Tag Archives: Milwaukee Brewers

Eric Sogard is having some kind of season

When I was a kid, I always knew that one day I would be writing about Eric Sogard. In fact, it was a dream of mine. Those two sentences are a lie. I never wanted to write about him, and I don’t really want to write about him right now, because what I’m about to write doesn’t show him in a positive light, and I’m not really a big fan of writing negative pieces.

Yet here I am, and there is Sogard, currently sitting with a .114/.222/.152 slash line. Or if you’d prefer (I prefer), a 3 wRC+. You absolutely read that right. He is producing 97 percent fewer runs than the league average batter. If you think that must be the worst mark in baseball, well, you’re darn close. Of players with at least 90 MLB plate appearances in 2018, only Byron Buxton (-3 wRC+) and Trayce Thompson (2 wRC+) have been more useless at the plate. Since 1990, there have been only 21 players who have finished a season with a lower wRC+ than 3 (minimum 90 plate appearances). The record for the lowest wRC+ during that span goes to Felix Martinez of the 1998 Mariners with a -12 wRC+. Sogard probably won’t match that, but the fact remains he’s having one of the worst seasons at the plate in the last 30 years.

Sogard was a surprising bright spot on a surprising Brewers team last season. He set career highs in almost every offensive category, and finished the year with a mountain-high .390 on-base percentage. Regression was in his future, and while Sogard has never even been a league-average hitter, I don’t think anyone saw this type of regression coming.

The 32-year-old infielder has appeared in 38 games. He has one game with multiple hits, and that came on April 9. Also on April 9, he hit two doubles, which accounted for 66 percent of his extra-base hits this season. That would seem odd until you realize he has just nine total hits on the season. And if I have use the 90 plate appearance threshold once again, Sogard’s nine hits are the fewest in baseball.

Sogard was aided by a career-high .311 batting average on balls in play in 2017, despite having a rather paltry exit velocity. Take a look at this chart.

Avg Exit Velocity BABIP
2017 83.5 .311
2018 83.6 .153

He’s hitting the ball with almost the exact same force as he did a year ago, but the outcomes have been much different. Hitting the ball at a speed of 83 mph is not good. His exit velocity last season ranked 260th. This year it ranks 335th. His .311 BABIP was unbelievably lucky. Above everything else, Sogard’s struggles — not only now, but for his career — can be blamed on his inability to generate hard contact.

The Milwaukee Brewers just traded for infielder Brad Miller, a move that should ultimately end Sogard’s time on the 25-man roster. It should end his time in Milwaukee’s organization, but I’m sure David Stearns would have no problem sending him to the minors to try and get him right. Sogard would have to accept the assignment, but he’s already done it once before this season.

Sogard was fun last season. Sogard was a good player last season. But good things always come to an end, and in Sogard’s case, it came quick.

Who are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

Hit a pinch-hit grand slam one day. Get sent to the minors and subsequently traded the next. That’s more or less the life of a fringe MLB player, and that’s exactly what happened to Ji-Man Choi on Sunday evening when he was shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for infielder Brad Miller and cash considerations.

This trade is an obvious one. With Jesus Aguilar hitting better than the likes of Nolan Arenado and Joey Votto, and Eric Thames ready to come off the disabled list in the very near future, the Brewers just didn’t have a spot for another first baseman. His signing this offseason was puzzling for that reason alone, unless David Stearns’ goal from the get-go was to use him as trade bait. If so, mission accomplished. In 32 plate appearances, Choi hit two home runs and finished his Brewers career with a 98 wRC+, and that enticed the Rays enough to send Miller — who the team had already designated for assignment — to Milwaukee.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Brad Miller?

The Brewers acquired Miller to play shortstop and/or second base, although the 28 year old hasn’t logged a game at short since the 2016 season, when he posted -14 defensive runs saved (DRS). According to DRS, Miller was the second-worst fielding shortstop during that year, behind only Alexei Ramirez. But Miller will have to get reacquainted with the position soon if the Brewers expect any offensive production from shortstop going forward. Defensive ace and current starting shortstop Orlando Arcia has eight walks, 39 strikeouts and a 37 wRC+. His backup, Eric Sogard, has a wRC+ of 3. Three. That means he’s been 97 percent worse than league average. In reality, he has no business being on a major-league roster right now.

And that’s where Miller comes in. He won’t impress with his batting average and he won’t get on base at a high clip, but he has power, and he’s a considerable upgrade over Arica and Sogard. And that’s all the Brewers really need. In 2016, Miller went deep 30 times, but has just 14 home runs in 581 plate appearances since. The former second round draft pick owns a career 100 wRC+, so he’s the definition of a league-average hitter, and a league-average hitter in an offense that already includes Lorenzo Cain (124 wRC+), Christian Yelich (133) and Travis Shaw (124) will be welcomed with open arms. He will make the offense better.

Miller’s defense will be tough to watch at times, but if he can make up for it at least a little with his bat, he’ll help a team that seems destined for the playoffs.

What happened to Domingo Santana’s power?

Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last season because he’s a good player with power. Domingo Santana has one home run this season. It’s May 14.

Before going any further, here’s a table of how Santana performed from the beginning of 2017 to May 13 of the same year, along with nearly the same range of dates from this season.

G PA AVG OBP ISO wRC+ 2B 3B HR
4/3/2017 to 5/13/2017 34 129 .255 .357 .191 110 6 0 5
3/29/2018 to 5/13/2018 37 138 .273 .355 .066 92 5 0 1

Santana’s playing time is almost identical, and thanks to three hits — including a double — in five trips Sunday versus the Rockies, his on-base percentage is a mirror image, as well. Of everything on the table, though, it’s his power numbers that draw the most attention, particularly in the home run and isolated power department, and it’s clear Santana has gotten off to an excruciating slow start.

Now, this table doesn’t tell us much without context, which is why I’m about to give you context. I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t. There’s a handful of reasons why Santana has been no power threat whatsoever at the plate, with one in particular that’s quite fascinating. But for now, let’s look at his batted ball profile.

Nearly 31 percent of Santana’s fly balls landed over the fence in 2017. Only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finished with higher home-run-to-fly-ball ratios, and while that’s amazing company to share, I think we can all agree Santana doesn’t belong in that group. Negative regression was bound to happen. However, that regression has overcompensated. Santana’s HR/FB% currently sits at 5.3 percent. That minuscule number won’t last, but it is discouraging, especially when you realize Santana is hitting the ball on the ground more than ever before.

Milwaukee’s right fielder entered the season with a career ground-ball rate of 43.4 percent. He hit 44.9 percent of his batted balls on the ground a year ago, while both his line-drive rate and fly-ball rate flirted around 27.5 percent. That has completely changed. Currently, Santana is hitting the ball on the ground over 54 percent of the time, and that just happens to be the 13th-highest mark of every qualified hitter in Major League Baseball. For a guy who’s considered a power hitter, that’s not exactly a good stat to have next to his name. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate has fallen to 22.9 percent.

What happened? Why is he hitting more ground balls? Well, the biggest reason is that Santana is having a tough time handling inside pitches. This is the interesting part. Get ready for some visuals.

The first visual shows a breakdown of Santana’s isolated power numbers based on pitch location in 2017 and 2018. (Click on picture of enhanced view.)

Last season Santana crushed inside pitches. Especially the low, inside ones that found the strike zone. This year? Different story. Despite his success last year, pitchers are testing him even more inside, and more often than not, they’re finding success. Take a look at the same breakdown except with grounders.

In the age of the launch angle revolution, Santana has been one of the few outcasts this season. Instead of lifting those balls like he’s been known to do, Santana has been weakly rolling over them and driving them into the ground at an insanely high rate. His launch angle has dropped from 10.5 degrees to 9.9 degrees. Yes, the overall sample size is still relatively small, but over 130 plate appearances is nothing to scoff at. Santana’s seeing more inside fastballs than what he’s normally accustomed to, but he’s been very capable against fastballs during his career (.243 ISO against four-seam fastballs), so that can’t be used as an excuse. Maybe Santana isn’t seeing the ball as well or maybe his bat speed has slowed down, but this has become a problem.

Defense has always been a black mark on Santana’s record, and if you take away his ability to hit home runs, he turns into a league-average player at the very best. He needs to hit home runs in order to be serviceable. He needs to hit home runs if he expects Counsell to write his name on the lineup card every day. He needs to hit home runs. Period. And that starts with him figuring out a way to not only start elevating the ball again, but also how to once again remaster the inside pitch.

Does Eric Thames deserve the “Mr. April” nickname?

There have been countless marvelous nicknames handed out in baseball history. Of all the major sports, baseball is a step above the rest when it comes to imaginative monikers. There’s The Great Bambino, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Hammerin’ Hank and Mr. October. There’s also The Big Hurt, The Big Unit and Kung Fu Panda, along with numerous other creative titles. In Milwaukee, we currently call Travis Shaw “The Mayor of Ding Dong City”, and we used to swoon over El Caballo (Carlos Lee) back in his playing days. And now, after another powerful April, we’ve given out another nickname to Eric Thames.

Over the past two seasons, the Brewers first baseman has 18 home runs in the month of April. He crushed 11 in April 2017 during his return to Major League Baseball, and as of April 22, he has seven over-the-wall hits in 2018. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been nothing short of phenomenal during the season’s opening month, but does he really deserve the “Mr. April” nickname that so many people — myself included — have called him? Let’s find out.

Before the 2017 season, the last time Thames played professionally in the states was in 2013, when he spent time in the Orioles’ and Mariners’ minor-league systems. He had just 684 major-league plate appearances in his career up to that point, and he eventually decided to take his talents to Korea. Therefore, because Thames’ body of work is so small, it would be unfair to compare him to players with much larger sample sizes. Like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, for example. Bonds is the owner of the award for most home runs during the season’s first month in MLB history with 117, and Pujols is a close second with 107. Thames has 20 April home runs. To his credit, though. Bonds and Pujols have more plate appearances in April alone than Thames does across his entire career. So, for the sake of this argument, I’m just going to be looking at the last two seasons. It’s not perfect, but who cares?

Let’s first start by looking at Thames’ performance the last two Aprils. (Note: When I say April, I’m including March, as well).

PA Avg OBP wOBA wRC+ HR
172 .299 .414 .468 194 18

Those numbers are impressive. Really impressive, actually. Thames has created 94 percent more runs than league average in the month of April, and has hit just as many home runs as Joe Mauer has in the last two full seasons combined. Granted, Mauer isn’t necessarily considered a power hitter, but you get the point.

Thames has been fantastic in April. I’ve established that numerous times in this article already, and I’m only 383 words in. We still haven’t gotten to the main question, though; does Thames deserve the Mr. April nickname? If he hasn’t been the best hitter in that month over the last two seasons, he shouldn’t be blessed with that moniker. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. I realize that two years is an incredibly small sample size, especially when handing out a nickname, but let’s just have some fun with it.

The three categories I’ve chosen to evaluate are home runs, isolated power percentage and OPS. I would prefer to use wRC+ and wOBA, but Baseball Reference’s Play Index fails to list those as options, so isolated power and OPS are the next best things. If Thames is leading the way in all three of those offensive categories, then I will admit he absolutely deserves the nickname.

Here are the home run leaders in April since the beginning of 2017:

Rank Name HR
1 Eric Thames 18
2 Bryce Harper 17
3 Aaron Judge 16
4 Mike Trout 15
5 Khris Davis 15
6 Charlie Blackmon 14
7 Ryan Zimmerman 14
8 Joey Gallo 13
9 Ryan Braun 12
10 Mike Moustakas 12

Thames wins this one. Bryce Harper and the powerful Aaron Judge are right on his heels, though, and both could easily surpass him before this month’s up. Now, let’s look at the isolated power numbers (minimum 100 plate appearances).

Rank Name ISO
1 Eric Thames .441
2 Bryce Haprer .382
3 Aaron Judge .374
4 Mike Trout .350
5 Ryan Zimmerman .350
6 Scott Schebler .340
7 Charlie Blackmon .327
8 Miguel Sano .326
9 Nelson Cruz .323
10 Matt Kemp .321

The top four are the exact same as the home-run list, but there’s a few new names toward the bottom of the list, with Matt Kemp being the most surprising. Thames is once again on top of the leaderboard, and is well on his way to officially taking the Mr. April crown.

Here are the top 10 April OPS leaders over the last two years (minimum 100 plate appearances):

Rank Name OPS
1 Bryce Harper 1.217
2 Eric Thames 1.173
3 Aaron Judge 1.135
4 Freddie Freeman 1.124
5 Mike Trout 1.118
6 Eugenio Suarez 1.032
7 Ryan Zimmerman 1.029
8 Mitch Haniger 1.019
9 Nelson Cruz 1.000
10 Matt Kemp 0.996

An upset! Due to an incredible start to the season, Harper takes down Thames with a slightly better OPS.

However, even though I said Thames could only be nicknamed Mr. April if he leads in all three categories, I’m still going to give it to him. Because the fact is, he deserves it. In addition to Thames’ above accolades, he also ranks sixth in on-base percentage, third in total bases and fourth in runs created. In terms of offensive production and providing value with the bat, no one has been better than Thames in April since he made his triumphant return from Korea.

This isn’t the best way to determine the top hitter in a given month, and there’s obviously many more stats I could’ve dived into to further my research, but at the very minimum, it shows that calling Thames “Mr. April” actually makes a whole ton of sense. If he can put together three or four more Aprils of this magnitude, maybe the nickname will stick for years to come.

Until then, though, every time Thames comes to the plate as this month winds down, it’s a safe bet he’ll find success. After all, they don’t call him Mr. April for nothing.

***All stats are as of April 21, 2018

An early look at exit velocity

With the invention of StatCast, we have the capability to see just how hard a batter hits the ball. Being able to determine exit velocities has transformed the way we evaluate players, and it allows us to measure player performance on a more accurate level. In other words, StatCast is amazing.

According to my Baseball Savant query, there were 165,566 balls put in play in 2017. Of those, only 15,799 (10.4 percent) were hit with an exit speed of 100 mph or faster. Batters hit .651 with a whopping .844 wOBA on those balls, while they batted just .253 with a .249 wOBA on exit velocities that failed to reach the century mark. The lesson learned here: hit the ball hard.

Exit velocities can also let us know if a hitter is having good or bad luck. For example, if a hitter has a low batting average on balls in play but has a relatively high hard-hit rate, it’s likely the said hitter has been bitten by the bad luck bug. Chances are his misfortune will eventually turn in his favor. Unless, of course, he’s someone like Joey Gallo, who will always have a low BABIP because most of his batted balls go over the fence.

The Milwaukee Brewers just finished their first full week of the season, and currently sit in third place in the NL Central with a record of 5-5. And quite frankly, they’re lucky to have five wins. They just lost three of four to the Chicago Cubs, a series in which the Brewers managed just one hit with runners in scoring position. After a strong start in San Diego, Milwaukee’s bats have cooled off, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at the team’s exit velocities after 10 games to see which players are over performing/underperforming.

As a team, the Brewers rank 26th in average exit velocity with a mark of 86.4 mph. The Chicago White Sox lead baseball with an average of 91.8 mph. Individually, the average hitter hits the ball at 88.2 mph. Let’s look at Milwaukee’s hitters to determine who’s contributing to the team’s low velocity numbers.

Note: All stats are as of April 7. Sunday’s finale versus the Cubs is not included. All stats courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Player Balls In Play 2018 Avg Exit Velocity (mph) 2017 Avg Exit Velocity Difference wOBA xwOBA
Lorenzo Cain 32 89.9 89.1 0.8 .326 .353
Travis Shaw 28 86.1 88.3 -2.2 .320 .296
Jonathan Villar 22 86.7 86.7 0.0 .255 .222
Domingo Santana 21 90.1 89.3 0.8 .296 .293
Manny Pina 21 79.0 87.0 -8.0 .278 .329
Eric Thames 20 89.9 88.1 1.8 .403 .497
Orlando Arcia 20 82.0 85.3 -3.3 .169 .183
Christian Yelich 20 97.1 90.4 6.7 .418 .398
Ryan Braun 18 86.1 89.7 -3.6 .282 .315
Eric Sogard 8 80.9 83.5 -2.6 .175 .210
Jesus Aguilar 7 84.2 89.0 -4.8 .543 .460
Jett Bandy 6 91.5 85.2 6.3 .211 .314
Hernan Perez 5 85.2 84.1 1.1 .097 .182
Ji-Man Choi 1 99.0 93.6 5.4 1.232 .591

A few things stand out here.

  • Only four players have exit velocities that are better than league average, and one of them is Jett Bandy, who’s put just six balls in play so far.
  • The Brewers desperately need Christian Yelich back in the lineup. He ranks fourth in all of baseball in exit velocity and has a .474 BABIP.
  • Manny Pina is really struggling to make strong contact. His xwOBA is much higher than his wOBA, but the fact he’s averaging only 79 mph on batted balls is worrisome.
  • Ji-Man Choi made the most of his one at bat on Opening Day.
  • I thought Orlando Arcia would take a huge step forward in 2018, and although it’s still early into the season, he’s continually hitting soft grounder after soft grounder. He has a 60 percent ground-ball rate and a 40 percent soft-hit percentage.
  • Ryan Braun — aside from his late-inning home run heroics — has been miserable at the plate. He’s not hitting the ball hard and has a miniscule .158 BABIP
  • Eric Thames looks good at the plate, and the peripherals back it up.
  • Domingo Santana has crushed the ball, but hasn’t found any gaps yet. He has just one extra-base hit.
  • Lorenzo Cain leads the team with 11 batted balls of over 100 mph. His hardest hit ball was 111.6 mph off Brian Duensing that resulted in a double.
  • The Brewers have 48 batted balls that have reached 100 mph or faster off the bat. That’s the 11th most in baseball, which is strange considering how low they rank in average exit velocity.

The Brewers have a dangerous offense. The additions of Yelich and Cain have made their lineup a force to be reckoned with, but 10 games into the new season, the offense has struggled. And a lot of that has to do with the quality of its batted balls. It’s still early, so the numbers in the table are still fluctuating by large amounts with each new batted ball, but if in a month, Milwaukee’s exit velocity numbers are still in the gutter, then we may want to take more notice and start worrying.

RW23 hitter projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

Welcome to the second annual edition of the RW23 hitter projections. RW23 — creatively named after Rickie Weeks — was created in 2017 with the help of Mike Podhorzer and his book, “Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance.”

Below you’ll find the RW23 hitter projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers’ roster as of March 25, along with the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems for comparison. In its debut season, RW23’s hitter projections went toe-to-toe with Steamer, while solidly beating ZiPS.

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

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

2B Jonathan Villar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 466 423 .255 .316 .405 .721 .150 .314 28.2% 8.2% .336 27 13
Steamer 489 434 .250 .323 .398 .721 .149 .312 27.0% 9.4% .326 29 13
ZiPS 526 472 .244 .312 .400 .713 .157 .307 28.5% 8.7% .324 34 15

3B 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

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

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

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

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

OF Domingo Santana

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 535 460 .273 .370 .501 .871 .228 .375 28.5% 12.5% .352 13 25
Steamer 573 492 .258 .353 .468 .821 .211 .351 28.3% 12.0% .328 9 26
ZiPS 566 492 .258 .352 .472 .823 .213 .352 30.9% 11.8% .345 10 26

INF Eric Sogard

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 401 357 .259 .336 .326 .662 .067 .298 12.3% 9.3% .293 3 2
Steamer 164 142 .262 .346 .364 .710 .102 .313 14.0% 10.6% .298 3 2
ZiPS 383 335 .257 .344 .349 .693 .093 .308 13.1% 11.0% .291 6 4

INF 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

C Jett Bandy

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 201 181 .228 .298 .392 .690 .164 .302 25.6% 7.3% .275 1 7
Steamer 77 70 .229 .289 .384 .673 .154 .290 22.2% 6.2% .267 1 2
ZiPS 297 266 .222 .291 .398 .689 .177 .297 21.5% 6.1% .247 1 11

C Stephen Vogt

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 244 225 .250 .302 .451 .752 .200 .324 17.9% 6.3% .265 0 11
Steamer 176 159 .257 .318 .441 .759 .183 .322 18.9% 7.9% .283 1 7
ZiPS 405 371 .259 .314 .450 .764 .191 .323 17.3% 7.2% .280 0 15

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

Does Orlando Arcia have 25-homer potential?

Usually, when I begin writing an article, most of my research has already been researched. I know exactly how the article is going to begin and end, because, like I said, my research has already been completed. This piece is different. Upon starting the piece I had done no research. I was reading a baseball chat hosted by FanGraphs, and someone mentioned the fact that Orlando Arcia could break out, particularly in the home run department. I wanted to see if I agreed with that premise based on what we’ve seen from Arcia thus far, so I started writing and researching simultaneously. The question I posed in the title is a question I didn’t know the answer to until I completed the article. It was a fun little exercise, and it was a fun change of pace from what I’m normally accustomed to.

Orlando Arcia has never been considered an elite hitter. Even when Arcia was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and was coming off a Double-A season in 2015 in which he hit .307 that was accompanied by a .347 on-base percentage and a 126 wRC+, his skills with the bat still came as an afterthought. It was his defense that propelled him as he made his way through the Brewers farm system, and, as a shortstop, being exceptional on offense is often seen as less important.

And through 208 MLB games, Arcia’s reputation has lived up to the billing. While his defense has been somewhat of a mild disappointment (just 5 defensive runs saved through his first two seasons), his glove has still been far superior than his bat. The 23 year old has posted 79 wRC+ with a .133 isolated power (.140 is considered average) during his first 764 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, only 12 players with at least 750 plate appearances during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns have produced a lower wRC+. Suffice it to say, Arcia has gone through his fair share of struggles at the plate.

Arcia’s biggest problem is his knack for hitting the ball on the ground, as he’s hit a grounder in more than 52 percent of his plate appearances. And, of course, it’s impossible to hit a home run that flies over the fence when it’s on the ground, which is why Arcia has just 19 home runs to his name. So therein lies the problem with the title of this post. How can Arcia possibly smack 25 dingers when his profile has always suggested he’s incapable of such a feat?

Let’s first start by looking at Arcia’s first- and second-half splits of his batted ball data.

LD% GB% FB% HR
First Half (297 ABs) 17.6% 52.7% 29.7% 8
Second Half (209 ABs) 23.2% 50.0% 26.8% 7

Interestingly enough, Arcia’s fly-ball rate dropped at a rather significant rate in the second half, and yet, he essentially matched his home run production in 88 fewer at-bats. Sure, his ground-ball rate shrunk a bit, but the biggest change Arcia made had to do with line drives. He started to hit more of them, but that didn’t really aid him power-wise. According to Baseball Savant, four of Arcia’s 15 home runs came on live drives, with three of them coming after the All-Star break (i.e. the second half).

So far, this hasn’t told us much. Let’s dig deeper by looking at how hard Arcia hit the ball in 2017.

Soft% Med% Hard% HR/FB%
First Half (297 ABs) 25.6% 46.7% 27.7% 11.3%
Second Half (209 ABs) 18.9% 47.3% 33.7% 15.6%

Looks like we found a little something. After the All-Star break, Arcia apparently decided he was going to make better contact going forward, and that’s exactly what he did. His soft contact rate plummeted seven percent while his hard-hit rate jumped six percent, and as a result, he hit more home runs per fly ball. A big reason for his hard-hitting spree is the fact that he cut down on pop ups by almost 11 percent in the second half. Pop ups are bad, and Arcia’s sudden decision to stop hitting them bodes well for the upcoming season.

However, despite the optimism the above table displays, Arcia’s exit velocity numbers paint a different picture. Arcia’s average exit velocity during the first half was 85.4 mph and 90.4 mph on fly balls. In the second half, that number changed to 85.9 mph overall and 89.9 mph on fly balls. I say the word “changed” but nothing really changed. The numbers are essentially the same. In all reality, Arcia hit the ball with the same velocity all season long. The quality of contact in the table is provided by Baseball Info Solutions, while the exit velocity numbers come from StatCast. Here’s what FanGraphs has to say about the quality of contact stats it uses from Baseball Info Solutions:

Unfortunately, the exact algorithm (the exact cut points/methodology) are proprietary to BIS and we can’t share exactly what constitutes hard contact, but the calculation is made based on hang time, location, and general trajectory. It’s not perfectly analogous to exit velocity, but until we have more complete StatCast data, it’s a step up from simply knowing line drive versus fly ball.

BIS doesn’t perfectly lineup with Statcast, and in Arcia’s case, the two are vastly different. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe the exit velocity numbers because I actually know how they are calculated, and StatCast, in general, is more broadly used and acknowledged among baseball circles, mainly because it’s more accessible.

Now, it’s entirely possible Arcia has made strides in the offseason, with those strides eventually resulting in more home runs in 2018. For example, he went from four home runs in 216 plate appearances during his rookie season to 15 in 548 plate appearances, while improving his HR/FB% by a decent amount. It’s possible he takes another jump in the power department, but 25 home runs? I’m not a believer. Unlike many of his peers, Arcia failed to join the fly-ball revolution, and he hits the ball on the ground too consistently to think he has 25 home runs in him. Twenty homers is possible, but even that’s a stretch. I think 15-18 home runs for Arcia is certainly reasonable, but if he wants to show more power, he needs to do at least these two things:

  • Decrease ground-ball rate
  • Increase fly-ball rate

Arcia doesn’t have enough raw power to hit opposite field home runs, as only three of his 15 home runs went to right field last year despite hitting a fly ball almost 50 percent of the time when he went the opposite way. That’s just an insane number, and not the good kind of insane, especially when you realize his fly-ball rate was less than 20 percent when he pulled the ball. If he managed to flip the two, he could easily hit 20 home runs. But that’s a tall order and a big if.

Arcia may never be consistent home-run guy, but he’s certainly capable of being a league-average, 100 wRC+ hitter. And that, along with his defensive skills at shortstop, should make him a valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers years to come.