Monthly Archives: July 2017

Who are the Brewers getting in Anthony Swarzak?

The Milwaukee Brewers are buyers in 2017. If I would’ve told you that on the eve of Opening Day, my readership would be flirting with zero. That’s how incredible this whole thing is. As of publication, the Brewers have a 0.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs, and they just made a trade. And unlike in recent seasons, they shipped out a prospect (Ryan Cordell) and brought in a veteran (Anthony Swarzak). Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers are buyers in 2017, and even if it’s a soft buy, they’re still attempting to compete.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Swarzak?

This has been a breakout year for Swarzak, and you may have guessed that considering you’ve probably never heard of the guy. At 31 years old, he’s been worth 1.7 WAR and posted a 2.23 ERA and a 2.34 FIP across 48.1 innings of relief this year for the Chicago White Sox. For his career, however, his numbers are intensely different and not nearly has admirable. The truth is that he’s been a bad pitcher for the majority of his career. Yet the Brewers believe the pitcher he’s been in 2017 is the real deal, and they shipped away Cordell — one of the players in the Jonathan Lucroy trade a year ago — to put that belief to the test.

The Brewers are probably right about Swarzak, as he’s made significant changes. He’s a two-pitch pitcher who throws a fourseamer and a slider, and he’s managed to up his velocity this year. More importantly, though, he’s discovered a dominant slider. Swarzak has always utilized a slider, but now he’s getting more whiffs than ever with it.

The above chart shows the whiff percentages on each of Swarzak’s pitches since the beginning of his career. As you can see, his slider has gotten better.  His slider whiff rate is sitting just under 20 percent (18.48 percent to be exact) in 2017 — the highest of Swarzak’s career. Side note: He pitched just 13 innings in 2015, so I’m throwing away that sample size.  Not only has his slider improved, but his fastball has been more fierce as well. It sits in the mid-90s and has jumped up almost a full mile per hour from 2016, and batters are really struggling to hit it, managing just a .168 batting average. Quietly but surely, Swarzak has turned into a reliever that can be trusted down the stretch, not just in games but in the late innings as well.

Swarzak will help the Brewers immediately, and this is the type of soft buy the Brewers should be making. Their bullpen is anything but trustworthy, and his presence will allow relievers like Carlos Torres and Oliver Drake to pitch fewer high-leverage innings, which is a very good thing. Swarzak will most likely slide into the seventh/eighth inning role alongside Jacob Barnes, who has had an up-and-down season thus far.

Losing Ryan Cordell isn’t easy — I like him more than most — but there’s essentially no risk here on Milwaukee’s side. The Brewers wanted help for 2017, and Swarzak fits that. He’s cheap and reliable; two things David Stearns values.

Travis Shaw was snubbed

Travis Shaw didn’t make the National League All-Star team. Instead, Nolan Arenado and Jake Lamb will represent the NL as its chosen third basemen, and that’s fine. Arenado is second in WAR among the hot corner, and Lamb has been worth over two wins, as well. The fact that Shaw deserves an All-Star nod more than Lamb isn’t why the former was snubbed. Well, it is, but it’s not the argument I’m going to focus on.

On the Final Vote ballot, there are five players you can choose to nab the final spot. Three are third basemen. Guess how many of those are Travis Shaw? Zero. Shaw was shunned so much so that he wasn’t even included on the final ballot that included three of his counterparts. And that, my friends, is absolutely and utterly ridiculous.

Shaw is having a career year and is clearly enjoying his new home in Miller Park. He’s already set a career high in home runs (18) and has been worth 2.5 Wins Above Replacement through 74 games. To make that hit home a little harder, Shaw entered the season with 3 WAR to his name over 210 games. His on-base percentage has ballooned by over 50 points since 2016, all the while proving to people he is capable of stealing bases — he’s 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. He’s essentially been more valuable in 2017 than he was in his previous two years combined. But those stats alone don’t prove he’s an All-Star. We need some perspective.

Here is that perspective. Below is a table that lists Arenado and Lamb, plus the three other final vote participant third basemen — Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant and Justin Turner.

WAR wRC+ wOBA OBP ISO HR
Travis Shaw 2.5 136 .387 .363 0.269 18
Nolen Arenado 2.8 112 .372 .352 0.245 15
Jake Lamb 2.1 129 .380 .378 0.258 18
Anthony Rendon 3.7 145 .397 .398 0.253 16
Justin Turner 3.9 182 .446 .472 0.185 8
Kris Bryant 2.4 135 .380 .391 0.245 16

How Rendon and Turner didn’t make the All-Star Game outright is beyond me. Shame on the fans of the Nationals and Dodgers. They are crushing it and deserve major respect.

So, based on the table above, I understand why those two were among the final vote options. Meanwhile, Lamb should be nowhere near the festivities, but that’s a whole other ordeal. But how come Kris Bryant got more love then Shaw when their stats are nearly identical? Is it because Bryant won the MVP last season? Is it because Bryant won the World Series last season? Is it because Bryant is more of a household name? Yes, those are the reasons. Kudos, MLB! I love popularity contests.

And before Cubs fans start piling on me for being biased, let’s look at Shaw’s ranks among third basemen.

NL 3B Rank
WAR 4th
wRC+ 3rd
wOBA 3rd
OBP 8th
ISO 1st
HR T-1

And yet, he’s not considered among the top five third basemen in the National League. Ridiculous.

The Milwaukee Brewers only garnered one All-Star spot, with Corey Knebel earning his much-deserved first ever appearance. But Shaw deserves at least a final-vote chance. The case can also be made for Eric Thames, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson, but Shaw is the biggest snub of them all.