Tag Archives: Mike Fiers

Free agent targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Winter Meetings are set to begin next week, and there should be a flurry of movement almost immediately. Well, that should be the case once Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani figure out where they want to play ball in 2018. Most baseball scribes seem to think once those two sign, the free agent floodgates will open, and for the teams out on the Stanton and Otani sweepstakes, it should be extremely exciting.

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams. Otani has already ruled out Milwaukee as a possible destination, and there’s just no way they can afford to take on Stanton’s salary. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to spend. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta, who is one of the top free agent hurlers on the market. And while I think signing Arrieta will eventually be a tremendous mistake, there are still many options — both in the hitting and pitching department — that should pique the Brewers’ interest. The Brewers didn’t lose many players to free agency this offseason, though the few players who left will leave big holes on the roster. Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak both elected free agency, although both have expressed interest on returning, a scenario the Brewers would likely welcome with open arms.

Here are a few free agents that I think the Brewers should target.

SP Alex Cobb

The free agent starting pitching market isn’t all that deep, but there are a few promising names, and Cobb is my favorite option. Cobb is entering his age-30 season and should be right in the middle of his prime years. The right-hander had a bit of a down campaign in 2017, finishing with a respectable 3.66 ERA, but a less impressive 4.16 FIP and 4.24 xFIP. Yet, he’s only two years removed from his second-consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERA. He has the potential to be a true No. 1 ace, and he would immediately fill that void in Milwaukee, especially considering Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a good chunk of 2018.

In order to revert back to his dominant days, the former Rays’ hurler will need to improve his whiff numbers. His 6.7% swinging strike numbers in 2017 was a career low, and the majority of his other plate discipline numbers suffered from previous years as well. One down year in the peripheral stats department shouldn’t discourage the Brewers from any interest, though. He’s still considered one of the top arms on the market.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Cobb to receive a four-year, $48 million contract, which is something the Brewers should have no problem offering. He does, however, come with some injury risk. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season and made just five starts the following year due to Tommy John surgery. Still, his track record and arm potential is worth the risk.

2B Neil Walker

This is somewhat obvious, as Walker played 38 games with the Brewers in 2017 after being acquired from the Mets. But second base is one of the biggest holes Milwaukee needs to focus on this winter. The team tendered Jonathan Villar and re-signed Eric Sogard, but expecting those two to adequately hold down second base for 162 games is a bit of a stretch. Villar — who broke out in 2016 — was pitiful a year later, and, as much as I love the guy, Sogard is most useful off the bench or in a utility role.

Walker should be Milwaukee’s top target if they want to compete again. And the 32 year old clearly likes hitting in Miller Park. After putting up a 108 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances for New York, Walker blasted his way to a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. The dimensions of Miller Park agree with him.

MLB Trade Rumors projects just a two-year deal worth $11 million for the veteran, though the Brewers might be wise to overpay for his production. The alternative is just not good enough for a hopeful contender.

SP Chris Tillman

As a cheaper and less-talented option than Cobb, the Brewers should give Chris Tillman a call. Even though it seems like Tillman has been around since the dawn of time, he’s actually only 29 years old, and should still have plenty left in the tank. It’s true that had the worst season of his career in 2017, and yes, it’s true his 14.2% strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2010 — his second year in the bigs. Regardless of all that, Tillman represents a terrific bounce-back option. In 2016, he posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP, which is eerily similar to Zach Davies‘ most recent stat line.

If the Brewers were to sign the righty, it would most likely be on a short-term deal with a team option. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged at receiving just a one-year deal worth $11 million. With Nelson out of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future, Tillman would slide in toward the back of the rotation, with his upside being a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

He’s not the sexiest name on the open market, but he’s a reclamation project that David Stearns loves. He’d be more than useful in Milwaukee’s shallow rotation.

Honorable Mentions

Anthony Swarzak: He resurrected his career and has turned himself into a dominant reliever. He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee, and the Brewers need bullpen help.

Mike Fiers: The Brewers should bring Fiers home, like they did with Jeremy Jeffress. His stats with Houston over the past two years aren’t pretty, but I fully believe he can help Milwaukee in 2018.

Tommy Hunter: Another pitcher on my list, but that’s the main asset the Brewers should covet. Hunter has been a stud reliever since making the switch from the rotation in 2013, and while it could take a decent chunk of change to get Hunter to Milwaukee, he would greatly improve the Brewers’ bullpen.

Breaking down the trade that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston

The best overall player and the best starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers are no longer on the Milwaukee Brewers. Both Carlos Gomez (1.7 WAR) and Mike Fiers (1.7 WAR) were shipped off to the Houston Astros in exchange for four minor league prospects. The rebuilding and retooling has officially begun in Milwaukee, and it’s a glorious thing. Sure, seeing Gomez, a fan favorite, and Fiers, my personal favorite, leave is tough to deal with as fans, but knowing it’s for the greater good makes it easier to handle.

Other than Jonathan Lucroy, Gomez was the most highly valued hitter and fielder on the Brewers. Gomez been worth 17.9 WAR over the past three and a half seasons and has saved 88 runs defensively. He becomes a free agent after the 2016 season, and the Brewers had little chance of re-signing him (he is a Scott Boras client after all). Trading him now was absolutely the right move.

The Astros also received a solid pitcher in Fiers. He’s actually been the 43rd-best starting pitcher in 2015, meaning he’s been more valuable than Mike Leake, who was just traded to the San Francisco Giants, and Yovani Gallardo, who’s name came up in multiple trade discussions. Trading Fiers came as a bit of a surprise to some because he’s a cheap pitcher who is under team control for basically forever. However, if the Brewers didn’t include Fiers in the deal, the Astros never would have sent the star prospect of the trade, Brett Phillips, to Milwaukee.

So, let’s break down each of the four prospects the Brewers received as we get excited for the future of the organization.

OF Brett Phillips

Phillips was Houston’s No. 2 prospect coming into the 2015 season. He’s now Milwaukee’s No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com. A lot of knowledgeable people around baseball believe he’s a future All-Star. He has a cannon for an arm out in center field, but most of the hype that surrounds him is because of his bat. Phillips absolutely obliterated baseballs in High-A ball this season (15 home runs and a .417 wOBA) before being promoted to Double-A. The power hasn’t shown up there yet (just one home run), but a .372 OBP has contributed to a 133 wRC+. Like the recently departed Gomez, Phillips also has great speed and could be a 15-20 stolen base guy in the majors. Phillips is exactly the kind of player you want to build your team around.

OF Domingo Santana

While everyone is smitten over Phillips, Domingo Santana is the guy who I’m most excited about. If everything goes right, I think he can turn into one of the best players in all of baseball. Yeah, you read that right. Mark it down. He has all the talent to make it happen. In 75 games in Triple-A this season, Santana posted an insane on-base percentage of .426. And that’s with striking out almost 28% of the time. He has power and draws a fair amount of walks. The only problem with Santana is his lack of contact, which is why he’s being considered as a wild card and a player who’s difficult to project. Santana made contact on just 71.6% of pitches inside the zone. That’s not good. At all. His contact problems are very worrisome as he enters the big leagues. But if he can start putting the bat on the ball with more consistency, watch out. He’s 23, so don’t be surprised if you see him up with the Brewers in September, and starting in 2016.

LHP Josh Hader

Josh Hader has put together a very nice season in Double-A this year, posting a 3.17 ERA and 3.46 FIP. He’s also struck out 9.51 batters per nine innings. He has a decent fastball and changeup, but his slider isn’t as effective as it should be. If we’re talking about upside, I see Hader as a back-of-the-rotation guy. His strikeout numbers are, of course, promising, but he has control issues and isn’t an overpowering pitcher. But similar to Fiers, Hader hides the ball well, making his fastball, which usually sits in the low 90s, look much faster.

RHP Adrian Houser

By his minor-league numbers alone, there’s not much that excites about Adrian Houser. He’s really struggled during his short time in Double-A, mainly due to the fact he can’t keep the ball in the park and walks far too many hitters while not striking out enough. At the very best, Houser will be an OK reliever if and when he reaches the big leagues. But don’t expect to see him in Milwaukee any time soon. He has a lot to work on.

***

This was a tremendous trade for both organizations, but for the Brewers, it makes a weak farm system considerably better. Both Phillips and Santana are top-5 prospects, and the potential is there with Hader and Houser. Doug Melvin deserves a pat on the back.

A quick look at Mike Fiers’ BABIP

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know I have an unhealthy obsession with Mike Fiers. And you probably know that even though his season didn’t start off overly well with his high ERA and all, I maintained my position; Mike Fiers is quite good.

Much of Fiers’ poor performances had to do with his bad luck. Yes, I’m blaming luck. The guy is a strikeout pitcher, meaning he should generate weaker contact than a pitcher who doesn’t rack up the punch-outs. Weaker contact means less base hits. But up until his last handful of starts, hitters were finding holes everywhere, and Fiers’ BABIP was through the roof. Now, however, it’s starting to normalize, and his stats are starting to take notice.

Capture

His bad luck wasn’t going to last forever, but if there’s still doubters out there who refuse to jump on my Fiers’ bandwagon, I’ll leave you with this.

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.

 

Pitcher projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers

Find my hitter projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers here

Warning: Below is the same opening I used for my hitter projections (lazy is my name), so feel free to skip it and scroll down to the projections.

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 pitcher projections for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers (subject to change before the season commences).

Position Name ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
SP Yovani Gallardo 3.94 4.06 3.70 3.72 23 17.1% 7.8% 52.0% 1.5
SP Kyle Lohse 3.72 3.91 4.11 4.12 24 14.9% 4.3% 39.8% 1.9
SP Matt Garza 3.39 3.64 3.99 3.76 14 21.2% 6.6% 42.5% 2.0
SP Wily Peralta 4.01 4.09 3.81 3.99 23 20.0% 8.5% 52.6% 1.6
SP Mike Fiers 3.09 3.33 3.29 3.21 15 26.2% 7.0% 34.0% 3.1
SP Will Smith 3.29 3.34 3.15 2.65 8 31.3% 9.2% 45.1% 0.6
RP Jeremy Jeffress 2.62 3.11 3.00 2.59 4 21.9% 9.6% 57.4% 1.0
RP Brandon Kintzler 3.91 4.34 3.83 3.75 7 15.4% 7.7% 57.2% -0.5
RP Jonathan Broxton 3.55 3.49 3.72 3.80 6 20.0% 6.9% 47.3% 0.4
RP Rob Wooten 4.08 3.32 3.84 3.43 3 17.6% 6.1% 48.1% 0.2
RP Jim Henderson 3.45 3.70 2.99 2.79 5 27.1% 9.2% 34.0% 0.1
RP Tyler Thornburg 4.11 3.86 4.29 4.30 3 19.2% 8.5% 36.2% 0.0
RP Jimmy Nelson 4.08 4.17 3.80 3.91 10 19.7% 8.3% 50.7% -0.1
3.63 3.72 3.66 3.54 145 20.9% 7.7% 45.9% 11.7

Let’s start by comparing my projections to last season’s statistics. As a team, the Brewers had a 3.67 team ERA, 3.89 FIP and 3.65 FIP, equaling 11 wins. My projections have them outperforming last year, but not by much (11.5 WAR). Much of this is due to my belief in Mike Fiers and Jeremy Jeffress breaking out.

As far as the rotation goes, I foresee home runs being a big issue (some of Jimmy Nelson’s projected home runs are as a starter), like it was in 2014. Kyle Lohse will struggle with keeping the ball in the yard (fastball velocity has gone down in three straight seasons) and same goes for Yovani Gallardo who has seen his HR/FB ratio increase in back-to-back seasons (I still think the Brewers would be wise to trade him). Wily Peralta had a 3.53 ERA but a 4.11 FIP in ’14, and his high FIP is why I see his ERA going back up. I’m putting a lot of faith in Garza this year, as I think he’ll be the second-best pitcher in Milwaukee’s rotation. He just needs to stay healthy.

Now for the bullpen. Jeffress is going to kill it, and Will Smith’s strikeout rate will be through the roof. I like Rob Wooten a lot as a reliever, but his FIP has always outperformed his ERA, meaning he might just be one of those players with a better FIP than ERA. Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are huge question marks health wise, so as soon as I know more about their ability to throw a ball without pain, my projections may change.

Overall, Brewers’ pitchers will be right around league average in 2015, and that’s with Fiers becoming an ace. If I’m wrong about that, the rotation could/will be a whole different story.

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

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.