Category Archives: Player Profile

Who are the Brewers getting in Alex Claudio?

Though it wasn’t Wilson Ramos or Corey Kluber, the Milwaukee Brewers made an acquisition Thursday, right before the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas shut down. The Brewers sent their Competitive Balance Round A pick (No. 40 overall) in next year’s draft for Alex Claudio, a left-handed reliever who has pitched for the Texas Rangers in each of his five major league seasons. By acquiring Claudio, the Brewers strengthen an already elite bullpen.

But who exactly is Alex Claudio?

Let’s start by looking at his pitching profile. If you go to his player page on, say, FanGraphs, you’ll notice two things immediately; he doesn’t strike anyone out and he’s a ground-ball god. You’ll also probably see the 4.48 ERA he posted in 2018, but we’ll get to that silly statistic in a bit.

Claudio relies heavily on his sinker — as do most ground-ball pitchers — by throwing it over 50 percent of the time. He also features a changeup and mixes in a slider on occasion, but in general, he’s a sinker hurler. Regardless, here’s what his changeup is capable of looking like when it’s on its game.

Claudio’s changeup and slider generate significantly more swings and misses per swing than his sinker, so one may ask why he doesn’t throw those two pitches more often? Well, it’s because Claudio — as insane as this sounds in (basically) 2019 — doesn’t care about strikeouts. He doesn’t need whiffs to be successful. That’s not his game. His goal is forcing ground balls that his infielders can turn into outs, and he’s done that better than almost anyone in baseball. Since 2016 there have been 57 relievers who have recorded at least 170 innings. Claudio ranks second on that list in ground-ball rate. His 63.7 GB% trails only Brad Ziegler over that time period. He expects to get outs with his ground balls, and with the way the Brewers shift their infield defense, he’s likely to see his outs surge.

Now let’s get back to his 2018 ERA. In terms of ERA, Claudio had his worse season of his career last year, despite generating ground balls at a 60 percent clip. What happened? But more importantly, why shouldn’t Brewers fans be worried about this?

The table displays Claudio’s ERA and FIP in each of his last three seasons. I picked Earned Run Average because it shows — though flawed — the end result of a pitcher’s season and that’s important. And I picked Fielding Independent Pitching because it paints a more accurate picture than ERA. The table also shows his batting average on balls in play, which has the ability to demonstrate certain types of luck.

ERA FIP BABIP
2016 2.79 2.97 .312
2017 2.50 3.21 .269
2018 4.48 3.42 .366

Obviously, the left-hander suffered some awful batted-ball luck in 2018. Of every qualified reliever last season — 151 pitchers in all — Claudio’s .366 BABIP allowed was the third-highest mark. That’s enough proof right there to know there’s just no way that’s sustainable. Now, this isn’t an exact science, and his high BABIP from 2018, though likely, isn’t guaranteed to drop. There’s reasons other than luck for his BABIP rise, like the fact his ground-ball rate dropped by six percent from 2017, or that his defense behind him was one of the worst in baseball in terms of Defensive Runs Saved. Luckily, Milwaukee’s defense is far superior in that category, so that should help Claudio’s numbers immediately. While there are credible factors that contributed to his .366 BABIP, I think it’s safe to say that luck was the biggest culprit.

With the exits of Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeno from the Brewers bullpen, the team was in search for a southpaw who could eat innings. Claudio is, if nothing else, an innings eater. He’s also a significant upgrade over Jennings, who was left off the playoff roster in October. Not to mention, the Brewers have control over Claudio until 2021, which was likely very appealing to general manager David Stearns.

Claudio isn’t a flashy acquisition and the move isn’t going to make headlines. But neither did the signing of Jhoulys Chacin last December and look how that turned out.

Two unlikely stars

The title of this post has the word “stars” in it, leading you to think I’m going to be writing about two players on the Brewers whom are performing at All-Star caliber levels. I’m not. However, I will be writing about two players whom were projected to be no more than replacement-level performers, but have so far greatly exceeded expectations.

The aforementioned “stars” are Jonathan Villar and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Let’s first start with the projections. Below are two of the most popular projection systems we have at our disposal, ZiPS and Steamer. FanGraphs features them on its website, and they are both highly regarded. The third projection in the table is The First Out At Third’s.

Jonathan Villar WAR Kirk Nieuwenhuis WAR
ZiPS 0.7 ZiPS 0.5
Steamer 0.2 Steamer 0.4
FOAT 0.5 FOAT 0.3
Actual 0.7 Actual 1.0

The projections were underwhelming, but by all means fair. Villar was never much of a hitter in the minors, and Nieuwenhuis was just a 2.5-win player coming into the season. Nothing was expected from them; yet they’ve been the third- and fourth-most valuable players for Milwaukee.

Villar has not only been an above-average hitter (114 wRC+), he’s also been a savage on the base paths (15 SB) and a surprisingly average defender at shortstop. He’s already surpassed Steamer’s WAR projection and could be playing his way out of Milwaukee. A player the Brewers acquired in exchange for a minor-league pitcher has turned into an interesting trade chip. How about that? The Brewers are most likely motivated to move him, too. With Orlando Arcia patiently waiting for his time down in Triple-A, Villar is no more than a shortstop filler, although having him replace Scooter Gennett at second base in the future should at least be discussed.

Nieuwenhuis was one of the last players to make the Brewers’ roster after being claimed off waivers in December 2015. He now has the third-highest WAR on the team, thanks to league-average hitting (100 wRC+) and good defense (2 DRS in centerfield). Nieuwenhuis will never be a power guy, but his walk rate has skyrocketed this year, and that, along with a high .356 BABIP, has led to a .351 on-base percentage. He’s been the only competent centerfielder for the Brewers, as Keon Broxton (-0.2 WAR) and Ramon Flores (-0.2 WAR) have been abysmal.

ZiPS now projects Villar to finish with 1.6 WAR and Nieuwenhuis to finish with 1.7 WAR. Steamer is a little less bullish on the two, predicting a final WAR of 1.0 and 1.5, respectively, but nonetheless, the Brewers have found two diamonds in the rough, which is something a rebuilding team needs to dig for.

Who are the Brewers getting in Jonathan Villar?

For the second time in two days, the Milwaukee Brewers have traded for middle infield depth. Yesterday, the team shipped off Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit in exchange for 2B Javier Betancourt, and today, they landed SS Jonathan Villar from the Astros for RHP Cy Sneed.

General manager David Stearns has repeatedly stated the organization’s goal is to get younger, and it has wasted no time in doing so. Betancourt is 20 while Villar will turn 25 in May.

Because he is out of options, all signs point to Villar being on the major-league roster in 2016. But who exactly is Jonathan Villar?

Villar is a switch-hitting infielder whose versatility makes him a very intriguing acquisition for the Brewers. He’s capable of manning every infield position other than first base, and that includes the hot corner, a position Milwaukee desperately needs to fill.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Villar’s name in the opening day lineup as the team’s third baseman. To me, he’s an upgrade over Elian Herrera and Hernan Perez.

In 658 career plate appearances, Villar has a .291 wOBA and 82 wRC+. He was, however, much better than that in limited action last season, as his 107 wRC+ made him an above-average hitter. He was aided by a tremendously high BABIP of .360, though, a mark Villar surely won’t be able to replicate.

Villar does have some pop in his bat, posting an isolated slugging of .144 and .129 in the last two seasons, respectively. Like most young players, strikeouts are an issue. In 2015, he struck out 22.7% of the time, and the holes in his bat were obvious. He swung and missed at 10 percent of the pitches he saw, and his contact percentage was below league average. Still, he managed a .339 on-base percentage. That’s something to be encouraged about.

He’s a similar player to Jean Segura — especially in terms of his ground ball rate — and that makes Segura even more expendable than he was. Brewers beat writers Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt believe Milwaukee is interested in trading Segura to open the door for Orlando Arcia. Villar could be a placeholder while that transition takes place.

According to Stearns, trading for Villar “opens up possibilities in a number of different areas for what we can do the remainder of the offseason.” Like I said earlier, his versatility is what makes him so appealing.

We need to talk about Jason Rogers

When Jason Rogers was coming up through the minor leagues, I barely paid any attention to him. As far as I was concerned, he was a non-prospect. At best, I thought, he was a poor defensive third and first baseman who had occasional pop in his bat.

Because I never really cared about how Rogers was performing down on the farm, I didn’t realize his very solid on-base numbers. That is, until last season when he started with the Double-A squad. 2014 was the first time Rogers piqued my interest. Here’s why:

Year Level OBP wRC+
2014 AA .355 121
2014 AAA .379 142

That’s not too shabby at all. His OBP was great in Double-A and even better when he moved up a level. His performance caused me to dig deep — and by dig deep I mean go to his FanGraphs player page — into his minor league statistics. I was very pleased with what I found, and it made me question why Rogers wasn’t talked about more.

Here are is complete minor league stats, combining every level of every season:

OBP wOBA wRC+
.382 .387 136

It’s fair to say Rogers enjoyed much success throughout his career in the minors. For a player with average power at best (just two seasons with 10+ home runs), those numbers are especially brilliant.

And yet, the Milwaukee Brewers organization never gave him a chance until this season, just after he turned 27. The Brewers employed Aramis Ramirez at third base for the last two and a half years, so it makes sense why Rogers wasn’t needed there. But first base is more of a question mark. In lieu of Rogers, Milwaukee chose to go with old veterans like Yuniesky Betancourt, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. Rogers saw just 10 plate appearances in 2014, while fellow minor-league first baseman Matt Clark nabbed 31.

For all of Rogers’ career, he’s been the prospect nobody talks about. His performance this year may have changed people’s perceptions of him, though.

In 169 plate appearances, Rogers put up the third-highest wRC+ (121) and wOBA (.354), the second-highest OBP (.367) and sixth-best walk rate (8.9%) among Brewers who hit the century mark at the plate. Surely those numbers are inflated by a .360 batting average on balls in play, but nonetheless, they’re still top-notch for a 27-year-old rookie.

There is some unfortunate news regarding Rogers’ star-like numbers, however. They’re superficial, and he is unlikely to repeat them as a starter or off the bench in 2016.

When Rogers put a ball in play, it was on the ground 54.2% of the time, and for a player with no speed, that’s usually not going to lead to success. Yet somehow, Rogers defied the baseball gods and put up an insane .328 batting average on ground balls. League average was just .236. So yeah, Rogers got more lucky than I did on my high school prom night. This is reason enough alone to believe his performance is not sustainable going forward. Sad, I know.

There’s no doubt Rogers put up an unbelievable season, and it wouldn’t surprise me or probably anyone else to see him make the Brewers’ major-league roster out of spring training. Especially since the team is in the midst of a massive rebuild. There is doubt, however, about the hitter Rogers is. He needs more time and more at-bats for us to get a clearer picture of who he is. But unless he’s the luckiest player since, well, ever, it’s reasonable to think his numbers will decline next year.

 

What can we expect from Taylor Jungmann in 2016?

Through 17 starts and 100.1 innings, Taylor Jungmann has been worth 2.2 Wins Above Replacement, making him the most valuable starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers. The 25-year-old Jungmann has posted an impressive 3.05 ERA with an almost as equally impressive 3.37 FIP. He’s done a marvelous job of keeping the ball in the yard and has limited batters to just a .285 wOBA.

Jungmann’s success is rather surprising and unforeseen. Most people had him pegged as a back-end starter with the upside being a chance to be a solid three-guy. But during his MLB debut season, Jungmann has pitched nothing short of an ace.

But should we really expect that going forward?

The quick answer is no. I expect his stats to take somewhat of a hit in 2016, and there are a few reasons why I believe this.

Throughout his minor league career, which began in 2012 in High-A ball, Jungmann had a knack for allowing a relatively high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 30 games across two seasons in Triple-A, batters hit safely on 32 percent of balls they put in play. Granted, that number is a bit inflated because of the park environment Jungmann pitched in this season in Colorado Springs. That being said, however, Jungmann is allowing just a .283 BABIP in the majors, which is drastically lower than what we saw from him in the minors. As you should know, 100 innings is too small a sample size to take seriously, which is why I’m not a believer in those numbers. I believe hitters will start hitting him harder as his time in the majors grows, and as a result, his BABIP will rise.

Jungmann relies a ton on his fastball. Probably too much. Right now, he’s throwing a fastball at a 68.9 percent clip. Only four qualified starting pitchers throw heaters more often. Now, if Jungmann’s fastball was in the mid-to-high 90s, he could probably get away with over usage, but because it averages just barely 92 mph, it’s nothing too special. If Jungmann ever misses with location, hitters, especially as they begin to learn his tendencies, will feast on him. Adding another pitch to an arsenal will surely help, but also throwing his changeup more would be beneficial. Look for him to do that in 2016.

Good command is key if Jungmann wants future success, and his command has been impressive in the majors, something you couldn’t say when he was down on the farm. During his time in the minors, he issued his fair share of free passes. In both of his years in Triple-A, he posted walk rates of over 10 percent, which is why his minor league FIP numbers were never as impressive as his ERAs. His 8.7 BB% with the Brewers this season is encouraging, but also surprising due to his troubles in the minors. If Jungmann somehow reverts back to his bad location ways, 2016 will be a bumpy ride.

It’s fair to say Jungmann has been great in 2015, and it’s also fair to say he has overachieved. And when a rookie overachievers, it’s typical to think he will eventually regress. Well, color me typical, because that’s exactly what will happen. He’ll be more of a 3.80 ERA pitcher than a 3.00 ERA pitcher in 2016. But that’s okay. Nobody expected him to be an ace, anyway.

What’s up with Jonathan Lucroy?

Last season Jonathan Lucroy was one of the front runners for the National League MVP award. Aside from his usual defensive prowess, he got on base at a great rate and showed a tremendous amount of gap power. When it was all said and done, Lucroy finished with the ninth-best WAR in Major League Baseball, and I was sure he was going to follow that up with another phenomenal season (projected 4.6 WAR).

But now, at the midway point of August in 2015, Lucroy has been no better than a replacement player. His WAR sits at 0.1 and his on-base percentage is reminiscent of Yuniesky Betancourt‘s. His isolated power is down 58 points, and instead of being an above-average hitter in terms of creating runs, Lucroy’s wRC+ is down in the gutters at 78. He’s gone from a major threat at the plate to a player who’s no threat at all.

So what’s happened? First, let’s compare his batted ball profile in 2014 to his profile this season.

GB% FB% LD%
2014 42.1% 35.7% 22.3%
2015 47.3% 28.8% 23.9%

Lucroy is hitting more line drives and less fly balls, and for someone who doesn’t have much home run power, that’s obviously a good thing. But his ground ball rate has soared, and that’s something that needs to be talked about.

Part of the reason Lucroy’s offense is struggling is because he’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he did in 2014 and is having way worse luck on those ground balls. Last season, Lucroy hit .258 when he put the ball on the ground, while the rest of the averaged just a .239 mark. In other words, Lucroy overachieved on grounders. This year, not so much, as his groundball BABIP is at a lowly .155. League average, by the way, is .234. As a result, Lucroy’s overall BABIP of .267 is the seventh-lowest mark among National League hitters (min. 300 PA). To sum up, Lucroy had great luck a year ago, but is enduring a season of rotten lock in 2015.

His loss of power is also quite astonishing. He ripped 53 doubles last season, but has only 14 to his name after 311 at-bats. Now, obviously there was no way Lucroy was going to duplicate 53 doubles again, but to have only 14 is a bit surprising. This can probably be explained by his inability to hit the fastball, something that wasn’t the case last year.

Lucroy has seen 544 four-seam fastballs this season, and is hitting .250 with an isolated power of .095 on those pitches. During his MVP-caliber year, however, he hit .324 with an isolated power of .229. Twenty-five of his 53 doubles came off the four-seamer. This year he has just three.

The Brewers catcher is nowhere near the same hitter he was last season because he’s putting a career-high number of balls on the ground and because he’s having a tough time making good contact with the fastball. Both of these things are correctable, but as Milwaukee starts to rebuild, Lucroy may find himself correcting his issues on a different team.

 

Who are the Brewers getting in Matt Dominguez?

The Milwaukee Brewers nabbed Aramis Ramirez‘s replacement Tuesday as they acquired former Houston Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez off waivers. Dominguez was outrighted to Triple-A, but odds are, he’ll be on Milwaukee’s 25-man roster before long.

But who is Matt Dominguez?

Dominguez, 25, was the 12th overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Florida Marlins; however, he never lived up to his billing. Over 357 major-league games and 1357 plate appearances, Dominguez owns a .285 wOBA and a 78 wRC+. His on-base percentage also sits below the .300 mark. He’s suffered from an unusually low BABIP throughout his short career and doesn’t walk (2.1 BB% in AAA this season). The only positive offensive aspect of his game going for Dominguez is his power. He has 42 career home runs and an isolated power of .141, including a .162 ISO in 2013.

There was, at one point, a rumor of Dominguez signing a five-year extension with Houston, but obviously that never came to fruition. To get a better picture of how far he’s fallen, Dominguez has spent the entire season in the minors where he’s been — surprise — a below-average hitter.

Dominguez is actually OK at third base. In 2013, he saved eight defensive runs above average, which was almost worth one win. His defense wasn’t nearly as dominant the following season, but the evidence is there that he can be at least solid.

This signing was a no-brainer for the Brewers. Ramirez will most likely be gone at some point this season, but for certain in 2016 when he retires. There are signs that Dominguez could still turn his career around. If you look at his batted ball velocity, you can see that he hits the ball with a good deal of velocity more often than not. Dominguez has a career 53.3 Med% (percentage of balls in play that were classified as hit with medium speed). While that still isn’t considered great and his hard-hit rate isn’t anything special either, it’s better than hitting the ball softly.

Dominguez is a low-risk/high-reward player, and someone who will fill in while Milwaukee rebuilds their brand.

Understanding Mike Fiers

You may remember that I picked Mike Fiers as my dark horse to snag a few Cy Young Award votes. No? Well, read it. This is an update on my pick as well as a chance to help you better understand the season he’s having.

Based on his 1-5 record and 4.53 ERA, it’s easy to say Mike Fiers has had one hell of a lousy season. Luckily, a pitcher’s win/loss record and Earned Run Average are silly stats. By using stats that actually mean something, you’ll realize that Fiers has been the best starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, I know. The Brewers stink and so does their rotation. Saying Fiers is Milwaukee’s top pitcher isn’t saying much. But maybe it’ll mean more if I say Fiers has been one of Major League Baseball’s top 41 pitchers in 2015. Maybe it’ll mean more if I say Fiers has been just as valuable as Cole Hamels (2.98 ERA) and Michael Wacha (1.87 ERA). Do I have your attention now?

Despite his fat ERA, Fiers has actually been a very solid starter for the troubling team in Milwaukee. He’s been worth 0.9 WAR in 10 starts, and ranks 30th among starters in Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP).

Fiers has been good, but he could be even better. But before we get to that, let’s look at the one big aspect of his game in which he’s flourished the most.

Strikeouts and Walks

Fiers has always been a strikeout guy, a trend he’s continuing in 2015. He’s punching out over 26% of batters he’s faced and only 10 starters have a higher rate. More importantly, after a plethora of walks in his first few starts of the year, Fiers has done an excellent job of limiting free passes. This is one of the reasons his ERA should starting dropping. Additionally, his K-BB% is outstanding. A pitcher’s in-season K-BB% (strikeout percentage minus walk percentage) tells us a lot about his future performance. If a pitcher’s K-BB% is great, he’ll most likely be a great pitcher throughout the rest of the season, and vice versa. Fiers’ ratio is great. It sits at 19.6%, the 15th-highest mark in baseball. He’s striking out batters at a huge rate and not walking them. That’s just want you want out of a pitcher.

Based on this, Fiers’ ERA should be much lower; however, there are two glaring issues that he needs to correct. One involves a lot of unluckiness, but the other is all on him. Let’s tackle the latter first.

Home Runs

Fiers has given up seven home runs (six of them off his four-seam fastball), and as a result, is giving up 1.22 home runs per nine innings and owns a 12.1% HR/FB ratio.. Sadly, those aren’t even the highest marks on the Brewers. With a slow 88-90 mph fastball and a sometimes hanging curveball, Fiers has to hit his spots perfectly in order to get outs. When he doesn’t, this happens.

Take a look at Fiers’ placement of pitches hit for home runs this season (as of 5/26/2015).

chart (3)

All of those home run pitches were in either in the middle of the zone or toward the top. He missed his location on every one.

But Fiers is a guy that’s going to give up home runs. He always has and that’s just who he is. He won’t be able to hit his spots perfectly every time, meaning some pitches will end up in the bleachers. He still, however, can limit them a bit more.

Batting Average on Balls in Play

Like Ryan Braun (read this), Fiers has also been a victim of some pretty rotten luck in 2015. Although in Fiers’ case, his luck isn’t as bad luck as Braun’s.

Out of every qualified starter in Major League Baseball, Fiers is allowing the highest batting average on balls in play. His .386 BABIP allowed beats the next guy by 11 points. Almost every ball put in play is falling against Fiers, and a part of that has to do with his hard-hit rate. Fiers has a crazy high BABIP and a 1.55 WHIP — this is the first time I’ve mentioned WHIP on this, so be glad you’re witnessing history — because hitters are making hard contact 42.2% of the time. Once again, just like his BABIP, no one in baseball has a higher percentage than that. So it’s really no surprise that so many balls are falling for base hits.

The surprising thing is, however, that up until this season, Fiers had only allowed a .295 BABIP. And that makes sense. Fiers is a strikeout pitcher and strikeout pitchers usually generate weaker contact. That was true for Fiers until 2015 rolled around. Yet, there’s really no way batters can continue having this much success on batted balls. Regression to the mean should take its course.

Forget about Fiers’ win/loss record. Forget about his ERA. If you do that, you’ll realize that Fiers has pitched quite well this season. If he can at least keep the ball in the yard a little more frequently, and if batters stop crushing the ball off him, Fiers should only get better.

And who knows? Maybe my Cy Young prediction will turn out to be right.

 

Who are the Brewers getting in Chris Perez?

Cheap and low-risk signings have been a common theme for the Milwaukee Brewers over the last few weeks. On Jan. 30, they spent $3 million on Neal Cotts, and on Wednesday, they inked reliever Chris Perez to a minor-league deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives if he makes the major league club. The former is a steal for Milwaukee while the latter is more of a lottery ticket with a minimal prize. If Perez is a lottery ticket, the jackpot is anything over 0 WAR. The Brewers are hoping he pitches better than replacement level, something Perez has failed to do since 2012.

For his career, Perez owns an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.51/4.23/4.23, resulting in 0.1 Wins Above Replacement. He’s never been worth more than a win in a single season, only coming close in 2010 and 2012 (0.8 WAR). Perez isn’t much of a ground ball pitcher, gives up a decent number of home runs and has walked batters at higher rate in each of the last three seasons.

So, why were the Brewers interested in him?

It’s a question that deserves multiple answers, but let’s start with this:

Obviously, a minor-league deal comes with no promises, but it shows the Brewers aren’t going to give him any hand-outs just because he was once a “successful” closer. He has to earn a job, and if he somehow makes the 25-man roster, it’ll be deserving, because even though the bullpen has problems, most of the current pieces in it are better than Perez.

The main reason the Brewers snagged Perez is because they coveted an arm with closing experience. Perez has 133 saves in his career. The Brewers by no means want him to close (if that happens, I’m becoming a Cardinals fan. I swear I’ll do it), so I find it odd that Doug Melvin feels it’s necessary to have former closers taking up room in his bullpen. Maybe Perez is solely insurance in case a multitude of relievers go down with injuries. That would make the most sense.

But Perez also comes cheap. Spending $1.5 million on a fringe MLB reliever isn’t going to break the bank, and honestly, I’m okay with any signing the Brewers make for $1.5 million. If they want to bring back Trevor Hoffman for that amount, why the heck not?

Now, back to a statistical standpoint. Perez utilizes two pitches — a fastball and slider. He used a changeup for the first time in his career last season, but only threw it 3.6% of the time, so don’t count on it seeing in 2015. Perez’s fastball is exactly that…fast. It averages in the mid-90s and topped out at 96.7 mph last year. His slider is a slow slider, averaging just 83 mph, and up until last year, it was worth positive runs (excluding his rookie campaign).

Perez has struggled more in high leverage situations than in any other circumstance in his career. He strikes out fewer batters, and allows a .312 wOBA in high leverage situations, while only giving up a .309 wOBA and a .301 wOBA in low and medium leverage situations, respectively. For a closer, who almost exclusively pitches in crunch time, that’s not what you want to see.

Additionally, his strikeout rate has decreased and walk rate has increased consistently since 2012.

Year K% BB%
2012 24.4% 6.6%
2013 22.2% 8.6%
2014 19.5% 12.5%

Even if Perez makes the team, the likelihood that he’ll actually help the team is small. Still, signing him to a low-cost minor-league deal involves almost zero risk.

Who are the Brewers getting in Neal Cotts?

The Milwaukee Brewers made waves (not really) Thursday when reports indicated that they had signed left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to a one year, $3 million deal. This acquisition, though somewhat under-the-radar, was a necessary one for Milwaukee. It gives them a pitcher who can create swinging strikes, and another southpaw to compliment Will Smith in the bullpen. With the market for relievers essentially bare, getting Cotts was a nice, cheap pull.

The 34-year-old Cotts almost saw his pitching career end due to an abundance of injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery and four hip procedures and was unable to pitch in the majors for three consecutive seasons (2010-2012). It’s really a miracle Cotts found work after that. Even before the injuries took him for a ride, Cotts never had success at the major league level. From 2003 to 2009, he posted a 5.32 FIP and was worth 0.4 WAR. But even so, the Texas Rangers took a chance on him in 2013, a move that revitalized his career.

Cotts spent the last two seasons with the Rangers, accumulating 2.6 WAR in 123.2 innings. Among the 64 relievers who pitched at least 120 innings during that time span, Cotts ranks 16th in that category. His four-seam fastball sits in the low 90s with his cutter reaching the high 80s. He also throws an effective slider (10.9 career wSL) at around 85 mph. As you can tell, Cotts is anything but a power pitcher, but, as we saw with Zach Duke a year ago, blowing fastballs by hitters isn’t the only way to get hitters out.

Cotts is an interesting case study. Unlike most left-handed relievers, Cotts is anything but a left-handed specialist. In fact, he has reverse splits, meaning he fares better versus right-handed batters. Take a look at his splits.

IP wOBA HR
vs LHH 161.1 .328 25
vs RHH 218.2 .308 21

The numbers aren’t drastically different, but still significant for a lefty. Here’s what Cotts had to say about his interesting splits:

“Over my career, I’ve been better against righties than lefties. I don’t know what to attribute that to. I enjoy going out there for an inning. It benefits everybody if you have guys who can face both sides. It helps extend the game until you get to the closer.”

The Brewers now have two pitchers in the bullpen with reverse splits, Brandon Kintzler being the other one.

Aside from Cotts’ split irony, he doesn’t force many ground balls. And that’s tough for me because I love ground ball pitchers, which is why Zach Britton is one of my favorite players (go look at his ground ball rate; it’s insane). Ground ball rate is the first thing I look at when analyzing a pitcher. So when I looked at Cotts’ GB%, I admit I was a little disappointed. Cotts had a 34.7 GB% last season (league average GB% among relievers in 2014 was 45.3%), and owns a 41.9 GB% in his career. So, because he doesn’t have an admirable ground ball rate, he sure as heck better have at least a decent strikeout percentage. If he doesn’t, well then the Brewers probably made a mistake on him. But luckily, Cotts does. In 2014, Cotts struck out 22% of the batters he faced. The year before that, he struck out 29.2%. And as I mentioned earlier, a lot of those strikeouts have come from whiffs (career 10.5% swinging-strike rate). Of Cotts’ 63 strikeouts in 2014, 44 of them came via the swing-and-miss.

I doubt Cotts will be used in high leverage situations, at least to start the season. The Brewers would much rather have Jeremy Jeffress and Smith fill those roles, but, with that being said, Cotts’ RE24 has been above average the last two years, most notably in 2013 when he posted a 17.65 RE24 (12th in MLB). That means he can fill in for whatever situation, whether it be high or low leverage, and still get the job done.

Cotts fits nicely in the Brewers’ bullpen. Not only did Milwaukee sign a cheap pitcher, they signed an effective one. . As long as the strikeouts continue to be there, there’s no reason to think Cotts won’t be successful.

Before I let you go, here is what I’m projecting from Cotts in 2015:

Position Name ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
RP Neal Cotts 4.10 3.31 4.02 3.66 4 23.0% 8.0% 39.3% 0.3