The Milwaukee Brewers currently employ two players who were key pieces in the team’s NLCS run in 2018. Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar combined for 6.7 WAR and 67 home runs a year ago, and added a plethora of fire power to a dominant offense. The duo came into the 2019 campaign with the high expectations that they could continue to be top-tier run producers. Some even predicted an All-Star appearance for Shaw. It’s funny how quickly things can change, though.
As of June 16, both Shaw and Aguilar have looked lost at the plate. Fans almost revolted when the Brewers sent top prospect Keston Hiura back down to the minors in lieu of Shaw, who’s minor-league rehab stint was over. Meanwhile, Aguilar has lost his starting job to Eric Thames and is struggling to see consistent at bats. The two infielders have combined for -1.6 WAR, nine home runs and on-base percentage of .291 in 370 plate appearances. A far cry from the hitters they were.
So today, let’s take a quick look at Aguilar’s struggles. Let’s see if we can figure out why he’s tied for the second-lowest WAR (-0.9) among every player in baseball this year. Let’s see if we can figure out why his power has disappeared faster than my appetite for Bran Stark’s story line (don’t get me started).
How different is Aguilar’s plate discipline compared to last?
This is fascinating. His contact percentage is identical, he’s not swinging and missing more often, and he’s actually walking more and striking out less. Aguilar is also chasing pitches out of the zone far more infrequently than he did in 2018, down over four percent. The argument can be made that Aguilar’s plate discipline has actually improved, making his ineptness at the plate even more confusing and more interesting.
Maybe it’s his batted ball profile?
|GB%||LD%||FB%||Launch Angle||Avg Exit Velocity||Hard-Hit %|
And there it is.
Aguilar has stopped hitting the ball in the air. In other words, he’s stopped launching the ball. His ground-ball rate is a career high, and his launch angle has dropped nearly two degrees. His average exit velocity has remained the same, but the times he’s truly squared up on the ball have become rarer. A “hard-hit” ball is defined as any ball hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher, and Aguilar’s rate is down over seven percent. And when he does barrel up a ball, he’s doing less damage than the rest of the league. His hard-hit balls have resulted in a .586 wOBA, while league average wOBA on hard-hit balls is .669. He’s hitting too many grounders when he hits the ball hard to do damage.
There are a lot of positives in Aguilar’s game that makes me optimistic for him going forward. His plate discipline is the same, if not better, and his eye at the plate is still great. The biggest issue facing Aguilar is his lack off fly balls and hard-hit fly balls. His power has been zapped because of that. If Aguilar ups his launch angle a few degrees, odds are he’ll revert to the dependable, home-run hitter he was just a short year ago.
You may not buy into the launch-angle revolution that’s taken over baseball, but Aguilar will need to buy in and buy in quickly if he wants to start producing. The Brewers need his bat, they need his power and they need to be ably to rely on him. He may not be the 134 wRC+ hitter he was in 2018, but his current 63 wRC+ is completely unacceptable, and honestly unsustainable. There’s enough in Aguilar’s swing profile to think he can turn it around soon.