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Weekend Recap: Santana and Jeffress

The Brewers’ eight-game winning streak against some of the worst teams in MLB ended abruptly in Chicago, as the Brewers were swept by the Cubs in a four-game series over the weekend. The sweep was particularly disappointing because the pitching stood toe to toe with the vaunted Cubs offense and held them in check all weekend, but the offense simply failed to show up. The Brewers were shut out in three of the four games as their bats had no other means of production when the team stopped hitting home runs.

 

Brewers Cubs
Thursday April 26 0 1
Friday April 27 2 3
Saturday April 28 0 3
Sunday April 29 0 2

 

Even after the acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, Domingo Santana still figured to be a key player on the team moving forward. Santana broke out last year in his age-24 season, with career highs in TAv (.306), OBP (.371), home runs (30) and pretty much every other positive offensive number.

 

Unfortunately, Santana’s April performance has left a lot to be desired. His TAv has plummeted to .243, his OBP. is down to .327 and most damningly, he hasn’t hit a home run. Looking at his plate discipline stats, nothing is terribly out of line when compared with 2017. He’s facing slight fewer pitches in the strike zone, he’s swinging slightly more, and he’s making less contact, none of which are great signs, but we’re looking at differences of 2 percentage points each way. Here are perhaps more worrying numbers:

 

 

YEAR Z_SWING_RT O_SWING_RT Z_CONTACT_RT O_CONTACT_RT SW_STRK_RT
2017 0.6879 0.2506 0.7652 0.4551 0.3223
2018 0.6879 0.3065 0.7311 0.4918 0.3500
Career 0.6703 0.2429 0.774 0.4036 0.3286

 

His increased swing rate has solely come on pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s making less contact on strikes and more contact on would-be balls, and he’s swinging and missing more than ever. Santana’s 35 percent swinging strike rate is 21st overall amongst MLB hitters who have faced at least 250 pitches (a rough proxy for qualified batters at this stage).

 

Taking up the contact issue, when Santana is striking the ball, he’s not hitting it well. He’s hitting ground balls in more than half of his at-bats, which is not productive for someone with his offensive profile. When he’s not hitting grounders, Santana is popping up at a higher rate this year compared with 2017. He’s also not hitting line drives.

 

 

 

 

 

This is likely a blip on the road to another successful season, but Santana needs to work to pick up his production. Tightening up his batting eye and not pressing and swinging at pitches outside the zone will give him more hittable pitches. Right now pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of pitches low and generally away. Those aren’t pitches he’s been successful against in the past. If he can force some more throws higher in the zone, hopefully he can start driving the ball again.

 


 

Jeremy Jeffress pitched in Friday’s game, getting two outs, one via strike out and allowing no runs. Jeffress has now allowed a run in only one of his fifteen appearances, comprising fourteen total innings. This year, he’s made a change to his arsenal. He started toying with a splitter back in 2015, but didn’t really start using it until last year, with his usage increasing throughout the season. Jeffress has kept throwing the splitter for more than 20 percent of his pitches, generally at the expense of his sinker. Specifically, the split has become his go to pitch when ahead in the count and/or when the batter has two strikes. Before he became a Brewer (again) last July 31, the sinker and curveball were used most often in those situations.

 

Jeffress has never been a big strikeout pitcher, which has limited his ceiling both in terms of advanced metrics and ability to get out of jams in late innings, since he can’t rely on striking out hitters at will. However, his strikeout rate has ticked up, due in part to the splitter. He gets more whiffs on the pitch than any other pitch he throws. As of now, he’s been doing a good job of throwing the pitch enough for strikes, so batters need to swing. If he continues to develop more of a feel for the pitch and can consistently bury it low, then he may take another step forward and become an elite late inning option.

 


 

After the weekend sweep, the Brewers need to lick their wounds and bounce back. Luckily, they’re going to Cincinnati to play the Reds for three games. Unfortunately, Eric Thames can’t be activated in time to make the trip with the team. It’s a short trip as the Brewers will immediately return home to play the Pittsburgh Pirates, who just swept the Cardinals to take the division lead.

 

Brewers Pirates
Monday April 30 Jhoulys Chacin (4.19 DRA) Brandon Finnegan (8.65 DRA)
Tuesday May 1 Chase Anderson (4.34 DRA) Homer Bailey (5.57 DRA)
Wednesday May 2 Wade Miley (-) Luis Castillo (6.12 DRA)

 


 

Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski, USA Today Sports Images

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