Trade targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers sit at 55-43. And while no other team in the National League has more wins (the Chicago Cubs also have 55), they still find themselves 2.5 games behind those Cubs in the NL Central. The Brewers have lost six games in a row and eight of their last 10 games. They couldn’t have finished the first half in a worse fashion, causing Brewers fans across the great state of Wisconsin to collectively lose their freakin’ minds.

It’s true that the Brewers just finished an excruciatingly grueling part of the schedule — 22 games in 21 days — so the offensive struggles are understandable. However, it’s also true that the Brewers need help. The team that has exceeded expectations desperately needs a few more pieces if they want to continue exceeding those expectations, and not only get into the playoffs, but make a deep run.

When the Brewers organization believes it has a chance for October baseball, they don’t hesitate to make bold moves via the trade market. They acquired CC Sabathia just before the All-Star break in 2008, and they sent the farm to acquire Zack Greinke before the 2011 campaign. In both seasons, the Brewers made the playoffs. Both trades paid off. Both trades were worth it. Anyone who says differently can argue with me on Twitter. I won’t respond because you’re ridiculous, but you can argue all the same.

The Brewers believe they can make a run in October, and why shouldn’t they? They signed Lorenzo Cain (3.6 WAR) to a massive deal this winter and simultaneously traded for Christian Yelich (2.4 WAR), two players who have been instantly valuable in Milwaukee’s success. The Brewers have been leading the Cubs for almost the entire year, and despite the recent underwhelming play, the Brewers look like a team that is destined to play fall baseball for the first time since 2011. General manager David Stearns will not hesitate to make that a reality. He’s going to make moves, and they’re going to be significant ones.

Here are the players he should be targeting:

SS Manny Machado

This is the obvious one. Machado and the Brewers have been linked for months, and there’s a real possibility that the two sides will work out a deal. The Brewers are in desperate need of middle infield help, as they currently rank 29th in shortstop WAR (-0.7) and 26th in second base WAR (-0.2).

The Orioles are reportedly asking for Milwaukee’s No. 2 prospect Corbin Burnes — who has been lights-out impressive since joining the big-league squad — and while the Brewers are reluctant to part with him, I doubt Stearns would balk at the chance to bring in one of the game’s best bats. Machado has a 156 wRC+ with 24 home runs and 3.8 Wins Above Replacement, and he would join a lineup that already includes Cain (125 wRC+), Yelich (121), Jesus Aguilar (159), Travis Shaw (115) and Eric Thames (135). Machado would instantly make the Brewers one of the better offensive teams in baseball.

The problem with trading for Machado is that he’ll only be around for a couple of months. Like Sabathia in ’08, he’s a rental, and the Brewers will have to decide if the opportunity cost is worth a few months of a phenomenal player.

Chance of acquiring Machado: High

SP J.A. Happ

Looking at Happ’s statistics, you might question why Happ is on this list. The 35-year-old starter has an ERA and FIP over four and lasted just 3.2 and 2.2 innings in his last two starts, respectively. Yet the Brewers should be all over the southpaw.

Happ will be a free agent after this season, and due to his current stats, won’t cost much to acquire. The Blue Jays aren’t in the running for a playoff spot, so they should have no hesitation in trading a mid-30s pitcher who has a 4.29 ERA. But if we look past his ERA — like the Brewers should — we see that his strikeout rate of 26.5 percent is the highest of his career. He’s also walking fewer than three batters per nine innings. On the negative side, he’s already allowed 17 home runs after allowing a total of 18 last season, and admittedly, that might be a problem in Miller Park.

Happ is by no means an ace, but adding him to Milwaukee’s rotation will give it a much-needed boost. He’s averaging 5.7 innings per start, and while that might not seem like a lot, take into account that Milwaukee’s starters have averaged just 5.3 innings per start. They’re right in the middle of the pack in that category.

Jhoulys Chacin is due for some regression, Junior Guerra just landed on the disabled list, Chase Anderson doesn’t look like his 2017 self and Brent Suter and Wade Miley are, well, Brent Suter and Wade Miley…uninspiring. The Brewers need rotation help, and Happ would be a cheap piece that could help propel the team to the playoffs.

Chance of acquiring Happ: Moderate to high

SP Chris Archer

The Brewers have long been rumored to have interest in the Tampa Bay Rays ace, but there’s been nothing in the rumor mill as of late. In fact, I’m not even aware anything has even been whispered about Archer in recent weeks. Maybe this guy has heard something.

Unlike Happ, Archer would be the immediate No. 1 pitcher for the Brewers. Though his strikeouts are considerably down from the past few seasons, Archer can dominate games and carry a team on his back if need be. That’s the type of hurler the Brewers covet. They need someone who can pick up the slack if the offense has a quiet night — which has happened all too often in 2018. Archer has posted an ERA over four each of the last three seasons, but he’s always been a guy whose FIP outperforms his ERA (3.68 career ERA, 3.49 career FIP. The same is true again this season. I truly believe that Archer is in need of a change of scenery, and he could once again be a shutdown ace if in the right situation.

Of everyone that is seemingly available on the trade market, Archer will cost the most. He’s just 29 years old and doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. And did I mention that he’s currently locked into an unbelievably team-friendly contract? Archer is due just $16.5 million over the next two years, which is why the Rays will be asking for the farm in any trade talks. The odds the Brewers acquire him are low, as it would, in all likelihood, force them to give up both Keston Hiura and Corbin Burnes. Nonetheless, not only would Archer almost guarantee the Brewers a playoff spot, he’d stick around for at least another two years, and Stearns loves cheap players who have multiple years of team control. It’s possible Stearns and the Rays pull the trigger on a deal involving Archer, but not likely.

Chance of acquiring Archer: Low

2B Whit Merrifield

Before 2018 began, I was against the Brewers acquiring Merrifield from the Kansas City Royals. I thought his 2017 season was a flash in the pan. Even though he broke out, his wRC+ was barely over 100 and his OBP was below .330. I thought Jonathan Villar could put up similar numbers while costing the Brewers next to nothing.

Well, Merrifield has taken his break out to another level. The 29 year old has already been worth 2.8 WAR, and he’s raised his OBP by 54 points and his walk rate by 4.6 percent. He’s hitting for considerably less power, but the Brewers — who are among the top 10 in home runs in MLB — don’t really need another power hitter. They need someone who can get on base at a high clip, and someone who is a force on the base paths. Merrifield does both of those extremely well.

However, like Archer, Merrifield will cost an arm and a leg to acquire, considering he’s not even arbitration-eligible until 2020. Still, I think Stearns could pull the trigger on him in order to upgrade the team’s middle infield.

Chance of acquiring Merrifield: Moderate

2B Brian Dozier

Don’t look at Dozier’s batting average. Don’t look at his on-base percentage. Heck, don’t even look at his wRC+. They’re all bad. But I don’t care. Dozier needs to be a Brewer. For the past few seasons, Dozier has gotten off to rotten starts at the plate, but then goes absolutely nuts in the second half.

AVG OBP HR wOBA wRC+
2016 First Half .246 .335 14 .338 109
2016 Second Half .291 .344 28 .405 155
2017 First Half .242 .328 13 .319 95
2017 Second Half .302 .394 21 .410 158

Why can’t he do it again, except this time in a Brewers uniform? The two have already been linked together.

Dozier is set to be a free agent this winter, and since the Twins’ season has been a bitter disappointment, they have no reason to keep an aging second baseman on the roster any longer. He’s not in the organization’s long-term plans, so it would make sense if they ship him off for a prospect. Dozier would add massive power to the Brewers’ lineup, and he could even be more dangerous in a stadium like Miller Park. If Stearns doesn’t want to pay up for Merrifield, getting Dozier to Milwaukee is a no brainer.

Chance of acquiring Dozier: Moderate to high

The non-waiver trade deadline is quickly approaching. In just two weeks, numerous players will be changing cities and switching teams, and if the Brewers expect to still be playing in October, they’ll soon be welcoming new players to their city. Do they go all-in and acquire someone like Machado? Or do they make small improvements like adding Happ? Only time will tell.

Jhoulys Chacin is keeping the ball in the park

Let’s begin with Jhoulys Chacin‘s projections from before the season.

ERA FIP
RW23 3.78 4.21
Steamer 4.58 4.58
ZiPS 4.77 4.74
Actual 3.71 3.92

As you can clearly see, RW23 — my own projection system — has been right on the nose so far when it comes to projecting Chacin, more so than the well-known projections systems of Steamer and ZiPS. And there’s a reason for that. There’s actually a big reason as to why Chacin has been so good in 2018. You can probably guess what that reason is based on the title of this post.That’s right. Chacin has stopped giving up home runs. Well, he’s still technically giving up home runs. He’s given up seven this season, in fact, but he’s been able to keep the ball in the yard better than almost every other starting major league pitcher.Here are the leaders of home-run-to-fly-ball percentage among qualified starters in 2017:

Name HR/FB%
1 Trevor Bauer 5.3%
2 Luis Severino 6.5%
3 Mike Clevinger 6.7%
4 Jhoulys Chacin 6.8%
5 Justin Verlander 7.2%

Only three pitchers with enough innings to qualify have allowed fewer home runs per fly ball than Chacin. The 30-year-old veteran is running his lowest HR/FB% since his last year with the Colorado Rockies in 2013. His ability to keep the ball in the yard is why his ERA and FIP look great, but also why his xFIP — which normalizes home runs based on fly ball rate — sits at a meaty 4.72.We can figure out why hitters aren’t connecting for home runs by simply looking at Chacin’s exit velocity on fly balls. As of July 1, that number is 90.7 mph, meaning the average fly ball hit off Chacin averages 90.7 mph off the bat. Only sixteen starting pitchers have done a better job at limiting hard contact on fly balls.This chart shows Chacin’s exit velocity on fly balls over the last three seasons, along with his HR/FB%.

Year FB Exit Velocity HR/FB%
2016 91.9 mph 11.0%
2017 89.9 mph 11.4%
2018 90.7 mph 6.8%

This season isn’t even Chacin’s best when it comes to fly-ball exit velocity. That feat happened a year ago, though he somehow still managed to give up quite a bit more home runs than he has in 2018 thus far. And he was pitching in notorious pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego! And therein lies the problem. Chacin is due for regression, and it’s quite possible that it will hit hard and hit fast.

As you already know, Chacin’s HR/FB% is the second lowest of his career. That’s good. His fly-ball percentage, though, is the highest of his career save for 2012 when he played at Coors Field. That’s bad. Here are those sentences in picture form.Chacin is allowing more fly balls than ever before, yet he’s giving up the fewest number of long balls of his career. That’s incredibly unsustainable. To make things even more confusing, his home stadium is Miller Park, a haven for home runs. But looking more closely at the numbers, it kind of makes sense in a way. Chacin has pitched a total of 97 innings, with 57.2 of those innings coming on the road. He’s thrown just 39.1 innings in homer-happy Miller Park. That, along with his low exit velocity, could explain why his HR/FB% is so low.

Except it doesn’t.

FB% HR/FB%
Home 37.4% 4.7%
Road 35.9% 8.3%

He’s giving up more fly balls at Miller Park than on the road but fewer home runs. Nothing about Chacin’s season makes sense, which is why what he’s doing won’t be able to last much longer.

Chacin has been a pleasant surprise for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he’s making those who clamored for the team to sign a high-profile pitcher this offseason look foolish. But unless the entire 2018 season is an outlier, Chacin just won’t be able to keep this up. I’m sorry to burst any bubbles, but despite his 3.71 ERA and equally strong 3.92 FIP, Chacin should be one of the reasons why general manager David Stearns should acquire pitching help before the trade deadline.

Eric Sogard is having some kind of season

When I was a kid, I always knew that one day I would be writing about Eric Sogard. In fact, it was a dream of mine. Those two sentences are a lie. I never wanted to write about him, and I don’t really want to write about him right now, because what I’m about to write doesn’t show him in a positive light, and I’m not really a big fan of writing negative pieces.

Yet here I am, and there is Sogard, currently sitting with a .114/.222/.152 slash line. Or if you’d prefer (I prefer), a 3 wRC+. You absolutely read that right. He is producing 97 percent fewer runs than the league average batter. If you think that must be the worst mark in baseball, well, you’re darn close. Of players with at least 90 MLB plate appearances in 2018, only Byron Buxton (-3 wRC+) and Trayce Thompson (2 wRC+) have been more useless at the plate. Since 1990, there have been only 21 players who have finished a season with a lower wRC+ than 3 (minimum 90 plate appearances). The record for the lowest wRC+ during that span goes to Felix Martinez of the 1998 Mariners with a -12 wRC+. Sogard probably won’t match that, but the fact remains he’s having one of the worst seasons at the plate in the last 30 years.

Sogard was a surprising bright spot on a surprising Brewers team last season. He set career highs in almost every offensive category, and finished the year with a mountain-high .390 on-base percentage. Regression was in his future, and while Sogard has never even been a league-average hitter, I don’t think anyone saw this type of regression coming.

The 32-year-old infielder has appeared in 38 games. He has one game with multiple hits, and that came on April 9. Also on April 9, he hit two doubles, which accounted for 66 percent of his extra-base hits this season. That would seem odd until you realize he has just nine total hits on the season. And if I have use the 90 plate appearance threshold once again, Sogard’s nine hits are the fewest in baseball.

Sogard was aided by a career-high .311 batting average on balls in play in 2017, despite having a rather paltry exit velocity. Take a look at this chart.

Avg Exit Velocity BABIP
2017 83.5 .311
2018 83.6 .153

He’s hitting the ball with almost the exact same force as he did a year ago, but the outcomes have been much different. Hitting the ball at a speed of 83 mph is not good. His exit velocity last season ranked 260th. This year it ranks 335th. His .311 BABIP was unbelievably lucky. Above everything else, Sogard’s struggles — not only now, but for his career — can be blamed on his inability to generate hard contact.

The Milwaukee Brewers just traded for infielder Brad Miller, a move that should ultimately end Sogard’s time on the 25-man roster. It should end his time in Milwaukee’s organization, but I’m sure David Stearns would have no problem sending him to the minors to try and get him right. Sogard would have to accept the assignment, but he’s already done it once before this season.

Sogard was fun last season. Sogard was a good player last season. But good things always come to an end, and in Sogard’s case, it came quick.

Who are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

Hit a pinch-hit grand slam one day. Get sent to the minors and subsequently traded the next. That’s more or less the life of a fringe MLB player, and that’s exactly what happened to Ji-Man Choi on Sunday evening when he was shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for infielder Brad Miller and cash considerations.

This trade is an obvious one. With Jesus Aguilar hitting better than the likes of Nolan Arenado and Joey Votto, and Eric Thames ready to come off the disabled list in the very near future, the Brewers just didn’t have a spot for another first baseman. His signing this offseason was puzzling for that reason alone, unless David Stearns’ goal from the get-go was to use him as trade bait. If so, mission accomplished. In 32 plate appearances, Choi hit two home runs and finished his Brewers career with a 98 wRC+, and that enticed the Rays enough to send Miller — who the team had already designated for assignment — to Milwaukee.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

The Brewers acquired Miller to play shortstop and/or second base, although the 28 year old hasn’t logged a game at short since the 2016 season, when he posted -14 defensive runs saved (DRS). According to DRS, Miller was the second-worst fielding shortstop during that year, behind only Alexei Ramirez. But Miller will have to get reacquainted with the position soon if the Brewers expect any offensive production from shortstop going forward. Defensive ace and current starting shortstop Orlando Arcia has eight walks, 39 strikeouts and a 37 wRC+. His backup, Eric Sogard, has a wRC+ of 3. Three. That means he’s been 97 percent worse than league average. In reality, he has no business being on a major-league roster right now.

And that’s where Miller comes in. He won’t impress with his batting average and he won’t get on base at a high clip, but he has power, and he’s a considerable upgrade over Arica and Sogard. And that’s all the Brewers really need. In 2016, Miller went deep 30 times, but has just 14 home runs in 581 plate appearances since. The former second round draft pick owns a career 100 wRC+, so he’s the definition of a league-average hitter, and a league-average hitter in an offense that already includes Lorenzo Cain (124 wRC+), Christian Yelich (133) and Travis Shaw (124) will be welcomed with open arms. He will make the offense better.

Miller’s defense will be tough to watch at times, but if he can make up for it at least a little with his bat, he’ll help a team that seems destined for the playoffs.

What happened to Domingo Santana’s power?

Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season because he’s a good player with power. Domingo Santana has one home run this season. It’s May 14.

Before going any further, here’s a table of how Santana performed from the beginning of 2017 to May 13 of the same year, along with nearly the same range of dates from this season.

G PA AVG OBP ISO wRC+ 2B 3B HR
4/3/2017 to 5/13/2017 34 129 .255 .357 .191 110 6 0 5
3/29/2018 to 5/13/2018 37 138 .273 .355 .066 92 5 0 1

Santana’s playing time is almost identical, and thanks to three hits — including a double — in five trips Sunday versus the Rockies, his on-base percentage is a mirror image, as well. Of everything on the table, though, it’s his power numbers that draw the most attention, particularly in the home run and isolated power department, and it’s clear Santana has gotten off to an excruciating slow start.

Now, this table doesn’t tell us much without context, which is why I’m about to give you context. I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t. There’s a handful of reasons why Santana has been no power threat whatsoever at the plate, with one in particular that’s quite fascinating. But for now, let’s look at his batted ball profile.

Nearly 31 percent of Santana’s fly balls landed over the fence in 2017. Only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finished with higher home-run-to-fly-ball ratios, and while that’s amazing company to share, I think we can all agree Santana doesn’t belong in that group. Negative regression was bound to happen. However, that regression has overcompensated. Santana’s HR/FB% currently sits at 5.3 percent. That minuscule number won’t last, but it is discouraging, especially when you realize Santana is hitting the ball on the ground more than ever before.

Milwaukee’s right fielder entered the season with a career ground-ball rate of 43.4 percent. He hit 44.9 percent of his batted balls on the ground a year ago, while both his line-drive rate and fly-ball rate flirted around 27.5 percent. That has completely changed. Currently, Santana is hitting the ball on the ground over 54 percent of the time, and that just happens to be the 13th-highest mark of every qualified hitter in Major League Baseball. For a guy who’s considered a power hitter, that’s not exactly a good stat to have next to his name. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate has fallen to 22.9 percent.

What happened? Why is he hitting more ground balls? Well, the biggest reason is that Santana is having a tough time handling inside pitches. This is the interesting part. Get ready for some visuals.

The first visual shows a breakdown of Santana’s isolated power numbers based on pitch location in 2017 and 2018. (Click on picture of enhanced view.)

Last season Santana crushed inside pitches. Especially the low, inside ones that found the strike zone. This year? Different story. Despite his success last year, pitchers are testing him even more inside, and more often than not, they’re finding success. Take a look at the same breakdown except with grounders.

In the age of the launch angle revolution, Santana has been one of the few outcasts this season. Instead of lifting those balls like he’s been known to do, Santana has been weakly rolling over them and driving them into the ground at an insanely high rate. His launch angle has dropped from 10.5 degrees to 9.9 degrees. Yes, the overall sample size is still relatively small, but over 130 plate appearances is nothing to scoff at. Santana’s seeing more inside fastballs than what he’s normally accustomed to, but he’s been very capable against fastballs during his career (.243 ISO against four-seam fastballs), so that can’t be used as an excuse. Maybe Santana isn’t seeing the ball as well or maybe his bat speed has slowed down, but this has become a problem.

Defense has always been a black mark on Santana’s record, and if you take away his ability to hit home runs, he turns into a league-average player at the very best. He needs to hit home runs in order to be serviceable. He needs to hit home runs if he expects Counsell to write his name on the lineup card every day. He needs to hit home runs. Period. And that starts with him figuring out a way to not only start elevating the ball again, but also how to once again remaster the inside pitch.

Does Eric Thames deserve the “Mr. April” nickname?

There have been countless marvelous nicknames handed out in baseball history. Of all the major sports, baseball is a step above the rest when it comes to imaginative monikers. There’s The Great Bambino, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Hammerin’ Hank and Mr. October. There’s also The Big Hurt, The Big Unit and Kung Fu Panda, along with numerous other creative titles. In Milwaukee, we currently call Travis Shaw “The Mayor of Ding Dong City”, and we used to swoon over El Caballo (Carlos Lee) back in his playing days. And now, after another powerful April, we’ve given out another nickname to Eric Thames.

Over the past two seasons, the Brewers first baseman has 18 home runs in the month of April. He crushed 11 in April 2017 during his return to Major League Baseball, and as of April 22, he has seven over-the-wall hits in 2018. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been nothing short of phenomenal during the season’s opening month, but does he really deserve the “Mr. April” nickname that so many people — myself included — have called him? Let’s find out.

Before the 2017 season, the last time Thames played professionally in the states was in 2013, when he spent time in the Orioles’ and Mariners’ minor-league systems. He had just 684 major-league plate appearances in his career up to that point, and he eventually decided to take his talents to Korea. Therefore, because Thames’ body of work is so small, it would be unfair to compare him to players with much larger sample sizes. Like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, for example. Bonds is the owner of the award for most home runs during the season’s first month in MLB history with 117, and Pujols is a close second with 107. Thames has 20 April home runs. To his credit, though. Bonds and Pujols have more plate appearances in April alone than Thames does across his entire career. So, for the sake of this argument, I’m just going to be looking at the last two seasons. It’s not perfect, but who cares?

Let’s first start by looking at Thames’ performance the last two Aprils. (Note: When I say April, I’m including March, as well).

PA Avg OBP wOBA wRC+ HR
172 .299 .414 .468 194 18

Those numbers are impressive. Really impressive, actually. Thames has created 94 percent more runs than league average in the month of April, and has hit just as many home runs as Joe Mauer has in the last two full seasons combined. Granted, Mauer isn’t necessarily considered a power hitter, but you get the point.

Thames has been fantastic in April. I’ve established that numerous times in this article already, and I’m only 383 words in. We still haven’t gotten to the main question, though; does Thames deserve the Mr. April nickname? If he hasn’t been the best hitter in that month over the last two seasons, he shouldn’t be blessed with that moniker. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. I realize that two years is an incredibly small sample size, especially when handing out a nickname, but let’s just have some fun with it.

The three categories I’ve chosen to evaluate are home runs, isolated power percentage and OPS. I would prefer to use wRC+ and wOBA, but Baseball Reference’s Play Index fails to list those as options, so isolated power and OPS are the next best things. If Thames is leading the way in all three of those offensive categories, then I will admit he absolutely deserves the nickname.

Here are the home run leaders in April since the beginning of 2017:

Rank Name HR
1 Eric Thames 18
2 Bryce Harper 17
3 Aaron Judge 16
4 Mike Trout 15
5 Khris Davis 15
6 Charlie Blackmon 14
7 Ryan Zimmerman 14
8 Joey Gallo 13
9 Ryan Braun 12
10 Mike Moustakas 12

Thames wins this one. Bryce Harper and the powerful Aaron Judge are right on his heels, though, and both could easily surpass him before this month’s up. Now, let’s look at the isolated power numbers (minimum 100 plate appearances).

Rank Name ISO
1 Eric Thames .441
2 Bryce Haprer .382
3 Aaron Judge .374
4 Mike Trout .350
5 Ryan Zimmerman .350
6 Scott Schebler .340
7 Charlie Blackmon .327
8 Miguel Sano .326
9 Nelson Cruz .323
10 Matt Kemp .321

The top four are the exact same as the home-run list, but there’s a few new names toward the bottom of the list, with Matt Kemp being the most surprising. Thames is once again on top of the leaderboard, and is well on his way to officially taking the Mr. April crown.

Here are the top 10 April OPS leaders over the last two years (minimum 100 plate appearances):

Rank Name OPS
1 Bryce Harper 1.217
2 Eric Thames 1.173
3 Aaron Judge 1.135
4 Freddie Freeman 1.124
5 Mike Trout 1.118
6 Eugenio Suarez 1.032
7 Ryan Zimmerman 1.029
8 Mitch Haniger 1.019
9 Nelson Cruz 1.000
10 Matt Kemp 0.996

An upset! Due to an incredible start to the season, Harper takes down Thames with a slightly better OPS.

However, even though I said Thames could only be nicknamed Mr. April if he leads in all three categories, I’m still going to give it to him. Because the fact is, he deserves it. In addition to Thames’ above accolades, he also ranks sixth in on-base percentage, third in total bases and fourth in runs created. In terms of offensive production and providing value with the bat, no one has been better than Thames in April since he made his triumphant return from Korea.

This isn’t the best way to determine the top hitter in a given month, and there’s obviously many more stats I could’ve dived into to further my research, but at the very minimum, it shows that calling Thames “Mr. April” actually makes a whole ton of sense. If he can put together three or four more Aprils of this magnitude, maybe the nickname will stick for years to come.

Until then, though, every time Thames comes to the plate as this month winds down, it’s a safe bet he’ll find success. After all, they don’t call him Mr. April for nothing.

***All stats are as of April 21, 2018

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.