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Weekend Recap 13: Aguilar, Knebel

The Brewers spent last week beating up on the American League East. They swept the Orioles at home and took two of three from the Yankees in New York, with a win in Chicago in between to make it a 6-1 week.

Brewers Yankees
Friday July 7 9 4
Saturday July 8 3 5
Sunday July 9 5 3

On Friday, Jesus Aguilar became the 11th Brewer drive in seven runs in a game. While RBI are not exactly the most cited stat in the stathead universe, Aguilar’s feat wasn’t the product of a team running up the score against the back end of a bullpen. Aguilar’s WPA for the game was .566, which is the highest by a Brewer this season. It’s rarefied enough air that Domingo Santana and Eric Thames are the only Brewers with a game above .5 this season.

The biggest hit, of course, was the 7th inning grand slam which put the Brewers up 8-4. Tyler Clippard had been working in on Aguilar on the previous six pitches, but his seventh was middle in, where most batters crush the ball. The two homers gave Aguilar nine this season, which is also his career total as he had not hit a homer in his sixty four career plate appearances before 2017. His modest stats before this season had PECOTA projecting him for a .267 TAv and 0.7 VORP as its 50th percentile forecast. Aguilar is currently at .309 TAv and 12.6 VORP, exceeding his 90th percentile forecast.

The grand slam was off a fastball, but Aguilar has demonstrated the ability to hit everything this year. The only pitches that are giving him slight trouble are sinkers and cutters, and even then he still hits them, just not for any power. Aguilar has a good eye for the strike zone: he’s swung at 48 percent of the pitches he’s seen this year. That number jumps up to 67 percent for pitches in the zone and drops to 31 percent for pitches out of the zone.

If there’s been one downside to his approach, it’s that he has a lot of swing and miss in his game. His swinging strike rate of 33 percent is 22nd in all of baseball among batters who have seen at least 700 pitches this season (though he’s only 3rd on the Brewers). Looking at his zone chart, there is a hole on pitches up in the zone, but pitchers aren’t attacking it with any regularity. In a surprising season with some fun performances, Aguilar has been a revelation. Craig Counsell will have his hands full in dividing playing time at first base between him and Eric Thames over the next few months, but it’s a nice problem to have.

Lone Brewers All Star Corey Knebel had an up and down Saturday and Sunday as he blew the game on Saturday and nailed a four out save on Sunday. Knebel has been so good this season that Saturday was the first time he allowed multiple runs in an outing all season. If there’s been one nit to pick in an otherwise outstanding season, it’s been Knebel’s walk issues. He’s currently walking 5.3 batters per nine innings, which would be a career high. The walk off homer on Saturday was preceded by two walks.

Recap1

Ten of Knebel’s sixteen pitches were out of the zone, which isn’t out line for him considering only 49 percent of his pitches land in the strike zone. Knebel’s breakout has been keyed by a 35.6 percent swinging strike rate, a jump from 2016’s 22.95 percent rate. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 400 pitches, Knebel is 15th in swinging strike rate. When he can catch batters off guard, Knebel can live outside the zone because guys are going to swing any way. But when he misses too much, or faces patient hitters, the walks can become a problem. After throwing 49 (!) pitches  over these games, Knebel has earned his trip to Miami and hopefully his arm is encased in glass until the real games start again on Friday.

Up Next: The All-Star Break! The team gets a few days off before returning to the grind on Friday with a home series against the Phillies. The Brewers will be looking to increase their 5.5 game lead over both the Cubs and Cardinals.


 

Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray, USAToday Sports Images.

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