Category Archives: Player Profile

Mike Fiers is in for a huge season

Mike Fiers is my dark horse for the Cy Young award, and while I don’t necessarily think he’ll win it, I very much believe he’ll garner at least a few votes. I might be the only one who thinks he’ll be that good in 2015, but I’m not alone when I say he’s the best pitcher the Brewers’ rotation has to offer. You may find that hard to believe with arms like Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza stuck in there, but Steamer is projecting Fiers to be worth the most wins among Milwaukee pitchers with a 2.0 WAR, and Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs says he “might be the best one” among them. It’s crazy to think Fiers won’t be dominant in ’15, as he is ready to build on his last two seasons as a starter (2012 and 2014) and become the ace of the Brewers.

Since 2011, Fiers has made 50 appearances (35 starts) as a major leaguer; he became a full-fledged starter in 2012. In that 2012 season, he was worth 3.1 WAR in 22 starts. Yeah, he was that good. Only Zack Greinke and Marco Estrada were more valuable to the Brewers’ pitching staff that year. Gallardo, who made 11 more starts than Fiers, was only worth 2.5 wins.

But then 2013 rolled around, Fiers’ toughest year not only as a baseball player but as a human being. He lost his mother after a long battle with a chronic disease, and the pain in his heart was evident on the field. When it was all said and done, Fiers made 11 appearances with the Brewers, finishing with a 7.25 ERA and 7.17 FIP. His season ended after being struck in the right forearm by a line drive while he was pitching for Triple-A Nashville. After throwing lights-out ball in 2012, Fiers’ future with the Brewers was thrown into jeopardy.

Fiers had to work his way back to respect in 2014 and force the Brewers to take notice of him. He accumulated a 2.55 ERA in 17 starts in Triple-A and struck out 129 batters in 102 innings. Unable to ignore those numbers, the Brewers made the call, and Fiers became Milwaukee’s best pitcher during the last three months of the season. As a starter, he led the rotation in ERA (2.09), FIP (2.79), xFIP (2.94) and LOB% (81.8%) in his 10 starts.

And that brings us to now. He’s cemented himself into Milwaukee’s rotation, but can he continue rolling over hitters with such ease? I believe so.

There are two key reasons why I’m a big believer in Fiers. 1. He’s a strikeout pitcher and 2. he does a nice job limiting walks. That combination is why Fiers has been so successful in his short career, and why a lot of pitchers have success in MLB. In the two seasons in which he made at least 10 starts, his strikeout rate was never below 25%. Last season he struck out 29% of batters he faced, and aside from Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Yu Darvish, no starter had a higher strikeout rate (min. 60 innings). That’s pretty impressive company. Additionally, his K-BB% was third-best in baseball among starters with the same inning requirements. Since he strikes out more than his fair share, he induces weak contact as is evidenced by his .221 BABIP and low 19.2% line drive rate. And because balls hit off him aren’t hit that hard, he can get away with a high fly ball rate despite his below league average ground ball rate.

His sample size is small; 223 innings isn’t much to hang your hat on. But he’s also had an extremely high K/9 down in the minors as it never dipped below 8 K/9. He’s shown he can strike out the big boys at an even higher rate than he did in the minors which leads me to believe his success is sustainable.

Even though Fiers is strikeout guy, he doesn’t throw hard. FanGraphs says none of his pitches average over 90 mph, while Brooks Baseball claims his fourseamer barely touches it. (see graph below).

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

But no matter which website you read, one thing is clear; he’s not a blow-it-by-you pitcher. And yet, he makes it work. He relies very heavily on his fourseam fastball (62.8%), but it saved 16.5 runs according to wFB and caused 73 swings-and-misses. Fiers does a nice job switching up his locations, and his elevator-drop of a curveball complements it nicely. He also hides the ball well and it’s difficult for hitters to pick up on it. Fiers’ 89 mph fastball looks more like 95 mph because it creeps up on hitters so quickly.

Since 2012, only one pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers has been worth more in terms of wins than Fiers — Yovani Gallardo. That includes Wily Peralta; he has racked up over 200 more innings than Fiers, and yet Fiers is worth almost an entire win more. I don’t think many people realize how valuable Fiers has been to the Brewers, and with his non-existent year in ’13, that’s understandable. Fiers will be 30 in June, so his window for success is small, but whenever he’s started on a consistent basis, he’s been not only was he the best pitcher in Milwaukee but one of the best hurlers in all of baseball.

Before I wrap this up, I’ll leave you with one more eye-opening statistic. Since 2012, Fiers has the 38th-lowest FIP (3.47) among pitchers with at least 220 innings. But if you take away his traumatizing 2013 season and combine his stats from 2012 and 2014, Fiers owns a 3.04 FIP. He’s good, ladies and gentlemen, and in 2015 he’ll be very, very good.

Who are the Brewers getting in Shane Peterson?

On Tuesday the Milwaukee Brewers announced that they had claimed outfielder Shane Peterson off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Peterson was only a member of the Cubs for four days, as the club claimed him from the Oakland Athletics on Dec. 19. Peterson will be 27 by the time the 2015 season commences, and has logged just eight plate appearances in the major leagues, but the left-handed hitter should provide some value for the Brewers.

Here’s what Doug Melvin had to say about Peterson:

“We like his versatility. He has played some first base and some center field. Not many first basemen can play center field. It’s nice to get another left-handed bat, too.”

Peterson was acquired to fill depth in the Triple-A outfield, a position barren with the losses of Josh Prince, Kentrail Davis and Caleb Gindl this offseason. Peterson spent the entire 2014 season in Triple A and posted a .381 OBP, a .153 ISO and walked at a 10.6% clip. He also knocked out 11 home runs and stole 11 bases.

If Peterson makes the Brewers out of spring training, he will in all likelihood replace Logan Schafer on the bench. Peterson has considerably more pop than Schafer, and has always gotten on base at a high rate down in the minor leagues (.381 OBP). Schafer has had his time to prove he belongs on a major league club, and after 503 plate appearances and a 63 wRC+, it’s clear that the Brewers should go in a different direction.

Like almost everyone else on the Brewers, Peterson strikes out a lot. And his strikeout percentage will only increase when he faces major league pitching. Still, the Brewers made a nice pickup by adding Peterson. He brings speed, some power from the left side of the plate and has the knack for getting on base. If he hits well during spring training and earns a roster spot, I think he can contribute to the ball club.

Be wary of Scooter Gennett in 2015

Ever since Scooter Gennett made his major league debut on June 3, 2013, fans in Milwaukee have been enamored with the scrappy second baseman. He made a splash in the bigs almost immediately, boasting a .364 wOBA and 130 wRC+ in his first 69 games. That, plus being paired with the decline of Rickie Weeks, who has always been hated on by Brewers’ fans, made Gennett a quick fan favorite.

But, as expected, Gennett’s statistics took a dip in his first full season. His .320 on-base percentage was eighth on the team (min 100 plate appearances), and he created just four percent more runs than league average. He put up these less than stellar stats while only facing right-handed pitchers, and with Weeks completely out of the picture in 2015 and no clear platoon partner, times could get tougher for the 24 year old.

If the Brewers plan on Gennett being the main man at second, he’ll need to starting hitting southpaws. It’s not that he’s bad when facing left-handed pitchers, it’s that he’s horrifically awful. In his career, he has a .150 OBP, .134 wOBA and -29 wRC+ (yes, it is possible to have a negative wRC+) versus lefties. Those numbers are based on an extremely small sample size, just 78 at-bats, but his minor league splits don’t bode well for him either.

And Gennett is well aware of his battles with left-handed pitchers. Here’s an interesting quote from him in late June of this year:

“I would rather play and maybe struggle against a lefty than not play at all. But if that’s what the team can benefit most from, then I’m happy with it at the same time.”

The Brewers have two options. They can put Gennett out there with no regard to who is on the mound and hope he gets better with time (practice makes perfect, right?), or they can find another Rickie Weeks and put together another successful platoon. In 2014, Milwaukee’s second basemen posted MLB’s fourth-best wOBA and wRC+, and 11th-best WAR. There’s no way Gennett will be able to duplicate those numbers by himself, and thus, is in need of a platoon partner. He knows he’s going to struggle, and if he knows that and the Brewers know that, there’s no reason Gennett should be out there with a lefty on the mound.

I’m not going to release my 2015 projections for at least another month and a half, but I’ll give you a sneak peak of what I expect from Gennett if he gets the call every day.

Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Scooter Gennett .268 6 .310 95 .314 .125 17.0% 4.1% 1.4

And here’s what Steamer is projecting from Scooter:

Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Scooter Gennett .279 10 .314 96 .316 .119 14.4% 4.9% 1.6

Steamer likes Gennett more than I do, but just barely. We both expect him to be below league average when it comes to creating runs, and most of his 1.6 WAR will come from his defense and not his bat.

Gordon Beckham is someone the Brewers must look at. He was recently non-tendered by the Angels, and has a career .341 wOBA and 118 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, making him an ideal option to join Gennett at second base. Before being non-tendered, MLB Trade Rumors projected Beckham to earn $5 million in his final round of arbitration. The Brewers may not want to pay that for a platoon guy, but after giving Weeks $11 million in 2014 for essentially the same role, $5 million is pocket change.

Adding a player like Beckham would not only take pressure off Gennett, but it would absolutely make the team better. Gennett’s not ready for a full-time role, and I don’t think the Brewers can afford to take that chance yet, not if they expect to compete in 2015.

A pitch Khris Davis can’t hit

Khris Davis is a masher. He crushed pitching as a minor leaguer, and has boomed 33 home runs in 200 career games.

Now, I was leading the ‘I believe in Khris Davis‘ movement even before he surprised everyone during Spring Training in 2013, and I even had the opportunity to interview him last year. But despite my clear bias towards the man, Davis has a fault that pitchers took advantage of in 2014; he can’t hit the changeup.

The Milwaukee Brewers, as a team, weren’t thrown many changeups in 2014 but, according to Baseball Savant, Davis saw 225 of them alone, leading the club. The fastest changeup was 90 mph and the slowest was 74.2 mph. As the season wore on, pitchers began to figure out that the changeup was his Achilles’ heel, and they also discovered that they needed to pitch him down on the corners and out of the zone (see picture below).

Khris  Davis_img

They absolutely dominated Davis with low changeups and stayed away from leaving them up in the zone. With the aggressive nature of Davis, pitchers knew their changeup didn’t need to be a strike for him to take a whack at it, and he ended up whiffing at 25.3% of them.

Here’s a breakdown of what Davis did when we was thrown a change. Spoiler: It’s not pretty.

chart

He swung and missed more often than he put the ball in play, and managed only eight hits for a .131 average. Just five players had worse batting averages versus the change (minimum 50 ABs): Jason Kipnis (.098), Adam Dunn (.100), Brandon Moss (.101), Alex Avila (.115), and Brian Dozier (.122).

After all of this, I probably don’t need to tell you that Davis was worth -5 runs against the changeup, the 10th-worst mark in baseball among qualified hitters. However, with that being said, he was worth positive runs versus every other pitch, with the exception of the split-fingered fastball. The changeup seems to be the only pitch with which Davis has a real problem. Sure, he batted just .217 against the four-seam fastball, but he knocked 10 of them out of the park and garnered a .276 isolated power.

2015 will be a big year for Davis. He’s entering his age-27 season, and will most likely have to compete with Gerardo Parra for playing time. If he can’t be at least average with the changeup and if he continues going fishing out of the zone, pitchers will have a field day with him.