Monthly Archives: June 2016

Poll: What to do with Jonathan Villar?

Jonathan Villar is playing like a star. I don’t necessarily know if he is a star, but he’s definitely playing like one. A few weeks ago I wrote about how his stardom came from essentially nowhere, and frankly I’m surprised his performance hasn’t tailed off yet.

We’re less than a month away from the All-Star break, and Villar is still riding a .390 on-base percentage thanks in large part to an insane .401 BABIP. He’s MLB’s seventh-best shortstop according to WAR, has created 23% more runs than league average and has stolen more bases than anyone. Being one of the best players on a rebuilding Brewers team, which Villar is, isn’t of much significance, but he’s been more than that. He’s transformed into one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, even with Orlando Arcia‘s shadow cast over him since he arrived in Milwaukee.

Because he’s been so valuable to the Brewers, his future is even more questionable than it once was. It’s obvious that teams will be interested in him as the trade deadline approaches. Yet general manager David Stearns has said that there’s little motivation to trade him, and that makes sense. Villar is a young, controllable talent, and as Stearns stated, that’s the exact type of player the Brewers want right now. Still, trading him could net a sizable return for the same reasons.

If the Brewers decide to hold on to their diamond in the rough, moving him to second base seems likely. Villar’s days at shortstop are numbered and that’s not just because Arcia is almost ready to make his major-league debut. He’s a good defender, yes. That’s evident by his 3 Defensive Runs Saved this season (even though UZR has a drastically different opinion of his fielding abilities), but he’d probably provide more value at second. It’s a much easier position to field and doesn’t require many long throws, something Villar has had a problem with at times this year.

That, though, leaves Scooter Gennett on the outside looking in, and that, honestly, is the way it should be. To be frank, he’s just not a good player, especially in relation to Villar. He lacks OBP skills and his wRC+ has fallen in every season of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gennett traded if the Brewers decide to retain Villar. It would make sense.

Another option for Villar is to take over third base duties when Aaron Hill inevitably leaves, whether that be in free agency this winter or in a trade this season. There’s a low likelihood to that though, in my opinion. He’s shown some surprising power so far, but teams usually want their hot corner guys to be big boppers, and Villar definitely doesn’t fit that label. Stearns may have his own ideas for the position, though.

This dilemma is a good one to have if you’re Milwaukee, and it shows why teams take fliers on players like Villar. You never know what you have until you give them a shot.

Quick take: Brewers made the right decision with Wily Peralta

The pitcher who Craig Counsell pegged as the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening day starter is no longer on the major-league roster. Instead, Wily Peralta is down in Colorado Springs with the Triple-A squad trying to work through his difficulties that led him to a 6.68 ERA and 5.57 FIP.

Right from the get-go, Peralta was bad, so bad that it only took fans a month to wonder how long he would remain in the rotation. As things worsened, Brewers Twitter began asking beat writers Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt if Peralta had any remaining minor-league options, a question you hope you never have to ask about a former No. 1 prospect.

When Matt Garza started to get healthy and began to make rehab starts, I was afraid the Brewers would choose the wrong arm to send down in the wake of his return. (I’m still not used to trusting a Brewers’ general manager). I had a feeling that David Stearns and Counsell weren’t ready to give up on Peralta just yet, leaving Zach Davies and Junior Guerra, both of whom failed to make an opening day roster, as top candidates for a demotion. That would have been ridiculous, and you can be sure I would’ve written a post blasting the decision.

Fortunately, the Brewers sent down Peralta.

Name ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Junior Guerra 3.31 3.81 4.28 0.9
Jimmy Nelson 3.43 4.91 4.42 0.5
Zach Davies 3.88 4.18 3.96 0.7
Chase Anderson 4.21 5.00 4.49 0.3
Wily Peralta 6.68 5.57 4.74 -0.2

Davies has been dominant in his last handful of starts, and as you can see from the chart, Guerra has been Milwaukee’s best starter. Peralta was the clear and obvious choice, so kudos to the Brewers for being reasonable.

I don’t expect Peralta to remain in Triple-A for the rest of the season. I think the bullpen is the best course of action for both Peralta and the team. As a reliever, Peralta can work on getting more strikeouts with his high-velocity fastball, because a 5.73 K/9 is completely unacceptable for someone who throws 94 mph.

Quick take: Jimmy Nelson is in trouble

By ERA, Jimmy Nelson is the best starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers. By almost every other metric, Jimmy Nelson is in trouble. Let’s quickly examine, shall we.

As of the second I’m writing this, as Nelson is pitching in the sixth inning against the Mets, he has a 3.43 ERA in 13 outings, which is 70-some points lower than his 2015 ERA. Now, Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder would have you believe that he’s pitching like an All-Star, but in the world of reality, that really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nelson ranks 85th of 98 qualified starting pitchers in FIP with a mark of 4.88. To put it delicately…well I can’t. That sucks. His ERA minus FIP is -1.48, meaning he’s drastically and unbelievably out-pitching himself so far. He’s also started a disturbing trend.

nelson

Nelson’s strikeouts are down a touch from last year, and he’s walking batters at a career-high 9.9% clip. My projections had him giving up 20 home runs this season, but he’s past halfway there as he allowed No. 12 tonight.

His ERA ranks him as a top pitcher in baseball, but his peripherals, the stats that matter more, tell us he’s in trouble and it tells us we should should expect an ERA regression soon.

Ryan Braun has improved his plate discipline

Go back to 2014, a year after Ryan Braun was suspended by Major League Baseball. Are you there yet? OK great.

Just three years removed from winning the NL MVP award, Braun’s (as of then) Hall of Fame career seemed to be fizzling out, like Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. He had already shown a loss of power in 2013 with just nine home runs in 253 plate appearances, and he showed no signs of a comeback in 2014. In fact, Braun was considerably worse in all facets of his game. His ability to get on base vanished, he stopped pulling the ball and ended up posting his lowest contact percentage since his rookie campaign. A thumb problem could easily explain all of his troubles, but nonetheless, Braun, once of the most feared hitters in baseball, became anything but a threat at the plate.

Jump ahead a year to 2015. After undergoing a thumb procedure called cryotherapy, Braun began to look  a little like his former MVP-self. He bashed 25 home runs and accumulated his highest WAR since 2012. Though he was nowhere near the player he was just a handful of years ago, Braun was once again a feared hitter.

And now we get to the present day, where Braun has been the subject of many, many trade rumors. MLB Trade Rumors listed him as one of the top 10 trade candidates this summer, even taking into account that he might be hard to move given the money he’s owed and his injury/PED history. Why is his name such a hot topic? It’s simple, really. Braun, by far, is having his best offensive season since 2012 when he hit 41 home runs and outperformed his MVP year. According to FanGraphs’ wRC+ leaderboard, Braun is MLB’s 19th-best hitter with a 145 wRC+.

braun

The above chart shows why teams are interested in him, despite the heavy baggage he carries. One of the main reasons Braun has returned to prominence is his eye at the plate. Before the last three seasons or so, no one ever really questioned his plate discipline. Posting high walk rates and respectable strikeout rates was always the kind of player Braun was, but he’s on an entirely different level now in 2016.

Braun’s walk rate (10.0%) is almost a career high, and his 14% strikeout rate is down from 20.2% a season ago. At age 32, that’s damn impressive. He’s done this by swinging at more pitches inside the zone and swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone (see chart below).

swing

Because he’s stopped swinging at bad pitches (i.e. balls), Braun has significantly cut down on his whiffs and his zone contact percentage (89.6%) is its highest since 2010. I don’t know if he’s more confident now that his thumb is seemingly healed, but the player he was from 2013-15, at least in terms of plate discipline, is no longer.

We all know that when Braun makes contact, good things usually happen. We don’t need to look at his .336 career BABIP to understand that,. When Braun puts the ball in play, he’s of great value, and because he’s doing it with such consistency and force, his name will keep popping up in trade talks until he’s inevitably dealt.