Monthly Archives: January 2015

Who are the Brewers getting in Neal Cotts?

The Milwaukee Brewers made waves (not really) Thursday when reports indicated that they had signed left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to a one year, $3 million deal. This acquisition, though somewhat under-the-radar, was a necessary one for Milwaukee. It gives them a pitcher who can create swinging strikes, and another southpaw to compliment Will Smith in the bullpen. With the market for relievers essentially bare, getting Cotts was a nice, cheap pull.

The 34-year-old Cotts almost saw his pitching career end due to an abundance of injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery and four hip procedures and was unable to pitch in the majors for three consecutive seasons (2010-2012). It’s really a miracle Cotts found work after that. Even before the injuries took him for a ride, Cotts never had success at the major league level. From 2003 to 2009, he posted a 5.32 FIP and was worth 0.4 WAR. But even so, the Texas Rangers took a chance on him in 2013, a move that revitalized his career.

Cotts spent the last two seasons with the Rangers, accumulating 2.6 WAR in 123.2 innings. Among the 64 relievers who pitched at least 120 innings during that time span, Cotts ranks 16th in that category. His four-seam fastball sits in the low 90s with his cutter reaching the high 80s. He also throws an effective slider (10.9 career wSL) at around 85 mph. As you can tell, Cotts is anything but a power pitcher, but, as we saw with Zach Duke a year ago, blowing fastballs by hitters isn’t the only way to get hitters out.

Cotts is an interesting case study. Unlike most left-handed relievers, Cotts is anything but a left-handed specialist. In fact, he has reverse splits, meaning he fares better versus right-handed batters. Take a look at his splits.

IP wOBA HR
vs LHH 161.1 .328 25
vs RHH 218.2 .308 21

The numbers aren’t drastically different, but still significant for a lefty. Here’s what Cotts had to say about his interesting splits:

“Over my career, I’ve been better against righties than lefties. I don’t know what to attribute that to. I enjoy going out there for an inning. It benefits everybody if you have guys who can face both sides. It helps extend the game until you get to the closer.”

The Brewers now have two pitchers in the bullpen with reverse splits, Brandon Kintzler being the other one.

Aside from Cotts’ split irony, he doesn’t force many ground balls. And that’s tough for me because I love ground ball pitchers, which is why Zach Britton is one of my favorite players (go look at his ground ball rate; it’s insane). Ground ball rate is the first thing I look at when analyzing a pitcher. So when I looked at Cotts’ GB%, I admit I was a little disappointed. Cotts had a 34.7 GB% last season (league average GB% among relievers in 2014 was 45.3%), and owns a 41.9 GB% in his career. So, because he doesn’t have an admirable ground ball rate, he sure as heck better have at least a decent strikeout percentage. If he doesn’t, well then the Brewers probably made a mistake on him. But luckily, Cotts does. In 2014, Cotts struck out 22% of the batters he faced. The year before that, he struck out 29.2%. And as I mentioned earlier, a lot of those strikeouts have come from whiffs (career 10.5% swinging-strike rate). Of Cotts’ 63 strikeouts in 2014, 44 of them came via the swing-and-miss.

I doubt Cotts will be used in high leverage situations, at least to start the season. The Brewers would much rather have Jeremy Jeffress and Smith fill those roles, but, with that being said, Cotts’ RE24 has been above average the last two years, most notably in 2013 when he posted a 17.65 RE24 (12th in MLB). That means he can fill in for whatever situation, whether it be high or low leverage, and still get the job done.

Cotts fits nicely in the Brewers’ bullpen. Not only did Milwaukee sign a cheap pitcher, they signed an effective one. . As long as the strikeouts continue to be there, there’s no reason to think Cotts won’t be successful.

Before I let you go, here is what I’m projecting from Cotts in 2015:

Position Name ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
RP Neal Cotts 4.10 3.31 4.02 3.66 4 23.0% 8.0% 39.3% 0.3

Making sense of the Yovani Gallardo trade

Trading Yovani Gallardo was inevitable, and frankly, it was overdue. He should have been moved prior to the 2014 season. He would have garnered more interest from teams and therefore, been worth more than just a couple of question-mark prospects.

Everybody wants to judge and put a grade on a trade the minute it happens. We live in a world of instant gratification. So, to appease the masses, here’s what I think: The Texas Rangers won this trade, but only if we’re talking about the 2015 season. The Brewers are a worse team without Gallardo. The Rangers are a better team with him and without Corey Knebel, Luis Sardinas and Marcos Diplan. Again, I’m only talking about the 2015 season. If Gallardo leaves the Lone Star State after the season, and the prospects Texas gave up turn out to be at least league-average players, then Milwaukee will probably come out on top. But that’s a ways down the road, and even though Knebel and Sardinas have a legitimate shot at making the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, their true value won’t be realized in just one season. What’s more important is what the Brewers do with the $9 million that Gallardo left behind.

Let’s start by going over what the Brewers gave up in Gallardo, and why the team believes so strongly in Jimmy Nelson, the man who will be replacing Gallardo in the starting rotation.

Gallardo is not the pitcher he used to be. His peripherals have been suffering for some time now (see Tweet below), despite him entering what is usually the prime of a player’s career (he’ll be 29 in February).

From 2011 to 2012, Gallardo was worth 5.7 WAR. From 2013 to 2014, he was worth 3.5 WAR. Walks have always been an issue for Gallardo, along with high pitch counts, and for a pitcher who was thought of as Milwaukee’s ace, he only has four complete games in his career. Justin Verlander had six in 2012 alone. Additionally, Gallardo’s strikeout rate has decreased every season since 2009. That’s five straight years of decline. Luckily, though, his ground ball percentage has been trending upward, and if he’s not striking out hitters anymore, forcing ground balls is a nice alternative.

Gallardo should no longer be viewed as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but more of a very solid No. 3 starter, and that’s who the Rangers traded for. The Brewers, on the other hand, were aware of Gallardo’s diminishing value and received all they could for him (probably). Like I said earlier, they should have traded him sooner, but that’s water under the bridge now.

The Brewers wouldn’t have traded Gallardo if it weren’t for Triple-A stud Jimmy Nelson. The club believes strongly in the hard-throwing righty, despite minimal major league experience. Nelson has just 18 major league appearances under his belt, earning a 4.42 ERA and a 3.68 FIP along the way. But maybe more importantly, are his minor league numbers. He was an absolute monster in the minors last season. Using his power fastball and power slider almost exclusively, his ERA was below two and his FIP was below three, which is outstanding in case you don’t know what baseball is. Yet, he isn’t without question marks, while, with Gallardo, you know what you’re going to get. The question marks make Nelson a risk, but a necessary one for the Brewers.

The Brewers didn’t want Nelson in the bullpen as a long reliever, and since he has all but earned the right for a shot at the rotation, Gallardo became expendable. It’s safe to say Milwaukee is looking toward the future, hoping Nelson is a key part of it. This is especially true with Doug Melvin’s recent comments about how the Brewers have had no dialogue with James Shields or with the Washington Nationals about Jordan Zimmermann. Nelson is the guy and the job is his until he loses it. He’ll need to develop an effective changeup in order to take the next step, but that line of thought is for another article.

Now, let’s look at the players coming to Milwaukee.

Corey Knebel is an thrilling prospect, and someone who could make this trade worth it for the Brewers. He’s a young guy with an indomitable heater (94 mph+) and a slow curveball (80 mph). He hasn’t had much experience in either the minors or majors (just two years combined), but in the time he’s been a professional, the results have been promising. In 14 games with the Detroit Tigers Triple-A squad, he accumulated a 1.96 ERA and 2.98 FIP, striking out 29% of batters and holding hitters to a .103 batting average. His ERA ballooned in 2014 when he made his major league debut with the Rangers, but as you should know by now, ERA is misleading. But before I tell you what his FIP was during his first taste of major league action, let’s look at his other peripherals first. Knebel allowed a .440 BABIP (league average was .295), his strand rate was 50% (league average was 73%) and he forced more ground balls than the average pitcher. It’s safe to say he was a tad unlucky, and as a result, his ERA was 6.23. But his FIP ( 1.63) and xFIP (2.92) were considerably lower and a more telling sign of his performance. If that doesn’t tell you enough, maybe this will; in just 8.2 innings, he was worth 0.2 WAR. In other words, he was worth more wins than Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez.

There are two issues that surround Knebel: Walks and elbow problems. Yet, Knebel doesn’t seem too worried about the latter:

Everything is good now. I’m at 100% and ready to go. It was late in the season and there wasn’t any reason to push it. The MRI showed it wasn’t serious.

But even the slightest elbow issue is a cause for concern, and a slight ligament tear, like the one in Knebel’s shoulder, is a real red flag. Texas likely would have been more reluctant to trade him if he had a clean bill of health.

Control has also plagued Knebel during his short career.

Year Level BB%
2013 R 8.6%
2013 A 8.6%
2014 AA 13.1%
2014 AAA 13.0%
2014 AAA 10.0%
2014 MLB 7.7%

Keep in mind that his track record is shorter than Lou Piniella’s temper, so it may be unfair to label him as a wild pitcher. Time will tell.

Now, while I think Knebel has a bright future in Milwaukee, Luis Sardinas is a player that doesn’t make much sense to the Brewers organization. In all honesty, I don’t get this part of the trade.

Sardinas is a defense-first shortstop who makes contact with the ball, has nearly no power and doesn’t walk. Sounds like we’re entering familiar territory, doesn’t it? It should, because I just described Jean Segura. That means if Sardinas makes the roster, there will be two Jean Seguras on the team; two players who can field better than they hit with one backing up the other. And to make matters worse, the Brewers already have Hector Gomez, who is admittedly a worse fielder, but definitely has more power than both the alternatives. Sardinas feels like overkill.

Sardinas never hit in the minors, and so far the majors have been the same story. He made 125 major league plate appearances in 2014, posting a .279 wOBA and 70 wRC+.

David Cameron of FanGraphs agrees with me, but more realistically, I agree with him. Most scouting reports have pegged Sardinas as either a fringe starter or a trustworthy bench player. His defense is gold-glove fantastic, but his hitting ceiling is low. Could the Brewers have gotten someone better than Sardinas? I don’t know, but Sardinas doesn’t do much for me.

On the other hand, Marcos Diplan is an interesting prospect. Here’s what Derek Harvey of Brew Crew Ball wrote about him:

He has a fastball that currently sits anywhere from 89-92 mph and can hit as high as 96. As he grows and adds more strength that fastball should consistently hit that 92 mark, perhaps even better. He is also said to have a curveball and changeup that flash average at times.

Despite noting some inconsistencies with his pitches (understandable at 17/18 years old) Kiley McDaniel (Fangraphs), Ben Badler (Baseball America), and Mark Anderson (Baseball Prospectus) all remarked that Diplan showed an advanced fell for pitching relative to his age.

We haven’t seen much of Diplan, but he is an exciting young pitcher and it’ll be fun watching him progress in the minors. Unfortunately, he’s still four or five years away from even sniffing the majors (waiting is tough).

This trade was a necessity for both clubs. The Rangers are better for it, at least in the immediate future, and as for the Brewers, well, it’s too early to tell. Getting rid of Gallardo gave the Brewers the luxury of going after quality relief help, but the prospects they received don’t necessarily reflect Gallardo’s worth.

Pitcher projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers

Find my hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers here

Warning: Below is the same opening I used for my hitter projections (lazy is my name), so feel free to skip it and scroll down to the projections.

It’s that time of year again, when projections are being unleashed and the biased trolls of the internet emerge from their caves. I love it.

People say that projections are like throwing darts at a dart board and hoping it sticks where you want it too. Well, if that’s the case, then the dart’s trajectory has been calculated countless of times and the dart board is bigger than the average one. Projection systems, like Steamer and ZiPS, are the most accurate darts we currently have at our disposable. So many components (i.e. park factors, age, injury history, talent) play into their forecasts that it’s asinine not to put at least a little merit in them.

With that being said, my projections are not based on a mathematical model. My brain doesn’t possess the functionality it requires to build one or to even interpret simple mathematical equations. For someone who is so invested in sabermetrics, I don’t know a lick of math. So, there’s my warning about my projections.

On the other hand, my projections are more than just guess work. I’ve poured over each player’s statistical history, taken injuries and age into account, looked at splits, went over other projection systems and basically every other thing I could possibly do to make sure my projections were well-informed.

Here are my pitcher projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers (subject to change before the season commences).

Position Name ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
SP Yovani Gallardo 3.94 4.06 3.70 3.72 23 17.1% 7.8% 52.0% 1.5
SP Kyle Lohse 3.72 3.91 4.11 4.12 24 14.9% 4.3% 39.8% 1.9
SP Matt Garza 3.39 3.64 3.99 3.76 14 21.2% 6.6% 42.5% 2.0
SP Wily Peralta 4.01 4.09 3.81 3.99 23 20.0% 8.5% 52.6% 1.6
SP Mike Fiers 3.09 3.33 3.29 3.21 15 26.2% 7.0% 34.0% 3.1
SP Will Smith 3.29 3.34 3.15 2.65 8 31.3% 9.2% 45.1% 0.6
RP Jeremy Jeffress 2.62 3.11 3.00 2.59 4 21.9% 9.6% 57.4% 1.0
RP Brandon Kintzler 3.91 4.34 3.83 3.75 7 15.4% 7.7% 57.2% -0.5
RP Jonathan Broxton 3.55 3.49 3.72 3.80 6 20.0% 6.9% 47.3% 0.4
RP Rob Wooten 4.08 3.32 3.84 3.43 3 17.6% 6.1% 48.1% 0.2
RP Jim Henderson 3.45 3.70 2.99 2.79 5 27.1% 9.2% 34.0% 0.1
RP Tyler Thornburg 4.11 3.86 4.29 4.30 3 19.2% 8.5% 36.2% 0.0
RP Jimmy Nelson 4.08 4.17 3.80 3.91 10 19.7% 8.3% 50.7% -0.1
3.63 3.72 3.66 3.54 145 20.9% 7.7% 45.9% 11.7

Let’s start by comparing my projections to last season’s statistics. As a team, the Brewers had a 3.67 team ERA, 3.89 FIP and 3.65 FIP, equaling 11 wins. My projections have them outperforming last year, but not by much (11.5 WAR). Much of this is due to my belief in Mike Fiers and Jeremy Jeffress breaking out.

As far as the rotation goes, I foresee home runs being a big issue (some of Jimmy Nelson’s projected home runs are as a starter), like it was in 2014. Kyle Lohse will struggle with keeping the ball in the yard (fastball velocity has gone down in three straight seasons) and same goes for Yovani Gallardo who has seen his HR/FB ratio increase in back-to-back seasons (I still think the Brewers would be wise to trade him). Wily Peralta had a 3.53 ERA but a 4.11 FIP in ’14, and his high FIP is why I see his ERA going back up. I’m putting a lot of faith in Garza this year, as I think he’ll be the second-best pitcher in Milwaukee’s rotation. He just needs to stay healthy.

Now for the bullpen. Jeffress is going to kill it, and Will Smith’s strikeout rate will be through the roof. I like Rob Wooten a lot as a reliever, but his FIP has always outperformed his ERA, meaning he might just be one of those players with a better FIP than ERA. Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are huge question marks health wise, so as soon as I know more about their ability to throw a ball without pain, my projections may change.

Overall, Brewers’ pitchers will be right around league average in 2015, and that’s with Fiers becoming an ace. If I’m wrong about that, the rotation could/will be a whole different story.

If you have any questions about my projections, please comment or find me on Twitter

Hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers

It’s that time of year again, when projections are being unleashed and the biased trolls of the internet emerge from their caves. I love it.

People say that projections are like throwing darts at a dart board and hoping it sticks where you want it too. Well, if that’s the case, then the dart’s trajectory has been calculated countless of times and the dart board is bigger than the average one. Projection systems, like Steamer and ZiPS, are the most accurate darts we currently have at our disposable. So many components (i.e. park factors, age, injury history, talent) play into their forecasts that it’s asinine not to put at least a little merit in them.

With that being said, my projections are not based on a mathematical model. My brain doesn’t possess the functionality it requires to build one or to even interpret simple mathematical equations. For someone who is so invested in sabermetrics, I don’t know a lick of math. So, there’s my warning about my projections.

On the other hand, my projections are more than just guess work. I’ve poured over each player’s statistical history, taken injuries and age into account, looked at splits, went over other projection systems and basically every other thing I could possibly do to make sure my projections were well-informed.

Here are my hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers (subject to change before the season commences).

Position Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
C Jonathan Lucroy .303 13 .370 131 .377 .159 10.3% 11.4% 4.9
1B Adam Lind .279 18 .353 122 .340 .181 18.7% 7.8% 1.5
2B Scooter Gennett .268 6 .310 95 .314 .125 17.0% 4.1% 1.4
3B Aramis Ramirez .280 16 .324 110 .330 .138 15.0% 6.5% 1.9
SS Jean Segura .255 5 .295 79 .310 .090 12.3% 5.5% 1.3
OF Khris Davis .257 19 .335 112 .308 .208 20.6% 5.2% 1.1
OF Carlos Gomez .287 22 .366 131 .350 .193 22.1% 7.7% 5.3
OF Ryan Braun .308 26 .368 140 .378 .220 18.2% 8.9% 4.5
OF Gerardo Parra .270 5 .309 86 .312 .122 17.7% 7.0% 1.0
C Martin Maldonado .241 3 .311 97 .322 .137 22.0% 9.1% 0.4
INF Elian Herrera .231 0 .269 66 .274 .071 25.4% 3.4% -0.3
OF Logan Schafer .210 1 .250 51 .281 .099 19.8% 7.7% -0.2
OF Shane Peterson .271 3 .315 98 .329 .100 24.0% 9.1% 0.2
INF Luis Jimenez .236 1 .270 79 .276 .115 21.0% 2.1% -0.3
Total   .264 138 .318 100 .322 .140 18.9% 6.8% 22.7

As an offense, the Brewers will be right around league average, which is an upgrade from 2014. The team’s OBP and wOBA should be slightly better, thanks to a hopefully healthy Braun and with Lind now in the fold. However, walk rate will continue to haunt the Brewers.

I have only two players reaching the 20 home run plateau, but Khris Davis and even Lind could easily hit that number. Davis will need to improve on the changeup, though.

There are a few other players I’d like to talk more about to give you a better understanding of why I believe they’ll perform like my projections predict.

Ryan Braun

A lot of Braun’s struggles last season can be blamed on his thumb, and if you think performance-enhancing drugs had anything to do with it, you clearly didn’t watch enough Brewers’ games. And that’s not me being biased. I’ll never wear his jersey again because of what he did. His thumb numbness made it hard for him to pull the ball, and he would roll over on it more times than not. Braun’s career average when pulling the ball sits at .406, but he hit just .298 on balls to left field in ’14. Imagine swinging at an inside pitch without being able to feel your thumb. It just sounds brutal. If Braun’s thumb is healthy (all signs point to that it is), he should return to MVP-form. His WAR would’ve been higher if not for his lackluster defense in right field (-6.6 UZR).

Carlos Gomez

As long as the Brewers compete, Gomez has a real chance to take home the 2015 MVP award. His projected 5.3 WAR is the highest on the Brewers, not only because I believe his walk rate (and in turn his OBP ) will increase, but because his defensive stats should get a boost after an uncharacteristically low performance last season.

Scooter Gennett

I went more in-depth of my expected woes for Gennett here, but the fact is, he can’t hit left-handed pitchers. Everyone keeps bringing up the small sample size argument, which is just fine and dandy until you look at his numbers against southpaws in the minors. There’s no small sample size there, and he was terrible. Gennett can “laugh at his splits” all he wants, but being without a platoon partner is really going to hurt him, and the Brewers will regret not finding one if they, in fact, end up sticking with him. Frankly, Gennett will be a below-average hitter in 2015.

Adam Lind

Acquiring Lind was maybe the best low-key acquisition of the winter. Finally, the Brewers have someone to shore up first base, and finally, the Brewers have a left-handed power hitter who can actually get on base (.369 OBP over the last two seasons). His 7.8% walk rate would be a welcome site to a lineup that doesn’t walk. I like Lind a little more than Steamer does when it comes to OBP and wOBA, but Steamer projects him to have 21 home runs while I have him hitting 18. His horrible defense will cost the Brewers a few runs/wins, which is why I have him as a 1.5 win player.

Shane Peterson

Peterson’s my sleeper, and should ultimately replace Schafer on the bench (fingers crossed). Peterson’s one of those rare players that can man center field, and then move to first base the next day. Versatile is the word. He has pop in his bat and should maintain a somewhat okay OBP in spite of his Mount Everest strikeout rate.

 

There you have it. My pitcher projections will be out in the next couple of days as well, so make sure you give them a good look over as you wait for this monstrosity of a winter to be over.

If you have any questions about my projections, please comment or find me on Twitter

Constructing the best possible Brewers’ batting order

Not many baseball teams, if any, construct their lineup correctly.

Well, correctly as deemed by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Litchman and Andrew Dolphin of the statistical bible “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball”. If you want to learn things like run expectancy, leveraging relievers, platoon splits and, wait for it, building a batting order, then this is the book for you. It is so insightful and eye-opening that it should be on every GM’s desk. Did you hear that, Doug? Read it.

But enough advocacy (I promise my endorsement was not compensated in any way). Based on “The Book”, I’m going to attempt to build the Milwaukee Brewers’ batting order that will produce the absolute most runs down to the smallest decimal point. Instead of essentially rewriting “The Book” to explain why my batting order looks the way it does, I’m going to provide you with a couple of snippets from it. That way, I won’t be sued for plagiarism, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Let’s begin.

The Book Says: Your best three hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.

According to this, there’s no way in K-Rod’s leg kick Ryan Braun should be batting in the three-hole as he is clearly one of the Brewers’ top three hitters (best, probably). And this makes sense. Hitters in the one, two and four spots have higher run values over the three spot when it comes to singles, doubles and triples (home runs come out about even). For example, when you modify run values by plate appearances, if a two-hole hitter hits a double, it’s worth .799 runs versus .779 runs it’d be worth from a three-hole hitter. The difference is microscopic, but hey, I want the best possible lineup.

I now have to decide who the best three hitters on the Brewers are and put them in slots #1, #2 and #4 in order to utilize my lineup most effectively. I want my first two hitters to be capable of drawing walks. Therefore, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez will take the top two spots, with Braun coming in at the cleanup position. Lucroy (10.1 BB%) and Gomez (7.3 BB%) walked the most among the Brewers last year, and since home runs are worth the highest run total from the cleanup spot, Braun is the clear candidate there (his home run totals should rebound in ’15).

You may be wondering why I decided to bat Lucroy ahead of Gomez. It’s simple, really. Lucroy walks more and strikes out at a lesser rate.

But who are the Brewers fourth- and fifth-best hitters? I’m going with Aramis Ramirez and Adam Lind. Compared to the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup, they’re light years ahead in terms of offense. They can both hit for power and put up respectable averages. I’ll decide where to put them in my order after we talk more about what “The Book” has to say.

The Book Says: Worry about the strikeout only if you have the opportunity to use a pinch hitter or reliever. Don’t consider the strikeout, or the ability of the hitter to move runners over on outs, when constructing your starting lineup.

I shouldn’t care if Gomez strikes out a ton, so him hitting in the two slot is okay. At the very least, he’ll stay out of the double play. Speaking of which:

The Book Says: The propensity to ground into, or avoid, double plays is an important consideration for players at the extreme double play levels. It is also an important consideration for leadoff hitters in the NL.

The three-hole hitter comes to the plate a lot more with two outs than the five-hole hitter, meaning he has a smaller chance of grounding into two outs. Lind grounded into eight double plays in 2014, and 20 the year before that, but, luckily, 2013 was an extreme and that number should shrink. The last three years prior to that, he averaged 10.6 double plays. In comparison, Ramirez grounded into 18 double plays in 2014, and with his age climbing the staircase and concurrent leg problems, he should post a number similar to that. Since Ramirez has a knack for double plays, the three spot is best suited for him, with Lind following Braun in the five spot.

Since I’ve determined hitters one through five, that only leaves Khris Davis, Jean Segura, Scooter Gennett and the pitcher, and “The Book” tells me to put them in descending order of quality. While doing that, I also want to split up the lefty (Gennett) and put Davis behind Ramirez to reinforce the power.

Now comes the Tony La Russa part.

The Book Says: The second leadoff hitter theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs a year.

Segura has an insurmountable ground ball rate (59.6%), and with a player like Gennett who hits a lot of singles, it would be foolish to place Segura behind him. A pitcher is more likely to strikeout, and one out is always better than two. Therefore, the pitcher should bat eighth and Segura will assume the role of the second leadoff hitter.

Here’s the finished product.

 

1. Jonathan Lucroy

2. Carlos Gomez

3. Aramis Ramirez

4. Ryan Braun

5. Adam Lind

6. Khris Davis

7. Scooter Gennett

8. Pitcher

9. Jean Segura

 

This will not be what the Brewers’ lineup looks like next season, probably at any point. I’m saying this without any prior knowledge, but it wouldn’t be a bombshell if Ron Roenicke has never heard of “The Book”. He’s more of an old-school guy and shies away from the analytics, except for when it comes to moving his infielders all over the place.

And although there’s not a butterfly’s wings chance of this batting order being written on the lineup card come the season, this lineup would most likely score more runs than any other combination.

A few quick thoughts on Wily Peralta

There’s no one out there that wants to see Wily Peralta succeed more than me, unless someone somewhere has money invested in his success. But that’s the only scenario.

When Peralta was in the minors, I was excited about him, as was everyone. He was always considered one of Milwaukee’s top prospects, and while I realize that’s not saying much when looking at the team’s past farm systems, he was still exciting nonetheless. His fastball exceeded 95 mph and he boasted admirable minor league stats; of course we were going to be waiting on the edge of our seats for him. During Peralta’s first full season as a major league starter (2013), he pitched like a bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher, but followed that up with a “breakout” performance last season. I put the word “breakout” in quotes because yes, he broke out in terms of wins (17) and ERA (3.53), but he didn’t do enough to prove his success was sustainable. And that’s why I caution people to expect big, unreasonable things from him in 2015.

The statistic that sticks out to me the most is Peralta’s Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP is my favorite pitching statistic because it eliminates luck and is the best indicator of a pitcher’s performance. Peralta posted a 4.11 FIP last year, meaning when we look at all the things a pitcher can control (walks, hit batters, strikeouts and home runs), he was a below average pitcher (league average FIP was 3.74). A big reason for this is due to his HR/FB ratio being the second-highest among starting pitchers. Now, if he can find some way to keep the ball in the park (he can start by keeping his fourseam fastball away from the middle of the plate), he should be okay, but in his two big league seasons, he hasn’t figured how to do that yet. His HR/FB has actually gotten worse each season.

Another thing that worries me about Peralta is his strikeout rate. For a guy who averages 95.6 mph on his fastball, 95.8 mph on his sinker and 85.6 on his slider, his strikeout numbers should be a lot higher than they are. In 2014 there were nine qualified pitchers who averaged velocities of 94 mph or more on their fastball. Of those nine, Peralta ranked seventh in K%. He needs to start getting more hitters out via the strikeout, because not only with that limit the number of home runs he allows, but it should decrease his BABIP as well.

However, while those are two reasons to be cautious about Peralta, there are plenty of stats that bode well for him, and it would be unwise of me to leave them out just to strengthen my argument. Despite his K% being low, it has still increased over the last two seasons, so hopefully that’s a trend that will continue. Meanwhile, he’s started to walk less as he saw his walk rate drop considerably in 2014. His ground ball rate is also in very good shape — 51.0% in ’13 and 53.6% in ’14.

But, in order to have a real “breakout” season, the two things Peralta needs to do in 2015 season is limit the home runs and raise his strikeout rate.

Mike Fiers is in for a huge season

Mike Fiers is my dark horse for the Cy Young award, and while I don’t necessarily think he’ll win it, I very much believe he’ll garner at least a few votes. I might be the only one who thinks he’ll be that good in 2015, but I’m not alone when I say he’s the best pitcher the Brewers’ rotation has to offer. You may find that hard to believe with arms like Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza stuck in there, but Steamer is projecting Fiers to be worth the most wins among Milwaukee pitchers with a 2.0 WAR, and Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs says he “might be the best one” among them. It’s crazy to think Fiers won’t be dominant in ’15, as he is ready to build on his last two seasons as a starter (2012 and 2014) and become the ace of the Brewers.

Since 2011, Fiers has made 50 appearances (35 starts) as a major leaguer; he became a full-fledged starter in 2012. In that 2012 season, he was worth 3.1 WAR in 22 starts. Yeah, he was that good. Only Zack Greinke and Marco Estrada were more valuable to the Brewers’ pitching staff that year. Gallardo, who made 11 more starts than Fiers, was only worth 2.5 wins.

But then 2013 rolled around, Fiers’ toughest year not only as a baseball player but as a human being. He lost his mother after a long battle with a chronic disease, and the pain in his heart was evident on the field. When it was all said and done, Fiers made 11 appearances with the Brewers, finishing with a 7.25 ERA and 7.17 FIP. His season ended after being struck in the right forearm by a line drive while he was pitching for Triple-A Nashville. After throwing lights-out ball in 2012, Fiers’ future with the Brewers was thrown into jeopardy.

Fiers had to work his way back to respect in 2014 and force the Brewers to take notice of him. He accumulated a 2.55 ERA in 17 starts in Triple-A and struck out 129 batters in 102 innings. Unable to ignore those numbers, the Brewers made the call, and Fiers became Milwaukee’s best pitcher during the last three months of the season. As a starter, he led the rotation in ERA (2.09), FIP (2.79), xFIP (2.94) and LOB% (81.8%) in his 10 starts.

And that brings us to now. He’s cemented himself into Milwaukee’s rotation, but can he continue rolling over hitters with such ease? I believe so.

There are two key reasons why I’m a big believer in Fiers. 1. He’s a strikeout pitcher and 2. he does a nice job limiting walks. That combination is why Fiers has been so successful in his short career, and why a lot of pitchers have success in MLB. In the two seasons in which he made at least 10 starts, his strikeout rate was never below 25%. Last season he struck out 29% of batters he faced, and aside from Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Yu Darvish, no starter had a higher strikeout rate (min. 60 innings). That’s pretty impressive company. Additionally, his K-BB% was third-best in baseball among starters with the same inning requirements. Since he strikes out more than his fair share, he induces weak contact as is evidenced by his .221 BABIP and low 19.2% line drive rate. And because balls hit off him aren’t hit that hard, he can get away with a high fly ball rate despite his below league average ground ball rate.

His sample size is small; 223 innings isn’t much to hang your hat on. But he’s also had an extremely high K/9 down in the minors as it never dipped below 8 K/9. He’s shown he can strike out the big boys at an even higher rate than he did in the minors which leads me to believe his success is sustainable.

Even though Fiers is strikeout guy, he doesn’t throw hard. FanGraphs says none of his pitches average over 90 mph, while Brooks Baseball claims his fourseamer barely touches it. (see graph below).

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

But no matter which website you read, one thing is clear; he’s not a blow-it-by-you pitcher. And yet, he makes it work. He relies very heavily on his fourseam fastball (62.8%), but it saved 16.5 runs according to wFB and caused 73 swings-and-misses. Fiers does a nice job switching up his locations, and his elevator-drop of a curveball complements it nicely. He also hides the ball well and it’s difficult for hitters to pick up on it. Fiers’ 89 mph fastball looks more like 95 mph because it creeps up on hitters so quickly.

Since 2012, only one pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers has been worth more in terms of wins than Fiers — Yovani Gallardo. That includes Wily Peralta; he has racked up over 200 more innings than Fiers, and yet Fiers is worth almost an entire win more. I don’t think many people realize how valuable Fiers has been to the Brewers, and with his non-existent year in ’13, that’s understandable. Fiers will be 30 in June, so his window for success is small, but whenever he’s started on a consistent basis, he’s been not only was he the best pitcher in Milwaukee but one of the best hurlers in all of baseball.

Before I wrap this up, I’ll leave you with one more eye-opening statistic. Since 2012, Fiers has the 38th-lowest FIP (3.47) among pitchers with at least 220 innings. But if you take away his traumatizing 2013 season and combine his stats from 2012 and 2014, Fiers owns a 3.04 FIP. He’s good, ladies and gentlemen, and in 2015 he’ll be very, very good.