After two games, the Brewers are tied 1-1 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The blown lead in Game 2 will not sit well with the team if they fail to advance to the World Series, but the Brewers are not in a terrible position as the series heads to Los Angeles. Everything is magnified in October, for better or worse, but one bullpen blowup doesn’t promise impending doom on the west coast. Below are some hitting and pitching notes which should encourage Brewers fans as we enter the middle stage of the NLCS.
Jeremy Jeffress has had an up and down playoffs. While he’s provided three scoreless outings, Jeffress has allowed fifteen baserunners in 5.7 innings and that has led to four runs scoring as he was on the mound. In a look at Jeffress last week, I noted that when he’s locked in, he’s looking to keep the ball down in an effort to induce groundballs and whiffs. In the first two NLCS games in Milwaukee, he did not succeed in keeping the ball low or out of the strike zone. While Jeffress is still hitting his favorite spot low and away, he’s leaving the ball up and in the zone entirely too much compared with the regular season. Batters have been able to lay off his low pitches because he’s leaving enough hittable pitches in the zone.
Against the Dodgers, Jeffress has only induced whiffs on his curveball, and his whiff rate on that pitch is slightly below his season average. Two percentage points isn’t particularly noteworthy, until one notices that he’s not getting any other whiffs. Expanding the sample to include the NLDS helps his curveball numbers, but the only other whiffs are against his fourseam fastball and also below his regular season whiff rate.
The veteran’s velocity is right around his season numbers, so there isn’t a dramatic drop off, nor is he overthrowing his pitches. However, he is seeing less movement overall. All of his pitches are moving less horizontally and are closer together now. Back in April, he had his largest spread, when his average curveball and sinker were eighteen inches apart. Vertically, the fourseam and curveball had a thirteen-inch difference. Because Jeffress isn’t hitting his spots, each of those ranges have narrowed and batters have less territory they need to worry about it. Game One of the NLDS didn’t scare Craig Counsell about inserting Jeffress into high pressure situations, nor should it have based on his track record this season. However, with the plethora of options at his disposal and the little room for error nature of a best of seven series, it wouldn’t be surprising if there was an attempt to get Jeffress a lower leverage situation in Game Three or Four to get him back on track.
Dodgers pitchers have taken note of the Rockies’ approach to Christian Yelich and are not throwing him much to hit. After he had a 10.5 percent walk rate during the regular season, that number has skyrocketed to 37.5 percent in the playoffs. Pitchers are still avoiding the middle of the zone when throwing to Yelich and they seem content to throw him balls in an effort to make him chase bad pitches. To his credit, Yelich has not expanded his willingness to swing out of frustration. During the regular season, Yelich had been vulnerable to pitches away from him and while he didn’t miss those pitches often, he also didn’t hit them for much power. With the season he had, Yelich is the guy the opponents are going to fear and want to pitch around. By not swinging at bad pitches, Yelich has forced pitchers to make a choice: they can walk him or take a chance and throw it in the strike zone. Yelich’s approach will let him continue to accumulate walks and eventually he’s going to run into a few pitches and make the opposing team wish they had just walked him.
Corbin Burnes had a spectacular start to his postseason career. In two NLDS games, he pitches four innings and only allowed one baserunner while striking out five batters. Unfortunately, his last game was not quite as successful. Burnes is a fastball/slider pitcher, throwing the fastball for around sixty percent of his total pitches, and he’ll usually mix in a curveball. During Game 2, Burnes abandoned his curveball and threw his fewest sliders in a month. While he got swings on five of his eleven pitches, there were no swings and misses. Burnes had a whiff rate 32.1 percent during the regular season, which was 53rd out of 442 pitcher who threw at least 570 pitches.
Burnes got whiffs on about a quarter of his sliders, but only threw two on Saturday. The speed on his slider was the lowest it had been since early September. It seems like he was having trouble locating his fastball. Burnes’s fourseasm fastball is generally located inside on his arm side or low and away. In a limited sample size, Burnes appeared to be all over the place with his fastball in Game Two and did not fool the Dodgers hitters. He rarely throws the pitch glove side and up, yet three fastballs ended up there, and he had threw well below the strike zone. It seemed like he focused on trying to get a feel for the fastball above trusting his arsenal.
Burnes will pitch in at least one of the games in Los Angeles and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the hitters. Ideally, the Burnes that kept the ball down against the Rockies and utilizes his breaking pitches to keep hitters off balance steps on the mound. When he gets those swings and misses, he can string together some scoreless innings for a team that is seeking to mix and match its way to a pennant.
Orlando Arcia has a hit in each playoff game he’s started and his streak extends to six games including the end of the regular season and his solo home run started the scoring in Game Two. The home run came on a first pitch cutter which caught enough of the bottom of the zone, in one of the areas in which Arcia demonstrated some power this year.
Arcia set a new standard for futility this year. His .268 OP was below his batting average last year. His .307 slugging percentage was below his OBP last year. The only position player with more than 100 plate appearances who had a lower OBP than Arcia was Eric Sogard.
Arcia’s hot streak began in September. While he’s not drawing many walks, his batting average since September 1 is above .300 and he’s slugging .443, which would be his MLB best by around forty points. He’s always been a whiffy hitter. Arcia swung and missed at 28.8 percent of the pitches he saw in 2018, which is around his career average of 27.5 percent. However, one area Arcia has cleaned up is his misses on pitches which most batters should hit. Before September 1, Arcia had huge holes in his swing almost everywhere. High and low and even belt high pitches could be missed. However, since September 1, Arcia is missing less, especially towards the middle of the zone, which are pitches any hitter should drive. The numbers bear out that he’s whiffing less on all types of pitches. Arcia doesn’t need to turn into Christian Yelich, but if he can bat eighth and get a hit a game, the Brewers will definitely take that offensive performance with his superlative defense. He isn’t likely to be a player who decides a series, but if he can be a player who puts some pressure on a pitcher facing the bottom half of the order, Arcia can provide a boost for the offense.
As the Brewers head west for three games in Los Angeles one point to monitor is the bullpen usage. While Craig Counsell goes into every game with a set plan in mind, emergencies do occur even in games which seem well at hand, such as the 8th inning of Game 1. The 2-3-2 format will put a large amount of stress on Milwaukee’s pitching staff. I would guess that the pitching appearances have been scripted and written in pencil in advance of the publication of this article, any plan which relies on a large amount of players performing creates more opportunities for something to go wrong. Without an off day, there are no chances to reset the bullpen. Milwaukee can make it through these three games, but it feels like they’ll need some innings from their starters in at least one game so the bullpen gets a chance to rest. Jhoulys Chacin will start Game 3. He already had a five inning start in the NLDS and he led the staff with 5.5 innings pitched per start during the regular season. If Chacin can provide at least five innings tonight, he’ll put the Brewers in position to take at least one game in Los Angeles and guarantee that there will be at least one more game played in Miller Park this month.