After two weeks of inconsistent play, the Brewers finally had a week befitting a team that once was jockeying for the best record in the National League. Milwaukee started the week winning two of three games against the Nationals then they traveled to San Francisco and won the first three games of the series before losing the finale on Sunday.The Brewers are still in second place in the NL Central, 1.5 behind the Cubs, but they’re also in the first Wild Card position, up 1.5 over the second place Diamondbacks and two games ahead of the Rockies.
|Thursday July 26
|Friday July 27
|Saturday July 28
|Sunday July 29
Even after the recent spate of bullpen blowups, Brewers relievers still have a 3.57 Deserved Run Average (DRA), which is 4th in MLB. To that embarrassment of riches, the team has added Joakim Soria, who pitched a scoreless inning during Friday’s win. Thus far in 2018, Soria is on pace for a career best DRA (2.20), which would place him second on the team. He also ranks 16th in MLB in DRA for all pitchers with a minimum of 38 innings pitched. His performance has been fueled by a career high swing rate (49.4 percent) while also allowing a career low contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (75.5 percent, which is also the 6th lowest number in MLB). It’s also important to note that his swinging strike rate jumped over 30 percent in 2017 for the first time in his career and he’s kept those gains in 2018.
Soria has tinkered with his arsenal throughout his time in MLB. Last year, he threw his fastball less than 50 percent for the only season in his career, replacing those missing fastballs with a career high usage rate for his changeup. Based on the results last year versus his whole career, there wasn’t a performance reason for this new approach, and he’s reverted back to a pitch mix that closely mirrors his 2016 season while trading some curveballs for his slider (and it should be noted that our mother site noted last week that Soria has increased his slider usage in July at the expense of the curveball).
Soria’s game plan shifts based on the handedness of the batter. When facing lefthanders, he’s a fastball/changeup pitcher. Early in the count, batters can expect a fastball, then start to worry about the changeup when Soria gets ahead in the count or has two strikes. Lefthanders are swinging and missing on 17 percent of the changeups they face from Soria.
Against right handed hitters, Soria is willing to use more of his repertoire. His fastball rate drips to 53 percent, with its highest rates coming on the first pitch of the at bat and when the count is even. While the changeup remains a go to pitch with two strikes, he’s been much more willing to mix in his curveball and slider. Taking a peek at his July numbers, which admittedly only encompasses 10 games and 9.7 innings out of 41 total appearances and 39.7 innings for the season, his confidence in the slider is even more apparent. It’s his two-strike pitch and it’s usage is almost on par with his fastball when he’s ahead in the count. Batters have whiffed on the slider 23.8 percent for the whole season and that’s jumped to 28.1 percent in July.
Soria has had success this season with both of his approaches, though his strikeout rate exploded since he started relying more on his slider. Because he’s had success against batters from both sides, Soria slides in the bullpen as yet another devastating late inning option who doesn’t need to be matched up. While the starting rotation has the weakest DRA out of any of the contenders for a playoff spot in the National League, Soria joins a bullpen that will shorten games and give the Brewers a chance to compete with any team.
Christian Yelich is in the middle of a thirteen-game hit streak. He went 2-4 on Sunday, actually bringing down his on base percentage from the first twelve games of the streak. Yelich is right behind Jesus Aguilar for the team lead in True Average (TAv) amongst lineup regulars and his .332 would be a career high.
The biggest driver of Yelich’s improved performance have been his power numbers. According to Statcast, he’s produced the best hard hit percentage, barrel percentage and exit velocity of his career. While pitchers have generally sought to attack Yelich low and away, he hasn’t been taking the bait and instead has been swinging at pitches he can hit. In almost every sector of the strike zone, Yelich has improved his isolated power numbers this season compared with his career. Yelich has always feasted on fastballs, but now he’s generating power on all pitches:
Pitchers haven’t changed their approach much from 2017 because he can handle everything right now. The only place to get him to swing and miss is throwing either too high or too low to be a strike, but if those pitches miss, then they get launched. For a team that regularly shuffles its lineup and has faced injury issues, Yelich’s presence has provided consistency where there is little to be had. He’s currently 11th in the National League in BWARP and is a serious candidate for down ballot MVP votes. If he can continue his offensive tear, Yelich may help to power the team to a division title.
The Brewers have another tough week ahead of them with no days off and substantial travel. A four-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers begins tonight, followed by a trip home to face the Rockies for three games. The Dodgers have the second best record in the National League, yet have underperformed their Pythagorean over under by 5.4 games, which is the worst mark in MLB. Meanwhile, the Rockies have overperformed their Pythagorean over under by 3.4 games which is 4th in MLB. Colorado has the third best road record in the National League, so one cannot assume they will be pushovers just because the games are at Miller Park.
|Monday July 30
|Freddy Peralta (4.01 DRA)
|Kenta Maeda (2.36 DRA)
|Tuesday July 31
|Wade Miley (5.97 DRA)
|Walker Buehler (3.52 DRA)
|Wednesday August 1
|Chase Anderson (4.91 DRA)
|Rich Hill (3.58 DRA)
|Thursday August 2
|Jhoulys Chacin (4.63 DRA)
|Clayton Kershaw (3.60 DRA)