had a pitcher problem in 2018

Brent Suter is a fascinating pitcher for numerous reasons. Whether it’s his quirkiness in the Brewers dugout, his ability to homer off Corey Kluber or the fact he allowed the third-lowest average exit velocity in all of baseball, it’s not hard to find something interesting about the lanky lefty. Unfortunately for him, and frankly, for fans of baseball, Suter won’t be pitching anytime soon. Suter underwent the dreaded Tommy John surgery in late August of last year, effectively ending his 2018 season and calling into question his availability for 2019. There’s a chance Suter could return to a major league mound late in the season, though that remains to be seen, and quite frankly, it seems a bit optimistic.

So while we wait for Suter to heal and for this dreary winter to end, I thought it’d be fun and enlightening to write a post about yet another weird statistic authored by the man, the myth, the legend.

Last season there were 110 pitchers who faced an opposing pitcher a minimum of 10 times. Six of those pitchers failed to allow a hit to their counterpart — Freddy Peralta, Carlos Martinez, Wade Miley, Jacob Nix, Jarlin Garcia and Stephen Strasburg. The other 104 pitchers weren’t as lucky, as they all allowed at least one hit to pitchers. Notice how Suter was one of the unfortunate ones. Well, that’s because Suter had an incredibly difficult time against his opposite number. He faced 26 pitchers in total and somehow, almost impressively, gave up seven base hits, equating to a .269 batting average. Only two pitchers — Matt Koch (.316) and Ty Blach (.308) — allowed a higher average than Suter. He also allowed a .251 wOBA (six singles and one double) against pitchers, which was seventh-highest mark.

Here is every pitch Suter threw to a pitcher that ended the plate appearance.

That’s 19 four-seam fastballs, three changeups, two curveballs and two sliders. The first thing that jumps out at you is the number of fastballs and the location of those fastballs. However, diving deeper into Suter’s pitch arsenal, it’s really not surprising he utilized his four-seamer so often. He threw it 63.5 percent of the time during the regular season, ranking as the sixth-highest rate in all of baseball. The location, though, is more troubling, as nearly all of his pitches ended up high in the zone.

Here is the pitch location of every base hit Suter allowed.

Five of the seven hits were on pitches in the middle-to-upper part of the zone, and all but one came via the four-seam fastball. The only hit Suter gave up to a pitcher against his slider was to Rockies’ hurler Kyle Freeland. That happened on May 12 when Freeland roped a grounder through the right side of the infield.

And as far as that one extra-base hit Suter allowed…

Granted, that ultimately should’ve been a single, but since Domingo Santana (I miss you) took a poor route, Yu Darvish landed on second base easily. Though it’s not like Darvish didn’t deserve a base knock there. He crushed Suter’s offering for an exit velocity of 99.5 mph. It came in at 86 mph and left the bat nearly 14 mph faster. For a pitcher, that’s eye-opening. The fact Darvish crushed one at nearly 100 mph should be the most embarrassing moment of Suter’s life.

As I mentioned earlier, Suter allowed the third-lowest exit velocity in MLB to all types of hitters at 83.7 mph. Meanwhile, against pitchers, Suter allowed an average exit velocity of 69.5 mph or the 18th-lowest velocity among qualified pitchers. It makes little to no sense that Suter struggled so much against pitchers. Essentially, Suter’s troubles against hurlers were more bad luck than anything else, and honestly, this means absolutely nothing going forward. The fact he gave up seven hits to pitchers doesn’t mean he’s going to get blasted by them again next season, health permitting.

This is just one of those articles that breaks down an irrelevant, yet entertaining, statistic.

Yasmani Grandal is everything the Milwaukee Brewers need

Ever since the Milwaukee Brewers jettisoned Jonathan Lucroy to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in 2016, the club has been in search of a reliable catcher. One that could not only handle a pitching staff, but one that could carry his weight at the plate as well. Over the last two seasons, the Brewers have dished out at least 100 plate appearances to four different catchers, as they attempted to find a full-time Lucroy replacement. Manny Pina was a respectable option in 2017 and 2018, with his defense shining significantly brighter than his offense, but the Brewers coveted and needed more offensively.

When the offseason began, the Milwaukee Brewers had two glaring holes in their lineup that most thought they needed to address in order to repeat the successful season they put together in 2018. Although the Brewers aren’t an organization that necessarily listens to outside noise, general manager David Stearns likely knew he needed to upgrade both the second base and catcher position. As of now the Brewers will head into the season with the trio of Hernan Perez, Tyler Saladino and Cory Spangenberg at the second base, though that’s likely to change before spring training. As far as upgrading at catcher, the Brewers did just that by signing Yasmani Grandal to a one-year, $18,25 million deal.

In a single move, the Brewers grabbed one of the best catchers not only available in free agency, but in Major League Baseball as a whole. And no, that’s not a hyperbole. Grandal is, factually, a top-tier backstop, especially when it comes to the skill of hitting.

wRC+ MLB rank among catchers WAR MLB Rank among catchers
2016 121 3rd 2.9 4th
2017 102 7th 2.5 7th
2018 125 3rd 3.6 2nd

Grandal has been worth 9 WAR over the last three seasons, while Brewers catchers have somehow compiled a measly 4.1 WAR since the Lucroy trade, with Pina accounting for 80 percent of that total. It’s clear that the Brewers needed an upgrade.

Now, you might remember Grandal’s lackluster performance against — and here’s the irony — the Brewers during the National League Championship Series this past fall when it seemed like he couldn’t catch a ball to save his life. Some even gave him the moniker “Yasmani Passed Ball”. And while not necessarily clever, Grandal’s struggles with passed balls have been well-documented. He’s led baseball in past balls three times, and that was on full display in the NLCS. But don’t think his affinity for passed balls necessarily makes him a bad catcher.

According to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Grandal has actually been the best defensive catcher in the league over the last three years. We all know that defensive statistics — particularly those pertaining to catchers — are nowhere near perfect, but this is telling, nonetheless. Even with his passed-ball problem, he more than holds his own behind the plate.. And that’s even more true when talking about pitch framing. Per StatCorner, Grandal was behind only Jeff Mathis in terms of pitch-framing value in 2018. The 30-year-old catcher was worth 13.8 runs saved above average, while meanwhile, Pina — who’s known for his defensive prowess — was way down the list at -4.2 runs saved above average. One could argue that Grandal is upgrade over Pina as a hitter and as a defensive catcher.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a significantly better team with Grandal behind the plate, though FanGraphs still has the team pegged for a crazy-low 79 wins. But we must take that with a grain of salt. Last year the site also predicted Milwaukee would finish with 79 wins, and look what happened. Don’t take projections too seriously. It’ll just make you mad. The fact is the Brewers are better than they were a week ago. Not even FanGraphs can argue that.

Speaking of projections, here’s how RW23 thinks Grandal will perform in 2019:

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 515 437 .247 .354 .488 .842 .240 .362 24.0% 14.1% .280 2 27

Even if Grandal can’t meet these high-performance numbers, the shift to left-handed hitter friendly Miller Park should greatly aid the switch-hitting catcher. A career year for Grandal definitely isn’t out of the question.

What’s important is that the Brewers finally have their catcher, and even though their solution only covers a year, it’s clear the organization is looking to build on its 2018 success. Grandal’s addition gives the Brewers another dangerous hitter in a lineup that is already filled with them.

Travis Shaw is primed for an All-Star season in 2019

One could make the argument that Travis Shaw already enjoyed his breakout season. One would intelligently say his break out happened in 2017 when Shaw set career highs in wRC+ and home runs. And really no one can reasonably disagree with that, because it’s true. Shaw broke out the minute he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, when he proved he was capable of being more than just a platoon player. I believe Shaw is capable of more, though, and I think that 2019 will be his true coming out party, because in 2019, he’s destined to be an All-Star.

Shaw is entering his age-29 season and has produced 3.5 WAR and 3.6 WAR in the last two seasons, respectively. The left-handed slugger crushed 31 home runs during his first year in Milwaukee and followed that up with 32 this past season. His wRC+ stayed consistent as well, from 120 in 2017 to 119 in 2018, both well above league average. According to WAR and wRC+, Shaw produced nearly identical seasons. Overall, he’s been an extremely reliable and a dangerous hitter as a Brewers regular, and yet, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that starts with a simple turn of luck.

By now, we all know that batting average is a flawed statistic, but I feel must address it here, because in this case, it’s important. In 2017, Shaw’s batting average was a respectable .273. In 2018, his average dropped like Paul Ryan’s approval rating, and he ended the year batting only .241. His low batting average, coupled with a handful of other statistics, is one of the biggest reasons I believe Shaw will take a tremendous step forward during the 2019 campaign.

Let’s take a look at Shaw’s batting average, on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play.

BA OBP BABIP
2017 .273 .349 .312
2018 .241 .345 .242


This is fairly telling. Shaw’s batting average on balls in play — which generally shows the amount of good or bad luck a hitter/pitcher has — fell by 70 points. Shaw went from owning the 62nd-highest BABIP (league average was .300) to the 134th-highest BABIP, or seventh-lowest among qualified hitters, depending on how you want to phrase it. That’s eye-opening.

So what happened?

For starters, Shaw fought through a wrist injury last season. Wrist injuries are famous for zapping bat speed and subsequently lowering exit velocities, and though Shaw’s exit velocity didn’t move more than a hair in 2018, his hard-hit rate noticeably dropped a few percentage points. Shaw also hit more pop ups, another sign of poor contact. His wrist injury could be reasonably blamed for both. Shaw additionally sees a lot of shifts, which makes it harder for hits to fall, particularly for pull hitters. Shaw faced the shift more often in 2018 than in 2017, and his batting average on ground balls fell from .246 to .197, but I’m just not a believer that a six percent shift increase is the cause of Shaw’s 50-point drop in grounder BABIP. Plus his ground-ball rate significantly declined this past season, so we can’t say he’s hitting too many grounders in general. Blaming his low BABIP solely on grounders into the shift just isn’t accurate. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe Statcast.

Travis Shaw 2018
wOBA against no shift .341
wOBA against the shift .396

Moving on.

The thing that stands out to me the most is Shaw’s still awesome on-base percentage. Despite his batting average suffering a sharp decline, his OBP stayed consistent. And that got me thinking. How many hitters in 2018 managed an 100-point difference between their on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play (minimum 200 plate appearances)? The list must be small, right? Because that’s a huge gap.

Name OBP BABIP OBP-BABIP
Jose Ramirez .387 .252 .135
Carlos Santana .352 .231 .121
Mike Trout .460 .346 .114
Alex Bregman .394 .289 .105
Bryce Harper .393 .289 .104
Russell Martin .338 .234 .104
Travis Shaw .345 .242 .103
Tony Wolters .292 .189 .103
Aaron Hicks .366 .264 .102

The list, is in fact, small. Only six players in 2018 recorded a bigger gap between their OBP and BABIP than Shaw, and some of them make sense. Carlos Santana has always been a high-OBP, low-BABIP hitter, and of course, Mike Trout is going have a significant gap when his OBP is a whopping .460.

But let’s focus back on Shaw. Shaw’s on-base percentage remained high because he discovered a new-found sense of plate discipline. His walk rate jumped over three percentage points, while he cut his strikeouts by over four percent. Even though Shaw made significant strides at the plate in 2018, he was burdened by horrible luck. Historically bad luck, actually. Since 2010, there have only been 10 hitters (14 individual seasons) who have recorded an on-base percentage of .330 or higher with a BABIP of .250 or lower (minimum 300 plate appearances).

Player Year OBP BAbip
1 Travis Shaw 2018 .345 .242
2 Carlos Santana 2018 .352 .231
3 Todd Frazier 2017 .344 .226
4 Jose Bautista 2015 .377 .237
5 Mark Teixeira 2015 .357 .246
6 Carlos Santana 2014 .365 .249
7 Edwin Encarnacion 2013 .370 .247
8 Jose Bautista 2012 .358 .215
9 Mark Teixeira 2011 .341 .239
10 Ian Kinsler 2011 .355 .243
11 Evan Longoria 2011 .355 .239
12 Jose Bautista 2010 .378 .233
13 Carlos Quentin 2010 .342 .241
14 Andruw Jones 2010 .341 .239

While Shaw and Santana are the only players from 2018 on this list, there’s something else that sticks out even more. Of every player above, Shaw is the owner of the second-highest career BABIP, trailing only Evan Longoria. That mean’s Shaw’s .241 batting average was an outrageous outlier. He deserved a much better fate, and even though he was one of Milwaukee’s best hitters, his end-of-the-year stats could’ve — and probably should’ve — been prodigious.

Based on everything I laid out, I believe Shaw is capable of taking a Neil Armstrong-like step forward in 2019. Based on his historically bad luck alone, he should crush pitchers at a high rate. The health of his wrist will be key and he’ll need to do a better job of holding his own against left-handed pitchers, but Shaw will also need the notorious baseball gods back on his side. Just think about it. If Shaw — with his improved eye at the plate — hit .312 on batted balls in 2018 like he did the previous year, he most likely would’ve eclipsed 130 wRC+ and could’ve been a 4-win player. Shaw’s BABIP must hover around .300 in order for him to take the leap that I expect from him. He’s just a few positive bounces away from achieving career-high numbers.

As a treat for making it this far, here’s Shaw’s RW23 projection for the 2019 season. Spoiler: it’s absolutely insane. So insane that while I think Shaw will be excellent, I don’t necessarily believe he’ll be this outstanding. I mean, he’d probably garner MVP votes based on this projection.

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO woba K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 603 513 .285 .379 .537 .917 .252 .389 19.0% 12.9% .303 5 34

Shaw is capable of being an All-Star, and I’m riding or dying with that prediction. Care to join me?

Who are the Brewers getting in Alex Claudio?

Though it wasn’t Wilson Ramos or Corey Kluber, the Milwaukee Brewers made an acquisition Thursday, right before the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas shut down. The Brewers sent their Competitive Balance Round A pick (No. 40 overall) in next year’s draft for Alex Claudio, a left-handed reliever who has pitched for the Texas Rangers in each of his five major league seasons. By acquiring Claudio, the Brewers strengthen an already elite bullpen.

But who exactly is Alex Claudio?

Let’s start by looking at his pitching profile. If you go to his player page on, say, FanGraphs, you’ll notice two things immediately; he doesn’t strike anyone out and he’s a ground-ball god. You’ll also probably see the 4.48 ERA he posted in 2018, but we’ll get to that silly statistic in a bit.

Claudio relies heavily on his sinker — as do most ground-ball pitchers — by throwing it over 50 percent of the time. He also features a changeup and mixes in a slider on occasion, but in general, he’s a sinker hurler. Regardless, here’s what his changeup is capable of looking like when it’s on its game.

Claudio’s changeup and slider generate significantly more swings and misses per swing than his sinker, so one may ask why he doesn’t throw those two pitches more often? Well, it’s because Claudio — as insane as this sounds in (basically) 2019 — doesn’t care about strikeouts. He doesn’t need whiffs to be successful. That’s not his game. His goal is forcing ground balls that his infielders can turn into outs, and he’s done that better than almost anyone in baseball. Since 2016 there have been 57 relievers who have recorded at least 170 innings. Claudio ranks second on that list in ground-ball rate. His 63.7 GB% trails only Brad Ziegler over that time period. He expects to get outs with his ground balls, and with the way the Brewers shift their infield defense, he’s likely to see his outs surge.

Now let’s get back to his 2018 ERA. In terms of ERA, Claudio had his worse season of his career last year, despite generating ground balls at a 60 percent clip. What happened? But more importantly, why shouldn’t Brewers fans be worried about this?

The table displays Claudio’s ERA and FIP in each of his last three seasons. I picked Earned Run Average because it shows — though flawed — the end result of a pitcher’s season and that’s important. And I picked Fielding Independent Pitching because it paints a more accurate picture than ERA. The table also shows his batting average on balls in play, which has the ability to demonstrate certain types of luck.

ERA FIP BABIP
2016 2.79 2.97 .312
2017 2.50 3.21 .269
2018 4.48 3.42 .366

Obviously, the left-hander suffered some awful batted-ball luck in 2018. Of every qualified reliever last season — 151 pitchers in all — Claudio’s .366 BABIP allowed was the third-highest mark. That’s enough proof right there to know there’s just no way that’s sustainable. Now, this isn’t an exact science, and his high BABIP from 2018, though likely, isn’t guaranteed to drop. There’s reasons other than luck for his BABIP rise, like the fact his ground-ball rate dropped by six percent from 2017, or that his defense behind him was one of the worst in baseball in terms of Defensive Runs Saved. Luckily, Milwaukee’s defense is far superior in that category, so that should help Claudio’s numbers immediately. While there are credible factors that contributed to his .366 BABIP, I think it’s safe to say that luck was the biggest culprit.

With the exits of Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeno from the Brewers bullpen, the team was in search for a southpaw who could eat innings. Claudio is, if nothing else, an innings eater. He’s also a significant upgrade over Jennings, who was left off the playoff roster in October. Not to mention, the Brewers have control over Claudio until 2021, which was likely very appealing to general manager David Stearns.

Claudio isn’t a flashy acquisition and the move isn’t going to make headlines. But neither did the signing of Jhoulys Chacin last December and look how that turned out.

Reviewing the hitter projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

Phew.

What a season. What an incredible, outta-this-world fun and heart-wrenching season the 2018 campaign turned out to be. When Mike Moustakas swung and missed on a pitch in the dirt from Clayton Kershaw to end the Milwaukee Brewers’ Cinderella story, I was broken, and yet, so thrilled and happy I was able to witness playoff baseball in Miller Park once again.

With that being said, I needed time away from the Brewers and from baseball, which is why this site has been silent for awhile. I needed to process what happened and I needed to decompress. That’s over with now. I’m ready to start thinking and writing about the Milwaukee Brewers again.

So let’s review the season by looking over the preseason projections from The First Out At Third’s own system (RW23), Steamer and ZiPS. In 2017, RW23 was fairly accurate with its hitter projections, while it struggled with pitchers. My computer took a dive just before the season started, so I was unable to project hurlers this year, though I did manage to get my hitter projections out to the world. Let’s see how they stacked up against the powerhouses of Steamer and ZiPs.

***Note: My preseason projections included Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, Domingo Santana, Jett Bandy and Stephen Vogt, but because Villar was traded, Sogard, Santana and Bandy barely spent any time with the team and Vogt missed the entire season, I decided not to include them below. If you have issues with this decision, take it up with the league office.

C Manny Pina

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 333 304 .245 .301 .370 .671 .125 .295 23.1% 6.4% .299 1 8
Steamer 231 210 .251 .306 .388 .694 .137 .300 20.5% 6.5% .297 1 5
ZiPS 339 311 .248 .299 .386 .685 .138 .295 19.5% 5.9% .288 2 8
Actual 337 306 .252 .307 .395 .702 .144 .301 18.4% 6.2% .285 2 9

Winner: Steamer

All three projection systems foresaw Pina’s fall back to earth after a career year in 2017. Steamer just happened to be a bit more spot on than RW23 and ZiPS. It remains to be seen if Pina will be Milwaukee’s starting backstop in 2018, though one should expect him to be on the 25-man roster.

1B Eric Thames

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 489 419 .243 .348 .499 .846 .256 .363 30.2% 12.8% .306 4 26
Steamer 508 437 .251 .346 .488 .834 .236 .352 27.2% 11.5% .309 6 26
ZiPS 516 441 .240 .345 .510 .855 .270 .358 30.6% 12.6% .300 7 29
Actual 278 247 .219 .306 .478 .783 .259 .330 34.9% 10.4% .284 7 16

Winner: N/A

Thames lost playing time to Jesus Aguilar soon after the season started, and he proved he wasn’t a reliable option off the bench, highlighted by the fact the Brewers refused to put him on their postseason roster. Thames looked lost at the plate all year, and none of the projection systems saw it coming. There’s no winners here.

3B/2B Travis Shaw

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 595 527 .277 .353 .535 .888 .258 .376 23.2% 10.1% .315 9 33
Steamer 580 516 .249 .323 .454 .777 .205 .328 23.4% 9.3% .286 5 26
ZiPS 573 515 .256 .323 .472 .795 .216 .335 23.2% 8.6% .294 7 26
Actual 587 498 .241 .345 .480 .825 .239 .351 18.4% 13.3% .242 5 32

Winner: ZiPS

Though RW23 was correct in projecting that Shaw was capable of putting up similar — if not better — power numbers to 2017, it was a little too bullish on the Brewers infielder, giving ZiPS its first win. Shaw was the victim of some BABIP bad luck, and I expect his average and OBP to rise in 2019.

SS Orlando Arcia

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 592 544 .278 .331 .431 .762 .152 .326 16.9% 7.0% .312 15 17
Steamer 551 503 .262 .313 .405 .717 .143 .305 17.5% 6.7% .296 14 14
ZiPS 599 554 .256 .305 .401 .706 .144 .299 18.2% 6.3% .292 16 16
Actual 366 348 .236 .268 .307 .576 .072 .253 23.8% 4.1% .305 7 3

Winner: ZiPS

We can just copy what I wrote about Thames and paste it here, because, boy, Arcia was just a bag of off-balanced swings during the regular season. He turned it on in October, but that doesn’t erase his miserable six months prior to that. Once again, RW23 hyped up Arcia, and while Steamer and ZiPS didn’t think he’d be this dreadful, the win goes to the latter.

OF Ryan Braun

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 475 428 .280 .345 .490 .835 .210 .356 18.3% 8.6% .308 7 20
Steamer 475 426 .277 .344 .496 .840 .219 .353 19.3% 8.8% .304 10 22
ZiPS 472 426 .284 .347 .495 .843 .211 .354 18.9% 8.3% .316 12 20
Actual 447 405 .254 .313 .469 .782 .215 .330 19.0% 7.6% .274 11 20

Winner: ZiPS

A .313 on-base percentage for Braun is shocking, though his career-low .274 BABIP explains it a little. I didn’t want to give ZiPS the win here, as all three projection systems missed the mark again, but I guess ZiPS was the closest. I honestly have no idea.

OF Lorenzo Cain

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 610 553 .292 .350 .417 .767 .125 .334 17.6% 7.7% .338 23 14
Steamer 593 533 .283 .344 .437 .781 .154 .335 17.7% 7.6% .324 16 16
ZiPS 579 530 .283 .339 .426 .765 .143 .328 16.6% 7.1% .322 22 14
Actual 620 539 .308 .395 .417 .813 .109 .359 15.2% 11.5% .357 30 10

Winner: RW23

RW23 thought that Cain would be a force at the top of Milwaukee’s batting order, but Cain exceeded expectations in nearly every category, and earned himself a handful of MVP votes. Meanwhile, RW23 finally finds the win column.

OF Christian Yelich

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 672 580 .300 .386 .502 .889 .203 .382 20.2% 11.8% .349 15 26
Steamer 647 560 .296 .381 .491 .871 .195 .371 20.2% 11.4% .348 12 23
ZiPS 682 598 .289 .371 .472 .843 .182 .360 20.8% 11.1% .346 16 21
Actual 651 574 .326 .402 .598 1.000 .272 .422 20.7% 10.4% .373 22 36

Winner: RW23

The first convincing win for RW23, as it projected Yelich’s career year. The Brewers outfielder brought home the National League MVP and displayed a power force he never showed during his time in Miami. It seems rather unlikely Yelich can hit 36 home runs again in 2019, but is it really sane to put expectations on him anymore?

UTIL Hernan Perez

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 355 333 .273 .309 .430 .739 .157 .319 17.0% 5.1% .300 8 12
Steamer 183 172 .258 .293 .398 .691 .141 .295 19.2% 4.5% .298 6 5
ZiPS 474 446 .269 .299 .426 .725 .157 .307 18.1% 4.2% .305 15 13
Actual 334 316 .253 .290 .386 .676 .133 .292 21.3% 5.1% .300 11 9

Winner: Steamer

Perez had a typical Hernan Perez season. No walks and no on-base skills. There’s not much else to say about his season. I gave Steamer the win, despite being off on his playing time numbers.

1B Jesus Aguilar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 82 74 .249 .314 .450 .764 .201 .330 28.8% 7.7% .311 0 4
Steamer 20 18 .236 .302 .426 .728 .190 .310 26.5% 7.9% .284 0 1
ZiPS 473 428 .243 .307 .428 .734 .185 .312 26.0% 7.8% .293 0 19
Actual 566 492 .274 .352 .539 .890 .264 .374 25.3% 10.2% .309 0 35

Winner: N/A

RW23 and Steamer didn’t think Aguilar would stick on the roster very long, and while ZiPS pegged him for a starting job, it vastly underestimated him as a hitter. Aguilar surprised everyone in baseball with his crushing of pitchers, and though he fell off in the second half, his season of 3.1 WAR was a tremendous success.

Final Results:

ZiPS: 3 wins

Steamer: 2 wins

RW23: 2 wins