Weekend Recap: Guerra and Shaw

Milwaukee came into the weekend only 3.5 games behind the division leading Cubs, needing at least three wins to have a realistic shot at the division title. Instead, they dropped three of four, including two gut wrenching extra innings losses. The team’s playoff hopes are still alive thanks to the Rockies floundering this weekend against the Padres and only splitting their four game series in San Diego. The Brewers are two games behind the Rockies for the second wild card spot.

Cubs Brewers
Thursday September 21 5 3
Friday September 22 5 4
Saturday September 23 3 4
Sunday September 24 5 0

One positive to take away from the weekend is that Junior Guerra may be back. Guerra was a disaster in the first half of the season, unable to get on track after suffering an injury in his first start of the season. He then spent August in the minors before being recalled in the September roster expansion. Since his initial relief performance where he allowed two runs in an inning of work, Guerra has been solid. Across five appearances and 4.3 innings, Guerra has only allowed one run, on a solo home run, with no other hits, one walk and nine strikeouts.

Looking at this potential resurgence, there are a few tweaks Guerra has made to improve his performance. First, he’s effectively junked his sinker. He used the pitch 9.39 percent of offerings in 2016, and increased that to 16.74 percent through August 1 of this season. By barely throwing the sinker and even lowering his usage rate on his fourseam fastball, Guerra has become a pitcher who now throws a majority of breaking/offspeed pitches, with a majority of those non fastballs becoming splitters.

Small sample size needs to be mentioned when looking at results of individual pitches in a month’s worth of relief appearances, but Guerra’s stuff has been untouchable: No hits and only one walk against the slider and splitter, while all three of his hits allowed have come off the sinker and fourseam fastball. Results against those pitches are more in line with his breakout 2016, rather than his start to the season.

It seems that this shift may also be allowing his fourseamer to play up. His whiff percentage on both the splitter and fourseam fastball are up dramatically when compared to both earlier this season and 2016. It’s worth noting that even when he struggled to begin the season, his whiff rates were still in line with 2016, so this step forward with higher whiffs is actually a level we haven’t seen yet. Accordingly, the fourseam fastball is now his first pitch of choice a majority of the time, while the splitter is his two strike weapon.

If Guerra is moved back into the rotation, regression is to be expected. His pitch mix is fine if his three pitches are as effective as they’ve been this September, but he’s likely to see a velocity dip. All of his pitches were 1-2 MPH slower when he was starting in Milwaukee to start the season. While they’ve ticked back up a bit, short relief appearance bursts are different than being expected to throw for five to six innings in an outing. We could get a sneak peek next Saturday. If the series against the Cardinals still holds postseason implications for the Brewers, Manager Craig Counsell may decide that throwing Aaron Wilkerson in a must win game is not feasible. If so, Guerra could be a candidate to navigate through the lineup the first time.

In their lone win of the series, Travis Shaw hit a walk off home run in extra innings to propel Milwaukee to a victory. The home run came on a curveball up and away for Shaw, after Wade Davis had already thrown a first pitch curveball to Shaw which was out of the zone (even further up and away). It was a good location to try and catch Shaw, and he’s shown a willingness to chase pitches in that area, and has a healthy whiff rate in that zone.

Going with the curve was a high risk/high reward choice. While Shaw is only hitting .200 against curveballs this season, he is slugging .415 against the pitch. Maybe Davis was tired after being worked hard last week, but the pitch choice seems like a mistake in that spot, and Shaw made him pay.

Up Next: It is the final week of the season and the Brewers are still playing important games. No matter what happens, the Brewers have had a great season and have a foundation to take another step forward next year. But before we look ahead, there are six games left. Milwaukee completes their home slate for the regular season with three games against Cincinnati. The Reds were just swept by the Red Sox and have lost six straight games. Afterwards, the Brewers travel to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, who could do everyone a favor by taking some games from the Cubs. Colorado will be home all week, with three games against the marlins, then three against the Dodgers, who will likely be in cruise control as they glide into the playoffs.

Reds Brewers
Tuesday September 26 Deck McGuire (5.60 DRA) Zach Davies (4.35 DRA)
Wednesday September 27 Homer Bailey (7.88 DRA) Brandon Woodruff (4.73 DRA)
Thursday September 28 Sal Romano (5.39 DRA) Brent Suter (5.77 DRA)


Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USAToday Sports Images

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