Monthly Archives: March 2015

Two years, two different Brandon Kintzlers

The Milwaukee Brewers optioned Brandon Kintzler to Triple-A on Sunday, effectively clearing a spot in the bullpen. This was a somewhat surprising move, but a move that makes sense when broken down. The Brewers tendered a Kintzler a contract of $1.075 million this offseason, which makes him an expensive minor-league player. For that reason, I find it hard to believe Kintzler will spend the season riding buses. He’ll either find his groove and be called up by Milwaukee or the Brewers will find a trade partner in order to unload him.

But let’s look at why the Brewers removed him from the bullpen picture. His spring training stats weren’t favorable, but as we all know, how a player performs in spring training is completely meaningless. However, his 6.48 ERA in eight outings this spring, coupled with his underachieving 2014 season, made it apparent that Kintzler had a lost a step.

Here’s what GM Doug Melvin had to say about the right-handed reliever:

“(Kintzler) is just not showing progress you would like to see. We’re hoping to get him back to where he was but he has to go out and pitch. He just needs to keep working on his pitches and getting his ‘sink’ back. He’s a sinker-ball pitcher. He was a guy you could always count on to throw a 12-pitch inning and his pitch counts are just too high (this spring).”

In 2013, Kintzler was the best reliever in Milwaukee’s bullpen. He posted the highest WAR (1.4), FIP (2.54) and xFIP (2.93). His sinker worked wonders as he forced hitters to put the ball on the ground 57.4% of the time and posted a 13.24 RE24. Most importantly, he kept the ball in the yard. It looked like Kintzler was destined for a brilliant 2014 season.

Things didn’t go as planned, though, as Kintzler began giving up home runs, started walking hitters and saw his strikeout rate plummet (see table).

Year K%
2011 24.6%
2012 19.4%
2013 19.0%
2014 13.0%

Melvin acknowledged that Kintzler’s sinker has stopped being effective, and one of the possible culprits could be from a decrease in velocity.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

To sum up, Kintzler has been losing zip on his sinker and has been racking up fewer strikeouts for a while now. Like Melvin said, there hasn’t been much improvement for the 30 year old, and moving him to the minors was a necessary move for the club.

As of now, Kintzler’s 2013 season seems like a fluke. There’s a chance he could rediscover his sinker, but he’ll need to find velocity as well, and that’s no easy to task. This may be the last we hear from him.

Scooter Gennett leading off makes little to no sense

This is going to be a short piece. In all honestly, I’m sick of writing about this subject. I’m tired of saying Scooter Gennett needs a platoon partner, that he will struggle without one. But now that Ron Roenicke is considering him to bat leadoff, I have no choice but to voice my concern.

An inflexible manager is not an effective commodity for a baseball team, so when Ron Roenicke told the media he plans to stick with one leadoff hitter instead of flip-flopping based on matchups, I was fairly disappointed. In the past, Roenicke has been pretty flexible in terms of constructing lineups, so it’s unclear why he wants to pencil in one leadoff hitter and leave him there for the duration of the season. Not to mention he’s deciding between a righty and a lefty in Carlos Gomez and Scooter Gennett.

And although I’m flabbergasted by Roenicke’s stubborness, I am even more shocked that he’s considering Gennett for the position.

I’ve already written about what the Milwaukee Brewers lineup should look like, so I’m not going to drown you with more lines from “The Book.” However, I am going to tell you why Gennett should be one of the last players Roenicke wants in the one-hole.

Roenicke said that he wants a leadoff hitter with an on-base percentage of around .340. That right there should automatically rule Gennett out. Gennett never walks, which means that nearly every time he gets on base, it’s from a hit. Those odds aren’t great. He posted a .320 OBP in 2014 facing almost exclusively  right-handed pitchers, and pair that with the fact he won’t have Rickie Weeks to save him this season, his OBP should/will plummet. Steamer is projecting a .306 OBP for Gennett, while ZiPS has him at .318. Neither of those marks merit a leadoff hitter, or an even average one at that.

A leadoff hitter should be one the team’s best three hitters. So, if we were to look at the Brewers roster, Gomez, Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy should be considered for the spot. I personally would put Lucroy there, but I have no qualm with Gomez there. He has a knack for getting on base (he’s increased his BB% every year he’s been with Milwaukee), has power and speed. Basically everything you want in a top-tier leadoff hitter.

If Roenicke does open his eyes to reality and decides to be flexible with his lineup card, I could see myself getting on board with Gennett batting leadoff versus right handers. I won’t be happy about it as it weakens Milwaukee’s lineup, but it’s better than having him in there every day. Life is about compromises.

 

Don’t sleep on Rob Wooten

Since 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers have had 17 pitchers throw at least 60 innings — Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Matt Garza, Mike Fiers, Jim Henderson, Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, Rob Wooten, Tom Gorzelanny, Alfredo Figaro, Jimmy Nelson, Burke Badenhop, Will Smith, Donovan Hand.

Now that you have just read a long list of people who throw baseballs for a living, I want you to guess which one has the lowest Fielding Independent Pitching over that time span. Hint: Look at the title of this post.

That’s right. Rob Wooten owns a 2.87 FIP and is the only Brewers member with a FIP under three. Still, while his FIP has been excellent, his earned run average has been less than stellar (4.35), meaning Wooten has had poor defense behind him, bad luck, or is just a pitcher that will always outperform his ERA. It also could be a combination of all three. For example, if Wooten forces a ground ball that an average defensive third baseman could grab (Aramis Ramirez is not an average third baseman), the blame can’t and shouldn’t lie with Wooten, despite what the box score may say. The fact of the matter remains that Wooten has pitched better than the story his ERA tells.

Because of that, I think Wooten will be an effective reliever and maybe one of the best out of the Brewers ‘pen in 2015. I have three reasons to back up my hypothesis.

Pitches Per Plate Appearance

In 2014, pitchers threw an average of 3.80 pitches per plate appearance. Wooten, meanwhile, threw an average of 4.03 pitches. He spent too much time on each hitter and was well above league average in terms of Pit/PA. Now, strikeout pitchers — something Wooten is not —  usually throw more pitches than non-strikeout pitchers, so where are Wooten’s extra pitches coming from? Walks? Nope. Wooten walked just five percent of batters and had a K-BB% of 14.3%.

As long as Wooten keeps his walks to a limit, his Pit/PA should go down and end up closer to league average. And if that happens, more favorable results will follow.

Pitch Location

Wooten doesn’t give up home runs, has an excellent groundball rate, and rarely issues free passes, and that’s because of his pin-point accuracy. He hits the bottom of the zone more often than the New York media criticizes Alex Rodriguez. Just take a look at his zone profile.

Wooten

Wooten has thrown 1003 pitches in his career and exactly 134 of them have landed in the bottom right corner of the strike zone (catcher’s POV). There’s very little chance a hitter can do much of anything with that. More than likely, they’ll hit it into the dirt.

Batting Average on Balls in Play

Batters hit .239 when they hit a grounder in 2014. But against Wooten, they hit .293 (17 for 58). That’s a fairly high average for ground balls, which is why you can expect some regression toward the mean in ’15. The same can be said for line drives, as league average BABIP on liners was .683 while Wooten allowed a .778 average.

Overall, Wooten allowed a .380 BABIP, which was the highest average among every reliever with at least 30 innings under their belt last season. Don’t expect that to happen again.

Are the Milwaukee Brewers a sabermetric team?

Ben Baumer recently wrote a terrific piece for ESPN.com in which he ranked Major League Baseball teams based on their openness (or reluctance) to using advanced analysis and statistics. According to Baumer, the Boston Red Sox are on top of the sabermetric food chain while the Philadelphia Phillies, as expected from a caveman-esque team, writhe on the bottom.

The Milwaukee Brewers, meanwhile, fell under the “One Foot In” category. Baumer writes:

Despite GM Doug Melvin’s background in scouting and old-school reputation, the Brewers are definitely not in the dark on analytics. Melvin calls himself “a big believer in ballpark effects,” challenges his analytics staffers to bring him useful information, and cites their work when they’ve helped him make a move.

Still, the Brewers aren’t all the way in the sabermetric movement.

All of this does not mean the Brewers live on the cutting edge. Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke could hardly be described as true believers. While the Brewers have a relatively large analytics staff, including two analysts and three programmers, the overall approach in Milwaukee appears to be less sophisticated than that of the top sabermetric teams.

Baumer also talks about how the team values Jonathan Lucroy‘s pitching-framing abilities and their knack for infield shifting. But their lack of analysts and programmers troubles me. As a big believer of sabermetrics, I want my team to believe as well, and it frustrates me to see them tripping over their shoes when they completely ignore the stats (i.e. signing Francisco Rodgriguez). Maybe it’s time to hire more stat nerds, Doug. Yet, as Baumer mentions, the Brewers do somewhat utilize sabermetrics, just on a much lesser scale than their competitors.

So, based on the information I have available to me — which is the same information you have — I’m going to see in what instances the Brewers have used sabermetrics and what instances they’ve ignored it. I’m sure I’m missing a ton, but here are few I can think of.

The Brewers used sabermetrics when…

  • When they shift, and they shift a lot. In fact, as of Sep. 9, 2014, Milwaukee had shifted 634 times, which was ninth-most in Major League Baseball and second among National League teams.
  • When they signed Lucroy to a five-year, $11 million contract extension in 2012. They locked up a phenomenal pitch framer and OBP-guy for way less than what he’s worth.
  • When they platooned Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks last season. The two combined for 3.0 WAR.
  • When they reeled back on steal attempts in ’14. However, Ron Roenicke has recently said he intends to implement aggressive baserunning once again.
  • When they refused to match Zach Duke‘s $33 million offer from the White Sox. He had a career year and is sure to regress at least a little.

The Brewers didn’t use sabermetrics when…

  • When they signed K-Rod to a two-year, $13 million deal. His WAR has declined in four consecutive seasons, not to mention the Brewers already have at least two capable closers.
  • When Doug Melvin said he’s not smart enough to figure out WAR. He went on to say he doesn’t really believe in it.
  • When they bunt their non-pitchers. Since 2011, Milwaukee’s position players have bunted 380 times (second-most among MLB).
  • When they brought back Yuniesky Betancourt after he posted a 0.0 WAR with them in 2011 and a -1.0 WAR with the Mariners in 2012. After the ’11 season, Melvin said he thought Betancourt played “better than what the critics said.” Betancourt accumulated a -1.9 WAR in 409 PA over the course of his return.
  • When they preach a swing-first approach. Yes, this helps Carlos Gomez, but taking pitches and working counts is Sabermetrics 101.
  • When they batted Gennett leadoff (23 times) and in the two-spot (43 times) during the ’14 season. A team’s leadoff hitter and two-hole hitter are supposed to be either the first- or second-best hitters on the team, something Gennett is nowhere near.

For the most part, as Baumer stated, the Brewers don’t seem to be a team that relies too heavily on sabermetrics. Melvin believes in certain aspects of it, but clearly isn’t all-in. Roenicke is an old-school guy who likes bunting far too much, particularly suicide squeezes. But at least he shifts his players quite often.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on if the Brewers are a sabermetric team. Am I missing anything from my list?