Monthly Archives: August 2015

What’s up with Jonathan Lucroy?

Last season Jonathan Lucroy was one of the front runners for the National League MVP award. Aside from his usual defensive prowess, he got on base at a great rate and showed a tremendous amount of gap power. When it was all said and done, Lucroy finished with the ninth-best WAR in Major League Baseball, and I was sure he was going to follow that up with another phenomenal season (projected 4.6 WAR).

But now, at the midway point of August in 2015, Lucroy has been no better than a replacement player. His WAR sits at 0.1 and his on-base percentage is reminiscent of Yuniesky Betancourt‘s. His isolated power is down 58 points, and instead of being an above-average hitter in terms of creating runs, Lucroy’s wRC+ is down in the gutters at 78. He’s gone from a major threat at the plate to a player who’s no threat at all.

So what’s happened? First, let’s compare his batted ball profile in 2014 to his profile this season.

GB% FB% LD%
2014 42.1% 35.7% 22.3%
2015 47.3% 28.8% 23.9%

Lucroy is hitting more line drives and less fly balls, and for someone who doesn’t have much home run power, that’s obviously a good thing. But his ground ball rate has soared, and that’s something that needs to be talked about.

Part of the reason Lucroy’s offense is struggling is because he’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he did in 2014 and is having way worse luck on those ground balls. Last season, Lucroy hit .258 when he put the ball on the ground, while the rest of the averaged just a .239 mark. In other words, Lucroy overachieved on grounders. This year, not so much, as his groundball BABIP is at a lowly .155. League average, by the way, is .234. As a result, Lucroy’s overall BABIP of .267 is the seventh-lowest mark among National League hitters (min. 300 PA). To sum up, Lucroy had great luck a year ago, but is enduring a season of rotten lock in 2015.

His loss of power is also quite astonishing. He ripped 53 doubles last season, but has only 14 to his name after 311 at-bats. Now, obviously there was no way Lucroy was going to duplicate 53 doubles again, but to have only 14 is a bit surprising. This can probably be explained by his inability to hit the fastball, something that wasn’t the case last year.

Lucroy has seen 544 four-seam fastballs this season, and is hitting .250 with an isolated power of .095 on those pitches. During his MVP-caliber year, however, he hit .324 with an isolated power of .229. Twenty-five of his 53 doubles came off the four-seamer. This year he has just three.

The Brewers catcher is nowhere near the same hitter he was last season because he’s putting a career-high number of balls on the ground and because he’s having a tough time making good contact with the fastball. Both of these things are correctable, but as Milwaukee starts to rebuild, Lucroy may find himself correcting his issues on a different team.

 

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Who are the Brewers getting in Zach Davies?

The Milwaukee Brewers may have traded away Mike Fiers, but they may have already replaced him, as well. After Doug Melvin sent Carlos Gomez and Fiers to the Houston Astros, he shipped Gerardo Parra off to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zach Davies.

Davies wasted no time in making a great impression with his new club, as he struck out seven batters in six innings while allowing just one run in his first start with the Brewers Triple-A affiliate.

But who exactly is the Brewers getting in Davies?

Here’s what Baseball Prospectus writer Jeff Long had to say about him:

Davies isn’t built like a pitcher. At 6’0″ 150 lbs, he looks more like a shortstop than a guy who throws darts on the mound. A lot of the speculation that surrounds Davies is because of his small build. People who know the game well question if he can last a full 32-start season, thinking his body will eventually break down. But pitchers like Tim Lincecum (5’11”, 170 lbs) and Travis Wood (5’11”, 175 lbs) have overcome their short and skinny stature to become successful major league pitchers. There’s no reason Davies can’t add his name to that list.

Davies’ fastball won’t overpower hitters, but he does a good job of hiding the ball up until he releases it, making the pitch seem much faster than it is. His strikeout rate of 21.1% is very good for a pitcher without blow-it-by-you stuff, although the strikeouts will probably drop a bit when he faces major league hitters. His changeup is his best pitch, but he’ll need to expand his arsenal or strengthen it in order to be an effective starter.

Along with his decent strikeout percentage, Davies does an excellent job of pounding the strike zone and forcing ground balls. He’s walked under three hitters per nine innings in each of his last three minor league seasons, and has had a groundball rate north of 46% in every season of his career.

Giving up Gerardo Parra, a free-agent-to-be who is in the midst of a career year, for a pitcher like Davies is a win for the Brewers, in my opinion. Parra is due for some serious regression in 2016, so to get a young arm who has the potential to be a solid back-of-the-rotation guy in return for him should be looked at as a victory.

At 22 years old and almost a full season of Triple-A under his belt, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Davies break into the rotation in 2016. He could easily transition to the No. 4 or No. 5 spot in Milwaukee’s rotation, which is in need of some quality arms.

Breaking down the trade that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston

The best overall player and the best starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers are no longer on the Milwaukee Brewers. Both Carlos Gomez (1.7 WAR) and Mike Fiers (1.7 WAR) were shipped off to the Houston Astros in exchange for four minor league prospects. The rebuilding and retooling has officially begun in Milwaukee, and it’s a glorious thing. Sure, seeing Gomez, a fan favorite, and Fiers, my personal favorite, leave is tough to deal with as fans, but knowing it’s for the greater good makes it easier to handle.

Other than Jonathan Lucroy, Gomez was the most highly valued hitter and fielder on the Brewers. Gomez been worth 17.9 WAR over the past three and a half seasons and has saved 88 runs defensively. He becomes a free agent after the 2016 season, and the Brewers had little chance of re-signing him (he is a Scott Boras client after all). Trading him now was absolutely the right move.

The Astros also received a solid pitcher in Fiers. He’s actually been the 43rd-best starting pitcher in 2015, meaning he’s been more valuable than Mike Leake, who was just traded to the San Francisco Giants, and Yovani Gallardo, who’s name came up in multiple trade discussions. Trading Fiers came as a bit of a surprise to some because he’s a cheap pitcher who is under team control for basically forever. However, if the Brewers didn’t include Fiers in the deal, the Astros never would have sent the star prospect of the trade, Brett Phillips, to Milwaukee.

So, let’s break down each of the four prospects the Brewers received as we get excited for the future of the organization.

OF Brett Phillips

Phillips was Houston’s No. 2 prospect coming into the 2015 season. He’s now Milwaukee’s No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com. A lot of knowledgeable people around baseball believe he’s a future All-Star. He has a cannon for an arm out in center field, but most of the hype that surrounds him is because of his bat. Phillips absolutely obliterated baseballs in High-A ball this season (15 home runs and a .417 wOBA) before being promoted to Double-A. The power hasn’t shown up there yet (just one home run), but a .372 OBP has contributed to a 133 wRC+. Like the recently departed Gomez, Phillips also has great speed and could be a 15-20 stolen base guy in the majors. Phillips is exactly the kind of player you want to build your team around.

OF Domingo Santana

While everyone is smitten over Phillips, Domingo Santana is the guy who I’m most excited about. If everything goes right, I think he can turn into one of the best players in all of baseball. Yeah, you read that right. Mark it down. He has all the talent to make it happen. In 75 games in Triple-A this season, Santana posted an insane on-base percentage of .426. And that’s with striking out almost 28% of the time. He has power and draws a fair amount of walks. The only problem with Santana is his lack of contact, which is why he’s being considered as a wild card and a player who’s difficult to project. Santana made contact on just 71.6% of pitches inside the zone. That’s not good. At all. His contact problems are very worrisome as he enters the big leagues. But if he can start putting the bat on the ball with more consistency, watch out. He’s 23, so don’t be surprised if you see him up with the Brewers in September, and starting in 2016.

LHP Josh Hader

Josh Hader has put together a very nice season in Double-A this year, posting a 3.17 ERA and 3.46 FIP. He’s also struck out 9.51 batters per nine innings. He has a decent fastball and changeup, but his slider isn’t as effective as it should be. If we’re talking about upside, I see Hader as a back-of-the-rotation guy. His strikeout numbers are, of course, promising, but he has control issues and isn’t an overpowering pitcher. But similar to Fiers, Hader hides the ball well, making his fastball, which usually sits in the low 90s, look much faster.

RHP Adrian Houser

By his minor-league numbers alone, there’s not much that excites about Adrian Houser. He’s really struggled during his short time in Double-A, mainly due to the fact he can’t keep the ball in the park and walks far too many hitters while not striking out enough. At the very best, Houser will be an OK reliever if and when he reaches the big leagues. But don’t expect to see him in Milwaukee any time soon. He has a lot to work on.

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This was a tremendous trade for both organizations, but for the Brewers, it makes a weak farm system considerably better. Both Phillips and Santana are top-5 prospects, and the potential is there with Hader and Houser. Doug Melvin deserves a pat on the back.