The Brewers took care of business last week, recording a 4-2 record against the Reds and Pirates to stay in third place in the National League Central and in control of the second Wild Card spot. Other than a stinker on Saturday, the Brewers were competitive in every game and could have swept the Reds if not for some shoddy defense. While their odds of winning the division are under ten percent, they remain the most likely team in the National League to attain a Wild Card spot.
|Friday August 24||6||7|
|Saturday August 25||9||1|
|Sunday August 26||4||7|
The biggest news of the week seemed to come on Friday when the Brewers appeared to be on the verge of completing a trade with the Reds for Matt Harvey. The rotation is currently missing Jimmy Nelson and Brent Suter due to injury, and minor league performance issues delayed the activation of Zach Davies. Milwaukee is currently 18th in team DRA over the season, but that number is heavily propped up by their dominant bullpen. Even though the team does need more production from their starters, it looks like they made the right call to hold the line on trading for Harvey.
One area where the team has noticeably struggled is in getting bulk innings from their starters. Part of this is by design as Craig Counsell and the front office subscribe to the third time through the order penalty, and will pull their starters to avoid overexposure. However, a team does need its starters to pitch enough to avoid depleting the bullpen. As I noted last week, Jhoulys Chacin is the only Brewers starter who has pitched seven innings at least three times. Currently, the MLB average start length is 5.5 innings. Milwaukee comes in slightly below that number at 5.4 innings per start. Matt Harvey is averaging 5.3 innings per start in 2018 in both New York and Cincinnati. In addition, his game log doesn’t show any recent trend reflecting increased durability over the season. Even before looking at his performance, Harvey was only ever going to slot into the five-inning starter role, with occasional longer outings. Milwaukee already has a bunch of those pitchers.
|Current Milwaukee Rotation||Innings Pitched per Games Started|
If Harvey isn’t going to provide bulk innings, then for the transaction to be worth the price, he’d need to provide quality innings. He has a 4.55 DRA this season, and PECOTA projects a 4.69 DRA for the rest of the season. His K/9 has rebounded in Cincinnati up to 7.1 from 6.7 with the Mets, but his Reds number and seasonal average of 7 is well below his career rate of 8.4. His swinging strike rate is 19 percent, slightly below last year’s performance. It’s also fallen every season he’s been in MLB.
Seasonal trends don’t paint a rosier picture. Harvey’s changeup is getting increased whiffs as is his slider, but the fourseamer and curveball are flat. However, he throws the fourseam fastball almost twice as much as the changeup and slider combined, still utilizing it as his go to pitch with two strikes, even if the other two options seem more effective. Since arriving in Cincinnati, the veteran has slightly decreased his fastball usage and thrown more sliders, but slider whiffs have fallen as he’s thrown it more. Maybe the Brewers could have persuaded him to change his pitch mix further, which could increase his strikeout numbers and effectiveness. That’s quite a bet to make with the playoffs on the line, but the Brewers have more information in this area than the public does.
Harvey is currently running a .279 BABIP as a Red, which is around his numbers when he was a dominant force in New York. Much of that is fueled by hitters’ futility against his slider. While that pitch is still giving hitters fits, the improvement in results against his other pitches still leaves him as a pitcher batters don’t fear.
Fans love trades, and I think the team’s slump in the standings as well as an easy area for improvement left people disappointed that the team came close to consummating a deal that could have helped the squad. However, after looking into Harvey’s performance, he just hasn’t performed much better than the pitchers currently in place. There’s a chance that Harvey has some untapped upside that the current rotation doesn’t possess, but the odds of seeing that pitcher in Milwaukee aren’t particularly high. If the Reds were giving away Harvey, then a case can be made to complete the deal. However, there’s no reason for Milwaukee to give up a legitimate prospect for what Harvey is now.
Ryan Braun hit another homer on Sunday and has been on a heater since the All-Star Break. Over twenty six games, he has a .382 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage, with thirteen extra base hits and only eleven strikeouts. Braun’s True Average (TAv) has improved to .273, which would still be a career low but is well ahead of his .258 number from early June. Most importantly, he’s produced while only sitting out five games.
Braun is seeing more pitches to hit now than he was earlier in the season. Previously, pitchers had been pounding him low and weren’t afraid to throw balls, so long as he wasn’t getting anything in the upper area of the zone. Now, whether through mistake or bravado, Braun is getting more pitches in the middle of the strike zone, and he’s been crushing them. He’s also swinging and missing less, in particular at pitches that aren’t great. Pitchers weren’t going upstairs on him often through July 19, but when they did, Braun had no answers. That’s a sea of red in an area where he traditionally produced. Now Braun is still getting beat by the lower stuff, but he’s not swinging and missing at as many of those high balls. In particular, he’s tightened up against breaking pitches. Over his career, he’s whiffed on around fifteen percent of the breaking balls he’s seen, but now he has that number under ten percent.
Statcast metrics already were in Braun’s favor when he was in his slump. At BPMilwaukee, Sean Roberts wrote that he was underperforming his underlying numbers a few weeks ago, and his numbers have risen even more since then. Braun’s expected slugging percentage is now up to .539, which would be a career high. He also currently has a career high in hard hit percentage (48.2). His exit velocity is 91.9 and barrel percentage of 10.3 only trail his 2015 numbers. He’s a top twenty hitter in both of those metrics. So long as Braun stays healthy, which is always the worry with him, he’s a productive hitter who can hit as well as anyone in the lineup.
The Brewers will spend this week on the road. They’ll have a three-game series in Cincinnati, then go to Washington to face the Nationals. After losing the series finale against Milwaukee last week, the Reds proceeded to get swept in a four game series by the Cubs, allowing twenty-nine runs across the four games. Last week Cincinnati had a team DRA of 5.12 and it now sits at 5.18, comfortably twenty-sixth in MLB. The Nationals have the third best run differential (Runs Scored / Runs Allowed) in the National League but are 7.5 games out of a playoff spot. They’ve underplayed their Pythagorean projection by 7.1 games, which is second worst in MLB.
|Tuesday August 28||Junior Guerra (4.65 DRA)||Sal Romano (5.68 DRA)|
|Wednesday August 29||Freddy Peralta (4.80 DRA)||Robert Stephenson (5.81 DRA)|
|Thursday August 30||Wade Miley (4.34 DRA)||Anthony DeSclafani (4.71 DRA)|