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Entries in Milwaukee Brewers (41)

Thursday
Mar142013

Carlos Gomez Finds Power Stroke, Cashes In

Carlos Gomez is now a threat at the plate, too, thanks to improvements against breaking pitches.At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Carlos Gomez has always looked like a power hitter. Yet the former Mets prospect, the centerpiece of the 2008 Johan Santana swap, slugged under .400 in the minor leagues and rarely punched the ball out of the infield during his early twenties with New York, Minnesota and Milwaukee. Gomez finally added power to his Gold Glove-caliber defense last season, and the Brewers have now rewarded him with a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension. GM Doug Melvin thinks the 27-year-old Gomez is just getting started:

"He has always had the physical skills, and his recent performance has given us the confidence that he will take the next step in becoming one of the top center fielders in the game," Melvin said. "His energy, speed and aggressive style of play is a perfect fit for Ron Roenicke's style of managing." (Associated Press)

Gomez's home run total has spiked from just five in 2010 to eight in 2011 and 19 last year. His slugging percentage has climbed 100-plus points over the same time frame, from .357 to .463. With those 19 bombs and 37 stolen bases, Gomez joined Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, B.J. Upton and Jimmy Rollins in the 15 homer, 30 SB club.

Gomez has emerged as a power threat by making huge strides against curveballs and sliders. Once a liability when pitchers tossed him a breaking ball, Gomez now makes them pay.

Back in 2010, Gomez was a banjo hitter versus curves and sliders. He often chopped breaking pitches into the turf (his 57% ground ball rate on curves and sliders was way above the 45% MLB average), and he had all of two extra-base knocks the entire year:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2010

Gomez slugged .200 against breaking balls, about 150 points below the MLB average and the sixth-worst mark among hitters seeing at least 300 curves and sliders that season. In 2011, Gomez made some strides. He put the ball in the air more often (47% ground ball rate vs. breaking pitches) and made louder contact, particularly on the edges of the strike zone:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2011

 

Gomez slugged .385 vs. curves and sliders. Last year, he progressed from a so-so breaking ball hitter to a slugger. Gomez's ground ball rate dropped another tick (46%) and he pulverized curves and sliders thrown down and inside:

Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2012

 

With a .461 slugging percentage against curves and sliders, Gomez ranked third behind Josh Hamilton (.563) and Mike Trout (.521) among center fielders, and his nine homers trailed just Hamilton (18) and Adam Jones (10).

Gomez's power surge has transformed him from an easy out (76 OPS+ in 2010) into a quality MLB hitter (102 OPS+ in 2012), free-swinging style be damned. His new deal could turn out to be a bargain for Milwaukee, now that he's got pop to go along with his base running and fielding prowess.

Wednesday
Aug082012

Mike Fiers' Freaky Fastball

Milwaukee Brewers rookie right-hander Mike Fiers hardly instills fear in the hearts of hitters with his velocity. Fiers' fastball averages just 88 MPH, which is a little more than 3 MPH slower than the average for a righty starting pitcher. The only starters who sting catchers' mitts less (minimum 500 fastballs thrown) are Barry Zito, Chris Young, Mark Buehrle, Tommy Milone, Paul Maholm, Jason Vargas, Colby Lewis and Jered Weaver.

Yet Fiers, like Weaver, hasn't let modest velocity keep him from eviscerating hitters with his fastball. While Weaver's cross-fire motion and 6-foot-7 frame make batters squirm, the 6-3 Fiers comes nearly straight over the top with his delivery. That peculiar motion -- combined with excellent command and control of the pitch -- has allowed Fiers' fastball to play up in 2012.

Fiers pounds to zone with his not-so-fast fastball, throwing the pitch over the plate about 58% of the time (the average for starters is 52%). But Fiers doesn't just put the ball in the zone and hope for the best -- he avoids the fat part of the plate.

He varies his fastball location versus lefties, mixing pitches in on the hands and on the outside corner with high offerings:

Fiers' fastball location versus lefties

 

He follows a similar pattern (in that there's practically no pattern) against right-handers, spreading his fastballs around the zone without leaving many over the heart of the plate:

Fiers' fastball location versus righties

 

Fiers' exquisite fastball command was on display during his eight-inning, one run masterpiece against the Reds last night: he left just 27% of his fastballs over the vertical middle of the strike zone. Overall this year, he has thrown 31% of his fastballs belt-high (35% average for starters). Those belt-high fastballs tend to get pounded (MLB hitters are slugging .495 against them, compared to .443 on fastballs overall), so avoiding that part of the plate pays off. It sure has for Fiers, who just edges out Weaver for the lowest opponent slugging percentage on fastballs among starters this year:

Lowest opponent fastball slugging percentage among SP (Min. 500 fastballs thrown)

PitcherSlugging Pct.
Michael Fiers .287
Jered Weaver .292
Brandon Beachy .297
Ryan Vogelsong .301
David Price .316
Jake Peavy .325
Johnny Cueto .329
Justin Verlander .336
Gio Gonzalez .340
Drew Pomeranz .341

 

Monday
Jul022012

Greinke an All-Star at Preventing Homers

Brewers ace Zack Greinke might not be an All-Star even though ranks among the NL's leaders in ERA+ (146), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.6) and Wins Above Replacement (2.9). But Greinke can take solace in knowing his impending free agency will make him an absurdly wealthy man, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Like, "Scrooge McDuck diving in a pool of gold coins" rich. Five of Matt Cain's free agent years were valued at about $113 million at a time when he had a career 124 ERA+ in a little over 1,300 innings pitched. Greinke has a career 116 ERA+ in nearly 1,400 innings. He can make a case for $20 million a year.

A big reason why Greinke is enjoying his best season since 2009 and is primed to cash in is that he has cut his home run rate to a career-best 0.4 per nine innings. He's pounding hitters at the knees and generating ground balls like never before.

Check out Greinke's pitch location this season. He's staying low in the zone, rarely hanging a ball above the belt:

Greinke's pitch location, 2012

Greinke has thrown about 58 percent of his pitches low in the zone, the highest rate among all MLB starting pitchers this season. And those low pitches are generating grounders by the bushel. Here's his ground ball rate by pitch location, and then the league average:

Greinke's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

Average ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

By keeping the ball low, Greinke has induced ground balls about 54 percent of the time this season. His career ground ball rate entering the year, by contrast, was a near dead ringer for the league average (44.5 percent).

Tony La Russa might not fully appreciate Greinke's great work. But this 28-year-old with strikeout stuff and newly-found ground ball tendencies is at the top of many a GM's wish list.

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