Part of the Milwaukee Brewers’ early success stemmed from manager Craig Counsell’s liberal use of all his players. One reason it has worked is thanks to GM David Stearns collection of versatile athletes. Hernan Perez, in his third year with the Brewers, has proven to be the ultimate example of this type of player and strategy.
He has shown a tremendous ability to play all over the diamond, both in the infield as well as the outfield. This has allowed Milwaukee some flexibility in who they keep on the active roster (e.g. Jesus Aguilar) and how to shuffle the starting lineup throughout the season.
The challenge becomes figuring out how much one uses a player like Perez. If he were good enough to be a true everyday player, the Brewers would have went that route. Truth is, giving him too many plate appearances can work against his own production, whether due to overexposure to the opposition, fatigue, or a regression to the mean.
At this point in the season, it’s clear that Perez should get fewer starts, and Counsell needs be smarter when using him. Perez has started 70 of the Brewers’ first 101 contests, and teams may be getting better at exploiting his weaknesses as they see him more.
Taking a look at some stats, along with watching him play on a regular basis, there is plenty of evidence his production has soured. His defense remains steady, but the bat begins to fail as he picks up too many plate appearances - both in short periods of time and over the course of the season.
As you can see, Perez had a fantastic April at the dish. You should also notice that he only had 2.65 plate appearances per team game. He started 15 of the team’s 26 games (58%), including the final six games of the month - undoubtedly because he was playing so well.
Then May hit, and as Perez racked up the plate appearances, the numbers took a nose dive. Part of his increase in playing time correlated with Ryan Braun’s injury, but Counsell was certainly trying to see if Perez’s April would carry over in a bigger chunk of games. Instead, with 3.81 plate appearances per team game, Perez was exposed.
June showed a bit of a bounce back as his time was limited a bit more, but as the season rolls on, his performance has continued to look shaky at the plate. Perez has now compiled 321 plate appearances - a huge number for a guy who is best in short spurts. He’s a great bench player to utilize, but Counsell has fallen into the trap of overuse.
A big reason Perez struggles as he sees too much time in the box is his batting style. Specifically, Perez loves to swing the bat and rarely walks, making it more likely he’ll make outs when getting consistent plate appearances. Among qualified batters, Perez ranks in the top 20 in Swing%, taking a hack on 53.2% of the pitches he sees. He also owns the 10th-highest percentage of swings on pitches outside the strike zone (41%).
Some may point out that teammate Orlando Arcia swings at more balls overall, at pitches outside of the zone, and yet he’s having success this year. Realistically, it’s probably not sustainable, and Perez’s struggles are a sign of that.
Perez has a .296 OBP through Monday, and in his last 30 games he owns a .333 slugging percentage with a .605 OPS. His overall effectiveness is waning and it’s hurting the Milwaukee Brewers as a whole. And I’m not sure if it’s related or not, but Perez has only stolen eight bases this year (11 attempts). In 2016, Perez stole 34 bags in 41 tries. Thus, Perez’s offensive value has been greatly diminished.
Counsell needs to find the right balance so as not to be fooled by a few strong games. Teams exploit flaws extremely well the more they see a player on the field. A good example of responsible use of a quality bench player can be found in the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Jay.
While Jay only plays the outfield, his stats look terrific and it would have been easy for manager Joe Maddon to play that card more often as his club struggled. Instead, he’s used Jay sparingly with fantastic results. Jay is batting .304 with a .382 OBP, and he has had 103 fewer plate appearances than Perez. Thus, in Jay’s last 30 games, he has a .795 OPS - 190 points better than Perez over that span. That’s what you want to see.
This team has plenty of options to limit Perez’s exposure. While not the best defensively, Eric Thames could see more time in left field when Ryan Braun needs off. If Kyle Schwarber can survive out there, Thames can be adequate enough. Plus, that gets Aguilar’s bat in the lineup a bit more often.
Milwaukee can also call up Lewis Brinson to use him and Brett Phillips consistently in the outfield when guys needs a break. Furthermore, Eric Sogard gives the Brewers options around the infield when needed. There are also guys in the minors that could be used if necessary. This isn’t to weed out Perez’s time completely, but give him the right mix of plate appearances without losing production.
If the Milwaukee Brewers are going to get the most out of Perez and his skill set, Counsell needs to be more tactical in his use. As noted, Perez can provide enormous value in providing versatility and on-the-spot impact, but when he’s essentially used as an everyday player, his faults and flaws hurt him and club more frequently.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs