Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Brewers should be interested in Eddie Butler

Eddie Butler was once a consensus top prospect. In 2014, Baseball America, MLB.com, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Keith Law all rated the right-hander among the top 30 in their respected prospect rankings. Butler rose quickly through the minor leagues, posting a 2.39 ERA High A in 2013 before finishing the season with a 0.65 ERA in six starts with Colorado’s Double-A club. He had the hype, and many thought he was destined to be a fixture in Colorado’s rotation for years to come. But after just 159.1 innings in the big leagues, the Rockies threw in the towel and designated Butler for assignment on Jan. 28.

He’s now in waiver purgatory, awaiting a second chance, and if the Milwaukee Brewers were smart, they’d have already put in a claim for him.

Butler has been anything but a good pitcher during his brief major league career. He’s actually been below replacement level. He owns a 6.50 ERA, 5.69 FIP and 4.90 xFIP, and has struck out just 12.7 percent of batters faced while walking 9.5 percent. His WAR (-0.5) is tied for the third-lowest total among all pitchers with at least 150 innings since 2014. In other words, 297 pitchers have been more valuable to their teams than Butler. It’s no surprise the Rockies gave up on him.

But maybe, just maybe, Butler can transform into a decent pitcher — whether that’s as a starter or reliever — once he gets out of the hitter-friendly Colorado air. Now, Miller Park caters to hitters as well, but not nearly as much as Coors Field. As long as you don’t give up too many fly balls in Milwaukee, you at least have a shot at being serviceable. In Colorado, a whole array of different factors can hurt you, and that’s what happened to Butler.

BABIP FB% HR/FB%
2014 .328 23.4% 13.3%
2015 .333 27.9% 17.1%
2016 .354 29.6% 20.3%

As the years went on, Butler started getting hit harder and harder. Hitters were squaring up on his pitches like it was nobody’s business, and Butler began to give up more fly balls that ultimately sailed out of the park. But, as bad as that is, it’s also why I think he could be a better player in Milwaukee.

Butler’s fly ball rate in each of the above three seasons were well below league average, yet he gave up more home runs than it would suggest. Your average starting pitcher gave up a round tripper on 13.3 percent of his fly balls in 2016. Butler greatly succeeded that, despite allowing far fewer fly balls. Yes, I know Coors Field played a role in this, but still, Butler deserved better.

Butler had a tough time combating this effect for a few reasons, but the main culprit is his inability to miss bats. He just doesn’t strike out batters. Even in the minors when he was one of the top prospects his strikeout rates were uninspiring. The evidence of his future demise in Colorado was there, though many didn’t see it. Despite that, though, he’s suffered from some bad luck. Coors Field is usually mean to pitchers, but for Butler, it was just plain cruel, and a change of scenery could positively alter his career path.

Which is why the Brewers should want to take a chance on the 25-year-old. They are a rebuilding team that has not shied away from signing once highly regarded prospects to minor-league deals. They did it with Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini, and granted, they didn’t exactly work out, but that’s not the point. With Butler, there’s a fair chance he improves. For starters, he’s extremely young and still has time to turn it around. His home runs will surely plummet in Miller Park, and since he does fairly well at keeping the ball on the ground, his BABIP would probably improve to somewhere around league average as well. It also helps that Milwaukee has a revamped infield defense.

I ran Butler’s 2017 projection as if he were a member of the Brewers, and here’s what it spit out if he were to start 15 games.

GS ERA FIP xFIP BABIP K% BB% HR/FB%
Eddie Butler 15 5.00 4.87 4.45 .308 15.1% 9.1% 14.9%

Keep in mind that even if the Brewers do claim Butler, odds are he probably won’t even sniff the starting rotation in 2017. He’s out of minor league options, so if the Brewers did claim him, he’d be placed in the bullpen. I simply wanted to see how he’d perform if he was somehow given 15 starts. The numbers aren’t good, but they’re significantly better than his stats during his Colorado days, mostly thanks to his lower BABIP and HR/FB%. But overall, they’re quite similar to Chase Anderson‘s projection, which I find interesting.

As it stands right now, the Brewers have one of the worst starting rotations in MLB. They have a few exciting pitchers coming up through the minors, but the current rotation doesn’t look good. Signing Butler gives them more depth and another option. Best case scenario is that he turns into a reliable fifth starter or a long reliever out of the bullpen. There’s literally no risk here for a rebuilding club.

Butler was once a top prospect for a reason, and although we can’t blame the entirety of his struggles on Coors Field, it definitely killed him. He needs a new ballpark, a new team and a new sense of confidence.

Take two on Domingo Santana

Last year I wrote this. And in case you don’t want to click on the link, I basically said that I believed Domingo Santana would be Milwaukee’s best player in 2016. That clearly didn’t happen. In fact, it didn’t even come close. Santana finished worth -0.1 WAR or the 16th most valuable position player on the Brewers roster.

To be fair to Santana — and more importantly to me — he only played in 77 games, as he was on the disabled list for a solid chunk of the season. When he was healthy, he hit. He posted a 110 wRC+ and reached base 34 percent of the time, despite striking out in every third at bat. It was his defense (-10 DRS) that killed his WAR, but the offense was there the whole time.

And that’s why I am once again on the Domingo train. I am, however, altering my stance a bit due to his defensive inefficiencies. In 2017 Domingo Santana will have the highest wRC+ of any qualified hitter on the Milwaukee Brewers. Boom. There it is. Instead of being the best player on the team, I’m predicting he’ll be the best hitter.

I suppose I should explain why I’m so high on a guy who has yet to be more than a replacement-level type player.

In 2015, Santana had a hard-hit rate of 32.3 percent split across the Astros and Brewers. Decent but nothing to write home about. Fast forward to last season and it ballooned to 38.5 percent. His exit velocity skyrocketed like Matt Damon in The Martian (phenomenal movie) to the tune of an average of 91.0 mph. Only Nelson Cruz and Miguel Cabrera can say they hit the ball harder in 2016. That’s some good company. Santana had the second-largest jump of any major league player in exit velocity over the past two seasons, and deservingly demolished the ball. (Jeff Sullivan over at FanGraphs went over this in more detail if you’d like to check it out.) Because he hit the ball so dang hard, his HR/FB ratio (27.5 percent) ranked second in MLB behind only teammate Ryan Braun, and he finished with 11 home runs and 14 doubles for a .191 isolated slugging in just 281 plate appearances. His ability to hit for power to all fields in a place like Miller Park suits him extremely well

The only thing that’s really holding him back at the plate is his strikeout rate. He strikes out too much, plain and simple. He has a patient eye (11.4 BB%), but sometimes it’s a little too patient. Of his 91 strike outs a year ago, 36 of them came looking. It’s not like he even whiffs that much. His swinging strike rate was 12.1 percent, meaning the holes he has in his swing are few. That’s not a high rate at all. He just needs to be more aggressive at the plate and maybe attack earlier in the count.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve recently learned how to run baseball player projections (I’m very excited about this). I’ve run a few so far, and Santana happens to be one of them.

AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA HR BB% K%
Domingo Santana .247 .346 .477 .822 .230 0.354 21 12.3% 32.3%

My projections — which still need a name, by the way — really like Santana. The batting average sucks but so does batting average. According to this, Santana will have a very powerful year, just look at his ISO. I’m still in the process of learning how to project wRC+, so until that comes to fruition, we’ll have to make do with what I have.

Santana is going to get his. His exit velocity isn’t a fluke, and if he manages to stay healthy, he could be a star. He needs another high BABIP and needs to start hitting more balls in the air, though, but it’s something he can learn to do. I think he has 25+ home run potential.

Some people think Keon Broxton will breakout in 2016. Others love Eric Thames. But me? I’m driving the Domingo train. Care to hop on board?