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Entries in Milwaukee Brewers (41)

Wednesday
Jan292014

Mark Reynolds Getting Beat on Inside Stuff

Since he clubbed his way to the majors in 2007, Mark Reynolds has been a one-tool player. He's got an iron glove, costing his team more runs (76) compared to an average defender than every infielder not named Michael Young, Yuniesky Betancourt or Derek Jeter. And his D looks pretty good compared to his contact skills: Reynolds has struck out 1,276 times, second-most among hitters since '07 (Adam Dunn is first). But Reynolds' one tool -- pure, unadulterated pull power -- is special enough for teams to hold their noses and focus on his epic blasts.

Or, at least it used to be. Reynolds' home run total has dipped from 37 in 2011 to 23 in 2012 and 21 this past season, with his slugging percentage tumbling by nearly 100 points (.483 in '11, .429 in '12, and .393 in '13). Considering how often he punches out, Reynolds needs to maul the ball when he does connect. With elite power, he's a pretty good hitter (his park-and-league adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage was 16 percent above average in 2011). With average pop, he's a liability (his OPS was four percent below average in 2013).

The 30-year-old recently signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, though he's expected to make the opening day roster either as the club's primary first baseman or the short half of a platoon with Juan Francisco. Granted, even a diminished Reynolds would be better than the balsa wood-toting brigade that Milwaukee featured at the position last season (a combined .370 slugging percentage). But if he plans on giving Bernie Brewer a workout on Miller Park's homer slide, he'll have to reverse a three-year decline against inner-half pitches.

Reynolds' slugging percentage vs. inner-half pitches, 2011

 

Reynolds' slugging percentage vs. inner-half pitches, 2012

 

Reynolds' slugging percentage vs. inner-half pitches, 2013

            

Reynolds was a beast versus pitches thrown to the inner half of the plate in 2011, posting the eighth-best slugging percentage (.659) among qualified batters. But that figure declined to .575 in 2012, and just .398 this past season. Here's another way of looking at it: Reynolds crushed inside pitches like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz back in '11. In 2013, though? He barely outslugged waterbug shortstops Elvis Andrus and Erick Aybar.

Reynolds simply doesn't have the sort of well-rounded skill set that allows him to hit for good-not-great power. He's either jacking 30-plus homers, or he's riding the bus in Triple-A. Short of a return to elite slugger status, he could be looking at a succession of minor league deals in the years to come.

Monday
Jan272014

Garza Brings Wicked Slider to Milwaukee

After a few days of uncertainty, the Milwaukee Brewers officially announced their signing of free-agent starter Matt Garza Sunday afternoon, a deal that's reportedly worth a guaranteed $50 million over the next four years with a vesting option for the fifth year. Garza, who spent the first half of last season with the Cubs before being dealt to the Rangers, posted a combined 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 24 starts in 2013 en route to a 1.4 bWAR, which was his lowest single-season wins above replacement total since 2007 -- back when he was still tossing for the Minnesota Twins as a mere 23-year-old up-and-comer.

Yet while Garza was largely a disappointment from a pure 'value' standpoint last season, his strongest asset as a starter actually become more lethal than ever before. The asset I am referring to is of course none other than his 'wipeout' slider, which has developed a reputation for being one of the best in baseball. 

More Whiffs than Ever Before

Since 2010, Garza's slider has progressively induced more swings and misses with each passing year. Posting a 38.3% miss rate with the offering four seasons ago is nothing to sneeze at, especially compared to the 30.1% league average that year. However, that number increased to 41.7% in 2011, stayed steady at 41.4% in 2012, and increased to an impressive 44.9% last season, which was the highest rate of any right-handed pitcher who tabbed at least 150 innings.

What makes these improvements somewhat perplexing is the fact that Garza has thrown the pitch in the strike more often with time. In 2010, his slider zone% stood at 38.5% and jumped to 43.4% the following season. By the end of 2012, Garza threw 44.6% of his sliders in the strike zone, and last season remained near that mark, placing 43.7%f of his wicked sliders in the zone. Typically, as pitchers throw more sliders in the zone, their miss% decreases, but Garza's slider seems to be bucking the trend in this respect.

Best in the League? Almost.

Now that we've got a good sense for how Garza's slider has improved in the last four seasons, it's time to see how he stacks up with the competition.

PK%Miss%SwStr%InPl%Chas%
1. Chris Sale (CWS)2,25749.9%40.7%16.5%29.4%33.3%
2. CC Sabathia (NYY)3,18947.9%40.3%18.5%30.6%37.7%
3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)3,12644.5%42.1%22.5%27.4%38.6%
4. Francisco Liriano (PIT)3,40944.3%42.8%22.3%27.5%41.9%
5. Matt Garza (TEX)2,20343.1%41.8%22.4%30.6%40.8%
6. Justin Masterson (CLE)2,57742.3%37.7%15.8%30.3%29.6%
7. Carlos Marmol (LAD)2,64740.4%37.5%16.2%28.1%32.1%
8. C. J. Wilson (LAA)2,10839.2%37.2%18.5%30.9%39.4%
9. Mat Latos (CIN)3,20538.0%40.7%21.5%32.4%41.4%
10. Ervin Santana (KC)4,82235.6%39.1%18.3%32.2%37.8%

As we can see, Garza's slider has produced gaudy numbers across the board, ranking in the top ten of all pitchers in miss% (41.8%), swinging strike% (22.4%), chase% (40.8%), in play% (30.6%) and strikeout rate (43.1%) who've thrown at least 2,000 sliders since 2010.

Will a change in scenery affect Garza's slider next season with Milwaukee? Only time will tell. But for now, let's just appreciate how masterful the offering has been. 

Monday
Dec162013

Carlos Gomez Uses Opposite Field, Develops into Elite Hitter

Arguably the biggest storyline in an otherwise forgettable 2013 campaign for the Milwaukee Brewers was the development of center fielder Carlos Gomez, whose career-best 8.4 bWAR last season was the second highest mark of any position player in baseball -- beating out the likes of NL MVP Andrew McCutchen (8.2 bWAR) and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (7.2 bWAR). Missing just five of 162 regular season games, the former Mets top prospect posted career-highs in batting average (.284), OPS (.843), weighted on-base average (.344) and walk rate (6.3%), along with setting personal bests in defensive WAR (4.6) and stolen bases (40).

Of course, one of Gomez's career-best marks set last season that pundits remain skeptical of was his .344 batting average on balls in play (BABIP, for short), which increased dramatically from his 2012 mark of .296. The reason behind his success last season, many said, mainly stemmed from the increase in BABIP -- a stat that measures a player's batting average, excluding strikeouts and home runs. Some went as far as to say Gomez was one of the "luckiest" hitters in baseball last season. While I acquiesce that there is at least some luck involved with maintaining a high BABIP, I tend to think that hitters maketheir own luck by augmenting specific facets of their approach at the plate.

Such is the case with Gomez last season.

Gomez's BA on hits located to center and right field, 2012

Gomez's BA on hits located to center and right field, 2013

A pull hitter if there ever was one, Gomez relied heavily on his ability to yank pitches to left field with authority in posting a .413 batting average in such situations two seasons ago. Consequently, he struggled to maintain such a high mark on hits to center and right field, garnering a .275 average on such hits and ranking in the bottom 25% of the league in that respect. And as we can see from the first image, there was no specific area of the zone where Gomez's center and opposite field-hits originated from. Instead, it lacked any noticeable consistency.

That all changed last season, where Gomez clearly made it a point to go either the opposite way or to center field with pitches located on the outer half of the plate. As such, he posted a much-improved .359 batting average on opposite and center-field hits -- placing himself just outside the top fourth of all qualified batters. Another reason for Gomez's success hitting to center and right field? He place better quality contact behind those hits, posting a .197 well-hit average last season compared to his .152 mark in 2012.

But how does BABIP tie into all this? Last season, hits located to either center field or the batter's pull side generated a BABIP of .304, compared to the .312 league average BABIP on hits located to either center field or the batter's opposite field. What this means is that hitters are more likely to maintain a higher BABIP on hits located to their opposite field than to the pull side, which minimize's the "luck" factor placed upon Gomez last season, since his increases were so significant. But since Gomez placed significantly better contact on such pitches last season, I tend to think he made his own luck.