An early look at exit velocity

With the invention of StatCast, we have the capability to see just how hard a batter hits the ball. Being able to determine exit velocities has transformed the way we evaluate players, and it allows us to measure player performance on a more accurate level. In other words, StatCast is amazing.

According to my Baseball Savant query, there were 165,566 balls put in play in 2017. Of those, only 15,799 (10.4 percent) were hit with an exit speed of 100 mph or faster. Batters hit .651 with a whopping .844 wOBA on those balls, while they batted just .253 with a .249 wOBA on exit velocities that failed to reach the century mark. The lesson learned here: hit the ball hard.

Exit velocities can also let us know if a hitter is having good or bad luck. For example, if a hitter has a low batting average on balls in play but has a relatively high hard-hit rate, it’s likely the said hitter has been bitten by the bad luck bug. Chances are his misfortune will eventually turn in his favor. Unless, of course, he’s someone like Joey Gallo, who will always have a low BABIP because most of his batted balls go over the fence.

The Milwaukee Brewers just finished their first full week of the season, and currently sit in third place in the NL Central with a record of 5-5. And quite frankly, they’re lucky to have five wins. They just lost three of four to the Chicago Cubs, a series in which the Brewers managed just one hit with runners in scoring position. After a strong start in San Diego, Milwaukee’s bats have cooled off, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at the team’s exit velocities after 10 games to see which players are over performing/underperforming.

As a team, the Brewers rank 26th in average exit velocity with a mark of 86.4 mph. The Chicago White Sox lead baseball with an average of 91.8 mph. Individually, the average hitter hits the ball at 88.2 mph. Let’s look at Milwaukee’s hitters to determine who’s contributing to the team’s low velocity numbers.

Note: All stats are as of April 7. Sunday’s finale versus the Cubs is not included. All stats courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Player Balls In Play 2018 Avg Exit Velocity (mph) 2017 Avg Exit Velocity Difference wOBA xwOBA
Lorenzo Cain 32 89.9 89.1 0.8 .326 .353
Travis Shaw 28 86.1 88.3 -2.2 .320 .296
Jonathan Villar 22 86.7 86.7 0.0 .255 .222
Domingo Santana 21 90.1 89.3 0.8 .296 .293
Manny Pina 21 79.0 87.0 -8.0 .278 .329
Eric Thames 20 89.9 88.1 1.8 .403 .497
Orlando Arcia 20 82.0 85.3 -3.3 .169 .183
Christian Yelich 20 97.1 90.4 6.7 .418 .398
Ryan Braun 18 86.1 89.7 -3.6 .282 .315
Eric Sogard 8 80.9 83.5 -2.6 .175 .210
Jesus Aguilar 7 84.2 89.0 -4.8 .543 .460
Jett Bandy 6 91.5 85.2 6.3 .211 .314
Hernan Perez 5 85.2 84.1 1.1 .097 .182
Ji-Man Choi 1 99.0 93.6 5.4 1.232 .591

A few things stand out here.

  • Only four players have exit velocities that are better than league average, and one of them is Jett Bandy, who’s put just six balls in play so far.
  • The Brewers desperately need Christian Yelich back in the lineup. He ranks fourth in all of baseball in exit velocity and has a .474 BABIP.
  • Manny Pina is really struggling to make strong contact. His xwOBA is much higher than his wOBA, but the fact he’s averaging only 79 mph on batted balls is worrisome.
  • Ji-Man Choi made the most of his one at bat on Opening Day.
  • I thought Orlando Arcia would take a huge step forward in 2018, and although it’s still early into the season, he’s continually hitting soft grounder after soft grounder. He has a 60 percent ground-ball rate and a 40 percent soft-hit percentage.
  • Ryan Braun — aside from his late-inning home run heroics — has been miserable at the plate. He’s not hitting the ball hard and has a miniscule .158 BABIP
  • Eric Thames looks good at the plate, and the peripherals back it up.
  • Domingo Santana has crushed the ball, but hasn’t found any gaps yet. He has just one extra-base hit.
  • Lorenzo Cain leads the team with 11 batted balls of over 100 mph. His hardest hit ball was 111.6 mph off Brian Duensing that resulted in a double.
  • The Brewers have 48 batted balls that have reached 100 mph or faster off the bat. That’s the 11th most in baseball, which is strange considering how low they rank in average exit velocity.

The Brewers have a dangerous offense. The additions of Yelich and Cain have made their lineup a force to be reckoned with, but 10 games into the new season, the offense has struggled. And a lot of that has to do with the quality of its batted balls. It’s still early, so the numbers in the table are still fluctuating by large amounts with each new batted ball, but if in a month, Milwaukee’s exit velocity numbers are still in the gutter, then we may want to take more notice and start worrying.

RW23 hitter projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

Welcome to the second annual edition of the RW23 hitter projections. 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 2018 Milwaukee Brewers’ roster as of March 25, 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.

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

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

2B Jonathan Villar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 466 423 .255 .316 .405 .721 .150 .314 28.2% 8.2% .336 27 13
Steamer 489 434 .250 .323 .398 .721 .149 .312 27.0% 9.4% .326 29 13
ZiPS 526 472 .244 .312 .400 .713 .157 .307 28.5% 8.7% .324 34 15

3B 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

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

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

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

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

OF Domingo Santana

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 535 460 .273 .370 .501 .871 .228 .375 28.5% 12.5% .352 13 25
Steamer 573 492 .258 .353 .468 .821 .211 .351 28.3% 12.0% .328 9 26
ZiPS 566 492 .258 .352 .472 .823 .213 .352 30.9% 11.8% .345 10 26

INF Eric Sogard

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 401 357 .259 .336 .326 .662 .067 .298 12.3% 9.3% .293 3 2
Steamer 164 142 .262 .346 .364 .710 .102 .313 14.0% 10.6% .298 3 2
ZiPS 383 335 .257 .344 .349 .693 .093 .308 13.1% 11.0% .291 6 4

INF 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

C Jett Bandy

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 201 181 .228 .298 .392 .690 .164 .302 25.6% 7.3% .275 1 7
Steamer 77 70 .229 .289 .384 .673 .154 .290 22.2% 6.2% .267 1 2
ZiPS 297 266 .222 .291 .398 .689 .177 .297 21.5% 6.1% .247 1 11

C Stephen Vogt

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 244 225 .250 .302 .451 .752 .200 .324 17.9% 6.3% .265 0 11
Steamer 176 159 .257 .318 .441 .759 .183 .322 18.9% 7.9% .283 1 7
ZiPS 405 371 .259 .314 .450 .764 .191 .323 17.3% 7.2% .280 0 15

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

Dark horse Cy Young candidates for 2018

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, since then, it’s been a little pet project of mine, and when I say dark horses, I mean dark. I had major success in my debut season, as two of my dark horses actually won 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 — up until now — exclusive Milwaukee Brewers website. This post, along with one at the end of the season reviewing the candidates, will be the only two non-Brewers pieces you’ll find here.

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 dark horses here, along with how they finished. You can also follow along with my current candidates here.

Now, without further ado, here are my 2018 dark horse Cy Young candidates.

1. RHP Zack Godley – Arizona Diamondbacks

Godley is coming off his first full season as a starter, and the 27 year old performed like a No. 1 pitcher in Arizona’s rotation. His 3.37 ERA was backed up by his 3.41 FIP and 3.32 xFIP, while his strikeout rate increased by nearly nine percent from 2016 (when he was mainly used as a reliever). The main thing that intrigues me about Godley is his ability to generate whiffs. Among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year, Godley ranked ninth in swinging-strike rate (13.3 percent). That’s a higher percentage than Jacob DeGrom, Stephen Strasburg and teammate Zack Greinke.

The Diamondbacks are set to install a humidor in Chase Field in which they’ll store their baseballs and, as a result, the baseballs will become heavier due to the water they’ll absorb. And that means there will be fewer home runs hit in Chase Field. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan has more on the issue, but we can reasonably expect Chase Field to see a rather large reduction in home runs. Now, Godley isn’t a fly-ball pitcher, but his 14.7& home-run-to-fly ball ratio — which was the 26th highest mark in all of baseball (minimum 150 IP) — suggests the humidor will absolutely help Godley keep the ball in the park. And that along with his strikeouts should aid him in taking the next step to “ace” this season.

The Diamondbacks have quietly put together a strong rotation, and I’m betting Godley is the best one in that group in 2018.

2. RHP Luis Castillo – Cincinnati Reds

Castillo has just 89.1 major league innings under his belt, all of which came in 2018. But he was spectacular in those 89.1 innings, and I’m all in on this youngster.

The right-hander skipped over Triple-A after putting together a 2.58 ERA and 2.50 FIP for Cincinnati’s Double-A affiliate, and when he got to The Show he didn’t skip a beat. Castillo struck out over 27 percent of batters faced, while posting a 3.12 ERA and 3.74 FIP. His FIP screams that Castillo may be in for some negative regression in 2018, but I’m not buying that narrative. Sixty percent of his allowed batted balls were grounders, and his four-seam fastball and sinker averaged over 97 mph. He has one heck of an arm, and though he probably relies on his four-seam a bit too much, it has the capability to be a devastating pitch.

Castillo’s chances of winning the Cy Young award are miniscule, but that’s why they call it a dark horse, right? Look out for him 2018.

3. RHP Kenta Maeda – Los Angeles Dodgers

Maeda accumulated an ERA over 4 in 2017 and, as a 29-year-old pitcher, his prime should soon be winding down, yet here he is on my list.

Assuming he begins the season in the rotation, Maeda should have no trouble shutting down hitters, and while he took a step back numbers-wise from his rookie season, he made big strides in a few noteworthy categories by upping his K/9, lowering his BB/9, and raising his swinging-strike rate. The results didn’t reflect those improvements, mainly due to his trouble keeping the ball inside the stadium, as he gave up 22 home runs in just 134.1 innings.

If Maeda can keep the ball from flying out and continue to raise his strikeout game, he should see some positive regression in 2018. He allowed a .306 wOBA last season while his xwOBA was .281; that’s not a terribly big difference, but it does mean that Maeda pitched better than his final stats indicated.

4. RHP Jeff Samardzija – San Francisco Giants

Of every pitcher who threw a pitch last year, Samardzija may have been the unluckiest. He posted a 4.42 ERA, yet I would argue that he was dominant. He’s on my list in 2018 because I think he’ll be dominant again, except this time with the stats to back it up.

Samardzija posted baseball’s 13th-highest K-BB% last season, with a 20.4 percent mark. He struck out 24.2 percent of hitters — his highest rate since 2012 — and walked just 3.8 percent — the lowest of his career. Furthermore, his ERA-FIP was the second-largest gap among qualified pitchers, which highlights just how much better Samardzija was than what the naked eye sees. Samardzija will be very good in 2018, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished with a sub-3 ERA.

The former Notre Dame star is getting up there in age, so this could be his last shot for a true chance at the Cy Young.  I think he has the best chance of all my dark horses.

5. LHP Andrew Heaney – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The darkest of the dark of my candidates, I believe Heaney — if he can finally stay healthy — can be an ace-like starter for the Angels.

Heaney has pitched just 27.2 innings over the last two years due to a plethora of injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2016. The 26-year-old lefty has made 23 starts in his career and has a 4.48 ERA to go along with a 4.81 FIP, but during his time in the minors and his brief stint in the majors last season, there’s a lot to like. In 21.2 innings, he struck out 26.7 percent (11.22 K/9)  of batters, and while I know that’s an incredibly small sample size, it ranked among the top 25 in that category among starting pitchers. However, Heaney was terrible in 2018, finishing with a 7.06 ERA and 9.11 FIP. That was mostly due to a 40 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, which is just nuts and unsustainable.

Heaney has always had success in the minors, and health has been his biggest hurdle. His only healthy season in the majors came in 2015 when he posted a 3.49 ERA in 105 innings. If Heaney can prove he can continue to pile up the strikeouts with a low-90s fastball and sinker while maintaining a clean bill of health, he has the chance to finally reach his potential.

Does Orlando Arcia have 25-homer potential?

Usually, when I begin writing an article, most of my research has already been researched. I know exactly how the article is going to begin and end, because, like I said, my research has already been completed. This piece is different. Upon starting the piece I had done no research. I was reading a baseball chat hosted by FanGraphs, and someone mentioned the fact that Orlando Arcia could break out, particularly in the home run department. I wanted to see if I agreed with that premise based on what we’ve seen from Arcia thus far, so I started writing and researching simultaneously. The question I posed in the title is a question I didn’t know the answer to until I completed the article. It was a fun little exercise, and it was a fun change of pace from what I’m normally accustomed to.

Orlando Arcia has never been considered an elite hitter. Even when Arcia was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and was coming off a Double-A season in 2015 in which he hit .307 that was accompanied by a .347 on-base percentage and a 126 wRC+, his skills with the bat still came as an afterthought. It was his defense that propelled him as he made his way through the Brewers farm system, and, as a shortstop, being exceptional on offense is often seen as less important.

And through 208 MLB games, Arcia’s reputation has lived up to the billing. While his defense has been somewhat of a mild disappointment (just 5 defensive runs saved through his first two seasons), his glove has still been far superior than his bat. The 23 year old has posted 79 wRC+ with a .133 isolated power (.140 is considered average) during his first 764 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, only 12 players with at least 750 plate appearances during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns have produced a lower wRC+. Suffice it to say, Arcia has gone through his fair share of struggles at the plate.

Arcia’s biggest problem is his knack for hitting the ball on the ground, as he’s hit a grounder in more than 52 percent of his plate appearances. And, of course, it’s impossible to hit a home run that flies over the fence when it’s on the ground, which is why Arcia has just 19 home runs to his name. So therein lies the problem with the title of this post. How can Arcia possibly smack 25 dingers when his profile has always suggested he’s incapable of such a feat?

Let’s first start by looking at Arcia’s first- and second-half splits of his batted ball data.

LD% GB% FB% HR
First Half (297 ABs) 17.6% 52.7% 29.7% 8
Second Half (209 ABs) 23.2% 50.0% 26.8% 7

Interestingly enough, Arcia’s fly-ball rate dropped at a rather significant rate in the second half, and yet, he essentially matched his home run production in 88 fewer at-bats. Sure, his ground-ball rate shrunk a bit, but the biggest change Arcia made had to do with line drives. He started to hit more of them, but that didn’t really aid him power-wise. According to Baseball Savant, four of Arcia’s 15 home runs came on live drives, with three of them coming after the All-Star break (i.e. the second half).

So far, this hasn’t told us much. Let’s dig deeper by looking at how hard Arcia hit the ball in 2017.

Soft% Med% Hard% HR/FB%
First Half (297 ABs) 25.6% 46.7% 27.7% 11.3%
Second Half (209 ABs) 18.9% 47.3% 33.7% 15.6%

Looks like we found a little something. After the All-Star break, Arcia apparently decided he was going to make better contact going forward, and that’s exactly what he did. His soft contact rate plummeted seven percent while his hard-hit rate jumped six percent, and as a result, he hit more home runs per fly ball. A big reason for his hard-hitting spree is the fact that he cut down on pop ups by almost 11 percent in the second half. Pop ups are bad, and Arcia’s sudden decision to stop hitting them bodes well for the upcoming season.

However, despite the optimism the above table displays, Arcia’s exit velocity numbers paint a different picture. Arcia’s average exit velocity during the first half was 85.4 mph and 90.4 mph on fly balls. In the second half, that number changed to 85.9 mph overall and 89.9 mph on fly balls. I say the word “changed” but nothing really changed. The numbers are essentially the same. In all reality, Arcia hit the ball with the same velocity all season long. The quality of contact in the table is provided by Baseball Info Solutions, while the exit velocity numbers come from StatCast. Here’s what FanGraphs has to say about the quality of contact stats it uses from Baseball Info Solutions:

Unfortunately, the exact algorithm (the exact cut points/methodology) are proprietary to BIS and we can’t share exactly what constitutes hard contact, but the calculation is made based on hang time, location, and general trajectory. It’s not perfectly analogous to exit velocity, but until we have more complete StatCast data, it’s a step up from simply knowing line drive versus fly ball.

BIS doesn’t perfectly lineup with Statcast, and in Arcia’s case, the two are vastly different. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe the exit velocity numbers because I actually know how they are calculated, and StatCast, in general, is more broadly used and acknowledged among baseball circles, mainly because it’s more accessible.

Now, it’s entirely possible Arcia has made strides in the offseason, with those strides eventually resulting in more home runs in 2018. For example, he went from four home runs in 216 plate appearances during his rookie season to 15 in 548 plate appearances, while improving his HR/FB% by a decent amount. It’s possible he takes another jump in the power department, but 25 home runs? I’m not a believer. Unlike many of his peers, Arcia failed to join the fly-ball revolution, and he hits the ball on the ground too consistently to think he has 25 home runs in him. Twenty homers is possible, but even that’s a stretch. I think 15-18 home runs for Arcia is certainly reasonable, but if he wants to show more power, he needs to do at least these two things:

  • Decrease ground-ball rate
  • Increase fly-ball rate

Arcia doesn’t have enough raw power to hit opposite field home runs, as only three of his 15 home runs went to right field last year despite hitting a fly ball almost 50 percent of the time when he went the opposite way. That’s just an insane number, and not the good kind of insane, especially when you realize his fly-ball rate was less than 20 percent when he pulled the ball. If he managed to flip the two, he could easily hit 20 home runs. But that’s a tall order and a big if.

Arcia may never be consistent home-run guy, but he’s certainly capable of being a league-average, 100 wRC+ hitter. And that, along with his defensive skills at shortstop, should make him a valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers years to come.

Quick take: Projecting Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain

The Milwaukee Brewers are going for it. They’re all in. They almost got a taste of October baseball in last season, and now, in 2018, they want everything. But, unlike in past seasons, they’re building up for long-term success. General manager David Stearns isn’t messing around, and he proved that by executing two high-profile moves almost simultaneously on Thursday night.

The Brewers brought highly coveted Christian Yelich (4.5 WAR in ’17) from the Miami Marlins to Milwaukee in exchange for Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto, while also signing free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain (4.1 WAR) to a five-year, $80 million deal. In an instant, the Brewers lost their top prospect in Brinson while substantially upgrading their outfield, not only offensively, but on the defensive side as well. In fact, they have a chance to own one of baseball’s most improved defensive outfields when it’s all said and done. With Cain’s lightning speed and Yelich’s career 20 defensive runs saved, hitters are going to have a tough time finding gaps in the outfield grass.

Yelich, who just turned 26, is under team control through 2021 with a club option for 2022. He’ll make $7 million in 2018 before seeing his salary rise every year until the end of his deal. He’s coming off back-to-back 4.5 WAR seasons and produced a 115 wRC+ in 695 plate appearances last year. Moving away from Marlins Park to a hitter-friendly stadium in Miller Park should only help his production at the plate, and we could see a huge breakout season from the young left-handed hitter.

Here’s what RW23 projects from Yelich in 2018:

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 672 580 .300 .386 .502 .889 .203 .382 20.2% 11.8% .349 26

RW23 absolutely loves Yelich, predicting that he’ll set career marks in numerous categories. This may be a little optimistic — especially considering what I’ve seen from ZiPS — but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

Lorenzo Cain will be in his age-32 season when 2018 commences, and while Yelich figures to be more valuable with the bat, Cain projects to be the better outfielder. He saved five runs in 2017 after posting a 29 DRS in 2015 and 2016 combined. Cain is known for his speed, and even if that skill begins to decline with age, there’s reason to believe it won’t be that big of a problem. He immediately helps the Brewers in every facet of the game, and his $80 million contract is fair shake for both sides.

Here’s what RW23 projects from Cain in 2018:

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 610 553 .292 .350 .417 .767 .125 .334 17.6% 7.7% .338 14

Not surprisingly, RW23 is enamored with Cain as well. I didn’t include stolen bases in the table above, but RW23 has pegged Cain for 23 stolen bases, though I see that number being considerably higher.

Now, I’ll have more on these two moves early next week — like where this leaves Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips — but I wanted to at least get RW23’s projections out to the world tonight. And the projections are optimistic as heck, so take them with a grain of salt. But also be excited as Brewers fans.

And the last thing I wanted to say is this: The Brewers aren’t throwing everything into the ring for 2018. No. These two moves are intended to, yes, help the team win this season, but to also set them up for a run of numerous competitive seasons. Stearns knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s nowhere close to being done yet. Expect them to add a starting pitcher very soon.

A stat Yovani Gallardo dominated in 2017

This offseason has been so mind-numbingly slow and boring, I’ve had little else to write about than Yovani Gallardo. When the Milwaukee Brewers inked him to a one-year deal in mid-December, I published a piece on the alterations he’s made and the transformations he’s gone through since being traded away from Milwaukee. And now, about a month later, I’m back at my computer writing words about Gallardo once more. On a totally unrelated note, it’d be nice if the Brewers could make a big acquisition soon. I really don’t want to be forced to write about Boone Logan and J.J. Hoover.

But that’s enough complaining. Let’s get back to Gallardo.

Per usual, I was fooling around on FanGraphs looking for article ideas when I stumbled upon a statistic that not only jumped out at me, but also surprised me. It has do with the exciting world of pop ups.

There were 105 pitchers who finished with at least 130 innings last season, with Gallardo being one of them. And of those 105 pitchers, no one induced a higher percentage of pop ups than the right hander. The former Brewers’ ace induced 25 total pop ups — or infield fly balls as FanGraphs describes them — for a percentage of 16.6 percent. That means that 16.6 percent of the 151 fly balls Gallardo allowed were classified as pop ups. Here’s the infield fly ball rate leaderboard chart from 2017 (minimum 130 innings).

Name IP IFFB IFFB%
1 Yovani Gallardo 130.2 25 16.6%
2 Marco Estrada 186.0 46 16.6%
3 Dan Straily 181.2 38 15.9%
4 Matt Boyd 135.0 27 15.9%
5 Ariel Miranda 160.0 34 14.0%
6 James Paxton 136.0 15 13.0%
7 Kenta Maeda 134.1 19 12.9%
8 Danny Duffy 146.1 21 12.2%
9 R.A. Dickey 190.0 24 12.2%
10 Ervin Santana 211.1 32 12.2%

Pop ups, as you probably know, are essentially guaranteed outs, making them a dear friend to pitchers and a nasty enemy to hitters. To Gallardo, they were the Shawn to his Cory. And this was a detour from the Gallardo’s usual path. Even though the 31 year old hurled just 130.2 innings, the 25 pop ups he allowed were the most in his career that began in 2007 and that has spanned over 1700 innings. In fact, he’s allowed just 32 pop ups combined in the past three years combined before 2017 began.

It’s been well-documented that Gallardo regained some of his lost velocity at some point during the 2017 season, and that just may have contributed to his increase in pop ups. Fast pitches up in the zone are tougher for hitters to get on top of, and if weak contact is made, it’s likely to result in a pop up. Let’s take a look at where in the zone Gallardo pitched that induced the most pop ups.

Note: Baseball Savant classifies infield fly balls differently than FanGraphs, which is why the chart above shows more pop ups than what I had previously stated.

The majority came from the upper corner of the zone, and like I said earlier, his improved velocity surely made it harder for hitters to make solid contact on those types of pitches. General manager David Stearns has already mentioned that Gallardo intrigued him because of his renewed velocity, so hopefully the latter’s new relationship with pop ups will continue.

In the grand scheme of things, however, I’m not sure this means much, if anything at all. Gallardo was still a rather poor pitcher last year. But at the very least, this should be viewed as some sort of silver lining for those who don’t understand why the Brewers wanted Gallardo back on their team. And if that doesn’t do it for you, well, you learned an interesting stat about one of the best pitchers in Brewers franchise history.

Projecting Jhoulys Chacin

The Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively quiet this winter. With money to spend and the urge to spend it for the first time in a handful of years, the expectation was that the Brewers would make a big splash in free agency. David Stearns has been rumored to be interested in Jake Arrieta, and it’s no secret the team would be in favor of re-signing Neil Walker. And while there’s still plenty of time for those moves or other noteworthy acquisitions to happen, the Brewers have decided to make plays for under-the-radar and low-cost players.

Their first “significant” offseason move was bringing back an old friend in Yovani Gallardo on a $2 million contract that includes incentives. After two forgettable seasons with Seattle and Baltimore, there’s no guarantee the former Brewers’ ace makes the roster, and even if he does, he’ll probably be used as a long reliever rather than a starter. The acquisition of Gallardo didn’t — for good reason — make much noise around baseball, but a few days later the Brewers made another move that, while not flashy at its base, has the potential to be great.

On Thursday the team announced that it had signed Jhoulys Chacin to a frontloaded two-year contract worth $15.5 million that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. At face value, Chacin seems like a league-average pitcher. In 2017 he posted a 3.89 ERA and a 4.26 FIP on his way to a 2.3 WAR over 32 starts. His career numbers aren’t nearly as positive, but he provided optimism with the Padres last year. His slider is considered one of the best in the game, and that’s backed up by this fact:

Chacin also forced more swings-and-misses via his slider than Chris Sale. That’s right, Chris Sale. The right-hander threw his slider almost 35 percent of the time last season and limited hitters to a lowly .155 batting average against it. As a result, Chacin finished with the 14th-highest groundball rate (49.1 percent) among qualified pitchers. He’ll need to continue to do that in Miller Park, a stadium known as a hitter’s paradise due to the amount of home runs it allows.

The biggest knock on Chacin is his home/road splits and his difficulty in getting out left-handed hitters. Chase Anderson also suffered from the latter problem until the Brewers altered where he stood on the mound last season, and he just turned in his best year to date. I’m not saying Chacin will automatically dominate lefties if he makes the same adjustment, but it’s definitely a possibility, and there’s absolutely no harm in trying. The home/road splits are more of an issue. Chacin threw in pitcher friendly Petco Park in 2017 and was unbelievably great (1.79 ERA, 3.80 FIP) at home. However, he was very different away from his home stadium (6.53 ERA, 4.85 FIP), and that’s somewhat worrisome going forward. Miller Park is considered a hitter’s park, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to his new atmosphere. Limiting home runs will be key to his success.

Here’s how RW23 projects Chacin to perform in 2018:

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR WHIP BABIP
RW23 161.1 3.78 4.20 4.07 8.08 3.43 21.2% 9.0% 19 1.29 .282