Monthly Archives: December 2017

Projecting Jhoulys Chacin

The Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively quiet this winter. With money to spend and the urge to spend it for the first time in a handful of years, the expectation was that the Brewers would make a big splash in free agency. David Stearns has been rumored to be interested in Jake Arrieta, and it’s no secret the team would be in favor of re-signing Neil Walker. And while there’s still plenty of time for those moves or other noteworthy acquisitions to happen, the Brewers have decided to make plays for under-the-radar and low-cost players.

Their first “significant” offseason move was bringing back an old friend in Yovani Gallardo on a $2 million contract that includes incentives. After two forgettable seasons with Seattle and Baltimore, there’s no guarantee the former Brewers’ ace makes the roster, and even if he does, he’ll probably be used as a long reliever rather than a starter. The acquisition of Gallardo didn’t — for good reason — make much noise around baseball, but a few days later the Brewers made another move that, while not flashy at its base, has the potential to be great.

On Thursday the team announced that it had signed Jhoulys Chacin to a frontloaded two-year contract worth $15.5 million that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. At face value, Chacin seems like a league-average pitcher. In 2017 he posted a 3.89 ERA and a 4.26 FIP on his way to a 2.3 WAR over 32 starts. His career numbers aren’t nearly as positive, but he provided optimism with the Padres last year. His slider is considered one of the best in the game, and that’s backed up by this fact:

Chacin also forced more swings-and-misses via his slider than Chris Sale. That’s right, Chris Sale. The right-hander threw his slider almost 35 percent of the time last season and limited hitters to a lowly .155 batting average against it. As a result, Chacin finished with the 14th-highest groundball rate (49.1 percent) among qualified pitchers. He’ll need to continue to do that in Miller Park, a stadium known as a hitter’s paradise due to the amount of home runs it allows.

The biggest knock on Chacin is his home/road splits and his difficulty in getting out left-handed hitters. Chase Anderson also suffered from the latter problem until the Brewers altered where he stood on the mound last season, and he just turned in his best year to date. I’m not saying Chacin will automatically dominate lefties if he makes the same adjustment, but it’s definitely a possibility, and there’s absolutely no harm in trying. The home/road splits are more of an issue. Chacin threw in pitcher friendly Petco Park in 2017 and was unbelievably great (1.79 ERA, 3.80 FIP) at home. However, he was very different away from his home stadium (6.53 ERA, 4.85 FIP), and that’s somewhat worrisome going forward. Miller Park is considered a hitter’s park, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to his new atmosphere. Limiting home runs will be key to his success.

Here’s how RW23 projects Chacin to perform in 2018:

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR WHIP BABIP
RW23 161.1 3.78 4.20 4.07 8.08 3.43 21.2% 9.0% 19 1.29 .282

 

Yovani Gallardo is back and different than ever

The last time Yovani Gallardo donned a Milwaukee Brewers jersey, he was considered the team’s ace. That’s not the highest of compliments when looking at the stable of pitchers the Brewers employed during his tenure, but nonetheless, Gallardo started 211 games across eight seasons for the Brewers and accumulated 20.8 WAR and an ERA of 3.49. He was more than serviceable during his time there, and should be considered one of the greats in franchise history. Milwaukee has been absent of Gallardo for three years now, until…

On the same day Matt Kemp was reunited via trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gallardo — a free agent — found himself back home as well. Now, while the Dodgers are keen on flipping Kemp, the Brewers hope Gallardo can contribute to the team’s playoff aspirations in 2018. The team has yet to announce the deal, so his role and contract numbers are still unknown, but the deal is likely a one-year contract. Though they have money to spend, the Brewers aren’t going to spend a good chunk of it on a guy who posted a 5.72 ERA last season. A one-year deal laced with incentives is a good bet here.

While most of you may remember Gallardo as a swing-and-miss strikeout pitcher, he actually hasn’t fit that mold for a while now. He started to change who he was when he was still in Milwaukee, but the alterations were truly put on display when he jettisoned to Texas and subsequently Baltimore and Seattle. The former second-round draft pick began to pitch to contact and ultimately forfeited strike outs in the process, as illustrated by the chart and table below.

Since 2012, Gallardo’s strikeout rate has lowered in almost every subsequent year. He saw it rise a bit this past season, but not enough for any significant optimism.

Year SwStr% Contact%
2012 (MIL) 7.9% 79.7%
2013 (MIL) 7.0% 82.9%
2014 (MIL) 7.0% 83.2%
2015 (TEX) 6.5% 84.4%
2016 (BAL) 6.4% 84.3%
2017 (SEA) 8.3% 81.2%

Because Gallardo has lost some velocity over the last few campaigns, he’s been forced to try to get hitters to put the bat on the ball rather than racking up outs via three strikes. The results, however, haven’t been all that kind to the veteran. In his last 51 appearances (45 starts) spanning the past two seasons, Gallardo’s 5.57 ERA is the 11th worst mark among all pitchers with at least 140 innings. His FIP ranks just as poorly, and his 0.6 WAR is bested by 164 of 190 pitchers.

So why on earth would David Stearns and the Brewers waste their time on someone clearly past his peak? Shouldn’t the front office be focused on acquiring bigger fish — like an Alex Cobb — who can actually contribute to the team in 2018? The answer to the latter question is yes. The answer to the first question is a bit more complicated.

Since his arrival, Stearns has set his sights on acquiring low-risk, high-reward talent. Dealing with a mediocre payroll, he doesn’t have the luxury to spend big every offseason as he would if he were the general manager of the New York Yankees. Instead, he has to perform his job with the certain constraints. And so far, he should get all the credit in the world. He found Jonathan Villar, who was an unknown entity before coming to the Brewers. He traded for Travis Shaw and signed Jesus Aguilar, both of whom performed above expectations in 2017. Stearns has been able to find diamonds in the rough on a consistent basis since joining the front office, and while this is the first offseason in which he intends to spend money on free agents, signing a pitcher like Gallardo isn’t the dumbest thing in the world.

By signing Gallardo to an expected short, and small salary deal, he’s taking another low risk approach. Granted, Gallardo’s ceiling is no longer what it was, but the Brewers need someone in a long relief role, and if needed, someone who can fill in as a starter. Jimmy Nelson will miss a considerable amount of time next year, and the team will need multiple arms to fill his void. Gallardo figures to be one of those. If he fails, so what? The consequences will be minimal if any at all. If he succeeds, then Stearns just once again proves he’s a wizard. No risk is the name of the game, and that’s exactly why the Brewers signed their former ace.

Here’s what RW23 projects from him as a reliever in 2018:

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR WHIP BABIP
45 4.63 4.75 4.62 6.50 3.56 16.6% 9.1% 6 1.45 .295

The projection doesn’t love him, though compared to Gallardo’s last two seasons, it’s a considerable improvement.

Let’s revisit my 2017 bold predictions

The annual Winter Meetings are in full swing, and while we wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to make some moves, I thought it’d be an appropriate time to check out how my bold predictions from last March fared. But don’t you worry. Once David Stearns — also known as The Wizard — starts wheeling and dealing, The First Out At Third will have all of it covered.

I made five bold predictions last season, and here’s how they turned out.

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames made his return to the major leagues and America after spending three years playing ball in Korea. He showed massive power out there, which is why I thought he was more than capable of hitting bombs at a high rate for the Brewers. Thames tied Travis Shaw for the team lead with 31 home runs, so we’re off to a great start.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (1-for-1)

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve always been high on Santana, which is why I predicted he’d finish with the highest wRC+ on the club. And guess what?

Rank Player wRC+
1 Domingo Santana 126
2 Eric Thames 124
3 Travis Shaw 119
4 Jesus Aguilar 112
5 Ryan Braun 110

Of the 10 Brewers’ hitters who saw at least 300 plate appearances, Santana led the way by producing 26 percent more runs than league average, and just barely beat out Thames for the team high. The 25-year-old outfielder has been subject of recent trade talks, but it’s going to take more than an arm and a leg to pry him from Milwaukee.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (2-for-2)

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

The 2017 season began on April 3. Nieuwenhuis was designated for assignment on April 21. So while he technically made the Opening Day roster, he was let go just 18 days later. He was able to overachieve in 2016 (1.0 WAR), and while the Brewers gave him another shot the following season, they just had too many up-and-coming young outfielders to keep him on the roster. Nieuwenhuis posted a .245 wOBA and 43 wRC+ over 31 plate appearances before Milwaukee kicked him to the curb. I guess I’ll give myself a loss on this one, but man was it close.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .666 (2-for-3)

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

If you remember, Neftali Feliz began the season as Milwaukee’s closer. Boy, did that work out great. He owned a 6.00 ERA and 7.12 FIP before he was released on June 19. Corey Knebel was the clear-cut option to slide into Feliz’s role and take over, but I thought Barnes would be better suited for the ninth inning. I was wrong. Knebel dominated throughout the year (40.8 K%), while Barnes went through ups and downs, though he did lock down two saves. Still, another swing and a miss.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .500 (2-for-4)

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

Though this doesn’t seem bold now, I assure you it was bold at the time. Braun was reportedly very close to being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Yasiel Puig in August of 2016, and while that didn’t happen, the Brewers seemed keen on moving on from him and his contract. After the Brewers and Dodgers failed to come to an agreement, I thought it’d be almost impossible for the team to trade Braun. That’s even more true now. The 34-year-old slugger finished with his lowest WAR (1.5) since 2015 and his lowest wRC+ (110) of his career in 2017. I think he’s destined to be a Brewer for life.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .600 (3-for-5)

Free agent targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Winter Meetings are set to begin next week, and there should be a flurry of movement almost immediately. Well, that should be the case once Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani figure out where they want to play ball in 2018. Most baseball scribes seem to think once those two sign, the free agent floodgates will open, and for the teams out on the Stanton and Otani sweepstakes, it should be extremely exciting.

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams. Otani has already ruled out Milwaukee as a possible destination, and there’s just no way they can afford to take on Stanton’s salary. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to spend. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta, who is one of the top free agent hurlers on the market. And while I think signing Arrieta will eventually be a tremendous mistake, there are still many options — both in the hitting and pitching department — that should pique the Brewers’ interest. The Brewers didn’t lose many players to free agency this offseason, though the few players who left will leave big holes on the roster. Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak both elected free agency, although both have expressed interest on returning, a scenario the Brewers would likely welcome with open arms.

Here are a few free agents that I think the Brewers should target.

SP Alex Cobb

The free agent starting pitching market isn’t all that deep, but there are a few promising names, and Cobb is my favorite option. Cobb is entering his age-30 season and should be right in the middle of his prime years. The right-hander had a bit of a down campaign in 2017, finishing with a respectable 3.66 ERA, but a less impressive 4.16 FIP and 4.24 xFIP. Yet, he’s only two years removed from his second-consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERA. He has the potential to be a true No. 1 ace, and he would immediately fill that void in Milwaukee, especially considering Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a good chunk of 2018.

In order to revert back to his dominant days, the former Rays’ hurler will need to improve his whiff numbers. His 6.7% swinging strike numbers in 2017 was a career low, and the majority of his other plate discipline numbers suffered from previous years as well. One down year in the peripheral stats department shouldn’t discourage the Brewers from any interest, though. He’s still considered one of the top arms on the market.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Cobb to receive a four-year, $48 million contract, which is something the Brewers should have no problem offering. He does, however, come with some injury risk. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season and made just five starts the following year due to Tommy John surgery. Still, his track record and arm potential is worth the risk.

2B Neil Walker

This is somewhat obvious, as Walker played 38 games with the Brewers in 2017 after being acquired from the Mets. But second base is one of the biggest holes Milwaukee needs to focus on this winter. The team tendered Jonathan Villar and re-signed Eric Sogard, but expecting those two to adequately hold down second base for 162 games is a bit of a stretch. Villar — who broke out in 2016 — was pitiful a year later, and, as much as I love the guy, Sogard is most useful off the bench or in a utility role.

Walker should be Milwaukee’s top target if they want to compete again. And the 32 year old clearly likes hitting in Miller Park. After putting up a 108 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances for New York, Walker blasted his way to a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. The dimensions of Miller Park agree with him.

MLB Trade Rumors projects just a two-year deal worth $11 million for the veteran, though the Brewers might be wise to overpay for his production. The alternative is just not good enough for a hopeful contender.

SP Chris Tillman

As a cheaper and less-talented option than Cobb, the Brewers should give Chris Tillman a call. Even though it seems like Tillman has been around since the dawn of time, he’s actually only 29 years old, and should still have plenty left in the tank. It’s true that he had the worst season of his career in 2017, and yes, it’s true his 14.2% strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2010 — his second year in the bigs. Regardless of all that, Tillman represents a terrific bounce-back option. In 2016, he posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP, which is eerily similar to Zach Davies‘ most recent stat line.

If the Brewers were to sign the righty, it would most likely be on a short-term deal with a team option. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged at receiving just a one-year deal worth $11 million. With Nelson out of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future, Tillman would slide in toward the back of the rotation, with his upside being a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

He’s not the sexiest name on the open market, but he’s a reclamation project that David Stearns loves. He’d be more than useful in Milwaukee’s shallow rotation.

Honorable Mentions

Anthony Swarzak: He resurrected his career and has turned himself into a dominant reliever. He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee, and the Brewers need bullpen help.

Mike Fiers: The Brewers should bring Fiers home, like they did with Jeremy Jeffress. His stats with Houston over the past two years aren’t pretty, but I fully believe he can help Milwaukee in 2018.

Tommy Hunter: Another pitcher on my list, but that’s the main asset the Brewers should covet. Hunter has been a stud reliever since making the switch from the rotation in 2013, and while it could take a decent chunk of change to get Hunter to Milwaukee, he would greatly improve the Brewers’ bullpen.