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Entries in Milwaukee Brewers (41)

Friday
Nov292013

Improvements Against Non-Fastballs Key to Francisco's Career

The Milwaukee Brewers have several decisions to make this winter, and chief among those decisions includes who they plan to start at first base come opening day next season. This decision is crucial for general manager Doug Melvin, who witnessed seven different players combine for a .206/.259/.370 slash line at the position in 2013, two years after Prince Fielder started every game at first base for Milwaukee and posted a .299/.415/.566 line.

One player the organization believes could become its long-term solution is 26-year-old Juan Francisco, who after being dealt to Milwaukee from Atlanta in June batted .221.300/.433 with 13 home runs in 89 games. Those aren't numbers that will (or should) excite anyone, but the Brewers believe the former top 10 Cincinnati Reds prospect's power could develop into a legitimate weapon if the rest of his game improves.

The problem is, Francisco's power was only evident against fastball variations with the team in 2013.

Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Hard" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013

Against fastballs (i.e. four-seams, sinkers, cutters, splitters) last season, Francisco posted a .266 average and .594 slugging percentage, the latter being well above the league-average mark of .466. His HR/FB rate finished at a whopping 25.0%, which would have been only second to the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (24.7%) among National League batters had he been eligible at the end of the season. His well-hit average stood at .271 against these offerings, as well, a mark that actually beat Fielder (.270) andGiancarlo Stanton (.265), among others.

His plate discipline against these offerings last season raises some concern, however. He struck out at a 27.2% clip (compared to the 14% league rate) against 'hard' stuff, put only 33.1% of them in play (fourth-worst among batters who played at least 100 games) and swung-and-missed 24.8% of the time, which beat out the 16.5% league mark with ease.

Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Soft" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013

Yet his plate discipline issues against fastballs seem inconsequential compared to his tendencies against all other offerings. Against 'soft' stuff (i.e. curves, sliders, changeups, knuckleballs) last season with Milwaukee, Francisco yielded a strikeout rate of 48.6% (more than 20% higher than against 'hard' stuff), placed a mere 21.5% of them in play (highest among lefties who played in at least 80 games) and whiffed at a 45.3% clip (second-highest of all lefty bats to Alvarez's 47.0%).

In consequence, Francisco finished with a .155 average and .196 slugging percentage against non-fastballs last season,  the latter being nearly .200 points below the .386 league-average mark. His HR/FB rate descended to 0.0% in 105 plate apperances against non-fastballs, and his well-hit average fell to .133, which was well below the .152 league mark.

Once a heralded talent in the Reds' farm system, Francisco window for success is closing with birthday No. 27 approaching this June. The Brewers like his power and have an opening at first base, yet he wasn't particularly impressive during his stay with the team last season, and his obvious struggles against non-fastballs had a big say. To be a serious candidate for the team's long-term plans at first base, he'll have to develop into more than fastball hitter.

Friday
Aug302013

Axford Getting Tagged in Two-Strike Counts

Few relievers were as dominant as John Axford during his first two years as the Milwaukee Brewers' closer. Axford placed tenth among qualified 'pen arms in both park-and-league adjusted ERA (183 ERA+) and Wins Above Replacement (3.8) in 2010 and 2011, reaching the apex of his profession after enduring a career arc at times promising (he was a touted Notre Dame recruit) and depressing (he signed as a free agent with the Yankees 2006 after a stint with the Melville Millionaires, a Canadian summer league team that, ironically enough, doesn't pay players).

While he won't be suiting up in Saskatchewan again any time soon, Axford's last two seasons in the majors have been brutal. He has the fourth-worst adjusted ERA (88 ERA+) and ranks dead last in WAR (-1.6) among relievers since the start of the 2012 season, which helps explain how the St. Louis Cardinals were able to pick him up today for a player to be named.

The big difference between the version of Axford closing out games and finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young Award voting and the version mopping up blowouts is home run prevention. Axford surrendered a mere 0.3 home runs per nine innings in 2010-11, but 1.5 HR/9 in 2012-13. He's having a particularly hard time keeping the ball in the park in two-strike counts, when he seemingly should have hitters in his clutches.

Axford allowed just one home run in two-strike counts during the 2010-11 seasons, and he limited batters to a .169 slugging percentage -- more 100 points lower than the MLB average for relievers over that time frame (.260).

Hitters' slugging percentage vs. Axford in two-strike counts, 2010-11

 

The last two years, though? Axford is getting touched up far more often when hitters have their backs against the wall.

Hitters' slugging percentage vs. Axford in two-strike counts, 2012-13

Axford has coughed up the most two-strike home runs among relievers over the 2012-13 seasons (nine), and he's allowing a .318 slugging percentage.

Pitch selection may be part of the problem. He's throwing more two-strike fastballs in recent years (64% during the 2012-13 seasons) than he did as a shutdown closer (55% in 2010-11), an approach he might want to reconsider. Seven of the nine homers that Axford has given up in two-strike counts in 2012-13 have come off of the heat. Breaking out the breaking stuff more often could help Axford finish off hitters in St. Louis.

Wednesday
Jul242013

Wily Peralta: Smart with Two Strikes in July

Milwaukee Brewers starter Wily Peralta has been arguably the best starter in baseball over the month of July. In four starts, the 24-year-old right hander from the Dominican Republic has posted a 0.31 ERA and 0.852 WHIP. He has also held opponents to a .161/.250/.215 slash line to go with a strikeout rate of 24.5 percent.

The type of production Peralta has managed this month has been a far cry from what he produced over the first three months of the season, where over 17 starts he notched a 5.58 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. Opposing batters fielded a .294/.356/.419 slash line and struck out at only a 12.5 percent rate.

What's triggered his turnaround more than anything else has been the fact that he's commanded his stuff more efficiently in two-strike counts.

Peralta's two-strike pitch frequency from April through June

  • From April to July, Peralta was clearly too over-the-plate with his offerings in two-strike counts.
  • Opponents put 50% of his two-strike offerings in play, ranking fourth-highest among qualified starters over that span.
  • Opponents' .288 weighted on-base average and .344 slugging percentage on Peralta's two-strike offerings ranked eighth and 11th-highest, respectively, among qualified starters over that span.

Peralta's two-strike pitch frequency in July

  • This month, Peralta's two-strike command has improved immensely, consistently placing his offerings in the low-and-away area of the strike zone.
  • Opponents are hitting just .206/.222/.106 against Peralta in two-strike counts this month.
  • Batters have placed only 32.8% of such offerings in play, ranking 13th-lowest among qualified right-handed starters in July.
  • Of the 110 two-strike offerinigs he's thrown this month, Peralta has yet to relinquish an extra-base hit and has yielded a strikeout rate of 48.1 percent.

Don't look at what this 24-year old has done over the course of the season (7-9, 4.30 ERA, 1.426 WHIP), just look at what he's done lately.