Boone Logan Gets the Boot

Of all the wonderful bright spots of the 2018 Brewers, perhaps no segment of the team has shone brighter than the bullpen.  With a sparkling 2.74 ERA, the bullpen- most notably the likes of Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams – have established themselves as one of the best relief corps in all of baseball, second perhaps only to the Yankees.

And despite pitching only ten-plus innings this season, there’s one reliever that has been an anchor, his mere name inspiring dread in the masses each time he has been summoned to the mound:  Boone Logan.

An early May addition to the squad thanks to a tricep strain, Logan was essentially slated to be the team’s LOOGY.  He was spectacularly unsuccessful.  Lefties compiled an absurd 1.354 OPS against him, and he walked nearly as many batters as he had innings pitched.  In his penultimate appearance, he allowed a garbage-time run in his one inning of work against Philadelphia on Friday.

Saturday was a “prove it” day for Logan.  After Junior Guerra walked Scott Kingery in a one-run game, Craig Counsell summoned Logan to deal with lefty Nick Williams.  The result was a deep double, followed by another walk and a single for subsequent batters that wound up plating two runs for Philly.

And so, today Boone finds himself designated for assignment, with the comfort of a nearly $2 million contract to help soften his landing.  While the main beneficiary is the bullpen (addition by subtraction), a nice secondary effect is the lowering of our collective blood pressure when a lefty comes to the dish.  And, lest you worry about who will get left-handed hitters out … Josh Hader is currently holding southpaws to a .271 OPS.  In Hader we trust.

Remaking an Outfield in 60 Minutes

cainWithin an hour or so last week, the Brewers committed over $124 million to two outfielders, taking on Christian Yelich’s contract in trade ($44.5 million) and signing outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a 5-year, $80 million deal.  It’s a huge monetary outlay; to date, the Brewers’ most lucrative contract went to Ryan Braun’s 5-year, $105 million extension in 2011.  The deals were made all the more significant by the substantial prospect haul the Marlins received in return for Yelich: consensus top-25 outfielder Lewis Brinson, as well as well-regarded OF Monte Harrison and IF Isan Diaz.  The deals marked an aggressive commitment to contending baseball where, in past seasons, the focus was on stockpiling young, controllable talent.

While the Brewers paid a hefty sum in money and prospects, they brought back clear major league talent that marks a substantial improvement in their outfield corps.  After showing offensive flashes in 2016, RF Domingo Santana put up an eye-popping .372 wOBA last year, but struck out in nearly 30% of his plate attempts.  Defensively, Santana gets pretty low marks using the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metrics.  While Yelich has never had an offensive season quite as good as Santana’s 30-homer binge in 2017, the 26-year-old is an annual 20-home run threat with excellent contact and plate discipline.  Defensive metrics (a substantial portion of which were, granted, based on his work in left field) are fairly kind to Yelich.  All said, he’s accumulated nearly 16 fWAR in his four full seasons.  If we assume that a win is worth about $8 million, and that Yelich will continue to produce about 3.9 fWAR for the remainder of his deal, he will produce about $100 million in excess value over the life of his contract.

Perhaps the more marked improvement is in center field, where Lorenzo Cain is now expected to roam.  In 2017, that was Keon Broxton’s territory, and despite having a 20 HR/21 SB season, Broxton was the definition of average.  He compiled just a .308 wOBA, struck out in nearly 38%(!) of his plate attempts, and took a step back defensively from an otherwise solid 2016 campaign.  Expect no such struggles from Cain, who has been an elite defender and all-around offensive contributor the last four seasons with Kansas City (+17.9 fWAR).  Statcast tells us Cain is one of the premier players in baseball.

There are a couple red flags with Cain, but they involve the difficult task of predicting an aging curve and injuries.  Cain will be 32 in April, but that’s not necessarily a cause for concern.  While no player has yet escaped Father Time, Cain’s ceiling is so high that there’s a lot of room for decline.  And Mike Petriello notes there are plenty of late-career success stories for players comparable to Cain.  Cain’s injury history is more problematic; Cain played an abbreviated 2016 schedule after landing on the DL in June with a hamstring injury, and Cain tried to play through a painful wrist injury before ending his season in September.   Yet Cain was still worth +2.5 fWAR in that season, and showed no ill effects in a fantastic 2017 campaign where he hit for a .140 ISO, swiped 26 bags, and was an above-average CF according to UZR.  One thing to keep an eye on will be Cain’s defense, though, and particularly his range, as there is a clear downward trend in his zone rating attributable to reduced range and ability to keep baserunners from advancing.

But again, the point here is that both transactions make the Brewers better now, and for the foreseeable future. The moves bring long-term stability to a lineup that has seen near constant turnover in the David Stearns era.  Yelich and Cain will join Ryan Braun as (presumably) the primary outfield trio until at least 2020.  There’s the potential for an additional year together if Ryan Braun’s 2021 option kicks in.  Cain and Yelich become free agents together in 2022.

The moves have the added benefit of preserving flexibility.  The Brewers total projected payroll for 2018 currently sits at around $84 million.  That drops to $72 million in 2019 and $64 million in 2020, though there are some arbitration salaries, for example Jimmy Nelson and Zach Davies, that are not included in those totals.  Signing Cain in particular does not mean the Brewers have to forego signing another premium free agent in the next year or two, and indeed they are rumored to still be in the dogfight for Yu Darvish this offseason.

Making a substantial improvement to a team while achieving stability and preserving flexibility isn’t an easy task.  David Stearns and the Brewers’ baseball operations department deserve much credit for their efforts at remaking the outfield, in which us fans got to see the reward for months of work over the course of about 60 minutes.


Brewers Do the Right Thing At the Deadline

david-stearnsThe high-water mark for the Brewers this season was July 15, at which point they looked down upon the NL Central from a 5.5 game perch.  With the All-Star break (signaling the unofficial beginning of baseball’s second half) having come and gone earlier in the week, and two wins under their belt to start the long summer stretch, things were looking up.

But what goes up usually comes down, and by July 30, the 5.5 game lead had become a distant memory.  A brutal road trip left the team’s record in shambles: swept in four games in Pittsburgh, losses in two out of three games in Philadelphia, a single win in Washington D.C., and a brutal series defeat at the hands of the Cubs in their return home.  The carnage relegated the Brewers to 2.5 games back at the close of business on Sunday.

What was a storied run atop the Central, the kind that had finally attracted the notice of national writers everywhere, vanished in what seemed like an instant.  And GM David Stearns was left with a mess on his hands.

When the Brewers acquired C.C. Sabathia on July 7, 2008, the trade came with the stipulation that it occur as early as possible to maximize the pitcher’s innings with his new team.  GM Doug Melvin was at the time so confident in Sabathia’s ability to propel the Brewers to the postseason that he offered up the team’s best prospect in the trade, 1B Matt LaPorta.

With a 4.66 ERA after April, the Brewers starting corps hardly looked like a solid bet to challenge the Cubs for the NL Central lead.  And yet, despite losing opening day starter Junior Guerra and Chase Anderson for extended periods, the Brewers improved their starting rotation’s ERA – in every single month, all the way to a 3.51 ERA in July.  In other words, by ERA the starting rotation improved from a bottom 5 to a top 6 rotation over the course of four months.  (FIP is a little less kind to the Brewers, but hey, when Manny Pina can throw out would-be basestealers at a 33% clip and Lewis Brinson can go over the wall to rob home runs, it’s going to fudge the numbers a bit).

The general improvement in the starting rotation-led by Zach Davies’ recent reemergence, as well as an All-Star caliber season from Jimmy Nelson-lessened the pressure to pay for a top arm like Sonny Gray.  And boy, would the price tag have been exorbitant.  The mere rumors surrounding Gray and the Brewers prompted the Cubs to make a preemptive move and trad their top two prospects (including a consensus top 5 prospect) for Jose Quintana.  The Yankees later acquired Gray for the team’s 4th, 8th, and 12th best prospects.  For reference, that would have been Brett Phillips, Tristen Lutz, and Brandon Woodruff for the Brewers, according to

Meanwhile, the Brewers bullpen hasn’t found similar success.  The relief corp in the top half of the league in Fangraph’s “Meltdowns” stat and lead the league in walks per 9 innings.  They give up far too many home runs, and pitched too many innings early on.  Carlos Torres and Jacob Barnes, once thought to form a solid one-two punch in the 7th and 8th innings, are giving up a run nearly every other inning.  The one saving grace is the number of ground balls they produce, in no small part due to Jared Hughes’ extreme batted ball profile (nearly 60% grounders).  Corey Knebel, the Brewers’ lone All-Star representative, has distinguished himself and still holds a sparkling 1.68 ERA with 18 saves, but one man does not a bullpen make.

It’s only natural, then, that David Stearns, surveying the team’s general collapse, his starters’ strong performances, and the bullpen’s woes, decided to address the latter issue by making modest additions.  The Brewers first nabbed a resurgent 31-year-old right, Anthony Swarzak, from the White Sox for OF Ryan Cordell, the player to be named later in last year’s trade sending Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to the Rangers.  Stearns also pulled off a deadline deal, reacquiring Jeffress from the Rangers in exchange for Shuckers RHP Tayler Scott.

Swarzak has already slotted into the set-up role; tonight is Jeffress’ first game back in now his third stint with the Brewers.  Jeffress hasn’t had a great year with Texas, but his previous body of work stands for itself.  (We’ll ignore Stearns earlier dealing for LHP Tyler Webb, who pitched all of 2 innings with Milwaukee before being sent down to Colorado Springs).

The modest acquisitions should help shore up a taxed bullpen (though Jeffress’ home run rate this season is reason for pause).  But most importantly, the players added cost little in terms of prospects.  The best prospect given up was Ryan Cordell, #17 on the team’s list according to in a system brimming with OF talent.  Stearns didn’t make a splashy add like the Cubs, but he also did something the Cubs weren’t able to do: hold on to the team’s future.  The middle-of-the-road approach likely won’t win amongst the Brewers fanbase, but it’s the right tactic in a rebuilding year in which the Brewers find themselves suddenly in postseason contention.

Five (More) Reasons the Brewers are in First Place (and the One Thing They Must Do to Win the Division).

at Miller Park on April 7, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In the final week before the All Star Break the Brewers swept the Orioles, stomped the Cubs and came a Corey Knebel Curveball away from sweeping the Yankees in the Bronx. This was “the statement” all the pundits needed to finally accept that the Brewers were a story worth talking about, not just a 1st half fluke. Despite the National attention, the most comprehensive analysis was Milwaukee’s own Tom Haudricourt. I agree with pretty much all of his “10 Reasons the Brewers are in 1st Place“, but there are a few important ones that were left off the list. And when the division could easily be won by a single game, any one of these factors could be the thing that secures the Brewers their 5th playoff appearance in franchise history.

1. Double Plays

The Brewers are second in all of baseball with 98, behind only the Rockies (101). They led the league for most of the season and a number of early analyses of the Brewers cited this as a reason they’d fade, after all you can’t lead the league in double plays unless you allow a lot of base-runners right? Looking at the leader board in this stat this logic seems to hold. Besides the Brewers and the Rockies at the top, teams 3-12 are all under .500. Not until the Nationals at 13 does another winning team show up. Look a little closer and some interesting things show up.

Brewers MLB rank in a number of  pertinent stats:

  • Tied for 14th with a 1.35 WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched)
  • 7th best at generating soft contact (19.7%)
  • Tied for 9th best at generating ground balls (45.7%)

While middle of the pack in terms of WHIP is not where you want to be, check out the league with runners on base:

WHIP with Runners on

With Runners on the Brewers WHIP drastically improves. There they sit at 4th, right in the middle of the 5 other Division Leaders. They also get better at soft contact % (5th) and Ground Ball % (6th).  It seems the Brewers ability to generate soft contact and ground balls means that letting someone get to 1st is not actually that bad for the Brewers, as long as they can keep him there. Which brings us to #2.

2. Shutting Down the Opponent’s Running Game: Manny Pina is a bad, bad man. Among MLB Catchers with at least 100 innings Manny Pina ranks 4th in rSB (Stolen Base Runs Saved). Per Fangraphs “rSB measures two things: the pitcher’s contributions to controlling the running game, and gives the catcher credit for throwing out runners and preventing them from attempting steals in the first place.” I love this stat because it helps to control for the Jimmy Nelson’s of the world who are terrible at holding guys on, while also measuring the extent to which base-runners are too scared to even attempt to run. Manny Pina definitely falls into this latter category.

It’s not just Stolen Bases however, Manny is the 2nd best Catcher in all of baseball in Defensive Runs Saved, and tied for 4th in Defensive Runs Above Average. When he’s behind the dish even the best running teams in baseball become cautious, moving station to station, and getting short leads.

3. Bullpen “Shutdowns”

First, let’s get something clear, Saves and Holds are garbage statistics, and we should never mention them again. Anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly a troglodyte and is no longer my friend. While I’m amenable to Nate Silver’s replacement stat, the Goose Egg, Fangraphs doesn’t track it. Instead they produce an infinitely more useful pair of stats called “shutdowns” and “meltdowns”. The first and most important reason these stats are better is that they track all relievers successes or failures, not just pitchers in “Save” or “Hold” situations. 2nd reason it is a great stat is that it factors in the context of the appearance. We know for example that giving up a home run in a tie game in the 9th is much worse than the same homer in a 10-0 blowout. Beyond that if you wanna understand ’em better, go read the links and level up player!

Alright now that that’s out of the way, why am I bringing up Shutdowns? Cause of this:


See that SD column? The Brewers have far and away the most Shutdowns of any team in baseball. You might be thinking “but Javi, what about that MD column right next to Shutdowns?” Hold your horses there bud, all in due time.

Ignoring for a minute the Meltdowns (a category which astute readers of charts will have noticed the Brewers also lead), when we combine Shutdowns, with Manny Pina’s base-running prevention, and the Brewers success at turning double plays, we have three elements of “Run Prevention” that will often get overlooked. This gets missed because overall the Brewers are not great defensively (15th in Defensive Runs Saved and 23rd (ouch) in Defensive Runs Above Average) and because standard measures of bullpens (14th in K/9, tied for 11th in ERA) mask the Brewers successes in shutdown appearances.

Let’s look at two more areas that explain the Brewers first half success. One is the inverse of Manny Pina:

4. Speed on the Base-paths

The Brewers are tied for the NL lead with 75 stolen bases, and this comes with Jonathan Villar (the league leader in SBs in 2016) greatly under performing in the first half. Beyond that the Brewers rank 6th in all of baseball in Base Running (BsR) “Fangraphs all encompassing base running stat“, and 3rd in raw Speed. This speed has the obvious benefit of getting extra bases for the Brewers, but it also has benefits in distracting the pitcher, altering defensive alignments, avoiding double plays, increased number of infield hits, and increased pressure on defenses.

Last but not least of my 5 (more) reasons the Brewers are in first is:

5. Management

At the halfway point of the season Craig Counsell’s gotta be on the short list for Manager of the Year doesn’t he? With a bunch of players no-one’s ever heard of, your Opening Day pitcher leaves in the third inning on crutches and misses two months, your best hitter and highest paid player misses more than 50 games, your closer implodes and is released from the team, and somehow you cobble together a 5 1/2 game lead over the World Series Champs and sit 9 games above .500 at the All-Star Break?

By all accounts the Brewers seem to have followed Counsell’s lead and have done a tremendous job focusing exclusively on the game at hand. The Brewers are one of only 5 teams in baseball who have avoided getting swept in a 3 or 4 game series (the other four: D-Backs, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Blue Jays). They’re also often working with a lead, as the Brewers lead all of baseball in runs scored in the 1st inning. At least some of this should be attributed to good preparation from coaches.

Then there’s David Stearns. Just looking at players he’s acquired this year, whom any team could’ve had, (Thames, Sogard, Aguilar, and Vogt) that’s a total of 4.4 WAR. All 4 of these players were acquired without giving up any of our own players (Thames was a Free Agent and the other three were claimed off waivers). That’s to say nothing of the highway robbery perpetrated upon the Boston Red Sox. As of right now Travis Shaw (2.8 WAR) for Tyler Thornburg (yet to play for the Red Sox) looks one sided even as a one for one deal. Yet somehow Stearns was able to get 3 more prospects from Boston!  We would be remiss if we didn’t consider the role that management and coaching have played in this team thus far.

Speaking of Stearns, let’s take a look at that Meltdown stat that I avoided a few paragraphs ago. As I mentioned above, the Brewers lead the league in shutdowns (96) but also meltdowns (56). This is partially a function of an overtaxed bullpen. The Brewers are currently 4th in Relief innings pitched, but only dropped to that spot from 1st, after an extended run of solid outings from our starters. They’re 1st in all of baseball with 60 1/3 High Leverage Innings pitched (stressful innings where the game hangs in the balance) during the 6th-9th Innings. And while no team in baseball has a better shutdown/meltdown ratio, if they had avoided even a few more of these meltdowns the Brewers would actually be much farther ahead in the Division, and we’d be looking at the Brewers as one of the best teams in baseball.

One more chart courtesy of Fangraphs:

Brewers SD vs MD

We already knew Knebel has been fantastic. But seeing Barnes SD/MD ratio is a reminder of how important he’s been to the team this year. In the majors both he and Knebel are in the top 20 for Shutdowns. No other duo has more than their combined 44. In early June, Jared Hughes did not look nearly as good as he does now, but both Torres and Drake are a huge risk being put into any close games.

So now I come to what I promised in the title of this blog “the one thing the Brewers must do to win the division.” They absolutely must reduce the number of meltdowns in their bullpen. Some of this has been addressed by stronger starting pitching performances. By this logic Stearns might improve the current bullpen simply by finding a good front-line starter, thereby decreasing the number of high leverage bullpen innings. The more direct strategy is to get another back-end bullpen arm. One who can join Barnes and Knebel as a reliable shut-down artist helping to turn our late-inning leads into wins. Is that player the recently acquired Tyler Webb? Maybe. He certainly has some nice #’s at AAA this year (15.67 K/BB with a 1.08 WHIP). We know Stearns is good at finding talent so I have confidence that Webb could do the trick. It’s also possible that Josh Hader’s success thus far could be sustained. That said both of those guys are rookies and it would be nice to have someone legit we could trust, perhaps someone like Zach Britton of the Orioles 118/14 SD/MD over the last 3 years? The cost might be expensive, but with just 4 playoff appearances in Brewers history, we can’t afford to squander what’s in front of us.

There are so many reasons the 2017 Brewers are better than expected, now it’s time to get the final pieces that will ensure they have what it takes not just to make the playoffs, but to make a sustained run at their first pennant since 1982.

The end of the line for Wily

May 14, 2017 was an important day for Wily Peralta.  Having been blasted by Boston for four runs over four and one-third innings in his previous start, he carried a 5.30 ERA into a home start against the Mets.  Peralta’s sinker had become increasingly ineffective, even as Peralta had been relying on it more.  His command-which was never his strong suit-had been terrible.  And in what was an opportunity to restore his team’s confidence in him as a starter, Peralta fell apart.  He labored through 4 and 1/3 innings of seven-run ball (six earned), although the Brewers would go on to win, 11-9.

That would be it for Wily in the starting rotation, though.  On May 17, the Brewers announced he would transition to the bullpen, a change many (including me) thought would be a positive change.  Peralta has many faults as a pitcher, but it’s never been his raw stuff; his heavy sinking fastball and biting slider had people positively salivating for his debut when Zack Greinke went down with a freak injury in early 2011.  The results, though, have never matched that potential.

The move to the bullpen seemed great for a few reasons.  Peralta would no longer have to worry about facing the same hitters multiple times.  He wouldn’t have to worry about extending himself over six or seven innings (something that, until the end of last season, appeared to happen relatively infrequently) and could give full effort, especially on his high-90s fastball.  And management could select his usage, reserving him for those situations in which Peralta’s frequent mistakes might not be so heavily punished.

Instead, Peralta has been absolutely pounded out of the pen.  In 13 and 2/3 innings, he’s allowed sixteen runs, walking nearly as many against fourteen strikeouts.  The move to the bullpen has actually ballooned his ERA from 6.08 to 7.21, and factoring in defense improves it substantially but still shows Peralta is a poor pitcher (5.00 FIP).  Peralta has not allowed a run in only two of his nine appearances, and last night he turned a 4-1 game (still well within reach for this offense) into an 8-1 blowout against the Pirates.

Somehow, Peralta still might wind up being an above-replacement level player for the season.  And his poor performance wouldn’t even be an issue if the Brewers weren’t still in first place in mid-June.  But the fact that they are only puts added pressure on the team to put the best players on the field, which means there are precious few innings to allow Peralta to continue to acclimate to his new role.  A minor league assignment is out of the question; Peralta has no options.

And so, as Craig Counsell put it after last night’s game, “it’s getting tough.”  It’s getting tough for the team, tough for fans, tough for management to watch Wily Peralta flail in hopes of rekindling the hope everyone once had for him.  This seems the definition of a “fresh start” situation for a player.  It’s time to move on.

2017 Position Preview: First Base, League Context, Chris Carter, and Eric Thames

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

thamesIt’s no secret that home runs were way up in 2016.  One-hundred-eleven players hit at least twenty home runs in 2016, easily topping the 64 from 2015 and 2014’s 57.  With no obvious explanation for the home run surge, speculation has ranged from pitchers throwing more cutters to hitting adjustments against hard throwers and even “juiced” baseballs.  Whatever the cause, 2016 saw the second-most home runs ever in a major league season.  There were an average of 1.16 home runs hit per game: a higher per-game average than during most of the steroid-infused years of the 1990s and 2000s.

Although only two Brewers players topped twenty home runs for the team, they did help usher in the year of the homer.  Brewers collectively hit just a handful more homers than the league average.  And several lineup regulars set new personal single-season records in home runs: Jonathan Villar (19), Scooter Gennett (14), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (13), Domingo Santana (11), and Hernan Perez (13).

But when it came to raw power, there was only one Brewers player really worth talking about: Chris Carter.  And not just a team leader; Carter’s battle with Nolan Arenado for the National League home run title in the season’s final series was the highlight of an otherwise fairly forgettable year on the field.  They wound up tied at 41.

Carter, who hit .199 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs in 2015, made $4,175,000 in 2015 in his first year of arbitration. The Houston Astros let him go rather than pay the likely more than $5 million salary he would have commanded in arbitration in 2016.  The flaws in his game that led to his being non-tendered were apparent during Carter’s 2016 season with the Brewers; he maintained his low contact rate and struck out a league-leading 206 times.  But he also hit some monstrous home runs.

And yet, despite his prominent place atop the National League home run leaderboard, Carter couldn’t get a 2017 contract.  The Brewers weren’t interested, despite the fact that they had no obvious replacement candidate at the time.  Carter settled for a 1-year, $3 million contract from the New York Yankees, a meager deal reflective of just how little teams value power in light of last year’s surge.

To fill the gap, the Brewers looked to Korea, plucking lefty Eric Thames from the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization.  Thames, a Korean League MVP and owner of a 40/40 season in 2015, hit for a 1.162 OPS over four foreign seasons and turned his success into a 3-year, $16M deal with the Brewers.

Prior to that, Thames was the definition of a AAAA player.  He performed well enough in the high minors, with a triple slash line of .312/.389/.506 over three seasons.  And there were reasons to be optimistic following Thames’ 2012 campaign with the Blue Jays, in which he posted a .193 ISO over 394 plate attempts.  But 2013 was disastrous; Thames’ 30% K-rate and dreadful defense doomed him to the minors, from whence he would not return to MLB.

Until now. So what are we to make of Thames with the Brewers going forward?  Assuming the power sticks (and there’s no guarantee it will, as explained below), he couldn’t be going to a better park for a lefty masher than Miller Park.  And given his contract and the Brewers’ lack of a serviceable bat at the position, playing time won’t be an issue in the same way it was prior to Thames’ time in Korea.

But there’s a notoriously short track record for players coming from Korea and having success in the States.  And Korean players generally benefit from smaller parks and a hitting philosophy that does not emphasize on-base skills; in other words, Korea was perfectly suited to Thames’ predilection to swing at first-pitch fastballs.  Add that to the relative success of Thames’ Korean teammates last season (of the top eight NC Dinos players in plate attempts, all but one hit above .297), one definitely gets the sense that offensive output in Korean baseball is inflated.  So I’m not bullish on Thames, but I see the appeal.

While there’s little chance Thames will put up another 40-home-run season in his transition year, it doesn’t seem likely any of his NL Central competition will, either.  In fact of the expected NL Central first basemen, STEAMER projects only Anthony Rizzo to top 30 home runs – and then just barely.  Thames’ STEAMER projection comes pretty darn close to Rizzo’s:  their ISO is within .002 points, and while it’s safe to say Rizzo’s going display more on-base prowess than Thames, their slash lines are otherwise remarkably close (.279/.381/.523 for Rizzo, .272/.350/.515 for Thames).

It’s an optimistic projection to be sure, but if it proves accurate, Thames may push Rizzo as the most productive first baseman in the division, ahead of even Joey Votto.  I think Thames will fall short of those lofty goals given his trouble making contact and his rather average batted ball profile, but Brewers fans probably won’t be able to gripe much for his rather small contract.  With a win above replacement currently valued at around $7+ million, Thames could be an excellent return on investment even if he’s not Anthony Rizzo.



Second Thoughts on Scooter

By Nathan Petrashek

One of my pet peeves is people who buy so completely into an idea that they have completely closed their mind to any opposing, or even slightly contrasting, viewpoint.  This “tunnel vision” makes having a reasonable discussion at best difficult, at worst impossible.  So regardless of how firmly I might believe in something, I always try to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong.  This is a worthwhile exercise in humility.  And so far in 2016, Scooter Gennett is handing me a big helping of humble pie.

By midseason last year, I had pretty much written off Gennett as a platoon bat.  Gennett’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented; he owns a paltry .123/.183./.172 slash line, although in recent years he’s had reduced opportunities against lefties thanks to the poor results early in his career.  But in the first half of 2015, Gennett couldn’t hit anyone.  He slashed just .239/.275/.384 in the first half and did a month-long stint in the minors as penance.

Gennett turned it on in the second half of 2015, dominated this year’s spring training (.457 OBP, 4 HR), and has continued his hot streak to start the regular season.  On opening day, Gennett rewarded manager Craig Counsell’s decision to give him increasing playing time against lefties, taking Giants’ ace Madison Baumgarner deep to right field.  On the young season, Gennett has tallied 3 HR and is slashing .237/.383/.474, which doesn’t account for two doubles in last night’s abbreviated loss to Minnesota.

Most notable about the “new” Scooter Gennett is his plate discipline. Gennett has benefited from Counsell’s well-documented philosophy of patience at the plate.  According to Fangraphs, Gennett has historically swung at over 40% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone; in 2016, that’s down to 25%.  He’s swinging at slightly fewer pitches in the zone as well (73% career, 66% 2016), presumably looking for better contact.

This new approach has led to a marked increase in Gennett’s walk rate.  Last year, Gennett drew a walk in just 12 plate appearances; in 13 games in 2016, he’s already walked 9 times.  The 16% increase in Gennett’s walk rate probably isn’t going to continue at that clip, but it’s easy to see how even a modest increase will add considerable value, particularly if Gennett continues to bat from the #2 position in the lineup.

Unfortunately, I can’t completely change my tune on Gennett.  While 6 of his 9 walks have come against left-handed pitching, the aforementioned home run off Baumgarner is Gennett’s only hit against southpaws in 2016; he’s 0-for-8 against them otherwise.  As a result, Gennett hasn’t necessarily changed my opinion about him as a platoon player – but I’m intrigued enough by his new plate approach to at least give him further opportunities to prove me wrong.