Another week, another chance to mention that the Brewers are in in first place. After starting the week by winning a home series against the Cardinals, the Brewers did suffer a setback to start their road trip. The interleague schedule granted Milwaukee three winnable games against a terrible Chicago White Sox team, and the Brewers managed to lose two of three games. The bats deserve some of the blame, as the team only scored eight runs in the series, well below their usual output per game. Surprisingly, the bullpen entered both losses when the score was tied, but on each night Matt Albers and Dan Jennings surrendered the winning runs to the White Sox.
|Friday June 1||3||8|
|Saturday June 2||5||0|
|Sunday June 3||1||6|
On Sunday, Brent Suter pitching 5+ innings, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks, while striking out six. It was his fourth straight start where the lefty struck out six batters. Suter induced twelve whiffs off his four seam fastball, the third straight game in which there have been at least ten swings and misses on the pitch. In his twenty-two previous starts before this stretch, he’d only gotten ten whiffs on the fastball twice. Suter’s feat is amazing because he throws the slowest fastball in the majors.
Suter threw seventy-two fastballs against the White Sox, increasing his fastball usage even more. Suter has varied his pitch mix throughout his career, and in May he almost threw the pitch at his highest usage rate for a month in his career. In April 2017 he was a reliever, and he only had three starts in August 2017, so May 2018 was the most sustained usage rate as a starter of his career.
What’s driving the increased usage and success for what seems like it should be a mediocre pitch? Suter has seen a velocity bump. When he first broke onto the big league club, he was throwing the pitch at 83.5 mph, which is only slightly faster than Jamie Moyer at the end of his career, and not sustainable in the majors. While he could max out the pitch close to 88 mph, he didn’t sustain that level through an outing. This season, he’s throwing harder than before, including his bullpen stints. Suter’s history suggests that there probably isn’t much more room to grow, the closer he can sit to 90 mph, the more effective he can be. And ideally this would also help his changeup, since there’s more separation between the pitch speeds, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Aside from the velocity bump, Suter is also getting a little more movement on the fastball. There’s slightly more horizontal movement and the most vertical movement of his career. The combination of factors has lead to increased swing and whiff rates on the pitch when he’s throwing it to the top and above the zone. His already very high swing rate on high fastballs has increased in almost all of those upper zones this year. Swings on those high fastballs play into his plan. He gets most of his swings and misses on those pitches, and even when batters make contact, they don’t drive the ball well in that area.
Baseball history suggests that Suter is walking a fine line that is likely not sustainable. Fastballs that slow should be very hittable. According to DRA, he’s already outperforming his peripherals. However, if he can maintain the new and increased velocity level, then he has more breathing room for success. The Brewers are 5-3 when he allows less than four runs, which is achievable. With this bullpen, five solid innings is enough.
Over the weekend, Lorenzo Cain went 1-10 with three walks. In his age 32 season, he’s currently producing a .301 TAv, which would tie his career high, which was set back in 2015. His slugging numbers are slightly down from 2017, but his plate discipline has taken a massive step forward. Cain’s OBP has surged to .389, which would be a career high, because he’s walking more than ever. His increased selectivity at the plate is extraordinary.
|Year||Cain Swing Rate||MLB Average Swing Rate|
Other than his first season with regular playing time in MLB, Cain has consistently swung at a higher rate than the league, and 2013 is his worst season by VORP. Somehow Cain has dropped his swing rate by nine percentage points, and now only thirty-two regulars swing less than he does.
Cain’s made improvements across the board. He’s cut his swing rate on pitches out of the zone from 30.3 percent to 20.2 percent, which would be the lowest rate of his career, including partial seasons. Looking broadly at pitch types, he’s swinging at career low rates against hard and breaking pitches, with a slight uptick on offspeed pitches as a result of swinging at more changeups.
When examining his zone profile from this season, Cain has made improvements in a few areas. It looks like he’s making a conscious effort to be more selective on pitches away, especially those out of the zone when compared with his career rates. He’s also laying off more pitches above the zone, with those takes increasing as the pitches move further away from him in the box. These are traditionally pitches where he’s not seen a great rate of success, so if these changes stick, Cain could produce the best season offensively of his career.
The Brewers have a rare two days off this week, as they have a break before and after their two game series in Cleveland, then go to Philadelphia to play the Phillies. When in Cleveland, the Brewers will face Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Even with Carrasco’s disappointing season, both starters have better DRAs then the current Milwaukee rotation and the Cleveland offense is 4th best in MLB, scoring 5.02 runs per game.
|Tuesday June 5||Junior Guerra (4.32 DRA)||Corey Kluber (2.48 DRA)|
|Wednesday June 6||Chase Anderson (6.00 DRA)||Carlos Carrasco (4.04 DRA)|