Another week, another losing record. After splitting a pair of games in Chicago, the Brewers lost their weekend series in St. Louis. Before Sunday’s win, Milwaukee had fallen to third place in the division and out of a playoff spot for the first time since April. While the pitching performances this week were less than stellar, the bats didn’t offer any support. The Cardinals have played better over the past month, but the Brewers should score more than two runs a game against a team that is fourteenth in team Deserved Run Average (DRA). Milwaukee’s 2-3 record on the week left them in a tie with Philadelphia and Colorado for the two Wild Card spots, with St. Louis a half a game behind those three teams.
|Friday August 17||2||5|
|Saturday August 18||2||7|
|Sunday August 19||2||1|
Jhoulys Chacin turned in two performances that made him the star performer of the week. He started both Brewers wins, pitching thirteen scoreless innings by allowing seven hits and two walks, while striking out thirteen batters. Chacin has pitched 151 innings over twenty-six starts, both staff leading numbers. He’s the only Brewers starter who has pitched at least seven innings more than twice. With that quantity has also come quality; amongst the top seven Brewers in games started, Chacin has the best DRA at 4.56.
On Sunday, Chacin threw thirty six sliders, more than any other pitch. That 43.9 percent usage rate is right around his season number of 41.8 percent, which is a career high for him. Cardinals batters swung at twenty of the sliders, the highest rate of swings on the pitch since mid-July. This year batters have swung and missed on 14.2 percent of his sliders, but Chacin induced only three whiffs on Sunday, which would explain his low strikeout total.
Since Chacin started emphasizing the slider in 2017, he’s getting more horizontal movement on it. Batters have struggled against the slider and it’s been his best pitch by batter results in 2018. Part of the success lies in that Chacin has been willing to throw the pitch in any count. Other than on the first pitch and two strikes against left handed hitters, Chacin throws the slider with the same frequency in all counts, with a higher usage when he faces righties.
Chacin manipulates the ball in different ways depending on the handedness of the batter. Against right handed hitters, Chacin is looking to locate low and away. That’s the area where righties are most likely to swing and miss. When they do make contact, then they aren’t doing much damage to the pitch. He still uses the pitch low and inside to left handed hitters, but Chacin also is willing to elevate the ball and keep it more on his arm side. Batters do whiff at the pitch in these new locations, perhaps because they think they’re going to get one of his fastballs.
With the way the season has developed, the Brewers are currently in desperate need of quality bulk innings. Jhoulys Chacin may not stack up against other teams’ aces, but that’s not necessary for the team to win games. If Chacin can continue to pitch beyond the sixth inning and avoid blowup starts, then he’ll allow Craig Counsell to reset the bullpen and rest key arms so they’re fresh for when the other starters need to be pulled after five innings. That opportunity to not use all of the team’s top bullpen arms is a hidden value not found in DRA, but which is essential for the team not to burn out down the stretch.
Eric Thames pinch hit for Chacin during Sunday’s game and drew a walk. Thames has struggled mightily in August, striking out in more than half of his plate appearances this month, with two home runs comprising two thirds of his hits during that time span. Sunday was actually his first game this month in which he appeared and didn’t strike out.
Pitchers have adjusted against Thames and right now he seems lost at the plate. Before July 31 he was seeing just under sixty percent fastballs. While pitchers were focused on throwing the ball away from him, he also got some low and inside pitches, which he could turn on. Thames is now seeing less than fifty percent fastballs and pitchers have been more precise with their locating. Almost everything is away right now and Thames has been helpless and whiffing on pitches all over the place. On all non-fastballs, Thames has doubled his swing and miss rates.
Thames has a .294 True Average (TAv) on the season, but that modest dip masks his decline in plate discipline. His swing rate has jumped from 42.9 percent in 2017 up to 48.4 percent this season, which is in line with his swing numbers before his exile from the big leagues. Alarmingly, his swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone have also approached his early career numbers. He’s swung at 32.1 percent of pitches out of the strike zone.
Even with more swings, he’s running a career low contact rate (66.6 percent), resulting in a career high whiff rate (33.4 percent). Unsurprisingly, his strikeout rate has increased four percentage points to 33.8 percent and his walk rate has declined four percentage points to 9.2 percent.
Thames has lost his plate discipline and approach, and with his subpar defense, he’s unplayable until he controls the strike zone again. The first step is recognizing the steady diet of breaking pitches and starting to lay off them. Pitchers are feeding him junk because he’s going to swing at it. Pinch hitting with runners on base is a good option for him, because pitchers may be less likely to throw breaking balls in those instances. Otherwise, if he can force pitchers to throw fastballs, then he can start to climb out of this hole and become a valuable contributor again.
Milwaukee will spend the week at home. The Reds and Pirates each come to town for three game series. We’re not at must win games right now, but the Brewers need to take care of business this week and win both series. After a rough start to the season, Cincinnati has played better baseball of late. Cincinnati’s rotation has a team DRA of 5.12, so this series is an opportunity to get the bats going again. The Pirates briefly flirted with the playoff race but have fallen back in August and currently sit 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They have one of the lowest strikeout rates in the league, so it’s fair to expect the defense will get a workout in that series.
|Monday August 20||Homer Bailey (6.08 DRA)||Chase Anderson (5.38 DRA)|
|Tuesday August 21||Sal Romano (5.69 DRA)||Junior Guerra (4.79 DRA)|
|Wednesday August 22||Robert Stephenson (4.25 DRA)||Freddy Peralta (5.10 DRA)|