Tag Archives: Jonathan Lucroy

Are the Milwaukee Brewers a sabermetric team?

Ben Baumer recently wrote a terrific piece for ESPN.com in which he ranked Major League Baseball teams based on their openness (or reluctance) to using advanced analysis and statistics. According to Baumer, the Boston Red Sox are on top of the sabermetric food chain while the Philadelphia Phillies, as expected from a caveman-esque team, writhe on the bottom.

The Milwaukee Brewers, meanwhile, fell under the “One Foot In” category. Baumer writes:

Despite GM Doug Melvin’s background in scouting and old-school reputation, the Brewers are definitely not in the dark on analytics. Melvin calls himself “a big believer in ballpark effects,” challenges his analytics staffers to bring him useful information, and cites their work when they’ve helped him make a move.

Still, the Brewers aren’t all the way in the sabermetric movement.

All of this does not mean the Brewers live on the cutting edge. Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke could hardly be described as true believers. While the Brewers have a relatively large analytics staff, including two analysts and three programmers, the overall approach in Milwaukee appears to be less sophisticated than that of the top sabermetric teams.

Baumer also talks about how the team values Jonathan Lucroy‘s pitching-framing abilities and their knack for infield shifting. But their lack of analysts and programmers troubles me. As a big believer of sabermetrics, I want my team to believe as well, and it frustrates me to see them tripping over their shoes when they completely ignore the stats (i.e. signing Francisco Rodgriguez). Maybe it’s time to hire more stat nerds, Doug. Yet, as Baumer mentions, the Brewers do somewhat utilize sabermetrics, just on a much lesser scale than their competitors.

So, based on the information I have available to me — which is the same information you have — I’m going to see in what instances the Brewers have used sabermetrics and what instances they’ve ignored it. I’m sure I’m missing a ton, but here are few I can think of.

The Brewers used sabermetrics when…

  • When they shift, and they shift a lot. In fact, as of Sep. 9, 2014, Milwaukee had shifted 634 times, which was ninth-most in Major League Baseball and second among National League teams.
  • When they signed Lucroy to a five-year, $11 million contract extension in 2012. They locked up a phenomenal pitch framer and OBP-guy for way less than what he’s worth.
  • When they platooned Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks last season. The two combined for 3.0 WAR.
  • When they reeled back on steal attempts in ’14. However, Ron Roenicke has recently said he intends to implement aggressive baserunning once again.
  • When they refused to match Zach Duke‘s $33 million offer from the White Sox. He had a career year and is sure to regress at least a little.

The Brewers didn’t use sabermetrics when…

  • When they signed K-Rod to a two-year, $13 million deal. His WAR has declined in four consecutive seasons, not to mention the Brewers already have at least two capable closers.
  • When Doug Melvin said he’s not smart enough to figure out WAR. He went on to say he doesn’t really believe in it.
  • When they bunt their non-pitchers. Since 2011, Milwaukee’s position players have bunted 380 times (second-most among MLB).
  • When they brought back Yuniesky Betancourt after he posted a 0.0 WAR with them in 2011 and a -1.0 WAR with the Mariners in 2012. After the ’11 season, Melvin said he thought Betancourt played “better than what the critics said.” Betancourt accumulated a -1.9 WAR in 409 PA over the course of his return.
  • When they preach a swing-first approach. Yes, this helps Carlos Gomez, but taking pitches and working counts is Sabermetrics 101.
  • When they batted Gennett leadoff (23 times) and in the two-spot (43 times) during the ’14 season. A team’s leadoff hitter and two-hole hitter are supposed to be either the first- or second-best hitters on the team, something Gennett is nowhere near.

For the most part, as Baumer stated, the Brewers don’t seem to be a team that relies too heavily on sabermetrics. Melvin believes in certain aspects of it, but clearly isn’t all-in. Roenicke is an old-school guy who likes bunting far too much, particularly suicide squeezes. But at least he shifts his players quite often.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on if the Brewers are a sabermetric team. Am I missing anything from my list?

Hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers

It’s that time of year again, when projections are being unleashed and the biased trolls of the internet emerge from their caves. I love it.

People say that projections are like throwing darts at a dart board and hoping it sticks where you want it too. Well, if that’s the case, then the dart’s trajectory has been calculated countless of times and the dart board is bigger than the average one. Projection systems, like Steamer and ZiPS, are the most accurate darts we currently have at our disposable. So many components (i.e. park factors, age, injury history, talent) play into their forecasts that it’s asinine not to put at least a little merit in them.

With that being said, my projections are not based on a mathematical model. My brain doesn’t possess the functionality it requires to build one or to even interpret simple mathematical equations. For someone who is so invested in sabermetrics, I don’t know a lick of math. So, there’s my warning about my projections.

On the other hand, my projections are more than just guess work. I’ve poured over each player’s statistical history, taken injuries and age into account, looked at splits, went over other projection systems and basically every other thing I could possibly do to make sure my projections were well-informed.

Here are my hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers (subject to change before the season commences).

Position Name AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
C Jonathan Lucroy .303 13 .370 131 .377 .159 10.3% 11.4% 4.9
1B Adam Lind .279 18 .353 122 .340 .181 18.7% 7.8% 1.5
2B Scooter Gennett .268 6 .310 95 .314 .125 17.0% 4.1% 1.4
3B Aramis Ramirez .280 16 .324 110 .330 .138 15.0% 6.5% 1.9
SS Jean Segura .255 5 .295 79 .310 .090 12.3% 5.5% 1.3
OF Khris Davis .257 19 .335 112 .308 .208 20.6% 5.2% 1.1
OF Carlos Gomez .287 22 .366 131 .350 .193 22.1% 7.7% 5.3
OF Ryan Braun .308 26 .368 140 .378 .220 18.2% 8.9% 4.5
OF Gerardo Parra .270 5 .309 86 .312 .122 17.7% 7.0% 1.0
C Martin Maldonado .241 3 .311 97 .322 .137 22.0% 9.1% 0.4
INF Elian Herrera .231 0 .269 66 .274 .071 25.4% 3.4% -0.3
OF Logan Schafer .210 1 .250 51 .281 .099 19.8% 7.7% -0.2
OF Shane Peterson .271 3 .315 98 .329 .100 24.0% 9.1% 0.2
INF Luis Jimenez .236 1 .270 79 .276 .115 21.0% 2.1% -0.3
Total   .264 138 .318 100 .322 .140 18.9% 6.8% 22.7

As an offense, the Brewers will be right around league average, which is an upgrade from 2014. The team’s OBP and wOBA should be slightly better, thanks to a hopefully healthy Braun and with Lind now in the fold. However, walk rate will continue to haunt the Brewers.

I have only two players reaching the 20 home run plateau, but Khris Davis and even Lind could easily hit that number. Davis will need to improve on the changeup, though.

There are a few other players I’d like to talk more about to give you a better understanding of why I believe they’ll perform like my projections predict.

Ryan Braun

A lot of Braun’s struggles last season can be blamed on his thumb, and if you think performance-enhancing drugs had anything to do with it, you clearly didn’t watch enough Brewers’ games. And that’s not me being biased. I’ll never wear his jersey again because of what he did. His thumb numbness made it hard for him to pull the ball, and he would roll over on it more times than not. Braun’s career average when pulling the ball sits at .406, but he hit just .298 on balls to left field in ’14. Imagine swinging at an inside pitch without being able to feel your thumb. It just sounds brutal. If Braun’s thumb is healthy (all signs point to that it is), he should return to MVP-form. His WAR would’ve been higher if not for his lackluster defense in right field (-6.6 UZR).

Carlos Gomez

As long as the Brewers compete, Gomez has a real chance to take home the 2015 MVP award. His projected 5.3 WAR is the highest on the Brewers, not only because I believe his walk rate (and in turn his OBP ) will increase, but because his defensive stats should get a boost after an uncharacteristically low performance last season.

Scooter Gennett

I went more in-depth of my expected woes for Gennett here, but the fact is, he can’t hit left-handed pitchers. Everyone keeps bringing up the small sample size argument, which is just fine and dandy until you look at his numbers against southpaws in the minors. There’s no small sample size there, and he was terrible. Gennett can “laugh at his splits” all he wants, but being without a platoon partner is really going to hurt him, and the Brewers will regret not finding one if they, in fact, end up sticking with him. Frankly, Gennett will be a below-average hitter in 2015.

Adam Lind

Acquiring Lind was maybe the best low-key acquisition of the winter. Finally, the Brewers have someone to shore up first base, and finally, the Brewers have a left-handed power hitter who can actually get on base (.369 OBP over the last two seasons). His 7.8% walk rate would be a welcome site to a lineup that doesn’t walk. I like Lind a little more than Steamer does when it comes to OBP and wOBA, but Steamer projects him to have 21 home runs while I have him hitting 18. His horrible defense will cost the Brewers a few runs/wins, which is why I have him as a 1.5 win player.

Shane Peterson

Peterson’s my sleeper, and should ultimately replace Schafer on the bench (fingers crossed). Peterson’s one of those rare players that can man center field, and then move to first base the next day. Versatile is the word. He has pop in his bat and should maintain a somewhat okay OBP in spite of his Mount Everest strikeout rate.

 

There you have it. My pitcher projections will be out in the next couple of days as well, so make sure you give them a good look over as you wait for this monstrosity of a winter to be over.

If you have any questions about my projections, please comment or find me on Twitter

Constructing the best possible Brewers’ batting order

Not many baseball teams, if any, construct their lineup correctly.

Well, correctly as deemed by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Litchman and Andrew Dolphin of the statistical bible “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball”. If you want to learn things like run expectancy, leveraging relievers, platoon splits and, wait for it, building a batting order, then this is the book for you. It is so insightful and eye-opening that it should be on every GM’s desk. Did you hear that, Doug? Read it.

But enough advocacy (I promise my endorsement was not compensated in any way). Based on “The Book”, I’m going to attempt to build the Milwaukee Brewers’ batting order that will produce the absolute most runs down to the smallest decimal point. Instead of essentially rewriting “The Book” to explain why my batting order looks the way it does, I’m going to provide you with a couple of snippets from it. That way, I won’t be sued for plagiarism, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Let’s begin.

The Book Says: Your best three hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.

According to this, there’s no way in K-Rod’s leg kick Ryan Braun should be batting in the three-hole as he is clearly one of the Brewers’ top three hitters (best, probably). And this makes sense. Hitters in the one, two and four spots have higher run values over the three spot when it comes to singles, doubles and triples (home runs come out about even). For example, when you modify run values by plate appearances, if a two-hole hitter hits a double, it’s worth .799 runs versus .779 runs it’d be worth from a three-hole hitter. The difference is microscopic, but hey, I want the best possible lineup.

I now have to decide who the best three hitters on the Brewers are and put them in slots #1, #2 and #4 in order to utilize my lineup most effectively. I want my first two hitters to be capable of drawing walks. Therefore, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez will take the top two spots, with Braun coming in at the cleanup position. Lucroy (10.1 BB%) and Gomez (7.3 BB%) walked the most among the Brewers last year, and since home runs are worth the highest run total from the cleanup spot, Braun is the clear candidate there (his home run totals should rebound in ’15).

You may be wondering why I decided to bat Lucroy ahead of Gomez. It’s simple, really. Lucroy walks more and strikes out at a lesser rate.

But who are the Brewers fourth- and fifth-best hitters? I’m going with Aramis Ramirez and Adam Lind. Compared to the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup, they’re light years ahead in terms of offense. They can both hit for power and put up respectable averages. I’ll decide where to put them in my order after we talk more about what “The Book” has to say.

The Book Says: Worry about the strikeout only if you have the opportunity to use a pinch hitter or reliever. Don’t consider the strikeout, or the ability of the hitter to move runners over on outs, when constructing your starting lineup.

I shouldn’t care if Gomez strikes out a ton, so him hitting in the two slot is okay. At the very least, he’ll stay out of the double play. Speaking of which:

The Book Says: The propensity to ground into, or avoid, double plays is an important consideration for players at the extreme double play levels. It is also an important consideration for leadoff hitters in the NL.

The three-hole hitter comes to the plate a lot more with two outs than the five-hole hitter, meaning he has a smaller chance of grounding into two outs. Lind grounded into eight double plays in 2014, and 20 the year before that, but, luckily, 2013 was an extreme and that number should shrink. The last three years prior to that, he averaged 10.6 double plays. In comparison, Ramirez grounded into 18 double plays in 2014, and with his age climbing the staircase and concurrent leg problems, he should post a number similar to that. Since Ramirez has a knack for double plays, the three spot is best suited for him, with Lind following Braun in the five spot.

Since I’ve determined hitters one through five, that only leaves Khris Davis, Jean Segura, Scooter Gennett and the pitcher, and “The Book” tells me to put them in descending order of quality. While doing that, I also want to split up the lefty (Gennett) and put Davis behind Ramirez to reinforce the power.

Now comes the Tony La Russa part.

The Book Says: The second leadoff hitter theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs a year.

Segura has an insurmountable ground ball rate (59.6%), and with a player like Gennett who hits a lot of singles, it would be foolish to place Segura behind him. A pitcher is more likely to strikeout, and one out is always better than two. Therefore, the pitcher should bat eighth and Segura will assume the role of the second leadoff hitter.

Here’s the finished product.

 

1. Jonathan Lucroy

2. Carlos Gomez

3. Aramis Ramirez

4. Ryan Braun

5. Adam Lind

6. Khris Davis

7. Scooter Gennett

8. Pitcher

9. Jean Segura

 

This will not be what the Brewers’ lineup looks like next season, probably at any point. I’m saying this without any prior knowledge, but it wouldn’t be a bombshell if Ron Roenicke has never heard of “The Book”. He’s more of an old-school guy and shies away from the analytics, except for when it comes to moving his infielders all over the place.

And although there’s not a butterfly’s wings chance of this batting order being written on the lineup card come the season, this lineup would most likely score more runs than any other combination.

Please explain your MVP ballot, Tom Haudricourt

The Most Valuable Player award was given out last night to deserving candidates Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. There is really no argument that they weren’t the correct choices. But, when I began looking at how each writer voted, I was startled when I came across the ballot for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s own Brewers beat writer, Tom Haudricourt.

Haudricourt is no slouch with the pen. He was named Wisconsin Sports Writer of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and is obviously extremely knowledgeable about the Milwaukee Brewers. With that being said, however, I’m calling his 2014 MVP ballot into question.

Here’s how he voted:

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
5. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
6. Anthony Rendon, Washington
7. Buster Posey, San Francisco
8. Matt Holliday, St. Louis
9. Hunter Pence, San Francisco
10. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh

I really have no problem with anyone on the list or how they were ordered. I mean, Matt Holliday would have been six miles away from my ballot, but I’m not going to argue about it. However, how Haudricourt gave Adrian Gonzalez a fourth-place vote is beyond me. How he voted for him ahead of Jonathan Lucroy is even more utterly ridiculous.

Gonzalez finished seventh overall in the MVP race, but Haudricourt gave him the highest nod. Here’s how many other votes Gonzalez received.

1st: 0 votes
2nd: 0 votes
3rd: 0 votes
4th: 1 vote
5th: 4 votes
6th: 2 votes
7th: 0 votes
8th: 3 votes
9th: 3 votes
10th: 1 vote

You can find the complete National League ballot here.

Haudricourt clearly overvalued Gonzalez, as 14 of the 30 writers didn’t even cast a vote for him. In Haudricourt’s explanation of his picks, he fails to even mention Lucroy or Gonzalez, so we really have no idea what he was thinking or where he was coming from. It left a lot to be desired. So, I’ll attempt to break it down a bit and to try to figure out what inspired Haudricourt to vote the way he did.

Gonzalez led MLB in runs batted in and was among the top 20 in home runs this past season. Those were probably the two leading factors that went into Haudricourt’s decision. And that’s where he went wrong. RBIs are relatively useless and don’t tell us much about the skill set of a player. For example, Ryan Howard racked up 95 RBI last season, and yet, finished with a negative WAR.

The silly thing is, Haudricourt didn’t even need to use a sabermetric stat to come to the realization that Gonzalez wasn’t worthy of an MVP vote. Gonzalez’s on-base percentage of .335 just barely placed him in the top 70. Does that sound MVP-worthy to you?

But it’s not that Haudricourt voted for Gonzalez that grinds my gears, it’s the fact that he thought Gonzalez had a better season than Lucroy. There is honestly no argument that can be made defending that. Lucroy received one second-place vote (from FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron), 13 fourth-place votes and six fifth-place votes, among a few others. Only two ludicrous writers left him off their ballots. What I’m trying to say is, almost every writer valued Lucroy over Gonzalez, except Haudricourt.

Now, I understand Haudricourt isn’t sabermetric-savvy, so he probably doesn’t care about pitch framing. And that’s too bad, because that’s where a lot of Lucroy’s value comes from. According to StatCorner, he saved 22 runs by expanding the strike zone for his pitcher.

But let’s look solely at hitting. Based on this table, try to figure out who had the better season.

wOBA wRC+ OBP BB% K%
Jonathan Lucroy .368 133 .373 10.1% 10.8%
Adrian Gonzalez .351 128 .335 8.5% 17.0%

Lucroy wins hands down. To even further Lucroy’s cause, he and Gonzalez had almost an identical amount of plate appearances. Did I mention that Lucroy is a catcher?

Not much more needs to be said on the matter. It’s a shame Lucroy was robbed by Haudricourt. He deserved better from his beat writer, fair and simple.

Strikeouts, walks and Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy will get some MVP votes and he should have won a Gold Glove in 2014, but this is apparently Yadier Molina‘s world and we all suffer live in it. That is Major League Baseball’s official slogan, is it not? Nevertheless, I don’t really want to get into a ring and duke it out with a Cardinals fan, so I’m going to stop my sarcastic tone right now…at least during this post.

What I’m trying to say is Lucroy is a heck of a ballplayer. He’s improved in almost every season, and part of that has been because he’s been able to stay healthy. Since his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand in 2012, he’s played in 300 out of 324 possible regular season games over the last two years. That’s crazy for a position player, but for a catcher, that’s certifiably insane.

But let’s get back to his improvement, particularly when it comes to strikeouts and walks.

G BB% K% OBP
2010 75 6.1% 14.8% .300
2011 136 6.2% 21.2% .313
2012 96 6.4% 12.7% .368
2013 147 7.9% 11.9% .340
2014 153 10.1% 10.8% .373

Each season, Lucroy has drawn more walks than the last, and has reduced his strikeouts since 2011. He’s doesn’t swing at pitches outside of the strike zone nearly as often and has even taken more strikes in the zone.

Lucroy saw 2,551 pitches last season. Of the 146 hitters who qualified, only 27 saw more and none of them were catchers. However, that’s a bit of an unfair assessment because no catcher came even close to the number of plate appearances Lucroy racked up. So, because Lucroy’s being more selective at the plate, his on-base percentage has skyrocketed and he ended up with top 20 finish in the OBP race in 2014 (is that even a thing?).

The 28-year-old catcher has also stopped swinging and missing. Just like his BB%, his whiff rate has fallen each year in the bigs. With that being said, though, when Lucroy does strike out, he does so on a pitch he misses on. He struck out 71 times last season and 46 of those were on swinging strikes. But that just means his eye at the plate is fantastic.

There’s so much more I can say about the man, but that’s for another time. And I’m sure if Lucroy continues to decrease his strikeout rate and increase his walks, I’ll be right back here next year writing about the same thing. I’ll try and think of a better title, though.