What (We Think) We Learned

Shortly after I saw it for the first time, I was convinced that Star Wars Episode I was my favorite movie.  I was perhaps a bit too enthused at seeing baby Darth Vader, a young Obi-Wan, and hey, R2D2!  I know him!  So you don’t have to tell me about the danger of overreacting to small samples.

With April, we’ve seen our favorite teams play for a full month, and it’s awfully tempting to look at WARP leaderboards and start to draw conclusions about the future.  And while we know better, it’s difficult to remember that even walk rates haven’t really become predictive yet according to Russell Carleton’s research.  With about 100 plate appearances for the regulars in the bag through the end of April, and most starters over 100 batters faced, where can we start to draw some conclusions about the 2017 Brewers?

First, though, a word about Eric Thames.  He’s good.

To expound on that a little bit, I’m intentionally not including Thames in this analysis because so much has been written and analyzed already, and I think we’re all on board with the fact that he is much better than the contract he signed.  He (probably) won’t hit 11 homers in May, but we know that his strikeout rate was always the question, and he has answered it emphatically, striking out in just 22.3 percent of his plate appearances.  For comparison, Ryan Braun this year has struck out in 22.2 percent of his.  Whatever becomes of Thames’ WARP and long-term contributions to the Brewers, baseball, and world peace, we can say he’s strong and controls the strike zone.

Now, the other takeaways we can safely begin to analyze after the first month.

  1. Orlando Arcia is meeting expectations

Perhaps no Brewers prospect has been as heralded as much as Orlando Arcia since Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.  The general consensus has been that he would be an excellent defender with potential to become above-average at the plate as an everyday shortstop.  And so far this season, that’s exactly what Arcia has shown.

His glove has never really been a question mark, and by FRAA, Arcia is third in the majors this season with 4.6.  Of course, we’re already getting away from our goal to analyze what we think we already know, as DJ LaMahieu is first in the bigs in FRAA.  So let’s talk about the bat instead.  After 84 plate appearances, Arcia has just a 22.6 percent strikeout rate, which have never really been a big problem anywhere in his career.  He’s a bit below the 100 PA threshold at which swing and contact rates become more predictive, but with a contact rate of 72.6 percent through April, it’s clear that the 22-year old is still working to develop his approach at the plate.  Putting the hype and excitement of young prospects aside (and Arcia has been young for every level he’s played at), the talented glove and development as a batter is exactly where the Brewers should hope for Arcia to be at this point.

  1. Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana’s breakouts have gone in opposition directions

I wrote earlier in the month about Keon Broxton’s plate discipline so far this year, and the results haven’t yet been promising by the point at which we expect strikeout rate to become more predictive.  Through April, Broxton had a 40.8 percent strikeout rate after 76 plate appearances, which would be his largest in any season at any level he’s received more than 2 plate appearances.  Strikeouts and contact have always been the concern with him as a prospect, and so far in 2017 the results haven’t given a lot of reason for optimism.  Then again, last year through his first 71 plate appearances, Broxton had a 46.5 percent strikeout rate, and we saw how that turned out for the rest of the year.

Domingo Santana, on the other hand, has cut his strikeout rate by almost a third over his career average in 84 plate appearances.  He’s swinging overall at almost exactly his career rate, but the big difference has come in making contact.  His contact rate has gone up every year in the majors, and this year hasn’t been an exception, going from 70.6 percent last year to 76.8 percent this year.  Cutting strikeouts and making more contact seems like a good indicator for a sustainable and successful approach at the plate.  Given the exciting young talent on the roster and in the minors, it’d be a shame to overlook the gains Santana has already made and the breakout potential from the 24 year-old.

  1. The starting pitching has some work to do

Coming into May, the Brewers offense was third-best in runs scored.  Their pitching is third-worst in runs allowed.  The injury to Junior Guerra didn’t help, but the current rotation hasn’t been able to keep the Brewers consistently above .500 through the first month.

For pitchers, strikeout rate stabilizes at about 100 batters faced, and that’s almost exactly where each of the starters are after one month.  As a team, the starting rotation ranks 19th in MLB in strikeout percentage.  So we know the Brewers aren’t going to turn into a strikeout rotation overall this season, but with a .314 BABIP (fourth-highest in the majors), the rotation still could see their luck turn around.  That BABIP is something to keep an eye on moving forward, as without big strikeout numbers it will determine a large extent of the run-prevention success of the team.

In the non-Thames division, one month in we’ve learned that Arcia continues to be who scouts have thought he is, Domingo Santana appears to be making some positive steps forward, and that Brewer pitchers are probably going to continue to put balls in play.  The results have been a fairly positive .500 record entering May, but still a lot of questions remain as to who this team will be over the long-term, and why anyone ever thought Jar-Jar Binks was a good idea.

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