Monthly Archives: May 2019

Random stats and the Milwaukee Brewers

We are over two months into the 2019 Major League Baseball season, and we’ve already been witness to some weird and funky things, not just with the Milwaukee Brewers, but around the league as a whole. Derek Dietrich and Tommy La Stella have both turned into Barry Bonds. Hunter Pence thinks it’s 2011. And Joey Gallo has a .395 BABIP (ban the shift though, right?).

The Brewers also have had their fair share of interesting stories. Some good and some bad. I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a few stats you don’t normally come across. Below I’ve highlighted a few Brewers players whom I’ve found fascinating so far this season. Some of these statistics mean something. Some of these don’t.

Christian Yelich posted a a 213 wRC+ in March/April. In May, his wRC+ sits at 136, which is still great, but definitely not MVP-caliber. His strikeout rate has risen over three percent, while his groundball rate has also gone up.

Jesus Aguilar is striking out less, he’s making nearly the same amount of contact and has an identical exit velocity as he did in 2018. The issue, it would seem, is how he’s hitting the ball. Aguilar’s launch angle has gone from 16.2 degrees to 12.9 degrees. That’s a considerable drop, and it’s the main culprit for his increased groundball rate (up eight percent) and decreased fly-ball rate (down five percent).

Yasmani Grandal has two triples. The Miami Marlins have just one triple. Grandal is in the 12th percentile in sprint speed, making this even more hilarious and more embarrassing for the already laughable Marlins.

Alex Claudio has allowed a .250 wOBA versus lefties and a .450 wOBA against righties. Right-handed hitters are slashing .342/.405/.684 against Claudio, so maybe it’s time to use Claudio as a specialist.

Brandon Woodruff has a 1.36 ERA and a 2.70 FIP over his last five starts. He’s struck out 31.9 percent of batters during that span. No wonder teams were trying to pry him away from the Brewers during last year’s trade deadline.

Lorenzo Cain currently has a career-low batting average on balls in play of .292. He owns a career BABIP mark of .342, so one could expect Cain’s production to skyrocket once the positive regression bug bites him. His exit velocity is down a bit, but not enough to explain a below-league average BABIP.

Corbin Burnes has the 13th-highest strikeout rate (30.3 percent) in baseball among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. His other stats all look atrocious, but it’s clear the talent is there. Be patient with the man.

Josh Hader has the highest strikeout rate of 51.5 percent among qualified relievers. That’s good. But he’s also getting mashed when hitters make contact with his pitchers. That’s not good. Hader has allowed an exit velocity of 91.9 mph, which is in the third percentile. Only 13 pitchers have allowed harder contact. Ouch.

Eric Thames hasn’t homered since April 24, despite getting the bulk of the playing time. Thames has still managed to be a productive hitter even without his Hulk power. He’s getting on base at a .365 clip and has an above-league average wRC+ of 109.

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The Brewers have a fastball problem

The Milwaukee Brewers are currently 23-16 and are coming off consecutive sweeps of the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. As of writing these words, they sit in second place in the National League Central behind the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers have one more win than their rivals, but also three more losses, leaving them trailing by a game. All of this relatively good news for the Brewers and their fans.

But if you pull away the weeds and look closer into the grass, you’ll notice a substantial difference between the teams. The Brewers have a +2 run differential. The Cubs have a +57 run differential. Run differential is very telling and relatively predictive when it comes to record, so the simplest way to put it is that the Brewers probably haven’t been as good as their record says they are, while the Cubs most likely have been better. It’s not the offense that should be blamed for Milwaukee’s mediocre run differential, though. As of May 9, the Brewers have scored the sixth-most runs in baseball, just 10 home-plate touches behind the Cubs, The offense — also known as Christian Yelich — is carrying its fair share of the load. That’s clearly not the issue.

It’s the starting pitching — the group in which almost every analyst with a microphone criticized before the season — that’s been more of a problem than the way Game of Thrones handled Ghost.

Before I go any further, you should know that Milwaukee’s starting pitching staff has turned a corner in the past week or so. It’s still not gold-star worthy, but Zach Davies and Brandon Woodruff have been dealing like aces, and Gio Gonzalez‘s return has been excellent. That deserves to be recognized. But we need to talk about more than just a week’s worth of performances. Small sample sizes rarely mean anything, unless you’re Skip Bayless and you need a hot take.

So here is how the Brewers starting rotation ranks in key categories for the season (as of 5/7).

ERA 4.92 23rd
FIP 4.98 26th
WAR 1.4 25th

Milwaukee’s rotation has been ugly thus far, and frankly, it can’t get much worse, unless, you know, you’re the Orioles, who give up more dongs than Bryce Harper‘s dad.

But why have they been so pitiful? With the swing-and-miss talents of Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Woodruff, they should be significantly better, right? They should be, but they’re not, and a lot of their misfortune can be blamed on fastballs.

Let’s start by breaking down each starter (minimum 10 IP) by their fastball usage.

Fastball % wOBA allowed on fastballs
Zach Davies 67.7 .341
Freddy Peralta 67.6 .428
Brandon Woodruff 58.7 .369
Corbin Burnes 52.9 .620
Gio Gonzalez 52.1 .362
Jhoulys Chacin 45.3 .431
Average 57.3 .425

According to Baseball Savant, fastballs are classified as four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters and sinkers, and the Brewers — as my chart so neatly illustrates throw them quite a bit. Only 10 teams have starters who throw them at a higher rate, yet no team is being punished more than the Brewers.

The below table includes every player who’s made a start for their respective teams in 2019, not just those who fall under the 10-inning minimum like the above table.

wOBA allowed on fastBalls
1 Brewers .419
2 White Sox .404
3 Orioles .402
4 Rangers .397
5 Mariners .396

Hitters feast on fastballs more than any other pitch. As a league this season, hitters have hit for a .352 wOBA on pitches classified as fastballs, while those same hitters have a .272 wOBA versus breaking pitches. Due to the nature of baseball, it’s expected that teams will allow a high fastball wOBA, but the Brewers happen to be on the lofty end of the spectrum.

Luckily for us, Baseball Savant has statistics dating back to 2008, meaning we’re able to compare seasons over the past 12 years. The Brewers are allowing a .419 wOBA when their starters throw a fastball, and if the season ended today, Milwaukee would hold the record for the highest wOBA allowed on fastballs during that period. No other starting rotation since 2008 has been destroyed on fastballs as much as the Brewers, which is just laughably insane, but also likely unsustainable.

A lot of their problems are due to the long ball, as 27 of the rotation’s 36 home runs they’ve allowed have been via the fastball. Burnes and Peralta have been the biggest culprits of fastball harm. Burnes seems like he gets lit up every time he throws a fastball (10 home runs allowed), and since Peralta basically only throws fastballs, it’s no surprise hitters have conquered it. Location, as you might’ve guessed, has been the biggest enemy, not only for those two, but the rotation as a whole.

When their starters throw a fastball, they’re putting them right down the middle at an alarming rate, and opposing hitters are taking advantage of those mistakes, as they should since they’re major league hitters. Here are the pitch locations for every home run they’ve allowed.

Nearly every single one of those pitches has been a mistake in location. Leaving a fastball anywhere in the middle of the zone is generally not a good thing. Groundbreaking, I know.

But this is why the Brewers rotation has been swimming in the bottom of the league. They’re throwing too many fastballs and are getting murdered for it I don’t know if Milwaukee’s pitching coach Chris Hook should shoulder the blame for this, but pitch sequencing has definitely been a big issue, and it needs to change soon if the Brewers want to compete in their tough-as-nails division. Yelich and the rest of the offense won’t be able to carry the hurlers forever.