Monthly Archives: February 2015

K-Rod’s back, tell a friend

I’ve complimented the Milwaukee Brewers numerous times for what they’ve accomplished this offseason. I praised them when they acquired Adam Lind, and I gave them a standing ovation when they unloaded Yovani Gallardo. Despite what many “experts” have written, the Brewers have had a terrific winter…up until now.

After weeks of negotiating, Francisco Rodriguez and the Brewers agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract, a move that just doesn’t make much sense, fiscally or otherwise.

But before I get into why the Brewers didn’t use their best judgment in signing Rodriguez, let me say that inking him was a better alternative that acquiring Jonathan Papelbon. And for what it’s worth, most of you agree with that statement.

This will be Rodriguez’s fourth stint in Milwaukee, and he has continuously fallen off in terms of WAR. He posted a career-low WAR (-0.6) and FIP (4.50), and gave up 14 home runs in 2014. Yet and still, he’s slated to remove Jonathan Broxton from the closer’s role and take over, which is something I don’t understand. Rodriguez and Broxton are similar pitchers and have aged in the same way as well, even though Rodriguez is three years older. They’ve both lost velocity on their fastballs and have seen their strikeout rates take a dip over the last couple of seasons. Milwaukee now has two former lights-out closers who are past their primes. Yay.

The biggest issue I have with with this acquisition is the cost of it. Paying $13 million over two years for a barely above-average 33-year-old closer is like paying $50 for a leftover steak. You’re overpaying for mediocrity. And it’s especially bad when there’s already another perfectly fine steak on your plate.

Adding Rodriguez to the bullpen doesn’t make the Brewers any better in 2015, and certainly won’t make them better in ’16. If anything, it ties them up a little financially, which is sad, considering all the money that’ll be coming off the books.

Up until this point, the Brewers played the offseason perfectly. I didn’t have a problem with anything they did. But signing Rodriguez is a mistake and a move that doesn’t add any value to the team.

 

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What if Kyle Lohse threw more changeups?

Kyle Lohse has had five pitches in his arsenal throughout his major-league career; a fourseam fastball, a sinker, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He used the fourseamer heavily for the first few years of his career, but has weaned off it and has almost abandoned it completely. His sinker and slider are the two pitches he trusts the most and therefore uses the most, but he mixes in his curveball and changeup occasionally as well.

Let’s take a look at Lohse’s pitch usage over the last three seasons (according to Brooks Baseball).

2012 2013 2014
Sinker 50.6% 44.8% 39.2%
Slider 23.3% 27.6% 29.6%
Fourseam 2.5% 2.0% 6.4%
Curveball 4.2% 10.3% 11.8%
Changeup 19.2% 15.1% 12.7%

Beginning in 2012, Lohse began to alter how he uses his pitches. He’s become less reliant on the sinker and changeup, and has begun to use his slider and curveball more regularly. And concidentally (but maybe not), his ERA and xFIP have risen in each season since. This could be because of a number of reasons, like his rising age, but there’s one aspect of his repertoire that I want to take an especially close look at.

In terms of pitch values, the changeup has been Lohse’s best pitch. It’s been worth 63.8 runs above average since the beginning of his career in 2002, and registered a 7.5 wCH last season, which was the 11th-highest among qualified pitchers. Lohse caused a swinging strike 8.1% of the time, but that number balloons by 10% against his changeup.

Here’s another chart that illustrates just how superior his changeup was in 2014.

Count Avg ISO XBH Swinging Strikes
382 .143 .095 5 63

He allowed a Logan Schafer-esque isolated power. Pretty darn impressive, right? But yet, Lohse keeps cutting back on it. It’s like he’s beginning to trust it less and less. And that realization led me to an idea. Maybe his changeup is only effective when he uses it at a minimal amount. Maybe if he throws it too much, hitters will pick up on it and use it to their advantage.

To test this theory, I looked at every start Lohse has made over the last two seasons.

Lohse has made 63 starts since 2013, and has thrown his changeup 20 or more times in just eight of those starts (two in 2014). In those eight starts, however, Lohse has an earned run average of 2.73. But as we all know, eight starts is a very small sample size, so in order to prove (or disprove) my theory, I looked at the starts in which he threw 0-10 changeups and 11-19 changeups. I broke the results down in yet another chart.

Changeups Starts ERA
0-10 27 3.83
11-19 28 3.42
20+ 8 2.73

Remember, since these results are only from two seasons, the sample size is too small to put that much weight in it, but it’s still interesting to look at. Plus, ERA is misleading, but calculating Lohse’s FIP would take about six years of my life. In order to fully evaluate his changeup, I would need to look at his other pitch uses, which is something I’ll save for another time. For now, we’ll solely focus on his changeup.

Anyway, from the information above, my original thought was wrong. You can clearly tell that the more Lohse throws his changeup, the more success he has. The difference in effectiveness is pretty large too. He doesn’t have a high velocity fastball, but it’s still (obviously) faster than his changeup (90.5 mph vs. 80.8 mph). Hitters may have a hard time recognizing the difference since both of those pitches are relatively slow.

Lohse has started an ugly trend by leaning on his curveball over his changeup, and I’d like to see him alter that in 2015. I want to see him utilize his changeup on a more consistent basis. I want him to throw it 25+ times in a game. I want him to start hitters out with it, which is something he rarely did last season.

Lohse is (getting) old, and the projection systems don’t like him. Steamer is projecting him to be worth 0.8 WAR with an ERA and FIP over 4.40. My projections aren’t that harsh, but I understand where Steamer is coming from. Maybe using his changeup more is exactly what Lohse needs to give Steamer the finger.

The Seattle Mariners stole Rickie Weeks

The Seattle Mariners committed theft when they stole Rickie Weeks from the rest of Major League Baseball. Weeks is worth more than $2 million, and I welcome a discussion with anyone who says otherwise. Even as a platoon player, as he was in 2014 and will likely be this season, Weeks is undervalued at that price. But, I guess Weeks needs to prove his worth; at least that’s what his one-year deal screams.

In the middle of the 2014 season, the Brewers asked Weeks to try the outfield. He refused. But, when looking at the Mariners depth chart, it lists Weeks as an outfielder/infielder. Why the change of heart? What made Weeks willing to make the switch from ground balls to fly balls? For starters, Weeks was of belief (and so am I) that he was a better second baseman than Gennett. He also knows he’s nowhere near Robinson Cano‘s skill level. He wants to play baseball in 2015, and if that means lacing it up in the outfield, so be it. He’ll have the entire spring to hone his outfield expertise, something he didn’t have when the Brewers approached him. Playing positions other than second base will up Weeks’ future value, so there’s really no reason why Weeks would decline the Mariners this time around.

To the dismay of many Brewers fans, Weeks was a better hitter than Scooter Gennett in 2014. The platoon worked wonders for Weeks’ offensive game, as he posted a career-high 127 wRC+ and reached based just under a 36% clip. Against just southpaws, though, his wRC+ shot up to 142 with a weighted on-base average of .381. And while Weeks feasted on left-handed pitchers, he still managed to have success during the rare times in which he saw an at-bat versus a righty.

The Mariners plan to platoon Weeks with Dustin Ackley in left field, with the occasional start at second. This is the best possible situation for Weeks. He needs another solid season of hitting to show his true capabilities. Last season was a good start.

Weeks’ defense is something that continues to plague him. Over the last three seasons, Weeks has a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of -62. That ranks dead last among second basemen who have played at least 2500 innings at second base since 2012. Maybe moving to the grass is exactly what Weeks needs.

I still believe Weeks is more than a platoon player, but MLB teams don’t seem to agree. The Brewers will surely miss Weeks providing Gennett relief from left-handed pitching, and their unwillingness to re-sign him or find another righty second baseman will prove costly in the end. I mean, $2 million for a player like Weeks is like paying $10 for a PlayStation 4; it’s a steal.

Who are the Brewers getting in Chris Perez?

Cheap and low-risk signings have been a common theme for the Milwaukee Brewers over the last few weeks. On Jan. 30, they spent $3 million on Neal Cotts, and on Wednesday, they inked reliever Chris Perez to a minor-league deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives if he makes the major league club. The former is a steal for Milwaukee while the latter is more of a lottery ticket with a minimal prize. If Perez is a lottery ticket, the jackpot is anything over 0 WAR. The Brewers are hoping he pitches better than replacement level, something Perez has failed to do since 2012.

For his career, Perez owns an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.51/4.23/4.23, resulting in 0.1 Wins Above Replacement. He’s never been worth more than a win in a single season, only coming close in 2010 and 2012 (0.8 WAR). Perez isn’t much of a ground ball pitcher, gives up a decent number of home runs and has walked batters at higher rate in each of the last three seasons.

So, why were the Brewers interested in him?

It’s a question that deserves multiple answers, but let’s start with this:

Obviously, a minor-league deal comes with no promises, but it shows the Brewers aren’t going to give him any hand-outs just because he was once a “successful” closer. He has to earn a job, and if he somehow makes the 25-man roster, it’ll be deserving, because even though the bullpen has problems, most of the current pieces in it are better than Perez.

The main reason the Brewers snagged Perez is because they coveted an arm with closing experience. Perez has 133 saves in his career. The Brewers by no means want him to close (if that happens, I’m becoming a Cardinals fan. I swear I’ll do it), so I find it odd that Doug Melvin feels it’s necessary to have former closers taking up room in his bullpen. Maybe Perez is solely insurance in case a multitude of relievers go down with injuries. That would make the most sense.

But Perez also comes cheap. Spending $1.5 million on a fringe MLB reliever isn’t going to break the bank, and honestly, I’m okay with any signing the Brewers make for $1.5 million. If they want to bring back Trevor Hoffman for that amount, why the heck not?

Now, back to a statistical standpoint. Perez utilizes two pitches — a fastball and slider. He used a changeup for the first time in his career last season, but only threw it 3.6% of the time, so don’t count on it seeing in 2015. Perez’s fastball is exactly that…fast. It averages in the mid-90s and topped out at 96.7 mph last year. His slider is a slow slider, averaging just 83 mph, and up until last year, it was worth positive runs (excluding his rookie campaign).

Perez has struggled more in high leverage situations than in any other circumstance in his career. He strikes out fewer batters, and allows a .312 wOBA in high leverage situations, while only giving up a .309 wOBA and a .301 wOBA in low and medium leverage situations, respectively. For a closer, who almost exclusively pitches in crunch time, that’s not what you want to see.

Additionally, his strikeout rate has decreased and walk rate has increased consistently since 2012.

Year K% BB%
2012 24.4% 6.6%
2013 22.2% 8.6%
2014 19.5% 12.5%

Even if Perez makes the team, the likelihood that he’ll actually help the team is small. Still, signing him to a low-cost minor-league deal involves almost zero risk.

Pick a pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez vs. Jonathan Papelbon

The Milwaukee Brewers, despite recently signing Neal Cotts, are still in the market for a reliever, preferably a reliever with closing experience. And contrary to my first reaction, the motive makes a lot of sense. Jonathan Broxton is anything but a sure thing (see fastball velocity), and I won’t be surprised if he’s ousted as closer within the first few weeks of the season (or as early as spring training). The Brewers desperately need a backup plan, mostly because they don’t believe in Jeremy Jeffress as much as I do, but also because Jim Henderson‘s throwing arm is a question mark. Not to mention the lack of “closing experience” the Brewers currently have (for some reason major league teams continue to cite this as a weakness). Milwaukee has made it clear that they want to add another closer to the roster, and names like Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon have been thrown around time and time again. Rodriguez has said he wants to return to Milwaukee, and the Brewers are engaged in conversation with the Philadelphia Phillies regarding Papelbon.

So, assuming the Brewers pull the trigger on one of these players, let’s play another round of “Pick a Pitcher”.

First up: K-Rod.

Okay, we are all aware of the legal troubles Rodriguez has been involved in. That’s old news and I’m not going to touch on that subject because this isn’t a law chat room. It’s a baseball blog. I hope you understand that there’s a difference. If not, God help you. When voting, try to only judge him based on his performance on the field, not off it.

Rodriguez loves Milwaukee. He has already served two different terms with the Brewers and is seeking a third. He wants to be back and would, in all likelihood, take a discount to return. As each day passes without the Brewers inking another reliever, the likelihood of Rodriguez’s return increases, because we know how much they like bringing back old players.

But is he really the best option?

Rodriguez’s WAR has decreased in each of the last four seasons, and in 2014, his -0.6 WAR was a career worst. That’s despite allowing a drastically low .219 batting average on balls in play. His ERA was respectable at 3.04, but ERA is silly to look at by itself. The true story — or least truer story — is told by his FIP, and his FIP wasn’t pretty. League average FIP among relievers was 3.60; Rodriguez posted a mark of 4.50. In other words, only two other relievers who pitched a minimum of 60 innings had a higher FIP. Much of that, however, is due to the number of home runs he allowed (14). His HR/FB ratio was over 20% for the first time in his career as he allowed 1.85 home runs per nine innings. His abundance of home runs resulted in a 2.91 xFIP, meaning that’s what his ERA would have looked like if he had surrendered a league average home run to fly ball ratio. Because of this, odds are that Rodriguez won’t give up 14 home runs again. Still, how much he can be trusted in high leverage situations is unclear.

Financially speaking, Rodriguez is the cheaper option of the two. He’s most likely in the market for a two-year deal worth around $7 million, and while $7 million isn’t much at all, I’d be surprised if the Brewers agreed to anything more than one-year deal with him. They don’t want to be stuck with a declining pitcher for an additional year if it isn’t necessary.

Papelbon, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of both talent and cost.

Papelbon’s 2014 stat line is impressive. He’s coming off his best season (in terms of WAR) since 2011 and he posted the league’s 19th-best FIP among relievers. All across the board his numbers look good. But there are a few areas that should concern Milwaukee’s front office.

Like Broxton, Papelbon’s heater has come out of his hand at a slower speed for the last few years now. As a basic rule, losing velocity is rarely a good thing. Papelbon is not a young man anymore, and his worn-out arm will continue to be worn, resulting in slower fastballs. He’ll (probably) become less effective with each tick of mph he loses.

In 2014, Papelbon allowed two home runs in 66.1 innings. That’s a career low. He allowed 73 fly balls and only one of those managed to leave the ball park — the other home run was considered a line drive by Baseball Savant. Why is that important? Well, just like Rodriguez won’t give up 14 home runs next season, Papelbon won’t give up two. He’s destined to give up more as regression to the mean will be in full effect.

Let’s not forget that the Brewers have to actually trade for Papelbon in order to get him in a Brewers’ uniform. The Brewers have to trade away prospects and acquire Papelbon’s contract that includes a vesting option. The money is why the Brewers haven’t completed this trade yet. They’re okay with giving him $13 million in 2015, but his $13 million vesting option the following year is something the Brewers are refusing to do.

The Brewers have to ask themselves if they really feel like they can compete in 2015. If the answer is yes, trading for Papelbon and attaining his contract would be the smart move. If the answer is no, acquiring either of these players, especially Papelbon, would be foolish.