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?

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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.

Reviewing the hitter projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

Phew.

What a season. What an incredible, outta-this-world fun and heart-wrenching season the 2018 campaign turned out to be. When Mike Moustakas swung and missed on a pitch in the dirt from Clayton Kershaw to end the Milwaukee Brewers’ Cinderella story, I was broken, and yet, so thrilled and happy I was able to witness playoff baseball in Miller Park once again.

With that being said, I needed time away from the Brewers and from baseball, which is why this site has been silent for awhile. I needed to process what happened and I needed to decompress. That’s over with now. I’m ready to start thinking and writing about the Milwaukee Brewers again.

So let’s review the season by looking over the preseason projections from The First Out At Third’s own system (RW23), Steamer and ZiPS. In 2017, RW23 was fairly accurate with its hitter projections, while it struggled with pitchers. My computer took a dive just before the season started, so I was unable to project hurlers this year, though I did manage to get my hitter projections out to the world. Let’s see how they stacked up against the powerhouses of Steamer and ZiPs.

***Note: My preseason projections included Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, Domingo Santana, Jett Bandy and Stephen Vogt, but because Villar was traded, Sogard, Santana and Bandy barely spent any time with the team and Vogt missed the entire season, I decided not to include them below. If you have issues with this decision, take it up with the league office.

C Manny Pina

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 333 304 .245 .301 .370 .671 .125 .295 23.1% 6.4% .299 1 8
Steamer 231 210 .251 .306 .388 .694 .137 .300 20.5% 6.5% .297 1 5
ZiPS 339 311 .248 .299 .386 .685 .138 .295 19.5% 5.9% .288 2 8
Actual 337 306 .252 .307 .395 .702 .144 .301 18.4% 6.2% .285 2 9

Winner: Steamer

All three projection systems foresaw Pina’s fall back to earth after a career year in 2017. Steamer just happened to be a bit more spot on than RW23 and ZiPS. It remains to be seen if Pina will be Milwaukee’s starting backstop in 2018, though one should expect him to be on the 25-man roster.

1B Eric Thames

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 489 419 .243 .348 .499 .846 .256 .363 30.2% 12.8% .306 4 26
Steamer 508 437 .251 .346 .488 .834 .236 .352 27.2% 11.5% .309 6 26
ZiPS 516 441 .240 .345 .510 .855 .270 .358 30.6% 12.6% .300 7 29
Actual 278 247 .219 .306 .478 .783 .259 .330 34.9% 10.4% .284 7 16

Winner: N/A

Thames lost playing time to Jesus Aguilar soon after the season started, and he proved he wasn’t a reliable option off the bench, highlighted by the fact the Brewers refused to put him on their postseason roster. Thames looked lost at the plate all year, and none of the projection systems saw it coming. There’s no winners here.

3B/2B Travis Shaw

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 595 527 .277 .353 .535 .888 .258 .376 23.2% 10.1% .315 9 33
Steamer 580 516 .249 .323 .454 .777 .205 .328 23.4% 9.3% .286 5 26
ZiPS 573 515 .256 .323 .472 .795 .216 .335 23.2% 8.6% .294 7 26
Actual 587 498 .241 .345 .480 .825 .239 .351 18.4% 13.3% .242 5 32

Winner: ZiPS

Though RW23 was correct in projecting that Shaw was capable of putting up similar — if not better — power numbers to 2017, it was a little too bullish on the Brewers infielder, giving ZiPS its first win. Shaw was the victim of some BABIP bad luck, and I expect his average and OBP to rise in 2019.

SS Orlando Arcia

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 592 544 .278 .331 .431 .762 .152 .326 16.9% 7.0% .312 15 17
Steamer 551 503 .262 .313 .405 .717 .143 .305 17.5% 6.7% .296 14 14
ZiPS 599 554 .256 .305 .401 .706 .144 .299 18.2% 6.3% .292 16 16
Actual 366 348 .236 .268 .307 .576 .072 .253 23.8% 4.1% .305 7 3

Winner: ZiPS

We can just copy what I wrote about Thames and paste it here, because, boy, Arcia was just a bag of off-balanced swings during the regular season. He turned it on in October, but that doesn’t erase his miserable six months prior to that. Once again, RW23 hyped up Arcia, and while Steamer and ZiPS didn’t think he’d be this dreadful, the win goes to the latter.

OF Ryan Braun

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 475 428 .280 .345 .490 .835 .210 .356 18.3% 8.6% .308 7 20
Steamer 475 426 .277 .344 .496 .840 .219 .353 19.3% 8.8% .304 10 22
ZiPS 472 426 .284 .347 .495 .843 .211 .354 18.9% 8.3% .316 12 20
Actual 447 405 .254 .313 .469 .782 .215 .330 19.0% 7.6% .274 11 20

Winner: ZiPS

A .313 on-base percentage for Braun is shocking, though his career-low .274 BABIP explains it a little. I didn’t want to give ZiPS the win here, as all three projection systems missed the mark again, but I guess ZiPS was the closest. I honestly have no idea.

OF Lorenzo Cain

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 610 553 .292 .350 .417 .767 .125 .334 17.6% 7.7% .338 23 14
Steamer 593 533 .283 .344 .437 .781 .154 .335 17.7% 7.6% .324 16 16
ZiPS 579 530 .283 .339 .426 .765 .143 .328 16.6% 7.1% .322 22 14
Actual 620 539 .308 .395 .417 .813 .109 .359 15.2% 11.5% .357 30 10

Winner: RW23

RW23 thought that Cain would be a force at the top of Milwaukee’s batting order, but Cain exceeded expectations in nearly every category, and earned himself a handful of MVP votes. Meanwhile, RW23 finally finds the win column.

OF Christian Yelich

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 672 580 .300 .386 .502 .889 .203 .382 20.2% 11.8% .349 15 26
Steamer 647 560 .296 .381 .491 .871 .195 .371 20.2% 11.4% .348 12 23
ZiPS 682 598 .289 .371 .472 .843 .182 .360 20.8% 11.1% .346 16 21
Actual 651 574 .326 .402 .598 1.000 .272 .422 20.7% 10.4% .373 22 36

Winner: RW23

The first convincing win for RW23, as it projected Yelich’s career year. The Brewers outfielder brought home the National League MVP and displayed a power force he never showed during his time in Miami. It seems rather unlikely Yelich can hit 36 home runs again in 2019, but is it really sane to put expectations on him anymore?

UTIL Hernan Perez

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 355 333 .273 .309 .430 .739 .157 .319 17.0% 5.1% .300 8 12
Steamer 183 172 .258 .293 .398 .691 .141 .295 19.2% 4.5% .298 6 5
ZiPS 474 446 .269 .299 .426 .725 .157 .307 18.1% 4.2% .305 15 13
Actual 334 316 .253 .290 .386 .676 .133 .292 21.3% 5.1% .300 11 9

Winner: Steamer

Perez had a typical Hernan Perez season. No walks and no on-base skills. There’s not much else to say about his season. I gave Steamer the win, despite being off on his playing time numbers.

1B Jesus Aguilar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 82 74 .249 .314 .450 .764 .201 .330 28.8% 7.7% .311 0 4
Steamer 20 18 .236 .302 .426 .728 .190 .310 26.5% 7.9% .284 0 1
ZiPS 473 428 .243 .307 .428 .734 .185 .312 26.0% 7.8% .293 0 19
Actual 566 492 .274 .352 .539 .890 .264 .374 25.3% 10.2% .309 0 35

Winner: N/A

RW23 and Steamer didn’t think Aguilar would stick on the roster very long, and while ZiPS pegged him for a starting job, it vastly underestimated him as a hitter. Aguilar surprised everyone in baseball with his crushing of pitchers, and though he fell off in the second half, his season of 3.1 WAR was a tremendous success.

Final Results:

ZiPS: 3 wins

Steamer: 2 wins

RW23: 2 wins

Christian Yelich or Javier Baez for National League MVP?

The talk around Major League Baseball over the last few days has centered around the National League MVP discussion, with Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs at the forefront of the discussion. The aforementioned players should be considered the favorites to take home the award, no matter what Odds Shark criminally says. And that’s what this article is about, yet for those who read this site regularly (thank you so much), this will be a little different than usual. While there will still be some analytics dripped in, this post will mostly consist of a rant that Ryen Russillo would be proud of, because frankly, I’m a little annoyed about this MVP discussion, and I think I deserve to speak my mind. So I’m just going to start typing and see where the keyboard leads me.

***Side note: Before Cardinals’ fans get all up on their perch and start tweeting me that Matt Carpenter should be involved in this discussion, let me just say that I wholeheartedly agree. He’s been more valuable than Baez, in my opinion.

But back to the Yelich vs. Baez debate. My frustration started with Dan Patrick.

On Tuesday, Dan Patrick of The Dan Patrick Show aired his usual “Play of the Day” segment, and for the first time in probably the show’s history, a Milwaukee Brewers’ play was featured. The play just so happened to be Yelich hitting for his second cycle of the season. That’s great! Finally, a small-market team getting some love and publicity on a national radio show. Ahhh, life is good. But then Patrick starts talking about Yelich and pronounces Yelich’s last name as “Yelick”. He does this not once, but twice. Now, I know Patrick isn’t that in-tune with baseball, because he still thinks pitcher wins and RBIs matter and are a good judge of skill, but he’s still a relatively smart guy when it comes to sports. He should, at the very least, know an MVP candidate’s name, even if the candidate plays a sport The Dan Patrick Show never touches on. But because Yelich plays for the Brewers and not the Cubs, Yankees or Red Sox, Patrick butchers the name because, in all honestly, he probably couldn’t pick Yelich out of a lineup. It’s sad, but true, kind of like my love life.

So that happened. And then this was tweeted:

Bleacher Nation is a popular Chicago Cubs blog that tweets to nearly 80,000 followers (follow him here, he needs more followers). The First Out At Third — you know, the thing you’re currently reading — is a Milwaukee Brewers blog that tweets to 560 followers. And yet, in this case, the popular guy is dead wrong. Raise your hand if you’re shocked. Let’s dissect Bleacher Nation’s tweet starting with the fact he (Bleacher Nation) thinks that Baez is an equal hitter to Yelich. *Insert laughing crying emoji*

Here’s a table that shows that is unequivocally untrue.

Avg OBP SlG OPS wOBA wRC+
Yelich .319 .385 .569 .954 .404 154
Baez .294 .329 .569 .897 .372 134

You see those numbers up there that are in bold? Those are the categories in which Yelich leads Baez, and it’s really not all that close either. Try again, Nation. Besides, do we really want to give the MVP to someone who has a .329 on-base percentage? Hell, I have a higher OBP than that.

Bleacher Nation also states that Baez plays incredible defense at multiple infield positions. It’s true that Baez plays solid defense at more than one position, but to color it incredible? I don’t think so. Baez has posted 5 defensive runs saved at shortstop, 2 DRS at second base and 2 DRS at shortstop this season. League average is zero for those new to the Defensive Run Statistic. Baez has good range and a strong arm, but the word “incredible” should be saved for those who deserve it, like Andrelton Simmons. Yelich, on the other hand, has won a Gold Glove in the past as an outfielder and is capable of manning multiple outfield positions. While his DRS numbers (3 DRS in right field) are down a smidge in 2018, he’s still considered a top-notch defender, and definitely not an inferior glovesman to Baez. Next argument, Nation.

Baez runs the bases as well as anyone in baseball, or so Bleacher Nation would have you believe. Let’s take a gander down the road of baserunning statistics! Buckle up, Cubs’ fans, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

If you go to FanGraphs and click on its baserunning statistic, you’ll see both Yelich and Baez on the first page of the leaderboard. But like the United States Olympic Men’s Hockey team in 1980, Yelich is the winner over Baez. (Yes, I did in fact compare Yelich to the gold-medal winning 1980 Olympic hockey team). Yelich has been worth 5.3 BsR — the 11th-highest total in MLB. Baez sits all the way down at 26th with a 3.8 BsR. To sum up like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, Baez is truthfully — I know it’s sometimes hard for Cubs’ fans to tell the truth — not one of the best baserunners in all of baseball. But Yelich sure is.

Now, I honestly didn’t mean to call out Bleacher Nation as much as I did, but I like dealing with facts when it comes to baseball talk. The facts speak for themselves, even though I just wrote them down for you all in case you didn’t hear them the first time.

You can probably tell by now that I’m a Brewers’ fan, and that of course I’m going to side with Yelich over Baez. While the former is true, readers of this site should know I’m not a biased fan. Go through my archives. Look at my most recent article in which I called out Brewers general manager David Stearns. While I’m not biased, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to side with the Brewers from time to time, which is why I have no qualms saying Yelich should be the National League MVP, and there’s one more argument I have to bolster my case.

According to FanGraphs’ WAR, Yelich has been the most valuable player in the National League this season with 6.1 WAR. Lorenzo Cain — Yelich’s teammate — is second on the leaderboard, with Baez tied with Anthony Rendon at 5.3 WAR for third place. WAR isn’t the end-all and be-all statistic, but it’s pretty damn telling, and it’s telling us that Yelich deserves the MVP.

And here’s the final killshot: Without Javier Baez, the Chicago Cubs would still be a playoff team. Without Christian Yelich, the Brewers wouldn’t even be sniffing a Wild Card berth.

You’re right, Bleacher Nation, this isn’t a difficult MVP decision.

Did David Stearns make a mistake?

The Milwaukee Brewers (73-59) sit 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs and currently lead the Rockies by a game in the race for the second Wild Card spot. Once upon a time, they had a sizable lead in the division, and once upon a time — on July 10 — they were a season-best 18 games over .500. Milwaukee has spent a total of 76 days in first place this season, and they seemed primed for an October appearance, yet since the Major League Baseball trade deadline on July 31, the Brewers are 11-12, all the while losing significant ground on the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.

General manager David Stearns — a hero among Brewers fans and the architect of one of the quickest rebuilds in recent memory — was an active participant in the trade market, though the trades he executed were seen by some as confusing and unnecessary. Stearns acquired third baseman Mike Moustakas (106 wRC+) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (90 wRC+) right before the final buzzer sounded. To the surprise of the masses, the Brewers watched the trade deadline expire without acquiring a starting pitcher. On Tuesday, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweeted the following:

The argument can be made that Milwaukee’s biggest weakness leading up to the deadline was its offense. Not many can disagree with that sentiment. For the season, the Brewers have been shut out 10 times, and have scored two or fewer runs 42 times in the team’s 121 games, for a record of 9-33 in those contests. Their 92 wRC+ as a team in the first half ranked 19th in the majors. The Brewers needed offense, and Stearns attempted to address that need when he acquired Moustakas and Schoop. Though those two haven’t exactly elevated the offense — at least so far — as much as the Brewers had hoped, at least the front office made an attempt to bring more runs to the team.

The same cannot be said for the pitching side of the club, and that’s where Stearns may have made a mistake.

Let’s first look at how Milwaukee’s rotation has performed before and after the trade deadline.

ERA FIP wOBA against
Before 7/31 3.80 4.30 .303
After 7/31 4.58 4.88 .336

Stearns has said over and over that he and his front office value his team’s starting pitching more than the outside world. That’s been the case all season. But it wasn’t hard to see regression was coming as quick as another Avengers movie,  and even Stearns had to know his starters — the best one being Jhoulys Chacin — couldn’t keep this up. No move was made, however, as the Brewers showed interest in the starting pitching market, but failed to pull the trigger on any deal. As a result, Milwaukee’s rotation has been unreliable since July 31.

We can’t judge Stearns’ inaction just by the Brewers’ rotation alone. We must also look at how the starting pitchers who were traded at the deadline have fared since joining their new teams to see if any of them would’ve been a significant upgrade. (Apologies if I left someone out.)

ERA FIP WAR
Chris Archer* 4.91 3.81 0.3
Kevin Gausman* 2.00 3.15 0.6
J.A. Happ 2.37 3.94 0.6
Lance Lynn 3.81 2.04 1.0
Cole Hamels 0.79 2.36 1.2

*does not include their starts on 8/26

Every pitcher on the table above — with the exception of Archer — has been absolutely brilliant (small sample size alert) since switching teams. Gausman seems to be finally reaching his potential, Happ is as reliable as ever, Lynn has figured something out after a miserable short tenure with Minnesota and Hamels thinks it’s 2011 again. The Brewers were rumored to have interest in all of these pitchers, and although I didn’t see anything that linked him to Milwaukee, Mike Fiers — who was traded after the non-waiver deadline — has been lights out with the Athletics, as well. Aside from Archer, acquiring these players came at a relatively low cost, a cost the Brewers could’ve easily managed.

Stearns’ love for the rotation he constructed has cost the Brewers wins, and it has allowed the Brewers to play second fiddle to the Cubs once again. A rotation consisting of Chacin, Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta, Chase Anderson and Wade Miley — who has the second-largest difference between his ERA (2.32) and FIP (3.99) among starters with at least 50 innings — doesn’t inspire much faith, except, apparently, to Stearns. For a team that has playoff hopes, and for a team who, on paper, has a formidable offensive lineup, the rotation is a sight for sore eyes, and Stearns should be criticized for not improving it.

The Brewers still have the ability to add a starter or two if they claim someone on revocable waivers or work out a deal for a player who went unclaimed. However, the market is rather dry, and there aren’t too many eye-opening arms out there. Milwaukee has shown interest in Nationals’ starter Gio Gonzalez, and although his 2018 performance to date has been disappointing, he could still give the Brewers some quality innings down the stretch.

Stearns said “we’ll find out” when asked if he made a mistake by not acquiring a starting pitcher. Well, I think we can safely say that he did, and while there are other factors involved, it’s a big reason why Milwaukee’s playoff odds have significantly dropped.

Who are the Brewers getting in Jonathan Schoop?

With barely seconds to spare before the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline clock expired, the Milwaukee Brewers made a significant trade. It wasn’t for a starting pitcher and it wasn’t for a catcher. Instead, it was for Jonathan Schoop — a second baseman — causing a logjam in the infield, much like the one the Brewers dealt with earlier this season in the outfield. We could talk about how trading for Mike Moustakas and Schoop is redundant, and how Milwaukee’s infield defense will likely suffer. We could talk about that. But I don’t want to talk about that or about where everyone will play, as that will surely figure itself out like most things in life do.

I want to talk about Jonathan Schoop, the hitter.

Schoop comes to Milwaukee with a 0.7 WAR, a 90 wRC+ and a 3.3 walk percentage. I picked those three numbers because they’re important when it comes to evaluating a player, but also because they’re not favorable. At first glance, Schoop doesn’t look like much of an offensive upgrade, especially considering his numbers are very similar to Tyler Saladino‘s stat line.

AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Schoop .240 .270 .441 .301 88
Saladino .259 .317 .402 .313 92

Granted, Schoop has nearly 250 more plate appearances than Saladino, but the numbers say Saladino has had the better season up to this point. Still, the Brewers optioned out Saladino in favor of Schoop, and honestly, it makes sense.

The 26-year-old second baseman is having a down season, which is especially rough considering the year he put together in 2017 when he put up nearly 4 WAR. Ryan Braun hasn’t been worth 4 WAR since 2012. Travis Shaw never has. The Brewers just added a player capable of providing four more wins than the league-average replacement player for this year’s playoff run and all of next season for a relatively cheap price. There’s no doubt Schoop upgrades Milwaukee’s offense now and in the immediate future.

Schoop went deep 32 times last year, and 25 times the year before that. He started off the season slow but has been Targaryen hot as of late, evidenced by his seven home runs over his past 10 games. He’s starting to become the player he was a year ago, and Miller Park will only aid him in that journey. Also, consider this: Schoop is hitting the ball in the air 38 percent of the time, yet his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio is down nearly two percent from his breakout season. Hopefully, Miller Park helps that positively regress.

Schoop’s power is undeniable, but if you’re looking for someone who gets on base a lot, Schoop’s not your guy. Schoop’s .338 OBP in 2017 was a career high by a mile, and that was largely due to a .330 BABIP — also a career best. His walk rate flirts with three percent nearly every year, and that’s somewhat of a problem. Of qualified hitters in 2018, Schoop currently has the third-lowest walk rate, as only Dee Gordon and Salvador Perez have walked fewer times. That could change, though. The Brewers preach patience at the plate, and that could easily and quickly rub off on the newest member of the team. The Brewers walk 8.7 percent of the time, or the 14th-most in MLB. That’s the middle of the pack, sure, but the Orioles — Schoop’s former team — walk just 7.4 percent of the time. That’s the 26th-worst mark in baseball. Don’t be surprised if we see an uptick in Schoop’s walk rate soon, simply because he changed teams.

The Brewers’ infield — in terms of offensive output — was one of the worst in baseball. Jonathan Villar was in the midst of a second-consecutive down year, Brad Miller showed very little at the plate during his brief tenure in Milwaukee, Orlando Arcia has a 27 wRC+ and Hernan Perez is the same as he’s ever been. But now, with Schoop and Moustakas joining Jesus Aguilar/Eric Thames and Shaw in the infield, the Brewers have one of the best all-around offenses in baseball, at least on paper They still don’t come close to competing with the fire powers in the American League, but one could argue they have the best lineup in the NL. David Stearns improved his team in an unconventional way and sacrificed defense in the process, but with shifts and Milwaukee’s 10th-highest strikeout rate from its pitchers limiting the balls in play, rarely will the flaws in the defense show. Stearns may have just found a market inefficiency.

Personally, I would’ve preferred Brian Dozier over Schoop, though that extra year of Schoop control is pretty darn appealing. There’s only one thing we need to concern ourselves with when it comes to analyzing Schoop: does he make the Brewers a better team?

The answer is unequivocally yes.

Who are the Brewers getting in Joakim Soria?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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