Monthly Archives: August 2018

Did David Stearns make a mistake?

The Milwaukee Brewers (73-59) sit 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs and currently lead the Rockies by a game in the race for the second Wild Card spot. Once upon a time, they had a sizable lead in the division, and once upon a time — on July 10 — they were a season-best 18 games over .500. Milwaukee has spent a total of 76 days in first place this season, and they seemed primed for an October appearance, yet since the Major League Baseball trade deadline on July 31, the Brewers are 11-12, all the while losing significant ground on the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.

General manager David Stearns — a hero among Brewers fans and the architect of one of the quickest rebuilds in recent memory — was an active participant in the trade market, though the trades he executed were seen by some as confusing and unnecessary. Stearns acquired third baseman Mike Moustakas (106 wRC+) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (90 wRC+) right before the final buzzer sounded. To the surprise of the masses, the Brewers watched the trade deadline expire without acquiring a starting pitcher. On Tuesday, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweeted the following:

The argument can be made that Milwaukee’s biggest weakness leading up to the deadline was its offense. Not many can disagree with that sentiment. For the season, the Brewers have been shut out 10 times, and have scored two or fewer runs 42 times in the team’s 121 games, for a record of 9-33 in those contests. Their 92 wRC+ as a team in the first half ranked 19th in the majors. The Brewers needed offense, and Stearns attempted to address that need when he acquired Moustakas and Schoop. Though those two haven’t exactly elevated the offense — at least so far — as much as the Brewers had hoped, at least the front office made an attempt to bring more runs to the team.

The same cannot be said for the pitching side of the club, and that’s where Stearns may have made a mistake.

Let’s first look at how Milwaukee’s rotation has performed before and after the trade deadline.

ERA FIP wOBA against
Before 7/31 3.80 4.30 .303
After 7/31 4.58 4.88 .336

Stearns has said over and over that he and his front office value his team’s starting pitching more than the outside world. That’s been the case all season. But it wasn’t hard to see regression was coming as quick as another Avengers movie,  and even Stearns had to know his starters — the best one being Jhoulys Chacin — couldn’t keep this up. No move was made, however, as the Brewers showed interest in the starting pitching market, but failed to pull the trigger on any deal. As a result, Milwaukee’s rotation has been unreliable since July 31.

We can’t judge Stearns’ inaction just by the Brewers’ rotation alone. We must also look at how the starting pitchers who were traded at the deadline have fared since joining their new teams to see if any of them would’ve been a significant upgrade. (Apologies if I left someone out.)

ERA FIP WAR
Chris Archer* 4.91 3.81 0.3
Kevin Gausman* 2.00 3.15 0.6
J.A. Happ 2.37 3.94 0.6
Lance Lynn 3.81 2.04 1.0
Cole Hamels 0.79 2.36 1.2

*does not include their starts on 8/26

Every pitcher on the table above — with the exception of Archer — has been absolutely brilliant (small sample size alert) since switching teams. Gausman seems to be finally reaching his potential, Happ is as reliable as ever, Lynn has figured something out after a miserable short tenure with Minnesota and Hamels thinks it’s 2011 again. The Brewers were rumored to have interest in all of these pitchers, and although I didn’t see anything that linked him to Milwaukee, Mike Fiers — who was traded after the non-waiver deadline — has been lights out with the Athletics, as well. Aside from Archer, acquiring these players came at a relatively low cost, a cost the Brewers could’ve easily managed.

Stearns’ love for the rotation he constructed has cost the Brewers wins, and it has allowed the Brewers to play second fiddle to the Cubs once again. A rotation consisting of Chacin, Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta, Chase Anderson and Wade Miley — who has the second-largest difference between his ERA (2.32) and FIP (3.99) among starters with at least 50 innings — doesn’t inspire much faith, except, apparently, to Stearns. For a team that has playoff hopes, and for a team who, on paper, has a formidable offensive lineup, the rotation is a sight for sore eyes, and Stearns should be criticized for not improving it.

The Brewers still have the ability to add a starter or two if they claim someone on revocable waivers or work out a deal for a player who went unclaimed. However, the market is rather dry, and there aren’t too many eye-opening arms out there. Milwaukee has shown interest in Nationals’ starter Gio Gonzalez, and although his 2018 performance to date has been disappointing, he could still give the Brewers some quality innings down the stretch.

Stearns said “we’ll find out” when asked if he made a mistake by not acquiring a starting pitcher. Well, I think we can safely say that he did, and while there are other factors involved, it’s a big reason why Milwaukee’s playoff odds have significantly dropped.

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Who are the Brewers getting in Jonathan Schoop?

With barely seconds to spare before the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline clock expired, the Milwaukee Brewers made a significant trade. It wasn’t for a starting pitcher and it wasn’t for a catcher. Instead, it was for Jonathan Schoop — a second baseman — causing a logjam in the infield, much like the one the Brewers dealt with earlier this season in the outfield. We could talk about how trading for Mike Moustakas and Schoop is redundant, and how Milwaukee’s infield defense will likely suffer. We could talk about that. But I don’t want to talk about that or about where everyone will play, as that will surely figure itself out like most things in life do.

I want to talk about Jonathan Schoop, the hitter.

Schoop comes to Milwaukee with a 0.7 WAR, a 90 wRC+ and a 3.3 walk percentage. I picked those three numbers because they’re important when it comes to evaluating a player, but also because they’re not favorable. At first glance, Schoop doesn’t look like much of an offensive upgrade, especially considering his numbers are very similar to Tyler Saladino‘s stat line.

AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Schoop .240 .270 .441 .301 88
Saladino .259 .317 .402 .313 92

Granted, Schoop has nearly 250 more plate appearances than Saladino, but the numbers say Saladino has had the better season up to this point. Still, the Brewers optioned out Saladino in favor of Schoop, and honestly, it makes sense.

The 26-year-old second baseman is having a down season, which is especially rough considering the year he put together in 2017 when he put up nearly 4 WAR. Ryan Braun hasn’t been worth 4 WAR since 2012. Travis Shaw never has. The Brewers just added a player capable of providing four more wins than the league-average replacement player for this year’s playoff run and all of next season for a relatively cheap price. There’s no doubt Schoop upgrades Milwaukee’s offense now and in the immediate future.

Schoop went deep 32 times last year, and 25 times the year before that. He started off the season slow but has been Targaryen hot as of late, evidenced by his seven home runs over his past 10 games. He’s starting to become the player he was a year ago, and Miller Park will only aid him in that journey. Also, consider this: Schoop is hitting the ball in the air 38 percent of the time, yet his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio is down nearly two percent from his breakout season. Hopefully, Miller Park helps that positively regress.

Schoop’s power is undeniable, but if you’re looking for someone who gets on base a lot, Schoop’s not your guy. Schoop’s .338 OBP in 2017 was a career high by a mile, and that was largely due to a .330 BABIP — also a career best. His walk rate flirts with three percent nearly every year, and that’s somewhat of a problem. Of qualified hitters in 2018, Schoop currently has the third-lowest walk rate, as only Dee Gordon and Salvador Perez have walked fewer times. That could change, though. The Brewers preach patience at the plate, and that could easily and quickly rub off on the newest member of the team. The Brewers walk 8.7 percent of the time, or the 14th-most in MLB. That’s the middle of the pack, sure, but the Orioles — Schoop’s former team — walk just 7.4 percent of the time. That’s the 26th-worst mark in baseball. Don’t be surprised if we see an uptick in Schoop’s walk rate soon, simply because he changed teams.

The Brewers’ infield — in terms of offensive output — was one of the worst in baseball. Jonathan Villar was in the midst of a second-consecutive down year, Brad Miller showed very little at the plate during his brief tenure in Milwaukee, Orlando Arcia has a 27 wRC+ and Hernan Perez is the same as he’s ever been. But now, with Schoop and Moustakas joining Jesus Aguilar/Eric Thames and Shaw in the infield, the Brewers have one of the best all-around offenses in baseball, at least on paper They still don’t come close to competing with the fire powers in the American League, but one could argue they have the best lineup in the NL. David Stearns improved his team in an unconventional way and sacrificed defense in the process, but with shifts and Milwaukee’s 10th-highest strikeout rate from its pitchers limiting the balls in play, rarely will the flaws in the defense show. Stearns may have just found a market inefficiency.

Personally, I would’ve preferred Brian Dozier over Schoop, though that extra year of Schoop control is pretty darn appealing. There’s only one thing we need to concern ourselves with when it comes to analyzing Schoop: does he make the Brewers a better team?

The answer is unequivocally yes.