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The Week in The Contact Play, 7/1-7/7

Just kidding. But even when turning a blind eye to the contact play, the Brewers manage to confirm our biases on a weekly basis.


Confirmation bias - "a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way." (Wikipedia)

Last week we picked apart one memorable inning from a Brewers/Cubs game which took on a strikingly familiar shape according to our Brewers-conditioned brains.

This week we take a break from beating up on Yuniesky Betancourt (or as much as it is possible) and the contact play and, somewhat paradoxically, talk mostly about first basemen.

Maxim: Doug Melvin always picks up the same types of players.

High strikeout, no glove hitters with pop. With a preference for free swingers. Those who do not belong entirely into one category are exceptionally excellent in the others.

Yuniesky Betancourt. Brooks Conrad. Felipe Lopez. George Kottaras. Mike Cameron (minus the no glove). Russell Branyan. Johnny Estrada. Kevin Mench. Carlos Lee. Junior Spivey.

While you can't necessarily tie Melvin directly to players drafted and developed in the system in his tenure, many players we've seen come through the system in recent years have exhibited similar profiles. Bill Hall. Corey Hart. Rickie Weeks. Mat Gamel. Khris Davis. Going back a ways, Brad Nelson. The list goes on.

Naturally, when the Brewers traded for the recently DFA'd Juan Francisco, my first reaction was "Well, here we go again." But, I decided to temporarily withhold judgement. Give the guy a chance. And to be fair, he hasn't been entirely unproductive, especially compared to what he's replacing. It's just that he's cut so closely to the Melvin mold it's very easy to fall in the mindset of being tantalized by raw power at the expense of a poor approach or crappy defense.

In the minors, Francisco showed plenty of raw power with a .502 career SLG%, including 112 HR in 603 total game appearances. It inflated a typically decent .819 OPS which included just .317 in OBP - which is only 31 points higher than his .286 BA, which indicates free-swinging tendencies.

The major league story hasn't been all that different. But with consistent playing time, Francisco has been respectable, even showing an ability to get on base without having to swing the bat. Despite striking out quite a bit, he has netted 11 walks in 103 PA - a 10.7 BB%, highest in his career outside of a handful of ABs in 2009 with the Reds.

Of course, his stint with the Brewers is still a small sample, so it's best to be patient. With Aramis Ramirez now on the DL, we're just going to have to get used to the ups and downs of the latest Melvin selection. Because there are ups. Even if the "no defense" moniker rings wholly true:


(later that game:)


Yeah. Those were separate plays.


Maxim: Corey Hart is the best at catching balls on the warning track. - Yar Nivek

We recently learned that Corey Hart would miss the rest of the season with a bum other knee which we didn't know was bum because we were too distracted by the first bum one. We all figure this to be bad news on account of the historically miserable offensive production we've see from Brewers' first basemen this season. Here are a couple interesting factoids about first base production from this year's Milwaukee Brewers.

Worst OPS (.580) since the 1968 Mets (.559).

Worst OBP (.247) and wOBA (.253) since the 1968 Red Sox (.246, .237). The next worst teams in each of these categories played before the turn of the century.

Fangraph's wRC+ is a more comprehensive offensive metric that accounts for park and league factors in order to compare players and teams from different time periods in the game's history (read about wRC+ here). Fangraphs has the Brewers with a wRC+ of 56, which places the Brewers at 2,728th out of 2,745 total team first bases. This is the worst since 1968, when the aforementioned Red Sox posted a truly brutal wRC+ of 48 (by the way, what the heck 1968?).

We miss Corey Hart's bat. But we ought to miss his glove, as well. We can't forget that he is also a right fielder - and that he is undoubtedly the best at catching balls on the warning track. Two outfielders this past week demonstrated the difficulty in performing a task that Corey Hart can execute so seamlessly.

In Tuesday's matchup in Washington, the Brewers were looking for some Badger Mutual Insurance Runs with a 2-0 lead in the top of the 8th inning. Martin Maldonado stepped in against Drew Storen looking to drive Juan Francisco home from 2nd, who had just driven in the two runs to give the Brewers the lead.

The Nationals' prized left-fielder Bryce Harper (I believe BA and Rock referred to him as a "rock star") gave the Brewers a boost when Maldonado flied one to left:


See now - if it were Corey Hart, he would have squeezed the glove around the ball, thereby trapping it between the two slabs of leather, and the batter would be out. The theory here is that because of the foreign nature of the dirt beneath his cleats, Harper panicked and forgot everything about catching baseballs. This has never happened to Corey Hart.

Norichika Aoki experienced a similar anxiety when attempting to field a line drive by Mets first basemen Josh Satin on Sunday afternoon. This whiff is a bit more forgivable given how hard the ball was hit, but there's still no doubt Hart makes this play, being that it took place on the warning track:


So when you're lamenting Corey Hart's season on the shelf, remember that it isn't just the missing bat that's lead to one of the worst historical seasons in the history of first base that you're missing. It's also the ability to catch baseballs on dirt surfaces.



If you have any more maxims in mind, post in the comments and I'll add them to the master list. So I can selectively choose them when they become relevant - for further virtuous analysis.