Category Archives: Analysis

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.

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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.

 

Yasmani Grandal is everything the Milwaukee Brewers need

Ever since the Milwaukee Brewers jettisoned Jonathan Lucroy to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in 2016, the club has been in search of a reliable catcher. One that could not only handle a pitching staff, but one that could carry his weight at the plate as well. Over the last two seasons, the Brewers have dished out at least 100 plate appearances to four different catchers, as they attempted to find a full-time Lucroy replacement. Manny Pina was a respectable option in 2017 and 2018, with his defense shining significantly brighter than his offense, but the Brewers coveted and needed more offensively.

When the offseason began, the Milwaukee Brewers had two glaring holes in their lineup that most thought they needed to address in order to repeat the successful season they put together in 2018. Although the Brewers aren’t an organization that necessarily listens to outside noise, general manager David Stearns likely knew he needed to upgrade both the second base and catcher position. As of now the Brewers will head into the season with the trio of Hernan Perez, Tyler Saladino and Cory Spangenberg at the second base, though that’s likely to change before spring training. As far as upgrading at catcher, the Brewers did just that by signing Yasmani Grandal to a one-year, $18,25 million deal.

In a single move, the Brewers grabbed one of the best catchers not only available in free agency, but in Major League Baseball as a whole. And no, that’s not a hyperbole. Grandal is, factually, a top-tier backstop, especially when it comes to the skill of hitting.

wRC+ MLB rank among catchers WAR MLB Rank among catchers
2016 121 3rd 2.9 4th
2017 102 7th 2.5 7th
2018 125 3rd 3.6 2nd

Grandal has been worth 9 WAR over the last three seasons, while Brewers catchers have somehow compiled a measly 4.1 WAR since the Lucroy trade, with Pina accounting for 80 percent of that total. It’s clear that the Brewers needed an upgrade.

Now, you might remember Grandal’s lackluster performance against — and here’s the irony — the Brewers during the National League Championship Series this past fall when it seemed like he couldn’t catch a ball to save his life. Some even gave him the moniker “Yasmani Passed Ball”. And while not necessarily clever, Grandal’s struggles with passed balls have been well-documented. He’s led baseball in past balls three times, and that was on full display in the NLCS. But don’t think his affinity for passed balls necessarily makes him a bad catcher.

According to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Grandal has actually been the best defensive catcher in the league over the last three years. We all know that defensive statistics — particularly those pertaining to catchers — are nowhere near perfect, but this is telling, nonetheless. Even with his passed-ball problem, he more than holds his own behind the plate.. And that’s even more true when talking about pitch framing. Per StatCorner, Grandal was behind only Jeff Mathis in terms of pitch-framing value in 2018. The 30-year-old catcher was worth 13.8 runs saved above average, while meanwhile, Pina — who’s known for his defensive prowess — was way down the list at -4.2 runs saved above average. One could argue that Grandal is upgrade over Pina as a hitter and as a defensive catcher.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a significantly better team with Grandal behind the plate, though FanGraphs still has the team pegged for a crazy-low 79 wins. But we must take that with a grain of salt. Last year the site also predicted Milwaukee would finish with 79 wins, and look what happened. Don’t take projections too seriously. It’ll just make you mad. The fact is the Brewers are better than they were a week ago. Not even FanGraphs can argue that.

Speaking of projections, here’s how RW23 thinks Grandal will perform in 2019:

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 515 437 .247 .354 .488 .842 .240 .362 24.0% 14.1% .280 2 27

Even if Grandal can’t meet these high-performance numbers, the shift to left-handed hitter friendly Miller Park should greatly aid the switch-hitting catcher. A career year for Grandal definitely isn’t out of the question.

What’s important is that the Brewers finally have their catcher, and even though their solution only covers a year, it’s clear the organization is looking to build on its 2018 success. Grandal’s addition gives the Brewers another dangerous hitter in a lineup that is already filled with them.

Travis Shaw is primed for an All-Star season in 2019

One could make the argument that Travis Shaw already enjoyed his breakout season. One would intelligently say his break out happened in 2017 when Shaw set career highs in wRC+ and home runs. And really no one can reasonably disagree with that, because it’s true. Shaw broke out the minute he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, when he proved he was capable of being more than just a platoon player. I believe Shaw is capable of more, though, and I think that 2019 will be his true coming out party, because in 2019, he’s destined to be an All-Star.

Shaw is entering his age-29 season and has produced 3.5 WAR and 3.6 WAR in the last two seasons, respectively. The left-handed slugger crushed 31 home runs during his first year in Milwaukee and followed that up with 32 this past season. His wRC+ stayed consistent as well, from 120 in 2017 to 119 in 2018, both well above league average. According to WAR and wRC+, Shaw produced nearly identical seasons. Overall, he’s been an extremely reliable and a dangerous hitter as a Brewers regular, and yet, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that starts with a simple turn of luck.

By now, we all know that batting average is a flawed statistic, but I feel must address it here, because in this case, it’s important. In 2017, Shaw’s batting average was a respectable .273. In 2018, his average dropped like Paul Ryan’s approval rating, and he ended the year batting only .241. His low batting average, coupled with a handful of other statistics, is one of the biggest reasons I believe Shaw will take a tremendous step forward during the 2019 campaign.

Let’s take a look at Shaw’s batting average, on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play.

BA OBP BABIP
2017 .273 .349 .312
2018 .241 .345 .242


This is fairly telling. Shaw’s batting average on balls in play — which generally shows the amount of good or bad luck a hitter/pitcher has — fell by 70 points. Shaw went from owning the 62nd-highest BABIP (league average was .300) to the 134th-highest BABIP, or seventh-lowest among qualified hitters, depending on how you want to phrase it. That’s eye-opening.

So what happened?

For starters, Shaw fought through a wrist injury last season. Wrist injuries are famous for zapping bat speed and subsequently lowering exit velocities, and though Shaw’s exit velocity didn’t move more than a hair in 2018, his hard-hit rate noticeably dropped a few percentage points. Shaw also hit more pop ups, another sign of poor contact. His wrist injury could be reasonably blamed for both. Shaw additionally sees a lot of shifts, which makes it harder for hits to fall, particularly for pull hitters. Shaw faced the shift more often in 2018 than in 2017, and his batting average on ground balls fell from .246 to .197, but I’m just not a believer that a six percent shift increase is the cause of Shaw’s 50-point drop in grounder BABIP. Plus his ground-ball rate significantly declined this past season, so we can’t say he’s hitting too many grounders in general. Blaming his low BABIP solely on grounders into the shift just isn’t accurate. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe Statcast.

Travis Shaw 2018
wOBA against no shift .341
wOBA against the shift .396

Moving on.

The thing that stands out to me the most is Shaw’s still awesome on-base percentage. Despite his batting average suffering a sharp decline, his OBP stayed consistent. And that got me thinking. How many hitters in 2018 managed an 100-point difference between their on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play (minimum 200 plate appearances)? The list must be small, right? Because that’s a huge gap.

Name OBP BABIP OBP-BABIP
Jose Ramirez .387 .252 .135
Carlos Santana .352 .231 .121
Mike Trout .460 .346 .114
Alex Bregman .394 .289 .105
Bryce Harper .393 .289 .104
Russell Martin .338 .234 .104
Travis Shaw .345 .242 .103
Tony Wolters .292 .189 .103
Aaron Hicks .366 .264 .102

The list, is in fact, small. Only six players in 2018 recorded a bigger gap between their OBP and BABIP than Shaw, and some of them make sense. Carlos Santana has always been a high-OBP, low-BABIP hitter, and of course, Mike Trout is going have a significant gap when his OBP is a whopping .460.

But let’s focus back on Shaw. Shaw’s on-base percentage remained high because he discovered a new-found sense of plate discipline. His walk rate jumped over three percentage points, while he cut his strikeouts by over four percent. Even though Shaw made significant strides at the plate in 2018, he was burdened by horrible luck. Historically bad luck, actually. Since 2010, there have only been 10 hitters (14 individual seasons) who have recorded an on-base percentage of .330 or higher with a BABIP of .250 or lower (minimum 300 plate appearances).

Player Year OBP BAbip
1 Travis Shaw 2018 .345 .242
2 Carlos Santana 2018 .352 .231
3 Todd Frazier 2017 .344 .226
4 Jose Bautista 2015 .377 .237
5 Mark Teixeira 2015 .357 .246
6 Carlos Santana 2014 .365 .249
7 Edwin Encarnacion 2013 .370 .247
8 Jose Bautista 2012 .358 .215
9 Mark Teixeira 2011 .341 .239
10 Ian Kinsler 2011 .355 .243
11 Evan Longoria 2011 .355 .239
12 Jose Bautista 2010 .378 .233
13 Carlos Quentin 2010 .342 .241
14 Andruw Jones 2010 .341 .239

While Shaw and Santana are the only players from 2018 on this list, there’s something else that sticks out even more. Of every player above, Shaw is the owner of the second-highest career BABIP, trailing only Evan Longoria. That mean’s Shaw’s .241 batting average was an outrageous outlier. He deserved a much better fate, and even though he was one of Milwaukee’s best hitters, his end-of-the-year stats could’ve — and probably should’ve — been prodigious.

Based on everything I laid out, I believe Shaw is capable of taking a Neil Armstrong-like step forward in 2019. Based on his historically bad luck alone, he should crush pitchers at a high rate. The health of his wrist will be key and he’ll need to do a better job of holding his own against left-handed pitchers, but Shaw will also need the notorious baseball gods back on his side. Just think about it. If Shaw — with his improved eye at the plate — hit .312 on batted balls in 2018 like he did the previous year, he most likely would’ve eclipsed 130 wRC+ and could’ve been a 4-win player. Shaw’s BABIP must hover around .300 in order for him to take the leap that I expect from him. He’s just a few positive bounces away from achieving career-high numbers.

As a treat for making it this far, here’s Shaw’s RW23 projection for the 2019 season. Spoiler: it’s absolutely insane. So insane that while I think Shaw will be excellent, I don’t necessarily believe he’ll be this outstanding. I mean, he’d probably garner MVP votes based on this projection.

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO woba K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 603 513 .285 .379 .537 .917 .252 .389 19.0% 12.9% .303 5 34

Shaw is capable of being an All-Star, and I’m riding or dying with that prediction. Care to join me?

Does Eric Thames deserve the “Mr. April” nickname?

There have been countless marvelous nicknames handed out in baseball history. Of all the major sports, baseball is a step above the rest when it comes to imaginative monikers. There’s The Great Bambino, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Hammerin’ Hank and Mr. October. There’s also The Big Hurt, The Big Unit and Kung Fu Panda, along with numerous other creative titles. In Milwaukee, we currently call Travis Shaw “The Mayor of Ding Dong City”, and we used to swoon over El Caballo (Carlos Lee) back in his playing days. And now, after another powerful April, we’ve given out another nickname to Eric Thames.

Over the past two seasons, the Brewers first baseman has 18 home runs in the month of April. He crushed 11 in April 2017 during his return to Major League Baseball, and as of April 22, he has seven over-the-wall hits in 2018. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been nothing short of phenomenal during the season’s opening month, but does he really deserve the “Mr. April” nickname that so many people — myself included — have called him? Let’s find out.

Before the 2017 season, the last time Thames played professionally in the states was in 2013, when he spent time in the Orioles’ and Mariners’ minor-league systems. He had just 684 major-league plate appearances in his career up to that point, and he eventually decided to take his talents to Korea. Therefore, because Thames’ body of work is so small, it would be unfair to compare him to players with much larger sample sizes. Like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, for example. Bonds is the owner of the award for most home runs during the season’s first month in MLB history with 117, and Pujols is a close second with 107. Thames has 20 April home runs. To his credit, though. Bonds and Pujols have more plate appearances in April alone than Thames does across his entire career. So, for the sake of this argument, I’m just going to be looking at the last two seasons. It’s not perfect, but who cares?

Let’s first start by looking at Thames’ performance the last two Aprils. (Note: When I say April, I’m including March, as well).

PA Avg OBP wOBA wRC+ HR
172 .299 .414 .468 194 18

Those numbers are impressive. Really impressive, actually. Thames has created 94 percent more runs than league average in the month of April, and has hit just as many home runs as Joe Mauer has in the last two full seasons combined. Granted, Mauer isn’t necessarily considered a power hitter, but you get the point.

Thames has been fantastic in April. I’ve established that numerous times in this article already, and I’m only 383 words in. We still haven’t gotten to the main question, though; does Thames deserve the Mr. April nickname? If he hasn’t been the best hitter in that month over the last two seasons, he shouldn’t be blessed with that moniker. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. I realize that two years is an incredibly small sample size, especially when handing out a nickname, but let’s just have some fun with it.

The three categories I’ve chosen to evaluate are home runs, isolated power percentage and OPS. I would prefer to use wRC+ and wOBA, but Baseball Reference’s Play Index fails to list those as options, so isolated power and OPS are the next best things. If Thames is leading the way in all three of those offensive categories, then I will admit he absolutely deserves the nickname.

Here are the home run leaders in April since the beginning of 2017:

Rank Name HR
1 Eric Thames 18
2 Bryce Harper 17
3 Aaron Judge 16
4 Mike Trout 15
5 Khris Davis 15
6 Charlie Blackmon 14
7 Ryan Zimmerman 14
8 Joey Gallo 13
9 Ryan Braun 12
10 Mike Moustakas 12

Thames wins this one. Bryce Harper and the powerful Aaron Judge are right on his heels, though, and both could easily surpass him before this month’s up. Now, let’s look at the isolated power numbers (minimum 100 plate appearances).

Rank Name ISO
1 Eric Thames .441
2 Bryce Haprer .382
3 Aaron Judge .374
4 Mike Trout .350
5 Ryan Zimmerman .350
6 Scott Schebler .340
7 Charlie Blackmon .327
8 Miguel Sano .326
9 Nelson Cruz .323
10 Matt Kemp .321

The top four are the exact same as the home-run list, but there’s a few new names toward the bottom of the list, with Matt Kemp being the most surprising. Thames is once again on top of the leaderboard, and is well on his way to officially taking the Mr. April crown.

Here are the top 10 April OPS leaders over the last two years (minimum 100 plate appearances):

Rank Name OPS
1 Bryce Harper 1.217
2 Eric Thames 1.173
3 Aaron Judge 1.135
4 Freddie Freeman 1.124
5 Mike Trout 1.118
6 Eugenio Suarez 1.032
7 Ryan Zimmerman 1.029
8 Mitch Haniger 1.019
9 Nelson Cruz 1.000
10 Matt Kemp 0.996

An upset! Due to an incredible start to the season, Harper takes down Thames with a slightly better OPS.

However, even though I said Thames could only be nicknamed Mr. April if he leads in all three categories, I’m still going to give it to him. Because the fact is, he deserves it. In addition to Thames’ above accolades, he also ranks sixth in on-base percentage, third in total bases and fourth in runs created. In terms of offensive production and providing value with the bat, no one has been better than Thames in April since he made his triumphant return from Korea.

This isn’t the best way to determine the top hitter in a given month, and there’s obviously many more stats I could’ve dived into to further my research, but at the very minimum, it shows that calling Thames “Mr. April” actually makes a whole ton of sense. If he can put together three or four more Aprils of this magnitude, maybe the nickname will stick for years to come.

Until then, though, every time Thames comes to the plate as this month winds down, it’s a safe bet he’ll find success. After all, they don’t call him Mr. April for nothing.

***All stats are as of April 21, 2018

An early look at exit velocity

With the invention of StatCast, we have the capability to see just how hard a batter hits the ball. Being able to determine exit velocities has transformed the way we evaluate players, and it allows us to measure player performance on a more accurate level. In other words, StatCast is amazing.

According to my Baseball Savant query, there were 165,566 balls put in play in 2017. Of those, only 15,799 (10.4 percent) were hit with an exit speed of 100 mph or faster. Batters hit .651 with a whopping .844 wOBA on those balls, while they batted just .253 with a .249 wOBA on exit velocities that failed to reach the century mark. The lesson learned here: hit the ball hard.

Exit velocities can also let us know if a hitter is having good or bad luck. For example, if a hitter has a low batting average on balls in play but has a relatively high hard-hit rate, it’s likely the said hitter has been bitten by the bad luck bug. Chances are his misfortune will eventually turn in his favor. Unless, of course, he’s someone like Joey Gallo, who will always have a low BABIP because most of his batted balls go over the fence.

The Milwaukee Brewers just finished their first full week of the season, and currently sit in third place in the NL Central with a record of 5-5. And quite frankly, they’re lucky to have five wins. They just lost three of four to the Chicago Cubs, a series in which the Brewers managed just one hit with runners in scoring position. After a strong start in San Diego, Milwaukee’s bats have cooled off, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at the team’s exit velocities after 10 games to see which players are over performing/underperforming.

As a team, the Brewers rank 26th in average exit velocity with a mark of 86.4 mph. The Chicago White Sox lead baseball with an average of 91.8 mph. Individually, the average hitter hits the ball at 88.2 mph. Let’s look at Milwaukee’s hitters to determine who’s contributing to the team’s low velocity numbers.

Note: All stats are as of April 7. Sunday’s finale versus the Cubs is not included. All stats courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Player Balls In Play 2018 Avg Exit Velocity (mph) 2017 Avg Exit Velocity Difference wOBA xwOBA
Lorenzo Cain 32 89.9 89.1 0.8 .326 .353
Travis Shaw 28 86.1 88.3 -2.2 .320 .296
Jonathan Villar 22 86.7 86.7 0.0 .255 .222
Domingo Santana 21 90.1 89.3 0.8 .296 .293
Manny Pina 21 79.0 87.0 -8.0 .278 .329
Eric Thames 20 89.9 88.1 1.8 .403 .497
Orlando Arcia 20 82.0 85.3 -3.3 .169 .183
Christian Yelich 20 97.1 90.4 6.7 .418 .398
Ryan Braun 18 86.1 89.7 -3.6 .282 .315
Eric Sogard 8 80.9 83.5 -2.6 .175 .210
Jesus Aguilar 7 84.2 89.0 -4.8 .543 .460
Jett Bandy 6 91.5 85.2 6.3 .211 .314
Hernan Perez 5 85.2 84.1 1.1 .097 .182
Ji-Man Choi 1 99.0 93.6 5.4 1.232 .591

A few things stand out here.

  • Only four players have exit velocities that are better than league average, and one of them is Jett Bandy, who’s put just six balls in play so far.
  • The Brewers desperately need Christian Yelich back in the lineup. He ranks fourth in all of baseball in exit velocity and has a .474 BABIP.
  • Manny Pina is really struggling to make strong contact. His xwOBA is much higher than his wOBA, but the fact he’s averaging only 79 mph on batted balls is worrisome.
  • Ji-Man Choi made the most of his one at bat on Opening Day.
  • I thought Orlando Arcia would take a huge step forward in 2018, and although it’s still early into the season, he’s continually hitting soft grounder after soft grounder. He has a 60 percent ground-ball rate and a 40 percent soft-hit percentage.
  • Ryan Braun — aside from his late-inning home run heroics — has been miserable at the plate. He’s not hitting the ball hard and has a miniscule .158 BABIP
  • Eric Thames looks good at the plate, and the peripherals back it up.
  • Domingo Santana has crushed the ball, but hasn’t found any gaps yet. He has just one extra-base hit.
  • Lorenzo Cain leads the team with 11 batted balls of over 100 mph. His hardest hit ball was 111.6 mph off Brian Duensing that resulted in a double.
  • The Brewers have 48 batted balls that have reached 100 mph or faster off the bat. That’s the 11th most in baseball, which is strange considering how low they rank in average exit velocity.

The Brewers have a dangerous offense. The additions of Yelich and Cain have made their lineup a force to be reckoned with, but 10 games into the new season, the offense has struggled. And a lot of that has to do with the quality of its batted balls. It’s still early, so the numbers in the table are still fluctuating by large amounts with each new batted ball, but if in a month, Milwaukee’s exit velocity numbers are still in the gutter, then we may want to take more notice and start worrying.

Does Orlando Arcia have 25-homer potential?

Usually, when I begin writing an article, most of my research has already been researched. I know exactly how the article is going to begin and end, because, like I said, my research has already been completed. This piece is different. Upon starting the piece I had done no research. I was reading a baseball chat hosted by FanGraphs, and someone mentioned the fact that Orlando Arcia could break out, particularly in the home run department. I wanted to see if I agreed with that premise based on what we’ve seen from Arcia thus far, so I started writing and researching simultaneously. The question I posed in the title is a question I didn’t know the answer to until I completed the article. It was a fun little exercise, and it was a fun change of pace from what I’m normally accustomed to.

Orlando Arcia has never been considered an elite hitter. Even when Arcia was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and was coming off a Double-A season in 2015 in which he hit .307 that was accompanied by a .347 on-base percentage and a 126 wRC+, his skills with the bat still came as an afterthought. It was his defense that propelled him as he made his way through the Brewers farm system, and, as a shortstop, being exceptional on offense is often seen as less important.

And through 208 MLB games, Arcia’s reputation has lived up to the billing. While his defense has been somewhat of a mild disappointment (just 5 defensive runs saved through his first two seasons), his glove has still been far superior than his bat. The 23 year old has posted 79 wRC+ with a .133 isolated power (.140 is considered average) during his first 764 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, only 12 players with at least 750 plate appearances during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns have produced a lower wRC+. Suffice it to say, Arcia has gone through his fair share of struggles at the plate.

Arcia’s biggest problem is his knack for hitting the ball on the ground, as he’s hit a grounder in more than 52 percent of his plate appearances. And, of course, it’s impossible to hit a home run that flies over the fence when it’s on the ground, which is why Arcia has just 19 home runs to his name. So therein lies the problem with the title of this post. How can Arcia possibly smack 25 dingers when his profile has always suggested he’s incapable of such a feat?

Let’s first start by looking at Arcia’s first- and second-half splits of his batted ball data.

LD% GB% FB% HR
First Half (297 ABs) 17.6% 52.7% 29.7% 8
Second Half (209 ABs) 23.2% 50.0% 26.8% 7

Interestingly enough, Arcia’s fly-ball rate dropped at a rather significant rate in the second half, and yet, he essentially matched his home run production in 88 fewer at-bats. Sure, his ground-ball rate shrunk a bit, but the biggest change Arcia made had to do with line drives. He started to hit more of them, but that didn’t really aid him power-wise. According to Baseball Savant, four of Arcia’s 15 home runs came on live drives, with three of them coming after the All-Star break (i.e. the second half).

So far, this hasn’t told us much. Let’s dig deeper by looking at how hard Arcia hit the ball in 2017.

Soft% Med% Hard% HR/FB%
First Half (297 ABs) 25.6% 46.7% 27.7% 11.3%
Second Half (209 ABs) 18.9% 47.3% 33.7% 15.6%

Looks like we found a little something. After the All-Star break, Arcia apparently decided he was going to make better contact going forward, and that’s exactly what he did. His soft contact rate plummeted seven percent while his hard-hit rate jumped six percent, and as a result, he hit more home runs per fly ball. A big reason for his hard-hitting spree is the fact that he cut down on pop ups by almost 11 percent in the second half. Pop ups are bad, and Arcia’s sudden decision to stop hitting them bodes well for the upcoming season.

However, despite the optimism the above table displays, Arcia’s exit velocity numbers paint a different picture. Arcia’s average exit velocity during the first half was 85.4 mph and 90.4 mph on fly balls. In the second half, that number changed to 85.9 mph overall and 89.9 mph on fly balls. I say the word “changed” but nothing really changed. The numbers are essentially the same. In all reality, Arcia hit the ball with the same velocity all season long. The quality of contact in the table is provided by Baseball Info Solutions, while the exit velocity numbers come from StatCast. Here’s what FanGraphs has to say about the quality of contact stats it uses from Baseball Info Solutions:

Unfortunately, the exact algorithm (the exact cut points/methodology) are proprietary to BIS and we can’t share exactly what constitutes hard contact, but the calculation is made based on hang time, location, and general trajectory. It’s not perfectly analogous to exit velocity, but until we have more complete StatCast data, it’s a step up from simply knowing line drive versus fly ball.

BIS doesn’t perfectly lineup with Statcast, and in Arcia’s case, the two are vastly different. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe the exit velocity numbers because I actually know how they are calculated, and StatCast, in general, is more broadly used and acknowledged among baseball circles, mainly because it’s more accessible.

Now, it’s entirely possible Arcia has made strides in the offseason, with those strides eventually resulting in more home runs in 2018. For example, he went from four home runs in 216 plate appearances during his rookie season to 15 in 548 plate appearances, while improving his HR/FB% by a decent amount. It’s possible he takes another jump in the power department, but 25 home runs? I’m not a believer. Unlike many of his peers, Arcia failed to join the fly-ball revolution, and he hits the ball on the ground too consistently to think he has 25 home runs in him. Twenty homers is possible, but even that’s a stretch. I think 15-18 home runs for Arcia is certainly reasonable, but if he wants to show more power, he needs to do at least these two things:

  • Decrease ground-ball rate
  • Increase fly-ball rate

Arcia doesn’t have enough raw power to hit opposite field home runs, as only three of his 15 home runs went to right field last year despite hitting a fly ball almost 50 percent of the time when he went the opposite way. That’s just an insane number, and not the good kind of insane, especially when you realize his fly-ball rate was less than 20 percent when he pulled the ball. If he managed to flip the two, he could easily hit 20 home runs. But that’s a tall order and a big if.

Arcia may never be consistent home-run guy, but he’s certainly capable of being a league-average, 100 wRC+ hitter. And that, along with his defensive skills at shortstop, should make him a valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers years to come.