Author Archives: Justin Schultz

Looking at free agency: Which Brewers players will re-sign?

Some say that baseball free agency is more exciting than the actual season, and while free agency is definitely more thrilling than The Big Bang Theory (honestly, I don’t have the slightest clue why that show is so popular. It’s beyond me), baseball’s regular season still takes the cake. Don’t confuse it with the NBA.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love the winter months of baseball, because I absolutely do. I yearn for even the smallest transaction once players are eligible to sign with other teams. Oh, the Diamondbacks signed a pitcher who played in Korea for the past few seasons? Sign me up! So, yes, I love free agency. And I love it even more when the Milwaukee Brewers are heavily involved, and they’re set to have a couple of key free agents who they’ll have to either replace or re-sign.

The Brewers made the playoffs on the backs of performances of players who could be suited up in new uniforms in 2020. The Brewers currently have seven players who could enter the free agency pool; four who are guaranteed free agents, two who have mutual options (they’ll more than likely decline it and become free agents) and one with a club option that will probably be picked up.

In that vein, let’s take a look at all of Milwaukee’s free agents and figure out if the Brewers should bring them back and how likely it is.

Yasmani Grandal

The MVP of the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers if Christian Yelich didn’t exist is primed to receive a huge payday after putting together a career-high 5.2 WAR season. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year deal worth $60 million from the Mets this past offseason before joining the Brewers on a one-year, $18.25 million. He bet on himself and he’ll probably be happy he did. Teams should be lining up for his services, especially teams with big check books. And that’s where things get complicated for the Brewers. Milwaukee is aware it can’t compete with the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox of the world. That’s why it was so crucial to sign players like Grandal and Mike Moustakas to short-term deals. Those types of signings allows them to maintain flexibility for the future, which means if Grandal demands a four-year or longer contract, the Brewers would be hard-pressed to go there.

General manager David Stearns has said he wants Grandal back in Milwaukee, but wanting and doing are two different things. I could see the Brewers offering a or three-year deal to Grandal, but nothing higher than that. My guess is that Grandal moves on for a bigger paycheck. And who can blame him? He’s earned it.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 25 percent

Mike Moustakas

Without Moustakas the Brewers don’t make it to the National League Championship Series in 2018. Without Moustakas the Brewers don’t make the postseason in 2019. Moustakas was incredibly crucial to Milwaukee’s success this past season, especially with Travis Shaw‘s inability to perform like a major leaguer. Moustakas has been hurt by the new free agency market maybe more than any other player. He has settled for one-year deals in back-to-back seasons, despite putting up 2-win seasons in each of the last three years. Moustakas is, and probably always has been, underrated and unappreciated, and once again he’ll seek a long-term deal and grander paycheck. Whether he gets it is a different question. I’m sure the Brewers would love to have him back on another one-year contract, though I’d be surprised if Moustakas settled again.

The Brewers want to bring back both Moustakas and Grandal, but that would mean a higher payroll, and the team already set a record in 2019 for the highest payroll in franchise history. I prefer Grandal over Moustakas, mainly because finding a superior catcher is no walk in the park. Plus, I still believe in Shaw with everything I have. If Shaw can bounce-back and with Keston Hiura destined to man second base for years to come, Moustakas wouldn’t necessarily be needed. However, the market could beat Moustakas down again, leaving him little choice but to return to the Brewers on another short deal.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 50 percent

Drew Pomeranz

The man who got lit up as a starter and was better than Josh Hader as a reliever is likely due for a pay raise. That is, if he wants to continue being a reliever, which absolutely should be the case. As a member of the Brewers, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and a 2.68 FIP along with a nasty and unreal 45 percent strikeout. Teams in need of bullpen help should be all over Pomeranz as he enters free agency, and the Brewers should be first in line. The team traded one of its top prospects in Mauricio Dubon to get Pomeranz, so I doubt the Brewers will just let him walk without a fight. No team more than the Brewers know how valuable a deep bullpen is in October. Stearns would be smart to fork over the money that keeps Pomeranz put.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 60 percent

Gio Gonzalez

Similar to Moustakas, Gonzalez found his way back to the Brewers after the cold winds of the free agent market blew past him. Gonzalez is not the ace pitcher he once was, but he’s shown his worth time and time again with the Brewers. He posted a 2.13 ERA in his first stint with the club in 2018, and followed it up with a 3.50 ERA in 87 innings in 2019. He’s been worth more to the Brewers than his cost, which is why the Brewers should be interested in re-signing him.

As everyone knows, the Brewers starting rotation is a weak link. Stearns has repeatedly proved he’s weary of going after top-of-the class pitching on the open market, instead settling for small trades in order to make upgrades. That’s why bringing back Gonzalez is important. He’s reliably good, and he won’t demand a huge contract, whether that’s years or dollars. A two-year deal is likely enough for Gonzalez to re-sign, though Stearns may be more inclined to offer a one-year contract.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 45 percent

Jordan Lyles

Lyles loves pitching for the Brewers. Just look at his numbers compared to his other stops. When the Brewers traded for him for a second time this season, I wrote that the move didn’t do enough to make an impact, that it didn’t help the Brewers goal of making the playoffs. I was wrong. Stearns was right. Stearns is usually always right. Lyles turned out to be Milwaukee’s best pitcher down the stretch, ending the year with seven consecutive outings of allowing two runs or fewer. If there’s no Lyles, there’s no Wild Card berth.

Now, Lyles’ peripherals — mainly his FIP — last season didn’t look great compared to his basic run prevention stats (ERA), and teams may not trust him to repeat his superior performance. And that could open up the door for a Brewers return. Lyles has repeatedly said that he loves pitching to Grandal and credits a lot of his success to different sequencing. Lyles would likely be more interested in returning to Milwaukee if Grandal also came back, but I think there’s a good shot he’s back anyway. He’s a cheap starter you can trust. I’ll be surprised if he’s not a Brewer in 2020.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 70 percent

Matt Albers

The Albers’ signing was a disaster for the Brewers. Milwaukee signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract, and mercifully, it has finally expired. Albers recorded a 6.23 ERA in 94 innings in that two-year span and was left off the postseason roster in every round. This was one of the few Stearns’ signings that failed.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 3 percent

Eric Thames

Thames only becomes a free agent if the Brewers decline his $7.5 million club option. And while I believe that to be unlikely, there is a scenario where it makes sense. If the Brewers re-sign Moustakas to play third, and if they still believe in Shaw and tender him a contract (if they don’t, I’m going to lose my mind), Thames could be out the door. Shaw is capable of playing first base and a whole lot cheaper. MLB Trade Rumors projects Shaw to make $4.7 million in 2020, nearly $3 million less than Thames. It hurts Thames that he’s a very similar player as Shaw. They both hit left-handed and for power and they both get on base at a high clip while not hitting for a high average. The Brewers may choose to go with the cheaper option. Or they may keep both, though that seems like $12 million spent on redundancy.

Most Brewers fans will want Thames back and Shaw gone, because one horrible year of Shaw made everyone forget his 3.6 WAR season of 2018. This situation is one of the more interesting things to watch this offseason. Maybe the Brewers will pick up Thames’ option and trade him. Maybe the Brewers will tender Shaw and trade him. You can never count anything out when it comes to Milwaukee’s front office.

Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 85 percent

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Let’s talk about the Milwaukee Brewers trade deadline

In July 2018 the Milwaukee Brewers made waves before the MLB trade deadline hit. The Brewers — who were sitting a few percentage points behind the Chicago Cubs with a 63-47 record — added Mike Moustakas, Joakim Soria and Jonathan Schoop in three separate trades. Moustakas and Soria were significant contributors to Milwaukee’s NLCS run, while Schoop (-0.3 in 46 games) failed to make a positive impact. July 2018 was an important month for the Brewers, and it allowed fans to wonder and salivate over what moves were in store for the team this year.

Once again, the Brewers made three trades (Jordan Lyles was acquired from the Pirates on July 29) before the 3:00 p.m. CT deadline arrived, but unlike a year ago, the players acquired were far less remarkable. Here’s what the Brewers cooked up on trade deadline day:

When Robert Murray of The Athletic tweeted the Brewers were sending Dubon to the Giants in a “significant” trade, my heart stopped. For a brief second I thought that both Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith were headed to Milwaukee, until I realized that Murray’s definition of “significant” was drastically different than mine, and well, the rest of the world’s. The only thing significant about Milwaukee’s deadline is that they traded a 2018 All-Star and a fan and clubhouse favorite in Aguilar. The three players the Brewers got back? Not so noteworthy. But let’s talk about them anyway.

Jake Faria

Faria burst onto the scene in 2017 when he finished with a 3.43 ERA, 4.12 FIP and 1.3 WAR in 16 games (14 starts) as a rookie. He looked like a legitimate young rotation pitcher. But then 2018 rolled around and he looked lost, evidenced by his 5.40 ERA and 5.08 FIP. Here’s a quick look at the difference:

Faria’s never been known for his velocity or spin, but he was above average in strikeout rate and did a good job of limiting opponent’s power, although he did give up a fair amount of hard contact. Fast forward to 2018 and he plummeted in all categories. He wasn’t just bad, he was bottom-of-the-barrel terrible. This year’s been better, at least in terms of ERA, and while he’s been able to strikeout over 23 percent of batters, his walk rate is through the roof. And that’s been a constant in Faria’s young career, and something that will limit his success if he can’t fix his control.

Faria recently turned 26, so he’s still young enough to figure things out. And, might I add, he has years of team control left. He’s not eligible for free agency until 2024, which was very appealing to the Brewers. However, he won’t do much to help the Brewers this season and is a wild card for the future, which is why this trade didn’t do much for me. Plus, I think they gave up on Aguilar too quickly.

Drew Pomeranz

In December 2018 I tweeted that Pomeranz was a clear buy-low candidate for the Brewers. It only took them seven months and their fourth-best prospect before they listened. It wasn’t exactly a buy-low, but there’s stuff to like about the lefty.

Let’s first forget about his current ERA of 5.68. Pomeranz will be used as a reliever — not as a starter like he was deployed San Francisco — and so far the results out of the bullpen have been magnificent. His velocity is up a few ticks since the switch and of the 10 batters he’s faced, he’s struck out half of them. It’s a small sample, definitely, but encouraging nonetheless.

Pomeranz is also a lefty, and the Brewers have need a lefty reliever who’s not named Josh Hader and who’s more consistent and strike hitters out more often than Alex Claudio. Pomeranz will definitely help the bullpen, but is he worth Dubon? I’m not so sure. I’m not the biggest Dubon believer in the world, but I believe he could’ve been packaged with other prospects to secure a more dominant and helpful player. It hurts even more knowing that Pomeranz will likely walk in free agency after the season.

Ray Black

Black throws heat. He throws hard and and he throws fast. His fastball — which is capable of reaching over 100 mph — is in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity. Black also uses his velocity to his advantage. In 25.1 major league innings, Black has a strikeout rate of 35.9 percent. If we set the inning parameters to a minimum of 20 innings, Black has the 10th-highest strikeout rate in MLB history. Obviously that doesn’t mean all that much, other than the fact that Black is capable of being filthy.

On the flip side, he walks everyone, even more than Faria. And in those 25.1 aforementioned innings, he owns a 6.04 ERA, albeit a much more friendly 4.15 FIP, thanks to his strikeout ability. His limited control will keep him in the minors — where the Brewers sent him — and keep his potential hidden. But Black has the most upside of all three players, and it’s really not hard to see why.

***

The Brewers didn’t have a significant deadline because the moves they made won’t help the 2019 team enough in its playoff push. They also may not help in the future, though that remains to be seen. And that’s the biggest problem I had with Milwaukee’s deadline. It left me wondering, what was the point?

Jordan Lyles joins the Milwaukee Brewers again

It’s not the splash fans wanted, but the Milwaukee Brewers traded for a starting pitcher Monday. The Brewers sent RHP Cody Ponce to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Jordan Lyles.

Lyles, as some of you may recall, spent time with the Brewers in 2018 after being picked up off waivers from the San Diego Padres. He was deployed exclusively as a reliever for Milwaukee, pitching 16.1 innings and posting a 3.31 ERA and 2.49 FIP. The 28-year-old hurler ultimately elected free agency after the season and signed a one-year, $2.05 million contract with the Pirates. Some questioned why the Brewers let him walk so easily. Some were more than fine with his departure, citing his less-than-stellar track record as a major league pitcher.

But now Lyles is back in Milwaukee once again, where he hopefully — for the Brewers’ sake — can pitch like he did a year ago. However, that may not be in the cards, as his time in Pittsburgh wasn’t too friendly. Lyles joins the Brewers with the baggage of 5.36 ERA and 4.81 FIP, the former being the ninth-worst mark among starters in baseball (minimum 80 innings pitched). He’s giving up nearly two home runs a game (1.75/9) and currently sits in the 11th percentile in hard-hit rate allowed. So why do the Brewers think he’ll be an upgrade? General manager David Stearns discussed that very question:

The Brewers – like most clubs in 2019 — are looking past the ERA. They believe that he’s been a victim of a bit of bad luck, which is probably true. In fact, did you know that Lyles’ ERA was under 4.00 until the calendar turned to July? And did you know that in July teams have a batting average on balls in play of .556 against him? That’s the highest mark in baseball. A BABIP like that — and the same thing would be said for an incredibly low BABIP — is completely unsustainable. And then there’s the strike outs. Lyles is striking out batters at a career-high clip of 24.9 percent including 27.1 percent in July. He’s just getting severely punished when hitters make contact, kind of like Josh Hader. (No I’m not saying Lyles is like Hader, so please stop.)

Lyles joins a team that is desperate need of arms, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, so it’ll be interesting to see where the Brewers use his talents. The team has already confirmed he’ll start at some point this week, but the best option may be to use him out of the bullpen. He’s already proved he can be a valuable bullpen arm for the Brewers, and his strikeout rate could potentially rise even more if he works just an inning or two. The Brewers should do everything they can to avoid Lyles having to face a lineup multiple times through the order.

Lyles isn’t going to help the Brewers win the World Series, but he might — just maybe — make them better. From the sound of it, Stearns and Co. expect to make more moves before Wednesday’s deadline hits. The question is: will they be significant moves or more Lyles-esque acquisitions?

MLB Trade Deadline: Trade targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is less than a week away, and since there’s only one trade deadline this year, we could be — and hopefully are — in store for a flurry of trades before the clock strikes August 1.

The Milwaukee Brewers — like many teams in the National League — have a tough decision to make. Should they buy? They currently sit in third place in the NL Central with a record of 54-50 record, though they trail the first-place Cubs by just 2.0 games. General manager David Stearns has repeatedly said he’s always on the look out to improve the team, and the trade deadline is the perfect time to do just that. And why wouldn’t he want to make his team better? The Brewers are above .500 and within striking distance of a playoff spot. It makes perfect sense for Stearns to perform his magic and go get one, two or 65 starting pitchers, and no one would fault him for doing so.

But is it the smart, fiscally responsible thing to do? The Brewers have problems nearly everywhere you look. They have a -12 run differential, the third-worst starting rotation in terms of ERA in the National League and an untrustworthy bullpen with a 4.58 ERA. Can Stearns really make enough moves to vault his team into World Series contention?

If the Brewers decide to push all-in — a phrase uttered by Mark Attanasio this offseason — they’ll surely start by fixing the rotation. Saying it needs to be upgraded is an understatement. It desperately needs a rebranding and a complete makeover. With Brandon Woodruff expected to miss at least six weeks, and Jhoulys Chacin — who realistically should have been removed from the rotation weeks ago — headed to the injured list, the need is even more dire.

Here are a few starting pitchers Milwaukee should be targeting:

Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler:

There have been talks that the Brewers are interested in Mets’ starters Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler. Now, Syndergaard will cost an arm and a leg, or maybe two of each. He doesn’t become a free agent until 2022 and isn’t yet making break-the-bank money. In relation to his teammate, Wheeler wouldn’t be as expensive to acquire. He’s scheduled to hit the open market after the season, and his current 4.69 ERA will likely drop his cost. Syndergaard has an equally high ERA, but like Wheeler, his peripherals look much better. Plus we know the talent his possesses. Both arms would aid the Brewers rotation, though it remains to be seen if the Mets sell, and even if they do, prying Syndergaard away will probably be next to impossible, especially with the lack of top-tier prospects in Milwaukee’s system. Keston Hiura would assuredly be part of that deal.

Madison Bumgarner

Despite the fact that Madison Bumgarner doesn’t want any player to have fun playing baseball, he’s been a solid starter in 2019. Due to his decline in velocity, Bumgarner has been throwing fewer baseballs with encouraging results. He owns a 3.66 ERA with an even lower FIP, and his strikeout rate of 24.6 percent and walk rate of 5 percent rank 26th and 9th, respectfully. He’ll be hot commodity at the deadline, though with San Francisco’s recent out-of-this-world hot streak, one wonders if they’ll even sell. They should, but that doesn’t mean they will. The Brewers are on Bumgarner’s no-trade list, but that’s most likely just a leverage play. Parting with two upper-tier prospects for someone of Bumargner’s pedigree makes sense, even if he’s destined to leave via free agency in 2020.

Marcus Stroman

Stroman might be my favorite guy on this list, particularly because I have a thing for ground-ball pitchers. Stroman is second-best in the majors at generating ground balls with a grounder rate of 57.1 percent. Milwaukee’s infield defense — though not the best — is more than capable of gobbling up those grounders for outs. Stroman doesn’t strike many people out, but he’s still managed to post the lowest ERA and second-lowest FIP of his career. Like Syndergaard, though, he’ll come with a hefty price tag (he’s not due to be a free agent until 2021) and is probably destined to end up with a big-market team.

Robbie Ray

Stearns loves players who still have years of team control, and although that means getting rid of more assets, it’s usually the wise move to make when you know you’re limited in the free agency game. If I was Stearns, I’d be all over Ray. He’s under team control until 2021, he’s on a team that — just like every team in the NL — might sell and he strikes out more batters than every other starting pitcher but seven. He has walk issues and sometimes gives up too many home runs, but he’s consistent and you know exactly what he’ll bring every time he steps to the mound. He could be a key piece in Milwaukee’s rotation not just for this year’s playoff run, but also for 2020 as well.

The Brewers — if they truly believe they can make another deep playoff run — will need to improve their bullpen as well. A reunion with Will Smith could be in the cards. Maybe they could even package him with Bumgarner. Toronto’s Ken Giles will likely be moved, and Baltimore’s Mychal Givens and Seattle’s Roenis Elias could be of interest to the Brewers.

If the Brewers push their chips even more into the middle than they already have, the pitchers above should be on top of their wish list, though all will have plenty of suitors. With all that being said, though, I’m not sure I believe the Brewers should make significant trades and gear up for an attempt at the postseason. I just don’t think this year’s team is good enough, even with one or two major upgrades. The Brewers came into 2019 believing they were a better team than their 2018 club, despite gigantic question marks in the rotation. Those question marks have become exclamation points because of just how bad nearly every Brewers starter has turned out to be. Stearns failed to make rotation upgrades in free agency, and now the team is paying for it. Should he really plunder a minor-league system and potentially hurt the future of the franchise for a chance at the playoffs? Maybe it’s best to retool during the winter and focus on 2020. But maybe they think they have another magical late-season run in them.

And perhaps they do. Hopefully they do.

Jesus Aguilar has stopped launching

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?

Contact % SwStr% K% BB%
2018 72.6% 12.4% 25.3% 10.2%
2019 72.3% 12.5% 23.3% 12.7%

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 %
2018 35.4% 23.7% 40.9% 16.2 89.8 42.5%
2019 41.9% 20.5% 37.6% 14.5 89.6 35.0%

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.

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.

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.