Game 83 Recap: Brewers 5 Nationals 2

The Brewers continued their season-long mastery of the Washington Nationals, this time using a couple of mid-late game home runs to establish an insurmountable deficit. According to the WTMJ broadcast, the Brewers won their season series against the Nationals for the first time since 2010.

Top Play: Once again, the Brewers found themselves in the midst of a close game against a team with contending aspirations. By now most Milwaukee fans have visceral knowledge of the fact that our beloved Brewers are playing 26-of-28 games against National League contending teams between early June and the All Star Break. Entering Washington, D.C. after experiencing a Cardinals sweep, the Brewers could only claim a 7-15 record over this brutal stretch.

It’s too easy to fall back on the fan narrative that this stretch of play would indeed establish the Brewers as an awful team: Milwaukee was in the middle of a 20-16 (155 RS / 146 RA) stretch entering their four game Miller Park series against the New York Mets, which they promptly split. By that point in the season, much of the Brewers’ “bad” record was accounted for by their terrible April; improving bats and pitching alike helped Milwaukee play well for an extended period of time.

Tough Stretch Close Games Brewers Best WPA Play
June 10 84% / b9 1 out defensive indifference (to 2B)
June 11 100% / t9 Game-ending groundout
June 12 100% / t9 Game-ending groundout
June 13 60% / t6 0 out RBI double
June 14 50% / b6 Inning ending groundout
June 16 100% / b9 Game-ending strikeout
June 17 82% / b8 2nd out: strikeout
June 18 85% / t3 1 out 2 RBI single
June 19 78% / b8 Inning-opening strikeout
June 21 63% / b6 1 out groundout
June 22 100% / b9 Game-ending flyout
June 24 100% / t9 Game-ending strikeout
June 25 100% / t9 Game-ending double play
June 26 50% / b6 Inning-ending Popfly
June 29 100% / t8 Inning-opening groundout
July 4 100% / b9 Game-ending groundout
July 5 100% / b9 Game-ending groundout

That strong play has not subsided. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell emphasized recently that his team is playing hard, and the data bear this narrative, too. According to WPA, the Brewers have held commanding early leads or found themselves in the middle of close contests deep into 17 of the 24 games to date during this contending stretch. Notably, the bullpen failed the Brewers on their West coast trip, as expected mainstay Will Smith was shaking off the dust from his recent injury rehab (among other bullpen issues). In other contests, the bats continued their season-long flirtation with runners in scoring position, only to fail to convert those runners into RBI.

Perhaps a 9-15, 88 RS / 112 RA, 60-win pace seems to exhibit the Brewers’ true talent in the minds of some fans, but the games themselves suggest that a 12-12, or even 13-11, stretch would not have been absurd thus far during this series of games. In this sense, WPA truly exhibits just how close a “rebuilding” team can be to a “contending” team; many of these games, late games even, featured coinflip odds. This is how close the Brewers are to winning, but they need to take real strides to do so.

So, it went, as Milwaukee found themselves in yet another close game last night, this one a 1-1 contest entering the sixth inning. Jonathan Lucroy promptly singled to open the frame, and utility-extraordinaire Hernan Perez convinced a “could it be” flyball to become a game-winning home run. Of course, much bullpen drama would ensue, but Perez’s shot was the biggest play of the game, boosting the Brewers’ odds of winning from 50 percent to 76 percent.

Worst Play (Actual WPA): Early in the game, Brewers hurler Zach Davies struggled somewhat, battling three 3-ball counts and allowing three singles within the first two frames. Davies nullified one of those singles with a groundball double play to close the first, but those singles and 3-ball counts would create the first run of the game in the next inning. Daniel Murphy opened the bottom of the second with a base knock, and advanced on a groundout. Davies nearly stranded Murphy on second, as he retired Ryan Zimmerman to notch two outs. But, Anthony Rendon worked a full count before singling Murphy home (-11 WPA), placing Milwaukee’s odds of winning the game at 36 percent and giving Washington a clear home field advantage.

Worst Play (Perceived WPA): In real time, Daniel Murphy’s TOOTBLAN to open the bottom of the eighth may have been the worst play for the fighting Nationals. In fact, if one estimates the difference between potential (man on second, 0 out) and actual (bases empty, 1 out) outcomes, Murphy’s blunder may have been one of the biggest WPA impact plays of the game. Judging from other plays in the game, Murphy’s inning-opening double would have been a strong play for a team fighting a three-run deficit. According to the Expected Runs Matrix, Murphy’s dash to third base turned an expected 1.0997 R situation into a 0.2768 R situation (-0.8229 R). This outcome was arguably worse for the Nationals’ odds of winning than Bryce Harper’s bases-loaded strike out to end the seventh (-0.6998). Last night, the Brewers bullpen endured their stress test, even if they did receive some help from their competition.

Hernan Perez’s Power:
Last year, I remember a vocal set of Brewers fans that believed Hernan Perez would develop into a power threat. This is something that I always questioned, given that just about every scouting report one can find of Perez downplayed his power. Indeed, a 2013 eyewitness report from BaseballProspectus clearly echoed the sentiment that Perez was a “makeup” player, a “baseball rat” who “carries himself like a big leaguer” — with 35 power potential. The common fan argument in favor of Perez’s power was his physical composition, but even scouting reports underplay his power potential despite his physicality; the best power report on Perez is “occasional pop,” according to

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Hernan Perez: Man of the Future?

Yet, here we are, in the middle of 2016, and Hernan Perez has a league average home run total (4 in 135 PA) which looks especially nice alongside his .264 TAv. Perez’s total performance looks even better when one considers that he is shifting from a utility-infield to “true corner player” utility mode, having played 28 games at third base, nine in right field, and one each for left field and first base. With 52 fielding games against 48 total games played, Perez is a true utility option in the sense that Craig Counsell is not hesitating to move Perez around the diamond in the middle of games. So, if one is judging a .268 / .293 / .409 batting line for a true utility option, that drastically changes the outlook for Perez.

Hernan Perez’s home run swing showed a modest leg kick, which is something that appears to be relatively new in his swing. One must look to the mechanics for Perez, since his HR/FlyBall percentage is not flukey, his overall batted ball distribution mimics that of 2015, and his swinging profile has changed ever-so-slightly. Perez will not be mistaken for a true discipline plate profile, but the right-handed bat is arguably earning more out of his swings by decreasing his swinging strikes and increasing his overall contact (inside and outside of the strike zone). There’s nothing here that screams “luck” for Perez, which makes his utility batting profile quite interesting.

Quick Hit: Piggybacking on Julien Assouline’s dive into PowerSpeed number, it is worth noting that along with four homers, Hernan Perez also has 10 stolen bases. With this combination, Perez is the third best power/speed player on the Brewers, behind Jonathan Villar (9.8) and Ryan Braun (8.2), thus far in 2016.

If Perez continues to cobble together playing time and maintain his power, he could potentially hit 10 HR in ~375-400 PA. While 198 MLB players hit 10 home runs in 2015, and 89 players stole 10 bases, there were only 48 10 HR / 10 SB players in the entire league. Judging the full weight of both home run and stolen base totals, 68 MLB players posted a PwrSpd of 10.0 or better in 2015. Perez’s modest power/speed profile should not be underrated, as it is relatively difficult for MLB teams to find players that can hit 10 HR and steal 10 bases (and find the playing time to let both of those skills shine).

Up Next: The Brewers look to sweep the Nationals against Tanner Roark, as Milwaukee sends Matt Garza back to the mound. Incidentally, Garza’s DRA improved after his rough outing in St. Louis, perhaps reflecting the strange nature of his bled-to-death batted balls allowed. In the context of Miller Park and the 2016 National League, Garza’s 4.31 DRA is solidly average. However, one gets the sense that Garza’s 14 percent strike out rate and seven percent walk rate should improve in order to sustain that average performance (but keep watching that 56 percent groundball rate). Should Garza remain steady, he will add to the increasingly solid Brewers rotation, which has stabilized since GM David Stearns demoted Taylor Jungmann and Wily Peralta.

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