Author Archives: Justin Schultz

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.

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Who are the Brewers getting in Joakim Soria?

The Milwaukee Brewers made a trade Thursday, albeit not for a starting pitcher or hitter, the two biggest needs on the club. Instead, they landed Chicago White Sox reliever Joakim Soria in exchange for LHP Kodi Medeiros and RHP Wilber Perez.

This marks the second time in as many seasons that general manager David Stearns has orchestrated a trade for a reliever with the White Sox, the first being Anthony Swarzak, who ended up pitching quite well for the Brewers. This time around, however, things are a little different. Like in 2017, the Brewers are in contention for a playoff bid, and like in 2017, the Brewers are trying to overcome the Chicago Cubs, but unlike in 2017, the Brewers feel more confident they have the pieces to compete. They didn’t feel like that a year ago, which is why the only trade deadline moves they made were acquiring Swarzak and Neil Walker. Milwaukee had holes elsewhere on the roster, but the team didn’t think it was worth the price to fill them. That belief has changed, as the Brewers have been rumored and linked to almost every available player on the trade market, and while J.A. Happ and Zach Britton have found new homes elsewhere, Milwaukee still has its sights set on numerous players.

One of them, apparently, was Soria. But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Soria?

In 38.2 innings for the White Sox, the 34-year-old righty has pitched to a 2.56 ERA and an even more impressive 2.15 FIP, totaling 1.4 WAR after being worth a total of 1.7 WAR last season. Soria’s strikeout rate (29.9 percent) is his highest mark since 2009 and his walk rate (6.1 percent) hasn’t been lower since 2014. He’s been able to generate more swings and misses than ever before, and a lot of that has to do with a rejuvenated fastball.

Soria throws a fourseam fastball, as many players do. He throws said fourseam fastball about 62 percent of the time and has recently decided to rely on it more.

It’s really no surprise he’s utilizing it more. According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, Soria’s fastball has been worth 10.0 runs. Only 10 other relievers in Major League Baseball have had more effective fastballs according to this metric. He’s thrown his fastball 420 times, and opposing hitters are batting just .231 and slugging .295 against it, despite it averaging around just 93 mph. Soria’s fastball hasn’t been this good since his first two years in the league 10 years ago.

While Soria has a $10 million mutual option for 2020, it’s highly likely that Soria’s stay in Milwaukee will be short. His buyout will only cost the Brewers $1 million, and the White Sox have already sent that amount over as part of the trade agreement. Soria will be a rental, but that’s okay. He’ll immediately improve a bullpen that is already dominant. The Brewers are a better team with Soria, and while the cost — depending on how you feel about Medeiros — wasn’t cheap, that’s the price of doing business, and ultimately the price to get into the postseason.

Trade targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers sit at 55-43. And while no other team in the National League has more wins (the Chicago Cubs also have 55), they still find themselves 2.5 games behind those Cubs in the NL Central. The Brewers have lost six games in a row and eight of their last 10 games. They couldn’t have finished the first half in a worse fashion, causing Brewers fans across the great state of Wisconsin to collectively lose their freakin’ minds.

It’s true that the Brewers just finished an excruciatingly grueling part of the schedule — 22 games in 21 days — so the offensive struggles are understandable. However, it’s also true that the Brewers need help. The team that has exceeded expectations desperately needs a few more pieces if they want to continue exceeding those expectations, and not only get into the playoffs, but make a deep run.

When the Brewers organization believes it has a chance for October baseball, they don’t hesitate to make bold moves via the trade market. They acquired CC Sabathia just before the All-Star break in 2008, and they sent the farm to acquire Zack Greinke before the 2011 campaign. In both seasons, the Brewers made the playoffs. Both trades paid off. Both trades were worth it. Anyone who says differently can argue with me on Twitter. I won’t respond because you’re ridiculous, but you can argue all the same.

The Brewers believe they can make a run in October, and why shouldn’t they? They signed Lorenzo Cain (3.6 WAR) to a massive deal this winter and simultaneously traded for Christian Yelich (2.4 WAR), two players who have been instantly valuable in Milwaukee’s success. The Brewers have been leading the Cubs for almost the entire year, and despite the recent underwhelming play, the Brewers look like a team that is destined to play fall baseball for the first time since 2011. General manager David Stearns will not hesitate to make that a reality. He’s going to make moves, and they’re going to be significant ones.

Here are the players he should be targeting:

SS Manny Machado

This is the obvious one. Machado and the Brewers have been linked for months, and there’s a real possibility that the two sides will work out a deal. The Brewers are in desperate need of middle infield help, as they currently rank 29th in shortstop WAR (-0.7) and 26th in second base WAR (-0.2).

The Orioles are reportedly asking for Milwaukee’s No. 2 prospect Corbin Burnes — who has been lights-out impressive since joining the big-league squad — and while the Brewers are reluctant to part with him, I doubt Stearns would balk at the chance to bring in one of the game’s best bats. Machado has a 156 wRC+ with 24 home runs and 3.8 Wins Above Replacement, and he would join a lineup that already includes Cain (125 wRC+), Yelich (121), Jesus Aguilar (159), Travis Shaw (115) and Eric Thames (135). Machado would instantly make the Brewers one of the better offensive teams in baseball.

The problem with trading for Machado is that he’ll only be around for a couple of months. Like Sabathia in ’08, he’s a rental, and the Brewers will have to decide if the opportunity cost is worth a few months of a phenomenal player.

Chance of acquiring Machado: High

SP J.A. Happ

Looking at Happ’s statistics, you might question why Happ is on this list. The 35-year-old starter has an ERA and FIP over four and lasted just 3.2 and 2.2 innings in his last two starts, respectively. Yet the Brewers should be all over the southpaw.

Happ will be a free agent after this season, and due to his current stats, won’t cost much to acquire. The Blue Jays aren’t in the running for a playoff spot, so they should have no hesitation in trading a mid-30s pitcher who has a 4.29 ERA. But if we look past his ERA — like the Brewers should — we see that his strikeout rate of 26.5 percent is the highest of his career. He’s also walking fewer than three batters per nine innings. On the negative side, he’s already allowed 17 home runs after allowing a total of 18 last season, and admittedly, that might be a problem in Miller Park.

Happ is by no means an ace, but adding him to Milwaukee’s rotation will give it a much-needed boost. He’s averaging 5.7 innings per start, and while that might not seem like a lot, take into account that Milwaukee’s starters have averaged just 5.3 innings per start. They’re right in the middle of the pack in that category.

Jhoulys Chacin is due for some regression, Junior Guerra just landed on the disabled list, Chase Anderson doesn’t look like his 2017 self and Brent Suter and Wade Miley are, well, Brent Suter and Wade Miley…uninspiring. The Brewers need rotation help, and Happ would be a cheap piece that could help propel the team to the playoffs.

Chance of acquiring Happ: Moderate to high

SP Chris Archer

The Brewers have long been rumored to have interest in the Tampa Bay Rays ace, but there’s been nothing in the rumor mill as of late. In fact, I’m not even aware anything has even been whispered about Archer in recent weeks. Maybe this guy has heard something.

Unlike Happ, Archer would be the immediate No. 1 pitcher for the Brewers. Though his strikeouts are considerably down from the past few seasons, Archer can dominate games and carry a team on his back if need be. That’s the type of hurler the Brewers covet. They need someone who can pick up the slack if the offense has a quiet night — which has happened all too often in 2018. Archer has posted an ERA over four each of the last three seasons, but he’s always been a guy whose FIP outperforms his ERA (3.68 career ERA, 3.49 career FIP. The same is true again this season. I truly believe that Archer is in need of a change of scenery, and he could once again be a shutdown ace if in the right situation.

Of everyone that is seemingly available on the trade market, Archer will cost the most. He’s just 29 years old and doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. And did I mention that he’s currently locked into an unbelievably team-friendly contract? Archer is due just $16.5 million over the next two years, which is why the Rays will be asking for the farm in any trade talks. The odds the Brewers acquire him are low, as it would, in all likelihood, force them to give up both Keston Hiura and Corbin Burnes. Nonetheless, not only would Archer almost guarantee the Brewers a playoff spot, he’d stick around for at least another two years, and Stearns loves cheap players who have multiple years of team control. It’s possible Stearns and the Rays pull the trigger on a deal involving Archer, but not likely.

Chance of acquiring Archer: Low

2B Whit Merrifield

Before 2018 began, I was against the Brewers acquiring Merrifield from the Kansas City Royals. I thought his 2017 season was a flash in the pan. Even though he broke out, his wRC+ was barely over 100 and his OBP was below .330. I thought Jonathan Villar could put up similar numbers while costing the Brewers next to nothing.

Well, Merrifield has taken his break out to another level. The 29 year old has already been worth 2.8 WAR, and he’s raised his OBP by 54 points and his walk rate by 4.6 percent. He’s hitting for considerably less power, but the Brewers — who are among the top 10 in home runs in MLB — don’t really need another power hitter. They need someone who can get on base at a high clip, and someone who is a force on the base paths. Merrifield does both of those extremely well.

However, like Archer, Merrifield will cost an arm and a leg to acquire, considering he’s not even arbitration-eligible until 2020. Still, I think Stearns could pull the trigger on him in order to upgrade the team’s middle infield.

Chance of acquiring Merrifield: Moderate

2B Brian Dozier

Don’t look at Dozier’s batting average. Don’t look at his on-base percentage. Heck, don’t even look at his wRC+. They’re all bad. But I don’t care. Dozier needs to be a Brewer. For the past few seasons, Dozier has gotten off to rotten starts at the plate, but then goes absolutely nuts in the second half.

AVG OBP HR wOBA wRC+
2016 First Half .246 .335 14 .338 109
2016 Second Half .291 .344 28 .405 155
2017 First Half .242 .328 13 .319 95
2017 Second Half .302 .394 21 .410 158

Why can’t he do it again, except this time in a Brewers uniform? The two have already been linked together.

Dozier is set to be a free agent this winter, and since the Twins’ season has been a bitter disappointment, they have no reason to keep an aging second baseman on the roster any longer. He’s not in the organization’s long-term plans, so it would make sense if they ship him off for a prospect. Dozier would add massive power to the Brewers’ lineup, and he could even be more dangerous in a stadium like Miller Park. If Stearns doesn’t want to pay up for Merrifield, getting Dozier to Milwaukee is a no brainer.

Chance of acquiring Dozier: Moderate to high

The non-waiver trade deadline is quickly approaching. In just two weeks, numerous players will be changing cities and switching teams, and if the Brewers expect to still be playing in October, they’ll soon be welcoming new players to their city. Do they go all-in and acquire someone like Machado? Or do they make small improvements like adding Happ? Only time will tell.

Jhoulys Chacin is keeping the ball in the park

Let’s begin with Jhoulys Chacin‘s projections from before the season.

ERA FIP
RW23 3.78 4.21
Steamer 4.58 4.58
ZiPS 4.77 4.74
Actual 3.71 3.92

As you can clearly see, RW23 — my own projection system — has been right on the nose so far when it comes to projecting Chacin, more so than the well-known projections systems of Steamer and ZiPS. And there’s a reason for that. There’s actually a big reason as to why Chacin has been so good in 2018. You can probably guess what that reason is based on the title of this post.That’s right. Chacin has stopped giving up home runs. Well, he’s still technically giving up home runs. He’s given up seven this season, in fact, but he’s been able to keep the ball in the yard better than almost every other starting major league pitcher.Here are the leaders of home-run-to-fly-ball percentage among qualified starters in 2017:

Name HR/FB%
1 Trevor Bauer 5.3%
2 Luis Severino 6.5%
3 Mike Clevinger 6.7%
4 Jhoulys Chacin 6.8%
5 Justin Verlander 7.2%

Only three pitchers with enough innings to qualify have allowed fewer home runs per fly ball than Chacin. The 30-year-old veteran is running his lowest HR/FB% since his last year with the Colorado Rockies in 2013. His ability to keep the ball in the yard is why his ERA and FIP look great, but also why his xFIP — which normalizes home runs based on fly ball rate — sits at a meaty 4.72.We can figure out why hitters aren’t connecting for home runs by simply looking at Chacin’s exit velocity on fly balls. As of July 1, that number is 90.7 mph, meaning the average fly ball hit off Chacin averages 90.7 mph off the bat. Only sixteen starting pitchers have done a better job at limiting hard contact on fly balls.This chart shows Chacin’s exit velocity on fly balls over the last three seasons, along with his HR/FB%.

Year FB Exit Velocity HR/FB%
2016 91.9 mph 11.0%
2017 89.9 mph 11.4%
2018 90.7 mph 6.8%

This season isn’t even Chacin’s best when it comes to fly-ball exit velocity. That feat happened a year ago, though he somehow still managed to give up quite a bit more home runs than he has in 2018 thus far. And he was pitching in notorious pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego! And therein lies the problem. Chacin is due for regression, and it’s quite possible that it will hit hard and hit fast.

As you already know, Chacin’s HR/FB% is the second lowest of his career. That’s good. His fly-ball percentage, though, is the highest of his career save for 2012 when he played at Coors Field. That’s bad. Here are those sentences in picture form.Chacin is allowing more fly balls than ever before, yet he’s giving up the fewest number of long balls of his career. That’s incredibly unsustainable. To make things even more confusing, his home stadium is Miller Park, a haven for home runs. But looking more closely at the numbers, it kind of makes sense in a way. Chacin has pitched a total of 97 innings, with 57.2 of those innings coming on the road. He’s thrown just 39.1 innings in homer-happy Miller Park. That, along with his low exit velocity, could explain why his HR/FB% is so low.

Except it doesn’t.

FB% HR/FB%
Home 37.4% 4.7%
Road 35.9% 8.3%

He’s giving up more fly balls at Miller Park than on the road but fewer home runs. Nothing about Chacin’s season makes sense, which is why what he’s doing won’t be able to last much longer.

Chacin has been a pleasant surprise for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he’s making those who clamored for the team to sign a high-profile pitcher this offseason look foolish. But unless the entire 2018 season is an outlier, Chacin just won’t be able to keep this up. I’m sorry to burst any bubbles, but despite his 3.71 ERA and equally strong 3.92 FIP, Chacin should be one of the reasons why general manager David Stearns should acquire pitching help before the trade deadline.

Eric Sogard is having some kind of season

When I was a kid, I always knew that one day I would be writing about Eric Sogard. In fact, it was a dream of mine. Those two sentences are a lie. I never wanted to write about him, and I don’t really want to write about him right now, because what I’m about to write doesn’t show him in a positive light, and I’m not really a big fan of writing negative pieces.

Yet here I am, and there is Sogard, currently sitting with a .114/.222/.152 slash line. Or if you’d prefer (I prefer), a 3 wRC+. You absolutely read that right. He is producing 97 percent fewer runs than the league average batter. If you think that must be the worst mark in baseball, well, you’re darn close. Of players with at least 90 MLB plate appearances in 2018, only Byron Buxton (-3 wRC+) and Trayce Thompson (2 wRC+) have been more useless at the plate. Since 1990, there have been only 21 players who have finished a season with a lower wRC+ than 3 (minimum 90 plate appearances). The record for the lowest wRC+ during that span goes to Felix Martinez of the 1998 Mariners with a -12 wRC+. Sogard probably won’t match that, but the fact remains he’s having one of the worst seasons at the plate in the last 30 years.

Sogard was a surprising bright spot on a surprising Brewers team last season. He set career highs in almost every offensive category, and finished the year with a mountain-high .390 on-base percentage. Regression was in his future, and while Sogard has never even been a league-average hitter, I don’t think anyone saw this type of regression coming.

The 32-year-old infielder has appeared in 38 games. He has one game with multiple hits, and that came on April 9. Also on April 9, he hit two doubles, which accounted for 66 percent of his extra-base hits this season. That would seem odd until you realize he has just nine total hits on the season. And if I have use the 90 plate appearance threshold once again, Sogard’s nine hits are the fewest in baseball.

Sogard was aided by a career-high .311 batting average on balls in play in 2017, despite having a rather paltry exit velocity. Take a look at this chart.

Avg Exit Velocity BABIP
2017 83.5 .311
2018 83.6 .153

He’s hitting the ball with almost the exact same force as he did a year ago, but the outcomes have been much different. Hitting the ball at a speed of 83 mph is not good. His exit velocity last season ranked 260th. This year it ranks 335th. His .311 BABIP was unbelievably lucky. Above everything else, Sogard’s struggles — not only now, but for his career — can be blamed on his inability to generate hard contact.

The Milwaukee Brewers just traded for infielder Brad Miller, a move that should ultimately end Sogard’s time on the 25-man roster. It should end his time in Milwaukee’s organization, but I’m sure David Stearns would have no problem sending him to the minors to try and get him right. Sogard would have to accept the assignment, but he’s already done it once before this season.

Sogard was fun last season. Sogard was a good player last season. But good things always come to an end, and in Sogard’s case, it came quick.

Who are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

Hit a pinch-hit grand slam one day. Get sent to the minors and subsequently traded the next. That’s more or less the life of a fringe MLB player, and that’s exactly what happened to Ji-Man Choi on Sunday evening when he was shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for infielder Brad Miller and cash considerations.

This trade is an obvious one. With Jesus Aguilar hitting better than the likes of Nolan Arenado and Joey Votto, and Eric Thames ready to come off the disabled list in the very near future, the Brewers just didn’t have a spot for another first baseman. His signing this offseason was puzzling for that reason alone, unless David Stearns’ goal from the get-go was to use him as trade bait. If so, mission accomplished. In 32 plate appearances, Choi hit two home runs and finished his Brewers career with a 98 wRC+, and that enticed the Rays enough to send Miller — who the team had already designated for assignment — to Milwaukee.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

The Brewers acquired Miller to play shortstop and/or second base, although the 28 year old hasn’t logged a game at short since the 2016 season, when he posted -14 defensive runs saved (DRS). According to DRS, Miller was the second-worst fielding shortstop during that year, behind only Alexei Ramirez. But Miller will have to get reacquainted with the position soon if the Brewers expect any offensive production from shortstop going forward. Defensive ace and current starting shortstop Orlando Arcia has eight walks, 39 strikeouts and a 37 wRC+. His backup, Eric Sogard, has a wRC+ of 3. Three. That means he’s been 97 percent worse than league average. In reality, he has no business being on a major-league roster right now.

And that’s where Miller comes in. He won’t impress with his batting average and he won’t get on base at a high clip, but he has power, and he’s a considerable upgrade over Arica and Sogard. And that’s all the Brewers really need. In 2016, Miller went deep 30 times, but has just 14 home runs in 581 plate appearances since. The former second round draft pick owns a career 100 wRC+, so he’s the definition of a league-average hitter, and a league-average hitter in an offense that already includes Lorenzo Cain (124 wRC+), Christian Yelich (133) and Travis Shaw (124) will be welcomed with open arms. He will make the offense better.

Miller’s defense will be tough to watch at times, but if he can make up for it at least a little with his bat, he’ll help a team that seems destined for the playoffs.

What happened to Domingo Santana’s power?

Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season because he’s a good player with power. Domingo Santana has one home run this season. It’s May 14.

Before going any further, here’s a table of how Santana performed from the beginning of 2017 to May 13 of the same year, along with nearly the same range of dates from this season.

G PA AVG OBP ISO wRC+ 2B 3B HR
4/3/2017 to 5/13/2017 34 129 .255 .357 .191 110 6 0 5
3/29/2018 to 5/13/2018 37 138 .273 .355 .066 92 5 0 1

Santana’s playing time is almost identical, and thanks to three hits — including a double — in five trips Sunday versus the Rockies, his on-base percentage is a mirror image, as well. Of everything on the table, though, it’s his power numbers that draw the most attention, particularly in the home run and isolated power department, and it’s clear Santana has gotten off to an excruciating slow start.

Now, this table doesn’t tell us much without context, which is why I’m about to give you context. I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t. There’s a handful of reasons why Santana has been no power threat whatsoever at the plate, with one in particular that’s quite fascinating. But for now, let’s look at his batted ball profile.

Nearly 31 percent of Santana’s fly balls landed over the fence in 2017. Only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finished with higher home-run-to-fly-ball ratios, and while that’s amazing company to share, I think we can all agree Santana doesn’t belong in that group. Negative regression was bound to happen. However, that regression has overcompensated. Santana’s HR/FB% currently sits at 5.3 percent. That minuscule number won’t last, but it is discouraging, especially when you realize Santana is hitting the ball on the ground more than ever before.

Milwaukee’s right fielder entered the season with a career ground-ball rate of 43.4 percent. He hit 44.9 percent of his batted balls on the ground a year ago, while both his line-drive rate and fly-ball rate flirted around 27.5 percent. That has completely changed. Currently, Santana is hitting the ball on the ground over 54 percent of the time, and that just happens to be the 13th-highest mark of every qualified hitter in Major League Baseball. For a guy who’s considered a power hitter, that’s not exactly a good stat to have next to his name. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate has fallen to 22.9 percent.

What happened? Why is he hitting more ground balls? Well, the biggest reason is that Santana is having a tough time handling inside pitches. This is the interesting part. Get ready for some visuals.

The first visual shows a breakdown of Santana’s isolated power numbers based on pitch location in 2017 and 2018. (Click on picture of enhanced view.)

Last season Santana crushed inside pitches. Especially the low, inside ones that found the strike zone. This year? Different story. Despite his success last year, pitchers are testing him even more inside, and more often than not, they’re finding success. Take a look at the same breakdown except with grounders.

In the age of the launch angle revolution, Santana has been one of the few outcasts this season. Instead of lifting those balls like he’s been known to do, Santana has been weakly rolling over them and driving them into the ground at an insanely high rate. His launch angle has dropped from 10.5 degrees to 9.9 degrees. Yes, the overall sample size is still relatively small, but over 130 plate appearances is nothing to scoff at. Santana’s seeing more inside fastballs than what he’s normally accustomed to, but he’s been very capable against fastballs during his career (.243 ISO against four-seam fastballs), so that can’t be used as an excuse. Maybe Santana isn’t seeing the ball as well or maybe his bat speed has slowed down, but this has become a problem.

Defense has always been a black mark on Santana’s record, and if you take away his ability to hit home runs, he turns into a league-average player at the very best. He needs to hit home runs in order to be serviceable. He needs to hit home runs if he expects Counsell to write his name on the lineup card every day. He needs to hit home runs. Period. And that starts with him figuring out a way to not only start elevating the ball again, but also how to once again remaster the inside pitch.